A Year In Review of Sorts

sad baby new yearSo! 2013! Don’t let the calendar hit you in the ass on the way out.

Part of me feels like just leaving it at that.

For one thing, as someone who sometimes charges people for the advice I give, to admit I’m “doing it wrong” is a little scary.

For another, a year-in-review post, like those holiday letters some people send out, can seem excruciatingly narcissistic, self-indulgent, and, when you’ve had the year I’ve had, irritatingly whiny.

But I’ve been thinking about 2013… and how 2014 needs to be—no, must be—different… for several weeks now, and I should probably voice those thoughts here because

  1. this blog exists because some people care about the processes that go into my creative endeavors
  2. you might benefit from my experiences
  3. my creative endeavors figure hugely in the year in review and the year to come.

So, with your indulgence, here goes:

My Creative Endeavors In 2013

My personal creative endeavors in 2013 included a novel revision, a new novel, a short story, a serial fiction project, a duology omnibus edition, a “sidelines” item, and, as an experiment, two niche affiliate marketing websites.

The affiliate marketing websites were a bust. The sidelines item (a whim that didn’t take more than a few hours to conceive and execute) was a bust. I won’t be investing any energy or resources in these kinds of things next year.

Books and Short Stories

In 2013, I took one title off the market and released five. At the end of this year, my catalog includes fifteen titles either written by me, or published by me and set in one of my storyworlds:

The free serial includes affiliate advertising and calls for tips / donations, and has thus far not earned either of those, but that’s all right, really, because monetization of the individual installments is, at best, a tertiary goal of that particular project.

The other titles, though, are commercial offerings that contribute to my bank account and help pay my way in the world.

How’d that go in 2013?

I moved about 475 units and grossed about $1550.00. Net is much less, since I ultimately only keep a portion of the titles from authors other than myself.

My top seller in 2013 was my first novel, Brave Men Run. That book brought in 25% of sales. My non-fiction work, Worldbuilding for Writers, Gamers and Other Creators Volume One, came in at 22%. The various short stories (most written by others and set in my Sovereign Era storyworld) accounted for a quarter of sales in mostly single-percentage dribs and drabs. My latest book, Pilgrimage, took up 10% of the sales pie, although it was only on the market for the second half of the year.

To provide some perspective, $1550.00 gross is about $1,100 less than my bare-minimum monthly expenses. It’s also, literally, an order of magnitude less than what I grossed as a freelance creative consultant in 2013. One can do the math if one is so inclined, but the bottom line is a red one.

I’m doing it wrong.

My Freelance Creative Services In 2013

As a freelance creative services provider in 2013, I was busy when I was busy, but I wasn’t busy often enough.

Most of my work came from two clients: an independent affiliate marketer for whom I built about two dozen WordPress websites, and a small one-man agency in New York for whom I did some WordPress customization, development, and upkeep. I started work on a major municipal website, too, but that’s still in-progress and may not be completely off my plate until some time in the first quarter of 2014.

I also did several e-book conversions, some line and developmental editing, social media and brand-building consultation, and various “odd jobs” mostly in the WordPress security, maintenance, and customization arena.

Naturally, a freelancer’s life is project-based. You work every day for long hours on a project, then you might not work for days or weeks before the next hard slog.

But if you were to spread my freelance income out over fifty two weeks and treat it like a 40-hour-a-week full time job, I earned, per hour, just $0.28 above the Federal minimum wage (which is $0.42 less than my state’s minimum wage).

I’m very grateful for my clients and look forward to helping most of them again in 2014, but… clearly, I’m doing it wrong.

It’s Deja Vu All Over Again

I often refer to myself as someone who makes things and helps other people make things.

In 2013, I spent much more time helping other people make things than I did making my own stuff. The result, as you have just read, was… unsatisfactory. Less than 10% of my income came from my creations… and my entire income amounted to about 40% less than required for sustainability.

I’ve spent a lot of time this month thinking about how I need to flip that around: most of my income should come from my creations, and, of course, at the end of the year there should be a surplus, not a dangerous, frightening deficit.

Just now, I dug around in my blog archives and was disappointed to discover that I wrote pretty much the same thing in November of 2012. This, in particular, sounds very familiar:

Ultimately, content I make represents personal control over opportunities for self-sufficiency, control that is woefully lacking in my life as a freelance creative services provider… heck, it would be lacking and unreliable if I were employed at a regular job, too.

