2020: Arthritis

After a few bad years when I couldn’t get much done, I’d hoped for a quieter year to sort things out before Brexit hit in 2021. Instead, everyone had a bad year, and I got very little done.

In February, my family had a bad illness which we now think was COVID-19. The initial illness barely affected me, but in the weeks after, I developed severe reactive arthritis (I’ve had it mildly before after viruses, but not like this). This was also during lockdown, so it wasn’t really possible to see a doctor. I had to figure out a home treatment.

One good thing is I got to go out for my birthday, as it was before walking became difficult and before lockdown. My previous birthday was a funeral, so this was an improvement.

I spent most of the year managing the arthritis and sorting things like food orders. I couldn’t do much typing or thinking, so I mostly focused on doing stuff in Second Life and other distractions from the pain.

At the end of the year, I still have arthritis. It’s a lot better than it was and I can think clearly again, though my free time is still limited.

 

Novels / Novellas

One of the issues I’ve faced as an author is a lack of charisma. People are not going to give me money for a crowdfunded campaign. They’re not going to buy birthday presents from a wishlist. If I reach out for help, I might as well have said nothing, as nothing much happens. My value to the majority of people in the reading/writing community is only in the products I can produce.

The next issue being a run of bad years, so I have a lack of new products. This is how it had to be for my health, but it doesn’t make it a good situation.

So this year, I tried a more roundabout solution: I made my products more expensive.

Back when I started, people complained if a self-published novel was more than $0.99 and never mind novellas. My old price point of $0.99 for a novella and $2.99 for a novel was tolerable, but as high as people would go. There have been changes in the industry since then, including bigger publishers taking on more novellas and charging very high prices for them. So I went up a modest amount, taking my novella to $2.99 and the longer works to $4.99.

As well as an overall potential increase in profit, it’d mean novellas make income in their own right, rather than being sold at a loss to promote longer work… because frankly, it didn’t happen. People liked my novella Werecockroach, but it didn’t encourage most readers to try something else.

The first month I did this, sales were about the same. I sold one $4.99 book and multiple copies of Werecockroach at $2.99. I just made more money than usual. November and December weren’t as good, but I suspect sales would have been bad regardless as a lot was going on. Not as good still meant I made more money overall compared to the old prices. I tried a brief advertising campaign in November, but it didn’t get the sales of previous campaigns, so I ended it early.

I’ll continue to monitor the situation and see if sales go back up again as the year settles. If they do, this will give me a bit of space to finish something else. It’ll also mean that something else can be a novella.

 

Short Stories

Last year, I said I wanted to find more projects to submit short stories to. Most of the year was a bust, with nothing likely appearing. There are a few possible projects at the end of the year, so I’ll aim to submit a few things next year for these.

Both of the anthologies I’m involved with ended up delayed due to the pandemic. Common Bonds has now sent out backer reward copies and contributor copies. Early reviews seem to like my story. Both that anthology and Rosalind’s Siblings have been rescheduled for 2021.

In final short story stuff, I put out a temporary short story collection called Patchwork in March 2020. It’s now been removed as 2020 has ended. This had a number of my previously published stories, including ones that had only been on Patreon. It was free and was just to do something nice for people for the year. So if anyone sees a reference to it and is confused, that’s what went on. The stories will all be back again for the next proper collection.

 

Zazzle / Art

I have no complaints about Zazzle this year. They reacted quickly to pandemic sales issues by putting out face masks. I sold some of these (and got some for me). I also saw much higher sales (of everything) in the last quarter. I suspect because people were stuck at home, so those with money found fun things to buy. I continue to be glad I got all this set up as passive income.

I had issues producing art for most of the year, as my hands consisted of sausage fingers and joints that couldn’t take any pressure. I regained the ability to hold tools later in the year, so got back into it by doing Botober. The pieces were posted on this Twitter thread. I’ll likely work a few of them into Zazzle designs, but it was just good to get drawing again.

I will note that doing the art challenge didn’t get a lot of engagement in the sense of new followers or the like. It’s a thing to do for fun.

 

YouTube

I planned to produce a video a week for a year for my YouTube channel. My last video was in March. During this video, I already had early signs of arthritis in my fingers and arms, but hadn’t realised what was happening. It’s why I’m smudging charcoal with the backs of my hands, because bending the wrist too much was starting to get painful. I’d had conjunctivitis too badly the week before to use the first draft of the video, which is also a reactive arthritis symptom. Shortly afterwards, I stopped being able to lift a camera and that was that.

The bad news is it means the channel stalled before I got very far. The good news is the channel didn’t see an overall loss in subscribers and views. A few videos have seen a continual rise in views as they get picked up by the algorithm.

