Comparing My Two (Failed) Earnings Challenges: A Strategy Breakdown

Having just wrapped up my 28 Days to 10K earnings challenge, a thought grabbed me: I’d done something similar over the summer with 100 Days to Greatness. Better still, I’d written 20,000+ words then and posted them here on the blog. Thus, it seemed like a prime opportunity to see how much (if any) my thinking had grown during that time.

And the results of that analysis were interesting, to say the least.

Many of the mindsets that triggered pitfalls in each journey are fairly common, so I believe you, dear reader, shall find this intriguing as well.

But first, for the uninitiated, let’s explain the nature of each challenge.

A Brief Overview

100 Days to Greatness was an ironically named challenge following the pursuit of these goals over 100 days (5/21/16 – 8/31/16):

  • Take my earnings from $200/mo from $3400/mo for my two personal pen names Nicholas Erik & D.N. Erikson (Jun: $185.77; Jul: $799.35; Aug: $2739.35)
    • 3 novels + lead magnet novella for new pen name. (2 novels, 1 lead magnet novella)
    • 1 novel + lead magnet novella for current Nicholas Erik pen name. (part of novel written, release pushed back to 9/28)
  • 1000 mailing list subscribers between the two pen names (378 subscribers)
  • 150 hours of guitar practice. (57 hours)
  • Workout and clean up my diet. (20 of 44 workouts)

28 Days to 10K was a challenge running during February 2017 wherein I attempted to double my best month ever ($6200) and make $12,400 in fiction royalties (or, at the least, 10K). I posted on KBoards every day with an update of my progress, did weekly recap posts, and had a plan that involved 5 promo runs (including 2 BookBubs), 3 book launches, extending an existing book by 15,000+ words and writing an all-new novel in 10 days.

  • Total Revenue: $6567
  • Total costs: $2674
  • Net: $3893

What I Did Better in 28 Days to 10K

I thought about calling this “what I did better in each challenge,” but to be honest, I did nothing better during the 1st one (100 Days to Greatness). They both were unsuccessful, but there was marked improvement from the first to the second. Which is kind of as it should be: progress is good, right? One would expect to address errors and not repeat them 9 months later.

Anyway, a brief list:

  1. Fewer shadow goals. I don’t know what the hell was going on in 100 DTG, but it had a “fix everything” mentality that, sadly, is all too common. All of those goals were challenging enough on their own; in aggregate, they were completely impossible. My one metric was revenue in 28 Days to 10K, although you can see some shadowy goals creeping in, with the writing a novel in 10 days stuff. Still, massive improvement.
  2. Better planned. Not well-planned, but I had a number of the promos and so forth lined up, which cut down on the workload. By contrast, there was a lot of frantic nonsense going on in 100 DTG since I basically decided to do it spur of the moment.

That’s about it. My previous best month ever (August 2016 – $6,900) came at the tail end of the 100 DTG challenge. It actually had a similar setup: two BookBubs for the same authors/series that were featured this February.

And that’s not where the similarities end. In fact, they share many of the same errors in thinking.

