Posts Tagged New Year

2016 Retrospective

With 2017 fast approaching in this neck of the woods, it’s time for my annual year-in-review post.

I usually don’t have too many complaints in these posts, but I have to say 2016 really tested me. And it wasn’t just election-related!

It started with some health issues that began late last year, persisting into early summer. I had a bunch of doctor’s visits and several expensive tests, but there was no real insight into what was going on. Things improved in the second half of the year, thankfully. I still don’t have any idea what was going on, but I’m making an effort to get more rest these days. Work continues to be a major source of stress, unfortunately.

Once again we had several costly car repairs in the first half of the year. Both cars are over 10 years old, with mine almost 14. This ongoing hassle culminated in having to make a decision in May when my car broke down yet again. We had to consider either spending twice the value of the car on repairs, or junking it and getting a new one. We decided on the latter option after realizing we’d have to spend the equivalent of six months of car payments to fix it! As luck would have it, our mechanic was interested in the car (supercharger, anyone?) and ended up buying it. He got a great deal. As for us, we re-entered the world of car payments and bought a new 2016 Dodge Charger. Alas, a V8 Hellcat model was out of reach…

My writing goals for the year were pretty much a bust. I submitted way more stories this year, but didn’t write much new fiction. As with last year, the bulk of my spare time was occupied by working on apps. I released a new PC app, two new Mac apps, a new iOS app, and 33 app updates.

In February I self-published my short story, That Which Dwells Beneath, in eBook and paperback form. This story first appeared in Lovecraft eZine in 2014. That was a fun learning exercise, even though it didn’t sell much. My plan was to use the knowledge gained when launching my first novel. Incidentally, I didn’t work on the novel, other than to re-read parts of my 2011 NaNoWriMo effort.

I entered two flash fiction competitions during the year, this time for Escape Pod and Cast of Wonders. My Escape Pod entry made it past the first round, but not the second. It probably didn’t help that I wrote both at the last minute!

I read more writing books this year and took two classic Dean Wesley Smith writing workshops related to genre and writing in series. I also signed up for Mark Dawson’s Facebook Ads for Authors course when it was offered this past summer, as well as his new Self Publishing 101 course. All of the above were well worth it, though it’ll take awhile longer to get the full benefit from the FB Ads course.

This year I read a good amount, taking part again in the Goodreads Reading Challenge. My reading continued to be almost exclusively in eBook form. Here are my reads for 2016:

Zeroes by Chuck Wendig
Write to Market: Deliver a Book that Sells by Chris Fox
Irregular Creatures by Chuck Wendig
Zen of eBook Marketing by Guido Henkel
How to Write a Novella in 24 Hours by Andrew Mayne
Jumper: Karma Police Book One by Sean Platt & David Wright
Iterate and Optimize: Optimize Your Creative Business for Profit by Sean Platt, Johnny B. Truant & David Wright
Dead Man: Black Magic Outlaw #1 by Domino Finn
Cursed: The Thrice Cursed Mage #1 by J. A. Cipriano
Launch to Market: Easy Marketing for Authors by Chris Fox
Wrong Side of Hell: The DeathSpeaker Codex #1 by Sonya Bateman
Writing about Magic by Rayne Hall
Justice Calling: The Twenty-Sided Sorceress #1 by Annie Bellet
Blue Collar to No Collar: From Trucker to Bestselling Novelist in Two Years by Wayne Stinnett
Storm Front: The Dresden Files #1 by Jim Butcher
The Shambling Guide to New York: The Shambling Guides #1 by Mur Lafferty
Lustlocked: Sin du Jour #2 by Matt Wallace
Six Figure Author: Using Data to Sell Books by Chris Fox
The Forever Endeavor by Chuck Wendig
Karma Police: Karma Police Book Two by Sean Platt & David Wright
The Collectors: Karma Police Book Three by Sean Platt & David Wright
Ameriguns: A Thriller by Scott King
The 5 Day Novel by Scott King
Book Cover Secrets and Shortcuts: Book Cover Design for Everyone by Ed Lewis
Tales from the Loop by Simon Stålenhag

I continued listening to some great short fiction podcasts on my daily commute, including Escape Pod, Pseudopod, PodCastle, and Cast of Wonders. I highly recommend them, even to people who might not be short fiction readers. The podcasts are free, but please donate or subscribe if you enjoy listening.

