Ghost War launches & Saint Justice conversion up – 2020 Writing Week 24

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing 2 Comments

Ghost War, book 4 of the Chris Wren thrillers, is out today!

I’ve had a number of beta readers on the ARC team get back to me with comments and great fixes for minor issues. So far there are just reviews in, but I’m loving them. Here’s Julian’s review off Goodreads:

I don’t like using ‘roller-coaster/page-turner’ in reviews as they are too pat descriptors, useful shorthand, maybe – but lacking some oomph. And Ghost War certainly has the OOMPH! If I wanted a brief description then ‘express train ride, barely short of a complete runaway train’ comes close. The action is breath-taking, right from the start – and I’m not going to try to describe it. Go and read for yourself – but make sure you have read the previous books first.

Over three books we have gradually learned something of Wren’s early life and upbringing. We learn some more here as we careen through the action. The shocking climax is followed by a brief sense of relief that the storm has passed – but then everything is topped by the ending. I should have seen it coming but I completely failed to, logical though it is.

A stunning book – go, read it.

I’m incredibly pleased with that. Many readers have said it’s the best book in the series yet. This is also great news – and also bodes well for the recent changes I’ve made to book 1, 2, 3 to unkill people and generally reduce the horror quotient.

I don’t have massive promo plans for Ghost War – it’s book 4 in a series – my main plan is to notify my newsletter list, maybe run a couple of Facebook ads to past engagers to let them know book 4 is out, then just keep trying to push people through the funnel starting at book 1.

There’s 2 components to achieve that, one is converting people on the Saint Justice sales page, and two is getting them to read through to book 2, 3, etc.. I’ll address readthrough first.

Tackling Saint Justice Readthrough

I’m really aware the readthrough from Saint Justice to book 2 Monsters is poor. If I look at lifetime KU page reads for each book, we can see:

  • Saint Justice – 600,000 pages
  • Monsters – 240,000 pages
  • Reparation – 120,000 pages

This is not good. To Monsters KU readthrough is 40%. Through to Reparation is 20%. It means a lot of people are tailing off, not only from book 1 to 2, but also from 2 to 3. Drop off from 2 to 3 is 50%, which is huge. by that point, they should be hooked.

Why are they not?

Well, as above I expect the violence has something to do with this. I’ve been grading the violence down for months now. Unkilling people across the series. Let’s look at readthrough that may take some of that into account, for the past 90 days:

  • Saint Justice – 83,000
  • Monsters – 35,000
  • Reparation – 27,000

So what are we looking at here? Book 1 to 2 is now a readthrough rate of 42%. Probably not statistically significant. ie – people are not reading through any more. From 2 to 3 is 77%, which is much better than 50%. So I still lose the same number of people off book 1, but I keep more of them into book 3.

This is something. Maybe there are other changes I need to make to book 2 to make this better. As soon as I know what those changes are, I’ll make them. Currently books 2 and 3 have only positive reviews. I need more people in the funnel to write reviews and tell me why they’re dropping off.

Saint Justice Conversion

For a year now since Saint Justice came out I’ve been sending clicks to the sales page, and mostly losing money. Conversion was not great. I knew something was wrong, and have changed the cover multiple times, the categories, the blurb, the social proof.

Recently I wrote on a thriller board asking for help, and got some great tips.

  • My blurb was too long. Too much detail. In response, I cut it in half.
  • There were mentions of ‘apocalyptic cult’ and ‘prevent Armageddon’ which might bring genre confusion. I removed them.
  • The tagline was ‘It takes a cult leader to kill a cult’. Many people said this cult angle would put them right off. There are no positive connotations of ‘cult leader’. They’re not ready yet to see Wren as a leader of a good cult. It’s just the wrong word. So I cut every mention.
  • Too much social proof. I reduced it, and left only 2 short blurbs from fellow thriller authors.
  • Too many words taken up wirth series reading order – end on a call to action. Done.
  • In addition, the highly ranked negative reviews are probably hurting, but all I can do about that is sell more, try and get more reviews, and have those reviews be positive.

Has conversion increased? I haven’t figured out the precise stats, but generally speaking, yes. The last 2 days I sold 11 copies each day at $2.99, for a similar spend that on previous days was netting 3 or 4 sales.

