Writing Year in Review 2018

MJG Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

2018 has been a stellar, benchmark writing year for me on all kinds of fronts – sales, series completion, partnership with a trad publisher, trying on a new genre, working on my craft, networking, and reworking old material.

In at the end deep end:

Sales

$12,200 for the year, counting only Amazon (where most of the money has been). That’s actually quite a surprise to me. It’s a pretty good chunk of change. $1000 per month. We can write off a few thousand off that on promotions, cover art, etc… but still – my best ever:

2017 – $7,600

2016 – $8,500

2015 – $3,200

Yes, I am surprised. On some level I felt it was a slow year of sales. I released only 2 books. The Light came out in April, closing out my Last Mayor/Zombie Ocean series at book 9, and sold less than 500 copies for around $600 only. Not amazing, but no surprise given the falling off sales throughout the series.

The Rot’s War came out in June and sold less than 1000 copies for around $1000. Wha…? So where did the money come from? Well, The Saint’s Rise was still coasting its very successful launch in Jan and Feb, with a few thousand sales coming to around $6,000. That plus The Rot’s War accounted for $7,000. The other $5,000 came from the Last Mayor series as a whole – which is pretty good, considering I hardly promoted it at all.

I also got some cash from audiobooks and other sellers online, but not really worth mentioning. I lost a few thousand to tax, of course, but came out with a tidy sum – most of that waiting now for re-investment in covers and promotion or something else…

Production

I wrote somewhere around 300,000 new words in the year. Call it 800 words per day. A bit shoddy, really.

I had a slow start to the year, working on the promo of The Saint’s Rise, starting to edit The Rot’s War, and finishing off maybe 50k of The Light. Finishing a 9-book series was a huge milestone!

Then a (wonderful) trip to visit Suyoung’s folks in Korea threw me off my game a little. It was on that trip that I heard from Podium Publishing that they wanted The Saint’s Rise audiobook rights – so I spent the next two months intensively getting The Rot’s War up to speed – making my launch date nicely. I had to do a heck of a lot of work, with some 50k of new words on top of plenty of edits.

That left me halfway through the year, 2 books down. Not bad, but not great.

I then moved on to my thrillers – a project I’d been loosely planning for a year, maybe. Thrillers were a totally new genre for me. I aimed to write pretty straight, set in the real world, somewhat heightened thrillers like 24 or James Bond. My guy would be entangled in cults somehow, be a minority himself, and deal with modern day issues blown up on a big scale.

Writing these proved to be a real eye-opening project. I learned plenty about pace and what makes a book gripping. By Sept I’d written the first, 100,000 words long, and decided to send it off to agents for my first submission in years. A week ago I finished book 2, at 95,000 words. Again, I learned so much about craft, and my own good and bad habits.

At the same time I’ve been editing the Ruin War series. The first books I wrote (finished in 2015) formed a trilogy that never sold. I’m hoping these extensive rewrites will fix that. They’ll be my focus in the next month – but more on that in:

Plans

January – Finish editing all 3 Ruin books and prep for huge relaunch in March.

Feb – April – Write thriller book #3, then either get a trad pub deal or set up my self-pub of all 3 for fast-release in April/May.

May – August – Write book 3 in The Ignifer Cycle epic fantasy series, after the Saint’s Rise and The Rot’s War.

Sept – Dec – Write 2 more thrillers, books #4 and #5, and launch.

That’s 4 books written. 9 books launched in 3 different series and genres. It could be a huge, breakthrough year for me.

Craft

So what has writing these thrillers taught me about craft? First off, it’s many of the old lessons over again:

  • I get caught up in the characters overthinking a problem

I’ve known I do this for a long time. I’m an analyzer myself. My characters analyze. I almost know now, that when I’m in a section with the character analyzing their own choices deeply, that I’m going to have to cut heavily in the edit. It’s the strangest thing, because these are the easiest, fastest bits for me to write. They just flow.

They also drag to read. I know that well – it’s been a running complaint from some about the zombie books and the fantasy books. Slow pace, usually due to excessive thinking.

I know now that if it’s this easy for me to write, I can’t quite trust it. Maybe sometimes this is me explaining character motivations to myself. Working it out on the page, so to speak. One thing I’ve really learned, especially dealing with my thriller hero, is that he is smarter, faster and generally better than me.

Of course, right? So what might take me hours or days to figure out will take him seconds. He already knows what he needs to do well before I do. I just need to catch up. And then cut right back the thinking that got me there…

  • I overwrite

I actually do this way less than before. I used to do huge patches of adjectives, adverbs, lacking grammar and just running on. Heaps of made-up words. Concepts that are brain-ticklingly difficult to grasp. New races. New invented terms that never really get explained.

When I look at the Ruin books now, I think they are self-indulgent. I gave myself permission to go all-out with all the stuff I knew and could make up. I got emails from people with doctorates in neuropsychology telling me that the way I was talking about the brain was just too complex. Not incorrect, mind – just too damn hard to follow.

I didn’t know that. I didn’t fully know it for my zombie series. I didn’t know it for the fantasy books – which are primarily about a totally new, made-up fantasy world with none of the old tropes in it. A lot of people get dizzied by all that and switch off.

I get that now more than ever, and now I recognize it far better too. In thriller #2 I wrote a section crammed with backstory about cryptocoins and hacking and gamer terminology. It was so easy to write! It flowed beautifully! This taught me not to trust it. I was getting carried away again.

I knew as I wrote it that it was too good to be true. Too easy. I went back and hacked at it for hours. I got it down from 2,000 words to the essential 800 or so. That was hard, but I extracted the best bits and junked the rest.

