Hello, and welcome to my annual review!
I experienced a huge amount of resistance to putting together the annual review this year. Not the numbers—with my spreadsheets, that is actually the easy part. No, there was just so much that happened this year, so many things — good and bad, happy and sad — that I just felt overwhelmed at the prospect of revisiting the many emotions I experienced as the year progressed.
It was a stressful year, to say the least. From staffing changes to deals falling through, from altered deadlines, shifting pub dates, way too much travel, and a secret project to launch which came with a monstrous learning curve, it felt hectic from start to finish. And hectic isn’t a good place for me. Especially when, looking at the planning calendar, I *knew* the year was going to be busy. Sometimes knowing is worse, because the anticipation gets you every time. If I had a dollar for the number of times I said “just get through this month, and it will all calm down...”
A friend (rather bravely, considering) told me she was concerned I was overdoing it, that I was pushing too hard, and was in danger of having it all collapse around my ears. It brought me up short, and was possibly the most important conversation I had all year. When I took a step back and thought things through, I realized she was right, something had to give. I was driving myself to stress and distraction by trying to do it all.
But get through it all, I did. I’ll even admit I’m kind of proud of myself for making it all happen. And interestingly, as I was putting my review together, I realized that for every negative, I found myself writing “X happened, but it caused Y,” and almost universally, Y was a positive that outweighed the negative. Once I finally dug in, the year looked pretty dang rosy.
2018 was supposed to be the Year of Change — and boy, how, did it live up to its title.
LOOKING BACK ON 2018 - THE YEAR OF CHANGE
It’s time to apply all the changes I’ve made over the past several years into a single, overarching habit that encompasses my work, my current life, and my future work. Putting my own needs first will allow me to grow both as a writer and as a person. Being selfish with my time, only applying my energy to work I love and believe in, will help me reconnect with my creativity in new and exciting ways. I vow to try new things, to read new to me authors, to regularly unplug and decompress, and enjoy life without pushing so hard all the time. Most importantly, I will set work hours, and step away from the screen when the day is done. “Mischief Managed” will be my new end of workday mantra, giving me permission to shut down until the next day. A shutdown ritual coupled with an 8-week modular work plan will lend structure and cohesiveness to my days, and drop my stress levels exponentially.
HOW DID I DO?
Well...I can honestly say that I did achieve 50% of what I was looking for when I set my 2018 goal of change. The first half of the paragraph above, especially. I made several major changes to my writing habits, and I’ve done an excellent job putting my needs first. One of the greatest lessons we can all learn is how to let go of anything that doesn’t serve us in a positive way, be that work, people, habits (or the lack thereof). This year, I said no to things I truly didn’t want to do, and felt a new sense of freedom.
Did my stress level drop because I planned everything so perfectly? Ha! Not a chance. At one point in the year, I was actually so stressed my doctor put me on a heart monitor. It was situational, happily, and once the stressor was removed, everything went back to normal. But recognizing I wasn’t managing my stress well, I started taking CBD oil, which has gone a long way toward helping me keep everything under control. I’m sleeping better, deeper, and waking more refreshed, which helps. I’m feeling much more capable of handling the day, and that’s been a lifesaver. I’d much rather take something natural instead of Ativan!
By the last quarter of the year, when everything hit a fever pitch, I just kept getting up and tackling the day, over and over, and then, suddenly... it was all over. All the books were published, all the travel was finished, all the deadlines were met. I had room to breath, and the clarity with which to see the future again. I started thinking about 2019, and beyond, what I wanted from my career, from myself. I even went so far as to write a mission statement, my Jerry Maguire moment, to help clarify everything I was thinking about, where I want to go from here. It felt good. It makes sense. It’s achievable.
Now that, my friends, is change personified.
WHAT WENT RIGHT?
So many things! Honestly, as wild as all this sounds, many, many more good things happened than bad. A lot of them I can’t talk about publicly, but believe me when I say 2018 was a very good year.
