Wren likeability & covers – 2020 Writing Week 16/17

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

This past 2 weeks (I totally lost track of time – the days just meld into one long smoosh now – but a smoosh that included my 40th birthday – hurray!) I somehow got sidetracked onto reworking Saint Justice.

It was probably started by some bad reviews, or maybe a sense that my readthrough from book 1 to book 2 wasn’t as high as I’d liked. I started asking people if Wren was likeable or not.

I got lots of answers. Here’s what people said:

  • He’s not relatable. He’s a cult survivor, cult leader, fentanyl/booze addict commando. There is no moment where he seems like a normal person.
  • He’s an ‘abusive hero’. This is a great term. I did this because of Jack Bauer in 24. When there’s no time, there’s no time to be half-decent, friendly, to accept no for an answer and come back with a better offer. He can only constantly compel people, my way or the high way. This means-
  • He never barters with other people. He never ‘gvies’ anything. It’s always his plan, his way, right now. The reader just has to accept this. More than one person said this made them uncomfortable.
  • Nobody pushes back against Wren. Nobody gets to suggest their idea and then maybe approach things via teamwork – except maybe the old lady at the end, who tells him ‘No, son, I’m driving the semi.’

Those are fairly damning. They are certainly clear. Notice these issues were not the issues I used to be dealing with. Before it was all about the extreme violence, the gore, the disbelief that he could survive. People aren’t saying that so much right now.

Better problems.

So what can I do?

  • First up, I wrote some flashbacks. There are now 4 flashbacks for book 1, showing his life with his wife and kids, how they get along, with plenty of funny/normal moments. BUT – the book was already carefully calibrated to NOT give this stuff away too fast, if at all. Wren spends all his time NOT thinking about this stuff.
  • So where does it go? I put it in. I took it out. Now it is out. Maybe I can add it to later books, or find another place for it, or make a prequel, or… Having written it now, it certainly informs him going forward.
  • Plus, I feel a little that trying to resolve this through flashback doesn’t resolve Wren’s unlikeability in the present. That’s the key. So:
  • I stop the constant rush. there were several instances in book 1 where one of his Foundation members said – “Can we talk?” and Wren said “No, not now” but also thought about how he was letting them down. Ugh. I can fix this. He can make a little time. He can say please and thank you.
  • I also make everyone push back on him more. He has to work a little harder to get what he wants – and his first go-to maneuver is not to compel them, but to try to win them around. To expain. He can compel as a backup strategy. This begins now with Eustace – Wren doesn’t force him into the Foundation. He gives him a choice.
  • I’m thinking where I can add more teamwork moments. Banter would be good, though he is largely solo in this book.

Right now, I like it better. I always felt he really cares about his Foundation members, but that wasn’t necessarily on the page. I’m putting it in.

In other news, I’ve been working on covers.

I made a new cover for Saint Justice, inspired by other authors in the genre who are doing well. A hero striding toward something meaningful – a building of some sort. I found an awesome image of a dark desert motel and put a new Wren with a gun in front of it. I shared this on a writer’s forum, and the response was overwhelming.

The new one is better.

But, to my horror, I found the image I’d used was actually not available to be used as a book cover. I had to scratch the whole thing. I spent most of a day trying to recapture the look of it by compositing other photos, but I don’t have the skill for that. So I’m back at the old cover, but with the gun guy, a new font and a new tagline:

JUSTICE WILL BE DONE

I like the tagline. The old one – ‘It takes a cult leader to kill a cult’ was clever and interesting, but not exciting. This new one is, even if it is cliche. Cliche is a pretty good tool actually, I think.

Further inspired by this embrace of cliche, I wrote a new blurb:

Justice will be done

When rogue DELTA operator Christopher Wren uncovers a vast human trafficking operation in the deserts of Utah, he aims for the payback to be fast and righteous.

But Wren soon learns there’s more than thousands of caged humans at stake – this conspiracy threatens to destroy the very idea of the United States itself – and Wren will never allow that. Not on his watch.

Wren enlists the help of his off-book vigilante ‘cult’, the Foundation, but that only brings all the heat of the CIA down on his head. Now hunted on all sides and fighting for his life, Wren must race across the country and against the clock to take the terrorists down, before the country he loves blows apart at the seams.

It’s faster. It’s snappier. It actually gives less away – which I think means more sizzle, less steak. It’s probably not perfect, but maybe it will draw people more.

And what about new words???

Yes yes, I was talking big the last time about how I’d hit 40,000 words by the end of last week, maybe 50,000 this week. Well, I have been writing, though intermittently, and am curently at 44,000.

Remember, of course, I wrote about 8,000 words in flashbacks which I’m not using currently. So I wrote a fair bit, just not forwards πŸ˜‰

Now, for sure, I am redoubling my focus on Book 4. Until I hear something more about Book 1. At which point I’ll probably go back and change it some more. It is kind of unavoidable – if book 1 won’t sell, then nobody will read 2, 3, and certainly not 4. A higher readthrough rate would be killer, and make all my ads more effective.

So, yes! Book 4!! 55,000 by next Friday!

Wren book 4 & ROI ad analysis – 2020 Writing Week 15

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Coronavirus lockdown drags on, and I don’t know about anyone else, but my stress levels directly related to the virus have dropped right off. It’s largely a known quantity now, it seems we’re doing the right things to manage it, and the daily death count horror has receded.

No doubt it is horrific if you’re in thick of it. There are still terrible stories in the news, but then there are always are terrible stories in the news.

So, my coronavirus reaction is more one of just being cooped up for a long time. It’s not even that bad, as I like my house, but I do miss other people’s cooking. We would normally go out to eat a few times a week, nothing too fancy – just the local greasy spoon, maybe a takeout, possibly a nice meal on the weekend – but without that, we’re only left with food we make ourselves, and that is kind of samey, no matter if we try a new recipe or not.

No surprises.

Onto writing. I have focused on writing this week – producing something like 2000 word a day – but not everyday, and also drastically reworking my Facebook ads.

Writing

It is kind of amazing that I launched Wren book 3 6 months ago. I’ve been dabbling on book 4 since. This week I made a big push ahead, but didn’t get too far before running up against some issues.

One is the usual one – which always comes at about a third in. Once I’ve had the ESCAPE section of the book, extricating Wren from whatever immediate attack the bad guy launches, it’s time to consider the next step.

The main difficulty here is not only Wren’s next step, but the bad guy’s. What is their plan? Is it feasible? Is it overly complex? Would it work? What are they seeking to achieve?

It always takes me some time and multiple false starts to get over this. I’ve got to put myself into their head, and hold those thoughts in my head at the same time as Wren is bouncing along trying to figure out what they’re doing. It’s fun but exhausting, and it does feel a little like sculpture – carving out a shape that already exists.

I just have to find it. Whatever the inciting incident was, the ‘first murder’ if this was a straight detective thriller, it tells me what the ‘second murder’ will be. It’s all baked in there right at the start.

A second issue is one of realism. I’ve had a few comments on previous books that Wren is a bit of a superhero, that events are unlikely, that it might be like a comic book. This is a little annoying, though not massively, and I was aware of it, but I’d like to dial it back. At the same time, I want every action scene to go big!!

