2023 was my Year of Making. Although I’d not revealed it at the time, the reason behind this theme for the year was because I wanted it to be a year where I gathered the data needed to make a big decision. There was a big question at the heart of my 2023. Would I continue to pursue traditional publishing, or would I break free and go indy? As I revealed, I’d been very busy in late 2021 and 2022 running a number of pen names getting some real-world experience of the self-published market.

What held me back was the fact that I had a really good agent. Going into 2023 I already had the data to prove that whilst success wasn’t pre-ordained, it was doable. I’d originally planned for my experiment to last the year of 2022, but had extended it a year after my new job stopped me writing for a number of months. My job was (and still is) very satisfying and mentally intense, and as I discovered, the two worst things to have when it comes to writing motivation is job satisfaction and feeling mentally shattered by the end of the work day.

But in extending my experiments with pen names, there was the danger: the self-published market is ever changing. There would always be more experiments to run. Whilst I really enjoyed my secret pen names, I found that it became hard to market when you were hiding yourself. I worried that I’d be stuck in this eternal loop where I would want “just one more experiment” or “another year” to test developments in the marketplace, all the time unable to really unleash the full weight of marketing and unable to be 100% authentic because I wasn’t me.

So I made a big decision for 2023. This would be it. At the end of this year, I’d make a big decision. I’d either deliver a traditional novel or I’d part ways with my agent.

As part of that decision, I chose to go to Eastercon in Birmingham. I was keen to catch up with my traditionally published friends and talk about what I’d been up to. I think there was part of me that wanted them to talk me out of it, to say that I was being stupid or had missed something obvious.

But if I went there looking for a reason to stay on the traditional path, I found only the opposite. I’ve never seen my decision as a battle between trad vs self-published. Both have pros and cons. And what works for one person doesn’t work for another. Instead, I was looking to find my path. Or rather, I was looking for someone to counter the reason and logic I had for what seemed like an obvious path for me.

And I suppose it would come as no surprise, that I came away more convinced than ever that self-publishing was the route for me. At least for the forseeable future. I didn’t go there to burn bridges, only to find personal direction.

It came at a cost though. I finally succumbed to Covid, and whilst the actual covid wasn’t bad, I did suffer with long covid that has plagued me for the rest of the year.

I’d hoped to improve my health in 2023, but I actually got a little worse. Covid sapped me of energy and caused everything to hurt that much more. I’m not going to go into a load of personal detail, but needless to say there has been a lot of steps forwards and backwards. On the plus side, some new medication I was prescribed a few weeks ago has given me a bit more energy, but this is a battle that’s going to last into 2024.

This really scuppered my plans to return to competition. I miss sword fighting at a competitive level, but my fitness levels would not cope with a tournament. I was already relatively old when I was competing so no-one expects me to return. Heck, the people I used to regularly compete with retired from competition in their early thirties. I’m determined to make a comeback, but as this year has proved, it’s going to be a long and difficult path.

It’s not that I’m without motivation though, as 2024 saw the launch of my own swordfighting school. This had been years in the making and almost came to fruition in 2020. However, the pandemic saw to that. It took a lot of work at the start of the year but May saw the launch of my club. I even used the lessons I’d learnt on Facebook marketing my pen name’s books to get all places sold in about 8 hours.

That’s taken a lot of time this year, and I absolutely love teaching. Watching my students grow has been an absolute joy, and a suitable replacement for not being able to fight myself. But dear God, do I miss it.

As I go into 2024, so I’m starting to teach new things. That’s both exciting and scary but I have the first half of 2024 pretty much mapped out and am very much looking forward to the adventure as we continue to grow.

As you can imagine, this had an impact on my writing. I always have high goals. I’d rather aim high and miss, than not push myself enough. I’d wanted to write up to 12 books in 2023. I managed to do 5. Given the job satisfaction and the time my swordfighting school has taken, I think that’s respectable. I learnt a lot and made some HUGE mistakes. I even discovered that one of my books had one key chapter replaced with a copy of a previous one. I still don’t know how that happened, but the important thing was that I was able to recover from it, and whilst I was reluctant to commit, I knew from Eastercon that I needed to part ways with my agent and go it alone. But that was so tied up in my dreams of being a successful author that part of me felt I was possibly making the biggest mistake of my life.

That got countered in the autumn, when an author who I share mutuals with, shared their success. They’d been a successful trad published author, also working on scripts and comics. The pandemic came, and like a lot of people, found that work had dried up. So they decided to self-publish. They started around the same time that I started my experiments so I’d been following their career with interest. They posted that after a number of years their revenue had exceeded 7 figures.

It made me realise a few things. First and most importantly, that going self-published wasn’t a compromise or second-best option. Even with my experiments I was matching some of my trad published friends. And even with all my mistakes, my reviews were still really good. I COULD do this.

