2020 in Review: A Look Back

Hello readers, and welcome to 2021! That’s right, the calendar has flipped, the months have passed, and we are in a new year once more. Which means, as I tail out of my vacation, that it’s time to take a look back at the last year and take stock. Also, to apologize for the lateness of this post; my staycation has caught up with me. In fact, I feel as though my leaving my warm bed in the afternoon should have been narrated by Attenborough, saying something like “Forced to leave his warm burrow by a dying battery, the creature finally emerges from his hiding place in search of power.”

Anyway, in lieu of a classic Being a Better Writer post today, I thought I’d use today as the perfect time to take a look back at the site and my writing over this last year and see what 2020 ended up as. What came out of 2020. What did I accomplish? What did I achieve? Did I release anything? How did the site perform? How were sales?

You get the picture. So, today, I deliver to you readers a summary of the year past. Writing done, books published, site stats … all of it. Hit the jump, and we’ll get started. It’s time to look at some good from 2020.

Writing and Quotas

So first, I want to talk about my quotas and goals. Those of you that are new to the site may not know that when I work, I have a daily quota of words I work towards that, once reached, counts as “I did my job today.” It keeps me productive and gives me a objective to aim for each day. The minimum word count I work towards is 3000 words, with the upper end being 4000. While I can go over 4000 (and at one point was doing 5000 a day) I found that sustaining that level of writing led to burnout, as did working Saturdays in addition to Monday-Friday.

So, how did I do this year? Well a quick check of my log shows that in 2020 I did the writing work of … 783,345 words. So a little over three-quarters of a million. I find this perfectly acceptable. Sure, one of these years I’d like to hit a million, but it’ll probably have to be a year when I’m not working a part-time job (and yes, while much of the year was spent without that due to Covid, it still affected a quarter of my year).

Honestly, I’m pretty satisfied with this result. Not many authors could claim half a million words in a year (even the full-time ones). Over 750K, then, is definitely in the top as far as output goes. While I wouldn’t have minded hitting 800K by year’s end, keeping in mind other thing that occurred this year, I’m going to put that down as a soft goal for 2021.

Alright, so that’s all well and good. 783K words of work done during 2020. But what did that work produce, and what was the reaction to it? Well …

Work Completed (or started) in 2020

Here we go! 2020 was, at least for me, a busy year. Let’s look at a rundown of everything that happened in 2020, as far as projects go.

First of all, there was the site standard, Being a Better Writer. 2020 saw the delivery of over forty BaBW posts to the site, free for all to read and learn from. Each Monday, barring holidays or some other major occurance, a new post would go up, covering topics from as general as “What is Science-Fiction” to “Being Your Own Worst Critic.”

Being a Better Writer continues to be a large and growing draw to the site too. 2020 was the year that its summary of Sanderson’s Three Laws of Magic became the top result on Google, putting Sanderson’s own site in second place. Such traction led to excerpts from Being a Better Writer being cited in Google search results as well as on Wikipedia in answer to common writing questions or on writing topics. We’ll talk more about the end result of this a bit later under the performance of the site, but 2020 was a good year for Being a Better Writer, and adding over forty new articles to the site certainly kept that growth going.

Okay, so BaBW had a good year, productivity-wise. What about my actual fiction writing? The stuff that many of you readers are here for? Books and the like?

Well, it was actually a pretty grand year for that, too. In fact, 2020 marked the first time I had three books release with my name on them. Well … two and a half. Kind of depends on how you want to count Fireteam Freelance. Actually, since we’ve named it … let’s talk about that one.

Fireteam Freelance was an experiment. While editing on Axtara, and as a warm-up for working on Starforge, I began work in February on an episodic series to be released for free on the site titled … Well, you already know by this point. Fireteam Freelance was a response to a number of readers asking after the question “What happened on Earth during the events of Colony and Jungle?” and was written as a background piece to the trilogy I’ll be ending with Starforge. The story followed a group of independent mercenaries on Earth shortly after the events of Colony, written as a series of TV-like episodes that could be read much like a serial, working toward a “series finale” as the team journeyed around an UNSEC-controlled Earth taking on various jobs. It was experimental, and the series, totaling 192,449 words, saw its final episode go up on August 22nd.

And it was … It was this year’s failure. While there were a few readers that liked it and followed it all the way through, Fireteam Freelance failed to attract any noteworthy attention, and in fact barely had readers. Barely a hundred people read the first episode, and as of today, over four months after the finale was posted, only fourteen people have looked at it.

Now, I did say in my “look back” post looking over it that as a whole, I don’t consider the project a failure. I learned a lot about writing episodically, and even confirmed a few suspicions I had about writing in such a format (which chaffed constantly and was a real hassle to not break out of). So in terms of my learning things, I learned a lot working on the project.

That said, however, when it came to audience interest and engagement, Fireteam Freelance was perhaps the biggest dud I’ve ever delivered. I expect that, when it finally does find itself published as a stand-alone ebook or print collection, it may find its audience. But as a free series released on my website. The lack of interested readers has been … enlightening. Especially given that I still encounter on a regular basis folks who announce that they’ll be pirating my work because it is just “too expensive.” Freelance is free, and they don’t give it a single look (or the vast swaths of fanfiction I have written). They want the sold stuff, because as always, they’re really only pirating for the thrill of the theft.

