At the end of each year, I review what I did, what I failed at and what I’d like to do next. I want to share this review with you, so you can learn from my successes and mistakes and achieve more with your writing during 2017.
Before we get into it, here is a summary of where I’m at:
I’ve been blogging for three years, and I started Become a Writer Today two years ago. I also self-published my first book 2 years ago.
During 2016, I launched a multimedia course for new writers who need help finishing their book. I also self-published the first two parts of a three-part non-fiction series called the Power of Creativity.
I grew my email is from 2000 to 4000 subscribers. I also doubled my website traffic from 20,000 unique visitors a month to 40,000 unique visitors a month.
I wrote for other websites including Lifehacker, Write to Done and Fast Company, and I outsourced some of my work and hired a freelance editor to help me.
My website earned a modest income via book sales, my online course and through my recommendations of writing tools and products I trust. I reinvested almost all of this income back into the site and my writing.
Now, let’s get into what’s working.
The Power of Creativity
During 2016, I finished writing a 70,000-word non-fiction book called the Power of Creativity.
I planned to publish this as a single book last September. However, after talking to another self-published author, he recommended I publish the book as a series.
So I reworked the book into three smaller books, each of which focuses on a single area of creativity, and I sold each part for the price of USD2.99.
Why did I do this?
Well, publishing three books enables me to find more readers because there are more books to discover, and the lower cost means it’s not a big purchasing decision for readers. He also recommended I publish all three books as a boxset and that’s what I will do in January.
Before publishing, I developed relationships with beta or early readers.
I contacted subscribers to my email list, and I sent them copies of the book to read and review in advance. I also contacted people who are interested in this topic using a book reviewer tool from Author Marketing Club.
This enabled me to launch the first book with 23 positive reviews which was a far cry from launching a novella with zero reviews (more on that in a bit)!
Emailing and engaging with early readers took up a lot of time, but it was an exercise worth doing.
What’s Working for Me
While writing the Power of Creativity and working on other projects, I discovered a few new writing and marketing techniques that are helping me today.
It’s Much Easier to Write Non-Fiction Using a Detailed Outline
Before 2016, I started writing articles and blog posts with only a vague idea of where I was going or what they were about.
If you’re struggling with writer’s block, this is sometimes a good approach to take, but it’s also time-consuming, and you can end up writing about the wrong things.
Now, I spend 20 or 30% of my time outlining my writing in advance by using a spreadsheet or by creating bullet-point lists in the likes of Evernote.
Mostly, I’ve found that…
Mind-maps Are Ideal for Outlining Articles, Book Chapters and More
This year, I started using mind maps to organise my ideas for blog posts and for chapters in my book before I write them.
I also started using mind maps to categorise and review what I learnt in various great books I read. There’s no great secret to creating a useful mind-map, and this writing technique helps me figure out what I want to say and then write faster.
Dictation is Super Fast
Dictation is at least twice as fast as typing something out. Today, I dictate about 60 to 70% of what I write. Dictation works best when I have an outline or a mind map of the article, blog post or book chapter in question.
I only dictate the first and second draft of blog posts, book chapters and articles, and I edit and rewrite later drafts by typing.
This workflow forces me to write earlier drafts without editing myself, whereas I’m still more comfortable editing later drafts by hand.
I explain more about my workflow in my review of Dragon Dictate.
As with any writing technique, use what works and abandon what doesn’t.
Facebook Advertising Is a Time-Saver… If You Can Afford It
I finally figured out how to use Facebook advertising to promote blog posts, articles and to grow my email list, by listening to podcasts like Online Marketing Made Easy by Amy Porterfield, and also by getting stuck in.
Now, I don’t have a huge budget for Facebook advertising. I spend approximately five to ten euro a day doing this.
It’s possible to spend more on Facebook advertising, but this budget helped me achieve a modest bump in website traffic and increase the growth of my email list… without putting in dozens of extra hours a month (more on that in a moment).
Repurpose Your Work, Then Repurpose Some More
While on holiday in the South of France, I read Gary Vaynerchuk’s rather excellent book, Ask Gary Vee, and discovered how effective repurposing old content can be.
“All these words that you’re reading right now were probably synthesized by my team from a video or a podcast or an interview and then overlaid with grammar, commas, and some leeway. Then I listened to it, tweaked it, and altered it a bit.”
Now I spend a lot more time re-purposing old pieces of my writing. So I will take a blog post and use it as notes for a short video. Or I will use information from the blog post to answer questions on Quora, and I also cross posts on sites like Medium.
All of this is free, and it’s a great way of getting your writing in front of more people. It just takes a little bit of time to do it.
Feeling Overwhelmed? Get Help
During the first half of 2016, I struggled to balance writing a book about creativity with blogging and marketing, and research.
I spent hours each week doing things like proofreading my work and creating images for posts, figuring out Facebook ads and so on.
I didn’t have the time or resources to do it all myself. So, during the Summer, I hired an editor who works with me for about 10 hours a month (Martine Ellis, martineellis.com). She does the things I’m not good at or need help with.
