It’s that time of year again, when I look back at the year that has passed, take stock of the lessons learned and look forward to the year ahead. It’s a bit of a long post, but what can I say – it was a very interesting year!
Looking back, 2016 was a mixed year for me. The first half, in particular was pretty rough. It started with my publisher closing its doors. There I was five books into an eight book series. My sixth book AURORA: DECIMA was still under contract, but as the publication date fell after 30th June (the date when the publisher was closing its doors), it wasn’t going to be published. As you can imagine, for a while there I thought the world had ended. Everything I had worked so hard for over the previous seven or so years was suddenly in a heap. Along with the devastation, there was the shock factor too. The Aurora series had been doing well. The books had topped several charts upon release and I was happy with the sales. But still, there I was with the prospect of my books suddenly being homeless.
I attempted to find another publisher for the series and came close twice with good houses, but at the end of the day, taking on and re-releasing five (big) books in time for the sixth book’s release was going to be a challenge for any publisher. So in the end I was turned away. By this stage I’d started investigating self-publishing. My previous publisher had given me back the rights to all my books (which was wonderful of them) and I’d been reading a lot of blog posts, listening to a lot of podcasts and speaking to other authors who were self-publishing. And so, I made the decision to take control and bring the rest of the Aurora series to my readers myself.
I was lucky. Stephanie Smith my wonderful editor who had edited the first five Aurora books was happy to come on board again for AURORA: DECIMA (and will be with me for the rest of the series, I have no doubt). Pat Naoum who did the cover for AURORA: EDEN also came on board again to do the cover for DECIMA. And then there was Joel Naoum, from my previous publisher, now running his own consulting business, who helped me out with the digital and print formatting for DECIMA. So, even though I was now self-publishing, I still had the same team of professionals supporting the release as I did when I had a publisher. I gave my readers the same quality of product, while having more control over the series and earning a higher royalty rate. It turned out to be a win-win in that regard. And I was pretty pleased that the book was released only three months after the initial planned release date with the publisher.
The only downside to switching the Aurora series from my previous publisher to self-publishing was losing a whole heap of ratings and reviews across iBooks and Kobo. About 215 to be precise. Now other writers out there will understand how painful that is. It takes a lot of effort and time to build up ratings and reviews (very few readers leave them), so to lose them in the blink of an eye is rather devastating. Due to the ratings/reviews being wiped off iBooks and Kobo, the Aurora series lost visibility on these platforms (most noticeably the Australian iBooks Store where I had most of the ratings and reviews). During the change from traditionally published to self-published, the books have switched ISBNs (their identifying numbers), so all previous sales data attached to the old ISBN had been erased. So it didn’t matter how many times AURORA: DARWIN (or the other books) hit #1 or how many copies they’ve previously sold over time, to date iBooks and Kobo have no way of re-linking that data to my new ISBN. All that work, all that promotion, all those sales and reviews….down the toilet.
That said, the wiping of all these ratings and reviews did have one positive outcome. Although I had lost the visibility I once had on Kobo and the Australian iBooks Store, I actually gained better visibility on the US iBooks Store. Previously, AURORA: DARWIN only had one horrible 2 star review on that platform, and naturally, that one review kept other people from trying the book (a timely reminder folks, that if you love a book make sure you leave a rating or review – they can make or break an author!). But when all the reviews were wiped with the changing of the ISBN, suddenly I had a fresh slate on the US iBooks Store. Then, as luck would have it I went to Worldcon in Kansas City. Now I had an awesome time at Worldcon. I moderated two panels, met a whole bunch of lovely people and scored a last minute ticket to George R.R. Martin’s Hugos After Party. It was a fantastic night! But even though I had a great time, I thought that maybe it had been a bit of a professional failure too. You see I had put out a bunch of postcards offering AURORA: DARWIN for free and tweeted it a few times during the convention, and a few days after leaving Worldcon, when I was then in New York, I checked to see how many copies had been claimed. Only one free copy had been claimed – out of many thousands of attendees. Now that’s a bit embarrassing! I couldn’t give the book away!
But a couple of days after that, when I was then in Miami, a writer friend in Australia messaged me to tell me that all five Aurora books were showing under ‘Popular Science Fiction’ on the US iBooks Store, and AURORA: DARWIN was currently sitting at #9 on the SFF Chart there (and it went even higher!). I can tell you my eyes nearly popped out of my sockets! There I was thinking that I couldn’t give the books away, and it was because people were actually buying them instead. And not just Darwin, a whole bunch of new readers were coming through and devouring the entire series. Whether it was being at Worldcon or whether it was simply the US iBooks Store marketing the Aurora series, I don’t really know, but I am eternally grateful to the US iBooks Store for all its support! The surge in sales lasted close to two months, where at its peak I was selling 65 books a day. That may not sound like much to some of you, but I was pretty damn happy with that.
