2015 in Review: What I Learned, Where I Failed, and How I Finally Started Making Money as a Writer

So 2015 is over, which means it’s time to reflect back on how we did with our goals during the year. Did we make as much progress as we had planned and hoped? Where did we fail and what can we learn from it? How can we make 2016 a better year? 

(Tip: Go back to your previous goals/progress updates and celebrate how far you’ve come! Here are my January 2013 postmy January 2014 post, and my January 2015 post. I can't believe how far I’ve come since then.)

Here were my 2015 goals:

Yearly Goals

Publish 2 more books (Unfailing Love and next book in Unbreakable Love series)
Write next book in Unbreakable Love series
Write YA fantasy book 1 (not fantasy but did write another YA book; well, like 95% done)
Kindle landing page/call to action (see setting up buckets below)
Get 20 reviews on each book (nope, but significant progress)
Lose 10 more pounds
Email auto responder series for readers (room for improvement but a good foundation)
Make books into audio books
Add books to Goodreads
Complete Blog To Do List (incomplete but majority/most important tasks complete)

In order to set myself up to succeed, I broke these yearly goals down into monthly and then weekly goals:

And here’s some deeper insight on how I did in each of the following categories. It’s important to add that some things, especially, the rebrand and relaunch of my YA series wasn’t even in my original goals but something that came up throughout the year.

Changing Hearts Series Rebrand/Relaunch

  • I had planned on launching book 3 in this series in May, but I was having issues with the cover and feedback on it. I went ahead and decided to ask for input as to why books 1 and 2 were not selling. I put the book 3 launch on hold when I realized the entire series needed to be revamped. I made plans and executed them over the entire summer when I was off work. It wasn’t easy and I wanted to be working on new words, but I’m glad I stuck with this.
  • I designed new covers, wrote new book descriptions, and created new titles for the existing books, including a new series title. I also made significant revisions to the now prequel (previously book 1) and republished. Book 3 (now book 2) came out with a new title, All In, and cover aligned with the rebrand.
  • I made the new book 1 (Without You) permafree at the end of July when it relaunched along with Better Off, the new prequel. I also published All In, book 2.
  • I paid for a bknights ad. I had calls to action in the front and back of the book for readers to get the free prequel, Better Off, if they signed up for my mailing list. I announced the relaunch to my mailing list and sent them the free prequel. Without You got a nice bump. See specific numbers below.

bk knights promo ranking without you

  • July (about 5-10 days): 464 free downloads on Amazon, iBooks, and Nook and also 10 paid sales, more than I had seen in one month before. Paid for a bknights promotion.
  • August: 11,095 free downloads of Without You; 153 sales, most of them All In, still my best-selling book of the entire series; this was the month I paid $20 to knights. I made $64.86 (I’d made about $40 total in the past year and a half.)

  • September: I booked an ENT ad for Without You and saw a great bump in rankings and signups to my mailing list. The book was ranking very well on iBooks. Without You free downloads: about 7,000, mostly across Amazon and iBooks. Close to 200 paid sales across all sites. I made $121.08. I also launched book 3 of the series, Letting Go. I had about 5 excellent honest reviews from ARC readers thanks to my mailing list.

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  • October: about 2700 free downloads across all sites, and I made $114.55. I thought this was great.
  • So that’s how the series has done in the first few months since the rebrand/relaunch. I haven’t booked any more promotions but will be soon to get sales back up. Actually, sales have picked up on their since Christmas and New Year's Day (this is the first time I'm likely to make over $300 in a single month and perhaps just from Amazon), but I don't expect it to last. The plan is to keep promoting Without You every 3-6 months and also put the other books on sale every so often to keep sales up. It’s a matter of scheduling promotions periods in Asana and making sure to execute.

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  • One of my goals this year was to get 20 honest reviews for each book. I definitely did not meet that goal but Without You has 15 reviews, Better Off has 8, All In comes in last place with 3, and Letting Go has 6. I’m offering free review copies of All In to my mailing list via an autoresponder, and I’ve gotten some interested readers. I plan on pushing this a bit more in the next few months. However, I’m finally at a great place where I have enough reviews on almost all of my books to be able to book promotions and get exposure.

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  • I also want to share how the books are doing overall across the various retail sites. At first I started doing equally well on Amazon and iBooks, but as time has passed, Amazon has come out in front as the place where I sell the most books. However, they’re also the two places where I sell about 95% of my books. I’ve had a very difficult time getting traction, sales, and reviews on Nook and Kobo, but hope to work on that this year. If I could get traction on those two sites, that could add significantly to my income.

Sales at Kobo.

  • Oh, and I also redesigned new paperbacks with the new covers. This was the hardest part of all but I actually am seeing a few sales here and there of the Without You paperback, and I wanted them for my bookshelf and to giveaway anyways.
  • Overall, I have to say that I’m REALLY happy with the how far my sales have come since the relaunch/rebrand and since I published my first book on January 1st, 2014. I’m nowhere near making a full-time income yet, but I’m getting there. I’ve set up a lot of things this year to help me get there, and I feel like now it’s a matter of keeping up the growth on my mailing list, interacting with readers through the mailing list, and putting out more books consistently.