No answers on this. Try to set things up so they are realistic. Also, any time his hackers do something a little ‘magical’, I try to pave the way so it doesn’t seem so outlandish. Nothing they do, I feel, is impossible with modern tech – but I can imagine to some it seems like sci-fi.

Anyway, I’m in a good place to push forward through the middle.

Word count – 33,600. Almost halfway.

Ads

In previous weeks I was doing a complex analysis of ad clicks, CTR, CPC and other metrics. This week I simplified everything and looked just at outlay and income by book and region. The individual ads vary, of course, but I wasn’t doing a deep dive ad by ad anyway, rather book by book, so this is not so different.

I took Ad Spend, Revenue, and calculated Profit/Loss per day and ROI. The analysis leaped right out:

  • The only region where Wren book 1 is making money is the UK, with ROIs of 10-100%. US, AU and Ca all just lose money day on day. This is largely because of low conversion – 1 in 50 or less, which is terrible. I don’t know why. Maybe the high number of vindictive likes on my worst reviews? I contacted Amazon to have a look at that.
  • The zombie box set is generally losing money in Au and Ca, despite good-looking sales numbers. This is odd, but probably due to fewer page reads in those countries, as fewer people are in KU.
  • The zombie box in UK and USA is funding everybody else.

Conclusions were:

  • Turn off Wren book 1 ads everywhere and turn on the boxset. It has basically no reviews, but should be more appealing to KU readers as it is a 3-book set, so better value for their single pick. An upside of no reviews is I bypass those unfairly upvoted negative reviews.
  • Focus my spend primarily on the zombie box in the UK and US. Aim for ROI daily of 100% – basically doubling my money. Not easy.

All this keeps me very busy.

I also essentially reinvented all my ads today, after hearing Adam Croft say on his podcast that he was sending $800 a day on FB and getting 6c clicks with great profits. What!! I get 14c cicks at best. What is he doing?

I go look on his ads library. It is all short video ads! The videos are super basic, 7 seconds long with no sound and have very little to do with his books, but perhaps set a mood.

I can do that. I went and found some free footage, often from drones, downloaded them, trimmed them to length, then made ads. 4 stock footage for zombies, with a new ad copy inspired by the ’empty’ video, and 4 for Wren – one a car racing along what looks like Joshua Tree National Park – the exact spot the first book’s cover comes from.

I turned all other ads off. Now I have a couple of audiences set in US and UK, and all ads are dynamic. Thus far, only one ad switched on, but was getting 6c clicks! We will see if they convert. If they do, maybe I just increased my sales x3?

That would allow Wren to be profitable. I could expand back to Au and Ca and make money too. We will see.

Next week’s plan

I’d love to get serious words done next week. Beyond 40,000 would be the minimum. 50,000 would be very encouraging. That’s only 17,000, which is only 2,400 a day. If I stop tinkering and focus, it’s doable.

Finish by the end of May. Get book 5 by end of August, book 6 by end of December, then that’s another box set, and 6 books all told. A good target. Then book 7, which may close out the current cycle, in early 2021. Then onto whatever comes for Wren next. I don’t know yet.

Also I’ve got the new post-apoc series I’ve been kicking around. Would be good to get on with that.

Christopher Wren boxset books 1-3 – 2020 Writing Week 14

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

I’ve had the first 3 books in the Chris Wren series out for about 9 months now, but I’ve been holding back on launching it as a boxset because I wanted book 4 to be available before I did that.

But, um, why?

It’s an odd one, to be so worried about losing the follow on sales that I don’t get potential sales right now. To cut this Gordian knot, I looked at what Mark Dawson does and found an answer I kind of already knew.

Book 4 not written yet? Make it a pre-order. Not sure you can fit the timescale? Set it for a date far out, then you can bring it forward as required.

Pretty cool, right? It just means making the cover and blurb for book 4. Well, I work on the blurb first thing now, before I even write the book – it absolutely helps me figure out what the story is gonna be. If the story can’t express well as a blurb, well, then the story needs to shift.

I made the cover, as documented last week, put it up, sorted all my links, set the pre-order, then I was clear for the boxset!!

Next up was making the boxset cover. This was kind of fun to do. I thought about using a fiverr service for just $5, as I’ve done before, but I liked the idea of having different color spines for each book in the set, so I just went ahead and did it myself. Ta-da!

I love it – bright, eye-catching, fun. There’s a page on my site for it now. It costs $8.99, which is $2 less than if you buy all 3 books separately.

Next step will be to make the audio box set, but for that one I will wait a little – until I’m getting book 4 made in audio. Then there really is something to go onto – and I don’t want to steal the current audiobooks’ thunder, as they’ve just come out.

In other news

We had our first meeting of the London Indie Authors group via Zoom. I was hosting, but my computer chose that exact moment to crash, so I had to dial in on my phone and cede control to someone else. Then my Internet got spotty. Still, it was a good session. I talked a lot about my ads.

I’ve been spending more on ads this week, almost entirely on Facebook. I did a couple of things:

  • Expand spend to Canada and Australia – to pretty powerful effect. Australia in particular seems hungry for thrillers.
  • Make new lookalike audiences and narrow them only by Kindle. I tried this before when I was living off KU reads, and it was a big fail. Now it seems to be working well.
  • I changed audiences because I noticed my frequency creeping quite high on some audiences. The zombie + kindle audiences in both US and UK are kind of tapped out for me – I’ve reached 80,000 people to each of them and now I’ve shown the book to all those people an average of 3 or 4 times. That’s quite a lot. Correspondingly, they click through less. It’s not a big surprise.
  • I also am making dynamic ads. I’ve got lots of images, lots of blurb texts, and now FB can figure out which is best. It also has the benefit of pushing through high frequencies, when they come back around. The same audience will constantly see a different ad.

Broadly results are profitable. Wren is almost breaking even in the US and UK, and making money in Au and Ca. The zombie set does well everywhere, with a surprising number of full price sales. At some point I may take it wide and advertise to those audiences – a whole new batch of people who’ve never had a chance to read it.

Right now though it’s doing well in KU. I’m not ranking high, but money matters more.

Fresh words

With all this mad marketing going on, and all the editing before that, I haven’t written fresh words for ages, so it’s been really nice to settle down to a bit of writing.

Today I got 3,000 words on Wren book 4, after 2,000 yesterday. It’s pretty silly right now, in what feels a petty glorious way. I’m seeing reviews on these books that they’re not quite realistic, but I am right now cool with that.

The most fun action movies really strain credibility. People love Mission Impossible and John Wick and such, and those movies really push things to the max. Wren does similarly. He’s doing some crazy thigs with vehicles this time around.

WIP wordcount – 23,000 words, and speeding up. I can see a lot of what’s coming, probably up to the midpoint. I’ve already got the end. Just the final act really to break, and it’ll come when I get there, as these things tend to do.

If you build it, he will come.

Major Christopher Wren overhaul – 2020 Writing Week 13

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

I’ve been doing a lot of things this week that are not writing! It’s been hard to focus, maybe because of coronavirus, but also because my head’s ben heavily into marketing.

