I want to get into the habit of taking some time to publicly run through my previous year.
During the last week of December, I spent a few days reviewing how my year went, taking down lots of notes and assessing where things worked and where things fell short.
After several really bad years, 2019 was a banner year in terms of business. But despite the success, there were things that really failed.
As I set up my 2020 goals and outlook, let’s take a few minutes to review last year: its positives, its negatives, and what I learned that I can carry with me into 2020 and beyond.
What went well in 2019?
My income went up substantially (eventually). I’ve been pretty upfront lately that the last couple years were historically bad financially for me and my family. When I sat down and made my goals for 2019, I set a rather high financial goal for myself – almost impossibly high. Talking about it with my wife, I said, “Hey, even if I’m half right, we’re going to have a good year.” Turns out, I was half right. I didn’t reach that huge goal for 2019, but I got about halfway there… and that was three times what I made in 2018. This is thanks to really consistent work in ghostwriting and copywriting. More on those in a second.
I learned a ton about writing fiction. I managed a few ghostwriting clients in 2019, which contributed almost half of my income. Being forced to write novel after novel in different areas, like fantasy and YA, allowed me the ability to exercise different writing muscles, and it forced me to spend time learning my craft. I’m a better writer at the end of 2019 than I was at the start of it, so that was a big success.
My copywriting career came back, oddly enough. Why do I say “oddly”? Because I didn’t pursue copywriting in 2019. Several clients fell into my lap, including one that put me on a monthly retainer. About half of my income came from copywriting in 2019, which was a great split. I burned out on copywriting by the end of 2017, and I quit. But that was because I was working for a roster of rather lousy clients. After taking most of 2018 away from copy, I found clients in 2019 that treated me well, paid me well, and offered work that was interesting and engaging for me. I’ve taken some time to build out a system for finding more clients like these, and I hope to continue this into 2020.
New book covers! Since I started publishing in 2015, I’ve been designing my own covers to varying levels of success. In 2019, I found an affordable, talented designer that does fantastic work. She’s redesigned all of my book covers to something more professional and genre-specific, and she’s already designing my Book 5. I’m thrilled to have her as part of the team this year.
What didn’t go so well in 2019?
I didn’t publish books. This was the biggest failure of the year, and it’s not even close. I wanted to be publishing books on a regular basis, preferably monthly, and not only did it not happen… I barely wrote at all for my Hardwick series. There are reasons for that (see the next section), but I have to chalk this up as a colossal failure in 2019. If I want to be a successful author, I need to put out books, and I didn’t.
My online presence was lacking. I didn’t blog a whole lot. I went long stretches without posting on social media. It was hard to see that I even existed in the online space in 2019.
I struggled heavily with work balance. Notice I didn’t say, “work-life balance”. That’s something else. With work balance, I mean understanding my workload. Before 2019, I spent about a decade trying to get as much work as possible, and I rarely if ever was overloaded. This year, I found myself repeatedly stuck in situations where I had too much work to do and not enough time to do it all. I had to prioritize my work and my clients. It’s a great problem to have, but it really did a number on me. It caused me to drop clients, forced some clients to fire me for missing deadlines, and generally wreaked havoc on anything I tried to do. Very often, I felt like I had no control over my schedule, and I intend to change that in 2020.
My health is not where it should be. I wanted to do yoga regularly. Run – even competitively. Eat better. Sleep better. I did none of these things in 2019. The first few days of 2020 have been spent with rice bags on my neck from strained muscles and headaches, and I haven’t been sleeping well at all. It’s hurt me professionally and personally.
Lessons I learned in 2019
If I don’t take care of my health, I can’t be successful. This is the biggest lesson I learned, and it took me almost the entire year to really internalize it. I tried to approach my work in a machine-like way: I’ll just do X work on this day, and X work on this day, and everything will be fine! I ignored things like, well, sleeping regularly, eating right, and even just taking breaks for my own health and sanity. As a result, my productivity tanked, and even when I was working, the stuff I was doing was, frankly, not very good. I can’t write well if I’m burned out. I can’t move my fingers on the keys if I’m falling asleep at my desk. I’m not trying to cure cancer here. If I am struggling, I need to stop working and take a nap, tell the client the work will be late, whatever I have to do. The more burned out I am, the worse off I am at work and at home. My business and my family both deserve better.
I have limited creative energy. This was another stunner for me. When I took up ghostwriting, I thought, I’ll spend an hour a day on this client, then another hour on this client, then another hour on my own books. It’ll be great! (Narrator: “It wasn’t.”) Trying to force myself to write a dystopian fantasy sex novel, then pivoting to young adult vampire novel, then trying to write a real-world cop drama? My brain is fried halfway through that process. Fiction writing is still a new(ish) muscle for me. If I use it all up on other people’s work, I will not have any left for myself.
Copywriting is okay! I loathed copywriting by the end of 2017. I had worked with the same few clients, who jerked me around, took up my time, and then ditched me unceremoniously. I would find myself losing huge amounts of expected money every few months, and it was difficult to put my family through that. What I did discover in 2019 was that, hey, there are decent copy clients out there still. And what’s more, if I line up a few of them, I can manage the workload effectively and mitigate the risk of losing income when they leave. I discovered that there are areas of copywriting, like email writing and blog writing, that I really enjoy still, so I’m focusing my efforts on those in 2020.
There is still loads of opportunity out there. I have new copy leads sent to my inbox every day. I am building a new copywriting website to steer clients to. And I’m meeting with new people all the time who need fresh copy. I’m actually really well-positioned for this coming year. That’s a fantastic feeling.
I’ve got GREAT fans and a future in publishing. You know what’s funny? Despite all the backstage drama and the shortcomings on my part as I managed 2019, my fans have been there. I still get emails and comments every week from you wonderful, wonderful people. Your support has been amazing. And it tells me that I still have something here. I have plenty of readers who are chomping at the bit to read more books from me. That’s a foundation I can build upon in 2020.
That’s it! That’s my 2019 in a nutshell. A lot of failings, but a lot of positivity that we can build on and carry into 2020. Tomorrow, I’m going to run through my goals for 2020, and we’re going to get cracking on what, I believe, will be my best year ever, professionally.
See you then!