(Dig it: This article is the companion to episode 057 of Sonitotum with Matthew Wayne Selznick. Listen to get the whole story!)
A bit past two years ago, I sat down and gave a lot of thought to exactly how I was going to achieve my objective of earning a comfortable living solely from revenue generated by my own creative endeavors, rather than from helping clients with their own creative endeavors.
Calendars were involved, and math.
Two years down the road, of course, it’s all a trash fire.
And that’s okay. It’s not awesome. It’s okay.
I’ll explain… but first, let’s review.
The Big Plan: Status
The Plan: December 4, 2020: LAUNCH: “The Perfumed Air at Kwaanantag Bay” (Shaper’s World novella)
The Reality: “The Perfumed Air at Kwaanantag Bay,” my latest work of fiction, a follow-up / companion piece to my last novel, Light of the Outsider, was released to the world in e-book formats on April 6th, 2021. The audiobook edition came out May 25th, 2021.
The Plan: July 13, 2021: LAUNCH: Shadow of the Outsider (Shaper’s World novel)
The Reality: It’s October 26, 2022 and, while I’ve done plenty of preparatory and expository work on the book, fewer than two thousand words have been written, and it’s unlikely more than five hundred of those (so far) will make it into the book. It’s possible Shadow of the Outsider will be completed and released in the first half of 2023, and that would really be nice, but I honestly have no idea if that’s a reasonable expectation.
Not Planned: August 30th, 2022: LAUNCH: Indie Author Marketing Infrastructure, my non-fiction book for independent authors and self-publishers condensing some of the guidance and advice I most frequently provided my clients. A five-dollar e-book for folks who can’t afford several hours of my coaching. Read why I decided to invest the time and effort into a non-fiction detour, if you’d like some back story.
Two missed deadlines and an unplanned creative work make the rest of the Big Plan as much of a fantasy as the books it involves:
- DEADLINE PASSED: December 3, 2021: LAUNCH: Untitled Shaper’s World novella)
- DEADLINE PASSED: July 13, 2022: LAUNCH: War of the Outsider (Shaper’s World novel)
- DEPENDS ON PREVIOUS: December 2, 2022: LAUNCH: Walk Like a Stranger: “Passing Through Home” (Shaper’s World serial)
- DEPENDS ON PREVIOUS: July 13, 2023: LAUNCH: Thraal (Shaper’s World novel)
- DEPENDS ON PREVIOUS: December 1, 2023: LAUNCH: Untitled Shaper’s World novella
- DEPENDS ON PREVIOUS: July 13, 2024: LAUNCH: Invasion (Shaper’s World novel)
- DEPENDS ON PREVIOUS: December 2, 2024: LAUNCH: Untitled Shaper’s World novella
- DEPENDS ON PREVIOUS: July 13, 2025: LAUNCH: The Shaper of the World (Shaper’s World novel)
Yep. If we treat the Big Plan as unwavering, inarguable gospel, I am two novels, a novella, and a serial behind schedule, pushing three novels, two novellas, and other secondary and tertiary materials out of the bounds of predictability.
Which is exactly why I’m writing this today. None of it was predictable. Not in my world.
What About Projected Revenue?
In that Scribtotum article laying out the Big Plan, I projected that my revenue from Amazon royalties alone would be $514.46. How’d that turn out?
My 2020 gross revenue from titles for sale on Amazon was $460.37. 11% less. Not horrible, as far as projections go, I suppose, but for that number to be close to what I need, the decimal point needs to drift two places to the right, at least.
I can’t find the spreadsheet where I did all my projections in an optimistic frenzy two years ago, but in that article, I did predict doubling my Amazon revenue by 250% every year that I added at least one new title.
How’d that work out in 2021, the year I released “The Perfumed Air at Kwaanantag Bay?”
My 2021 gross revenue from titles for sale on Amazon was $238.71. Almost exactly half of what I made on Amazon the previous year, the year of Light of the Outsider.
To be fair, that two-and-a-half-times projection was based on releasing a novel per year, and 2021’s only release was “The Perfumed Air at Kwaanantag Bay,” a novelette that, frankly, no one is reading… perhaps because it’s a companion to a novel, Light of the Outsider, which, despite positive reviews and four and five star ratings, relatively few people have read?
So. The Big Plan, two years on, has been, objectively speaking, abandoned.
When Big Plans Go Bust
It would be easy to beat myself up over the Big Plan.
Okay: I do beat myself up about it.
Even writing these words, I feel a strong urge to abandon this article and let the Big Plan slip into memory. I mean, who, among the folks who read Scribtotum, subscribe to my mailing list, are my patrons, or follow me on social media, even remember that I made a Big Plan two years ago? If I didn’t mention it, it’s unlikely anyone would know, or care.
But that’s not the mission I set for myself way back in 2018: to make things for people who like the kinds of things I make, to continue to help other bring their own works to fruition, to market, and to an audience, to always learn as an experienced beginner, and to share what I learn as specifically, transparently, and authentically as possible. To talk with you — either in articles like this one, or in weekly episodes of Sonitotum with Matthew Wayne Selznick — about making stuff, finding success as we each define it, and staying healthy and sane in the process.
So. Here’s how I’m feeling. Here’s what I’ve learned. Here’s what’s next.
No Plan is an Island
Since the nineteenth century, when Moltke the Elder stated, “No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength,” military- and business-minded folks have been pointing out a basic fact of life, although Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower later phrased it with slightly less verbosity. These days, you might see it misquoted as “No plan survives contact with the enemy,” a much more succinct Conversation Age distillation.