I know people panic about small breaks ruining their chances forever, but this wasn’t my experience. A channel is unlikely to grow during an absence, but it doesn’t mean it sinks either. It’s waiting there for when I can film again, at whatever frequency that turns out to be.

 

Reviews

I was getting sorted to start reviewing again towards the end of the year. I selected a few books, created a schedule and started reading one of them. Then I got an email from Amazon terminating my Amazon Associates account. I always knew this could happen, as Amazon is known for doing this. In theory, people can appeal, but it’s hard to appeal when you’re guessing exactly what happened. Amazon gives basic categories, but no details. The result of the appeal was just a resend of the original email.

I looked around for other larger affiliate schemes, but I didn’t see anything likely to actually make money. The only bigger one I found was Barnes and Noble, who rejected my application.

I will review a few things here and there as I feel like it, but mostly my reviewing is over. I’ve closed my review requests for the foreseeable future. I don’t think there’s a big demand for detailed text reviews anyway these days, so this was going to happen at some point even without the loss of Amazon Associates.

 

TL;DR

I’ve had reactive arthritis for most of the year, following probable exposure to COVID-19. I didn’t do a whole lot of creative stuff, but I did put out a temporary free collection, raised my book prices and started drawing again towards the end of the year. I have no firm plans for the future.

2019: Death

The previous year was difficult due to the heat, meaning I was behind on everything. I started to catch up in the beginning of 2019 and my air conditioner arrived. Then one of my family died. During those events, I also injured my knee, which continued to cause issues throughout the year. Just as things started to settle later in the year, another family member died. About the only good side is Brexit was delayed, so I didn’t have to deal with everything at once.

The result was I didn’t do very much at all when it comes to business things. I mainly focused on family and recovering from the injury.

 

Art

I had little time to make products for my Zazzle store. I made a few things and cleaned up a few things, but it was minor. My sales continued to increase without having to do anything. This is a great form of passive income and I’m glad I had this set up before this year. I’ll work on getting some new designs done and increasing my overall number of products.

 

Writing

I sold two short stories during the year. “Rewilding Nova” sold to Rosalind’s Siblings, which is an anthology about marginalised scientists. “Busy Little Bees” sold to Common Bonds, which focuses on aromantic characters. These were the short story submissions I mentioned in my previous yearly update, so it was great to end up selling both of them. I believe both anthologies are due in 2020.

I didn’t have time to finish Conduit with everything else happening, though this is still in the queue to be released. This wasn’t only due to me, as one of my family helps with editing and wouldn’t have been in a state to do that either.

This is where the tough choices come in. Longer work can potentially mean decent income for a long time, but this hasn’t really happened for me. I make more selling a short story for a single payment than putting longer work up for sale for several years. A short story usually takes a few months at most, but long work can take several years to write, so this is completely out of proportion. I can earn a tiny bit for several years of work or a reasonable sum for a few months.

The obvious conclusion is that it isn’t a good use of my time to write novellas and novels. I do still have ideas and want to work on them at some point, but I need my income to be more stable, as they’re basically passion projects. They don’t pay for themselves. So once Conduit is out, I’m not setting any deadlines or making any public plans for other longer work. It’ll happen if I can afford the time to write.

I will be writing some short stories if I can find some suitable submission calls. This isn’t in as good a place as this time last year, as I’d already been asked to submit to the two where I ended up selling work. They were good fits for my sort of work. So far, I don’t see anything on the horizon that looks suitable, but there might be a surprise call at some point.

I’m also hoping to do some video readings of some of my existing work, which leads on to the next thing.

 

YouTube

I put a few videos on YouTube years back, with the thought that it’d be a good idea to do something with it. Years went by and I didn’t do anything, but that first video (of a wild bee swarm) managed to get an average of 500 views every year for ten years. I probably really should have done something to build on that earlier.

I needed something I could work on in small doses, so I decided it was time. I started uploading videos in October. I went through older videos and uploaded those, as well as working on some new content. My aim was to do relaxing videos of various sorts, including nature, art, my pets and some sensory/ASMR videos.

Getting to the point of being able to run adverts on YouTube is not easy. It requires 1000 subscribers (and a certain amount of view time, but that’s the easier part). Even without adverts though, I’m planning on some videos that tie in with other stuff, like showing art and reading stories. It could be a good way to reach new people, even if I don’t reach the point of running adverts.

So far, I’ve been enjoying making the videos. My plan is to put out content regularly for a year and then review how it’s going. I’m open to video requests (within the sort of stuff I can do).

 

Other Things

I spent most of the year not reading anything or playing any games, though did get a couple of book reviews done. Patreon got a short story and some tank friends photos. It was a quiet year on those fronts.

In good news, I did get money from Amazon Associates and they’ve recently added the ability to get electronic payments for UK people. No more cashing foreign cheques.

