2020 Retrospective

You’ll have to forgive me this morning if I am a little bleak. This year has been sucker-punching me on it’s way out, and I am doing my best to maintain my optimism. However misguided that may be.

I try very hard to keep my black moods out of the public eye. I don’t always succeed. As an author, no one wants to know how you are struggling. It is, as it is with any entertainer, a case of ‘dance, monkey, dance!’ and rightly so. It’s only because social media makes it easy for me to whine and that’s a problem. I’m tempted, as I usually am when I go to the dark side, to just shut down or delete all the socials. That’s a problem, because I don’t have friends IRL. I have my immediate family, but everyone else lives hundreds of miles away and without social media I get scary isolated and lonely very fast.

So it’s a conundrum. I am dependent on a deeply flawed mechanism and it worries me. When I’m being emotional, I don’t want to leak in public. Not just because that’s a marketing platform. No, I have the same allergy to making a scene and need to keep a stiff upper lip that any rational person would have. But I know if I cut off my social content, my mood will tank even further, as will other things… humans, for all that we brag about our introversion, are deeply social beings.

We need social interactions with others. And no, your cats or dogs are not enough (although they certainly do help, as a certain soft kitten was snuggling up to me last night). Humans need humans. It’s bred into the blood and bone of us. We need to be able to talk, to laugh together, to share tears, and embraces, and to be able to lift the burdens from another which paradoxically lightens our own for a time. It’s the way we are.

My son and I watched The Martian yesterday (and Hidden Figures, and part of The Right Stuff, which we will finish today). The portrayal of a man fighting to stay alive in utter isolation was more focused on the actual physical demands on him. But they subtly slipped into the ways he stayed more-or-less sane while he was completely alone and every message took an hour to receive once he was able to communicate. I’d read the book years ago while it was still an Indie, and highly recommend it. One of the best Hard SF novels written in the recent past. The movie is very well done. My son was commenting that he really enjoyed the battle portrayed – Man struggling with nature, and against his own weaknesses. He also cheered on the (spoiler, sorry) friends who came back for him.

I’m thinking about this today. The struggle against one’s own nature, and friends who take time to send you encouragement. I don’t think I was obviously in distress online (and held it together in person until my son went to bed) but it seemed that there were several little messages that came to me, telling me how they were enjoying my work. Part of that was Christmas – my work was being honored highly enough to make into gifts – and part of it may have been some sense that I needed to hear this. I did. I do. I create art and writing because I have a need to. I make it public, by selling or sharing, because I also have a need to know that it’s… ok. I know it’s not great.

Lately, I’ve been worried if it is good enough. Because it has to be good enough to stand on it’s own little flat feet. I have the time to write, and create, and prepare it for public consumption. Or I could take the time to relentlessly promote and advertise and make a big hurrah over my work. I don’t have the time and energy to do both. I know this, but still, it hurts to pour my soul and three years of effort into a book and have it slip beneath the water, pale pages fading with a look of disappointment on their face as they go deeper. Barely a ripple on the surface, and it’s gone.

Is there a better way? Probably. I don’t know. Right now, I’m trying to stay afloat. If that means I quit writing I’ll have to do that. I have people who need me, more than they need me to be creative. They need food on the table, a roof over their head, and an education to fill their mind. For that, I need money. And I am a mercenary wench when it comes to Sanderley Studios, but I have my limits. Right now I think I’m standing at those limits. I’d spent 2020 trying to urge the writing and art into the next level. I am not seeing the level-up markers. I’m not good enough.

I’ve got some projects I’m committed to. I fulfil my commitments. I have one more novel complete and ready to fly once it’s been edited and formatted. I’ll do that. And then I’ll re-evaluate after the first quarter of the year. Right now my emotions are likely, possibly, clouding my judgement. That, and 2020 has been a brutal year on many levels. It’s possible next year will be better. It’s equally certain that it will be worse. I’m doing the best I can, but I’m stretched thin and beginning to fray.