Common Errors

  1. Challenges are inherently stupid. I go over this at length here and here, so I won’t beat that horse further. But for the Cliff’s Notes, goals don’t last long enough to trigger actual neural change. Hence, we don’t change – if we manage to complete the challenge at all, which we generally don’t, since estimated completion rates for goals/resolutions are around 8 – 12%. Crash dieting has been shown to actually result in long-term weight gain. Habits, on the other hand, rewire our brain through consistently performing the same task over a long period. There’s a fallacious idea that massive expectations will cause us to rise to the occasion; however, this is bullshit – as the Greek poet Archilochos said, “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” Training = habits. Expecting a massive challenge to fix things is like throwing a Hail Mary when you’re down 30 points and wondering why the hell you lost the game.
  2. Still tons of shadow goals. This improved, but the focus is still not nearly narrow enough. I write about 80/20 (that is, 80% of the results coming from 20% of the work) a lot, but I still haven’t internalized it enough. You need to ruthlessly prioritize, focusing on a single destination. Anything that does not get you there is expendable.
    1. Too many promos: 7 for 100 DTG in August; 5 for 28 Days to 10K in February. Resources spread over 5 authors get thin very fast.
    2. Too many other obligations: workouts/guitar for 100 DTG, KBoards posts + recaps for 28 Days to 10K. These all munched up considerably more time than I expected.
  3. Still a bad plan. Improvement doesn’t mean “good” or “up to snuff,” and I set a number of unrealistic deadlines during both of these undertakings that could have been avoided if I had been honest about my past history. When you keep records, you get a good idea of your skill level. Nonetheless, it’s easy to lie to yourself, and consider yourself a “novel in 10 days” kind of guy when your records clearly show that you’re more of a “don’t write at all for 10 days” kind of guy.
    1. 100 DTG: I was going to write three urban fantasy books and have them come out every two weeks (June 14th/29th/July 15th), plus I was gonna get a novella out with Book 1. Yeah, this would’ve made me a ton of money. Except I couldn’t do it. Book 3 just came out on January 19th.
    2. 28 Days to 10k: I was gonna extend Lightning Blade (which required 15,000+ words and reading through it a couple times) in 10 days, then write Shadow Flare (50,000+ words) in 10 days. Not quite as onerous, but still dumb.
  4. I stopped the momentum after 100 DTG. Basically that $2700 haul from August plummeted back down, without a release under my UF pen name until January, when I dropped two. That’s because challenges don’t change your neural wiring – the instant they’re over, the old habits return (#1). Also, I decided to go back to writing sci-fi, since that’s what I’d written down/that was one of the goals I’d set out to do. Unfortunately, those two sci-fi novels released during Fall 2016 lost me an amount of money that I don’t really want to type here (fine; $2000+). This isn’t a problem with 28 Days to 10K, since we’re only 2 days removed from the end. More of a warning to myself not to fall down the rabbit hole again.
  5. Reducing word counts to hit deadlines. The urban fantasy books in 100 DTG were all set to be 60k; the two that were finished became 45k due to deadlines. I did this with Lightning Blade’s release on January 19th; it came in around 34k, which I then built up to 57k during February. I was going to do the same thing with Shadow Flare, but this madness needs to end: it’s killing my KENP #s, muting the launches since all the books appear as like ~150 pages (e.g. less than novel length or as barely short novels), and is just plain ineffective.
  6. Playing catch-up with the home run mentality. Basically, when I get behind in word counts, my tendency is to think in onerous 10,000+ word blocks – strings of home runs to instantly get myself back on track. E.g., okay, I’ll get back to even with three days of massive productivity. Obviously, I never get started, because 10,000 words is a fuckton of words. Once that happens, the problem compounds, and I fall further behind. Which leads to #5, or just scrapping the deadline entirely.
    1. For example, I wrote 18k one week in 100 DTG – which comes close to a million words a year. But this was a huge failure, since I needed to write like 50k+. The same thing happened with Shadow Flare, where I wrote 32k+ in one week, but still failed because the book didn’t get done. These were unrealistic goals.
  7. I thought August 2016 was going to be my first 5-figure month. That didn’t happen, either. But I didn’t learn from that, instead choosing to believe in fairytales when I designed this challenge.
  8. Messed up multiple free runs. I gave away Demon Rogue (Book 1) without having its sequel out (because I missed the deadline). Then, on its 2nd run, I only had Blood Frost (Book 2) available for half of the last day. So I got like 12 hours of spillover visibility for the sequel, when I should’ve had 5 days’ worth. I replicated this with Lightning Blade during 28 Days to 10k, not getting Shadow Flare (Book 2) out – thus completely wasting a 4 day free run.
  9. Overestimating how long 100 days/28 days really is. It seems like forever, but three months is nothing. If you need things to take off in that time frame, you’re at the mercy of luck. More often than not, you’ll be screwed. All is not lost, however: We underestimate what we can accomplish in 5 – 10 years, because compound interest is very difficult to visualize. But I found this sentiment from 100 DTG very good at capturing how simple success can really be: “Writing is the #1 priority. If you write books that people want to read, and put them out with competent blurbs and covers – and a link to your mailing list + next book in the back – you’ll do shockingly well within 2 – 3 years.”
    1. I later crystallized this into the Ultimate Book Marketing Formula: Genre research + two targeted traffic sources + newsletter + good covers/blurbs + consistent new novel releases (4+ per year) = full-time author [6+ releases per year = 6 figure author)
  10. Too many weekly to-dos (e.g. 2 – 3+). Most of these could be boiled down to one thing: finish the fucking books. Most of the other stuff didn’t matter – and, indeed, I proved it didn’t, “botching” Demon Rogue’s launch with a litany of errors. But, interestingly enough, the fact that the book didn’t have keywords/nor was it in the right categories/had a typo in the blurb didn’t actually matter at all. All the books that have that stuff nailed languish; that book got stick at under 4k (as did Blood Frost). Most work is merely busy work – the illusion of productivity. Sadly, I didn’t take this to heart for 28 Days to 10k, instead choosing to load up on bogus tasks again (albeit to a lesser degree).

