So, the first six months of the new decade have been…interesting thus far. In the spirit of things taking unforeseen turns, this particular entry was originally slated to contain five takeaways. But, really, there’s only one key behind why my business has grown so much over the first half of 2020.
Which is: shipping more stuff.
Shipping (that is, getting critical projects out the door and out into the world) isn’t only important in times of crisis.
It’s always important. It’s the heartbeat of your business. Humans like new stuff. This isn’t a secret. If you’re not providing it, then you’re going to struggle as a business owner (which you are as an author).
But shipping becomes mission critical when shit hits the fan for a single reason: it restores focus on the things that you can control. Which is doing your own work. There is an illusion, given the omnipresent buzz of social media and news, that, if we only consume enough information and argue with enough people, that the world will bend to our will. And maybe we can curate our social media feeds to make it feel that way.
Obsessing over matters outside our control, however, only directs all our time and emotional energy away from the limited number of things where we do have actual control. This is where panic or dismay regarding outside events/people you’ve deemed idiots tends to compound with the sinking realization that our business is circling the drain due to severe neglect.
Taking care of our own shit—to whatever degree that’s possible with other obligations—and using our skills to make a positive contribution not only helps us, but it helps everyone else, too. The takeaway is not that every action will have worldwide impact or affect everything and is this soul-crushingly important. It’s just that your actions have a ripple effect, starting with yourself (the biggest impact) and then going out to your family, friends, readers, clients, and so forth. The world is an interconnected ecosystem. Our job in this ecosystem is to solve the problems we can solve right now. The irony of that statement, of course, is that if more people focused on that rather than trying to solve all manners of problems for which they have zero expertise, you’d be reading this on the Moon or as an article downloaded straight into your brain.
I digress. This is about problems we can solve, after all.
Ignoring the extraneous bullshit, along with the thirty-six excuses we all have for why Idea X is not worth shipping, has been the main reason I’ve already made more this year than all of 2019. Yes, some of this progress is due to working more; some of it has also built upon groundwork laid in years past. Those factors should not be overlooked. But the single biggest piece has been shipping regardless of what the voices have said.
I know this unequivocally because the first half of 2020 has been a tale of two businesses, with the non-fiction component rising fast, and the fiction continuing its gentle backslide into nothingness. The only real difference between those? Letting the internal noise win with the fiction.Which means, six months in, I sit here without any new novels on the market.
With the non-fiction, those thoughts have won only sporadically. No one will bat 100% against the noise. Anyone claiming otherwise is a liar or simply has a bad memory. The most pernicious of those thoughts (whether related to fiction or non-fiction) has been that’s not worth the time or that won’t sell. Those are pretty good objections that sound rational enough; all the best ones are, because they’re at least partially true. Shipping isn’t a magic wand that ensures everything will go well, after all. Lengthy projects can flop. Doing a newsletter a day in January actually lost me subscribers (although it’s hard to measure if it helped strengthen engagement among those who read every day).
The truth is, I don’t know why the daily newsletters didn’t work. There were some lessons and takeaways, but as for the grand, overarching Big Reason™ that many of us spend endless hours seeking to unearth? It’s unknowable. It didn’t work for whatever reason, and I moved on to the next project. Which is the beauty of shipping: it quiets all that noise and lets you breathe. I don’t even think about writing the 31 days of newsletters, other than for a breakdown like this.
Had I endlessly ruminated on what went wrong (like I did with the last fiction trilogy I published back in 2018), 2020 would be a spiraling disaster by this point. Instead, I took a similar core concept (almost daily emails), repurposed it with a different structure and material partially taken from my Book Marketing Crash Course, and launched the 30 Day Sprint, which did extremely well—as a paid product.
Neither of those individual components (the Crash Course or the daily emails) performed particularly well. But I took what I learned and the feedback to make something more in tune with what people wanted. Which is analogous to one series missing the mark, then tweaking the tropes and presentation and knocking it out of the park with the next one.
But the only way to get to the next one is to write the first ones. The versions that don’t work.
That’s just one example. The Ultimate Guide to Book Marketing finally came out on Amazon, bringing a surprising number of new subscribers and people over to the site with it. Its productivity counterpart, on the other hand, obsessively refined and written over three years? Resounding crickets thus far. I have some ideas for turning that around in the last half of 2020 (telling my newsletter it actually exists would be a good start). But if those don’t work, it doesn’t matter.
I didn’t get the paperbacks up for either anywhere close to launch day. I delayed the launch and didn’t do much marketing for either. One could say those were mistakes. But really, the only mistake? Letting the voices of perfectionism win and not shipping them two or three years earlier. Because they existed then, but I had an endless slew of reasons why I needed to wait.
I didn’t. Those were lies.
Could I have predicted all these outcomes? Sure, I could have theorized. And in past years, I would have spent most of my time debating myself.
Reflection is important, but reflection easily devolves into rumination. The solution to rumination, once an idea has been established as worth testing, has been a simple guiding philosophy: let’s find out.
How will this ad campaign do? Ship it and find out.
How will this marketing strategy perform? Ship it and find out.
Did I hit the tropes with this book or is too weird? Ship it and find out.
The only way to discover the outcome is to ship. The only real failure, then, is the failure to ship. That doesn’t mean doing absolutely everything in a frenetic burst of activity; it’s also not an argument for releasing a book a month or managing ad campaigns 24/7/365 or whatever some people might have in mind. Yes, shipping more often does tend to bring faster results and build skill faster. But speed is less important than pressing that publish button with some degree of consistency.
Whatever consistency means for you.
Shipping is about finishing the things that matter and getting them out the door. Then seeing where the chips fall.
Few projects are ever truly a waste of time so long as you learn from the experience. In this business, the next book, series, ad campaign, or whatever gives you an immediate chance to use whatever you’ve just learned and build on it. And, over time, the more you ship, the more your skills grow, and the less you fail.
More valuable than the skill or the money that ensues, however, is something simple: peace of mind. Because no project will make or break you. And that frees you to do your best work. Because if you stumble? There’s always another opportunity right around the corner.
And on that note, I’ll take my own advice, stop editing, press publish, and get to work on shipping more fiction books in the second half of 2020—and find out what happens.
- TOTAL WORDS: 543 fiction words
- URBAN FANTASY ORGANIC SUBSCRIBERS: 1,985 > 1,991 (+6) (+208 on year)
- NON-FICTION ORGANIC SUBSCRIBERS: 1,993 > 2,059 (+66) (+759 on year)