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 £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 🙂

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.

Finished Wren audio 2, Wren 3 edits – 2020 Writing Week 9

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Nick finished narrating Wren 2 MONSTERS on Saturday, after a pell-mell race through the last week of Feb to get it done. His performance was stellar – incredible intensity from Wren, great accents – I just loved it.

And so we turn immediately to Wren 3, REPARATION.

I blitzed early edits on Sunday so he’d have something to record today, and ended up going to bed feeling a little down about the whole thing.

Why?

I found problems. It’s a weird thing to find problems in such recent writing. Actually I finished Reparation 6 months ago now (I haven’t had a launch in 5 months!), and I had thought it was pretty awesome.

So what problems? Over-explaining is the big one. I can split this into two parts.

  • Transitioning. I’ve become aware that I over-write the transition from initial Wren strike to the major plot thread of the book. I break it into tiny gradations. I have Wren mull his options back and forth. I suppose this is an artefact of the plotting process – as I’m largely pantsing these books, I’m figuring out where to go next.

But Wren doesn’t need that time. He doesn’t need to think too hard about his next step. He knows what the right thing to do is fast, and does it. It’s on me to trim away the uncertain, feeling the way sections, so Wren comes through as confident and in command.

We saw this in Book 1 – Wren went into the biker bar, no messing around and kicked butt (and got his butt kicked). Then there were a lot of floaty chapters where he walked to a gas station, went to see Eustace, got a ride into town, had a confrontation with a Mormon, had a confrontation with a receptionist, stretching things out.

No need. Wren is perfectly capable of getting a ride into town. It doesn’t need explanation. It’s enough to say – ‘Wren went to Eustace’s house’. Basically, that is what it now says.

Also there was a lot of reorienting his motivation- he wanted to get beat up, then he wanted to bring Eustace in, then he wanted to shake the fog, then he wanted to go see the warehouse. Now it’s cleaner and sharper – he wants to break these guys from the start. He already knows they’re bad. Eustace and the warehouse are just vectors he takes to achieve the break.

Streamlined.

In Book 2 it’s similar – Wren dives straight into taking on the guys in the fake town, then there’s a good chunk of thinking, some messing around with him getting on a plane, etc. But Wren can just get on a plane. He’s an adult. We don’t need the logistics. I cut it all back. ‘Wren took a plane’.

Book 3 this lag comes after he deals with the Pinocchios in the depot. At Pythagoras’ place, I had him bounce back and forth on what comes next – what to do, where to go, who to blame, how to feel. I spent many paragraphs on how he hacked the guy’s WiFi. But this is Wren. We can just say – ‘He hacked his WiFi.’ It’s no biggie.

  • Secondly, Babble. This could be techno- or emotional babble. Like with the WiFi thing above, I can over-explain. Also with emotions, I sometimes hit the nail on the head repeatedly. It must be tiresome to read. Folks want forward momentum and instead they get mired in the moment.

So.

Cutting through some of that wore me out. But – it does seem the worst of this happens at the transition. In latter edits I’m not seeing it as much. The story gets crisp and fast, and that is really encouraging – so I’m feeling buoyed today.

What about Book 4?

I’m writing really slowly. Six months since I finished Book 3, I should have written two books by now – but I’ve been editing the zombie books, then this narration, and editing the Wrens. Still, I am 20,000 words in. A quarter.

With regard to the issues above, I have already caught some of them as I write – which is also heartening. As ever, it happens in the transition – I over-explain how Wren gets from here to here. In its place I just put a line- ‘Wren went here’. Sometimes you do need to spell that out – when it’s unusual or hard to achieve. Other times you just get in a car and drive.

Repetition and explanation I think I already nailed. It’s a lesson to make sure I go back over the ‘figuring out’ stage and iron it flat.

Covers

I went back to the old covers! Pretty much, anyway. On Reacher books, the figure isn’t running, and I like that. The author name is big, and I like that. Also – to have a guy running on my covers looks weird – he’s running into the wilderness. Toward what? If the backdrop is a city, it makes more sense. For me, it never is.

I changed a few things still – darker, zoomed in, equal font weight on my name, a little less text overall. I’m pleased, and the books are clearly branded.