43 comments

  1. Up to the next level? But… sometimes we have to spend some time on a plateau before we can move up? Heck, some champions have even talked about having to go back down, and build up momentum to start moving up? I mean, wanting to level up this year (whew? In the middle of all the other stuff of this year?) seems kind of reasonable, but let’s not give up just because it didn’t quite make it… you got the odd prompts going, and pushed out the east witch, and… how about giving it another shot? Whatcha need to try again?

    1. The need to level up coincided with 2020 taking a turn for the worse. Which is why I’m not giving up already. On a productive level this year has been good. On a financial side, well. I’m the only one able to bring in an income in our household. I was trying to kick the writing and art to a level where it would be a side-income. That’s not a fast process, which I knew, and I allowed nine months for it. Between my personal failure to market adequately, and delivering a couple of book covers I wound up not getting paid for, my modest goals tanked for the end of the year. I will make more money at this point going to work on weekend flipping burgers (it’s not minimum wage in my area) than I will by continuing to write. And I need the cash. The Little Man is taking college classes to supplement homeschool. The house taxes are going up. We will need to buy another vehicle this summer. It’s overwhelming and I am trying to stay positive while knowing that I am a weak reed to support all this.

      1. Grrr. I’ve been wrestling with that black dog most of the year, myself – but the damn thing is only a dog, not the dire wolf that so many others have been fending off. I have not been keeping track of others that are important to me, and had to be kicked in the rear by Sarah the other day just to let people know that I am still alive and kicking myself.

        Well. I’m bound and determined to get a leash on that dog as soon as I’ve seen 2020 out. (To paraphrase a blogger elsewhere, I will be staying up late on Thursday night – but not to welcome the baby in so much as to make damn sure that pain in the butt old fart gets his heinie ALL the way out the door before I slam it on him.)

        The kids shelved their plans to move out when the depths to which the insanity would sink became apparent earlier this year, but we are not hurting in this household, with two permanent Amazon positions and a public school special teacher contributing to the finances (and one other job that was furloughed – but who started up again just three days before the extra unemployment dried up; she was actually netting more than working, but was relieved to get back to work). In 2020, the money kept going out just as fast as it came in, but that should be over now (knock on head with no handy wood within reach). Three major appliances, three cars reliable enough to guarantee showing up at their jobs.

        “The East Witch” purchased as of a few minutes ago. It will be placed on top of the TBRP to be read and reviewed.

        About art. One of the main things on my list (other than a bunch of smaller – but money soaks I didn’t want to get to when the summer was so hot anyway – projects around the house) is to get the first novel out the door. By the end of Spring, if I can manage it. I have a fairly good image of what I want it to be, but am way out of my league for actually doing it. I will happily prepay you for it. Shoot an email to me, please – writingobserver at cox dot net – and I’ll get back to you with what I have in mind, for you to give me a price on.

        Lastly. I have some notion of what you have been through in life – and, if that is a “weak reed,” it is an amazingly flexible one to bounce back up and put out new green shoots after several hurricanes came tearing through. Hang in there, even if it’s by the hind claws. (That’s not from a poster, I had to spend a few minutes there playing with Artemis, our new just about all black cat – I don’t know how, but she hangs off the side of her tree with just her hind legs dug into the sisal rope.)

  2. :hugs: This year has blown chunks on so many levels, I’m not surprised you’re feeling overwhelmed. I’m right there with you. And it’s so hard to be creative when the world is laying across your shoulders like a fat wrestler pushing your face into the mat. Do what you can when you can. I spent about an hour this morning posting marketing pitches on various FB and MeWe book groups. Maybe your friends and fans could do the same for your books. (I’d start the ball rolling, but I can only post once a day and I’m tapped out with my own stuff for today and tomorrow.) I don’t see a ton of sales from those pitches, but I do see a few here and there, and the posts are free. Anytime I can market without spending money, I’m there.

