2015 Year in Review

Firstly, let me say I don’t always do a “year in review” post because I’m inconsistent, and I don’t think many people would read or care. I should also tell you I have no idea what I’m doing, am very much a beginner at this game of online blogging, making money on the internet, or making money from book sales. And by that I mean I have friends who are doing things SO much better, and making lots of money.

However, I do know quite a bit more than most authors. My sites get a good amount of traffic, I’m adding thousands of email subscribers a month to my lists, and when you look at what my wife and I actually got to do this year, it’s pretty amazing.

I’m not sharing this post to brag, but to help me focus on things I can improve on, and so I can start thinking of what I want to achieve in 2016. Last year at this time I called 2014 a “Year without Passion” because I wasn’t enjoying all the stuff I do. At that time I thought I’d finish a bunch of books this year and make 10K a month in book sales, which didn’t happen.

I also said I wanted to get better at video, which I did do – it took a long time but I figured it out, and now I’ve been building up a bunch of courses and videos. I also thought I’d figured out passive income – I hadn’t (I was doing well with DIY Covers, but then redesigned the site and killed it, and am still screwing a lot of things up).

What went right in 2015?

2015 was kind of a transition year for me: I knew I wanted to get out of cover design and author services, and focus on my own books and courses. I still had a lot of orders but my heart wasn’t in it, I was stressed out and couldn’t satisfy my clients.

Part of this is because I was tired of explaining to authors which cover they should use, or argue about why they shouldn’t use the one they like. I was educating each new client about things like marketing, branding, author websites, pricing… everything else publishing related, and spending too much time answering the same questions. Of course I want to help EVERY author, but I wasn’t able to handle all the time I was spending with my clients.

I gave a several refunds to clients who I couldn’t make happy this year, which bummed me out (not the money, the fact that I couldn’t satisfy them).

Then my wife and I spent 3 months in Europe shopping for castles. We also hit up all the major book fairs. I got to meet Joanna Penn, Nick Stephenson and Mark Dawson, and a bunch of amazing people at the London Book Fair. I heard Jonathan Franzen speak in Budapest, hung out with Simon Whistler in Prague, and finally made it to Romania to see Dracula’s castle (not impressive).

We also spent a lot of time looking at castles in France, a couple weeks in Barcelona, and drove through Switzerland with my parents. Then we went back to Oregon for the summer. I spoke at the Willamette Writers conference and got to know a whole bunch of amazing writers. I went to World Domination Summit AND Pioneer Nation (two events for entrepreneurs), had a fireside chat with Chris Guillebeau, and went to Yosemite and Lake Tahoe for a couple weeks. I also got a tattoo in defense of Nanowrimo and #amwriting. Here are some pictures.

 

 

More recently, I decided to rent a castle for Nanowrimo 2016 and am doing a big giveaway for one month free stay. I’m spending money on that and on my book giveaways to build my lists. I’ve also been active in Facebook groups and on Quora (where I was the most viewed author in Self-Publishing for awhile).

 

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I’ve also been on a bunch of writing, self-publishing and business podcasts.

Because of all the contests I’m running, which I promote on advertisements on Facebook, and people tweet with @creativindie, I’ve also gotten about 5,000 new social media followers. That especially helps with my brand new fiction platform, which already has over 1000 likes (all of that in the last month!).

I’ve decided giveaways are AMAZING, and ran 12 days of Christmas Giveaways for Writers with a whole bunch of different prizes.

This fall we’re enjoying the rainy Northwestern weather in Oregon, spending time with family (we haven’t had a Christmas or Thanksgiving in the states for a few years). In October and November I did a lot of fiction writing. More than I’d ever done before. It was really hard. But my fiction is coming along. Because of that, I also started building up my fiction platforms, especially fiction site, Urban Epics. I ran some book giveaways and got over 15,000 YA readers to sign up on my list. I tweaked some things on my sites, signed up for Leadpages, and am getting about 100 signups a day.

And that’s with blogging infrequently, not having a good autoresponder series set up, not focusing on keywords or guestposting… basically doing everything wrong (what I do RIGHT is making lots of templates and tutorials for people: authors are searching for “how to format your book” and “how to design your own book cover”… so I get a lot of that traffic).

