2022 – Writing Year in Review

Well, here’s the roundup for another year of smashing my head against the wall. So how’s the writing career.  At the very least, I can say that I worked hard. Perhaps not every target was hit, or every possible mission was pursued, but I put the hours in.

Opened up with a project, Twilight of Echelon, for At Bay Press, a collaborative effort with Robert Pasternak, an artist, and three other writers. My part of it was about thirty-five, inter-related short stories and about 40,000 words. I’m not sure what the other writers have been up to. It’s still in the editing phase, and I think the release date is October, 2023. The money is zilch, but At Bay Press is a pretty reputable publisher, I’ve always wanted to work with Pasternak and other writers. So… one of those things you do.

I finally went back and re-did my old Doctor Who books. Basically, they’re explorations of Doctor Who fan films, reviews of the history of the genre, the very best examples, along with explorations of fandom, changing culture, technology and buried parts of the show’s history. Possibly a stupid topic, but it was what got me into self publishing in the first place. For years, I’ve been quietly researching and updating as new films were created, lost films were rediscovered, as the show and technology continued to evolve. It was time to sit down, do some serious revisions, updating, fix up old problems, cover new ground. The duology became a trilogy, and I think I wrote perhaps 100,000 new words give or take.

No novels this year. I did knock off a few short stories here and there. Total probably comes to about 30,000 words. I slipped some into new short story collections. Maybe reserving one for an upcoming collection. One thing that was significant was that I started sending stories out to markets again. Collected rejections, but did get a personal rejection from Analogue. At least I think it was personal, maybe they just have an upper tier of form rejections. Not sending out to many magazines though. Frankly, I’m not really interested in floundering around with the middle and bottom level markets and fringe anthologies. I don’t really give a damn about that. I suppose there’s some ‘validation’ from getting published in some mid-tier anthology or small press market. But I already know I’m a good writer, there’s no one I care about impressing. Does that sound like a swelled head? Trust me, I can show you my sales records, that’s a good reason for humility.

Finally, I had a completely non-commercial project – an alternate history chronicle of the Peter Cushing Doctor Who movies. My idea was to extend the franchise from two movies, to a handful lasting into the seventies. It was fun to do deep research, and to tell stories and sub-stories about the vagaries of B-movie films and opportunistic film making, to explore how stories evolve and shape themselves for different mediums and audiences. I think that ran 80,000 words, totally non-commercial, but entirely therapeutic. I suppose it was a waste of time, it didn’t advance my writing career one bit. Nobody read it. It was completely non-commercial. But you know what? I don’t’ care. I’m always chasing the brass ring, and it’s always out of reach. Sometimes, it’s you just have to do something that makes you happy. And I really needed to do something that made me happy.

No novel projects this year. But it adds up, that’s somewhere around 250,000 words ballpark. Somewhere between 220,000 and 280,000. I think that’s a pretty reasonable rate of work, and even if a big chunk wasn’t conventionally useful, I don’t think any writing is ever truly wasted. You learn by doing, you get better by doing.

Overall – I released five of my own books this year:

A Pirate’s History of Doctor Who
Another Pirate’s History of Doctor Who
The Last Pirate’s History of Doctor Who
Drunk Slutty Elf and Other Stories
Drunk Slutty Elf and Zombies

The Doctor Who books, like the LEXX Unauthorized books, were basically closure, finally returning to and finishing a long outstanding project.  I’m proud of  both sets, I think that there’s good writing and interesting stuff. But it was  partly a matter of clearing the decks, wrapping up outstanding business, just getting it done. I have always been a big closure junky – I like to finish things. Sometimes it takes a while, but sooner or later, I come back and finish. I’m relentless.

