January 26th, 2022 5:38 PM
I really started diving into writing in January of last year. Sure, I had started messing around with my fantasy novel as early as March of 2020, but I didn't make the decision to really give self-publishing an honest try until January of 2021.
If you're subscribed to this blog, and if you've been reading the monthly updates, you've been here for many of the ups and downs. You've heard all about the journey, the hopes and the shattered expectations and everything in between. It's been taxing and rough and often unrewarding (or at least not as rewarding as I'd first hoped), but I've also learned a lot, and I've earned many firsts that I genuinely never dreamed I might achieve: my first review, my first interview as an author, my first site subscriber, my first five-star review from a stranger, my first one-star review, my first dollar for my writing, my first novel giveaway (and I gave away audiobooks and e-books and paperbacks, oh my!), and even my first audiobook production.
All these things happened in 2021.
I've navigated so many new waters this year, and, while I cannot say that 2021 was a fiscal success by any stretch in terms of my activity as an author, I don't believe I failed last year. While I've mentioned considering metrics besides money and followers/likes/subscribers as a means of measuring success before, I do believe there's value in these metrics. I still maintain that us writers should be open-minded about what success means in the field of writing. I think these indicators are easiest to measure, and I've come to believe that the act of reviewing sales and subscribers does tend to translate, in my limited experience, to an uptick in some of the less tangible measures of success/progress; in other words, if you're exploring ways to sell more and get more subscribers, I think that often means reaching newer audiences, having better conversations with people, engaging with other writers, readers, interviewers, reviewers, and fans, and making progress towards established goals, whether those are quantitative or qualitative.
I believe I accomplished a lot in 2021, and I've learned how to proceed. My goal is to keep at it, to progress, because I've now had a glimpse of all the good that can come of this pursuit. The rewards are there for the taking. I've enjoyed such unique experiences. I've put my work out into the world. I've had people enjoy my writing. I've had people hate my writing. I've gotten to speak with so, so many wonderful, interesting people (you know who you are), and I daresay I've even made new friends. To anybody who might be on the verge of taking that step... I can confidently encourage you to take it. If you're asking yourself, "Should I try to publish this book? Should I really try?" My answer is, "Yes. Absolutely. How can I help you on your journey?" This last question isn't a rhetorical question, either. Contact me, and I will try to help you at least make some connections, earn some readers, earn some site subscribers, earn engagement, and even earn some of your first sales. I can't show anybody how to make millions of anything, because I'm light-years away from doing that myself, but I can show people how to get out there and get started; that's what I've done.
The holiday season was busy (four kids, you know), and so I didn't have much time to reflect. The new year, for many, is an excellent time to do just that. Here are a few other things I'd like to consider about 2021 (and these are in addition to the many joyous firsts I mentioned above): I wrote about 35,000 words of content for this blog. I wrote nearly 50,000 new words across three different novel projects. This last figure is the sum of my progress on The Shroud of Sleep and The Sairad From the Sand, alongside progress for another project I very whimsically decided to jump into (I'll elaborate below).
I want 2022 to be thrice as rewarding as 2021. Having learned many hard lessons last year, I'm hoping to spare myself from so much suffering this time around. Instead, I want to focus on the good. Now, I've talked about a lot of the qualitative measures and points of progress, but I haven't shared much about the money (in other posts, I mentioned losses and expense, but never with much clarity. In the spirit of full transparency, and to hopefully help would-be writers to have an idea of what one man's self-publishing journey looked like, here's a breakdown of my fiscal performance in 2021:
As an accountant, I look at this and say some things have got to change. I see big risks that were meant to earn big returns (and they didn't; take a look at that bold cover art commission, the $700 loan that I worked toward paying off for a majority of this year; I'm fortunate the creditor was a close friend and not a bank, too). I see start-up costs (the website, the ISBNs, the domain name, the barcode). I see recurring expenses (shipping and giveaway copies and proof orders and even a smidgen of advertising). And I see a lot of red and only a little green.
How do I flip the script for 2022?
How do I make this into a lot more green and a lot less red? Maybe a better question is this: how can I make my red have an impact that leads to green?
What I truly would like to see is for those sales to be bigger, which means my risks have to start yielding bigger returns. My risks need to be more calculated and less emotionally charged. I need to pull myself up by my bootstraps and capitalize on my skills where possible. Redesigning my book cover was the first step in doing that (and, of course, it was something I should have done out of the gate; but, as they say, hindsight is 20/20), as designing covers myself means I'll be able to avoid such steep costs in 2022.