Now for some stats:

2016 Stats:

New apps released: 4
App updates released: 33 (includes Lite and Paid versions)
2016 Word count: 1,513
Stories written: 2
Stories published: 1
Total submissions: 32
Total acceptances: 0
Total rejections: 32
Waiting for response: 0
Books read: 25
Comics read: 12

As previously mentioned, I did a tonne of work on my apps this year. I released 4 new apps and more updates than last year.

My iOS, Mac and PC apps continue to decline in sales, despite the release of new apps. Revenue is slightly lower than last year. My new apps tanked badly, but I’m hoping they’ll do better by next Spring, since gardening app sales are typically seasonal.

In mid-April I released a Mac version of my orchid collection tracking app, Orchid Album. Like the iOS and PC versions, this app is localized into 6 languages, including English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Portuguese.

October saw the release of both Mac and PC versions of my iOS cactus collection tracking app, Cactus Album. This year I’d localized the iOS app into an additional 6 languages (French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Thai), and likewise for the Mac and PC versions.

In December I beat the App Store shutdown deadline and released my first new iOS app in two years, Plant Album. This is a more general-purpose garden and plant tracking app for gardeners, localized into 6 languages, including English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Despite adding a few more Android test devices to my collection this year, I didn’t do much work on Bonsai Album for Android. I’m getting stuck into learning the platform from scratch (again!) and hope to complete the app in 2017.

I’ve abandoned the untitled shoot-em-up game I was working on late last year. It would’ve been too much effort and expense to bother with considering the totally flooded game market these days. It’s a pity, since I had a prototype working on iOS, Mac, and Apple TV with the same codebase, including game controller support on all three platforms.

My interest in bonsai this year was confined to keeping my trees alive. I didn’t attend any bonsai shows or botanic gardens this year. I also lost a handful more trees, due to the harsh winter and a squirrel (or was it a rabbit or raccoon?) chomping apart one of my tropical trees at the roots.

Travel-wise, this year we made a bunch of trips to Michigan as usual. We also visited Amish country in Indiana, and the Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio. No exotic Florida vacation this year!

I wasn’t terribly happy with my personal fitness in 2016. Between the aforementioned health issues and slacking off in the final few months of the year, I didn’t exercise anywhere near as much as I should have.

This year I voted as a U.S. citizen for the first time, voting in the Illinois primaries and the general election. I wasn’t happy with the result of either one, but at least I voted, unlike most of the population!

So that’s my 2016 in a nutshell. My 2016 goals were a total shambles, but that’s not going to stop me making plans for 2017! Here are my goals for 2017:

– Write more fiction and complete my first novel.

– Complete my first Android app (most likely Bonsai Album). I still need to finish off the iOS, Mac and PC updates for Bonsai Album I’ve been working on since Summer, but after that the decks should be clear to get cracking on Android.

– Get back into my usual exercise routine, at least 3 times per week.

– Spend more time in our garden. I worked on the veggie garden this year, but just about everything else was neglected. It has been depressing looking at some amazing photos of our garden from the past decade and realizing it hasn’t looked that great in many years.

I hope everyone had a decent year, and I wish you well as we head into 2017. Happy New Year!

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2015 Retrospective

With the start of a new year, it’s a good time for one last look back at the previous year.

I don’t have too many complaints about 2015. The day job was a madhouse for much of the year, involving stacks of overtime and some overseas travel. Both of our old cars continue to test the pocketbook, and finances will prevent their replacement anytime soon. On the bright side, I finally paid off my large medical bill, so that’s one less thing to worry about.

Revisiting my 2015 goals, I wasn’t able to focus on writing so much. I didn’t go back to my novel at all, though I wrote a bunch of short stories instead. I mostly expended a huge amount of effort on my apps. In addition to 20+ iOS app updates, I released 3 new PC apps and an Apple TV app.