 

Short Version

It was a difficult year with two deaths in the family and an injury. The release of Conduit was delayed, though should be out in 2020. I sold two short stories, which should also be out in 2020. Zazzle sales continued to do well with little input from me. I started a YouTube channel and will spend a year working on that before reviewing my progress.

2018: Heatwaves

My primary memory of the year was relentless heat. I don’t cope well with summer at the best of times, but the heatwave lasted for most of it and continued into autumn. Heat has always been something that causes sensory overloads, which meant I was faced with months of endless sensory overload with very few breaks.

The result was that I started the year doing things as expected and then pretty much everything stopped. My priority was simply to survive the heat. I spent time lying on the cold tiles, with trips to my room to change the ice for the animals. I couldn’t really focus on anything.

The good news is I’ve found a decent mobile air conditioner that’d work for my room. The family have agreed to pool their money to get it as a birthday present next year. It’s expensive, but something that can be budgeted for, rather than expensive like a car.

Going forward, I hope this means that I won’t be here again. But I was here this year. I lost a lot of time and have spent the winter scrambling to catch up.

 

Werecockroach

Early in the year, I published Werecockroach. It’s a science fantasy novella (and is eligible for any novella awards for the year, for those tracking such things). My aim was to make this more marketable than my other work. Not in the sense of following plot formulas or the like, but having things in the basic concept that might get attention. One being the whole idea of people turning into cockroaches. The other being own voices, which I discussed in the launch post.

I was also aiming for something that was lighter, as when things get rough, it’s what I’d want to read. I wanted the most cozy alien invasion possible with a focus on friendship.

The good news is the book has been selling. I ran some adverts as well as picking up some word-of-mouth recommendations on social media. Some months after release, it’s still continuing to sell in a way other books didn’t. The first reviews on Amazon and Goodreads have been positive.

I am cautious about this success though, which comes down to my experience with own voices. My previous books came out just before the big push of #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #OwnVoices on social media. On the face of it, these looked like they should benefit a marginalised author. What actually happened is I didn’t have enough work that fit neatly. Things like recommendation requests increasingly moved to wanting own voices authors rather than marginalised authors. My work sank and I disappeared.

Werecockroach was part of an attempt to reverse that, by finding an idea that could be marketed as own voices with an identity that got enough attention to be noticed (there are various aspects in the novella, but it’s the asexual lead that gets attention). It’s not really that this is better than my other work, but that it had hooks to promote.

Which comes to the end of the year, where there was a discussion about optimistic fiction and hopepunk. I can see all the ways my books don’t fit it and that my life experiences don’t fit. Back when it was a few people discussing it as a few books, this didn’t matter much, because no book fits all genres. The problem is the shift towards the idea of it being an overall approach to writing stories of any genre and one that people ought to be doing instead of other approaches. I can see this becoming another own voices. Basically, something promoted as being to benefit marginalised authors, but acting as an additional obstacle for those who produce work that doesn’t fit.

The basic problem is that things that can look like good ideas in basic concept, be it marginalised people talking about their own experiences or lighter stories for dark times, can turn into movements which are a bad idea.

In other words, I have concerns about the goalposts changing and having to start at zero again with new work that fits the new criteria. I’m a slow writer, so it’s difficult for me to keep up with this sort of shift. My hope is that the novella will have enough of a boost to keep selling even if the landscape changes, but it could be an issue for whatever I write next.

 

Short Stories

The year went well in terms of reprints. The first was in Transcendent 3, an anthology of trans and intersex stories edited by Bogi Takács. My story “Hello, World!” is about an AI taking fish to Mars. The idea behind the story was that learning AI is not neutral, but is informed by the training process and data sets. In this case, the people in the lab. So it’s not as obviously a story on the theme at first, until starting to think about who worked in that lab. This is also the first Patreon story that’s sold as a reprint.

The second was the Japanese translation of the Fungi anthology edited by Orrin Grey and Silvia Moreno-Garcia. “Letters to a Fungus” is exactly what the story title suggests.

Two book covers

Image Caption: Two paperback books on a white and silver cloth. One is Transcendent 3, which has a person wearing floral clothing scrubbing a brain with a sponge. The other is the Japanese translation of Fungi, which has a black cover with a gold/black flying mushroom machine with gears and tentacles.

I also did my own little reprint of “Letters to a Fungus” in Second Life for Hallowe’en. It was arranged as a hunt, with each letter spread around an area. The most found letter was clicked 95 times and the least found was clicked 34 times.

Trying to finish original fiction was more of a struggle. The stories I’d intended for Patreon didn’t get done, because I wasn’t writing at all once the heat came. Later in the year, there were two short stories deadlines I was trying to reach. One was for an anthology that hasn’t been announced yet. The other was a general public submissions call. I missed both deadlines, as I was trying to get back into writing at the same time as catching up with everything else, and sorting family things for the winter.