    Good luck and hang in there. And remember, you are definitely not alone. If you ever need someone to gripe at, I’m out here in the world – only an email away. :hugs:

  3. Book-wise, 2020 has been good to me – because I forced it to be, in some ways. Otherwise? It’s been OK for Clan Red, but I got sandbagged with some things recently that make me look at 2020 and contemplate calendar arson. Knowing that spring will, in some ways, be worse for my Day Job workload doesn’t help, either. At least I do know that that will be coming, so I can brace for it.

    1. Bracing helps a bit. Knowing there is an end to things helps a lot. My mantra right now is: three years. Once the Little Man is on his own, I can get crumbly at the edges and harm no one but myself.

  4. –…it hurts to pour my soul and three years of effort into a book and have it slip beneath the water, pale pages fading with a look of disappointment on their face as they go deeper. —

    What did you mean by this, Cedar? The publication date on The East Witch is six days ago. Very few of us are immediately lionized for a new novel. Or is this more of a “post partum tristum” sort of reaction? That, I could easily understand.

    I hope your Christmas was a splendid one.

    1. The book did not need to be lionized. But it’s not performing as well as my last release. And I simply haven’t got the energy to go figure out ads (nor a large budget) so it is just going to have to wobble on its own legs.

      Maybe this is postpartum. The book was fraught for me in a lot of ways.

      1. Six days isn’t very long, dear. Hang in there. I have books that have been available for ten years that have yet to sell 500 copies. I recently spent nearly $1000 to promote what several of my “pet readers” say is my best novel — which has already been out for nearly a year — and sales haven’t budged. Margaret Ball, who labors like a yeoman over her fiction, has the same kind of tale to tell. She and I have commiserated over our sales woes on more than one occasion. It’s a tough nut.

        We’re not alone by any means. A friend of mine, about nine years back, wrote and released a thriller through CreateSpace (since absorbed into Amazon) titled Corpse in Armor. Even though it’s his first and only novel, it’s the very best book of its kind that I’ve ever read. But it hasn’t sold well. He’s sulked ever since. He refuses to write anything more. His plaint: “I only wrote it for the money.”

        If you have no nearby friends, lean on those of us who’ll sympathize and support you from afar. We are many, variously experienced in the woes of this trade, and (perhaps best of all) we pay for our own drinks.

        As the old saw goes, “I wept that I had no shoes, till I met a man who had no feet. So I stole his shoes. I mean, it’s not like he needed them, right?” (:-)

        1. So the book you mention is underpriced. And the cover has *issues* but it’s not so bad I won’t include it in my personal blog post promoting books today.

          And one of yours, because I can.

  5. Yes, it’s been a messed up year in almost every way. On the creative side, or perhaps the opposite, is the marketing thing. I’ve been thinking I need to take advantage of hubby’s access to Lynda videos/courses and get one on marketing. You *are* good enough. Hang in there and as Mike suggested above, perhaps a small reset. You got my email…feel free to vent at any time. Many hugs.

  6. If you have any covers with sword fights or brandished swords on them, I can sneak them into our group pages as fencing inspirational reading. 😉

      1. It’s tough. You don’t want to be the guy who says, “Oh, your wife has cancer? A character in my new book has cancer too, you should check it out.” However, you also don’t want to be the guy whose neighbors say, “You’re a writer? And you have 17 books out? Who knew? I thought you did medical billing.”

        Inevitably it seems as though we worry about that the wrong way.

  7. Wow.
    No. East Witch is not “slipping underwater without a trace.”
    Just released. I have no patience either.
    It is a very good book, and opens a wide range of stories within the Pixie Noir worlds.
    You write it, I buy it.
    2020 is still sucking golf balls through a garden hose, and 2021 has the potential to say “hold my beer and watch this” in so many different ways that if I had the time, money, and health necessary, I don’t think I could prepare for all of them.
    Take care of yourself first. Without you, nobody else in your world gets cared for.
    You are an artist and writer. There are limited hours available each day, but cutting out a part of your nature will not make you stronger.
    Give your people hugs, and ask for help, in general, more than specific, as others may see solutions that you do not.
    John Sage/ John in Indy

    1. This. I got the Pixie Noir combo volume through KU and read it. Then followed my usual practice of buying it when I wanted to re-read it. And went out today and bought East Witch.

