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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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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.


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

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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.


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.


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’?


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?

Saint Justice audio & more AMS trials – 2020 Writing Week 5

MJG Weekly Media Update, Weekly Writing Update Leave a Comment

This week I’ve been drafting hard behind my fantastic narrator, Nick Cracknell. He finished up reading Saint Justice yesterday, and I put together a helluva edits document, with lots of re-reads, snippets to be cut out, and so forth.

He finished it today. Now all that remains is for me to double-check, approve, pay, make the audiobook cover, and BOOM goes the dynamite, my first Wren thriller will be up!

Wow. A month, all in. Feb will be for book 2, maybe also book 3. So exciting.

And so many edits! I’m really glad Nick is game to do them. There’s nothing like hearing a narrator read your work to spot where the slow parts are. I highlight them, give him a timestamp, and he snips them out. Easy!

Other Wren thoughts

In the last couple days I wrote another 3000 words on Wren book 4. I re-read and edited those sections, and man, they are good. Left me feeling jacked. Propulsive, high-octane, like nothing I’ve read or seen before, but grounded in reality (I think). Excited to get this fourth book out the door.

Only problem is, Saint Justice is barely selling! Is this down to AMS ad failures? I’m spending some $10 a day of a $30 budget, getting clicks but very few conversions. Why is this? I don’t know. It’s true there’s enormous competition. The star rating of 4.1 is competitive. Is the sales page not convincing?

This week I took a couple steps to try and tackle this:

Saint Justice cover

I had a couple things I wanted to change about the original cover for Saint Justice:

  • The clouds were very jaggy and repetitive, especially on the right, since I’d just copy-pasted them.
  • The title was perhaps odd – my name so huge was the only thing you could read at smaller sizes. But who am I?
  • Wren himself is small. The contrast is off, so he doesn’t stand out too much.

I set out to fix these issues. Here are a few iterations:

I started with the text. I made the title big and my name small, but it ended up looking odd, and it wasn’t consistent across books, and it wasn’t how I’d designed the images in the first place.

So I shifted back! This was after a day of tweaking and fiddling. Often it takes tweaking and fiddling, like with the text of a book, to figure out what direction is best. I took out the tagline, trimmed the blurb from Oli Harris, and reduced the series tag substantially.

Maybe you can’t see much difference. This level of tweaking took all day!

Already the cover is cleaner. I also fixed the sky with a sky image I already bought, made the title wider, and then zoomed the whole thing in. Now the landscape is bigger and Wren is bigger too. Finally I added contrast around Wren – made the oval around him brighter so his silhouette pops more.

I like this cover better. The changes are subtle. Will they make any difference to sales conversion? I kind of doubt it, but maybe…

Saint Justice blurb

In recent edits I took out all mention of cults, white supremacists and such. I thought I was making it more palatable, but in truth there was little left. So I looked at some competitors and did some copying. Here is the new blurb, as amped up as I can make it:


SAINT JUSTICE is the first standalone vigilante thriller in the bestselling Christopher Wren series:

On the run from Uncle Sam, cult leader and ex-DHS agent Christopher Wren walks into a biker bar in northern Utah, looking only to get beaten up. What he uncovers instead is repugnant – a vast human trafficking operation run with ruthless corporate precision, funnelling thousands of homeless people from the streets to…

Nobody knows. Nobody cares.

They should.

But the Department of Homeland Security won’t listen to Wren’s warnings. Outlawed for running his own secret ‘cult’ on the side, a group built to rehabilitate criminals the system couldn’t handle, DHS’ cross hairs fall squarely on him.

Now mass civil war is brewing in the wilds of America. One spark in the tinderkeg could ignite the inferno, and Wren finds himself alone in the dark, hunted by both DHS and the brutal traffickers, watching the spark fall.

It takes a cult leader to kill a cult.

If you like action heroes with the grit of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, the intelligence of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon and the sheer audacity of Barry Eisler’s John Rain, then you’ll love Christopher Wren.