It wasn’t the end of the world, because I do have some second chances. The unannounced project will have a public submissions call. It didn’t stop it being pretty demoralising, as I missed the chance of being involved at the earlier stages. But for the second deadline, I got an extension, and did manage to hit that. I felt a lot better after hitting the extension deadline, particularly as I wasn’t the only one who needed an extension. It’s easy to think that no one else is struggling if no one is being open about it, which is also part of why I write about the things I failed to do as well as the things that worked.

 

Reviews

Reviews stopped early in the summer. I do have notes I took before the heatwave and will get back into it. Interestingly, I still earnt money from the affiliate schemes, so the pause hasn’t been terrible. I can simply continue from where I left off as though nothing happened.

 

Art

Zazzle continues to be the main place where my art sells. My sales have gone up more than is proportional compared to the number of products I offer. About double the products has meant about four times the sales.

There were no calamities this year and it’s something that continues to make money even when I’m not around.

 

Patreon

This time last year, I’d sent out art cards for Patreon. This has been delayed this year, so I don’t have the final art to show. The cards will be arriving sometime in January.

I’ve also taken advantage of Patreon’s new system, where rewards can be restricted to a certain tier. I now have a “tank friends” tier, where I’ll post pictures and updates about my pets. This acts as a way for people with phobias, or who just don’t want pet pictures, to avoid this content.

Patrons received an advanced copy of the novella this year and the art cards that will be arriving soon.

 

Wing Chun

I don’t usually include Wing Chun in my updates, as mostly I keep getting better at hitting people, so there’s not much to say. I did lose time this year, as I wasn’t able to get to training as often as I wanted. However, I did finally move from the beginner grades to the intermediate grades. I’d had issues learning how to fall without hitting my head, which slowed down my process. But I finally got it and can now be rugby tackled to the ground without knocking myself out, so there was much rejoicing.

 

Brexit and Future Goals

I can’t really talk about goals for next year without discussing Brexit. The UK leaving the EU could mean food shortages, medicine shortages, airports closing for months, loss of internet access, loss of power, and generally a lot of things that are going to make basic survival a lot harder. Family and friends on daily medication could die. There’s no way to make this sound better, because it’s not going to be good.

This has already had an impact, because during my attempts at catching up in the winter, everything has been falling apart politically. This was the last thing I needed when I was already behind. It will continue to have an impact. Next year will mean stockpiling supplies and an uncertain future.

I do have plans for the year still. I’m hoping to publish Conduit, the sequel to my urban fantasy Sunstruck. It’s just this is going to be later than I’d hoped at the end of last year, because realistically, basic survival is going to come first.

This means I can’t say what will happen. I might still be online and able to keep people updated. I might not. I just don’t know, so I hope people will have a little patience, as this situation is out of my control.

 

Animals

For about four years, I’ve held off getting more animals, or really sorting my bedroom, because I was saving up for a fish tank. It hasn’t been the easiest time. I really like having animals. It’s a comfortable thing to look after them and watch them grow. It makes my room a space I can go when I need a break. But everything was on hold, because fish tanks are expensive. I stuck with looking after the hissing cockroaches I had and maintaining my little tank with three otos.

My family helped out with that this year and I got a new community tank. The old otos were moved into it and I’ve since added zebra danios and more otos. Zebra danios are my favourite aquarium fish, so it’s great to have some again. The old little tank is now the quarantine tank. My tanks are all run as temperate tanks without heaters, and the fish choices are ones that prefer the cooler side of things (even though they’re usually sold as tropicals).

This also opened up the way for sorting the furniture in the room (I have a couple of new garage storage shelves… they’re cheap, strong, and have big shelves) and getting some more animals (mainly woodlice and millipedes).

Family also agreed to tarantulas, which has also been a process that’s taken a few years, as it involved persuading the resident arachnophobe that a spider tank in my room would not emit spiderness. In the end, it went quite smoothly, as it turned out the one thing worse than spiders was wrapping presents. So it went, “Can you wrap these for me?” “I guess so, but in return I’m getting a tarantula.” Then later, “Can you post these for me now you’ve wrapped them?” “I think we’re moving into paying for the tarantula here.”

A few days later, I was told that Boris was a good name for a spider, so I think a level of tolerance has been reached. A spider (Grammostola pulchripes) and a scorpion (Euscorpius carpathicus) were ordered and have now arrived, as this end of year post is a bit into the next year. I asked for the spiderling pot to be marked with “Boris” to help start the warm fuzzy feelings, so thanks to The Spider Shop for doing that!

