You know, I thought losing TGIF on ABC was a blow. Only getting one season of Firefly seemed like a mortal blow. Enduring the hot mess that is Star Trek: Discovery and Picard has felt like walking pneumonia.
All practice for 2020 (and it’s looking like at least most of 2021). Talk about a shit show. There isn’t much in 2020 that I’m planning to remember, but it did have some bright spots.
This is fairly long so here’s a handy little table of contents
On the Conferences front. 2020 was horrible but not as bad as it could have been. Around March I was thinking about what closing up shop would look like, and how I could financially manage that. However, I was lucky enough to be able to pivot all three conferences to online-only. The Grand Hyatt (please book a room there if you come to Denver, they’re awesome) was understanding and didn’t enforce their contract. I know they couldn’t have really, without a lawsuit, but it’s nice that it didn’t even come to that. It was “Of course, we get it. We hope to see you in 2021.” My other venues were even more ok with it as they closed so problem solved on that front, LOL.
All three Conferences were a success. 360|iDev even had the same turnout as last year, while the other two had 40% drop-offs in numbers. Of course, cutting tickets by 50-70% meant that even with a good turnout, income was slashed. The saving grace was that expenses were next to nothing. If there is a silver lining it’s that. While I didn’t get to pay down much debt, I didn’t add to it and didn’t have to dip in again. I focused on keeping the accounts flush vs. paying down debts too aggressively. So far, it’s worked.
A bad part is that a lot of people just tuned out for the year, which is understandable (Some neglected to tell me until pretty close to the event, but oh well, I’m flexible). Others were “Zoomed out” by summer, also understandable. I’m beyond thankful for those who still came out; attendees, speakers, and sponsors. It meant a lot and kept me in business. It was also fun as hell. For each event, I had an awesome group of volunteers helping tackle emcee duties. We had music between sessions, folks were able to still branch off and chat separately either on slack or via our tool that allowed for impromptu breakouts.
It wasn’t all awesome of course. I had to apply for a PPP loan which was helped for sure, especially as things were shutting down and we just didn’t know what the next month, let alone four.. er… eight, would look like. I’m looking forward to applying for forgiveness on that, someday. I also had to apply for the non forgivable EIDL loan, so that sucks, I was hoping to make a dent in the debt we’ve accumulated in the previous years, but instead added to it. But we (so far) have survived. I’ve been able to continue paying myself throughout all of 2020, which at the end of the day is a big win in 2020.
Looking forward, I honestly don’t know what 2021 will look like. I’m hopeful that by July we can start gathering safely in-person. That really all depends on vaccine production/distribution, and people accepting that a vaccine isn’t full of Bill Gates’ nanotrackers or 5G or whatever. Realistically I’m mentally working on one more year of online-events and how to make them even more engaging and fun for folks.
On an entirely personal note. As much as I missed seeing people who have become good friends at the conferences. I loved getting up, working out, and then walking into my office to rock the event. Much less stress (though not without hiccups) than the in-person versions.
Writing (,The Business of)
Luckily the pandemic hasn’t been a huge gut punch to my writing. Well, to my actual writing. To the business of writing….
So as to not bury the lede, you can see above that income from writing rose. Not a lot but upward trending graphs are almost always better than downward. Of course, profit was way down this year. The goal I set for this year was to hit (or break) $36,000 in writing income. Got close, but fell just shy.
In looking over the numbers a few things struck me. 2019 wasn’t very advertising heavy. I don’t know how I did so well without ads honestly, but there it is. Conversely 2020 was a lot of learning about advertising which has a high cost associated with it. I expect my 2021 ad spend to be significantly less. My intent this coming year is to dial in/back my ad spend and focus on releases and building my newsletter subscribers.
In addition to ads 2020 had a lot of new/different expenses, some likely to be one-offs, a membership to 2022 Worldcon for example. Others are new and recurring expenses; editors, audiobook narrators, convention booths, cover art, etc. The more books I get out in a year, the more those costs rack up.
Speaking of Cons
I went into 2020 with the plan of it being my ‘year to be more out in public’ I applied for author alleys and expo halls where I could. Got into several, and of course, everything was canceled. Or rather, most things were canceled. Some went online-only like MileHiCon, which was nice. I was on a panel, and had a waste of money ‘vendor booth’ Others like Starfest, really never canceled, just kind of didn’t happen, then announced 2021 dates. I had/have a booth there.
A bright spot was that I was accepted for a vendor booth at Denver Pop Culture Con for 2021. YAY!! Then they preemptively canceled. I get why, and it was the right decision I’m sure, but still sucks. Their future is uncertain so who knows if there will be a 2022 or not. Starfest (now scheduled around the same time) is likely to follow suit, who knows if they’ll send an email or not. Who knows if they’ll refund my author alley, acknowledge it, etc. shrug.
Cons are something I was really looking forward to exploring more. Dialing in my booth presence and pitch, and meeting other authors, etc. That’s likely on hold until 2022. As much as it was nice that MileHiCon went online, I won’t be paying for “booths” at online events, but will try for panel spots still.
I did have my best launch ever, with “A Guy Walks Into a Bar” so that was nice! I’m hoping to beat that with “Here There Be Monsters” (Have you placed your pre-order?)! I’m hopeful that each new book gets bigger and bigger launches, because, well that’s a good thing, folks are still interested and more are joining them.
I’ve also had some luck with the merch store I set up. I want to push that more both for the merch which isn’t all that profitable but is awesome, and books which I get 100% of the proceeds vs. 50-70% royalty.
It’s my hope that over time direct book sales pick up, as well as other goodies. The more I can divest from Amazon without hurting income, the better. It’s more technical and not for everyone, but it’s nice to sell someone a book directly from here and see them come back for more. The online stores keep authors separate from our readers.