Setting Up Buckets 

  • Email List: I mentioned earlier that when I relaunched the series, I put calls to actions in the front and back of all my books to get readers to sign up for my mailing list. I also created a separate mailing list for readers and another for writers. With all the downloads from the permafree book, I’ve gone from having 2 people on my mailing list (including me) to having over 630 people on that reader list. And I get emails from readers all the time, which I still can’t believe.

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  • I’ve set up autoresponders so readers can get to know more about me and my books and I’ve even set up a separate list that my most devoted readers can join: the Awesome Review Team, which gets free advanced review copies and additional giveaways and stuff.
  • Setting up all of these different lists, placing calls to action on my books, website, and social media, and just getting everything in place was not an easy task. It took a long time but I realized it was something I should have done a while ago. Now, my mailing list and website are working for me and I just need to keep up the interaction and maintenance. 
  • Website: I redesigned my website and focused on readers, not just writers. There are calls to action all over the place, including the home page, bottom of posts, sidebar, and book pages so readers can sign up for my readers mailing list in exchange for a free book. I see growth to my mailing list every single day, and part of it is because of people who stumble across my website and want to find out more about the books I write.

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  • Front/Back Matter of Books: I keep thinking about the Self-Publishing Podcast guys and how they say but WHY are you doing this. This is the whole reason behind going permafree on book 1. It’s an investment so I can get more readers and make more money in the long run. Readers find me with that permafree book and they immediately see calls to action for my mailing list. Sign up and you get another free book. Front and back matter is so valuable, and I use it wisely in all of my books. What do I want my reader to do next? Not buy the next book. That’s great, but I’d rather they join my mailing list first. What value can I offer them so they’ll do that?

NaNoWriMo 2015

  • The plan was to participate again. I won last year. It was super crazy with family and work, and I fell behind, but I managed to catch up and win. This year, not so much. I added 30,000 new words of new YA book, possibly a series, but I ultimately did not finish the first draft as I had planned. 
  • This book, being new, turned out to be incredibly difficult to write. The story and characters eluded me, but at least I got close to the end.
  • I still have the end to write, which may seem ridiculous, but not when you don’t know what the end is. I’ll have to set aside time at the beginning of 2016 to finally wrap this book up, no matter how scary it is and whether it’ll ever be a series or not.
  • So I believe I revised one book this year and wrote two more. Could have been better. Could have been three books, but I’ll take it.

Daily Work Habits

  • I started using a printed calendar to mark off every day that I worked on my writing/publishing business. Some days, I got to mark off that day if I sat down to work 5 minutes. Other days, I set higher standards. As you’ll see, I was successful most of the year, but there were long gaps where I did not work on writing at all. Those were times when I was just so mentally and physically exhausted that I couldn’t come home and work on writing stuff (especially towards the end of the year. In the summer, I took time off to travel, visit family, get married, and go on my honeymoon. Which I’m fine with :)

  • This year, I’ve bought a 12 month calendar in which I’l write in more detail what I accomplished that day. I’ll add up minutes/words at the end of the month and take pictures for Evernote as an additional record. I also want to schedule in down time. I think I’m learning that sometimes I need to take a couple of weeks off to just read or watch TV or relax with family. Time to recharge creatively. I don’t expect myself to write every single day anymore. It’s just not realistic, not when I have a day job, family, household chores, and a million other things to do. 
  • My plan is to be able to start writing full-time starting in June, and I expect to see a rise in productivity after that, but it’ll be an adjustment, and I’m okay with that. Right now, my job takes up most of my time and energy. As much as I love what I do, I love writing more and my goal is to be able to do it all the time. I’m exciting that I can finally make the transition. We’ve been working a lot this year on cutting down expenses while saving. I think it’ll still be hard financially, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

Reading

 
  • I met and exceeded this year’s reading goals for the 2015 Goodreads Reading Challenge by reading 38 books out of 26 (146% of goal). I read so much, and it was great.
  • However, I’ve been stuck in a rut towards the end of the year (due to mental exhaustion/burnout) and haven’t been reading at all since late November. I could never just not read, though, I’ll be finding a good book again soon and diving into another world.

Health

  • I lost 10 more lbs by continuing healthier eating and portion habits, as well as exercise 6 times a week. I haven’t weighed this amount in a long time, and in 2015, I never felt more heathy and active. The plan is to keep that up, even if I don’t exercise with as much intensity.

To sum up, I accomplished most of my goals in 2015. Even though I’m happy with the progress I made in all areas of my life, I think there’s still room to learn and improve. I still think I should be producing more words so that I can be closer to earning a full-time writing income, but that’s only gonna happen when I can write full-time, even if I need to supplement with editing jobs. However, I’m ecstatic for 2016 because I’m closer than I’ve ever been to becoming a full-time author (zero sales to consistent monthly sales).

How far did you come in 2015 with your goals?