During 2015 I wrote a new Lovecraftian story and a whole bunch of flash fiction. From the latter I selected the two best stories to enter the Pseudopod flash fiction competition. One of the two stories made it past the first round, but was knocked out in the second. It was loads of fun to create some glimpses of new worlds and characters, so it’s something I’d like to do more of in the future.

Last year I read several writing books and watched some James Patterson Master Class writing lectures, as well as another lecture by Dean Wesley Smith and the folks at WMG Publishing. While there were no mind-blowing revelations, there were plenty of cool things to add to my writing toolbox.

My experiments in self-publishing fell flat, leaving me to conclude that short stories are a very tough sell at the present time. Then again, I can’t discount the possibility that my stories really sucked!

I had one story enrolled in Kindle Unlimited (KU) for 3 months, but had zero borrows over that time. If you’re a reader signed up for a Kindle Unlimited subscription, you would’ve been able to read it for free (i.e. borrow). The economics of the program changed during the year, which means it’s no longer possible to earn substantially more per short story download from a KU borrow vs a direct purchase at 99 cents. What was odd was making a handful of sales after pulling that particular story from KU.

While sales at Amazon were bad, everywhere else was completely dismal (zero!). As a result, I have since made both stories permanently free on all eBook platforms. I’m now getting a steady trickle of downloads, but still only on Amazon.

I did okay with keeping my stories out for submission at traditional markets, but like always, could’ve done better.

In 2015 I read twice as many books as the previous year. It probably helped there weren’t too many phonebook-sized tomes in the list. I took part in the Goodreads Reading Challenge which was a great motivator. Like last year, I read almost exclusively in eBook form. Here are my 2015 reads:

Threshold by Sean Platt and David Wright
The Martian by Andy Weir
Supercharge Your Kindle Sales: Simple Strategies to Boost Organic Traffic on Amazon, Sell More Books, and Blow Up Your Author Mailing List by Nick Stephenson
The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig
Invasion by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant
Writing High-Performance .NET Code by Ben Watson
Alamo Rising by Josh Rountree and Lon Prater
Contact by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant
Reader Magnets: Build Your Author Platform and Sell More Books on Kindle by Nick Stephenson
Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker
Playing the Short Game: How to Market & Sell Short Fiction by Douglas Smith
Indie Author Survival Guide by Susan Kaye Quinn
5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter by Chris Fox
Colonization by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Lifelong Writing Habit: The Secret to Writing Every Day by Chris Fox
Build IOS Games with Sprite Kit: Unleash Your Imagination in Two Dimensions by Jonathan Penn and Josh Smith
Stories From July by Dean Wesley Smith
Fiction Unboxed by Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt
Envy of Angels by Matt Wallace

I continued to listen to short fiction podcasts on my daily commute via Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and PodCastle. I highly recommend them, even to people who might not be short fiction readers. The podcasts are free, but please send a few bucks their way if you enjoy listening.

Now for some stats:

2015 Stats:

New apps released: 4
App updates released: 21 (includes Lite and Paid versions)
2015 Word count: 13,958
Stories written: 14
Stories published: 0
Total submissions: 12
Total acceptances: 0
Total rejections: 12
Waiting for response: 0
Books read: 20
Comics read: 12

As mentioned above, I did a huge amount of work on my apps in 2015. I released 4 new apps and even more updates than last year.

My iOS and Mac apps continued their steady sales decline, with most almost reaching saturation point for their respective niches. Revenue for my iOS and Mac apps is roughly flat compared with the previous year. My PC apps didn’t do as well as expected, but they still helped minimize the impact of the lower sales of the rest.

Near the end of March I released Bonsai Album for PC. This is the PC version of my Mac bonsai tracking app, and it contains pretty much the same features. Like the Mac version, this app is localized into 7 languages, including English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, and Portuguese. There were some particular challenges on the PC platform with respect to obtaining a code-signing certificate and getting the licensing code working, but I was able to reuse this work in my other PC apps.

In mid-May I released the PC version of my submission tracking app for writers, Story Tracker.