Anyway, back on topic with Freelance, maybe this will change. I’ve got a promotional plan for it I’ll be enacting this year, and we’ll see what kind of traction it gains. But in terms of performance last year, Freelance stands out as one of the largest disappointments.

Thankfully, the rest of 2020 didn’t have any such hard landings when it came to stuff that the public got their hands on. In February, at the Life, The Universe, and Everything writers convention, came the first release of the year to have my name on the cover. Though as a contributor, not the sole creator. But my story A Game of Stakes was included in the 2020 LTUE anthology A Dragon and Her Girl. The public reaction? Well, while I can’t say if the book did or didn’t make a huge splash (I don’t have any access to sales numbers, nor royalties to judge from as it is a charity project), I did note that several reviews mentioned my story as being one of the standouts of the collection, so it’s clear that readers enjoyed it quite a bit. A Game of Stakes was a resounding hit, and proof that I should return to the setting soon.

Which I did. Ten months later, and only a week before the end of the year, another entry in the same universe, and my first complete book of the year that was just me (and not a web serial) dropped. That’s right, you’ve all been waiting to hear me mention this one I’m sure. Axtara – Banking and Finance.

Yeah, that one right there! Despite dropping only right before 2020 ended, it’s clear already to me that if there was a single “success” this year, Axtara – Banking and Finance was it. Actually outperforming Jungle in its early days, Axtara actually managed to hit #7 worldwide on Amazon for its category, and as of today, almost two weeks after its release, is still sitting in the top … actually as of right this moment writing it’s back in the #7 spot!

So yeah, Axtara releasing in 2020 was definitely a highlight. It almost didn’t make it on account of COVID and that leading to difficulties finding a cover, but at long last it got the cover it deserved and made a fantastic debut. Leading into 2021 Axtara is flying strong, and there doesn’t seem to be any signs of that momentum slowing!

Speaking of the setting, I wrote another short in the same universe, Trial for a Dragon, which you’ll all likely see sometime soon. And yes, Axtara will be getting a sequel as well. There’s more to come from this new world!

Last but not least, I’m going to say a little bit on Starforge. The last book in the UNSEC space trilogy started with Colony and continued in Jungle, Starforge is the only project that was started this year but not finished. Not from lack of effort, mind, or work, but because it’s a colossal book. As of last I worked on it (Christmas break, remember), Starforge‘s first draft was only at 209.000 words … and it’s not even halfway through. This one may well end up being longer than Jungle. Though with good reason, as there’s a lot going on, as readers of the previous two books will know! Lots of stuff to wrap up, finalize, etc … and all with the biggest bangs the series can manage. If you enjoyed the fleet engagements of Colony and the action-suspense of Jungle, the finale of the series is delivering all of that and more in spades. It’ll probably be another few months at the earliest before the first draft is done, which means it likely won’t see a release until 2022 … but I’m not giving that as a hard date. Maybe a maybe. We’ll see how much longer Starforge becomes. That said, it handily contributed almost a third of my writing last year, and there’s a lot more to come!

The Site

All right, let’s talk about the site and it’s performance in 2020. After all, I can write all the Being a Better Writer articles in the world, but what good do they do if no one finds them? So how did the site do, performance-wise, in 2020?

Spectacularly. As I noted above, Unusual Things is now the number one Google result on several topics, as more and more people turn to it for answers to writing questions, studies, or even just in looking for my books. I am proud and pleased to report that in 2020 Unusual Things saw its traffic increase by 40% over the year before it (2019). Total site hits were five times that of the first year I opened the place, and with referrers coming from all corners of the web, from Facebook to Reddit to even Google News.

2020 may have been a rough year, but for this site, it was one of the best years ever. Monthly views were up, daily views were up, followers were up … 2020 was a spectacular year.

The Job and the Payout

I spent a few seconds trying to figure out how to head this. As most of you know, the goal with my writing is to be able to write full time, which means making enough off of my writing to support my meager monthly expenditures, or maybe even expand past them. At the very least, to leave my part-time job behind and have no other income than my writing.

Well, 2020 kind of gave that to me. Not entirely, but I can officially say that the only reason I survived 2020 without becoming homeless and broke was because my book income finally grew enough to start paying the rent. There are fluctuations, and it doesn’t cover all my expenditures and bills, but as a whole, 2020 was my best year yet for writing income. And with Axtara‘s strong release two weeks ago, gives me great hope for the future.

But yeah, at the end of the day, 2020 was my biggest year yet. Remember when I said my website traffic increased by about 40%? Well, so too did my writing income. A good portent, I think.

Looking Forward

So, what does this mean for 2021? Well … I’m excited. Excited and eager. As 2020 was before it, at least where writing is concerned, I think 2021 has the potential to be my biggest and best year yet.

And with that, I think I’ll leave you here for today. 2020 was a tough, rough, brutal year … but at the end of the day, when I look back over things, there was one bright spot I had, and in turn was bringing to a lot of people: My writing.

Here’s to the year ahead, readers. To more adventure, knowledge, and accomplishment then ever before!

I’ll see you next week for the return of Being a Better Writer!

2 thoughts on “2020 in Review: A Look Back

  1. Ugh! No way, only fourteen people read Fireteam Freelance through!? That story deserved way better than that. I really enjoyed every moment of it, even the tragically sad ones.

    That’s heartbreaking.


    • Only about a hundred people looked at the first episode, too. Freelance definitely slipped by with barely a ripple of impact. Glad you enjoyed it though!


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