TEAR ME APART’s reception in the world was beyond heartwarming. It was such a difficult book to write, and the notes I’ve received about it broke my heart and put it back together again.
A THOUSAND DOORS was a wonder. From start to finish, it was an exhilarating process. Working with the amazing authors, watching the story come together, seeing it resonate with readers, learning how to publish the damn thing… it was a labor of love and I’m very proud of it. Plus, many new friendships sprang from its loins. What more can you ask from a project?
Something very important happened in 2018 — for the first time in many years, I developed and started writing an entirely new concept instead of digging into my archives for a story thread. That book, GOOD GIRLS LIE, is well underway and due to my publisher early 2019. And with that clarity came yet another idea, for the next book, which also hasn’t happened in a very long time. I am finding the flow again, and that is a very good thing. I also adapted a short story idea in progress to be the epilogue for GOOD GIRLS LIE — in that weird way of the subconscious, I couldn’t make the short story deadline, but the story must have been germinating anyway.
After finishing THE LAST SECOND, the 6th Brit in the FBI book, I immediately pivoted to a trip to England, the launch of TEAR ME APART, a brief tour, and then right into the launch of A THOUSAND DOORS, all without drawing a breath. These weeks away from writing torpedoed a lot of my good habits, so I decided to do a 4th quarter booster shot.
I re-read (listened to) Stephen King’s ON WRITING and Twyla Tharp’ s THE CREATIVE HABIT, and both books really lit a fire under me in terms of my own creativity and writing habits. Not to do more, necessarily, but to do it smarter, and for the right reasons. I’ve been making tweaks to my writing day all year, but now I’m getting my words done in the morning, leaving me the rest of the day for exercise, reading, cooking, planning, and more writing.
Even more importantly, I rebuilt my office from scratch to be a calming, Zen-like space that allows me to do all my creative work in one place. When I leave my office, I leave the work. When I step in, the creative juices flow immediately. (Plus, the cats LOVE the new rugs and chair.) Since I’m entering a new chapter in my life, having a new desk, a new office, is probably the most symbolic and constructive act I’ve done in years.
And I read 100 books. 100! (I don’t count abandoned titles in this, of which there were at least 20, nor my own books, all of which get read a gazillion times each.) Last year I read 72. Adding audiobooks to my repertoire has seriously increased my reading time, something I was really hoping for.
Catherine and I (avec husbands) went to London and saw The Cursed Child, and then Randy and I went on to Cambridge and Oxford. So much fun, and so inspiring. I used a lot of the Oxford trip as the backbone for GOOD GIRLS LIE, too!
I published three books, wrote half of another, traveled all over the country and did two international trips. There were starred reviews, thoughtful emails, and great friendships made and deepened. We started a private facebook group called the Literati which is a wonderful, warm, funny place to spend time with like-minded readers. Instagram turned out to be a happy surprise filled with lovely bookstagrammers and yogis to follow, and I found a haven on Twitter of fun authors to hang out with, both online and in person. I learned how to do actual accounting, fulfillment, and billing (don’t laugh, MATH) and once the accounts receivable are set, the publishing house is actually in the black for the year, a massive accomplishment.
With my assistant Leigh at the helm, I am very happy with the way we’re approaching social media now, too. After some fits and starts with the Tao reboot, I’ve found a healthy balance with the Sunday Smatterings posts, regular check-ins on Facebook and Twitter, and a lot of fun, positive energy going into Instagram. We’ve abandoned schedules and are focused on enjoying the relationships we’ve built this year, especially on the Literati and Instagram, and of course, the newsletter continues to be my favorite way to communicate. If I have something I want to blog about, I do. If I don’t, I don’t. This takes off so much pressure, you can’t even imagine.
And of course, a major new secret project is well underway. Trust me when I say, it’s going to be astoundingly cool and a big, big surprise.