Pick up SAINT JUSTICE and start your Christopher Wren adventure today!

What readers are saying about the Christopher Wren series:

***** “Brilliant. A brutal and disturbing foray into the underbelly of humanity with a truly flawed protagonist.”

***** “Brutal and bloody, and a bloody good read!!”

***** “Adrenaline junkies take note. Mike Grist has what you need!”

***** “Frighteningly realistic. A fantastically scary read!.”

***** “Kept me captivated from beginning until end. Grist is an amazing story teller. Not for the faint of heart…”

***** “Floored! What in the hell did I just read? Five stars!”

Each book in the explosive Christopher Wren series is a standalone thriller. Begin with whichever book you want. But be warned: once you start, you won’t be able to stop.




Book 4: RELEASE CHRISTOPHER WREN (coming soon)

It’s longer, fuller, and hopefully more exciting. Many rivals talk about how their guy is the best assassin in the world or some such – so I made a similar boast – the best psy-ops agent in history. Now we lead with America hunting him. After that I’ve basically combined my oldest blurb with bits of the newer one.

I also added select reviews – I think these really help. They’re all genuine. Will this make a difference? No way to now.

Further AMS ad experiments

This week my experiment was to set all bids at 50c. The zombie ads partially served and the Wren ads didn’t serve at all. Therefore – I need to boost.

OR – what I’ve actually done is twofold.

  • Reduce Saint Justice back to 99c. I saw some other newish thriller authors do this for their first book. OK.
  • Started up some FB ads. All new copy, but the same images. Basic copy, though, same old targeting. Here’s the ad:

I think it all helps. FB ads have been delivering at knockdown prices of 12c / click. It compares great to AMS ads, where the going rate is at least 75c

Repetition! Explanation! AMS Experimentation – 2020 Writing Week 3&4

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Oh my word, do the lessons about my writing frailties ever end?

Saint Justice edits

I thought a had a bead on my tendency to run long, self-indulge and repeat myself endlessly – but actually all those lessons have come most powerfully since I edited the Last Mayor whole series. I blathered via deep-cut technobabble, repeating events from alternate perspectives and just foggy logic.

That’s all gone now from the Last Mayor. But the Last Mayor edits took place after I wrote Christopher Wren 1. Oh my. Now, with the narrator reading the book and presenting it to me in a whole new way, it becomes super clear when a section is getting boring.†

  • Wren explains things. He explains things again and again. The same things. He uses different metaphors to explain them, stacking atop each other. He explains a bit more. How this works. How that works. The weight of the mental cost of whatever action he takes.
  • I explain things. Forcing plot threads to marry up, when they don’t need to be forced – lots of unnecessary solder applied at the weld line.

I can so easily detect these sections in the audio – which I can’t easily see in the text. I start drumming on the desk and thinking ‘Come on! Move on, please’.

No. There is often another paragraph of reflection to come. Maybe more.

It’s mostly too late to fix these things in the audio. I can get a few re-read, maybe get some paragraphs chopped out whole by the narrator, though it’s going to cost me more. At the same time, I can make changes to the ebook as I see fit.

It’ll be so sleek after this!

I don’t get great readthrough with Wren. There are other potential issues (tiresome hammering of social issues) – but I think this bagginess makes people innately feel like the book was a lecturesome trudge, always getting stuff explained. It doesn’t help that, in the very theme of the book, there is a lecturey style.

People don’t want that. They don’t feel compelled to read the next book – it was too slow and frustrating at times. I don’t want that anymore. I’m stripping out the slowness as much as I can.


I’ve been developing a model for Amazon AMS ads in my head for a little while now. Essentially, my ad budget on AMS is like a puddle of water trying to run to the lowest level. Ad campaigns are channels cut into the sand, leading away. Big bids equals deep channels. They run fast but don’t go very far – the water runs out. Low bids run slower but go further. Lots of channels drains the puddle faster.