In July I announced Bonsai Album for Android, taking my first tentative steps into Android app development.

September saw the release of the PC version of my iOS orchid collection tracking app, Orchid Album. Like the iOS version, this app is localized into 6 languages, including English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, and Portuguese.

In October I released an Apple TV version of my flying jackalope game, Flapalope. This was a fun exercise, since Apple TV apps are quite similar to iOS apps. I’m using the Cocos2D game development framework again. I also had fun creating a game trailer on YouTube. A single 99c purchase unlocks both the iOS and Apple TV versions. Unfortunately the Apple TV App Store launch was botched in the first few weeks, leading to most apps being difficult to find. The situation has only marginally improved since.

Despite having made a grand total of 63 cents from this new game, I was excited to work on another one. This time around it’s an untitled shoot-em-up, also done with Cocos2D. The prototype is already working on iOS, Mac, and Apple TV with the same codebase, and also has game controller support on all three platforms. I’m still trying to decide which direction I’ll take the game, but I’m hoping to release it sometime this year.

Another big milestone this year was finally obtaining my U.S. citizenship! I’ve been eligible to apply for years, but with the looming 10-year expiry and renewal of my greencard, it was time to do some serious thinking. I applied in January, studied furiously for the test, and the interview and subsequent ceremony was in May.

My interest in bonsai waned further in 2015. I lost a few more trees during the horrendous winter, which added to the tally from the previous winter. There were no new trees this year, either.

I attended one bonsai show at Morton Arboretum, but missed the big show at the Chicago Botanic Garden due to travel.

I didn’t take much time off in the first half of the year, but enjoyed having my parents visit during Summer. We spent some time with them in Milwaukee and upper Michigan before they headed to the next stop on their trip. Later, we went camping with the inlaws, and in December we headed to Florida for Christmas, visiting Daytona Beach, Saint Augustine, Epcot, Key West, and Legoland (including the new Legoland hotel).
I also had two week-long business trips in 2015, spending some time in Paris and Guadalajara. Alas, not as fun as they might sound.

I was fairly happy with my personal fitness in 2015. I made time for regular treadmill workouts, consistently exercising 3 times a week, except for travel weeks and when the treadmill died in February. Funnily enough, the treadmill died a week before its 10-year warranty expired, so we only had to pay for the labor cost of repairs.

That about sums it up for 2015. I like setting New Year’s goals, despite not always being able to meet them. Here’s what I’m planning for 2016:

– Number one goal this year is to complete my first novel. I’ve always wanted to have at least one under my belt before hitting 40, and time is fast running out!

– Further to the previous goal, I plan to focus on my writing this year, rather than sacrificing it for apps. This includes both writing more stories and substantially ramping up submissions.

– I plan to continue my usual exercise routine. It gets tougher with age, but the benefits are too great to pass up.

– I’d like to release my new shoot-em-up game on iOS, Mac, and Apple TV. I’ve spent a bunch of time on the prototype, and I’d hate for all that effort to go to waste.

So, that’s it for another year. I hope 2015 treated you well, and best wishes for the New Year!

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2014 Retrospective

Since we’re practically on the doorstep of 2015, it’s time for my traditional year-end post.

On the whole, 2014 was a pretty decent year for me. There was the usual work overtime madness and general stress, more car expenses, and paying completely out of pocket for last year’s medical issues, but other than all that, I personally didn’t have too much to complain about.

This year was a hard one for fans of genre fiction, with the tragic loss of two superb writers who passed long before their time, due to cancer. I’m referring to Jay Lake and Eugie Foster, though there were others not on my radar.

I’d followed Jay’s career since the early days, circa 2003. I consider him a mentor in my writing, as well as a fine upstanding human being. I only met him once (at Wiscon in 2006), but loved trying to keep up with his prolific output of short stories, and eagerly followed his writing process blog posts and news of his new novels. He was always willing to help and educate others, specifically other writers. He also grimly documented every detail in his battle with cancer, and successfully raised enough funds from a crowdfunding campaign to sequence his genome. The world is poorer for his loss, but I suspect in the years ahead his contributions will become more widely noticed.