A plastic spiderling pot

Image Caption: A small clear pot with white tissue inside. “Boris” is handwritten on the outside along with part of the scientific name.

Out of everything this year, I really like how the room is shaping up. It’s already a much better space for me to relax. Once the air conditioning goes in next year, it’ll be ideal. It’s a lot like living in a cool temperate forest, which suits me perfectly. My plans for the year include adding in some low light plants, as well as continuing to stock the community tank and getting a few more invertebrates.

Also, don’t panic about the critters and Brexit, because I can find food for them locally and excess from my colonies will be food for the predators, so they’re not going to starve. The planting in the fish tanks will act as a filter if the power goes out. They’re in a much better spot than the people in the house.

 

Wrapping It Up

I lost a lot of time this year to heat, though hope to sort it out next year with an air conditioner. Catching up with everything from the lost time has been a struggle and there are going to be tough times ahead with Brexit.

My biggest success was publishing my novella Werecockroach. I’ve also been sorting my animal room. The second book in my urban fantasy series, Conduit, is expected out sometime next year, though when will be hard to say due to the political disruptions.

2017: Survival

Happy StarIt’s the end of a difficult year, which looks set to become many difficult years. There’s been a lot of bad stuff going on politically. Some of it impacts me directly. Other things impact friends. That made it difficult to work, because anytime I did, something else would go wrong. That doesn’t mean that I did nothing during the year, but it does mean I focused on things I was able to do without having complete focus.

Last year, I was looking at diversifying where I made money. This didn’t really work out, in the sense of the new things I tried didn’t generate money. I did see success in expanding some of the things that were already working. I’ll talk about that in detail, as well as a bit of background about some of my choices going forward. The quick summary version will be at the end, for those who don’t need the nitty gritty details.

A piece of good news from this year is I now have a set of softboxes. These are lights for photography. Lighting has been a constant issue with my photography, as can be seen by the lighting issues in the various photos I’ve posted over the years (including the ones in this post, which were before I got the lights). The lights will be particularly useful for photographing larger art pieces.

 

Writing

Writing was the area that suffered the most this year, as I need to be settled and able to concentrate to get things done. This is especially true for final edits. I had intended to publish Werecockroach, my science fantasy novella. But the struggle with the final editing meant it never quite got there.

The second book in my novel series, Conduit, had a much better fate. I wrote quite a bit and sorted some timeline issues. Knowing that next year will be tough, I don’t want to be overly optimistic on release dates. I’m going to say it will most likely be released at the end of 2018 or the start of 2019.

This means not a lot has changed since last year. I do intend to stick to a basic cycle of one standalone (either novella or novel) and one series book. My hope is that going for unusual concepts for the standalones might get people talking about them. In other words, I hope the gimmick makes people look. I don’t have a lot of hope for the current series, but I would like to have it fairly robust with a few books before moving on to a more marketable series.

I did release a few new short stories on my Patreon, which is part of writing for the next collection. I don’t have a pending date on that, as it’ll happen when I have enough stories.

 

Art On Demand

I have art stores on Zazzle and Society6. Towards the end of the year, I had my first and only sale on Society6. I’ll still maintain that store, but it’s really all about Zazzle when it comes to actually making money.

My aim for Zazzle was to reach a thousand products by the end of the year, which I hit sometime in autumn. Each design is on between ten to forty different products. I have seen results from this, with my sales going up overall. I was paid before the holidays and will be paid again in January. I expect quieter times at the beginning of the year, as people recover from holiday purchasing, but I’m generally optimistic about sales.

I also tried out Zazzle’s embroidery system. This takes some investment, as the initial stitch files cost money (someone has to convert the image into stitches for the embroidery machine). I had one success and one failure. My blue jay design made a nice stitch file. I did edit it a bit before submitting it, to remove some of the fine detail, and it converted just fine. I sold a few things with it on, which paid back the stitch file cost. I’d likely have sold more, but Zazzle halted embroidery product sales for a short time due to the company moving to new premises.

Blue Jay Stitch Preview

Image Caption: A preview of a stitch file, showing the stitch placement of an embroidered blue jay perched on a green vine.

The failure was my pixel art mushroom. The resulting design had smooth lines, so didn’t resemble the original at all. The money was refunded, so nothing lost. Once embroidery production is running again, I’ll likely convert a smooth-lined cartoon mushroom design.

Until the end of December, I was feeling stable about how things were going. Then the takedown notices started. The first was because I had textspeak that included u2 (as in “you too”) as part of the message. The concern was that it might look like merchandise for U2 the band. It’s over-cautious, but I could see they might be playing it safe. I deleted the couple of products with it on and went on with things. Then on Christmas, one of my pixel mushroom products was taken down for copyright/trademark infringement. This is an original design and has been picking up sales, so this was much more of a concern. I responded. A few days later the product was put back.