So – I appraised all my ads. I picked the keywords that were doing well, converting to sales, and dug those channels deeper. Up to $2 a bid in some cases. Crazy high. But I figured, if they convert well, it’s worth it. At the same time, I turned off ALL my low bid keywords that never converted. Thousands of them. So I basically forced the whole puddle to run through a few deep channels.

Guess what happened? I spent a lot of money, very fast, for very little reward. My ads tapped out by lunchtime at high prices. So, that was a mistake. The budget running out early means I never get a chance to bid for the cheaper clicks that come at the end of the day, when everyone else’s budgets have run out.

So I turn all the cheap keywords back on. I limit everything to 50c max. Now I have many thousands of shallow channels. And the result? Well, it’s too early to really say, but my sales yesterday were as good as any prior day, for a third the price. A third of the impressions, but if they are better targeted and cheaper, maybe it is fine.

We will see. The key I’m thinking now is to lower my bids until the budget rides the edge of not spending completely. At that point, rather than deepening my channels (raising my bids), I just add more ads. More channels. More keywords. Scoop up the cheap keywords on books that are not so popular, scoop a click here or there, all cheap, but together adding up to enough to drain the daily puddle.

Soon the puddle will be a lake.

Wren audiobook, LIA, Wren 4 – 2020 Writing Week 2

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

This week was my second at a new job, so it’s been tricky to find the time for writing – I got motion sickness from trying to write on the bus, and ended up nauseous for three days. Ugh, never again. To boot, the campus I’m at is right next to an airport (like two hundred yards from the runway across water) so every time a plane goes up or comes down, the air fills with the pollutant backwash of burnt jet fuel.

Double ugh.

But smile 🙂

I’m much better now, and the weekend is here!

Wren 1 audiobook

The other thing that’s been hoovering up time is proof-listening to my narrator’s work on Christopher Wren 1. This is obviously a great thing to do, I enjoy hearing the story performed, but it does take time, and my narrator is fast! So this week it’s been almost an hour a day of listening to stay abreast of things.

It’s a fantastic performance, though. Accents bring it to life. We’re halfway through now, then hard onto book 2 and 3 straight after!


For the London Indie Author group this week we had in Jo Forshaw, who worked for trad publishing in the audio department – managing the transition of thousands of books into audio format. She says ‘just do it’, basically. No reason to not have a book in audio. Like having a Masters degree these days, it’s considered bare minimum for entry.

She also cautioned though that it may not pay off. It can cost around £2000 to get an audiobook made. A big outlay for an indie.

Why did my audios not do well before? I put it down to unfinished series. I only made Last Mayor book 1 in audio – so people didn’t look too closely at it. Now I’m making all the Wrens, and will do so going forward. Simultaneous release, if possible. Get the biggest bang on launch that I can.

Wren 4

I’m also working on Wren book 4. This is proving a little tricky; lots of complexity in the set up, as things need to start moving on now. They need to build, sewing in previous plot threads. Also the stakes need to rise. It can’t be just the same level of threat as previous books. It has to go bigger.

I’m getting there. Dealing with a chunk of backstory. Wouldn’t it be good to get our first look at the Apex?

Well. It may come.

So, a workmanlike week. Let the weekend be full of words! Exercise! And some tasty food (we’ve been on vegetarian chilli all week – I’m so ready for a splash of tasty meat in burger form!).

Polishing zombies, Wren edits for audio – 2020 Writing Week 1

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

I finished major edits of the Last Mayor series right on target at the end of 2019, but there were a few little bits to rework in book 1 in the first week of the new year.

We had a holiday! Su and I went to Stratford on Avon for 2 nights, stayed in a great hotel with good spa facilities. Our days we spent being inspired by the Bard, our afternoons in the spa (sauna for me), our evenings editing and reading.

Wonderful. A mini writing retreat. I chopped The Last a little, then put it up. Now I really want to buy out the audio rights and get the whole thing remade. 9 books, 500,000 words, it’ll look like fantastic value to Audible listeners – I’ve heard they pick up the biggest books they can using their one free pick. 9 books should cut it.

We will see – because right now I’m focused on making Wren in audio!