Drunk Slutty Elf were collections of short stories that I have some real hopes for. Axis of Andes had been successful last year, so I thought I could get lightning to strike twice. I invested in really good eye catching covers, courtesy of Jimi Bautista, and what I thought was a lightning rod of a name – originally it was Aliens and Elves, went through a bunch of other titles, before I settled on this.  I’d learned my lesson previous books with literary or conservative or boring titles. I figured Axis sold on the title, so I wanted something provocative and kick ass. So I figured dynamite humor, dynamite title, dynamite cover. Sales? Not so much. Less dynamite, more fizzle. Still, I think the Drunk Slutty Elf books actually have some commercial potential. I just need to work at it.

So maybe it’s time for me to start getting serious about marketing, and learning that part of the craft. I’m finally thinning out the hard drive, I think I only have a couple more years of material to release. So I’ve signed up for a Book Launch at the Manitoba Writers Guild, tried a Virtual Book Tour which turned out to be a scam. Mostly though, my efforts were pretty embryonic. I signed up for twitter, instagram and tiktok.  Probably going to try getting onto snapchat. Did an online interview. But I also missed so many so obvious opportunities to promote my work on Facebook, or even on my blog. Seriously, I did five books this year, and I didn’t mention them until New Years Eve.

I think 2023, I’m going to really push the Elf and Axis books, see what we can do with them. And I’m going to make an effort to break into and get active on Social media, at least to the point of promoting my books.  There’s a paradox,  you can’t just ‘use’ social media, the word is you have to be a ‘member’ – that is, you have to be social and sociable and use it as a vehicle for personal intercourse. Where am I going to find the time? Or the inclination?  Still, I do need to make the effort.

Hell, 2023 is going to be my really big push in just about every direction.  Look, when I started down this road, I was just doing projects that I didn’t think had any commercial potential – LEXX a fifteen year defunct television series, it was pretty obvious there wasn’t a crowd clamoring for that, but it was a good book and deserved to be out in the world. Doctor Who, obscure fan top. Previously published short stories? Quirky little essays? There wasn’t really market potential, so it was kind of pointless to try to market. I was more interested in doing and learning other things.

Now? As I’ve said, I’ve got a couple of projects that may have legs. So why not see how they run, take them out for a gallop.

2022 was the year a long running project came to fruition. Years ago, after I’d started to get the hang of doing ebooks, I figured I wanted to help someone else. I think I made the offer to Angus Kohm, a playwrite friend, a few other people. The one I really pushed was Scott Ellis – he was a brilliant short-story man, working away at Statistics Canada, and he had these wonderful stories all gathering dust in his hard drive. I thought it would be wonderful to get them into the world.

Well, that was a journey of a few years, with many twist and turns, a lot of effort and frustrations. But it got done. Scott is now the proud author of two books, collections of short stories, from short shorts to novellas.

Benny the Antichrist and Other Stories
Crawling to the Moon and Other Stories

The winding history of these projects will probably fill another blog post, so I’ll save it for then. I think if I’d appreciated how much of a giant pain in the ass and how long it would take, I probably wouldn’t have done it. But I’m glad I did and they’re done. I guess I did publisher stuff. Oh, and he’s got a book launch courtesy of the Manitoba Writer’s Guild, March 11, 2023. Write that down.

[Edit – I actually have a Book launch in April sometime, for my Drunk Elf books. Didn’t think to mention that. See what I mean?]

So technically, I did the work of releasing seven titles, not five, although I didn’t do the actual work of writing two of them.  Scott’s books were still an immense amount of work.

Print Books: Another matter:  Although this wasn’t new writing per se, I undertook a huge, humungous writing project over the summer and fall. Basically, having gotten Scott’s work to ebook stage, I thought it would be worthwhile to push to the next step – physical “print on demand” books. It just seemed like the next logical step, and I figured Scott would appreciate having a physical book or two on his shelves So I set about learning how to do that. I needed test material to work on, and luckily, I had plenty of that around.

The upshot was that I spent most of the summer and fall working relentlessly to upgrade and format all seventeen of my titles, plus Scott’s two, into print books.  There’s something about print books, a permanence to them. I felt that I really had to go over everything with a fine tooth comb again and again, editing and re-editing, re-formatting to get them into the best possible shape. With ebooks, I’d been learning, I had been willing to be sloppy in the past. But now that I was embarked on this quest, it just seemed to call for a higher standard. I actually hired copy editors to go over a couple of the books.  So of course, that meant that at the same time as I was on the print-book process, I was also, re-doing, re-editing, re-formatting and uploading new improved, tighter, cleaner more polished versions of all my eBooks.