It’s not statistically significant yet, but it’s encouraging. If I can keep this new conversion rate up, and add better readthrough, this series should get profitable. As soon as it’s profitable, I can ramp up advertising spend and hopefully see the same rates hold out.

For the past year Chris Wren has been a race car getting tuned up. I, the mechanic, would take it out for drives and it would keep losing races, blowing smoke, getting flat tires. I didn’t know the genre or the expectations too well, so I was a pretty blind mechanic.

Now I know them better. Is the car ready for a big race? Perhaps it is getting there. The more people I can push through the funnel, the more data I should get on sticking points, and the better I can fine-tune the car. As we get closer to profit, I can speed up ad spend, get even more data, faster, and fine-tune on the fly. Racing pit stops.

It’s exciting. I feel I may be on the precipice.

To Do

Next task is to write book 5. This week I’ve mostly been breaking the major plot points. Everything is to play for. How to top book 4, but not be exhausting? I also put book 5 up for pre-order with a placeholder cover.

Also, I need to make any final changes to book 4 and get it into audio production.

By next week, would be good to have the first 10k written. This would give me a strong launching pad for the rest of the book. In theory, I should be able to finish it in 3 months, with book 6 by December. That’d be great. We will see.

Unkilling more people in Saint Justice – 2020 Writing Week 23

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

This week I got a fascinating review for Saint Justice:

“Captivating, enthralling. I finished the book. Quite an amazing study of human attitudes and behaviors. However, for this reader there was just too much violence. Not at all certain I will read the next. For sure I need a bit of time before considering it.”

It was a 3-star review. You wouldn’t think so from those first two lines, right? Captivating, enthralling. That’s good, no?

Then, the violence let it down. God damn the damn violence!!

I wrote a post on the Self-Publishing Formula Facebook page on this topic:

Age rating on thrillers

I’ve been getting some reviews highlighting the violence of my conspiracy/vigilante thrillers. I’m still relatively new to the thriller genre – and maybe being used to watching 18 or R action movies, and things like Game of Thrones, I tend to think a lot of violence and such is normal.

Yeah, so maybe it’s not that way in these genres.

I read a thriller writing advice book that said – ‘Go to the end of the line’ – and put that into practise. I guess the end of the line I see is too far…

Do other authors of thrillers grade themselves to like an 18 / R certificate? A PG15? I’d love to hear what Mark Dawson thinks and does with his thrillers – especially as he worked in the BBFC…

Well – it got some good responses. A lot of people telling me to just write what I want to write, which is nice but not terribly helpful. With Wren it’s the social issues I want to get across, not the graphicness of the violence. Talking about this with other folks made me think about it more seriously.

I went to the BBFC site and read through classification discussions of previous movies. I read about how they gave Die Hard an 18 (low 18, largely for footage of knees getting shot out), how Pulp fiction got an 18 (solidly 18, but more for the scenes of enjoyingdrug taking than the violence), and others.

It was fascinating. I learned that the factors that turn viewers off and make a movie head toward an R instead of an 18, moving into ‘transgressive territory’. It’s things like sadism, whether it’s goodies or baddies enjoying the pain, gory and graphic detail, shots lingering on violence, slow motion that makes violence look cool, blood, death that feels real.

They made fascinating points that, because James Bond dispatches bad guys with a casual one-liner, that death is not as bad. It gets lighter, or his charisma carries the day somehow. The damage seems less.

In Wren I’m always talking about damage – mental and physical. There is some injury detail. Perhaps worst of all, there are times when the horrible stuff piles up. It used to be, after Wren gets taken captive, that he watches first Abdul, then Henry, then Demeter, then Mason, then Sinclair die in a row. Horribly. Tortures didn’t occur on the page, but the scars they left were described. Conceptually, it was super dark.

I’ve already been grading this violence down. Still though I’m getting comments that people like the book, but the violence and intensity makes them not want to read anymore.

I talked to Brad, in my marketing group, and he gave me some tips after reading some of Saint Justice. We talked about different genres of thrillers, and it was really elucidating.

I’m writing Espionage, Conspiracy, Vigilante thrillers. For this genre, Jack Reacher is at the darker end. A few people die. We won’t see much blood. I, on the other hand, have been writing following the advice I read in a how-to-write-thrillers book, which was heavy on James Patterson examples and offered the advice – ‘go to the end of the line’.