Thrice the success for 2022. That's my goal. In that spirit, I think I need thrice the activity. For one thing, I want to triple my current subscriber list. I want my email list to grow at least threefold. To do so, that means I have the pleasure of having three times as much communication with folks. I want more engagement on my blog (I'm finally adding comments; if you don't believe me, see the bottom of this very post). At the end of this year, I'd love to say that I published three times as many novels in 2022 as I did in 2021. To that end, I've got three projects on the schedule. This is by no means a promise that I'll complete them, but it's a goal of mine. I want to see more reviews, have more interviews, and garner more interest in my work in general.
You, dear reader, already know about The Shroud of Sleep and The Sairad From the Sand (The Tales of the Gatherers, book two), but you haven't heard anything about The Traveling Academy of Astra. The title is tentative. It's going to be a love-letter to light-hearted children's fantasy like Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, and, of course, Harry Potter. In fact, my children and I have been reading through the Harry Potter series at bedtime, and doing so is what inspired me to take a crack at writing something so eloquently balanced in terms of darkness, wit, humor, fun, plot, setting, and character. I wanted to create something that doesn't take itself nearly as seriously as works like Shroud and Illness do. Truly, my goal with this project is to have something engaging for my children and I to read after we finish the Harry Potter books. I've always wanted to share my writing with my children, but I don't think Illness of the Isle will be up their alley at this point in their lives, and, frankly, I don't want to wait, because I love them with all my heart. Reading to them each night has been such a special time of bonding, and I've absolutely treasured the conversations we've had because of all the good, bad, and confounding things we've happened upon in our sessions.
We've looked at where I've gone, now let's take a look at where I am. Here's how progress is going:
So, here we are. These screenshots come from a new tracking file I created to help me keep things organized, and it's not something I used while writing Gatherers 1. I've found that this has been a big help, especially in managing multiple projects. Spreadsheets are probably the enemy of many a writer, but I do think they're useful. Indeed, I think basic math is equally useful. By first setting out a defined word goal and a target for words per chapter, I can determine just how many chapters I need. I've taken a daunting thing like producing an entire novel and divided into smaller, achievable tasks. While I didn't use a spreadsheet to track progress for Illness, I did start by knowing my desired word count (around 125,000 words) and setting an average word goal per chapter (5,000 words). That told me I'd need around 25 chapters, and that's exactly what I got. Now, some of the chapters in Illness deviated, either positively or negatively, from the average, but that was okay, as long as not too many of them dipped below. There are a few chapters that are between 3,000 and 4,000 words, but there are also a few have 7,000 to 8,000 words. This has been a successful methodology for me in the past, and now I've got a spreadsheet to keep me honest. Again, contact me if you'd like any guidance about organizing an Excel file to serve you as a writer.
This year, I'd like to complete a total of 91 chapters. I currently have 7 done, and I'm chipping away at more. Shroud and Academy are my two top priorities, and Sairad is scheduled for right after them (I've made some progress with Sairad only because I started working on it directly after Illness; this was before I decided to give myself a breather and try out a standalone and then a children's novel). With regard to Shroud, I have around 9.09% completed; with Academy, I have around 14.29% done. Sairad's sitting at a pitiful 2.7% completion, but that makes sense because it's not my first priority at the moment.
In total, I want to have written a staggering 410,000 words by the end of this year (and I've only written a meager 48,384; at least that's more than 10%), and that's alongside keeping up with my blog's content, reading voraciously, and being a devoted husband, father, homeowner, and accountant. Unfortunately, the role of next famous fantasy writer often takes a backseat to all the other roles in my life, but I maintain that I'm balancing those roles well. My wife needs a husband and partner more than the world needs another novel. My kids need a dad more than I need to see these books come to life.
But I'm going to try. I'll sneak in writing here and there.
Regarding what's to come: look at all those chapters waiting to be unearthed. Look at those titles waiting to come to life. Here are several books that will hopefully one day sit upon (at least) my shelves. I'll do all I can to make sure they end up in cool box sets and illustrated editions and on the shelves of many, many other well-meaning, smart, and intelligent fantasy readers (flattery works, right?). I've talked in recent posts about employing vision as an author, and I think that, not only do these images show a clear picture of where I am in terms of progress, but they also do a great job of showing where I want to go.
Anyway, I've clearly got a lot to write. As I've mentioned, I'll be issuing the hardcover edition of Illness of the Isle soon. I'm also planning on posting my first interview soon (in the meantime, check out Noah Naiman's stellar, thoughtful, and sincere review of my debut novel here). I'm hoping to produce a highly practical and as-concise-as-can-be guide for writers, too. I'll keep doing book reviews, which, for me, are more like analyses from which I try to extract guidance for the betterment of my own craft.
As always, thank you endlessly for your engagement with my work and for being part of this site. If you want to, I'd also be grateful if you left a comment and answered any or all of the following questions:
1. How do you organize your writing projects?
2. Do you prefer to stick with one project or work on multiple projects at once (and why or why not)?
3. Perhaps most important, what sort of content would you like to see on this blog going forward?