      I’ll read anything else in that universe she puts out.

      1. Thank you. I may, in time, write more. I have two novels planned in that world, but the lineup of WIP is lengthy and my time is scarce (hence a lot of my frustration).

  8. “cutting out a part of your nature will not make you stronger.”

    He’s right, you know.

    You may well have to make temporary adjustments to your schedule, reallocating your time based on hard choices about priorities, but that does not mean walking away from that which makes you the wonderful person you are.

  9. “I’m not good enough” is the voice of the Quitting Demon. Don’t reward it. This year I’m reduced to snarling at the demon, “So okay, then I’ll write a bad book!”

    Come snarl with me…

  10. “I am not seeing the level-up markers.”

    Know what you mean about not seeing those markers. My poor little book pretty much died in November, it’s got zero activity now. Lot of excuses could be made, but really it is all down to the marketplace and the book not being The Next Big Hit. It’s okay, people liked it, one guy who is probably a dick hated it which I actually enjoyed, and now the Amazon algorithm has it down on page 2,670,001 of search. It ain’t going to sell way down there.

    I realized that I don’t care. I do not have any real need for recognition. I write the stories for myself, I published the first one to see it anybody else might be interested. They were, so I’ll publish the rest as well, when I’m damn good and ready. Not when the algo says, that’s for sure.

    There is a feeling of John Henry and the steam drill about Amazon and authors. The parameters you have to meet to keep the algo fed are not really humanly possible over the long haul. Some people seem to find that sweet spot and do really well, for a while, but can one person -really- keep up that kind of word count month after month, year after year, in perpetuity?

    Some can, I guess, but I am not John Henry here. I’m just me, writing my crazy robot girlfriend stories. A niche product, to be sure. ~:D Never going to be the next Harry Potter or Dresden Files.

    Still, if there are some people wanting to know what George and Charlotte are doing these days, and what about those crazy toasters, I’m happy to oblige. There will be more robots in 2021, even though I don’t even make a dollar a day off it. If I manage to get up to $2.50 a day, that’ll be cause for a big celebration. ~:D

      1. Unfair Advantage by Edward Thomas. Available on Amazon. ~:D Robot girlfriends save the world. G-rated! I’d link it, but I made that mistake once and the link came out to full-page size.

        Cut/paste the author and title to Google, it will take you right to the Amazon page.

    1. There is a feeling of John Henry and the steam drill about Amazon and authors.

      Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith have both talked about this, although they tend to use the metaphor of being on a treadmill. Eventually you become exhausted, can’t keep up, and get tossed off the back end.

      That’s why they’re really pushing the idea that writers need to learn licensing. Instead of each book being one income stream, learn to see how it can become a dozen, or a hundred. Audio rights. Translation rights. Graphic narrative (comics, manga, etc.) rights. Media rights. Gaming rights. Toy rights. DWS calls it “the magic bakery.”

      If you’re at all where you can, you might want to look into their books and courses on licensing. Yes, the sheer range of possibilities can seem overwhelming, but it may be better to focus on one particular kind of right to focus on and master before moving on to more peripheral rights.

      1. I was really impressed by Kris Rusch’s licensing posts. She was very thorough. It was eye-opening. We are nowhere near the point where we can use her information. Even if you don’t think you’re ready for licensing, you should read them just so you aren’t caught by surprise later on.

        She makes the great point that business types aren’t often imaginative and creative types. They *need* us creative types to provide the ideas that will make them money. However, because they *are* business types, they know contracts and us creative types don’t always.

        If we want to make money, we have to understand at least the minimum of ‘get your own lawyer’.