This site gets about 500 visitors a day, but my book cover site gets over 1000 (even though they’re just finding my free barcode generator tool). I usually get about 500 on DIYcovers and DIYformats (I have other sites that don’t get much traffic yet).

The main thing I don’t have yet, is anything good to sell. I’ve been too busy. But now that I know how to make videos, it’ll be much easier for me to finish up some courses, or redo my sites with better templates, tutorials, and other stuff. My books actually don’t earn much money, sometimes $500 a month, mostly because I’m lazy (I give them away for free on this site anyway!) but I need to redo them and make them better. I know a lot more about book marketing, keywords and traffic now than I did when I published.

Another big change has been finding a partner for my cover design business, Dane Low of eBook Launch, who has been helping out with the cover design so I can focus on improving my platforms and writing my own fiction. I still do a bit of design, mostly for repeat clients, but I’m trying to stop completely by 2016. Obviously that means my income went way down.

According to PayPal my main businesses received $97,156 this year, which is amazing – except that I probably refunded 10% of it, 20% of it goes to employees, at least 10% is normal operating costs (hosting, WordPress plugins or tools, courses, and advertising… including that time I forget to turn off my Facebook ads and spent about $1000 on something that had already ended.) The rest I basically spend on shiny new business things or marketing experiments. We usually have just enough to pay expenses, and since we’re location independent and don’t have kids, our costs are pretty minimal.

We also brought in over $55,000 through The Book Butchers, an editing site I started – but almost all of that goes out to the editors. That happened with very little traffic or marketing, but I just redesigned the site and am focusing on building content, like the Zombie Guide to Good Grammar. I think next year it should be pretty easy to get to $100K.

What’s next?

I’ll write another post at the end of the year with goals for 2016, but basically, 2016 feels like the year everything goes right. Quitting client work gives me so much more time to be creative and productive. I just figured out how to animate my book covers and a lot of people have been excited about that (I wrote a tutorial here). I’ve been adding them to all my sidebars because they’re attention-grabbing.

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This month I’ll finish all my contests and ship a whole bunch of prizes (those antique typewriters I’m giving away are going to cost a bunch in shipping – they’re heavy). I hope I’ll work on my fiction some more. We’re going to Canada for Christmas, then back to Taiwan, where I’ll work on fiction first – I’ll publish 5 books that are “part one” of independent series, do a massive launch, and experiment with all the book marketing hacks I learned this year.

Then I’ll finish the 21 Day Bestselling Author Platform course, get up to 1000 YouTube videos (I’m just over 200 now but I can do it quickly… 20 videos a day for 40 days), improve all my sites, make more templates and tools, and do a lot of content marketing. I should also put some courses on Udemy… my plan is to have 50 books published by the end of next year. Right now I have about 5… and they sometimes make around $500/month, so theoretically that could be $5k a month in book sales, but I’d be happy with over $1k a month (although I also expect fiction to sell MUCH better than my specialized non-fiction).

We might spend some time in Thailand or Vietnam. We probably won’t come back to the states in the summer – though we may. And mostly we’re gearing up to November, when we’ll rent a castle, split it with some author friends and write the f#ck out of Nanowrimo (see that? I censored myself – something I might try to do more of next year).

Things that sucked

  • I almost got kicked out of my PhD program for not paying tuition in time.
  • I lost at least one iPhone (in the Moscow airport I think)
  • I still get migraines a lot, and spent some time on bathroom floors (once at the library)
  • I walked home in the snow and they had to cut off my foot. (Just kidding! That happened to my great great uncle.)

 

But enough about me…

How was YOUR year? Did you accomplish everything you wanted to? Please share your successes or failures, big wins and disappointments in the comments – it’s fine to link back to your own articles or share your own “yearly wrap up.”

 

About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me
  • That’s kind of how my year went… but that’s OK. It’s good to burn through times or trial, and get clarity on what you want (and it changes!). You get better at making things happen, so it doesn’t take so long to pivot.

  • Wow, I love Germany, we’ll probably spend some time there next fall. Mostly I have to shut up and write. Writing is work, I don’t know how much passion comes into it. But it’s exciting, and challenging… and I think I might be pretty good at it if I force myself to do it a lot. Just let me know when you need a cover or if I can help with anything. (I’m thinking of making some kind of daily accountability thing for authors… and myself).