I started with Amazon on their POD program, but eventually I applied that work and extended it to Draft2Digital’s beta publishing project.  So now I believe I have about twenty paperback books, mine and Scott’s available on Amazon, Draft2Digital, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Tolino and Vivlio.

I didn’t really expect anything out of this. The general theory is that for self publishers at my level 95% of book sales at my level are ebooks, so this seemed like an incredible amount of work for almost no return.

Oddly, looking at the sales reports through Amazon since June, 2022, when I started doing this, I actually am earning a significant chunk of my royalties through paperbacks.  I think in part because the paperback royalties on Amazon are much higher – the book is more expensive, even adjusting for printing, so the royalty is bigger. And it may be a novelty factor, people that know me buying.  Or it may be a function of a really low rate of sales.  Given that this has all been ‘work in progress’ these last few months, I’m waiting to see how they do in 2023. Still, more encouraging than I expected.

Audio Books.  I got really interested in Audio Books and even spent some time exploring doing them. I had this idea that maybe I could narrate my own short stories and upload them to ACX one at a time, as an experiment. Not quite – the technical requirements and technological sophistication seems well beyond me, and well beyond the available time I have to give to learn to do something like this. Time and resources aren’t unlimited, believe it or not.  The alternative would be to hire a technican and the technical resources – not cheap. Voice actors aren’t cheap either. It turns out that a good audio book will cost you $6,000 to $12,000 – more than I’ve made writing in a lifetime. So that seemed a dead end, at least for the time being.

But along the way, I discovered AI (Artificial Intelligence) Audio, so I uploaded and worked on a dozen books in that format. It’s basically speak and spell, or a reversal of dictation software. It translates a written text into speech.  It used to be pretty crude even a few years ago, but it’s been evolving rapidly. I was referred to a system on Googleplay that offered over thirty voices and accents – different genders, ages, nationalities. You could adjust the speed, tinker with the pronounciation, and even real time alter the reading by altering the text.

But with Artificial Intelligence voice systems, I was able to explore this area. I did twelve books that way – two of Scott’s, ten of mine, and mounted them on Googleplay and Kobo.  Why not do them all?  Because it was an immense amount of work – doing up an audiobook and getting it on two platforms, even with AI amounted to up to two full days work per book, no joke.  I got Scott’s up, I got one or two books from each of my series, so they’re up there.   Maybe, eventually, I’ll put them all up, but it’s a lot of work.

And honestly, it’s going to be a lot more work to polish them up properly. AI isn’t quite at the level of voice actors. But I think if you put the full time and effort into fine tuning it, literally page by page editing, you can get pretty close.  Right now, my audios are serviceable, but to get them really good, I think I’d need to spend at least a week editing per book. That’s a hell of a commitment, and it just wasn’t feasible this year, given everything else I was doing.

So next year, 2023, I may make the effort to upload the rest as audio. Or I may turn around and put that effort into fine tuning a few books and getting them as close to perfect as I can make it. Not sure which. Honestly, I’m not sure either is worth the effort. It’s nice to have a dozen books available as audiobooks, but unlike the trade paperbacks, sales have been negligible.

And there is a challenge – Kobo is one of two platforms I can do AI Audio so far, so I upload to Kobo separately. But if I uploaded to Kobo through Draft2Digital, maybe I could have paperbacks available through them? That might do me more good. And I can’t get AI Audio on ACX, where the huge part of the audio market is – there are now Audiobook services that can work with them to do a book that might get onto ACX – worth it to try? Again my results with my one ACX title, The Mermaid’s Tale are negligible.

But 2023 is going to be the year of the big push. So maybe…  Wait and see.