        Totally worth reading.

  11. Optimism isn’t the best emotion because it’s so rarely warranted. Hope, on the hand, is. Hope that you will survive, hope that you can do better via your own small efforts. Sometimes, hope is all we have. Faith that there is a plan that we cannot see.

    It’s so hard sometimes. I fight depression regularly. Who wants to hear about it? No one, so I keep it all in.

    Writing and painting are far easier than marketing. We’re indifferent to terrible at online marketing. 2020 killed our sales because I do really well at a face-to-face event. I sold over $900 of books at Malice in 2019 and saw an online bump afterwards. 2020? Hah! And 2021 is already looking bad for real world events. Are we making any money like Mark Dawson? As if! Comparing oneself to writers like him is guaranteed to make anyone’s life more difficult. It makes you feel like such a failure.

    Keep writing. You may have to go slower but your soul will be the better for it.

    Email me if you like. I know the black dog very well.

  12. I’d say your writing is quite good – I’ve enjoyed reading Pixie Noir, The East Witch, and The Possum Creek Massacre. I do need to get motivated and write a bunch of reviews. Given that my reading time is limited, I’ve also decided I’d rather buy a few Kindle books that I have time to read than pay for KU – that way more money goes to the author, and I’m not tempted to spend time reading when I should be doing something else.

    On the other hand, finding next level commercial success is a different matter, and I don’t have any guidance (my only major writing has been machine manuals). I know I wouldn’t want to be a slave to Amazon algorithms (or Instagram’s or Youtube’s or whatever). I do understand a bit about muses wanting to get out, so my guess is for sanity you need to keep writing at some level (and your fans want this too), but maybe at a reduced schedule.

    My family tends to be too insular, even though we’re in a big metro area. None of my family lives close, and my close friends are either far away, very busy, or both. But one thing I’ve learned from this political pandemic is that when the hysteria subsides, I need to make a greater effort to develop friendships. Finally, I will say that I’ve been blessed to have steady income, because it so happens I’m on a high priority project at work. And a lot of my work can’t be done from home, so that’s helped my sanity.

  13. Please don’t sell yourself short. This year has been ghastly, and a lot of people are struggling just to keep the necessities coming, and don’t have the money to buy books (or a Prime membership for Kindle Unlimited). I’ve heard that sales are down for almost everybody, even when you’d think that readers who are stuck at home would be reading *more* — but loss of income will probably shunt voracious readers off to the freebies For The Duration, and some people may be too anxious to read fiction right now, or may be re-reading their favorite comfort reads, where they know the ending and aren’t stressing about the characters’ fates.

    I’m sorry to hear that you got stiffed on a couple of cover commissions. That’s gotta hurt, since you’ve put in all that time and the artwork’s probably specific enough that it can’t be repurposed for another project.

    And on a personal level, your starting and administering Odd Prompts has done a lot to keep me writing this year. I don’t think I would’ve done nearly as much writing as I have without those weekly random prompts to spur me on — and this weekend I’ve spent a bunch of time going back through stuff I started earlier in the year and trying to figure out how to bring it to a conclusion. I may yet get a number of finished stories out of this year.

  14. I don’t know if you ever follow Holly Lisle’s blog, but she recently was talking about how the Algorithms on Amazon changed and completely killed her income, you may be falling under that, too. She was writing different genres all under her own name (and had previously done really well with that.) But, with the change, the algorithm can’t identify “her audience” as one genre, and so it just wipes everything out. So, she is having to start everything new, under Pseudonym per genre. She has more about it on her blog. And while I know you have 1 nom de plum, everything else is under your real name from what I remember.

    I wish you well. End of year is always hard.

  15. The nieces and nevvys are in a bit of a gap right now, with most of the teens “aged out” and the oldest-of-the-youngest is 11.

