Whew boy! 2021 was a hell of a year, wasn’t it? At the highest levels of power in our world, we got a new President (thank the gods old and new), although Trumpism is still running rampant in our society–just like COVID-19. Neither of those things are going away anytime soon, as much as I wish they would, and part of that annoying longevity is because Trumpism and COVID feed one another. Like a snake eating its tail. Or, perhaps more accurately, a completed human centipede.
COVID (and by proxy, Trumpism) has pretty severely affected my life in the past year. My wife and I are doing everything we can to protect my son, who cannot be vaccinated because of his age, which means we have no social lives and rarely leave the house to do anything but work or pick up necessities. It’s been hard. Luckily for me, I married my best friend and our son has turned out to be pretty chill.
That’s all just context for reviewing the year. I set out a bunch of goals this year, as evidenced by this chart:
NIGHT OF CHAOS was eventually renamed ANH NGUYEN AND THE DISCORDIAN. As you can see, I was pretty ambitious going into the year. And as you can also see, I absolutely overshot my capabilities. But my goals also changed throughout the year. Here’s how.
One of my core beliefs in building and maintaining this website is that if I update it consistently with good content I will build an audience. I have not been consistent. Whether the content has been good is an open question, I guess, although I’m genuinely proud of everything I post. At the beginning of the year I hoped to upload a single blog post every Friday–52 in total. I also hoped to post 12 vignettes. Finally, I wanted to start a newsletter and redo the front page to coincide with my book releases. How’d I do?
- 24 blog posts
- 4 new vignettes
- No newsletter
I did redo the front page. So, despite my lack of activity on the website this year, how did I do with an audience?
- 526 users
- 741 sessions
- 1,087 pageviews
Not great! How do those compare to 2020?
- 526 users (no change)
- 835 sessions
- 1,525 pageviews
What does this mean? For one, it means the year’s not quite done. I don’t expect to make up over 450 pageviews in 20-something days, but I suspect I’ll end the year not too far off from that. It also means that consistent posting does make a difference, even if it’s a small one. Most of my traffic this year was due to directing people interested in my books through the website. Last year was a bit more organic.
My big goal this year was to publish two books. I decided on publishing ANH NGUYEN AND THE DISCORDIAN late last year, before sending it to a pro editor for feedback. Around that time I also realized I had enough material for a short story collection–that became THROUGH DARK INTO LIGHT. I wasn’t sure I’d have the skills, money, or time to get both out the door in the time I wanted, but I ended up making it happen. I’m proud of how both works turned out, despite the huge learning curve to self-publishing.
So, how much did I spend on self-publishing this year and how good was my ROI?
- $1,558.09 spent to publish both books (ANH NGUYEN was more expensive)
- 58 books sold (32 ANH NGUYEN and 26 THROUGH DARK)
- $94.44 returned
Now, on its face that looks pretty bad. But, to be honest, I didn’t have any expectations for sales. These books were meant to do two things for me in the short term: 1) learn how to navigate self-publishing and 2) become part of my backlist for use later on.
I didn’t put any effort into marketing either book aside from a few posts on social media. I probably sold 75-80% of the books that way. The rest was organic search or word-of-mouth. What was encouraging, and sort of validates my emphasis on a backlist, is that releasing THROUGH DARK INTO LIGHT actually helped me sell additional copies of ANH NGUYEN AND THE DISCORDIAN. My current plan (and plans can always change) is to release my first novel next year, which should give both my novella and short story collection another bump. More on that in another post.
Regardless of sales numbers, I’m unreasonably proud of ANH NGUYEN and THROUGH DARK. I failed in a lot of my writing goals this year, but I made sure to succeed in the ones that mattered most to me.
Having struggled with word count goals in the past, I tried to set a reasonable one this year. If I have a good grasp on what I want to write (i.e., I have a plan) then I know I can write 1,000 words within an hour. That’s plenty of time to write in the morning before work. I set a goal to do this only four days per week, for a word count of 4,000 words per week. That totals 208,000 words in a year–two whole novels!