The mystery of AMS and FB ads!! How hard it is to make them pay!!

The primary experiment this week was to raise ALL my prices. Saint Justice is now $2.99. The zombie boxset is $9.99. The only book in my catalog that is 99c is The Last, zombie book 1.

At first sales went well. It’s very exciting to see 10 copies of the boxset sell – that’s $70 right there. Mid-week they dropped, which prompted a lot of self-doubt, but over the weekend they’ve picked up again.

Partly this is due to my expansion into Au and Ca FB ads. I’ve done this before and lost money – but that was when I needed to make KU page reads to profit – now that it’s straight sales (plus KU!) Au and Ca are proving very profitable.

Christopher Wren is also selling at the same rate he was at 99c! No benefit to the cheap price – so it can stay at $2.99 then.

BUT

None of that is what this post is about. Primarily, I’m getting annoyed at the low Chris Wren conversion rate. People click on the ads, but don’t buy the book. Why? Lots of potential reasons:

  • Bad cover
  • Bad blurb
  • Bad price
  • Bad reviews
  • Too much competition
  • Doesn’t match expectation from ad

Some of these are in my power and some aren’t. I set out to fix those that I could. Skip the blurbs if you want – new covers will follow!

Bad blurb

Was my blurb bad? Here is the most recent one for Saint Justice (really the only one that matters):

“Addictive, intelligent, edge-of-your seat writing; as urgent and gripping as it gets.”Oliver Harris, bestselling thriller author.
“I’m a big Jack Reacher fan, and I read Saint Justice in a few days. It is a ripper of a tale!”J.R., Goodreads star reviewer.

It takes a cult leader to kill a cult.

On the run from past colleagues, cult leader and ex-Homeland Security agent Christopher Wren walks into a brutal biker bar in northern Utah, looking only to bring the local chapter down.

What he uncovers instead is repugnant; the beginning threads of a vast human trafficking organization run with ruthless corporate precision, funnelling thousands of homeless people from the streets to…

Nobody knows. Nobody cares.

They should.

A devastating terror attack is brewing in the wilds of America. One spark in the tinderkeg could ignite the inferno. Now Wren finds himself alone in the dark, watching the spark fall.

Now – this has already been changed countless times. So what’s wrong with it this time? Maybe it’s wordy and vague. Nobody cares about Homeland Security. ‘Brutal biker bar’ is soft. ‘Beginning threads of a vast human trafficking organisation run with ruthless corporate precision’ is a helluva mouthful, and sets people up for a traffickng story – which this is not.

Also those 2 reviews at the start are pointless – not famous enough to be worth mentioning. Let the hook speak for itself. Here’s the new version:

It takes a cult leader to kill a cult.

On the run from past colleagues, cult leader and ex-CIA agent Christopher Wren walks into a biker bar in northern Utah, looking only to drown the guilt of his past.

What he uncovers instead is repulsive – a vast and ruthless cult ripping thousands of homeless people off the streets and launching them toward some dark, violent fate.

Nobody notices. Nobody cares. Nobody except Wren.

A civil war is brewing in the wilds of America. One spark in the powder keg could ignite the inferno. Now Wren finds himself alone in the dark, watching the spark fall…

So – the reviews are gone. The unwieldy ‘corporate precision’ is gone. ‘Human trafficking’ is gone. The much-earlier he goes into the bar ‘looking only to get beaten up’ has been replaced by ‘looking only to drown the guilt of his past’ – same thing, but much more eays to grasp.

Now there’s a cult, there’s the dark fate – I think it’s better. Shorter sentences, easier words too. So far, conversion is up, so maybe it helps.

Book cover for book 4!!

I also thought I should release the boxset of books 1-3, since for many authors the boxset does the best business. It definitely appeals to whale readers and KU fans. So, to do that I need a cover for book 4. It’s unfinished, but I figure if I make the cover, it may also hurry me along to write the damn book.

I threw something together in 20 minutes, and it ended up being pretty awesome:

Cool, right?

But. Of course there’s a but. I put this cover next to the first 3, showed them to Su, and asked what she thought.

She went straight to book 4. It’s the best. This of course breeds mixed feelings. Awesome, of course! But also, damn, why can’t this be book 1? It matters most to have a great book 1. Here they are all lined up:

(Now, first off it’s worth saying that I’m well aware that tinkering may either make things worse or make no difference at all. I could spend hours ‘fixing’ something that doesn’t need fixing. To that I say – I’d rather try to learn why somethig works than just thank the stars I stumbled upon something that does.)

So – what do you think? It’s book 4, right? Well, why? Here are my thoughts:

  • It’s more dynamic. The guy is running.
  • The contrast is very strong. Light green on black really pops.
  • Sight lines lead us very clearly to the figure in the center. There can be no doubt where we’re supposed to look.
  • It tells an immediate story. Nobody needs to ask – well where is he running? He’s clearly running away. The title doubles down on this. The story is right there.
  • It’s claustrophobic and dark. Both these build a sense of threat and urgency.

I didn’t realize all this at once. I spent most of yesterday tinkering, figuring it out. So let’s look at the others on the same criteria.

  • They are not dynamic. I made all that effort to do a photoshoot, then just went back to a walking guy. Honestly, he looks like he’s out for a stroll in some idyllic beauty spot. A slow stroll, hands in pockets. This is what other books do – Jack Reacher most notably – but not all covers do it, and I’m not sure I can afford to.
  • The contrast is pretty good – book 1 in particular has a very dark sky. One problem of this though, is a thunderous, cloudy sky (with lots of contrast and definition between clouds) helps portray threat. But there can be no detail in these clouds, or you can’t read the author name/title. Tricky.
  • Sight lines are weak. In 1 and 2 he’s on a road but it’s bland – not highlighted like book 4. The middle-lower quarter is brighter thna the rest, but that only draws our attention to a band. Not to the center. For that matter, the cnetral figure is not even in the center. Again, Reacher does this, but he may not be my best model. In book 3 there are no lines at all leading anywhere – where are we supposed to look?
  • There is no story. He’s walking – and not even into a town. Into the wilderness. There’s not much threat in the wilderness. It’s hiking. Again, Reacher does this – but normally he’s walking into a town.
  • They’re all less claustrophobic. Book 1 he can get out on either side. Book 2 he can get out anywhere. Book 3 he can even get out of the top. I copied a Jo Nesbo cover for this, all white, but I’m not convinced it works now.

So, I tinkered all day yesterday, trying to figure the above out and how to apply them to my books. Here’s what I came up with:

Let’s tackle them on the criteria:

  • They are all dynamic. The guy is running. there are also extra elements (which I hope don’t look tacked on) – the cropduster, the smoke, the helicopter. There is clearly motion (and I added motion blur too, so I’m certain of this!).
  • The contrast is similar. Book 1 and 2 largely unchanged, 3 I added the dark sky back in.
  • Sight lines are improved. It’s subtle, but in book 1 I highlighted the paint marks on the road left and right, while darkening the vegetation to left and right. Our eye is driven more to the center. In book 2 the smoke itself leads in. In book 3 I mirrored the mountains to point inward, along with the dark town line. The figure is now dead center in all.
  • There is now a story! Maybe too much… I tried him running without additional elements, but then it looked even weirder – a guy sprinting into the wilderness? It’s worse thna taking a stroll. So now we have the cropduster plane, the fire, the helicopter. They’re all relevant to the story, provide a distant focus (foreground, middle ground, distance), and hint at where he’s going.
  • I feel the above combine to make for more threat. No way out. Only one way forward. It’s no longer purely PvE (Player versus Environment – a gaming term) it’s now PvP (Player versus Player). Good.