Wren audiobooks

I put Saint Justice up on Findaway Voices, but they took so long and offered so few narrators that I decided to float it on ACX, and in the last 3 weeks 40 narrators read the 8 minute sample text. Wow. Thank you all.

I’ve now made a selection. It was damn hard. Su and I listened again and again, drawing up favorite lists – but one guy in particular kept rising to the top.

I’m doing this with upfront payment, and it’ll be exclusive to ACX, so only on Audible and iTunes. I’ll do all 3 books as quick as the narrator can do them, then release the text/audio boxset at the same time as book 4 comes out.

Big splash. Kindle countdown on the box set. Get eyes on the audio. Conquer.

Wren edits

In prep for the audio – which fixes the text in a pretty permanent format – I’ve been running last minute edits on Saint Justice. Nothing structural was needed, so not major changes, but lots of little bits in response to feedback and reviews:

  • Both my writer friend Matt and Su told me that Wren often runs too far ahead of the reader. He may spend a few pages setting something up, while the reader has no idea why. This requires constant suspension of expectation and understanding. It’s better to say – Wren needs to do this now. Here’s what he does. So, I straighten those out. In particular when he goes to Chicago – we expect him to follow up the receipt, but he spends ages with Cheryl, and it’s not clear why.
  • Another pass for gore. I keep finding more. I thought I’d got it all, but there was a lot. Missing eyes, noses, etc… Easy to remove when I find them. I mean the references, not the actual body parts 😉
  • Swapping Wren’s employer. This was a big one I’ve been aware of for a while. I picked CIA because FBI seemed old hat, but CIA don’t operate within the USA. Problem. Reviews pointed it out. I thought I would shuffle this – Wren seconds himself to multiple agencies: FBI, CIA, etc… But still, he needs one big boss. So9 – I discover DHS! Department of Homeland Security. Massive umbrella agency, works with the others, specific remit is terrorism and homeland protection, so works well for Wren. Done throughout all 3 books.
  • De-superhero Wren. I found one section where he doesn’t sleep for maybe 2 days. Actually, initially I had him sleep in the warehouse, but it seemed such a null time, so I cut it. Now I have him sleep in an Uber while en route. Faintly ridiculous, but whatever. In other areas – Mason beats Wren up as torture – I reduce the impact and severity. Wren gets shot/knifed a lot, so I grade these down. Make it a bit more realistic. Honestly, I thought I was being realistic by having Wren get injured in each fight. But now it is unrealistic in another way. Hopefully fixed now.
  • Sexualised women. A reader mentioned this. Sinclair definitely is sexualised, on purpose and as a weapon. Cheryl is – her backstory. I found a random woman walking around in high heels though – and changed those to sneakers. Something to bear in mind.
  • Cut some noodling. Wren, like Amo in the Last Mayor, occasionally stops to think about all his huge guilt. A bit boring and self-obsessed, so cut these right back. A reader mentioned it was boring, and they’re not wrong.
  • Su said she wants to know more about who Wren is. Part of my approach with these books is to gradually introduce Wren – but he needs a bit more upfront. Make him a little more sympathetic. So now I don’t only talk about the ‘fog’, but also nightmares, night terrors, and panic attacks. On the first page. Likewise in his interactions with Eustace – he comes across as a bully. I added a few paras to explain why Wren does what he does – based on experience, for Eustace’s own good.

It’s quite a lot! But each one was pretty fast. Definitely improved. Wish I’d known all this prior to publication, and prior to the Bookbub!, but feedback comes after readers see it, so…

Or I get an editor? Maybe that is next step. I don’t know what I don’t know, and I want to learn it.

New words

No new words! When will I get some? I don’t know. Busy now with reworking Wren books 2 and 3 in advance of the narrator getting stuck in. Also the secret editing project which I want to finish up this month. So maybe next month new words?

I planned out, roughly, Wren books 4, 5, 6. I came up with the concept for my new apocalypse books. Now need to do the work! Oh, I also have a new job, so that jumbles my schedule quite a bit.