So I did. but James Patterson writes serial killer thrillers – and those can be incredibly dark and horrible. They’re both thrilers, but they’re different genres. If I want to hit my genre properly, which the cover does, I need to follow genre convention and not keep turning people off.

So, what have I done:

  • I unkilled Demeter. This was actually really easy. He got killed so the Alpha could make a point, on top of another point – but honestly, the first point was shocking enough. It’s cleaner now, less horrible, and nobody will miss his death (or even his reappearance – he was never much of a character anyway).
  • I graded instances of blood and violence further. In the fight with the road captain, Wren broke the guy’s finger in the struggle for the gun. Now he doesn’t. In the fight with the assassin, Wren put him in camel clutch and strained his neck, resulting in the guy’s death. This was unnecessary – so I unkilled this bad guy, and jus thad Wren use camel clutch as a submission tool.
  • References to Cheryl and Teddy’s vampirism and cannibalism reduced.
  • I added more light notes. Wren barely spoke to Henry and Abdul when they arrived, now they have a funny bit of awkward patter. A bit more with Alli and various others. Through the end the humor dissipates, but I think that’s OK, as stakes get intense.

Will this do the job? I hope so. Next up is probably book 2. I’m hopeful I already graded this enough, but maybe I’ll need to take another look. Book 3 probably needs it too.

Oh, I got some other great feedback about book 2, from a beta reader, commenting on issues that strained credibility:

  • Wren skydived after only ever doing 3 basejumps before, fell from 20,000 feet which is too cold and too oxygenless to do without special gear, flew at terminal velocity for too long, and saw people from 5,000 feet, when they would not be visible. Excellent stuff, and all fixed now.
  • Wren bought a ticket for a plane only 30 minutes later, gave sass through customs and faced no problems, had time to buy a coffee and still boarded first and got off first, with no warnings about electronic devices once. This is sily stuff for me to get wrong, so I fixed all these.

A couple of others. I always appreciate getting feedback. I wish I’d had all this feedback before I made the audiobooks, but whatever, I wasn’t to know. Now I have audio which is darker, and ebooks which are lighter. It’s fine.

Wren 4 edits & Last Mayor Bookbub! – 2020 Writing Week 21, 22

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

I thought edits on Christopher Wren book 4 would only take me a week, so I would’ve been done at the end of week 21, but it has taken until today, 2 weeks later, to get this book done. Almost completely done – still one little chapter to slot in, but that shouldn’t take more than Saturday morning.

I feel pretty weird. I suppose overwhelmed – for Wren, for his team, for his people. This may be one of the hardest books I ever had to write. It’s been my slowest book to write in recent years. It may be the best book I ever wrote.

Why?

  • Writing it got really spread out. I started it around September 2019, then a month later I got onto a re-editing jag. I did all the zombie books at a pretty deep level, then I did the earlier Wren books. Right after that, I started a new job while simultaneously getting Wren book 1-3 made into audiobooks. This led to more edits, a lot more thinking, and very little writing. At the same time I was editing Su’s new book. The process ended up really fractured.
  • The book is pivotal. It is the middle book of what I expect will be a seven book cycle dealing with the Apex. Everything turns on this book like a hinge – not just the immediate plot, but the grander plot. Christopher Wren’s life. I had to build out a lot, develop the Apex further, and develop my themes too.
  • These books are all about mind control. Cult indoctrination. Brainwashing. It’s been there since book 1, but here it is front and center. The scale is grand. Thinking about that has fried my brain.
  • Likewise the scenarios Wren gets himself into are tougher than any before. There are no incompetents now. The closer we get to the Apex, the more accomplished every plot is. There are no mistakes, which means Wren has to be a genius to keep the hunt moving forward. It knackers me out to problem solve against the Apex. The guy is a real Moriarty.
  • All that editing I did in between writing this book has probably raised my standards. This is a great thing, but it means the writing takes longer. I run more quality control checks, with a better idea of what to look out for.
  • Action scenes are hard to write. I think of it like filming an action scene. In movies, they are by far the most expensive, time-consuming, most heavily-edited sections. To feel fast and exciting, they require multiple camera angles, cross-cutting, pickup shoots, special effects. It’s the same in writing. Lots of things happening at the same time – how best to show that? And this book is basically a non-stop action sequence.