Awesome haikyo video – Negishi Grandstand

MJG Ruins / Haikyo Leave a Comment

Occasionalyl I still get contacted by people in relation to my old hobby of visiting haikyo in Japan. ‘Haikyo’ means abandoned buildings – and it was a weekly habit for me to team up with friends and go roam empty hospitals, military bases, hotels.

Most recently I was contacted by Kaila AKA The Victorian K, who did a great video shoot at Western Village. She was looking for safety/security information on the Negishi Grandstand – my info is many years out of date, but I shared what I could.

Well, Kaila went to the Grandstand, stayed through the night and the day, then edited the creepy footage into a video crammed with historical info I wasn’t aware of. Check out her Grandstand video here.

Victorian K’s video of Negishi Grandstand
Victorian K’s video of Negishi Grandstand

A famous peer, thriller genres and $2.99 – 2020 Writing Week 8

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

I just saw an old school peer on the TV, Ralf Little! We weren’t friends, but we hung out a few times, chatted occasionally, and I’ve kept a distant eye on his career. When we were at school he was in the cricket drama Sloggers, then around Uni he was in 2 Pints of Lager and Packet of Crisps, which I never felt drawn to, and then he was kind of quiet.

Now he’s the lead detective on Death in Paradise! A show I used to watch religiously, then tapered off after they swapped the lead guy for a young guy, watched more when they swapped it to Ardal O’Hanlan, and tonight just randomly caught it and saw Ralf in the lead!

Good for him. It felt quite nice to see a peer up there on the TV screen, holding his own. Away for filming in the Caribbean. Google says his net worth is between 1 and 5 million dollars. Sweet.

Now I just need to get there myself…

Restraint on Saint Justice tweaks

I have been making so many tweaks to Saint Justice – cover, blurb, actual text – that now I am a little addicted. As if any little change could make a big difference. I agonize over questions of font, background darkness, yellow or red, size of figure.

I can petty much recognize what this is – I sort of know something’s not right, but I can’t put my finger on it and fix it. It’s like anything I write – like the Last Mayor series. When I wrote it, it was definitely the best I could do. It all felt necessary. When I went back to rework it recently, the boring bits just about smacked me in the face.

I trust it’ll be the same with Wren and his cover.

Broadly – I’m becoming aware of 3/4 potential genres it straddles:

1. Jack Reacher – The first cover I put out was a Jack Reacher copy – my name big and spaced out, lots of lines of text, all my ads and copy focused on mentioning Lee Child. The figure is walking, the colors monochrome. However, there isn’t really another big author like Jack. Just a vigilante guy roaming like a solo A-Team. Most of the similar ones are either:

2. Assassins or Special Forces or Spies – This is the bigger genre, with your Bonds, Bournes, Rapps, Horvaths and so on. They usually work for someone, and get sent somewhere, and end up helping someone unexpectedly. The difference is perhaps one of scale. Jack Reacher deals primarily with local concerns. These guys deal often with matters of national security. Patriotism plays a big role. They have running man covers, or double cut-out covers with two guys holding guns in different poses overlaid. There’s little swearing, blood, gore.

3. Jo Nesbo serial killers – These can get pretty dark. We’re dealing with creeps who kill in colorful ways – so mutilations, horror, gross tableaus. Like Se7en. It’s always a detective going after them. there’s usually a couple of deaths. It doesn’t usually involve vigilantes. These have covers similar to the Jack Reacher ones – a guy walking, but they’re darker and have starker color contrasts.

4. Stieg Larsson ‘Dragon Tattoo’ books – These are probably closest to what I write – weird dark culty stuff, tech-geekery, hackers, brutal violence and revenge, not afraid to stray off the beaten path. They have very different covers – tattoos and patterns feature heavily. Basically about vigilantes, but international, facing cult-like organisations/families.

So which to target? It decides my cover, my blurb, and my ads. Ideally – all 3 of those should sync up. Right now I’ve got a Jo Nesbo cover, a dark version of a Patriotic thriller blurb, and ads targeting all thriller authors. I do mention cults. When I took that aspect out – the books seemed to lose their USP. Wren becomes just another faceless vigilante.

I have to be honest to the books. Yes, I can alter the text, but not completely. I’m actually quite happy to unkill some people.

Unkilling people

This was never an issue with the zombie books. People have been writing reviews saying too many people die in Book 1. I didn’t see it. Just like with Wren getting injured after every fight – I thought it would not be realistic for most of the goodies to survive intact.