I’ll never know exactly what happened. I know some people do targeted reporting around holidays to attack people, so it’s possible that happened. It does have a feeling of someone mass reporting everything to see what would stick, especially with the timing. Needless to say, that was all pretty stressful, but I’m glad the pixel mushroom is back.

 

Reviews

Reviewing has stayed about the same this year. Views have gone up a bit. I’m seeing more review requests coming in, which is a good sign that the blog getting some wider attention. The money earnt from Amazon Associates is about the same.

What hasn’t been so good is the mainstream book problem. I picked a fair few mainstream books when requesting thing to review. This has logical reasons behind it, as these books are the ones that initially get people to the blog. I also found I could link up these books with smaller titles by running themed Twitter threads of reviews. This raised the views on reviews of those smaller titles.

All of that is fine, but the chances of disliking those mainstream books was a lot higher. Such books are often good at that one area that matches the author’s identity, but offers plenty of punches to the face to everyone else. The sort of work I’m really hoping for, with a wider intersectional perspective, is difficult to get in those big titles with all the hype.

It doesn’t help that books that get hyped in the online book communities often get aggressively defended. I’ve mostly got away with it because my reviews are often a bit after the release date, so things have calmed a little, but I won’t stay lucky forever (I’d note that this sort of attack is still peanuts to the whole death threat thing of my old blog content, but I’d still rather not have the drama). It means I’ve learnt to pay attention to some other book bloggers in the worst possible way: if they love a book, it’s one to avoid reviewing.

There’s a silver lining to all this though, because those popular mainstream titles continue to get views long after the initial review. So next year, I’m going to take a bit of a break from popular books, and rely on the views from my older reviews. I’ll continue reviewing titles that I’ve already agreed to review. Anything new I pick up will be titles I’ve chosen and titles that come through authors sending review requests. I’ll make exceptions for something on the hype train that looks totally my thing, but the odds of that are pretty low.

I’m open to suggestions of books that people think I’d enjoy and they’d like to see reviewed. I did a book bingo of things I’d like to see in representation, and I’d mostly like science fiction and fantasy where romance isn’t the main focus. Basically, it’d be nice if I could have a year where reading is fun.

 

Patreon

Patreon has continued at about the same level as before. I’m now a few pledges above my website bill, so there’s a little more safety. Until the end of the year approached, I’d have said it was stable. Then there was a sudden announcement of fee changes that would have forced a lot of my patrons out. Patreon did change it back, but it meant uncertainty about whether it would continue to be viable. It’s still possible some people will leave, due to losing trust in the platform.

This is my least favourite way of generating money, because producing masses of content each month is considered normal for the platform. I can’t work that quickly, especially when it comes to writing. Being dyslexic does slow me down, but it happens in a way that isn’t obvious to outsiders. They see that I can write fluently, so assume it isn’t like trying to float rocks with the power of my mind to get my writing to that state.

I did try some ideas this year to counter that. One was a few work-in-progress posts. These didn’t generate any interest, so I don’t intend to do more of those (they still take time to put together, which I could spend on other things). Another was to make a special reward for the end of the year, which was generally well-received. I painted a series of art cards and sent one to each patron. Given that I had seven patrons at the time, this sort of personal reward was viable to do (I wouldn’t be painting up a hundred individual art cards).

Patreon Art Cards

Image Caption: A set of art cards for Patreon, displayed on a white cloth with silver spots. The series has a central figure drawn in black ink. The figure is red with uneven white polka dots, painted with red watercolour. The background is white with red polka dots. The subjects are: a squid, a unicorn, an owl, an elephant, a leopard danio fish, oyster mushrooms, and a fly agaric mushroom. Click for a larger version of the image.

My general conclusion is that Patreon is not a good platform for me. I’m better at producing occasional big rewards, rather than multiple smaller rewards. My regular content is my reviews, but few people see the reviews as a reward. However, I don’t have a better alternative, so here I am.

 

Other Things

One thing I tried last year was a new wishlist. This went about as well as last time: only family bought things from the list. I removed most of the links to it, on the basis that a static wishlist is a lot like a news section that never updates. It creates the impression of being inactive. I know wishlists work well for some reviewers, as a way to get books that otherwise can’t be requested. It didn’t work out for me.

The list is still there and public, so I have it should there be a need for it sometime.

I’ve tried to keep my Twitter account on the light side this year. I figured people would see the news, so they didn’t need me to be the news. I posted my baking from Hallowe’en and the winter holidays, along with updates about the birds and pets.