I’m more excited/terrified to hear what people think of this book than perhaps any other. It’s super topical in ways I couldn’t have predicted. I’m going to change the cover to match this. It’s propulsive. It does some crazy stuff.

In promo plans, I’ll send it to my ARC team in a day or two, get it made into an audiobook in a week or so, then put out the books 1-3 audio box at the same time. Then I’ll start pushing the kindle boxset 1-3 properly. I’ve been in KU this whole time with these thrillers, but really had no benefit from it. I’m planning on changing that when the boxset gets a push.

Last Mayor Bookbub

2 weeks back I had the Bookbub for the Last Mayor boxset, books 1-9. It was for UK and US only, a 99c/p Kindle Countdown deal, which allowed me to reap 70% royalties. The BB cost $350, and on the day I sold 800 copies. Instantly that was $600 back. I’ve never doubled my money on the day, via sales only, before.

I stacked a lot of other promo sites around this, and in total sold 1200 copies at 99c. Around $900. Now I’m hoping some big rush of KU pagereads will come in, but none yet. If it does, that’ll be great. If I was Amazon, I’d recommend a big seller like this to KU readers.

Now I’m in the middle of a Saint Justice 99c countdown deal. I got every big promo site except Bookbub – so I’m not expecting 1200 sales. A few hundred would be great. So far it’s been 2 days and it’s 75.

Writing plans

I would love to write 2 more Wren books this year, take us through book 6, but I think that that might kill me. Definitely book 5, then. Next year I would write 6 and 7. That’s two box sets.

Writing this coming week, I’ll finish up edits, get the new cover ready, then maybe start building out book 5. I already started it and have the theme. It’s crazy. It’s going to go bigger, but at the same time it’ll be a bit of a breather. We need a breather after book 4. Of course, the Apex is driving matters forward, and there’s no going back.

Wren 4 Finished! & FB experiments – 2020 Writing Week 20

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

This week I set out to finish Wren book 4, now titled Ghosts, and I succeeded!

It has left me feeling pretty shattered. There were quite a few surprises through the end. It does all kinds of unexpected things, and I have a lot of sympathy for poor old Christopher Wren. He’s more broken now than ever.

Next up is book 5! Goal is to at least write that, maybe even book 6 by the end of 2020, if I can get really going.

Hmm – I thought I’d have more to say, but it would all be spoilers.

So, Facebook ad experimentation!

The key finding of this last week, spurred on by various expert authors making suggestions, was that pretty much all of my previous ads were not working great.

The Conversion rate was abysmal on some ads. The video ads I talked about a few weeks ago were getting 1 sale in several hundred clicks. Even if clicks are only 6c, that’s still $6 plus for a sale. It’s far too scattershot.

I mentioned last time that I was trying desktop targeting. I’ve continued that, but even that doesn’t produce such great results. Better conversion, but still like 1 in 50. Money-losing.

Then I saw David Gaughran talking on a Youtube video about using the actually book image in the Facebook ad. It was always the most obvious thing, but common wisdom has ben that it didn’t work, because costs per click were so high. I know I tried it before and pulled away.

I’m trying it again. Here they are:

They’re very similar, in line with what Gaughran suggested. Because click costs are higher, I’m getting fewer results than before for the same budget, but can already say that the conversion rates are better than ever. 1 in 20? Still not great. More costly. Maybe it comes out a wash?

Next I’m tackling targeting. With that book right there in the image, I’m not going to be getting random clicks anymore, from people who are just looky-loos. When you see the book, and the ad says ‘SHOP NOW’, by the tie you click you’re seriosuly thinking about buying.

So – why not open the targeting back up?

I am accordingly going back to targeting mobile users. There are way more of them and clicks will be cheaper. I can potentially even dump narrowing targeting factors like ‘Kindle’ or ‘Ebooks’. With that book graphic, I’m sending a clear signal to readers.

That’ll be next. Try a big audience of many millions, and trust the FB algorithm to get me the best clicks, and hope that all those clicks are warm and follow through to buy.

That’s next week.

Next week goals:

  • Widening out targeting experimentation, remove narrowing factors, go big with mobile.
  • Finish the edit of Book 4 Ghosts and send it out to Foundation Inner Circle ARC readers.
  • Finish the edit of Su’s book and get it out to Beta readers. Finalize the cover.