Expanding Platforms:   While I was doing this, I was hunting out into signing up for new platforms – Kobo, Googleplay, DriveThruFiction.  Each new platform I found involved manually uploading all twenty books, and navigating the unique format requirements of each platform, plus tuning the metadata.  Counting Draft2Digital and Smashwords, which redistribute to other platforms, I have twenty ebooks, mine and Scott, some two or three million words, on 22 separate platforms, twenty print books on six platforms through Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Draft2Digital etc., and a dozen AI Audiobooks on two platforms – Kobo and Googleplay.

Is it worth it?  I don’t know yet. It’s all pretty new. I’ve sold several hundred books through Amazon, I’ve sold six through Kobo. But then, I’ve only been uploading directly to Kobo for a few months. It may be wasted effort, particularly if 95% of sales are through Amazon and ACX. While Kobo, Googleplay and DriveThrufFiction are new, I’ve been on Smashwords and Draft2Digital for a few years, and it’s been pretty marginal.

But then again, I’ve never been so widely distributed to so many major platforms, I’ve never really put up marketable books, and I haven’t yet made a major marketing/social media effort (I still have only the vaguest ideas of how to go about those).  So we’ll see how 2023 turns out.

Mission accomplished? Ladies and Gentleman, if that is not a giant shitload of work, I don’t know what is. Like I said, it took up an incredible amount of time and energy. I worked late night after night, I lost the summer and fall, it just whizzed by. I put an immense amount of hours and creative and personal effort in. I had no social life, just that and my professional career. It actively obstructed a social life. I blew my weight loss targets because I was committing hours to this that should have gone to the gym.

Was it worth it? It’s the question I keep coming back to. Probably not. It’s all very nice to be on all those platforms in all those ways, but really, 90% or 95% of my sales are just Amazon. So I suppose mostly, it’s a waste of time, spreading out on all those other platforms. Most sales are ebooks, although I’ve sold more print books than I expected. I think I’ve sold two audiobooks, by that, I mean two copies. Still, the new formats aren’t getting me much.

I suppose I could have taken all that time and energy and put it in other stuff – I could have written a couple of novels, chugged out a half million or a million words, worked on physical fitness, worked on my professional career, or just spent some time enjoying life, experiencing a summer that simply flashed by. I could have buttonholed a hundred agents, or two hundred, sent out more projects to more publishers. I could have done something useful, something that would have rewarded more, advanced more, done something for me. So even with my writing career, this effort was costly and maybe took time and energy that could have been used more productively.

The darkest perspective, is that by any logical assessment of costs and benefits, the self pub/paperback/audio project was a gigantic waste of time and energy. It was an immense commitment, for negligible return. It was pointless. Busywork to occupy my time and fill my mind and keep me from thinking about things.  But then again, I suppose could say that about every single thing about my entire life. Everything I’ve ever done, or believed, everyone I’ve ever loved, everything I ever tried. It all just comes down to this giant monument of futility, endless pointless striving.  There’s a sobering thought for you.

But I’ll tell you. It’s nice to empty out the hard drive and have the work out there in the world.

And there is something about print – my print books now occupy half a shelf in my bookcase. It makes me feel like I accomplished something.

I’ve given a lot of copies away – sometimes it seems that I couldn’t help it. Copies to my friends, ex-wives, two copies to my sister, copies to people I know. I’ve actually done something. I’m trying to break that habit. It’s costly, I’ve given away hundreds of books, maybe a few thousand dollars worth, which I can’t really afford. And what for? Most people smile politely, accept it, and then never read or look at it stick it on a shelf somewhere where it gathers dust. And like I said, it’s kind of pathetic. I hate being pathetic.

And there’s Scott. He’s older than me, and I don’t think he ever got into ebooks. I think having a tangible print book, a couple of tangible print books, meant a lot to him. That makes me happy.

It’s nice to have audio books, even as rough as they are right now. Future project, should I choose to do it, is to clean them up. I think to do it properly, each book would represent at least twenty or thirty hours each, no shortcuts. Still, it’s cool. I have audiobooks!