So I pretty much killed them all. It’s largely true that every one Wren met in book 1 died. Every member of his cult that he got involved died. It rather makes him look ineffective. It bludgeons the reader. You liked that guy? Oh, dead. That gal? Dead.

It’s no fun. So I unkilled them. It was easy.

Eustace now survives. Also Lacy (that was a really random death), Henry (Abdul dies to save him – gives more meaning there), and Mason himself. Much nicer. That is on top of the changes I made ages ago to let both Cheryl and Teddy survive. I also reduced the death count of the Saints’ war from some 3000 to less than a hundred.

Why not? Wren was effective. He stopped the bad guys. How many action movies end with a massive slaughter of the good guys? We wouldn’t watch any more.

It’s good. It also leaves me a greater cast of existing characters, with history, to draw on in later books.

$2.99

In my tweaks I increased the price of Saint Justice to $2.99. Sales dropped from 7/8 a day to 3/4. Not much difference. I’ll show patience and hold off tinkering – see if it settles down and sells for a week, then maybe drop it again and compare. It’s no good changing things every day.

Crazy work, Saint Justice tweaks and AMS tools – 2020 Writing Week 7

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

This week was crazy at work – I had my first session in the Main Lecture Theatre – 400 capacity, and it was pretty much full. 340, apparently. I think it was not the easiest group either – the lecturers who mostly run this cohort are struggling to control them, make them be quiet, make them stop cheating.

I was running a session on plagiarism.

It’s definitely the case with this new job that every new class I come into, I have to grab their attention and hold it. Normally as a teacher you do this once at the start of term, then don’t need to keep doing it. Here I do it every time – and it is definitely more tiring than the other way. Grabbing and holding the attention of 340 noisy people?

In the moment it’s exhilarating. Afterward the fatigue of it set in like a bruise. I always felt like week 1 of a new term was mentally draining. Now I get that mental drainage with every class. However, I’m already prepping ways to deal with this. It may be that clapping does the job. A lot easier than doing the ‘shhh shhh’ BS.

Anyway.

Saint Justice tweaks

I did a lot more tweaking of Saint Justice. I changed the cover figure – after doing a photo shoot with me as the model yesterday. That was pretty fun. Shame that afterward I got sick with flu and have been laid up all weekend. Now I have a library of running figures that I can use for future covers. Here they are- covers 1 and 3 now feature me as the protagonist:

It now seems that the cover 2 guy is too skinny. I may swap him out for me as well, if I can be bothered. It takes time.

What changes did I make to blurb? Well, biggest may be actually on the FB ad – I found a guy saying he got clicks for 12p on FB, so I looked him up on the ads library, and found he was using a really simple hook. I adapted it slightly to this:

“He uncovered a shocking terror network that would devastate America. Now he’s on the hunt…”

Ran it as a FB ad, and immediately halved my click cost! Damn. Now I’m down to 12p a click. People want to have the excitement given to them in 1 or 2 short sentences. Make it clear. OK.

At the same time, I checked my FB ad conversion rates and they are around 4%. Is that better or worse after tweaks? I don’t really have that comparison data. Approx 1 in 20 is a sale. At $2.99 (I just bumped the price) I’m making $2 profit per sale. Twenty clicks cost me $2.40. So, at absolute best, I’m 40c under. Most likely I’m much more under than that.

So the goal is to up readthrough. I think one issue through all the books is the damage taken. Not only to Wren, but to those around him. In book 1 almost everybody we meet dies. The good guys. The bad guys. Random people on the side. On top of which the ‘civil war’ killed 3000.

Ugh. Wren gets 3 of his cult members killed. He gets the old truck driver lady killed. Mason gets killed. Who wants to read another book with such a poor success rate?

Some of those I can change. There’s no need for the truck driver lady to die. Even Mason could survive. That would be nice. I wish I had a way around killing Henry and Abdul. Even let Eustace survive too! Poor dummy. I’ll do something with that.

AMS tools

I just found a new tool – really the the thing I was looking for last week aslo – called YakPal. It can grab every ASIN number off a top 50 page in one go. So I can harvest 100s of the top ASINs in seconds. Before I would have to click them all one by one. Now – scoop and done.