Wren post-TWW rewrites – 2020 Writing Week 19.5

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

This last Saturday I woke up at 4:40 am to attend the Tokyo Writer’s Workshop Zoom meeting – a critique group I used to be a part of 6 years ago, when I lived in Tokyo. I was invited back by my friend Matt Finn, was psyched, and blearily got all set up for the 5am start time at the dining table.

Only to find out I’d got the wrong day. D’oh! It was on Sunday. I went back to bed.

Sunday morning at 4:40am I woke up, went to the dining table, and set up for the call. This time I was bang on. There were a few familiar faces: Matt, John, Karen, Greg and a couple others I knew a little. There were 9 pieces to get through (down from 12!) which I’d read over the previous few days.

I’d submitted Saint Justice’s first 7500 words. Basically, Wren goes into the biker bar, gets beaten up, goes to Eustace, deals with Eustace. Their comments on this, especially coming in light of my recent concerns about Wren being unlikeable, were massively informative, and made me think I should do a critique group, or shell out for a full edit, more often.

Here are the revelations:

  • Wren comes across as stupid. Why does he go into the bar and get beat up, if his plan is to infiltrate the gang? There’s got to be a better way. Now – this is not his plan, but if it comes over that way at all, it’s my problem.
  • If his plan is just to get beat up, what makes him think he can survive? I’d for a long time thought this was a charm/unique point. The bikers are maybe a bit ineffectual. Wren is just really good at dodging. But this in turn makes the bikers look weak, Wren all-powerful, and adds to the feeling that he is a BULLY.
  • If the bikers are really evil, they first need to show it. They are, after all, hardened racists. They are also killers and slavers. Someone made a good point – just one person needs to hit Wren with a crowbar, and he’s basically dead. Definitely broken bones. You can’t wriggle around that. And if they’re really bad-asses, why wouldn’t they do this? Why would they let him survive?
  • Next – Wren constantly judges everyone. It’s inescapable for the reader, and can come across as sanctimonious. I thought it just came over wise and pithy, but it is forcing people out of the narrative – they are not allowed to discover people and events for themselves. They have to have Wren’s worldview forced onto everything.
  • Wren bullies Eustace, and Eustace rolls over easily. Someone said his advice is Dr. Phil-like. Too basic, not nuanced enough. Wren knows a few words won’t flip Eustace around, but it’s not coming over here.
  • Some issues with overwriting. The approach to Eustace’s house in particular – overegging the message that, what, poor people suck? Are full of despair? It’s not necessary to overdo this.
  • My use of semi-colons is not right. Ouch. I need to learn this again.

Now, I found all of this riveting. Every drop feels like wisdom and money. As people are telling me these things, I’m feeling casual readers drop off. It’s a big deal that he survives a beatdown basically unhurt. He’s either a superhero who is invulnerable, or the bikers are weak/timid and not that bad at all.

In both cases, Wren comes over as a BULLY. He goes into their chapter house and starts a ruck by insulting everyone. He really targets them. He’s not an underdog at all – he’s the overdog. I’m doing something very wrong when the readers start being sympathetic to neo-Nazis.

So. I set out to fix it. It didn’t take long. Here is what I did:

  • Make the bikers badder. This starts early, by returning them to ‘meth and underage porn’ and assigning various murders to their case history. That’s pretty bad. Then when Wren goes in, he is less antagonistic to them, and lets them round on him. They are more racist (I don’t want to do too much here, as that can put people off too), and also more aggressive – trying to humiliate him, get him to kneel, give them donkey rides, etc.
  • Wren doesn’t get beatdown. That’s not his intention. His goal is just to pick a fight, and give as good as he gets. As the scene ends, he is still standing and dishing violence back. Ultimately, he flees. This is why he doesn’t die. He held his own.
  • Wren’s trip to Eustace has been heavily shortened – it was two chapters, now it’s one. I cut a lot of description, and overthinking and analysis. Let it just play out. Matt had the great idea that we don’t know what Wren is going there for. Maybe he means to kill Eustace? That keeps tension for the reader. Also, make it less so Eustace rolls over completely. He just snitches, basically.
  • Trim various overwritten sections. I feel it’s only the beginning of book 1 that suffers from this, but maybe I will go to the TWW again and have them look at another book beginning. See if it’s also overegged.