While I’d never met Eugie, I’ve been following her work for 5 years or so, primarily podcasts of her short fiction. It was quite a shock to learn of her passing, since she was so young. If you haven’t yet checked out any of her work, please visit her website and start exploring her bibliography.

Back to my 2014 goals, I completely flubbed my “write more” goal, though this was intentional, as I’ll discuss in a moment. I released 3 new iOS apps and one new Mac app, along with updates for all the above, and just about completed a new PC app. I also began my first tentative steps into the indie-eBook publishing world.

Let’s start with the fiction. I’ve been writing fiction on and off for over 10 years now, and during that time I’ve made a few hundred dollars in short story sales. My plan for 2014 was to kick my writing into high gear, increasing my word count, increasing submissions, and hopefully increasing sales. I was off to a good start in the first few days of the New Year, completing a new short story.

What derailed all this was the huge medical bill from last year, which the health insurance company decided they wouldn’t cover at all. I fought it tooth and nail for about 6 months before all avenues of appeal were exhausted. As a result, I decided to invest most of my spare time on app development, in an attempt to raise the necessary funds. This wasn’t entirely successful either, but I did what I could.

Halfway through the year I was pleased with an acceptance from Lovecraft eZine for my short story, That Which Dwells Beneath. That was finally published in issue #33, which came out over the weekend. You can read it here. It’s free to read on the website, with a podcast version soon to come, along with Kindle and Nook eBooks.

During the year I watched a bunch more writing lectures by Dean Wesley Smith and the folks at WMG Publishing. While not always full of earth-shattering tips, they always have lots of good, no-nonsense advice. Highly recommended.

Toward the end of the year I set myself an internal goal of self-publishing at least one short story online, to be available through Amazon and various other eBook venues. I had a few stories in mind, but didn’t get cracking on this until December. It entailed learning about cover design and eBook formatting, among other things. After watching a few WMG Publishing cover design lectures and reading Guido Henkel’s Zen of eBook Formatting, I set to work. The first story, Back Again, is available for sale direct from my website, as well as on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, and Nook.

Upon returning from our trip to Florida, I began work on publishing a second story online. Originally titled, The Diary of Amelia Burke, this is now available exclusively with Amazon with the title, Night Lights. Why exclusive, you might ask? This is all part of my experiment. If the story is available exclusively with Amazon, it’s automatically enrolled with Kindle Unlimited (KU). If you’re a reader signed up for a Kindle Unlimited subscription, you get to read it for free. Despite that, the economics of the program mean it’s currently possible to earn substantially more per short story download from a KU borrow ($1 or more) vs a direct purchase at 99 cents (35 cents or so). I’ll be curious to see how this pans out.

I wasn’t diligent about keeping my stories out for submission, so the submission count is pretty anemic this year. It didn’t help that I didn’t have many new stories to submit, either. I plan to address both issues in 2015.

I was reasonably happy with my volume of reading this year. I read the same number of books as last year, but the page count was much higher:

Fat Vampire Value Meal (Fat Vampire #1-4) by Johnny B. Truant
The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers
Zombie Cop by Ben Settle
Replay by Ken Grimwood
Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig
Writer Dad by Sean Platt
Microsoft Visual C# 2013 Step by Step by John Sharp
The Dark Tower (Book 7) by Stephen King
Zen of eBook Formatting by Guido Henkel
Crash by David W. Wright

Between finally finishing Stephen King’s conclusion to the Dark Tower series (I’m ignoring The Wind Through the Keyhole here) and a hefty C# programming tome, I wasn’t able to read as much fiction as I would’ve liked. I also delved more into self-published works, which weren’t all to my liking (see my goodreads ratings). Aside from the programming book, I read exclusively in eBook form this year.

This year I continued to listen to short fiction podcasts on my daily commute via Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and PodCastle. The quality continues to be incredible, and I highly recommend them, even to people who might not be big short fiction readers. The podcasts are free, but please send a few bucks their way if you enjoy listening.