Even if all this work on print books was all a waste of time and effort, I still think the process of re-editing and reformatting improved the books generally.

In some ways, the print book project feels futile.  It may well be futile.  I have physical books. But behind those physical books, there’s no real publisher, no editor or editorial process, no agents, no infrastructure. A book usually represents an entire social infrastructure, processes, marketing, distribution. An army coming together, everyone playing their part, to create and put that book on the bookstore shelf.None of that is here. My books compare with all of that, the way a porcelain doll compares to a real child. But hey, I don’t have real children, either literal or metaphorical. I don’t really have anything. So you know, if all you get to have is some porcelain dolls, well, that has to be enough. That’s the secret of life, you take what you can get. I am a good writer. They are good books, I’m proud of each of them. And they are out in the world. These are all true things. So that’s something. You take what you can get.

And the jury isn’t in. At the very least, I’ve put a bunch of pieces in place and done a lot of work. I’m positioned to maybe make more of a mark in 2023? It keeps coming back to that.

What else have I done with my writing career this year?

Well, I did a bunch of panels at Keycon, four panels and two readings. I did two panels and a reading at the World Fantasy Convention – for the third year running. A panel at FanQuest. A workshop on publishing contracts for the Canadian Authors Assocation. And a Zoom thing for Manitoba Writers Guild. All told, maybe twelve different readings, workshops, appearances, lectures, programming items. I showed the face. I severed my ties with SF Canada – they were kind of toxic, I didn’t need that.

I sent out a bunch of agent queries – less than twenty this year. I’m not sure. Last couple of years, I sent out about a hundred, cumulatively. This year, barely any. I’m not sure. I can argue I didn’t have the time, but it’s a matter of choosing how you allocate time. So maybe I just got chickenshit this year, lost my nerve, got gunshy. The results were the same as previous years, so whatever.

Depressingly, I actually had an amazingly good lead. A successful writer I know actually spoke to his agent about me, referred me, gave his agent’s email and permission to use his name. Did I follow it up? Nope. Self sabotage? Chickenshit? I do have kind of an excuse that professional life went super-stressful crunch. But not all is lost, this isn’t time sensitive. So I can follow it up in the next month.

And in other depressing news? The Mermaid’s Tale, my big, beautiful, breakthrough novel is burned. It’s been burned all along. The problem is that it exists as an audiobook, and since audiobook rights are so vital, that means that no publisher will touch. Of course, the audiobook doesn’t sell at all. It exists only to fuck the book and any prospects. I’ll have to wait until the ACX contract lapses before I have a hope in hell. I suppose I knew it all along, but it’s been spelled out.  Par for the course. My relationship with that novel is always so bittersweet. Mostly bitter.

And, oh yes. Applied for a Manitoba Arts Council grant. Went down in flames of course. But hey, I applied again this time to Manitoba Arts Council and applied to Canada Council for a grant as well.

What it all comes down to is that I put a huge amount of effort into my  writing career this year. Just like last year. Just like the year before.  Etc.  So far, the returns haven’t really justified the effort. Really – I have to ask, is this all the best things that I can do with my life? What would I have if I put that effort into building my client base for my legal practice, or in training and study of law? What if I just put those hours into a part-time job at the 7-11? Or focused on a social life? Travel? Even watching television, reading?  Is it possible that I could have done literally anything else, and ended up richer, thinner, more athletic, more attractive, more accomplished, happier, more well liked or loved?

That’s a haunting question, isn’t it?  You buys your ticket, and then you takes your chances. But I’ll tell you, this one keeps me up at night. I would to come to a point where I can say it was all worth it, it all paid off in the end. But that’s not how life works.  Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t, and I’ll have to live with that.

So what’s next year?

