2014 Annual Review

For the past several years, I’ve been doing annual reviews of my life and work, based on the format from Chris Guillebeau’s wonderful Annual Review on his blog, The Art of Non-Conformity. Chris’s system is exceptionally detailed, more so than I really need, but the gist is there. It’s a great system for those of us who are self-employed and want to do an assessment of our work for the year. I don’t know about you, but I like accountability. I like the feeling of accomplishment I get when I look back over the past year’s worth of work and see what worked, and what didn’t. Here’s the link to the actual post. Go on over there and take a read. I’ll wait. And if you're interested, here are the links to my previous annual reviews for 2009201020112012 and 2013.

The Year in Review - 2014: The Year of Making Do

2014 was the year I was going to slow down. The year I was going to cut back on my writing, limit myself to 2 novels and a short story. And instead, I wrote the most fiction words I have ever written, surpassing last year’s epic word count by 24,000.

And instead of filling me with joy (which it does on many levels, don’t get me wrong), I wanted to cry. No wonder I’ve felt so frazzled. No wonder I’ve felt so overwhelmed. 

You see, as far as executing my goals and sticking with my theme for 2014, I failed. Failed miserably. 

Here’s what I set out to do.

Recognizing how much we have and how little we actually need, 2014 is the year of making do with what's on hand. Not buying new books, but reading the ones I already have. Not buying new clothes and shoes; I already have a closet full. Use the food in the pantry instead of buying more and throwing so much away. Letting the work be focused on quality, instead of quantity. 

My spreadsheet writing goal this year was 200,000. I blew through that in August, and revised upward to 250,000. Early October for that one. I hit 290,114 on New Year’s Eve, and felt guilty when I stopped writing for the year.

Sheesh. I need to realign my priorities. But this is the right kind of problem, isn’t it?

In addition to all the writing, it was a very good year for the books. I released four - WHEN SHADOWS FALL in hardcover and later in paperback, THE FINAL CUT in paperback, and THE LOST KEY in hardcover.

I wrote two full novels and revised two others. THE FINAL CUT mmpbs and THE LOST KEY were big New York Times bestsellers. THE LOST KEY was a lovely critical success as well, receiving a Gold Top Pick from Romantic Times, multiple starred reviews, was named one of Books-A-Million's Best Books of 2014 and a Library Journal Best Thriller of 2014, and tested the boundaries of social media PR campaigns.

I did a major revision on a beloved short story for release in a new anthology this coming June. I signed a new two-book contract with Catherine and Putnam for more Nicholas Drummond novels.

My first solo hardcover, WHEN SHADOWS FALL, released to a starred PW review, a starred Booklist review, an RT Top Pick, was on two end of year best of lists, and is a RT Reviewer's Choice nominee for Best Suspense/Thriller of 2014. Very cool. I’ve now had the same editor for two Sam books in a row, and the continuity has helped my career tremendously. 

I was asked to participate in Brenda Novak’s box sets to raise money for juvenile diabetes, and decided to release CROSSED, the first Taylor Jackson novel that landed me my agent back in 2005 but was never published (with a light revision, of course).

And remember the secret project I’ve been hinting at? I sold my standalone, at long last. NO ONE KNOWS has been four years in the making, and having it finally get the attention it deserves is the absolute capper on a banner year. I worked with my very first editor to make it the best book it could be before it went out on submission, and all that work paid off. I can’t wait to dig into the edits and get it into your hands in 2016.

I met some major goals on the personal side as well. I redid my guest room into a yoga studio, and practiced much, much more. I lost seventeen pounds. I stopped eating wheat, and feel better than I have in years. We did major house renovations and traveled a lot, including a phenomenal surprise birthday trip to Paris. I was a good wife, a good daughter, a good friend and a good kitty mommy. I actually left the house and got together with friends in person, and started attending a fun Friday morning writer’s group at the Coffeeshop. Jameson and Jordan continue to be a blast, making our hearts bigger and fuller than I thought would be possible for another pet after losing Thrillercat. And I realized it was time to hire a local personal assistant to help me juggle the insanity that is 2015. Her name is Amy, and she is utterly divine.