What do you think? I’m confident the helicopter looks good. The smoke I’m not sure. I’m not too worried about the plane – it looks OK, added a bit of shadow and motion blur.

Oh, I also altered the typography a bit. Less of it, basically.

Phew. These are now uploaded to Amazon. I doubt they’ll make a substantial difference, but maybe they will. They undoubtedly say action and thrills now – not a sedate walk in the park.

I also made a boxset image for books 1-3 and put book 4 up for pre-order (light a fire under me to get it written!), but I’ll deal with that later. Basically – fun. I rather like tinkering.

FB & AMS ad mysteries – 2020 Writing Week 12

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing 1 Comment

First off, the grand news – Wren book, Reparation, is finished in audiobook format. More on this when it releases. 3 months ago I had just 1 book in audio – The Last – pretty soon I’ll have 4, with 3 in a series. All the backlist is tight, produced, and polished.

Unless…

Can I get the zombie box set back into profit? This is the mystery. If I can, then it will seem worthwhile to buy back the Last Mayor rights and make the whole series in audio. That’ll be about $10k – real money. It’s also a whole new audience – audio listeners love the zombie apocalypse, it seems.

Which brings me to the major challenge of today – figuring out what the heck has been gping on with my ads.

The FB & AMS ad mysteries

Earlier this week I posted in some detail about recent ad losses. The key takeaways were:

  • From Sept to Fed the Last Mayor box set was making strong profits with an ROI around 100% – doubling ad spend. Every dollar spent earned a dollar. CTR (clickthrough rate) was high. CVR (conversion) was between 1 in 3 and 1 in 5. This was on a varying mixture of FB & AMS ads.
  • In March I noticed the returns were reducing, and tried to juice them with ramped up ad spend on FB, AMS and Bookbub too. In return, I got punched. I started making losses.
  • Why?

At that point, I didn’t know. So I started recording daily stats, CVR, clicks/sales, clicks/KU, sales/KU and tried to spot the pattern. I tried FB only, then tried adding AMS back in. It’s only been a week, and it’s not statistically significant, but still I want to be guided by the stats as much as possible.

Facebook ads:

  • FB ads for the zombie set in both US and UK convert to sales pretty reliably at 1 in 4/5. At 15c a click or so, that’s 75c to make a sale. I only get 33c from each direct sale, so on this level, as expected, I’m losing money. So we turn to KU page reads.
  • The same FB ads, where I can separate their influence from AMS ads, convert to full KU readthroughs at anywhere between 1 in 30 to 1 in 100. That’s low. Compare it to the best KU conversion I got, in Jan when I was running only AMS ads, of 1 in 10, and it’s a long way off. Some figures:
  • For a full readthrough I earn about $12. 100 clicks at 15c costs me $15. Add the $12 to the money from sales (100/5=20×0.33=$7) and I get $19. Actually, that’s a profit. But that’s only if the clicks convert 1 in 5. In Feb I was getting 1 in 10. That works out to a $3 on 100 clicks. $12 plus $3 = $15, just what it cost me for those clicks.
  • Except, in Feb my average CPC (cost per click) was 43c. Not 15c. Because AMS and Bookbub are both much more expensive. So, major losses.

So – we can clearly see that if I can get 1 in 5 CVR on sales and even 1 in 1000 CVR on KU, I can make money as long as clicks are cheap at 15c. The only place I can get such cheap clicks though are on FB, and here’s what I found about FB ads:

  • Throughout this week I increased FB ad spend in both UK and US. Over the 5 days, US CVR sales peaked at 1 in 5 and CVR KU at 1 in 30, for 100 clicks total at 17c.
  • The cost of that was 0.17×100=$17.
  • The sales revenue was 100/5=20×0.33= $7
  • The KU revenue was 100/30=3x$12= $36. Total $43 – $17 = $26. An ROI above 100%. Good.

But that dropped as I increased US FB ad spend. I went for 150 clicks and sales CVR dropped to 1 in 7 and KU CVR dropped to 1 in 100, for 20c clicks! Loss-making territory.

What’s the conclusion here? Well, these are just single days during an unusual time, so I can’t be concrete – but it may be that trying to spend too much in a single day reduces the quality of FB clicks, while increasing the cost. So I should find the sweet spot of max clicks for cheapest CPC and best CVR, and not try to scale up any further.

How then do I get more KU page reads?

Amazon Ads:

I said above my best KU CVR number, full readthroughs to number of clicks, was 1 in 10 in Jan when I was running only AMS ads. So maybe AMS ads are the key to getting page reads. The only trouble is, AMS ads are so expensive, averaging around 60c a click in the US.

But if they sell at 1 in 10 levels?

  • Full readthrough = $12
  • 10 clicks at 60c/click = $6
  • 1 in 10 KU CVR means $12-$6 = $6
  • Great. But 1 in 10 was my max. Average seems to be about 1 in 20. Run it again, and we see that’s $12 cost. Breakeven.
  • Ugh. Crazy. How did I ever make money?

Hardly once this week has KU CVR risen above 1 in 50. If 1 in 20 is breakeven, 1 in 50 is clearly loss-making. Now, this week I’ve primarily been doing FB ads. Perhaps it makes sense that FB readers are less likely to buy through KU.

If I look back to Jan and Feb, when I ran only AMS and no FB, I was doing well with KU reads. Somewhere between 1 in 10 and 1 in 20 is profitable. Add to all this that KU reads in the US totally dropped off in the last few days, when I was only doing FB ads. Like, dropped in half, when it’s never done that before.

So, hmmm…

Conclusions:

  • What is the use of FB ads? I can sell a lot of books at 99c, but I basically lose money. It can push my book into bestseller charts, but I’m not convinced such visibility is worth what it once was. There are too many charts, and people don’t peruse them like they used to.
  • I need to get into Amazon’s automatic emails, pushed to whale readers, and the only way to do that is to generate a lot of KU reads. The best way to generate KU reads, it seems, is to do a lot of AMS ads.
  • Which I was doing. For Jan/Feb I was running no FB ads at all. It was only after I saw the data and the power of FB clicks that I doubled down on running them for March.
  • I guess I overlearned the lesson.

My current thinking is that a little FB ad trickle, juicing straight sales and keeping the ranking respectable, benefits the Amazon algorithm on whether it shows my ads or not. That little trickle lets KU reads bloom.

So.

My next step is throttle back the FB ads to a trickle, say $5 or $10 a day, then turn up the AMS ads again. I’ve got Machete to help me stay on top of things. Yes, OK. This is tomorrow’s experiment. I may lose my rank and bestseller tag on Amazon UK, but whatever. That’s vanity, not profit.