 

Skip to the End

It’s been a difficult year for writing, as I need a calm environment to work on it. The novella Werecockroach will be out next year. The second book of the Bigfoot Mysteries, Conduit, is aimed for the end of 2018 / start of 2019. It was a good year for art, with my sales at Zazzle increasing. Patreon is about the same and I gave art cards to my patrons at the end of the year. I had a scare with both Patreon (with sudden fee change announcements) and Zazzle (multiple product takedowns), which demonstrates why I’m always looking for other sources of income to add to the mix.

2016: Diversification

Happy Rainbow OctopusThis has been a year of shifting around what I do. I have a lot of detail about that, but if you want the quick version, skip to the end. The long version might be useful to someone else considering going in a similar direction.

I’ve been writing and blogging for around eight years. In the last few years, I’ve had to acknowledge that I’d never really fit in when it came to the writing world. I’d spent years trying, but it wasn’t happening. A few people talk to me, but they’re usually on the fringes as well. If this was a social club, I’d have left years ago. But it’s a work environment, so it’s difficult to stop being involved entirely. What was for sure is continuing with more of the same would not change anything. I was spending a lot of energy on something that was never going anywhere.

The big issue with my writing is that I write about characters and themes that make it hard to get by in the mainstream, but in all the wrong ways to be seen in the diversity community. The recent push for own voices work has pretty much guaranteed anything I write will sink, as so little of it can be promoted as own voices. I’ve always tended to write about the world around me, which includes a lot of people who aren’t like me. Even when a character is like me, it’s not really the narrative people expect from own voices. An example would be a non-white character of a specific race is expected, but a non-white character who isn’t sure of their own ancestry is not expected. People aren’t going to buy something when they’re not looking for it.

So this year was about diversifying in a different context. If writing couldn’t be my career, maybe a whole lot of little things could combine to be a career.

 

The Art of Zazzle

When I was trying to get reviews for my novel, I got a reply that hated the novel idea, but loved the cover. The cover had always got much more positive feedback than the novel itself. So late in 2015, I started up an art store on Zazzle. I chose Zazzle because it’s a large site with a wide variety of products. If my art was going to sell anywhere, it’d be there.

Zazzle is overwhelming at first. There are so many products, and the design tool gives a lot of freedom when it comes to placing images, making text editable, and other things like that. I focused on common items at first, like badges, fridge magnets and keychains. I turned things into t-shirts where I could, including a special t-shirt version of the novel cover blue jay. I made random stuff like ping pong balls to see if anyone would buy one.

The first year was pretty quiet, but I’ve been slowly building up the store. This paid off this year, as the festive season went well for me. The blue jay is one of my bestselling designs, to the point that it’s going to end up earning more than I’ve made selling the novel it illustrates.

One reason this is working out well is it’s reaching new people. Most sales are either through Zazzle’s own search engine or third parties linking to a product. My writing tends to attract other people who aren’t that wealthy, but Zazzle attracts people with money to burn. I have to keep this in mind when I’m designing. I’d never pay that much for some of the items, but there are people who will. On the other side, the smaller items are in a price range that someone on a tight budget could afford, so I make sure I always have some of those for each design.

Zazzle has an affiliate scheme that is part of their normal artist membership. I can gain referrals on anything I link to, including if I buy the item. It’s a very relaxed affiliate scheme, which makes a change from certain other programmes.

My plans for next year are to keep expanding my designs. I want to do some more animals, as they’re popular designs. Probably cats, because cats are great.

 

Blogs and Reviews

My blog used to have content that was more article-focused. I wrote about general issues of representation, the community, a bit about science in writing, and other things like that. This was never an easy road. Lack of support is a bit of an understatement. Negativity and death threats would sum it up much better.

It might sound strange at first to switch to book reviewing, as authors behaving badly over reviews get a lot of attention. But that’s also precisely why I switched. When an author attacks a reviewer, people defend the reviewer as a matter of principle. That’s why you’ve heard about it. Reviews are an ideal area of blogging for a stranger, because the principle of letting reviewers have opinions doesn’t require being known or being popular. The number of death threats and the like has gone down dramatically.

At the same time, I’m still talking about the same things as before. I’m just doing it in the context of specific examples, rather than broader overviews of an issue. I also hope this will do more good, as it’ll help people find / avoid books and other media.

Though I do tend to look for work by marginalised creators, I haven’t limited the blog to this. I know from my own experiences that it can difficult to be the right sort of marginalised for blogs with limits. It’s also difficult for anyone who is quieter about their identity. So I review anything that I feel like reviewing, with a focus towards authors and stories that are underrepresented.

Reviews are working as a way of producing regular free content. It means people can see I’m working on things, even if the big projects take more time to appear. It also passively promotes my other stuff (and stuff in my section for other creators) as it’s all in the sidebar.