For this writer / creator, the “enemy” is a broad coalition of mental health, self-sabotage, economics, the impact of a global health crisis, and other humans.
Which is no enemy at all. It simply Is. Until it Isn’t.
I’ve made a lot of plans in my adult life, and quite a few, especially in the last couple of years, have fallen apart because I treated them like a roadmap of what was actually going to happen.
Thing is, the map is not the territory.
Maps are stories.
And all too often, my plans were stories I was telling myself because reality was kind of a bummer.
Which is to say: my Big Plan, with its spreadsheets and calculations and years-long charting, was me soothing over my own pain with a comforting story.
The Big Plan was all about what I would do. Conveniently, it didn’t include how I would do it.
That’s just one reason the Big Plan floundered.
Your Brain Thinks a Stated Goal is a Completed Goal
According to some research, telling the world your Big Plan by, for example, writing a big giant article and posting a big podcast episode, triggers chemicals in your brain much the same as what happens when you actually achieve your goal.
It’s as if you had an itch and could make it go away by telling someone else you were going to scratch it.
Tricksy brain is not very bright. Your brain also produces the same fight-or-flight response seeing a news story of violence as it does under threat of actual violence.
It’s just not made for the world in which we live.
Two years ago I made myself feel good by spending a couple of days working out the following five years of my creative life, and so, my life… and then I told you, dear reader…
…and for a few days, I felt good. I felt energized, and optimistic, and fiercely determined.
And then? Well, chances are some shitstorm or another blew in, smearing itself all over the map. Who remembers? Not me.
Okay, So Don’t Make a Big Plan, and Don’t Announce It. What, Then?
One of the cycles in my life is learn-act-forget-remind-relearn-act. Every swing through, I (usually) incrementally improve.
Everything I’m writing about in this article, I’ve known and eventually ignored. Then, something wakes me up again.
Back in June of 2022, I, someone who makes a good portion of his income producing and managing podcasts for other people and who has been a podcaster since 2004, decided it wasn’t so good that I hadn’t put out an episode of my own since September of the year before.
I’ve put out twenty episodes of Sonitotum with Matthew Wayne Selznick since then, and I’ll be recording another one later today. I haven’t missed a week, even on those weekends when the absolute last thing I want to do is spend five to six hours of my Saturday and Sunday on the damn thing.
I had, and have, no goals for the show, beyond reaching a community of listeners committed to making stuff, finding success as they each define it for themselves, and staying healthy and sane in the process.
I’d love that community to grow, even a little bit, with each episode. Of course. That’s one of the desires fueling the practice, and it serves the mission I wrote about a few hundred words ago.
What I did not do back in June was sit down and decide I would have X number of subscribers by Y date, with Z additional subscribers every week.
I don’t have goals for Sonitotum. I have intentions.
My intentions for the podcast are served by the practice of creating the podcast.
No goals for podcasting. A practice of podcasting.
Similarly, after a long incubation, last week I began adding manuscript words to Shadow of the Outsider, that novel that, according to the Big Plan, should have been released to the world fifteen months ago.
I don’t know when it’ll be done. There’s no goal.
In practice, though, I’ve been adding words most days in the week since.
My intention is to finish Shadow of the Outsider, and once finished, embark on the process required to bring it to the world.
My practice is sitting down to write something, most days.
Once published, how will it sell? What will it do for my bottom line? How many more people will it add to my reader community?
I’m not predicting. I’m not setting goals for its success, or my success.
I’m doing my practice.
Reminds me (remember: learn-act-forget-remind-relearn-act) of a quote I included in an older article of mine:
“Wherefore he sought to have that by practice, that he could not by prayer.” — Sir Philip Sidney
Goals — publicly stated goals or plans, in particular — are, effectively, prayers.
Whether your prayers are answered or not is a matter of interpretation.
Practice, on the other hand, is action, and action only you can take.
Action might not lead to success, but it will lead to a result… and without action, I probably don’t need to tell you, there’s no hope of results.
Don’t Make a Plan. Have a Practice.
Don’t peg your satisfaction, your sense of success, on long term goals. For goodness’ sake, resist the empty emotional calories of a nice juicy Big Plan, charting out the next decade of your life.
Figure out your intentions.
Practice your creativity in service to those intentions.
Be gratified by little accomplishments and victories as you gradually work toward positive results.
The Difference Between Habits and Practices
Habits can be beneficial or harmful. Either way, they’re things you, after time, do without much conscious thought.
Practices are intentional.
Practices are all about conscious thought… and a practice is in the service of your betterment, and the betterment of the people who will eventually experience the art you create as a result of your practice.
Have a practice.
Have we learned nothing, gang?
I’m not telling you my practice. That’s tantamount to doing it.
If you want to see the results of my practice… that, I can arrange.
Become a patron and get access to my works in progress, usually the same day. When I add to something I’m making, I share it with you. There are lots of other benefits for patrons, too.
Join my mailing list community and be among the first to know when I have a new creative work coming to market… and be among the first to pre-order, which often includes extra perks and bonuses.
Subscribe to listen to each episode of Sonitotum with Matthew Wayne Selznick anywhere you get your podcasts.
Watch this space.
Don’t tell me what you’re doing, exactly. Let me know you have a practice. Share how it’s changed your creative process. Share, in the comments section.