Another interesting step I could take would be to drop the crazy 99c price point, then double down on FB ads. Currently I get 1 in 5, say that drops to 1 in 10, clicks 20c, that’s $2 to make a sale, but I make $7 at $9.99, so $5 is mine. 100 clicks a day, 10 sales, that’s $50 profit. If I could also make AMS ads work at that price point, I’d be killing it. You’d think KU readers would see a $9.99 box set as better value for their limited borrows than a 99c one.

Hmm. Maybe this is next week’s experiment. My only concern is that I spend money on ads, send people to my page, then they get pulled down a rabbit hole of my competitors whose box sets are still at 99c. We shall see.

Coronavirus ad fail? – 2020 Writing Week 11.3

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

I have a painful confession to make. So far this month I’ve made some nasty losses on my ad spend. Ack! Ouch! Thwack!

For several weeks I’ve been aware I was deficit spending – putting more into ads than I was getting back on a daily basis. I was doing this because the last 3 months of data – which I wrote about here and here – showed the zombie box set was moving in a crazy way.

Through Dec, Jan and Feb it was selling at the rate of 1 book for every 3 clicks. Every click I paid for earned a profit of 50c to $1. KU page reads came in at 1 full book read for every 3 or 4 copies bought at 99c.

Those were amazing stats. I figured – wow. The more clicks, the more money. So I doubled down, starting this month. I ramped up Facebook ads, AMS ads, and even Bookbub ads.

The results felt pretty great – I definitely have the ability to force the book up the charts. It hit 2800 in the US store and 600 with a bestseller tag in the UK.

BUT.

Results

I was waiting for the month to end to do a proper analysis, but upon realizing the daily deficit was getting too big, I went ahead and did an analysis of the last 3 weeks, and the results are ugly.

1. Page reads disconnect

With sales of 600 books in the US in March so far, I’d expect KU page reads to be similar to December, which had about 600 sales and 400,000 page reads. Nope. It’s only been 200,000 in March. That’s half of December’s numbers. Considering I make the money on page reads – this is a major problem for profit. It works out to around 1 full KU readthrough for every 7 purchases.

In December it was 1 in 3! Twice as many. So for the clicks I’m getting, less than half the people in KU are reading now as were reading then. What the heck?

It was the same in the UK. Off 600 book sales in March so far, I’ve had only 100,000 page reads. In January, when I got 300 sales, I had 200,000 reads! so if that had been 600, it could have been 400,000. That’s a quarter as effective now. It was one full KU readthrough for every 3 sales, now it’s down to 1 in 20. Ugh. The monetary difference is big.

But that’s not all.

2. Massive conversion fail

Not only are fewer people reading through on KU, but my ads are just not converting to sales like they were. In the US in March so far, I had a whopping 4200 clicks total. That’s more than any of those stellar months going back to December.

December had 3000. Of those 3000 clicks, 800 became sales. That’s a stellar 1 sale for every 3 or 4 clicks. In March so far the 4200 clicks have yielded only 600 sales. That’s 1 sale for around every 9 clicks! Two or three times less effective.

Double ouch.

It’s not so bad in the UK, but still bad. Off 3000 clicks I had 700 sales. That’s 1 sale in about 5 clicks, compared to the earlier heyday of 1 in 3.

Combine this poor conversion rate with the weak readthrough, and I’m losing money every day. Really, what the heck is happening?

Analysis

1. Page reads disconnect

I needed more data. Previously I ran the numbers through to Dec 2019, but now I decided to go further back. I discovered some things I’d pretty much forgotten about – November was a huge month. In the US 1000 copies sold, 450,000 page reads, conversion still 1 in 4, but interestingly KU page reads were down to 1 full read through for every 6 sales.

Hmm?

I went to October. Another banner month! 1000 sales again, but page reads at 400,000, 1 full read through for every 7 sales.

Eh?

It was the same in September. 600 sales – I’m finding the point where I first ramped up ad spend – and only 220,000 page reads. That’s also 1 full read through for every 7 sales.

Exactly as it is now.

Answer – I anticipated this, but hadn’t reckoned on how long it would take to manifest. People who pick up a big book in KU may not start reading it immediately, and even if they do, it’ll take some time before everyone reading it will reach critical mass and show up en masse in my page reads.

So – the page reads I’m seeing in those stellar days of Dec, Jan, Feb, the 1 full read in 3 or 4 sales days, were likely generated earlier in the 1 in 7 days back in Sept and Oct. So it takes a month or two to really get the ball rolling. We see this as the rate increases over the months to peak in Jan at 1 in 3, then tail off afterward.

This answers the KU page read disconnect. Basically, it’s fine. It’s not the reason I’m losing money. In Sept last year, off 600 sales, I had 200,000 page reads. Right about where I am in March so far, 600 for 200,000. But in March I’m charting a loss, whereas in Sept I made a healthy profit.

So what gives?

2. Massive conversion fail

The deeper data going back to September has some bearing on this question. In Sept I had 1200 clicks and 700 sales. In Oct I had 2000 clicks and 1200 sales. Those are actually better than 1 in 2 conversion rates! That is amazing. It’s almost 2 sales for every 3 clicks. Absolutely killer!

In November I ramped up clicks and conversion dropped to 1 in 3. Still amazing, but less so – this was 3000 FB clicks and 1500 AMS clicks.

In December I cut back a little, maintained around 1 in 3, but only sold 800. I had 3000 clicks total, 50% more clicks than in October, but almost 50% less sales. Huh? Why so much weaker conversion? Had I already exhausted the market? Or were those clicks somehow less targeted, less likely to convert?

Well.

Answers

Here’s what I’m thinking now. Current weak conversion, and decreasing conversion since October 2019, could be down to a few things:

  • I changed Facebook targeting to reach more people around October. Before that I was targeting primarily Kindle readers, but I broadened that slightly to include all ereaders. This might explain some of the drop-off, but it shouldn’t be so big. My audience is still predominantly Kindle readers.
  • I had saturated the market – all the easy buyers had already bought. I sort of doubt this, as I see many other zombie boxsets in the market holding stronger rank than my book, with considerably more reviews – which suggests they’ve been selling a lot and consistently for a long time. The readers are there. However, it is of course possible I saturated the market for my book.
  • I ran a few ads, several times, using videos that included a slightly sexy picture – these earned crazy clicks, also crazy cheap, but I don’t think they converted to sales at all. I tried that again recently, and it was the same again. Wasted clicks as people went looking for more sexy images…
  • I ramped up AMS ads around October – which might have ended up including lots of bum keywords. I’m getting on top of that more with the keyword analysis tool Machete now, but it has definitely stung. I need to cut non-performing keywords rapidly, or I’m just spending money on clicks that go nowhere.
  • This month I tried a new targeting approach via Facebook custom lookalike audiences. 1000 of the clicks this month came from there – there’s no way to know, but maybe they weren’t converting well because they didn’t double-target Kindle readers.
  • Finally, coronavirus. I’ve read plenty of accounts in my various author FB groups that coronavirus has decimated sales. Other people are turning off ads altogether. I thought my book – as it was charting so well, and because it’s post-apocalypse – might be impervious to this, or indeed even benefit from a fascination people have currently with the end of the world. But maybe not. It also makes sense people aren’t reading as much just yet. When the panic clears a little and folks get bored at home, they may read more.