For example, she creates images for blog posts and proofreads my work.
I also outsourced other tasks like editing video and getting infographics designed using sites like UpWork.
This enables me to do more of the one thing I should be doing: writing!
Even if you’re on a modest budget, I suggest recording a running list of tasks you don’t like doing or that you’re not good at. Even if you can’t outsource now, you will be able to at some point.
Use this list to decide how to allocate your budget. For example, one editor on Fiverr will proofread 1,000 words for just five dollars.
Pick One Creative Theme Per Quarter
This year, I focused on one theme per quarter. For example, between January and March, I worked almost entirely on creating an online course.
During April to June, I focused on finishing the final draft of the Power of Creativity, and during June to September I worked almost entirely on editing and preparing this book for publication.
I tracked what I had to do using a Kanban board, and I spent 80% of my time focusing on each theme, with the remaining 20% allocated to doing things like updating my website or writing posts like this.
When faced a decision about how to spend money or time, I asked myself if this shiny, new idea (look, squirrel!) would take away from my main theme for the three months in question.
Working like this meant I had to say no to things like launching a podcast, but it enabled me to finish more projects.
In the end, creative work, whether you’re writing a blog post, book or creating an online course, is best served when you impose limits on yourself and practice saying no.
My Biggest Mistakes
It wasn’t all sunshine, rainbows and lollipops during 2016. Some things I used to rely on stopped working and I faced a number of painful mistakes.
Let’s get into that.
I Didn’t Hit My Goal for My Email List
An email list is the single best tool at your disposal for telling people about your blog posts, for finding out what readers want and for selling your books.
I grew my email list from 2,000 to 4,000 subscribers this year. I could have hit 5,000 but I deleted 1,000 subscribers as they hadn’t opened an email in over six months.
Now, a 100% increase sounds like progress, but my original goal was to hit 10,000 subscribers.
I found it almost impossible to focus on growing my list during the first half of the year because this is a different task to writing and publishing a book.
I just didn’t have the time and resources to do both. Using Facebook ads helped me during the second half of 2016, but I have some way to go.
I Didn’t Validate My Online Course in Advance
Last Winter, I spent three months creating an online course.
I won’t lie.
Creating an online course took more time and resources than I expected. It was my priority project for three months, and I even had to delay editing a new book I was working on because I found it too difficult to do both projects at once.
I created 70% of this course without showing any of my work to beta students, and I ended up having to re-record many of these lessons when I finally got feedback.
Although students liked the course, I didn’t hit my revenue goal for the course, and I need to do a better job communicating the benefits of this course when I relaunch it next year.
Guest Posting Stopped Working for Me (Sort Of)
During 2015, I relied entirely on guest posting to grow my email list, find readers and to develop relationships with other writers and bloggers online.
While guest posting is still great for doing these things, and particularly so if you’re new, it also takes five to ten hours to pitch, write and edit a good post.
During 2016, I struggled balancing guest posting with writing my book, and these posts didn’t always translate into new readers.
For example, I spent almost ten hours on one post and only attracted 30 email list subscribers. I could do a better job writing quality guest-posts for my ideal readers, but I decided I’ve hit the point of diminishing returns (at least for now).
Although I still write the occasional guest post (like this one for Lifehacker), it’s no longer a priority.
My time is better spent writing chapters for a book and relying on other marketing techniques like mastering Facebook advertising and creating video content to grow my email list and find new readers.
I Forget All About Fiction!
Did you know I spent much of 2015 writing a novella?
It was a passion project rather than an idea I researched in advance. I published this novella in early January, and then I all but forgot about the novella.
When I finish a story, I’m keen to move onto the next thing, and I didn’t spend time looking for reviewers for this book or even telling people about it.
As a result, I earned almost nothing from this book, and I wrote it off as a loss.
Now, I also have a detailed outline for a thriller I want to write, but I ran out of time this year, and I didn’t write any fiction.
This is a type of writing I want to return to next year.
On a sad note, John Yeoman the editor of Writers’ Village unexpectedly passed away. I wrote posts for John’s site, emailed him about ideas, and he was also the member of a blogging program I’m in. I’m sure he will be missed by his readers and fans.
Plans for 2017
In November and early December, I finished writing the first draft of a short book about writing which I will publish during 2017. I will follow a similar approach for this book.
Video content is taking over social media, and although I will always put writing first, I want to create more videos during 2017 and turn these into podcast episodes.
Until now, I’ve published approximately one post a week. I know creating video and audio content will affect my publication rhythm, at least until I learn this new workflow.
So, I plan to alternate between publishing one article a week and then one new video or podcast on the other week.
I have a free template I use for planning goals like this, and I’d like to share it with you. If you subscribe, I will send you a free goal planning template for 2017.
As ever, I’ve found writing online to be an immensely rewarding activity.
Although I’m not an expert, blogging and self-publishing books enables me to talk to other readers and learn what works and what doesn’t and (unless an attractive squirrel distracts me) I intend to do a better job in 2017.