Now for some stats:

2014 Stats:

New apps released: 4
App updates released: 13 (includes Lite and Paid versions)
2014 Word count: 4,930
Stories written: 1
Stories published: 3
Total submissions: 4
Total acceptances: 1
Total rejections: 4
Waiting for response: 0
Books read: 10
Comics read: 16

As I briefly mentioned above, I doubled down on app development in 2014. While not releasing quite so many updates, I did release 4 new apps on iOS and Mac, as well as substantially completing work on a new PC app.

The scary thing I’ve noticed is that either the bottom has fallen out of the app market in the last 18 months, or my apps are reaching saturation for their respective niches. My year-over-year revenue is only marginally up, despite releasing more apps and updates, as well as localizing Bonsai Album for a supposedly huge market (China). As far as the China app market, I’d say it’s great to localize for free apps and games, but probably not worth the time for paid productivity apps, unless you have a high-volume app (i.e. not in a niche).

Since there seems to be little interest from Apple in promoting charging for app upgrades, and attempting paid upgrades on your own seems to lead to customer revolt, it’s going to become increasingly difficult to justify updating older apps. Even the market for new apps seems to be drying up due to the intense level of competition these days. At this point my only hope for continuing to develop apps is to release fewer updates, and hope for the PC versions to take off in a big way.

Getting back on track, in February I released Cactus Album on the iOS platform. This is a similar app to my other plant care app, Bonsai Album, except taking into account the unique requirements for tracking cacti and succulents.

March saw the release of my first iOS game, Flapalope. It’s a free game with ads, and my take on the flappy genre. I’m pleased with how it turned out, even if it is the world’s greatest flying jackalope game that hardly anyone played.

In June I released Orchid Album, also on iOS. You can probably guess what this one does. I learned quite a bit about orchids in the preceding months while doing research for the app, gaining a new appreciation for the plants. In my usual fashion, I became a little fanatical about collecting them.

In July I released a paid version of Flapalope, with the imaginative title, Flapalope Gold. I’m not counting this as a new app, since it’s exactly the same as the original, just minus the ads. Again, this sank without a trace, and wasn’t really worth the week or so of development time.

Also in July I started learning a new programming language (C#), and became heavily involved in development of the PC version of Bonsai Album. The learning curve was quite steep compared with Mac and iOS development, but I think I’m getting the hang of things at this point. All the major features are now complete, though I still have another 6 weeks or so of tidying up details in preparation for the beta test. Following completion of Bonsai Album for PC, I’m also planning a version of Story Tracker for PC.

In early August I learned the 2D game development framework Cocos2D could also be used to create Mac games. Feeling positively frazzled from PC development, I took a short detour to work on my first Mac game. And thus, Flapalope for Mac was born! Again, nobody seemed too interested unless I dropped the price to free. Oh, well. At least I can say I’ve cornered the market on flying jackalope games on two platforms…

2014 was a discouraging year for my interest in bonsai. After one of the worst winters on record, I lost at least 7 trees due to the extreme cold. Some of these trees I’d been working on for years, so it was quite a blow to realize they were dead. A few other trees I’m still holding out hope for, though their chances aren’t good. Some surprised me, springing back to life during the summer, long after they normally would have in early spring.

I only made it to one Midwest Bonsai Society meeting this year. It was a memorable one, with renowned bonsai artist Walter Pall in town to demonstrate his carving skills. I was simply working too much overtime to be able to make it to more meetings.

I attended two bonsai shows this year, one at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and one at Morton Arboretum. I didn’t attend any bonsai workshops, being so demotivated about the hobby this year. I added one new tree to my collection (Hinoki Cypress), along with a large number of cacti, succulents, and orchids.

While I hardly took any time off in the first half of the year, we still managed to make some trips to Michigan and the UP in the second half, as well as northern Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Dells. A surprise from the inlaws was spending Christmas week in Florida. We took two days to drive there and two to drive back. While in Florida we visited Legoland, the Magic Kingdom, and the Florida Aquarium, among others. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, though the temperature change from 70F to 7F on the way back was a bit hard to take!