So, what does all this mean?

Action Plan

First off, I’m not going to worry about the KU pages readthrough. At 1 in 7, I’m right where I was back in September, kind of priming the pump. I believe the sales I’ve invested in now will lead to page reads over the next couple of months that should right this ship somewhat.

Ad conversion is the main area I need to focus on.

My immediate plan is to squash ad spend mightily. It would be nice to know if it’s AMS or FB delivering the lion’s share of the sales, so I may try shutting them off back and forth over the coming week. Turn off AMS tomorrow but leave FB running, then turn off FB and leave AMS running. It’ll give me some taste of what’s working.

I’m also immediately canceling all expansive targeting – so the 1% lookalike audience is gone, and I’m back to targeting Kindle readers with an image that is not sexy at all. At the same time, I’ll become more ruthless with non-performing AMS ads, and throttle them back with Machete.

Perhaps most importantly, I need to keep a close eye on conversion rates. Maybe even daily – it’s not a tough calculation to run. If they start to creep up in the next few days/weeks, it may be that coronavirus was responsible for this slowdown. If that’s the case, I’ll start to ramp up again steadily. I’ll be certain though not to do any more deficit spending. Even back in September, when I was priming the pump for future KU reads, I was also making a healthy profit because the conversion rate was so good.

I want 1 in 3 again. 1 in 2 or 1 in 4 are also acceptable. The gulf between 1 in 3 and 1 in 9 is massive. It’s good profit against unpleasant loss.

But what if conversion rates never go up again? Then I guess that is it for this boxset. It’s done a great job, but it can’t go any bigger, and will maybe tick along happily at a low spend level for some time to come. Time will tell.

Coronavirus & ad spend – 2020 Writing Week 11

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing 1 Comment

It has been a really weird week – I’m sure for everyone. Tuesday we started self-isolating, and that morning I had to prep a powerpoint lesson with audio over the top to be delivered by colleagues who were still on campus.

Wednesday everyone was off, and I had another lesson to prep and record, same on Thursday, then Friday I had the first online drop-in 1-1 with a student.

I thought working from home would mean more time for writing, but it hasn’t worked out that way yet. Most likely that’s about getting used to the new working environment, learning to do audio over slides (it’s easy), joining team meetings online, and feeling a sense that Microsoft Teams is watching me at all times.

Of course it isn’t. Most people are barely even checking in via Teams chat – so I’m definitely showing up more than them. Next week I think will be much better.

On isolation

It’s not so bad. We’re really fortunate to have a park right in front of us – we can pop around for a walk and not go near anyone. We often stay home anyway on weekends, so it’s not so different – but of course it does feel a bit cooped up.

We could easily go to another park for a walk, a picnic, but not feeling that much desire to do it yet. Maybe soon.

And writing…?

One big step this week was finally finishing editing Wren 3 Reparation. It’s definitely better after this rework – faster, more justified, more streamlined. I’m really happy with it – now I just need to put aside 8 hours to proof-listen to the narrator’s work! That’s a lot of time…

I’ve turned my eye back to book 4 in the last few days. I found a couple of what might be early flaws, and reworked them. I’m up to chapter 15, but I may need to delete a couple of chapters for pace. That’s fine. Make those edits now, and it feels cleaner as I roll on to 16 and through. More momentum in back.

Regarding ads – I’ve been having great success in moving the Last Mayor box set up the charts – it’s been selling 80/90 a day most of this week, and had a bestseller badge on Amazon uk throughout, ranked around 600. In the US it hit around 2800.

Last time this happened was Nov/Dec last year – I was spending up to 100 pounds a day, and I cut the ads clean off because it didn’t seem I was making money. Then the page reads started to roll in. Up to 30,000 pages a day – which was making me a nice profit.

I’m at the same kind of point now. The ads are expensive, they’re working, but the page reads are not there yet. I’m losing money day-by-day, waiting for them to kick in. the thing is, who knows if they will? Maybe people take weeks to start reading a book through KU. Maybe I’m waiting for Amazon to send an auto-generated recommendation email. Maybe maybe…

I better trim daily ad spend. It may be that those big page reads Dec-Feb were not caused by my Nov-Dec ad spend, and were instead caused by something else. Or myabe I exhausted all the KU readers who want to read my book?

Only way to know is with this test. If this one doesn’t pay off, I expect I won’t do a big push again. It’s really nice to be top of a bestseller chart, but that’s just vanity without profit.

Oh – I also read a new book on AMS Ads – Amazon Ads Unleashed by Robert J. Ryan. His main takeaway was how to prune existing ads. It helped. I was already turning off ads/keywords that didn’t get a sale in 10 clicks. It’s also a good move to turn off ones that don’t even get a good click rate. Anything less than 0.1% CTR (clickthrough rate) I’ll probably turn off. That’s less than 1 click for 1000 impressions. Pretty poor.

While doing this, I noticed I was using the keyword ‘Dune’ a lot. It never made a sale. I need to be more on top of my keywords – how many times did I waste clicks and money discovering ‘Dune’ was a bad keyword for these books?

Oh – I also started giving away free copies of the Wren audiobook 1. Hopefully some reviews will come through, but none yet. I heard that I still get paid when people redeem these free codes, so that’s pretty good, and a strong argument to just give them all away. Free money!

Saint Justice audio is out! & SPS Live – 2020 Writing Week 10

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

The most major event this week was the approval and release for sale of the Saint Justice audiobook via Audible and Amazon. It hardly feels real yet that this is out in the world – nevertheless – it is!

Saint Justice audiobook release

Saint Justice in audio

Here’s a sample:

Get it here for $23.97 or Β£18.29 (weird prices, I know):

Audible US

Audible UK

I’ve sent a few free codes out to trusted reviewers – if you think you’d be able to write a review on Audible – please do get in touch and I’ll send you a free code too πŸ™‚

In other audio news, Nick is halfway through narrating Wren book 3 Reparation, and I’m just staying ahead of him in editing. There aren’t any major new changes – it’s the usual thing: a bit less violent, a bit more sympathy for Wren.

SPS Live 2020

The second biggest event this week was the Self-Publishing Show Live 2020 – the first Indie author conference I’ve been to. They’ve been holding these for years now – primarily run by 20booksto50k in Las Vegas and a few other locations.

Of course there was also London Book Fair, which for the first time since I became aware of it some 4 years back, I actually took a day off work to attend. Then it was canceled by coronavirus, but happily the SPS event went ahead.

It was held 9am to 4pm on Monday at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the South Bank Center, right next to the Big Eye. I arrived at 8, rolled in and found a member of our London Indie Authors group right away – Brad Borkan.

Brad has written a business lessons/Antarctica book – we chatted for a few minutes, then went to get a great seat in the auditorium. I took this pic:

This is just half of the hall. To the left there’s a whole other half, capacity 1000. It was mostly full – some people dropped out for the virus I think.