  • Hi Derek, I would not have been able to design my own covers without your amazing DIY software, and your help. I designed some awesome (for me) covers this year to relaunch my YA Fantasy series. My year was not the greatest, so even this small accomplishment is big for me. In January, I had a heart attack that had me laid up for several months, but now I am fully recovered and ready to work hard on my books. I have almost finished the next one in the series.
    In July (we have rental properties) we had to sink a lot of dough into one of them, and it took time and energy to completely rebuild the place. It is amazing that I was even able to design covers and write.
    As writers/authors, we face so many challenges, we over-extend ourselves a lot, and it is always a learning experience. I have learned now to try and focus on one thing at a time. It’s not always easy. The migraines are the curse of the creative. For me, taking magnesium has made me migraine-free this year. I don’t know if it works for everybody.
    Thanks again for your help. I don’t know how you do it, but I know that without you, I would have found it much harder.
    Lynn

    • Thanks! I take magnesium when I have a headache but should probably do it daily. I also take nortryptiline and propranolol, that keeps them away most of the time (and lets me eat without getting sick). I think my flights of madness or often migraine related, so I don’t mind too much, but when it’s actually happening… Sorry to hear about your troubles, I hope you’re having some fun with the writing, I’m glad the templates were useful (were you using the online design tool? I’d still like to make that better).

      • Yes, I used your online tool, mainly for the first one which was more complex. The only issues I’ve ever had with it has been freezing up when I put too much in there, but I do save often, which also helps. I can’t wait to see the new and improved! 😉 Try the magnesium, I feel it helps me so it might help for you too. I take a time release one that doesn’t upset the digestive system. My mother, who was also extremely talented, used to get them like you do.

  • Chrys Tremththanmor

    Hi Derek 2015 was an interesting year for me. After years of writing novels I wondered if I should try to get published. I found all the ‘submit to agents and wait to hear nothing for a month’ soul destroying, so I decided to go self-published. I found your advice very helpful! As from August I’ve self-published five books, set up a website, discovered Pinterest and Goodreads, set up a newsletter list, and watched sales continue to remain rather flat. But the email list is growing, as are my followers on Goodreads and my Facebook page, and I participated in NaNoWrMo for the first time ever. So in 2016 I plan to keep plugging away, offering a free ebook for signing up to my list, reaching out to fellow bloggers, and above all to keep writing. I have three novels on my ‘backlist’ to get out, the NaNoWrMo novel to finish, and I want to write two more next year. It’s slow going, this self marketing thing, but on a positive note I’m meeting new people and, hey, I love my day job so I’m not looking to become a full time writer. My pen name is Chrys Cymri.

    • Congrats! You’re way ahead of me, I haven’t finished anything yet. The dragon covers look pretty cool, especially Reforged. Mostly you need more book reviews, start reaching out to other self-published authors with dragon books – make a big list of them. Build an email list with dragon giveaways. It looks like book 1 is 3.99; I’d set it at free for awhile to build up reviews, then leave it at .99 to get more readers into the series. I’ll make mine free for at least a week, maybe permanently, to grow my email list.

      • Chrys Tremththanmor

        Thanks for the encouragement and the advice. I noticed that the mermaid book hadn’t come out yet but I’ll keep an eye open for it.

        • I have about 50K that’s very clean, I’ll probably publish Part One and Part Two, so I can get it out soon…

          • Let me know if you want someone to read for a quick review. I also have someone on my email list who has written a mermaid romance novel so I could see if she’s interested as well.

  • Hey, Derek,

    I always think it’s interesting to read year-in-review posts. I just discovered you this year so I didn’t realize that you’d been focused on covers before then. I do love your covers and I REALLY love the animated ones.

    My question for you, and I don’t know if there is a simple answer, is what I should be focused on right now. I’m hoping to self-publish my first novel next year (classic fantasy). It sounds like you’ve built up a good email list already for your books which aren’t published yet and I’d love to do the same. Do you think giveaways have been the most profitable way to do that? Or was it something else?

    thanks so much for all the time and info you share with all of us!

  • L J Higgins

    I made a fair few mistakes this year when it comes to self publishing and although it would have been nice (and cheaper) if I didn’t make them, they taught me a lot about what to do and what not to do for my next book!

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