Well, permanent existential crisis aside, I’m not a quitter. I think I have at least three self-publishing projects. Two novels this time, and another collection of short stories.  I think I might venture into erotica for a couple of projects, under a pseudonym. Still, at least one horror novel under my own name.  I could probably do more, I might do one more, but I think I’ve thinned out the hard drive, and got a body of work, including stuff I really wanted out into the world. So I’m not going to kill myself putting out another five or six or ten self publishing projects in a year. I can stretch it out.

As I said, I’m going to take the Axis of Andes and the Drunken Elf books and really try to market them, or at least learn marketing. Going to try and push Scott’s as well. Think I’ve got the rest of the self publishing thing down now – the only thing really is touch ups, and fine tuning the audiobooks. So basically marketing is my last great frontier, 2023 or bust!  I think its time.  I have eighteen self pubs, I have ebooks, print-books, audiobooks. I have nonfiction, short story collections, novels. I have niche stuff, I have stuff that I think has legs, I have stuff that may not sell well on its own but may move if I get some buzz.  I have a prestige book from a real press. I have real novels that I can take to agents and publishers.  There’s a foundation here, surely I can build something with that. Or at least, there’s prospects to build something.

We’ll see how the grant applications turn out. Maybe I’ll apply again. Apart from that, might apply to contests – real contests hopefully.

And look at writing sending short stories to markets, systematically, which kind of implies I’ll have to start writing them steadily. I’m still diffident about short stories though. I have four novel projects in mind. I’d like to write at least one or two. I think I can. I have a couple of ideas for scripts of fringe plays. So I want do do at least a hundred thousand words. Target somewhere between a couple of hundred thousand to maybe half a million.

It’ll be a heavy year for conventions and programming – I’m doing a multi-stage workshop for the Manitoba Writers Guild. I’ve already bought memberships for World Fantasy Convention in Kansas, North American Science Fiction Convention in Winnipeg, When Words Collide in Calgary. I plan to do Keycon in Winnipeg again, Maybe Fanquest another Winnipeg con, and Cancon in Ottawa. I’m going to try to do programming and readings for all of that. Maybe a couple of other conventions, and keep my eye open for workshops. The At Bay Project should be publishing in October, so maybe there will be some promotional opportunities there. And who knows, maybe I’ll sit at a table and hawk my books.

Do a serious push for Agents – do a lot of queries, try to connect at conventions. I went light this year. Well, I took my breather, now back to the grinder. Maybe search for a backdoor to publishers.

Oh, and note to self – redo the Website. I’ve released so many books now that it’s gotten unwieldy, and I need to rethink and restructure this thing. Also do a lot more work on Categories, Tags and things for the blog so that people can actually navigate and find things. Turn this into an actual promotional tool, rather than a personal semi-public log. Do that along with the social media push, the marketing, the agent queries, grant proposals, convention attendances, readings, panels and workshops and … writing. Where the hell do other people find the time? Or the energy?

Will any of it work? Who knows. But I’ll know I did whatever I could, that I worked damned hard at it, smashed my head against the wall. Like that story in Kafka, where the guy tries to bribe the guard “I will take your money, not because you will succeed, but so you can be satisfied you tried everything.”

Win or lose, I want to be satisfied I did everything I could, tried everything I could. Whatever happens, however it turns out, it wasn’t for lack of effort or commitment.

That’s about it.

I don’t know if anything I did this year was worth it. Probably not. But I gave it everything I had, and I’m satisfied with that.  Maybe it will pay off. So here’s to next year.

I write these things for my future self. Blog posts, someone may or may not run across them. But the annual roundups, that’s so I years later, I can read through them and be satisfied that I made the effort.

Anyway, there’s 2022, and here’s to 2023.

Honestly – I’m so sick of this year. It’s been an awful year on every level. Close friends have died, relationships foundered, I’ve reappraised both family and friendships and found disappointment. It’s been heartbreaking personally. My health has floundered, my professional life is dead in the water. I’ve had to face a painful reappraisal of my life.

There have been bright spots – New Orleans, losing some weight (not nearly as much as I wanted), winning in court on a couple of files. But honestly, it was rough.  I face 2023 with considerable trepidation.

But there’s nowhere to go but forward.