My biggest takeaway: In learning how to let things go that don’t serve me, I found myself again.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
At one point in the year, it felt like anything that could go wrong, did... but it righted itself in the third quarter, leading to a fun fourth quarter. I didn’t hit my original word goal, revising it down by 50k... but I indie published a unique anthology to major critical acclaim. I had a mini-meltdown in September and decided to take the last 4 months of the year off... but quickly realized time off wasn’t the issue, it was what I was spending my time on that was the problem. My assistant quit... but I found a wonderful new one rather quickly, and the transition was practically seamless. A major deal fell through... but another presented itself the same week. I didn’t play nearly enough golf, nor did I take nearly enough time off... but I got to travel to England for research and Aruba for fun. I was stressed out of my mind for a while... but I found a great, natural solution. I was laid low by a major bout with the flu, and another round soon after of asthmatic bronchitis... but the time spent in fevered delirium absolutely made TEAR ME APART come together, and I kept off almost all the weight I lost. I did lose my yoga practice, and there’s no real but for balance... but I plan to fix this ASAP. Oddly, I haven’t heard my good luck song since 2017... but I hope this changes, too, and soon!
All in all, it was definitely a when a door closes, a window opens kind of year.
Living a creative life — making a living from a creative life, I should say — is hard, but isn’t exactly digging ditches. Having this much work, this many expectations, is a major blessing, one I don’t take for granted.
NERDOLOGY — THE NITTY GRITTY
2018 Word Total: 835,959
Fiction Total: 200,430
Non-Fiction Total: 105,529
Fiction Percentage: 24%
Books Read: 100 (of a revised up goal of 80)
2017 Fiction Total: 274,410 (Fiction 30%)
2016 Fiction Total: 217,228 (Fiction 25%)
2015 Fiction Total: 203,749 (Fiction 28%)
2014 Fiction Total: 291,114 (Fiction 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%)
I wrote fewer fiction words due to the time I spent publishing A THOUSAND DOORS, and barely squeaked past my (revised down) 200,000 goal this year, mostly because I arrived at my parents for Christmas and promptly collapsed into a puddle of goo and didn’t get off the couch to do anything but walk or golf for a week. It was glorious, and well worth not blowing away my goal. Honestly, I’m pretty sure I did surpass 200k handily, but I only count each project’s finished words, not all words written, in my dailies. Still, 200,000 is nothing to sneeze at. It’s one of my lowest counts in years, but I am completely at peace about it. I’ve become much more interested in producing a specific kind of work, and if that means it takes me longer and I write less overall, so be it.
Here are some specifics on the year — and yes, the numbers aren’t wrong, there were 15 releases this year (not including any down price sales or contests). No wonder things felt so frantic!
Original Books Published: 3
TEAR ME APART, THE SIXTH DAY, A THOUSAND DOORS
All three novels were critically acclaimed, and THE SIXTH DAY hit all the major bestseller lists. Hurrah!
The Sixth Day trade paperback
Samantha Owens Series digital repack
Suspense on the Edge of Romance Collection (ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS)
Dark and Twisted Reads (ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS)
Two Tales Press: 7
A THOUSAND DOORS, NO ONE KNOWS German edition, NO ONE KNOWS UK edition, DEAD ENDS audiobook, STORIES OF THE NIGHT audiobook, CATWOOD
Bouchercon, SIBA, Murder by the Book, Parnassus, Chapel Hill Library, Charlotte Bibliofeast, Writerfest Nashville, Southwest Florida Reading Festival, Southern Festival of Books
Major Projects Worked On: 5
TEAR ME APART, A THOUSAND DOORS (both edits and 4 original short stories within), THE LAST SECOND (Brit in the FBI #6), SECRET PROJECT, GOOD GIRLS LIE
A WORD ON WORDS Shows Taped: 6
Books read: 100
More Awesome Stuff:
EMMY nomination for A WORD ON WORDS Season 3
PW Starred Review: TEAR ME APART
PW Starred Review: A THOUSAND DOORS
NYT List: THE SIXTH DAY
USA Today List: THE SIXTH DAY, LIE TO ME
TEAR ME APART made several major best of 2018 lists
Shhhh.....(sorry, but soon!)