So I think I can sum up these learnings as:

  • My writing benefits from tighter restrictions

I would never have welcomed this, if this advice had come from the outside. I’m stubborn and resistant to criticism. I’ve had to see it again and again. When the writing comes too free-wheeling, it’s probably not great. Some people advocate that the inner voice knows far better than the editing voice what is the right thing to write – but they’re either wrong, or they’ve got their inner voice already nicely trained.

I’m still training. My editing eye sees the inner voice’s work, and sometimes cracks a smile. ‘Shucks, look what that crazy inner voice got up to when it was let entirely off the leash.’ Then it gets to work tidying up all the dug-up flower beds. As such, I’m getting the two into closer alignment. I still don’t use an editor. Maybe one day soon I will. But it’ll be hard to actually trust another person’s opinion that deeply at this point, after this much training.

Rewrite only to editorial order. That’s pretty much my feeling. One of Heinlein’s Rules. I’m not interested in second-guessing myself. Only in making improvements that I fully understand as improvements, and thereby evolving my writing.

Networking

I networked like crazy this year. Since 2017 I’ve been co-organizing a group of Indie Authors in London, but only this year did I put more of a mark on the way the group runs.

  • Indie Authors

We used to get speakers in and/or go round the group letting everyone speak. Now we never get external people in – rather we get our own members to flaunt and explain their successes in a highly scheduled way. I love it. We get more supportive of each other’s work, while simultaneously getting inspired by people coming up right alongside us. They’re usually there every month, so we can check in and track each others’ progress.

We also started doing critiques of blurbs, covers and marketing plans. I love this too – it’s what I wanted most when I started looking for a marketing group. Real, practical help. Run like a regular critique group, we all get to chime in with constructive criticism of each others’ marketing materials. I’ve been through the mill a few times and it definitely helps.

  • Society of Authors

I joined the Society of Authors once in 2016, when a movie option came in for The Last, and they checked the contract multiple times – but I never got any networking from them. I’m sure it was there, but I wasn’t seeking out networking with trad-pubbed folks then, and figured that’s what they were.

This year I took another look at that. I joined the SoA and went along to a meetup of London novelists – all trad-pubbed, and all very pleasant, interesting, and perhaps not making any more sales or money than I was.

They made their money from teaching writing. Or editing, or doing mauscript appraisals. The keys to all of those remain trad-publication. Not even big-time or with a lot of sales. Just trad-pub deals on the scoreboard. That definitely made me think I want to get an agent and a deal – to pursue this kind of side career.

How great would it be to teach Creative Writing at uni? I didn’t put this in my plans, but I’m thinking to do an MA in Creative Writing now. For a long time I’ve put it off, thinking I had little to learn. Maybe that’s the stubbornness in me. Maybe I’m right? Either way, that piece of paper would help a lot when seeking work. Maybe a PhD would be necessary too?

I can justify the MA by saying I’ll learn about areas I don’t know much about, yet which I might need to teach. Like poetry and screenwriting. I have no interest in these, but I could definitely learn something by studying them, I’m sure.

So that one networking session was eye-opening.

I went to another by SoA invite, for new members. There was a huge mixer, and I mixed it up good. By the end I was chatting to the President of the SoA, and he was saying how he was definitely going to go independant with his next books, certain he’d make more money that way! That was fun.

I also bumped into a gang of thriller/crime writers. I’d never have considered myself on point to talk with them before, but as I outlined my thriller – they assured me it was also crime. There was another monthly meeting called First Monday Crime that I should go to and network some more.

  • First Monday Crime

First Monday Crime was a panel discussion -with 4 published thriller/crime authors at the front taking questions from the moderator. I thought it was pretty dull at first – I didn’t know any of these people – then they started talking about research.

That threw me into a crisis of confidence for a few weeks. They wrote letters to serial killers? One went to North Korea? One watched a autopsy?

What the heck? Was this writing or journalism? I thought maybe I should be doing more research. But what? Into cults? I have no interest in doing that myself, thank you very much. Watch some Loius Theroux or listen to Jon Ronson, sure. Read some books. But actually dig in myself – why?

After a month maybe, I figured out that I’ve already done more practical research than many of these people combined – with all my haikyo adventures. If you want to talk about paranormal and hauntings, I’ve experienced the reality more. If you want to talk about sneaking around in places you’re not supposed to be, evading security, gazing into the darkness of the human soul, I’ve done it more than them, with the photos to prove it.

So, that was nice to realize. For everything else, there’s secondary research.

Going hybrid

I mentioned earlier that I got Podium on board for my audiobooks in the Ignifer Cycle series. This has been extremely exciting, and a big piece of gatekeeper validation that came and sought me out.

Now books 1 and 2 are both out. I expect they’ll do 3 when I write it, and 4 and 5. I’ve got a Bookbub on The Saint’s Rise on Jan 10, so that could go big.

At the same time, I’m sending the thriller book to agents. Two so far requested the full. Darley Anderson said it had real potential. I’m waiting to hear, but I won’t wait forever. When book 3 is done, I’ll usher it out the door. I want to get my score on the board to facilitate a move into teaching creative writing, but the writing itself is more important to me than that.

And we live in a beautiful time for writers. I can try to trad-pub, then self-pub if that doesn’t work out. Three books in my pocket, ready for fast-release. Anything could happen.

Summary

To sum up, it’s been a huge year for me. Until I wrote this post, I didn’t think that. All the big money came right at the beginning, on the tail end of a Christmas 2017 promotion and launch. But through the year there have been some major developments in all areas. Closing out the Last Mayor. Podium. My thrillers. The craft lessons I’ve learned. The networking I’ve done and can further look forward to.

2019 should be big. Fingers crossed! Happy New Year to you, and best wishes with all your endeavors, creative or otherwise!

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