For the first time in my life I was very happy with my personal fitness this year. I made time for regular treadmill workouts, though I decided to skip weight training to save time, and due to my history of injury. I consistently exercised 3 times a week, with only the occasional week skipped due to travel. I’m counting 119 workouts this year, which is probably equal to the combined total for the last couple of years.

That’s about it for 2014. Since I’m a total sucker for New Year’s goal setting, even though I can’t always meet them, here’s what I’m planning for 2015:

– Stick with the exercise routine as much as possible. As I’m getting older, I’m learning it pays not to play games with your health. Regular exercise is great for keeping some of those age-related aches and pains away, as well as contributing to a more relaxed state of mind.

– Complete the PC versions of Bonsai Album and Story Tracker. I’m still behind on iOS app updates, so those might need to take priority early in the New Year.

– Finally complete my first novel. This has languished on my hard drive for years, so it’s time to dust it off and get it done.

– Continue experimenting with self-publishing and also continue submitting my work to publishers. I’m still a strong believer in submitting short stories to traditional markets, but not so much when it comes to novel-length work.

– Emphasize fiction writing over apps. I sacrificed my writing efforts this year, and I don’t want to do that again in 2015.

That about wraps things up. I hope you also had a decent year, and that 2015 turns out to be even better. Happy New Year!

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2013 Retrospective

Now that we’re entering the final hours of 2013, it’s time for my usual yearly wrap-up!

I was generally pretty happy with 2013. Other than a bunch of work-related stress, an unreliable car, and a health scare near the end of the year, things worked out quite well. I met some of my goals and didn’t do so great on others. I released a few new Mac apps this year and tonnes of updates for my iOS apps, began the arduous task of learning to write PC apps again, and restarted my fiction writing, among other things.

About 10 years ago I started seriously writing fiction with the aim of submitting for publication. In the years prior I’d messed around with a bunch of stories, but more for fun and to see if I could revive a childhood dream. In the past five years I found myself drifting away from fiction writing, other than participating in NaNoWriMo in 2011 and 2012. These efforts produced a pair of incomplete novels which I haven’t returned to since. I still kept a handful of short stories in submission, but mostly focused my efforts on app development instead.

Then something cool happened a few days before Christmas last year. A short story I’d worked on with Samantha Henderson found a home at Lovecraft eZine, a fantastic short fiction market and promoter of all things H.P. Lovecraft. Our story, The Strange Tale of Samuel Winchester was eventually published in the April 2013 issue. This issue is also available in podcast form and on Kindle or Nook. Check it out if you’re into Lovecraftian tales, or short horror fiction in general.

The story publication renewed my interest in getting back to writing fiction, though with all my app-related efforts, I didn’t get stuck into writing again until later in the year. It took the discovery of some writing lectures by Dean Wesley Smith to really kick things into gear. I’d been reading his Writing in Public posts for several months, where he’d post about his day and what he accomplished. At some point he mentioned he’d put up a new writing lecture, which led me to find he’d actually been doing these most of the year. They’re not free, but I think anyone serious about writing fiction would find them worthwhile.

I also happened to come across a new Podcastle short fiction contest toward the end of August, so I got back into writing fiction with a few flash pieces for that. Neither story won, though both were well received. After that I briefly started writing a short story per week, until the urgent need to work on iOS 7 app updates and some health problems derailed the effort. Despite the setback, I had more stories out for submission than I’d had in years. On the down side, that also meant a hefty boost to the rejection count which is rapidly approaching a total of 200!

I would’ve liked to have done more reading this year, but it’s always one of the things to get cut back when I’m busy. Still, it’s a decent amount more than last year:

Alex Jordan: Architect of His Own Dream by Doug Moe
The Last Revelation of Gla’aki by Ramsey Campbell
Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry by David Robertson
Starve Better: Surviving the Endless Horror of the Writing Life by Nick Mamatas
Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should by David Gaughran
Wool (Omnibus) by Hugh Howey
2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love, by Rachel Aaron
Jay Lake’s Process of Writing by Jay Lake
Fat Vampire by Johnny B. Truant
Write. Publish. Repeat. (The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success) by Sean Platt & Johnny B. Truant

The reading list was heavy on non-fiction and writing books this year, so I’m itching to read more fiction next year. For the first time I read more in the form of eBooks than in paper.