    But Teenager’s Fledgling is on the list of “books they get when they’re old enough” (along with Take the Star Road). So.. You are definitely good enough to buy to re-read and gift. I wish I liked the genre of Pixie Noir (like Mr. Grant’s Westerns) because that is clearly where a big part of your hearts are, and I love your (both of your) writing.

    Maybe for my New Year’s resolution I’ll commit to and make a plan for Indy review and promotion *and* get back on Gab & Social Galactic. It’s at least a candle. It makes me sad and irritated how most of the books I enjoy are ignored in favor of boring grey goo.

  16. (( hugs)) This! Year! Is! Horrible!

    And for Indies, and pushing our work? Half our potential readers are in a panic, the rest are depressed. It’s hard to keep writing when the returns are so small. My writing income this year is about half previous years. When I was griping about plateauing and how to catch the attention of readers who’d never heard of me.

    Anyhow, while I’d much rather live in a vibrant economy, we don’t get to choose, so we have to adapt. Which is going to be “interesting.”

  17. Amazon seemed to have some trouble with your book, Ms. Sanderson, at least for me. I bought it, but was unable to download it to my phone (yep, rebooted and my other Kindle purchases came through okay). The email notification of purchase came through late last night, instead of right away. I did manage to read it on my PC and have left a review.

    The budget for books is slim this year, currently my part time job and pension is all that’s keeping a five adult household afloat. Not complaining, I have no debt dragging me down and there’s plenty of folks worse off, but it’s getting to the point of ‘do I buy this book or do I buy this 10# bag of rice’? Finally decided that I could use a nicer Christmas than a $25 gift card to Home Depot, so indulged myself. Be happy, you edged out a large bag of rice!

    Take care, everyone. We’re living in interesting times, and it may be getting more interesting. God Bless Us, Every One!

  18. Late to the comment party, but had a very long car ride to chew on what to say…which also brought out my super practical side.

    1) You are definitely more than good enough. The rhino that is a unicorn was *inspiring* – no, seriously. As for East Witch, I just started it last night. Only stopped reading because the caffeine wore off and the words got blurry, not because I wanted to – and very much wished I could read in the car without getting sick!

    2) Not to be creepy, but I’m pretty sure I’m not that far from you in real life if you ever want to grab a coffee. Assuming the governor ever lets us out again. In the meantime, virtual high fives, because you can do this!

    3) Stress and diet and split focus all impact resiliency. Don’t forget to be kind to yourself. Would it help to split the creative efforts into time chunks? For instance, chainmail can be pretty soothing and mindless (or incredibly frustrating, depending on the project), which helps recharge when the creative brain is overloaded.

    4) MGC has been HUGE in figuring out the business side of everything. I keep thinking about creating a spreadsheet of the different social media places to do free promo with a direct link, genre, rules of engagement (how often, what days), etc. Then promo is faster, because you’re not looking up the info every time. I’d be happy to share it once it exists. But in the author pond, I am smaller than a guppy. Perhaps a flailing amoeba. What do I know? But would combining forces on such a spreadsheet improve all our efforts?

    5) Thanks for the promo post!

  19. I just finished East Witch and loved it. The end matter reminded me I hadn’t followed up Vulcan’s Kittens so I read God’s Wolfling next. I’ve enjoyed several other of your books, usually inspired to read them by posts here. I’m reading the Pixie series next and have your Amazon Author page in my to-do list.

    I won’t make much of a bump in your earnings but I just wanted to tell you that there are folks out here that read and enjoy what you write.

    The year, country and from what I see the whole book industry are in turmoil, hopefully you can ride it all out and get back to a much lower stress level.

    1. Thank you! Yes, there is a lot of stress and I let it get to me. Working to regain a sense of perspective on life. That you are enjoying the books means a lot to me.

  20. Just had another thought about the end of this year – everyone says that there is always an “election year slump,” and things get better after the election.

    Well, the election is not over! I don’t disagree that this is a battle that must be fought, but when people are not sure about whether to position themselves for opportunities, or batten down the hatches for disasters, they don’t buy nearly as many discretionary items.

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