In short, both failures can be attributed to challenges being ineffective, diffused focus/resources stalling momentum and a refusal to base my plans around personal historical data/knowledge. Undertaking these in the first place stemmed from impatience and a lack of self-acceptance about my current skill level. Wanting to be better than I am and jumping over steps in the process – and refusing to accept that, in fact, I’m operating at a lower skill/discipline level than I’d like.

There’s nothing wrong with being a beginner or intermediate writer/self-pubber. The problems come when ego intercedes, and you start to believe you’re “too good” for certain fundamentals or try to force progress beyond (your personal) natural rate.

Speaking of which: what has changed in the interim between the two challenges?

Progress

  1. I had 148 mailing list subs in May 2016; 384 by the end of August 2016. I have more subs than that, now, who are uncategorized in ConvertKit (e.g. just falling through the cracks). Total I have 2400+. I was really tentative using the mailing list + emailing people before, hence the low numbers before. That’s a pretty distant memory, though there’s still substantial room for improvement. Nonetheless, firing off an email and selling 35+ copies of the Demon Rogue Trilogy, or getting 5 reviews for the box set for launch is really, really nice.
  2. Finally understanding that habits – and success – form over years, not days. An obsession with merely showing up is the hallmark of an amateur; if you need motivation, or massive goals to work, then you’ve done something wrong. You need better habits, pronto.
  3. If you’re trying the same thing over and over with zero success, then you need to either A) decrease the difficulty of the task to your current skill level, B) try a new approach or C) review your current habits/energy management strategies (e.g. your sleep/diet/exercise).
  4. I need to narrow my focus beyond what I thought. There’s just way too much stuff vying for attention + money. It’s easy to run around “doing” a lot and have nothing to show for it. 80/20 is devilishly simple, but really difficult to master, even when it’s the foundation of your thought process.
  5. Success doesn’t have to be written in blood. You don’t get points for making simple/easy things more difficult than necessary. 15k words a week = 750k a year. That’s a leisurely 2k a day – or 3k, five days a week (with weekends or days of your choosing off). 2k might take you one hour – so what! Take the $1000/hr or $500/hr rate and walk away. Don’t compare yourself to all the people killing themselves. Or even the ones who aren’t killing themselves, but simply have higher production capacities. Accept your skills where they are, be conscious of your destination/what lifestyle you’d like, then create a path based on that.

In Closing

These two sentiments from 100 DTG still apply, so I’ll end with them.

The first is on progress: “Know yourself, be patient and progress at a pace just at the edge of your abilities.”

The other is on wishing we were someone else: “We all spend way too much time wishing we were better looking, wealthier, taller or more talented – rather than doing the damn work and getting better.”

You can’t force progress or be someone you’re not. Your life/identity is the product of habits – tiny habits, compounding invisibly in the background. When we show up and practice intensely, progress may still take months or years longer than we expect. But if we have grit, continuing to practice + improve each day a little bit (kaizen) and have a specific destination in mind (e.g. become a full-time author), one day we will breakthrough. And it will look like our successes were overnight, totally sudden.

But they weren’t. They were built upon a bedrock of habits which, after being banked day after day, year after year, finally gave the dividends we always knew they would.

So put down the first word, then another.

Soon you’ll have a million.

And soon – but probably not as soon as you think – you’ll have what you want.