January is one of my favourite times of the year. Much like a blank page, it’s a fresh start rich with possibility.
A key part of any new year involves putting the past to one side. The best way to do that is by writing an annual review, a practice I follow every year.
In this annual review podcast and article, I’ll explain what I did and wrote during 2019. I’ll also cover what did and didn’t work.
Listen to the Podcast
What Worked During 2019
2019 was a good year.
I finally set up Become a Writer Today as a legal entity in Ireland, which is, as a limited liability company. I also increased my business profits mostly through the help of contractors and agencies. Currently, the business generates revenue from these sources:
- Nonfiction book sales
- Freelance writing for Forbes
- Affiliate marketing and promotions
- Course sales
- Display advertising
During 2019, I refined my workflow for writing nonfiction articles for Forbes and this site. I increased sales from courses and affiliate products and produced longer, interview-focused podcast episodes more consistently. I also canceled a few projects.
I’ll cover some of these in more detail below.
In June of 2019, I flew from Ireland to Austin, Texas, and met one of my mentors, Jon Morrow from Smart Blogger.
Jon teaches bloggers, writers, and entrepreneurs how to “break through the noise” by starting a blog.
One of the first courses I ever took online was from Jon back in 2013 or 2014. Back then, I was unsure about spending $1,500 on a course from somebody I met over the internet.
Jon taught me that a blog can become a business, and it’s possible to earn a living from writing online.
Over the past 12 months, he invited over ten of us into a Mastermind group where we collaborated over weekly calls and via a Slack group. Jon coached us on different ways we can improve our businesses and different areas to focus on.
If you’re not familiar with Jon’s story, I encourage you to visit Smart Blogger. I was grateful to meet Jon in person and work with him.
Work aside, I also ran the Dublin City Marathon in October. I took several months to train for this event, but I found the process a welcome relief from spending hours at a desk or in a room alone writing.
I also changed my early morning writing routine, as we have an eighteen-month-old baby in the house who is also an early riser.
What I Wrote During 2019
Last year, I wrote consistently for Forbes. I published approximately two articles each week on Tuesdays on Thursdays about creativity, innovation, and leadership. That works out as approximately nine articles per month or about 100,000 words, which is enough for a book.
One key insight from writing for Forbes?
I’m always surprised by what performs and what doesn’t perform. Sometimes, I’ll spend a lot of time preparing to interview a successful author or entrepreneur. I’ll research their work, come up with questions, write the article and publish it.
On other occasions, I’ll knock out an article in thirty minutes, send it to my editor, fix the typos and press publish.
And it gets thousands of views.
It doesn’t matter how good your article or writing is if nobody reads it. Like it or not, anyone who writes online must spend time creating a strong headline if they want to attract the attention of readers.
The importance of a good headline for books and articles is something I’ve learned repeatedly.
In 2019, I also self-published print, Kindle and Audible audiobook versions of This Is Working: Focus on What Matters and Get the Results You Deserve.
I also turned Yes You Can Write! into a print workbook of writing prompts.
Did you buy these books?
I always enjoy book writing, but when I finish one I want to forget about it and move on to something new. That’s not a great idea, as every author should spend time promoting their work.
That was a change from previous years.
In 2017, I recorded and narrated The Art of Writing a Non-Fiction Book. I prefer an author to narrate his or her book because they know the material better. That said, narrating an audiobook is demanding and time-consuming.
Last year, I didn’t have the time, probably because I was too busy training for the marathon. With kids, our house is rarely quiet enough for narration.
So I worked with a narrator who turned my books into something I was happy to publish on ACX, the Audible self-publishing platform.
Read my guide to making an audiobook.
My 2019 Podcasting Process
I started the Become a Writer Today podcast early in 2018 as an experiment, because I enjoy listening to podcasts and wanted to discover what it’s like to record one.
At first, I picked a single writing topic and riffed on it for about five or 10 minutes. Over the past year, I’ve moved almost entirely to the interview format.
One of my favourite interviews from this year was with Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable. I also enjoyed interviewing Joanna Penn, of The Creative Penn, because her podcast was one of the first podcasts I ever started listening to, and she partly inspired me to launch a show.
These days, I interview authors and creative entrepreneurs about their work for Forbes and write an article with the audience of entrepreneurs and leaders in mind.
During podcast interviews, I ask guests about their writing or creative process, so it’s also relevant for Become a Writer Today.
This approach enables me to create three pieces of content from one interview, increasing my creative output.
I’m all about accomplishing more with less!
That said, I spend almost no time on audio production. I’ve outsourced it to a podcast editor. I record the audio, and he edits and processes the files before uploading them to Anchor.fm, which is free to use.
Even though I worked as a radio producer years ago and enjoyed it, I’d rather spend time writing rather than tinkering around in Audacity (the audio editing software I use).