Thus began the networking. I chatted to a thriller author named Tim Heath, then some horror/apocalypse guys came and I chatted to them, then Leena came and we caught up, then Clare Lydon appeared at the back and I went to her, then I saw Dan Parsons and waved but he was busy, then it was 9am and the show started.

It was a fantastic start. A big animated intro video that got the crowd super jazzed and cheering. Mark Dawson and James Blatch came out and got things off to a start, and then…

Then the show began. There were seven sessions and I won’t recap them in detail – the first was an interview with LJ Ross focusing on her success, the second was Joanna Penn giving a round-up of the tremendous number of ways authors can make money from multiple streams of income. It was an exhaustive summary.

Then there was a break for networking – I hooked up Jon-Jon from the LIA and chatted a bit, then we lined up and had a quick chat with Joanna Penn! We didn’t cover much really – invited her to speak to our tiny group, knowing she wouldn’t come – still it was good fun. Met another thriller author from maybe Sweden, the next sessions.

Session 3 was a panel with 4 ladies, all making $50-100K a year. More inspiration. Then was a mind-blowing session with 4 of the ‘New Publishers’. These are small presses who focus on publishing ‘Indie’ authors primarily online, with much better royalty splits than trad publishers. One guy, Michael Anderle who is also an author and started 20booksto50k, said he’s publishig 300 books this year.

Wow. Others were doing a similar thing. Crazy.

Then lunch! This was a bit of a farce – we were a big group and went in one place and almost sat down, then to another and did sit down, then split up and Brad and I went to buy sandwiches in Marks and Spencers. We rushed back to the venue, managed to scarf down our food, then it was session 5! The folks who went for a pizza missed much of this session, I think.

Session 5 was a discussion with two bigselling non-fiction authors – a guitar guy and a self-help guy. The self-help guy let slip some useful Amazon ad management nuggets – primarily that he stops a keyword if it gets ten clicks but no sales. I decided to do that too. Session 6 was supposed to be Amazon but they bailed due to the virus and instead the guy from Reedsy presented about some tools that everybody already knew about.

Another break, a bit more chit-chat, then it was the final session, Mark Dawson. I was looking forward to this, then got a bit down when it became clear he was only going to deliver a session he’d already delivered before. However, it ended up extremely entertaining and really great fun, so it was good.

4pm, and we headed out for some dinner in a big posse. I saw Dan Parsons and we had a proper catchup, then he joined us. I met some new people, we ate at Wetherspoons near the Tower Millennium Pier by the Tower of London, then we got on the Princess Paddleboat and the party really began.

It was like getting on the Titanic. I got split up from Jon-Jon in the wait on the pier and ended up chatting to a husband-wife pair who’d been to MArk Dawson’s retreat that weekend. She’d been trad-pubbed and now they had big plans to go indie. In the queue I hooked up with Dan again and we found a table wiht some ladies.

A guy who works with MD to make his book trailers came over and we chatted a bit, then I saw Clare was right next to us with her group of lady co-authors and friends, and we caught up some. Then I chatted to a lady, some guys, then as if by a miracle Mark Dawson himself passed right by!

I grabbed him and chatted for a couple of minutes – said I thought the whole entrepreneurial endeavor he’d put together was inspirational, then asked him his suggestion what to do with my thrillers. He basically nodded along to my plan to box-set, release book 4, and then try an ad push. We got a selfie:

It’s such a terrible photo! I guess my iphone 5 is not up to low light conditions. Someone else posted this photo on Facebook:
That’s my face on the right!

Before seeing MD I was staerting to flag, honestly. I can do a certain amount of networking before I get drained. But after chatting to MD I was totally buzzing. I can imagine the power a cult leader might have!

I chatted next to Steven who came along and his g/f, two self-help gurus and a bunch of randoms, until the boat was pulling in, the band were playing the last few tunes and I felt the irresistible urge to dance!

I got some of Clare’s ladyfriends up on the dancefloor and shook it together. Jon-Jon came along and we waltzed then emoted to Angels, and then that was it!

Phew. Exhausting, fantastic and utterly inspiring. I am super pumped now to make it as a full-time author. Gotta get these audios done, get book 4, then 5, then more.

Post Data Revelations Ads – 2020 Writing Week 9

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

So mid-week I had all those revelations fuelled by some new data analysis – full post here – but in essence these were the findings:

  • The Last Mayor 1-9 box set has sold 1 copy for every 3 ad clicks consistently for the last 3 months, earning a tidy profit.
  • The Wren thrillers sell 1 for every 10 ad clicks and have decent readthrough, but lose money because the funnel is not deep enough (not enough books at high enough price).

My response was to increase the price of Saint Justice to $2.99 and cut loss-making Facebook ads, while substantially upping Last Mayor ads.

I also stumbled upon a new Facebook targeting option – a 1% Lookalike audience based off my FB page and ad interactions. I’ve done this before but received nothing for it – perhaps because I narrowed the targeting to people who like Kindle, zombies, etc…

Seems that was a mistake. FB algorithms when they select 1% are already pretty good – according to author Andrew Raymond. I set up a US and a UK ad set at 1% and no narrowing, gave each a $5 budget, and…

Incredible click prices. 7c in US – almost 3 times cheaper than my standard around 20c. 11p in the UK – maybe a third cheaper than my standard at around 16p.

Pretty great so far. And am I getting substantial sales? Well – yesterday I got 200 clicks off a $20 budget. I sold maybe 15 more copies than I would have otherwise. That looks closer to 1:10.

But – that’s not all she wrote.

I remember cutting these ads after Dec 2019 because I wasn’t seeing 1:3 rates. But, weirdly, those rates manifested anyway. This must have been due to some other factor – like Amazon sent my book out in some emails, thanks to its strong rank. Perhaps that is what kept the book selling well through Jan and Feb.

In any case – it most likely happened because of the ads.

This morning the box set was #1 in Cyberpunk in the UK – just down to these ads. Around 1,600 in the whole store. It seems only me and Bobby Adair (Slow Burn box set – 550 reviews) are doing much AMS ads in the UK. Fine by me.

#1 in Cyberpunk puts me above everyone, really. It’s pretty amazing – considering I didn’t have a Bookbub or anything. Whoever had a Bookbub in Cyberpunk didn’t sell as many as me? I guess. I only sold 40 – 20 in UK. However we look at it, it’s pretty good.

So, yes. I’ll run these ads for some time, before I properly take their temperature. Amazon reporting can run days behind. Plus – it’ll take time for Kindle Unlimited people who picked it up to start reading through.

Wren

I continue to race through editing Wren 3, Reparation, to stay ahead of my narrator. I see issues and get worried, then the next day iron them out and feel better. Maybe the biggest issue in this book is:

  • Anger at soft targets. I knew this as I wrote it. Wren goes after social media hard and brutal. He also goes after a compound that might be seen as hipsterish protesters, hard. He also seems to relish it.

Well. I can remove the relish. Don’t overload his reluctance to do what he has to do, but mention it a few times. Also, make each ‘soft’ target worse. More strikeable. The protesters were collecting weapons and chemicals. That’s legit terrorist behaviour. The social media companies cared most about money, not truth.