So. I wanted to write this midweek while it’s fresh in my mind. I also decided to add the flashbacks back in. I wrote them, so why not? They’re fast, they inform Wren, they don’t spoil anything and they’re pretty funny and light. Makes for a nice break.

I wonder if this can lead to a big change in my readthrough. I’m confident people won’t give up as often or as fast as they might have been doing. I was geting comments like – this is not what Reacher would do. Reacher would never purposefully lose a fight. And that’s legit – even a semi-suicidal dark hero wouldn’t go straight in to die, unless he was really serious about dying, in which case we don’t want to read that.

Well.

We will see. Better readthrough rates and reviews would be wonderful. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Wren words, editing Su’s book & A-B testing – 2020 Writing Week 19

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Last week this time I was at 55,000 words on Ghosts, the 4th Chris Wren thriller. Now I’m at 69,000. That’s 14,000 words across the 7 days, 2,000 words a day- pretty nice going really.

It started hard, though. I didn’t write on the weekend, and then Monday felt kind of like a lost day as I tried to figure out the precise next step. When I put the book down the Thursday before, it was with a twist I hadn’t at all expected coming.

It felt right though. Making it work, however, felt like scrambling to backfilling one of Trump’s whacko conspiracy theories. So Monday morning I researched, Monday afternoon I wrote something, Tuesday morning I rejected it, Tuesday afternoon I saw another way to make it work, and then finally the whole thing unlocked.

I roughed out the last 15 chapters in one go. Magic. From then on, it’s been serious writing, and it will be next week. I’ll likely get it done, it may finish just shy of 80,000. That feels short to me, though it’ll probably expand a little in editing – filling in gaps and such. It likely won’t shrink – it feels pretty tight already.

Plotting vs. pantsing

I’ve plotted before. The zombie books were all pretty much plotted out in advance, chapter by rough chapter. With Wren though, I can do that. I think this often – the fact is, both Wren and his father, the Apex, are smarter than me.

It takes me a long time to figure out what Wren will do sometimes – when to him it would be obvious. And the Apex is a devious, Moriarty-like bastard – who knows why he does the things he does?

Well, I have to. Setting off on writing each of these books is like riding a sail boat across an ocean. I have to have faith that the winds will carry me in the right direction. Whatever craft I’ve got I use to try and steer – but with such a mega-story as this, I can’t know everything in advance.

If I did try to plot tightly, I don’t think it would be very interesting. the reversal that just happened – I had no idea it would happen until I was right on top of it. After that, it seemed totally necessary. Obvious, even. things tie together neatly in ways I never could have predicted.

Su’s book!

So I am OK to share the secret now – my wife has written a book! I’ll leave it toher to announce title and cover when release rolls around – but it is really such good fun, a delightful chick-lit romcom lite about a Korean girl in Japan.

I was honored to help out with editing. We’re in the final stages now, getting a cover, smoothing final wrinkles, then release. I’ll mention it further at that time. It’s very exciting for her, and for me, really. It’s so different from what I write, but in editing it I got to adopt her voice a little and add a few interstitial bits, and that was fun.

Could I write romcom in the future? Well, maybe incorporate it into thrillers… It’s possible 😉

A-B Testing

I’m A-B testing a couple of new variables with my Facebook ads this week, and also severely cutting back & condensing my Amazon ads. The Facebook variables are:

  • Desktop vs. mobile

For a long time (forever) I have been focused on getting the cheapest clicks. CPC. CTR. I did everything I could to get them cheaper. I recently tried video ads to achieve this – I succeeded, thousands of cheap clicks – but no sales. And sales are key. So now I am focusing way more on conversion, and try to only run ads I know are working.

To that end, after a great FB thread, I’m experimenting with desktop only ads. They cost more – hence I was never getting them whe I optimized for low click price. Results are coming in slowly, but at the moment it looks like they are much more effective. I’ll keep running this one.

  • Split-testing targets

At the same time, I’m wondering which of my author targets are actually working for me. It is possible to know this too – so I made several ads targeting one author each, with analytics, and ran them. The authors are Robert Ludlum, Ian Fleming and Lee Child. The ad is the same. The results?