 

Amazon Associates

Amazon is strict with their affiliate scheme. Affiliates must state they’re part of the programme and let website visitors know that cookies can be set by third parties. I wrote a privacy policy to cover this. However, affiliates also have to be careful exactly what they say. They can’t make it sound like Amazon endorses them or beg people to use the links to purchase items to support them. Prices can’t be listed with links. It’s very easy to step over the bounds of what is allowed. I keep a close eye on the official forums, so I can try to fix mistakes before they’re an issue.

I haven’t hit the threshold for payment yet, but it makes sense to keep using this system as I link out to so many books (and other items). It is allowed to link to my own books, which is useful.

I’m open to joining other affiliate schemes, but it has to be one where I’d have a chance of earning enough money to get paid. Amazon is chugging along about as expected, so I’ve no complaints, other than I wish I didn’t have to be paid by cheque.

 

Patreon

Patreon is something I couldn’t see working, because it requires having people who’ll sign up to pay money every month. I can’t work fast enough to provide guaranteed content as rewards, which makes my Patreon less appealing. But I do know people who run Patreon as a tip jar rather than a content subscription service. I didn’t see there was anything lost in trying.

I don’t make much on Patreon, but it is paying for my website. It’s a small thing, but it takes the pressure off anything I earn. It means I can pay for things other than website fees, including getting review items and supporting crowdfunding campaigns. It also covers the website being more expensive this year, due to the exchange rate changes. Patreon pays me in dollars, and I pay my website in dollars, so it’ll keep covering the fees even if my home economy completely falls apart.

I did do one Patreon-only post, which was a picture of a warm glow (the thing people get for supporting me). I did initially mean it more metaphorically, but there you go. I will likely do some other things sporadically, but it’s better not to commit to it and have it be a surprise, than to say I’ll do it and not deliver.

 

Amazon Wishlist

My wishlist isn’t new. I started it up around my birthday one year and I’ve never had anyone buy me anything from it. But some people like buying stuff from wishlists as a way of support, so I cleaned it up and linked to it. This was late enough in the year that I don’t know if it’ll do anything, but any item will be a bonus. The list is mainly review items from the serious to the silly.

 

Other Art Sites

This comes right at the end of the year, as it was part of setting things up for next year. After my art success, I wanted to put a few eggs in other baskets.

The first I looked at was Redbubble, but I discounted it as it’d be a tax nightmare. Redbubble is in Australia, so they should be withholding 5% of my income to pay as taxes (under the tax treaty agreement with the UK). They don’t do this, and they say it’s up to artists to pay those taxes. Except it’s not, because the method for paying those taxes is through withholding, which Redbubble should be doing. Tax avoidance is something I try to avoid, so no Redbubble for me.

Society6 is an American site, so it’s the usual 0% withholding deal. I’d like it better if they were keeping the proper forms on file, but either way, I’m only liable for taxes in my home country for any earnings here.

Society6 is both simpler and trickier than Zazzle. It’s simpler in that it has fewer products and has simplified the process of putting art on stuff. It’s trickier because that means it has fewer tools. Things can’t be tiled or layered, it doesn’t show bleed lines and the like, it doesn’t take vector images… there are a lot of handy things it won’t do. Files at the biggest size are a problem when it comes to previewing. I’ve found the best way is to attempt to preview, then back out and try again tomorrow. It appears to figure out the preview in the break.

All that said, the site does function and the products look reasonable. I do like that I can tweak product image placement after the product goes live. The product pages also show my other work very clearly to the customer: both what other designs I have on that item, and what other items have that design.

There is an affiliate scheme (curators) which has to be signed up for separately. I’ve signed up for this. Also, payments will come in more regularly, as there isn’t a threshold. I know some people prefer to buy from Society6, so hopefully it’ll spread my earnings a bit.

 

Writing

The result of working on everything else was I didn’t release any new books. What I did was work on projects as I felt like working on them. The pressure was off, which gave me some space to decide what I’d do next. I have a novella that will be released next year, at the same time as related cover art merchandise. This will be the first release that ties everything together.

After that, I’ll be working on the second book in my urban fantasy series. This series is not something I can see as ever being popular, but if I’m making money on art, I don’t need it to be.

I am still writing short stories, but the list of markets on my submissions list is a lot smaller now. It’s not the primary way I make money anymore, so I can be more selective.

 

Skip to the End

To round it all up, I deleted my old blog content and have replaced it with reviewing. This has dramatically reduced the death threats. I put art for sale on Zazzle, which is working out nicely. I’m on Patreon, which covers my website costs. Towards the end of the year, I put together a wishlist and started a second art store on Society6. I’m part of a few affiliate programmes related to these things, which is listed in my privacy policy.

Next year, I will have a novella out at some point. I’m going to draw lots of pictures of kittens.