It’s better.

I also wrote a little on Wren 4. One chapter. Things took an unexpected but cool turn. Gives the book a unique method for Wren to use to crack bad guys. I haven’t seen it elsewhere. It’s definitely tech-based – these are definitely Black Mirror-ish technothrillers. I try to keep the SF element down.

LBF

London Book Fair has been canceled. For the first time I took a day off from work (difficult to do – busy time at end of term) to attend, and they cancel it. So I cancel my day off. There is still SPS Live – on Monday Mark Dawson and team are running their conference, which I will attend.

Mark Dawson also has a writer’s retreat this weekend, starting today, which I probably could have attended. I applied after seeing him post about a space going free last weekend – it looked to be $500 for the weekend, with ad talk, one-to-ones and such. I was still deep into the mindset that Wren wasn’t converting and readthrough was poor – so I needed to do something with the sales page.

I didn’t hear back from Mark. I did my data analysis and realized Wren was losing money primarily because of the pricing. Then when Mark emailed yesterday with (what I suspect is) another empty space, $1000 full price, I didn’t feel the same sense of urgency.

I’d probably be better off reserving that $1000 for my ads. If the box set history holds true, I can turn that $1k into $2k, from there to $4k, etc…

BIG MONEY!

We shall see.

Looking forward to the weekend. Super chill, plus exercise. Life is good.

Data Analysis Mega Revelations – 2020 Writing Week 8.5

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Recently I was looking at Brian Meeks’ book on Amazon Ads again – perusing his data analysis chapters, when I noticed a way of approaching the data I hadn’t tried before, or had at best only guesstimated.

Actually tracking conversions.

For weeks I’ve had the sense that the Wren thrillers weren’t converting. I was losing money, so they couldn’t be. Readthrough had to be bad. I was throwing clicks and ad money and nothing was going on.

Data is your friend, Brian Meeks said, so I decided to dig in.

First up, I needed a consistent idea of sales. Basic sales are easy – it’s just the number. KU sales can be calculated by dividing the total number of page reads by the KENP page count for the book. So my Last Mayor box set is 2600 pages long. If I only had 2600 pages read, that’d be one sale.

You add those numbers together – that’s your sales for a given period. I decied to go monthly. Then you get your total clicks from all your ads, and divide your sales by your clicks. It’ll come out as a decimal, but it’s easy to make that a ratio or fraction in your head.

Eg – Sold 100 books, had 1000 clicks, 100/1000 = 0.1 = 1:10. For every 10 clicks I paid for, 1 sold.

Next we can take the whole revenue and the whole cost for that same period, and figure out not only my CPC (Cost Per Click) but also my profit per click. I can end up with a number like, for every single click, I’m earning 50 cents, or something like that. Or losing 10 cents.

On conversion, Brian Meeks says 1 sale in 5-10 clicks is fantastic. 1 sale in 10-20 is OK but needs improvement. Above 1:30 is poor and likely to lose money.

So, I started gathering data. It took hours. Here’s my findings:

Last Mayor Box Set 1-9

I’m well aware this box set is making money. I’ve also become aware it’s been making less. A month or two ago it was ranked 3000 in the whole store and bringing in $150 a day. Now it brings in $80 or so a day. What gives?

It’s pretty straight forward. In December I made a big investment in Facebook ads, which I guerss I’d forgotten about. 1500 clicks at 22c a click, alongside another 1500 AMS clicks at 60c a click, for 3000 at 40c average. Phew. $1200 outlay.

So did it convert?

Well, there were 620 sales at 99c, not worth much, and 162 KU sales, which was worth a lot. That’s some 800 sales for 3000 clicks. Is that a good conversion rate?

Yes. It is slightly better than 1 in 4.

When I saw that I was floored. It couldn’t be right. Brian Meeks said any conversion better than 1:6 probably meant your data was off. So I checked again, ran it for Jan and Feb, but the conversion remained consistent. If anything, it got better, rising to 1:3. Each click is costing me 40c, and I’m getting anything from 70c to $1.20 back for every click.

Just wow.

So – why has my rank dropped? Why is income going down, if conversion is still high?

This is easy to see now. I spent $1200 in December, freaked out at the big Facebook ads bill, and turned them off. I spent nothing in Jan or Feb relying solely on Amazon ads, which came in about the same level – 1500 clicks each month. So I put in half the ad spend, got half the clicks, and made half the conversions.

Simple.

The next step is to crank ad spend back up, see what happens. If conversions hold steady, this should be sweet.

Wren Thrillers

The zombie news was nice, but the real reason I broke out the data was to figure out what’s going on with Wren. Why is he losing me money?

So I gathered the data – counting not only sales of book 1, but also 2 and 3. They are the readthrough generated by the ad, so it’s all good. First thing I see for December – is a pretty amazing conversion rate. What? 1:3?? I spent $700, got 1100 clicks evenly spread across Facebook and AMS, and sold 400 in total.

Wow, right? But wait, I’m still losing money? And as I mve through Jan to Feb, the conversion rate is falling? I end up in Feb with a conversion of 1:20.

What happened? That’s really bad.

Then I remember, right at the end of November I had my Bookbub. Readthrough and page reads from that would be coming in all December and even Jan, skewing all my ad results.

But then – even with the Bookbub tail, I’m STILL losing money? And once Bookbub is done, I’m really at 1:20???

I get depressed about that half the day, then just now at home realize I linked the Excel sheet wrong, and my Feb conversion is actually 1:10.

This cheers me up no end. 1:10 is good! It gives me the courage to go look at my readthrough, which I’ve also suspected is awful. I’ve had a number of reviews saying book 1 is so dark that people quit and read no more. I believed it.

But – my readthrough is pretty good! For KU reads 60% of people who read 1 go on to 2, and 40% go on to 3. I think that’s pretty standard. For units sold it drops off a bit more, 40% from 1 to 2, 30% to 3, but still – there’s maybe some influence of running a 99c price point.

Then it hits me – why I’m losing money. It’s not for lack of conversions or readthrough (although both could certainly be better) – it’s the pricing!

So obvious. At 99c, I’m tossing away $2 from the off.

I re-ran the analysis with $2.99 plugged in instead of 99c, and instantly I’m making a small profit.

Well. This is why they say you can’t make money on a single book – you need a series – preferably a long one. It’s the reason the zombie books work for me. I need more Wren books, basically. I also need, for now, to raise the price of book 1. It’ll depress sales, I know that, but it can’t just keep bleeding money like this.

So – $2.99. Hopefully, if conversions hang at 1:10, I can then spend more on ads. And of course, I need to get book 4 out, and a box set of books 1-3, and the audiobooks, which could add some fringe income.

Conclusions

I’ve analyzed data before – but perhaps never with such clarity, or provokng such revelations. I’m doing good. The books are doing good. It’s my loss-leader pricing and ad-spend aversion that have caused drop-offs and losses. In other words – business side, not creative side, and that’s both a lot easier to stomach and to fix. In fact – it’s done!

Wren 1 up to $2.99. Zombie FB ads cranked up. Now I’ll sit back and see what happens.