It’s only been a couple of days – Fleming and Child returned a sale rate of 1 in 15 clicks, approx. Ludlum has had 80 clicks with no sale. Maybe he needs to be nixed off my list.

However, I was running this on mobile. I wasn’t running it for desktop, so maybe I need to run this again on desktop, if desktop does prove to be better. So many dang ways you can slice it.

  • Also, Amazon ads.

Some folks are saying it is bad practise now to have 100s of Amazon ads. It’s better to have all your star keywords in one ad, and only run keywords that work. Turn the rest off. So one keyword ad, one category ad, one auto ad, one ASIN ad.

I’ve done this.

Results? Too early to say. Not great. Spending some of my budget. Making some sales. Maybe coming out even? I only run little budgets because I’m not convinced it’s so useful.

And that is it!

By this time next week, Ghosts should be done and on first round edits, Su’s book could even be out, and hopefully I’ve mastered my FB ads and fine-tuned them down to a handful for each book.

PS – I have the Tokyo Writer’s Wrokshop tomorrow, online via zoom. I put in the first few chapters of Wren 1, to get their take. I used to attend TWW back in my OG days. It’s at 1pm there, so 5am here! They discuss a whopping 12 pieces each time, and it takes up to 5 hours. Wow, amirite? I’m behind on my reading – better get caught up, I’m waking up soon!

Wren sales boost & Bookbub – 2020 Writing Week 18

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

Week in summary:

  • I hit the promised goal of 55,000 words on Wren book 4 by Friday. Great!
  • I got a Bookbub on The Last Mayor box set. Great!
  • I actually made some decent sales of Saint Justice. Great!

There was a nice chunk of good news this week. The biggest would probably appear to be the Bookbub – but I’m feeling the strong day of sales for Saint Justice more closely. More on each of these:

Bookbub

Bookbub are the #1 email newsletter promotion tool for authors. They have millions of readers on their newsletter lists, divided by genre. The last Bookbub I had (I’ve had 3 in total over the years) was on Saint Justice, discounted to free, and it was not great.

It lumbered me with some awful upvotes on negative reviews. It did not lead to great readthrough across the series. It barely made its substantial cost (around $800) back – if at all.

So I turned away from Bookbub and other similar promo sites. But, as with swings and roundabouts, I’ve come back around to it now. I figured – why not apply with both the zombie books and Wren.

Well – they took the zombie book within hours. Snapped my hand off, really. The 9-book box set will be reduced for 7 days from 27 May to 99c. It was 99c recently anyway, so this is no big thing. Except Bookbub will shift a large amount in a day.

I hate to predict numbers. I’d hope over 500. It should lead to loads of page reads.

That’s the cool thing. This box set is in Kindle Unlimited – Amazon’s reader subscription service. I get paid per pages read, and it’s a long series. Additionally in KU I get to run Countdown deals – I can reduce the price to 99c for a limited period, and Amazon will still pay me 70% royalty plus potentially push the book themselves a little during that time.

Oh, but quandary! The Bookbub deal was for 5 Amazon regions – US, UK, India, Canada and Australia. But I can’t run a Countdown in those regions. So I’d be left to reduce the price to 99c myself, take the 30% royalty, and get no extra promo push.

Except. I asked Bookbub if they would limit my deal to only US and UK – the only Countdown-enabled markets. This will reduce my total sales – none in the other markets, as no promo there – but should increase my punching power and profits in the US and UK, the 2 markets that matter the most.

This could be big. It’s exciting. So why am I more excited about a minor day of good sales for Wren?

Wren good sales day

Yesterday I sold 12 copies of Saint Justice, 5 of Monsters and 3 of Reparation. A few audiobooks were mixed in there. This is probably a record sales day – and one of the few days that this book has actually made a profit since release.

Wow, right? So what happened? Did I do some big promo push?

No. Nothing special. The same $25 worth of ads I’ve been doing every day for ages. What I did change though was the blurb. I way simplified. I added the new tagline ‘Justice will be done’. I made it punchy. Here:

A terror conspiracy like nothing in history. A man with nothing to lose. Justice will be done.

When rogue DELTA operator Christopher Wren uncovers a vast warehouse crammed with human cages in the deserts of Utah, the payback will be swift and righteous.