Weekend writer!!

2019 Writing Update & 2020 Plans

MJG Writing, Yearly Writing Update Leave a Comment

2019 has been the biggest year of my writing career to date, with a lot of learning, a lot of rewriting, some new launches and no small measure of success.

Primarily three projects defined the year:

1. Mr. Ruin rewrite, rebrand, relaunch

I had pretty high hopes for the rebrand of Mr. Ruin as Soul Jacker. I put a lot of time, money and effort into getting various edits, rewriting the books, getting new covers, attaining high-profile blurbs and setting up a lot of promotion in early 2019, only to find that the readers just weren’t there.

It was a bit of a battering. In the process, though, I learned so much about genre, covers, pace, narrative drive and so on. Now I can reflect and see that these books were quite unlikely to ever sell in this market. Cyberpunk is an unpopular genre. LitRPG has eaten its lunch with a brighter, faster and overall more fun approach to the future.

Maybe it’s something about the Cold War too – cyberpunk thrived in a different age. The Matrix was the capstone. It just doesn’t appeal anymore. OK then.

2. Last Mayor box set launch and subsequent rewrites

Early in 2019 I reworked portions of Last Mayor books 1-3, thanks to feedback I got in a poll of my readers who said most gave up on book 3.

I had to investigate. I found a lot of flaws and started to eliminate them. This resulted in book 3 shrinking in length from 80,000 words to around 40,000. I pulled a similar trick for books 1 and 2, then put the 9-book box set together and released it for $9.99.

It made some sales organically. I did a Countdown deal at 99c, and it earned some bestseller tags. Ey up, I thought, what’s all this? I researched and found other box sets at 99c permalow, so I replicated it.

The books sold more than ever. Page reads crashed in. I threw ads behind it and watched it sell. Unbelievable. The book image itself – a 9-book box set – must be a powerful aphrodisiac. Also the ‘Complete’ tag. People like to binge a whole series in one go. No one wants to wait years.

Reviews started to come in – critical ones. The first 3 books were fine, but then it slowed down. So I made speeding it up a priority. By year’s end I’d reworked all 9 books. Each was cut almost in half. I learned a lot. Down from nearly a million words to 500,000. Quite a drop.

Sales are still going strong. Reviews are getting better. It’s amazing. I aim to get the audio done. Without a doubt, these zombie books are my greatest success.

3. Christopher Wren trilogy launch

After getting rejected by all the agents I submitted to, I self-published Chris Wren 1 and 2 while finishing book 3, then put it out at the tail-end of a fast-release strategy.

Sales were very strong at the start, fueled by Facebook ads. I kept the ads running at a loss for months aiming for brand recognition. Now I’m all in for AMS ads. Is Chris Wren making money?

Maybe not much. It’s not the fault of the books, I think – though I have made a number of changes in line with the preponderance of reviews – caught up in all the reworking excitement. I think it’s rather people’s unwillingness to try something new.

When I put out book 4, and make a box set of books 1-3, I expect to see a boost. At that point I should have audiobooks out as well, to capitalize on ad spend.

Major lessons

I learned a lot about my own writing this year. This is invaluable and should help hugely going forward. I am better able than ever to see my own writing from the reader’s point of view. I also learned much more about ads, marketing, packaging and such.

As for 2020, what is my major goal?

Make consistent replacement money

Replacement money means enough to replace the money from my job. Some days I’m hitting it now – though it isn’t consistent. There are ups and downs, almost wholly tied to the fortunes of the zombie series.

I want to level that out. Get the thrillers paying. Get some audiobook income. Maybe diversify into another apocalypse series. †

Everything leads up to this, really. It’ll involve further mastering my craft and marketing, writing new books and reworking old ones, plus investing in audiobooks.

If I do have that kind of success, all kinds of interesting things could follow: going to fun writer’s retreats and writer’s conferences around the world; traveling more generally; writing more; possibly taking on and publishing other authors; maybe a move to more central London.

Who knows what 2020 will bring?

All the best!