My Big Decade: The first 4 years

Big Decade years

I’ve been on this Earth a bit over 64 years. Four years ago, I launched a Big Decade of goal-oriented daily obsession. I’ve run 11 Big Years since. Were they worthwhile?

As discussed a few days ago, my four grandiose writing-related Big Years packed a punch but were not unqualified successes. In contrast, as trumpeted yesterday, the three very different Big Years that targeted my body rather than my mind succeeded brilliantly.

At age 60, I envisaged some nutty cultural blitzes. “Read a book every day, Andres,” I promised, for example. Well, I’ve only tried one such Big Year, listening to a rock music every day over 2017. Although that habit hasn’t maintained much momentum, the Big Year was a hoot and hugely enriching. That said, I can’t see myself trying any other cultural extravaganzas for the next couple of year at least.

Something I did not imagine in 2015 was the idea of doing some interesting study each day, but I’ve tried the concept twice in recent years, with satisfying results. In 2018, my Tractor Big Year saw me committed to researching, each and every day, the vista of self publishing. Two mystery novels in late 2018 and early this year were the heart-warming result. And this year my Wings Big Year, covering the generalities of birds, has given my knowledge a fillip it wouldn’t otherwise have had. I don’t think 2020 will see any such “new knowledge” Big Year, but surely I’ll try something else in future years.

Weirdly, my 2018 Stillness Year, which involved only ten minutes a day of Headspace-app-based meditation, was a spectacular triumph. Who would have thought allocating so little daily time would add so much? Enriching my days with tiny stabs at something new will probably be a feature of the next six years.

Overall, the Big Decade idea rocks! I’ve worked harder, stayed healthier, learnt more, and added variety. Bring on the next six years, I say.

2018 Roundup: The Tractor Big Year

Tractor Big Year

For eleven months I spent an hour each day steadily, patiently, accruing knowledge about self publishing. No cramming, no stress, just rewarding daily self-schooling.

The upshot? I published.

Enough said.

PS – I make it sound too simple, it wasn’t easy to “fit this in.” But obsessiveness works.

Tractor Big Year: You’d think photos would be easy

Amidst time pressures, I’m managing to stick to an hour of afternoon time on researching “how to publish.” Now that the crime novel is out there, I reckon I understand at least the basics of general self-publishing. I’ve turned back to researching what I’ll need to do extra for the nuclear history book, and my first topic of research is photographs.

Histories contain photos. Where do you get photos from? Well, you can’t just cut and paste them from Google. Using a seemingly public Internet photo might be okay for a Facebook post that only a handful of friends see, but if you stick an image, unacknowledged, in a book you’re selling, there is a real risk that the image’s copyright owner will come to hit you.

One source of photos is image databanks run as businesses. Shutterstock is the one used by most general image users. Shutterstock images aren’t always cheap but mostly they’re modestly priced. But surprise, surprise, Shutterstock doesn’t have many nuclear history photographs of use to me.

Getty Images owns what might be the world’s best images. They charge accordingly. The Getty collection has some brilliant, relevant photos. Searching for “Walter Zinn,” one of my main characters, produces six photos, four of them relevant (I feature a screen shot, blurred somewhat, assuming this quirky blog won’t thereby incur copyright wrath). One of them is an image I have never seen before, one never used in any book. I take a look: it costs $650 and is “editorial only,” which I take to mean can’t be used in a commercial book!

Imagine my disappointment!

Floundering, my big years are floundering . . .

Floundering of Big Years

A minor cold and suddenly it’s clear 2018 won’t offer case studies of how transformative Big Years can be. My Stillness Big Year – 10 minutes of Headspace a day – still works but that’s only because it’s trivially simple. The others:

1,000 Big Year: I don’t come anywhere near 1,000 words written a day, I’m not waking early, work is being done but probably the wrong work . . . you get the picture.

Freshness Big Year: Injury plus cold plus another cold mean all my annual targets are shot and I haven’t cycled in a fortnight.

Tractor Big Year: My afternoon one-hour “study how to publish and prosper” routine still gets honored in the breech (I’m learning heaps as I get Deadly Investment into online bookshops) but its regularity, that soothing regularity, has vanished.

Time to regroup . . . the very fact that I keep having to regroup every couple of months suggests the design of the 2018 Big Years was badly flawed . . . ah well, time to regroup . . .