But Wren soon learns there’s more than caged humans at stake – there’s a terror conspiracy threatening to destroy the very idea of the United States.

And Wren will never let that happen. Not on his watch.

It has less interest, less intrigue, and more excitement. It promises ass-kicking. With one day’s worth of reporting, it is doing better than any previous blurb. Today is also looking good.

So why am I so excited about this?

Well – I love that the zombie series makes money. But it’s in the past, and it’s future profits are limited. The audience is smaller. The story is done.

Christopher Wren on the other hand has such huge potential. I’m still writing more books in the series, for one. It could go on forever, theoretically. The thriller audience is big. I also have audiobooks for all the Wren books – they can lead to big profits, if I can get people hooked on them.

One day in the black, finally, is pretty exciting. It’s what I want to see. People reading book 1 and 2 and 3 – they’re reading through. That is excellent. Let’s get some more.

55,000 words done

On the question of getting some more, I’m two thirds done with book 4. It was going to be called Release Christopher Wren, but now I’m thinking it’ll be called GHOSTS. One big reason for this is kind of silly – Release Christopher Wren was too long to fit neatly on the book cover.

Really?

Sort of really. But also – each book to date takes its title from the names of he villains. Well, not book 2 exactly – though MONSTERS is what Wren and the others call them. The BLUE FAIRY or PINOCCHIOS might even be better. Anyway, the rule holds.

So call book 4 GHOSTS means that’s the name of the villains – at least how Wren et al refer to them.

I just hit a big flip at 55,000 words as well. I thought the story was going one way, and now it looks to be going another. It should be better. I don’t know exactly how I’m going to do it, but I’ll probably manage, and it’ll be cool. Unexpected.

The story is going big.

Movie review

This’ll be a fly-by movie reviee – I finally saw Star Wars 9, and really disliked it. Though dislike is too strong a word. My feeling was an aggressive ‘blah’.

What is the point of that movie, I guess I was thinking. What is the point of any of this? It doesn’t matter how badass the baddies are, how many millions of death star-type ships they have, there is always a Rebel Alliance, always hidden on a whole plaent, with tons of ships and fighters and resources and…

Haven’t we seen this movie before? Oh yes, we have. We’ve seen this EXACT same bad guy before. Palpatine was a major, major misstep. I really don’t care about this joke old guy. He already got beat once. He’s a retread. Plus he doesn’t even do anything all that villainous in this movie. We’re just supposed to remember he’s evil.

Ugh.

It all felt empty to me. Contrast that with LAST JEDI, which I rather liked. Not wholly, but it was interesting. Luke’s character development was fascinating. Nothing was so simple as he thought. This was made even more interesting by Kylo Ren’s descent into darkness.

Of course – after Snoke died, Ren is the big bad. We have to come to grips with that. He is evil like we’ve never seen before.

Except, not. He is emo evil. there is no clear reason why he’s doing any of his evil stuff, except he really thinks his granddad had a cool hat. He wants a hat like that so much he gets his old hat remade. I mean, what? Who cares? This is not cosmic. This is just nothing. It doesn’t matter. What’s at stake, other than the usual BS?

It should be his soul. Oh, but it is! He’s redeemed at the end!! Leia dies to redeem him with love!

What? Nonsense. Like Anakin, this guy is too far gone. He needs to be killed, by Rey, with prejudice, because he’s insane. Not play-acting insane, but actually insane.

And Rey? Don’t even get me started on her being a damn princess. I hate that. So much better that she be a ‘common person’.

So, blah. Glad it’s over. I won’t be tuning into anything Star Wars for a good long while, I expect. They don’t know what they’re doing.

Wren likeability & covers – 2020 Writing Week 16/17

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

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

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

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

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

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

Better problems.

So what can I do?

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

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

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

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

The new one is better.

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

JUSTICE WILL BE DONE

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

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

Justice will be done

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

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

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

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

And what about new words???

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

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

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

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

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

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

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

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

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

No surprises.

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

Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Word count – 33,600. Almost halfway.

Ads

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

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

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

Conclusions were:

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

All this keeps me very busy.

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

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

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

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

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

Next week’s plan

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

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

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

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

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

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

But, um, why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other news

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

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

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

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

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

Fresh words

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

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

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

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

If you build it, he will come.