I’ve written about being “wide” a few times. This year my wide efforts expanded to include audiobooks. I’m really stoked about taking my audiobooks wide, though the downside is coming up with the money to pay for narration in advance, so that’s a new budgeting entry. I’m happy that at least based on sales prior to leaving ACX I’d recouped what I’d have paid directly for Space Rogues 1, and made about half what I’d need for Space Rogues 2. Audio may slow to one release a year, we’ll see.
This year I also moved from being an Amazon Kindle reader to using a Kobo Clara. As such, much of my advertising energy was focused on driving business not just from Amazon, but specifically to Kobo, then Barnes & Noble. That means Facebook ads which are awesome at sucking up your money and delivering nothing. I’ve gotten better over the course of the year with my targeting, but a costly experiment for sure. With Apple’s changes (Very much happy about that) I’m guessing my FB ad spend will diminish further. We’ll see.
Overall I’ve had good luck diversifying myself from Amazon. It’ll be interesting to see how sticky that will be as I try to reduce my expenses a bit in the ad space.
2020’s breakdown is definitely pleasing. I don’t have a hard and fast goal for Amazon’s percentage, but below 50% would be I think the best. What’s especially pleasing is that while I’ve reduced my dependence on Amazon, my income has gone up. Proof you can do it without selling your soul to Jeff Bezos.
Writing (, The Craft Of)
So yeah, the business of writing, at least the in-person/glad-handing part has sucked. The business of actually writing, however, well that’s actually going well. Really well.
I got two Space Rogues books out, plus launched a new series. So a three-book year, which is good. I’m hoping to get to a four release a year schedule; one in each series, plus a wildcard. That’s aggressive, but the plan is for writing to replace conferences as my main source of income. To get to that end, I have to produce and keep the back catalog working for me.
2021 will be a good year for releases;
- “Here There Be Monsters” (Space Rogues)
- “Any Job Will Do” (Grand Human Empire)
- “Side Hustle Tango” (Grand Human Empire)
- and (I hope) “Airport of Mystery” (Expedition Inc.)
- Plus a To Be Titled Book 9 in the Space Rogues series.
I’m excited about the launch of the Grand Human Empire series. Not only will I be trying out a launch with a second book already completed and in the pipe, but with a new series, I can start building a more diverse back catalog. I’ve found with Space Rogues that many readers can’t handle the present tense. It breaks their brains somehow, no idea why or how. Their loss. The Grand Human Empire is more traditionally written in the past tense.
It’s Not Always Rosy
I launched ‘Island of Secrets‘ under a pen name and in a new genre. It’s been a struggle to get traction. I’m hoping that a second book will help there, but also plan to invest more of my marketing attention there. I was a bit let down when I released it because I distributed ARCs and got some great potential reviews, but when it came time to actually post them, almost no one did. Out of 17 odd people who signed up to read and review, only 3 delivered. One, who wrote an awesome review in the review portal, never published elsewhere, making it mostly useless. :( Such is life.
I’m still an active (Though retiring in 2021) member of the Board of Directors for the Colorado Authors League. I’ve been on the board since 2018, initially to manage the Festival of Books. That got squashed, then the Pandemic hit. As much as I like being on the board, I ended up being “The Web Guy” for our new platform (which is powerful but mostly a POS), so I’m leaving that in ’21. I’ll continue my membership because I think it’s good to have some professional memberships.
Speaking of, I also joined the SFWA in March. I don’t find much value outside the name however. I’m hoping that changes, but it seems the group is mostly focused on their traditionally published members and members who are submitting short works to zines. Neither of which are of the slightest interest to me. But like CAL, I think there’s some value in being a member just to have that network.
I’m still on the Organizing Committee for Denver Startup Week, and intend to stick around. This year obviously, we went 100% online. Which was interesting given our normal size and scope. What is already the largest free entrepreneurial event in the world, became the largest online entrepreneurial event in the world. We hosted dozens of panels and talks on zoom, Monday through Friday. Live streaming those to Youtube. It was a bold lift and with only a few hiccups on Monday went off perfectly! We did an amazing thing.
I’m still wrangling the awesome cats that are the Ignite Denver Committee. I miss that group a lot. We held our last in-person Ignite Denver in March, the night before our venue, the Bug Theatre (Please support them if you can) close to events. The group went in our own directions, focusing on ourselves, two of us got married, etc. So we didn’t even put effort into trying an online Ignite Denver. This past summer Kat, Jared, and I hosted a live review show to benefit the Bug and raised $300 for them, it was a blast!
On the family front, Nicole and I are doing fine. I already did my jobs from home, so no major impact there. Nicole was already doing 1-2 days a week at home when she could, and has had remote jobs before, so had an office already set up. So when her job pulled the trigger she was up and running on day one. The dogs already being homeschooled helped too. I feel for my friends with kids.
It feels like 20 years ago, but we went to Africa at the beginning of this year. Nicole climbed Kilimanjaro, I got to celebrate my birthday in Zanzibar with some great friends. I honestly can’t believe that was this year, it feels so long ago.
More recently, we bought a new car, a Rav4 Hybrid. I like it. It was bittersweet to say goodbye to the Audi. We’ve had it for almost 15 years, loving every minute. I still miss the power of the turbo and the manual transmission, but in buying the Rav4 I realize my time a being even a little bit a “Car guy” seems to have passed. It’s just a thing to get me places. The more comfortable the better but I don’t need power, I don’t need that throaty roar. So that’s a thing.
Otherwise we’re hanging in there, trying to support local restaurants and businesses. Seeing the 3-4 people in our bubble of trust once in a while. With Winter here I suspect even our scant trips to local breweries will be greatly reduced, which bums me out.