And then I became a father. Elijah was born in January, which meant I hit my word count goal once before my life got flipped upside down. It took me over eight months to meet my weekly goal again. Since then I’ve been pretty consistent, hitting my goal 10 of the last 15 weeks of the year. Here’s how the numbers shake out for 2021:
- Total for year: 66,275 (31.86% of goal)
- Average per week: 1,299.51
- Average per day: 188
Considering how little time I ended up having this year between work and home life (more on that below), that’s not bad. I’m nearly halfway through a new novel and maybe a fifth of the way through a new novella, both of which should be finished in time for publication next year. I’m also now in a much better routine, which should help me to get closer to achieving my word count goals for next year.
My non-writing life was certainly interesting this year. Obviously, the biggest thing to ever happen to me generally (let alone this year) was the birth of my son, Elijah. He is demanding, and fun, and interesting, and learning and growing at a rate that I can only describe as exponential. Like, one day after never being able to stand he just did it. And then he was standing from that moment onward. Never looked back. Never regressed. He’s constant motion in mind and body, this kid.
I love him. A lot. So, even though I get cranky when I can’t write (like the majority of this year), he deserves every spare second I can give him.
I was also officially promoted at work this year. I say “officially” because it’s something I had to negotiate based on the responsibilities I already had. There were also a lot of internal changes to my company, new approaches to how we do business, many of which I was either a part of or had to adjust to. I don’t love my day job–many days I downright dislike it!–but I do enjoy my company and my team. I couldn’t write at all without the flexibility my day job provides, and they’re very much a family first company, and so have been accommodating to Elijah.
We’re also still dealing with COVID. The most difficult thing, especially with a baby, is that COVID has kept us separated from our families. Since March, 2020 we’ve only seen my father in person twice. My mother I’ve seen (I think) three times in person. We video chat with them both once per week, mostly so they can see Elijah, but it’s tough being so far away from everyone. We canceled our plans to travel to Buffalo for Christmas because of how bad COVID has been. I don’t really know what else to say about it.
As I’ve written about before, hockey is important to me. It’s a way for me to socialize and get exercise (two things I sorely lack). When COVID initially got bad in March 2020, I quit playing. I didn’t play again until after my family was vaccinated, in June of this year. I played one season on two teams, and then the Delta variant hit. So I quit again, hoping that come Fall the numbers would drop. They did not. At this point, I consider myself unofficially retired. It makes me sad.
In all, on the personal side of things, it’s been a down year. Perhaps most indicative of that, and the way I’ve dealt with it, is that a childhood friend of mine died just before summer. He was one of my first and best friends growing up (and was actually the one to introduce me to hockey). In the years since becoming teenagers we had grown apart, and hadn’t actually spoken in a long time. In fact, I can’t remember the last conversation we had. I want to say it was outside of my father’s house when we happened to run into one another, but that can’t be right. That was too long ago. He did text me shortly before he died, but the text was barely comprehensible and, because he had struggled with substance abuse earlier in our lives, I assumed he had reached out to me on accident or was under the influence at that moment. I ignored it.
That really breaks my heart. I know, logically, that there wasn’t anything I could have done for him that would have changed the outcome. There were people in his life much closer to him than I was that he had to help him. But there’s also a part of me that wonders if maybe I’d have answered that text, if I’d have asked him how he was doing, if he’d still be with us.
To be brutally honest, though, it hasn’t effected me in the ways I would have expected. In fact, it’s barely effected me at all. The night I heard of his death I was upset. I cried. I wrote about it in my journal. But then it passed. I got caught up in Elijah, and maintaining our house, and dealing with my family, and work, and writing, and a myriad other things that blunted the blow. I feel like that’s where I am in life; when shit goes wrong I acknowledge it and move on.
One day maybe I’ll find out if that’s good or bad. It probably just is what it is. It does hurt to think I won’t run into him at a hockey tournament or bopping around Buffalo, though.
Luckily, I have my wife. She’s had a hell of a year herself, what with growing and then birthing a whole human being. She also graduated with her Psy.D and started working as a professional psychologist. If it weren’t for her steady presence (and expertise in psychology) I’d probably have gone insane by now.
IN THE END
It’s been a strange year. There was a lot to be sad or angry about (to say nothing of our politics at the moment), but in the end I feel like I’m ending in a better place than I began. I saw this year as sort of a transitional year, and that ended up being true in a lot of ways. So let’s hope that the seeds I planted this year–the books, the habits and routines–pay off in the long run.