Tractor Big Year: The weird wonderful 21st century world of books

Sometimes my everyday research into self publishing reinforces how cataclysmic the commercial forces operating in 2018 are. One the one hand, nearly everyone around me, in my age group, sees writers as these tortured beasts sporadically spitting out masterworks: just witness the media frenzy over “Bridge of Clay”, the upcoming release by Markus Zusak, who unexpectedly took the world by storm with “The Book Thief,” and then spent thirteen years on the follow-up. At the other extreme, I’m in a closed Facebook group called 20BooksTo50K, based around the concept that if you author twenty books, an annual income of $50,000 should be achievable. Today, I was fascinated by a writer wondering aloud on 20BooksTo50K what she should expect from her first Amazon ebook (hey, just like me!), and receiving the message that “you should expect nothing at all, no attention,” with one commenter exciting me by suggesting this: “I’d be focusing on writing a shit ton more.”

What am I? The endless laborer or the prolific deliverer? Right now, I’m the former but hey, I could be the latter!

Tractor Big Year: So many different publishing strategies

Jane Friedman pointed me to a September 24 article by Hayley Cuccinello in Forbes magazine titled “$400M fiction giant Wattpad wants to be your literary agent.” Here’s another strategy I was essentially unaware of: write tons of stuff on Wattpad, a site for writing stuff on, and if you’re lucky Wattpad notices you and picks you up and pitches you to publishers, with high success rates. The article makes for fascinating reading.

If you’re fascinated by a topic, can I suggest a Big Year?

Three quarters of the way through the year and I’ve spent an hour each day reading and researching self-publishing and modern authorly marketing (that’s my Tractor Big Year, the title being a play on words of my upcoming book’s draft title). I have found it to be a most fascinating and effective educational process. Sure, some days it’s been tough to find time, amidst the press of urgent life matters, to seat myself down in the afternoon to read and take brief notes. But manage it I have and now I reckon I have a decent, rather deep understanding.
Look, I can’t say I’m an expert on this topic I’ve gradually immersed within. Any time I execute part of my strategy, say commissioning a cover, I need to revisit my notes and reading material, but what the Big Year does is give me confidence in my overall grasp. If you are intrigued by something, anything at all, be it Tudor England or robotics or Soviet espionage, do yourself a favor by assuaging the itch in a steady way: set up a Big Year!

100 days to go!

Urgency grips the geek. 100 days! Can he do it? So what if he does?

I’ve reassessed progress and prospects. The picture over the four Big Years isn’t pretty but each has lifted me for the better. Over the next week or so, I’ll reshape the four pushes towards December 31. Call me excited!

2018: Scrabbling back onto the rails

1,000 Big Year

In my experience it doesn’t take much to unscramble one’s determination. Over the last week I’ve been plumbing the dizzy heights and mired depths of self publishing (Deadly Investment, my first crime novel, approaches!). Commissioning professionals to assemble the book’s bits and pieces, trying to think in sales mode, planning detailed steps, all the while struggling with a leg injury . . .  I lapsed. I was laboring hard but all my Big Years momentarily faltered. I got up early but wasn’t drafting my big book (1,000 Big Year). Some hiking, biking, and gym kept me from ossifying but my exercise targets slumped (Freshness Big Year). I even missed a couple of Headspace days (Stillness Big Year). I did keep up the Tractor Big Year research into publishing (in fact that’s all I did). I drank wine and ate chocolate.

Yesterday the usual “why falter” gloom set in but today I’m reassembling my life. Back on track soon . . .

Tractor Big Year: Research is one thing, spending money is another

You read this, Google that, check out what other self publishers do, you take notes . . . daily fun and games, but at some point you move from research to action and then it’s all brand new. Case in point: when self publishing, you need to get a book cover. You can draw it yourself, or buy premade covers out of a catalogue, or you can commission a designer to dream one up for you. The third choice is the best, all your research tells you, because an amateurish cover is a kiss of death, so you roam the Internet for the right cover designer for you. Who has a good reputation? How many $s? Who is available (the best ones get busy pretty damned quick)? All of that is amenable to geeky analysis but one aspect isn’t: who designs beautifully, winningly? You eyeball their website pages with their portfolios of past covers and your stomach lurches. See, you don’t have a visual aesthetic sense at all. What to do? Only one choice: ask those of your friends with design instincts. You give them a choice of two or three and wait for feedback. How nervewracking!

Oh, remember Option 1 above, that of drawing your own cover? Here’s my attempt!