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Taking stock of 2018

Posted in Goals

It's time to look back on 2018 and take stock — what worked, what didn't, and where I spent my time.

Accomplishments

Feels like it all passed in a blur…

The first five months were consumed in followup activities following all the marketing work I did in 2017. That included:

* ONIX development. StreetLib had some technical woes, and altogether the process needed to be solidified before I could consider it reliable.

* Standardized deliverables. As part of the ONIX finalization, I tightened up the formalization of all my final output folders, with their various text, image, and marketing component content so that the loose assemblage of files for works-in-process had a clean transition point to rigid folders with standardized deliverable content. This has proved a great time-saver whenever I need to deal with ONIX data or distributors or marketing requirements, including my websites. With almost 30 titles now, order is a fundamental virtue.

* New covers for the Chained Adept series. Having lost that cover artist, I took a long look at the covers and decided I not only needed a new cover artist for the Affinities of Magic series, just starting, but might as well have him redo the Chained Adept series as well. I like the new Affinities of Magic series that he's been developing, and the Chained Adept got a visible boost from better covers. I even asked him to create an advertising image I could use for advertising for the Hounds of Annwn series.

* German translation. While I was in an investment mood, I decided to make my initial experiment with translation by finding someone to do the first book of the Chained Adept Series for the German market, where the SFF genre does well. I'm very happy with my translator — she has delivered the full manuscript, and I still have to go through it with my minor German and automated translation to make sure there's nothing odd about any of the results, before releasing it into the German market to see how it does. By then, I hope to have my Facebook Ads beyond the USA processes in decent shape.

* Publishing contracts/royalty reporting. A little after the fact, I completed the final version of a standardized publishing contract to use and got everything cleaned up for my first outside author. At the same time, I created the processes for tracking and reporting on royalties and payments for outside authors.

* Google Analytics. After several stumbles, I finally commissioned a decent tool for looking at the fate of my various UTM statistics for articles and other things.

Writing

I wrote all but the last couple of chapters for Fragments of Lightning (book 2 of The Affinities of Magic) before pausing to deal with the advertising projects (below). Since the plan is for me to release the first 3 books of the series as pre-orders, a month apart, once book 4 is partially written, I felt that I needed to make the advertising/marketing systems that were still pending more complete before rushing into writing book 3. Otherwise I would find myself with 3 completed books and only my old methods of advertising.

I took the time to format the completed book 1 (Structures of Earth) to answer any of the formatting issues I expected to encounter (special CSS styles, etc.).

I was able to resume and complete book 2 just today, and have started the planning for book 3, Dustings of Blue, hoping to be ready with all 3 books by spring 2019. I expect there to be several more in this series.

The flow of non-technical articles on the blog came to a standstill, but I was able to keep adding technical articles to the JustForWriters section, and many of my colleagues find that helpful.

Facebook Ads & prep

Facebook advertising is the one (huge) piece of the 2017 marketing engine system tooling that I did not address. It's big, it's scary, it's expensive, and it's necessary.

The preparation for Facebook advertising is substantial, unlike Amazon AMS which is rather more amateur and which has far fewer pieces you can influence. One needs a functioning newsletter (nope), special creative collateral for images (nope), special URL link wrappers and affiliate codes for tracking (nope), and all of that is just the side systems.

I started by migrating my MailChimp trivial mailing list (200) to ActiveCampaign, which is a serious system with excellent automation. Creating onboarding newsletters and automation processes was a learning curve all by itself.

Then there's the whole FB ecosystem itself which is professional, elaborate, and complicated. Several courses later, I began to create ads which performed poorly, regrouped, and am still in the process of coming up to speed. I have the “attracting subscribers” side down reasonably well and can improve from there, and my mailing list is now 2000 and growing daily. (The “sales” side is still feeble but I have hopes.) I'm much more comfortable with the mechanics of it now, and in a position to improve as I sort out the various issues I'm encountering.

It was no small thing to create the landing pages, buttons, images, and substantial tracking mechanisms that go with all of this, and all three of my websites (publisher, writing, readers) needed serious updates as a result, all in the middle of WordPress's new Gutenberg release. I rebuilt all the book pages on all three sites using the new WP editor.

Amazon Ads

I was comfortable with my Amazon AMS ad setup until the fall when Amazon threw a monkey-wrench into everyone's results. I briefly experimented with just increasing my bids, so I could concentrate on other things, but that gave me profitability issues, so I'm going to have to branch out here and solve this in other ways (see below).

Publishing other authors

One of my other authors has a significant, if niche, following, and when I published his first piece of fiction, I launched a whole new group of learning curves, including:

* my first hardcovers from Ingram
* my first POD printer outside the Amazon/Ingram ecosystem
* my first bookdealer direct orders, in quantity, just before Xmas
* my first serious press kits
* handling the requirements and double-postage involved in cartons of signed-by-the-author books

I now have two authors with several projects they want to move forward on, and a probable third who will introduce me to more new learning curves, including:

* color interiors
* offset printing
* institutional buyers

Choices of projects for 2019

I recognize that I have bitten off a lot at this point, but it's all in the spirit of not being able to wait before coming up to speed on some fundamental tools and situations. And while I have selected several targets of my own, the outside world does keep throwing me curve balls and disturbing the stability I thought had been stapled into place (e.g., Amazon Ads).

Writing

I really want to get book 3 of The Affinities of Magic off as quickly as possible and book 4, too, to take advantage of a quick-release push (my first). I plan to get book 5 done this year too. All of this assumes a bit more stability than 2018 exhibited for my marketing systems.

Publishing

My existing outside authors all have projects they want done, ASAP. These initial projects are not big money makers for me — that's the arrangement I have with my initial group — but of course I sympathize and want to get them out there.

If I can settle down the distraction of the advertising systems, it should be possible to write in the morning, and do other projects like these in the afternoon.

Advertising

I now have all the pieces of Facebook advertising in place, and just have to wrestle with the specific issues around my sales ads. Once that's taken care of, I should be able to start tuning this in the background. I'm particularly relieved that I have analysis systems in place for all the trackable components so that I can tell, in pretty good detail, just exactly how unprofitable they are at the moment. 🙂

Amazon AMS is in something of a mess — profitable but low volume — which is a complication I really didn't need. I'm looking into the whole funky Prestozon approach on the one hand, and on the other I'm getting tooled up re: the Advantage hack for both US and UK. These are both more learning curves I'd have preferred to delay on, but clearly it won't wait.

Translation

I'm really dying to get that first translation out into the German market, esp. once I get FB hammered into line to help me advertise it. If it shows any promise, I'm likely to follow it with book 2.

Business Succession Planning

I'm looking to formalize this area this year, making sure I have everything lined up properly.

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