I loved 2014. It was a year of firsts, of great love and wondrous insights. The blessings were innumerable. Looking back, it went so fast, so very fast, and I was very stressed for much of it. I want to fix that this year. 

The Nitty Gritty (aka Nerdology)

My goal was 200,000, and as I mentioned, I blew past that in August. 290,114 is a massive number for me, considering I struggled to make the 270,000 from last year. But that number is misleading, because when I look at the totals, 19,000 of it was in my miscellaneous category. Which means I overwrote and the words were not used in final products. I’m always an underwriter, so I attribute most of this discrepancy to the co-writing, where it’s better to give more rather than less.

Novel-wise, I wrote the second half of THE LOST KEY, all of WHAT LIES BEHIND and the first half of CHECKMATE. I did two major revisions of NO ONE KNOWS, wrote 3,000 words of Sam #5, did a major revision of THE NUMBER OF MAN, adding 3,200 words to the story. I wrote some things I can’t talk about, too, 9,000 words of “other.”

I attended RWA in San Antonio, the Military Book Fair in San Diego, traveled to California to meet with Catherine three times. I spoke to the Alabama Library Association, and met some amazing librarians who are working so hard with so little, and taught the January Jumpstart fiction track for the Tennessee Mountain Writers. We spent two weeks in Colorado for our annual retreat, though much of it prostrate, as CC and I had just finished THE LOST KEY. 

And of course, Paris — and I’ve just realized I haven’t counted the fiction I wrote while there, as for some unfathomable reason (ha-ha) I was completely inspired and began writing another standalone, by hand in a Moleskine, whilst sitting in the cafés of Montparnasse drinking champagne. This is the kind of cliche I want to be! (1,000 words there, and thank goodness I remembered! I need to get that transcribed ASAP.) (And this is why I do this, so I can capture everything…)

I worked closely with Nicole Robson at Trident, Catherine and our team at Putnam to develop an awesome social media campaign for THE LOST KEY. Nicole took my research files from Evernote and photos from my research trip to Scotland to create the awesome collateral. Yet another reason to work with an online capture system like Evernote.

I spoke with several bookclubs and had an awesome launch party for WHEN SHADOWS FALL at B&N Cool Springs, and did a fun event in Nashville at the Cheekwood botanical gardens with Parnassus Books. I also worked a shift for Indies First with my buddies and fellow novelists Ariel Lawhon and Paige Crutcher. I’m not sure Parnassus has recovered. 

All in all, I did a LOT. Wrote a lot, read a lot (55 books) blurbed several wonderful ones, had 15 authors on my blog for interviews, sent 12 newsletters and wrote 100 blogs. The super interesting number is email, which continues to be consistent in the 330k range. That’s 3.3 novels worth of email. Yikes. My non-fiction did grow this year, up 21,000, but can be attributed to more newsletters, the 7 Minutes With blogs, and the speech I had to write for the ALLA keynote. And we gave away tons of books and giftcards on the contest page – with such thanks to Writerspace for all their amazing help!

2014 Word Total: 814,529
Fiction Total: 291,114
Non-Fiction Total: 189,529
Email: 334,000
Fiction Percentage: 36% 
2013 Fiction Total: 270,000 (Fiction 34%)
2012 Fiction Total: 265,000 (Fiction 34%)
2011 Fiction Total: 252,300 (Fiction 35%)
2010 Fiction Total: 198,383 (Fiction 32%)
2009 Fiction Total: 135,738 (Fiction 27%)

The Year Ahead - 2015: The Year of No

2015 is the year I will begin setting real boundaries for myself. As much as I love to say yes, it’s beginning to hurt me. I need to back off traveling for conferences, back down my non-fiction writing, focus more on fiction and being creative at home. I need to work to be more present and more internal — journaling and exercising and meditating regularly. Finding a real writing schedule, the discipline to stick to it, and continue growing great relationships with my readers and fans. Hiring out more professional/business tasks to allow me a deeper focus on my fiction. Be more present, be more creative, read more books, do more yoga, spend more time with friends, and continue working toward my mantra - calm, kind, graceful, focused, strong. And make sure to have more queso dates.