I had big creative plans for 2013! Nine creative projects. As we close out the year, I can check three off that list.

I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. Nine projects in a year is, for me, probably a case of my eyes being bigger than my stomach, if you will.

But the basic fact of that post remains: while creative services gigs represent money-in-pocket at the time, I can’t really guarantee the flow of gigs.

The only thing I can have some measure of control over is the flow of my own creativity. And I know that when I release a new creative product, it increases my revenue at the time as well as adding to the ongoing stream of income… for all time.

Is This Where The Resolutions Come In?

Have you ever looked at that word? Resolve? Re-solve. “Find the answer or fix the problem… again.”

It makes me giggle-cry.

And yet… the thing I wanted to do this year… is still the thing I need to do next year.

So… I’ve re-solved the problem (or, to be more precise, I’ve become re-acquainted with the problem) and I resolve to execute on the answer to that problem: finish and ship more creative products.

How I’ll Try To Do It Right In 2014

happy baby new yearI look back on 2013 and I see, as if I’d put on high-definition sunglasses of hindsight, several things that hurt me.

  • I spent a lot of time researching and executing on revenue streams that are too far removed from my core competencies as a creative producer and storyteller. I was, admittedly, distracted by the example of a client who experienced some real success in the lead generation and affiliate marketing verticals. In 2014, I’m abandoning all personal projects that don’t have anything directly to do with making things with words, music, pictures and people. I’ll also be ruthlessly blocking myself from starting projects that won’t add to either my community or my bottom line.
  • As I mentioned above, I spent much more time and energy building things for other people (and getting paid for it) than building things for myself. This was a real bird-in-the-hand kind of thing, since nearly all of 2013 was spent wondering (no joke) how I was going to meet all my financial commitments each month. In 2014, I’ll still be working with existing clients, but when it comes to new clients I’m going to narrow my focus to the things I do best: help creative people, especially authors, bring their creative endeavors to fruition, to market, and to an audience. While all those movie marketing campaigns I worked on look impressive on a resume, I think it’s possible my “brand” is diluted. I’ll be honing my resume and overall presentation to spotlight the fact that I’m a writer and creator with management, production, and web development chops, not a producer / developer who also writes.
  • I spent time and capital on research materials, products, and services that, ultimately, did not return sufficient value for the investment. 2014 will be the Year of Making Do With What I Have, and of Trimming Away. I’m letting about a dozen domain names lapse, for example, as well as not re-subscribing to things like Spotify, Pandora, and other luxuries. Additionally, as much as I believe in and want to support my fellow creators, I will not be pledging to any Kickstarter-style campaigns in 2014. Rather, I’ll be dedicating no more than ten dollars per month as a patron of several creators, via Patreon.
  • I allowed social media to serve as a productivity panacea many times in 2013. My everyday presence on social media—Facebook in particular—will be very limited in 2014. Instead, I’ll enhance and improve my use of my personal mailing list and speak directly to the most dedicated members of my community. I predict far fewer Internet rabbit holes and a reduction in frustrating, painfully disappointing exchanges with people on subjects like religion, politics, the environment, and gender relations. I bet I’m happier and more productive!

What About Just Getting A Job?

It’s easy to imagine some of you wondering why I don’t just give up the freelance thing and go get a “regular” job.

I’ve lost count of the number of resumes I’ve sent to creative agencies, marketing firms, and social media management companies since I was laid off from my interactive marketing gig in October of 2011. I continue to send resumes in response to opportunities that seem like a good fit.

That said… friends, I have a job. I’m an author, creator, and creative services provider.

It’s a job that doesn’t pay very well… but it is a job, make no mistake, and please don’t presume otherwise. I’m not standing in front of my computer twelve to sixteen hours a day, six to seven days a week, for the fun of it.

So if you know of an opportunity—permanent or contract, remote or on-site in Southern California—by all means, pass along my resume and don’t be shy about making an introduction. I’m open to just about anything that makes sense.

Meanwhile… 2014 beckons.

How About You?

What did you do wrong in 2013? How will you fix it in 2014? What are your creative goals in the coming year? Any thoughts / opinions about my 2013 experience?

I’d love to hear from you… in the comments!