Of course things have settled down again since then. But that’s the business – you have good cycles and average cycles. Authors are constantly looking for ways to bring in new readers, whether it’s through appearances at conventions, advertising, or taking part in free book giveaways, etc. It relies on a constant effort, particularly when your books are not in the brick and mortar book stores, to attract and retain new readers. But with every exercise I have undertaken, I have found that I have picked up new readers, and not just any readers but ones that become true fans of the series. After the surge on the US iBooks Store I had new readers contacting me to tell me how much they loved the series and couldn’t wait for the next one. The same has happened with my recent Instafreebie promotions. I’ve always been a huge believer in that if you only pick up one new solid fan with every exercise, that’s still one solid fan you didn’t have before. And each of these solid new fans will tell people about the books they love. I still get an absolute thrill every time I read a Facebook message, tweet or email from new readers I’ve picked up, and I’m amazed that they’re coming from all over the world, be it from the US, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, UK, Italy, Spain or from Australia.
So professionally, yes, 2016 was a mixed year. On the downside, I lost a publisher and I lost over 200 rating and reviews, and although I came close, had some knock-backs from other publishers for the series. On the plus side, I got my rights back, took control and released book six in the series, AURORA: DECIMA, to the same quality and standard my readers have come to expect. I was also given a fresh slate and a second chance to reach readers through the US iBooks Store, which has seen a whole new bunch of readers become fans of the Aurora series. The higher royalties have been nice too. Oh, and I finally signed with a Literary Agent – Alex Adsett! So although I will self-publish the rest of the Aurora series, hopefully we’ll find a publisher for my new work outside the series. It is still a dream to see my books on the shelves of a brick and mortar bookstore (it’s also a great way to reach new readers who refuse to cross the divide to e-readers)!
So what will 2017 hold for me? Well your guess is as good as mine. All I know is that I’m not sitting back and waiting for opportunity to come knocking on my door. My bags are already packed and I’m going out there to find it! With this in mind, I recently I sat down to plan out my goals for 2017. This is the first time I’ve done such an exercise. At best, in 2016, I planned out some rough goals for a six month period and that was it. Of course, it doesn’t really matter what you plan because things can still go to shit unexpectedly (like my publisher closing its doors), but without goals one tends to drift aimlessly. I have found that self-imposed deadlines work wonders for me. So this year, I have taken a look at my current projects and the future projects on my wish list, and tried to figure out how I can achieve as much as I possibly can.
I’ve read a lot about the benefits of making your goals visible publicly, so that in some respects you’re held accountable. I mean, no-one wants to fail publicly do they? Therefore I thought I’d share my goals here, so you can take the journey with me.
Firstly, though, I do want to add a caveat about how life can sometimes shake things up. So these goals are my ‘hopes to achieve’. If I manage to knock these all on the head, then I’ll add more goals in. If life sidelines me for some of it, then I’ll knock some goals off. That’s the point of this list. It’s an ever-changing one that I will revisit each quarter and adjust as necessary, because as John Lennon once said (yes I know the quote wasn’t originally his but still): Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.
Another caveat that I’ll add is that I currently work full time in a day job, so I only have nights and weekends to achieve these. *Laughs nervously* You gotta dream big right?
Lastly, I’d also like to clarify that I want to achieve completion of these projects. Whether they’re actually any good at the finish line is another thing entirely. 🙂
So here is what I hope to achieve in 2017:
Quarter One: Jan – March
- Finalise my novel ‘TS’ and submit to my agent.
- Complete the first draft of my new novel ‘TB’.
- Complete a short course on Screenwriting (I actually studied Film/TV at university but it was many moons ago, so I’d like to refresh my training).
- Complete the outline for Aurora 7.
- Release the first boxset of the Aurora series online (Books 1-4).
- Lock in audiobook production of AURORA: DARWIN.
Quarter Two: Apr – June
- Complete first draft of Aurora 7.
- Complete first draft of feature film screenplay.
- Complete an edit of novel ‘TB’.
Quarter Three: Jul – Sept
- Have novel ‘TB’ ready for first round beta readers.
- Have novel ‘Aurora 7’ ready for first round beta readers.
- Edit feature film screenplay.
- Complete first draft of second feature film screenplay.
Quarter Four: Oct – Dec
- Finalise the publication schedule for Aurora 7 and have structural edit underway.
- Finalise my novel ‘TB’ for submission to my agent.
- Have the two feature film screenplays ready for beta reading.
- Have AURORA: DARWIN audiobook ready for market.
- Time permitting, commence writing new novel ‘TBC’ or ‘B’.
*Note: Finishing novels in my Aurora series tends to happen more quickly than novels outside the series because I’ve already established the world, plot, sub-plots and characters in the Aurora series, so it’s easier to just step in and write the next leg of their journey. With new books outside the series I have to build worlds, plots, sub-plots and characters from scratch, so this can sometimes take longer to get a handle on and get it right.
Sounds like a lot, huh? Don’t forget I have 12 whole months to accomplish this (and goals 1 and 2 for the first quarter are already well underway, so I’ll probably achieve these by the end of January!). Oh, and I also hit Long Service Leave in August – so if I need the extra time to achieve the above; I’ll be able to find it.
So this is the plan. Will I achieve it? We’ll soon find out. Despite the mixed year that was 2016 I learned a lot, so it’s fair to say it’s been a year of growth and a year that made me re-examine things and take stock of my writing career. Hopefully 2016 has made me a stronger, smarter, more adaptable writer that can end 2017 on the highest note yet.
Here’s hoping . . .
How did your 2016 go? What are your goals for 2017?