After so many years, I realize these annual intentions are easy to say and hard to execute. This year’s theme is going to be especially hard. I am a yes girl. I love helping others, whether it’s a blurb, or a read, or advice. It’s part of who I am, and I have no intention of changing my fundamental being. I’ve realized I can help people more if I help myself first. I’m not doing anyone any favors being so scattered and intense all the time. It’s stressing me out, and it’s stressing out everyone around me who has to help me reign in and keep focused.

One of the ways I hope to accomplish this is developing a real writing schedule. For many years, my daily goal has been write 1000 words a day, five days a week. WHEN I wrote those words didn’t matter so much as getting them done. If I look at the metrics, writing 260 days a year (that’s 5 days a week) I averaged 1115 words a day. Excellent. On paper, I met my goal. But it didn’t work like that. Some days I wrote 10,000 words, some days I wrote 100, or none at all. Yes, I wrote a buttload, more than ever before, but at what cost?

I had stories that wouldn’t work, books that wouldn’t end, more days with nothing accomplished until 4 or 5 in the afternoon than I’d like to count. As many commitments as I have, I think a little more discipline is in order. I’ve looked to my lovely co-writer as an example, who is a bastion of creative habit skills, and am revamping my day to emulate hers. 

Ergo, I’m going to start writing in the morning. Which means no appointments, no classes, no Facebook and Twitter, no email outside of my VIPs (agent, editors, assistant, CC…) none of that until noon. I want to write from 9 a.m. - 12 p.m., five days a week. Three hours a day. Instead of looking to meet a word count, I’m going to work toward uninterrupted, focused writing time. 

Yes, I want my 1000 words, but this way, no matter what, I have words done before the rest of the day begins. If I’m on a roll, I can break for lunch and come back to the page. If not, I’ll walk away knowing I did my best. This seems like a major win-win. I know many writers already do this, and they’re super smart. I’m going to get smarter about how I work. It’s my big, overarching goal of 2015.

Of course, I want to sell more books and reach more people. I’m really looking forward to the releases of both CROSSED and WHAT LIES BEHIND. It will be fun to get Taylor and Baldwin’s meeting out in the open, and the new Sam book is tight and scary and Sam’s really coming into her own. CHECKMATE comes in the fall and will be a total blast, and you’re going to love BASED ON. More on that closer to release. I've contributed a recipe to the MWA Cookbook, and KILLER YEAR will be re-released in paperback in June.

All in all, there is a LOT going on this year, and it’s going to be an amazing 2015. I hope your year is blessed, you reach your goals, and you’re kind to yourself. I know I’ll be trying to do the same.

 

In case you're interested, here are the tools I use to keep track of my world:

  • Daily word trackers (excel spreadsheets) from graphic artist Svenja Liv
  • Scrivener - their Project Target tools allow me to set a deadline and see exactly what my daily word count needs to be.
  • Day One - journaling, keeping track of major events and minor triumphs, idea capture
  • Squarespace - my web platform, where I host this blog, Tao of JT
  • Wunderlist - the very best online To Do list
  • iCal - I have both online and paper calendars. I don't like carrying a day planner, so I use my phone when I'm out and traveling
  • Journal 21 - my dayplanner, annual planner and logbook
  • Clairfontaine and Moleskine notebooks - idea capture, notes, book notebooks, research, planning
  • Pilot Knight Fountain pen - beautiful, sturdy, a real workhorse
  • MacAir - the all day battery life is essential to my well-being.
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J.T. Ellison

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of fifteen critically acclaimed thrillers and is the co-author of the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. With over a million books in print, Ellison’s work has been published in twenty-five countries and thirteen languages. She is also the co-host of A Word on Words, Nashville's premier literary TV series, which airs on Nashville Public Television. She lives with her husband and twin kittens in Nashville. Visit JTEllison.com, and follow her on Twitter @Thrillerchick or at Facebook.com/JTEllison14.