I’m feeling I need to advertise the zombie set more widely. Its rank is dropping, and I want to buoy it up. A wider range of ads may cut it. We shall see.

Saint Justice sales page tweaks – 2020 Writing Week 6

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

This week I was kind of busy at work, so had less brain space for writing – but I have been on an emotional rollercoaster re- ads and the sales conversion of Saint Justice.

Last Mayor rank/sales

For some reason, my zombie boxset has tapered off from sales rank circa 3000 to more like 8000. I’m not sure why exactly, it seems to be selling a pretty consistent 15-20 /day just like the high times. A lot of fellow zombie box sets have dropped also, but a couple haven’t so…

I up the AMS spend, try some new targeting techniques – including grabbing ASINs via Chrome extensions like the ASIN grabbing tool and the ASIN picker, then snatching up either also-boughts from mine and related book pages, or picking books that are on a Kindle daily or monthly deal.

Results yet to come in.

Saint Justice low conversion

The conversion rate of Saint Justice has continued to be a concern – especially with the audiobook coming. I need to be able to sell in numbers to recoup the audio investment, but to date it seems my ads are not paying off.

Here’s what happens. FB sends me lots of clicks, way cheaper than AMS (around 20p a click compared to 60p on Amazon), but very few become sales. Like, maybe none. Likewise on AMS, it doesn’t serve my daily budget, but what it does serve doesn’t lead to sales. In the last 7 days I spent $60 on ads but sold 2 books due to that.

Ugh.

So what is it? Well, the ads both show the book cover and a snippet of blurb, and that is pulling people in. When they get to the sales page though, they are turned off. Of course, the market is competitive, and there are lots of other more accomplished thrillers on my book page, but still. It’s cheap, the cover’s good, and reviews are fine (4.1 out of 5). I have got some shitty reviews weighing me down, but can’t do much about it other than rework the book, which I’ve already done.

So it’s the blurb?

I researched other thrillers. Mainstream thrillers like Jack Reacher skew heavily on ‘patriotic’ and being ‘clean’ of swear words. They don’t use words like brutal or terrifying or vicious. Off-beat thrillers like Dean Koontz go darker, may talk about mutilation and brutality and such – but focused on serial killers. None that I could see double terrorists with brutality.

That’s what I do. I want to hit the mainstream – it’s bigger. My cover says mainstream. My book though is off-beat. I’ve been filing off edges for a while now. There are very few swears now, damage to Wren is less, brutality is reduced, death count tamed somewhat, political messaging pushed into the background.

So I remove ‘brutal’ and ‘frightening’ and ‘what the hell did I just read’ from my blurb. Swap them for ‘pulse-pounding’, ‘exciting’, and ‘patriotic’. Make the book ‘safer’. I want people to enjoy reading it, not be exhausted and have no interest in reading the second. No bad taste in mouth at the end. Goodies win bigger.

I also put out a call on a forum asking for thoughts – someone said a few pointers on my cover – would be better with a running man that a calm hitch-hiker guy. I swap it. Fix the font weight on my name (MIKE and GRIST were different sizes – visually complex). Also, someone says there is too much world-building, and maybe even it strays into SF. I didn’t know what was SF – ‘psy-ops’? ‘death cult’?

No.

This person says ‘A civil war is brewing in the wilds of America’. Like, it’s dystopian, end of the world. Also – that line is too real, too politically uncomfortable. So I swap it- ‘A major terror attack is brewing in the wilds of America.’ It’s just as true. Also – I change the psy-ops to anti-terror, the death-cult to suicide cult, and trim words in other places too – ‘beginning threads of a mass trafficking conspiracy’.

So – faster, cleaner, more urgent cover, no SF (I hope – I can’t see it anyway), and less brutality. Will conversion rise? It has to! I will keep tweaking until I hit it. Fascinating stuff, really. What do 65+ American men really want from their thrillers? It’s not the brutal and gory stuff I’m accustomed to on shows like Game of Thrones and Walking Dead. It’s more like Elementary, maybe…

Interestingly, I found the Jack Reacher/Bourne/Rapp readers are male 65+. The Dean Koontz/Jeffery Deaver readers are tilted toward women 55+. Hmm.

Any thoughts on new cover and blurb? https://www.amazon.com/Saint-Justice-Christopher-Wren-Thrillers-ebook/dp/B07RNDMDSV