If you write nonfiction, creating an online course is a great way to increase income from the ideas inside your books or articles.
During 2019, I created several new courses including:
These courses more than compensated for the decline in my book sales, which I address below.
Before you dive in, remember it’s not enough to create a course. You must promote it too. I worked on the sales pages and funnels for these courses in 2019 for several months before releasing them. I also worked more closely with students within these courses to ensure they’re getting the results they need.
I intend to continue improving and promoting these courses in 2020.
I work with several contractors who help me with everything from design, editing and the technical parts of running my site.
I also work with a consultant who helps me optimise articles on my site for Google, and traffic is up. I even hired an agency that helped me increase affiliate earnings from some high traffic posts.
This year, I will continue investing business profits in outsourcing, as that usually frees me up to write…or take time off.
If you’re not at this stage, don’t worry. Simply find one activity to outsource and put some of your earnings towards that.
For example, many writers don’t like spending time on their finances (myself included). You can hire a bookkeeper for a modest amount each month using services like Upwork. The contractor could save you hours of painful work.
What Didn’t Work
In previous years, I tested Facebook ads and gave up on them because they were expensive and time-consuming. I know some authors rely heavily on Facebook ads to sell books, but paid advertising is a skill requiring time and money to master.
Perhaps I’ll look at Facebook ads in the future, but right now, avoiding them frees me up to focus on other areas of the business.
Last year, I wrote about how great Amazon ads are. They’re still a fantastic way of selling books, but the word is out because ads are becoming competitive.
In 2019, it became harder for authors to sell books on Amazon without investing in ads.
While I’m still making a profit from selling books, managing these ads successfully consumes time and money. My book sales dropped off as a result.
Earlier this year, I outsourced management of my Amazon ads campaigns for a time, but I found generating a return on the ads hard after factoring in the cost of this service.
Will I continue to run Amazon ads in 2020? Probably.
That said, content marketing – blogging, podcasting, and publishing – has always driven more traffic and subscribers, which helped me earn more revenue and help more readers than anything I’ve done with paid advertising.
Over a year ago, I started a niche site called Tried and Tested Business Tools, where I reviewed business tools and software.
I decided to stop working on that site this year, as it was taking up too much time and wasn’t filling me with excitement. I might return to it in the future, but it’s not a priority.
My Early Morning Writing Routine
I’ve written before about the value of an early morning writing routine. For years, I relied on rising early to write for several hours before the day starts.
Now, we have an eighteen-month-old baby who also likes to rise early. I’m still finding time to write, but I’ve changed my routine somewhat, occasionally writing in the evenings. Writing at night doesn’t work for the most part as it means I’m not present for the family.
I’ve also experimented with getting up even earlier, but that presents its own challenges i.e. tiredness.
This year, I’ve experimented with running display ads on my site, which is a popular way for bloggers to earn an income from their sites.
Depending on the page you’re reading, small ads will appear in the sidebar or within the article. These ads help me cover the cost of hosting and some other tools used to run the site.
Still, I’ve mixed feelings about running display ads, and I’ve turned them off on certain posts if they get in the way of the content. I’ll continue to run ads for the first part of 2020, but it’s a practice I will review.
I continue to earn an income from affiliate marketing. I wrote more about that in my 2018 annual review.
Plans for 2020
Substack is incredibly easy to use and a fantastic way for writers to build a direct relationship with their readers. It can help you get paid to write too.
Read the insights of my interview with the co-founder of Substack, Hamish McKenzie, here.
I’ll probably also write another book this year, but I’m searching for a good topic.
I’ve kicked around a few ideas from time management to starting a business, but I want to write something more colourful and personal than the business books and articles I produced during 2018 and 2019.
To get there, I intend to write a series of colourful personal essays and publish them on platforms like Medium.
I’ve also built a free writing prompts generator. It’s still in the early stages, but I’d love your feedback.
Great Books I Read During 2019
I read and listened to about 60 books this past year, mostly nonfiction.
I finally read Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It’s one of the best nonfiction books I’ve ever read.
If you’re running a creative business, check out The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Sean Covey et al. Recommended by my mentor Jon Morrow, this book changed how I’m tracking key metrics for Become a Writer Today.
Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport is a good read too and a nice pairing for Nir Eyal’s book, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.
Ryan Holiday’s book, Stillness Is the Key struck me as the type of self-help book every writer should aspire to create.
While technically not a book, I really enjoyed reading some of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman graphic novels while on holidays in Kos, Greece.
I also loved Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler. (Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, and Mini Driver starred in the 2010 film.)
I hope you found this 2019 annual review insightful. You can produce an annual review like this as a blog post, podcast episode or even as a journal entry.
If you’ve got questions about my annual review process, ask me below.
Get your 101 writing prompts today
Need help getting started writing? Use these proven writing prompts. I'll also send you practical writing advice and more as part of my newsletter.