But I also realised that launching as me, would mean that I’d be starting at 0 again. There would be new challenges and mistakes, and sure I’d find a way to overcome them. In many ways, it gave me some regret that I’d wasted so long tinkering with pen names. If I’d made the change back in 2021, I might be approaching 7 figures now.

But I also realised this wasn’t just about the money for me. Sure, it was nice, but this was in fact about being able to tell the stories I want to tell. It was freedom. Heck, if I wanted to write a series that only 2 people read, that seemed more important to me, than writing stuff I didn’t properly love.

I love the epic. I want to write sagas. I want inter-connected series. Self-publishing feels like freedom to me. No worrying about whether I need to cram a trilogy into 2 books due to contracts. I have a good job, and yes it’s been incredibly busy and stressful this year, but I still got 5 books out. If I can continue that pace I can afford to ‘take my time’ financially and write the books I want.

In many ways, this reminds me of my old A-F days. Back in 2000 or 2001 I made the decision to change the tone of the site. I went from trying to be like everyone else running a neutral news site – trying to convey professional journalism to the point where the content was incredibly dry – into something more like AICN (a big film news site in the day) where the passion ran off the page. It was both a creative and strategic decision, and one that propelled me.

Likewise, I feel self-publishing is that mix of creativity and business. I get why it’s not for everyone, and one of the big lessons I need to learn is to not derail myself when things go wrong. Part of that is solved by treating this as a business.

I question why I can work with the CEO in my day job and make decisive decisions, and yet wonder why I am filled with doubt and indecision with my writing. I realised there’s something about working for someone that distances me a little from the outcome. So, as a psychological hack, I’m giving my writing business a fictional CEO who I work for. That way, when something goes wrong, I can sort it out for them, rather than beat myself up and let it impact my output.

My indecision meant that as I reached the end of the year, I’d still not parted ways with my agent. I had a great new book, and there was a part of me that was like “perhaps she’ll like this one”, despite her having told me that she doesn’t like contemporary fantasy.

So I came to the conclusion that this book would be the first of books I release under my own name. I felt like releasing Black as Knight would be too obvious, and give people the wrong impression that my decision to go self-published was purely based on rejection sensitivity. Black as Knight will be coming, but not before 2025.

In December, I finally parted ways with my agent. No drama or hard feelings. I’d always said that it would either be the greatest or worst decision, and you know, a few weeks on… I’m feeling optimistic about the future. I have so much to do and (given that xmas is so disruptive) I’ve been itching to get on with it.

It means my gaming is probably going to take a hit. I remain, as always, a World of Warcraft fan. I still raid, but I can only make one night a week, so my gear score has suffered. I’ve been enjoying dragonflight but I burned out on Mythic+ by the summer. A couple of friends and I started a new Minecraft survival server and that’s proved to be a lot of fun as we’ve built huge bases. I’ve spent some time over xmas working on a netherbase. I want this to be something we dip in and out of. I took some time off to play a bit of Balder’s Gate 3 – clearly game of the year for me – and it was great to come back and find one of my friends had done loads to our main base. Likewise, he has been away so it’s been fun to do some stuff with the netherbase ready for his return.

I’ll probably still dip into games throughout 2024. There’s a new Warcraft Expansion I’ll take holiday for, but I want to use some of that on writing conferences. I just hope I avoid Covid this time, as long covid serious wrecked parts of my year.

2023 was my year of making. I made 5 books, I made a swordfighting school, I made big decisions. Sure, I never got to everything, but I’ve always been about setting my goals impossibly high and enjoying the result. I felt I made a lot.

2024 is about building my writing career. I realise that in many ways I’m starting from 0 again. Sure, the pen names have given me a lot of insight and knowledge so I’m not coming into this green. Those books still earn royalties as well.

But I’m building my name from nothing. I have to build a portfolio of books as me, and I doubt I’ll see any traction until I’m 5 books in. That’s a lot of hard work and comes with its own challenges, but that’s part of the fun of running a business. I’m determined to have fun doing so, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges.

So it’s probably no surprise that 2024 is going to be my Year of Business. It’s going to be exciting. I’ll be able to talk about books without fear of friend polluting my market data. I’ll be able to take what I’ve learned and apply it. But let’s not kid anyone… I need to write a lot.

However, I’ve set my target lower this year. With writing under my own name comes a lot of self-doubt so I’m going to be kind to myself. The aim is 8 instead of 12. The reality is hopefully 3 or 4.

We’ll see. As part of my promotion, I’ll be bringing back The Climb next year but probably as a weekly newsletter (although you may get it as a blog until I have all my newsletter funnels and magnets properly set up). I’m going to wait until I have a book to release before pushing ahead with marketing, but you should see me more active on socials this year. I need to learn TikTok.

2024 is going to be exciting and challenging, and that’s before the year has even begun. My aim is to write this update in a year’s time with several books released. If I can report that, then 2024 will have been a success.

But I have no doubt it’s going to be a wild ride.