This year I spent my daily commutes listening to stacks of short fiction via Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and PodCastle. If you’re into genre fiction, you can’t afford to miss these. They put out some excellent work from great writers past and present, and the podcasts themselves are free. That said, they rely on donations to keep things going. If you like what you hear, send a few bucks their way and spread the word.

I’m admittedly a numbers junkie, so now it’s time for some stats:

2013 Stats:

New apps released: 2
App updates released: 34 (includes Lite and Paid versions)
2013 Word count: 23,894
Stories written: 6
Stories published: 1
Total submissions: 16
Total acceptances: 0
Total rejections: 11
Waiting for response: 5
Books read: 10
Comics read: 38

This year was a busy time for new apps and updates. Not only did I need to keep on top of a bunch of large updates for my existing iOS apps, Story Tracker, Artwork Tracker, and Bonsai Album, but I also worked on a few new ones.

In April I released Bonsai Album for Mac via the Mac App Store, with a trial version and direct purchase also available via my website. Like the iOS version, this one is localized into six languages, including Japanese, Spanish, Italian, French, German, and Portuguese. Thanks again to the app localization services of iCanLocalize and the Linguan app.

Artwork Tracker for Mac came out in early August via the Mac App Store, and also with a trial version and direct purchase available via my website. In November I realized I hadn’t released a new iOS app in over 2 years, so I began brainstorming app ideas. Later that month I announced a new iOS app, Cactus Album, for cacti and succulent enthusiasts. I’m making good progress on that, and there’s a post with an early screenshot.

Not to forget, I’m still puttering away with some PC apps. In January I announced Story Tracker for PC, and in April, Bonsai Album for PC. Work on these is progressing with painful slowness, since I have to start from scratch and learn how to develop everything for the PC. Unfortunately I’m finding PC app development to be a great deal more difficult than for the Mac, despite once being fairly proficient in PC development over a decade ago. Things have changed a lot in the past ten years!

I’m still a member of the Midwest Bonsai Society, but I don’t think I made it to a single meeting this year, due to them coinciding with overtime at work or vacation plans. I attended the two shows they run at the Chicago Botanic Garden, as well as several workshops (Cork-Bark Maple, Japanese Black Pine, and Hornbeam) and visiting bonsai artist Bjorn Bjorholm’s exhibit critique of the August show. I also added a few other new trees to my collection (Shimpaku Juniper and Dwarf Crape Myrtle), along with a nice Sara Rayner pot for my first bonsai. And thanks to working on Cactus Album, I seem to have caught the cactus bug again!

This year we made a bunch of short trips throughout Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. We spent some time at the Wisconsin Dells, and spent 5 weeks with my parents (from Australia), who were visiting in Spring. The definite highlights were our visit to The House on the Rock, a riverboat cruise down the Illinois River, and our gastronomic tour of the region. We also spent some quality time with some other guests from Downunder, including my youngest sister and her husband, and my best mate.

I was doing great with my personal fitness until about April, when I ate far too much and exercised far too little. I resumed the exercise routine later in the year, but that was soon derailed by health problems and travel. Finding time for regular exercise continues to be a struggle.

So that was 2013. On the eve of the New Year, I’d like to come up with a few personal goals for 2014…

I’m planning to ease back into the exercise routine in 2014, with running and possibly adding some weights back into the routine. This is probably going to be the toughest thing to stick with throughout the year!

With my apps, I’ll be releasing Cactus Album to the App Store early in the year, with a possible Mac version to follow if the iOS app does well. While I expect I’ll still need to release some updates for my other iOS apps, I’d like to devote more time to getting the PC apps up and running. With the way the app market is these days, it’s becoming increasingly difficult (and expensive) to justify continuing to update older apps for free. I’m not sure what to do about that, other than to spend more time working on new apps.

As for writing, I was all set to post some insanely ambitious goals, but instead I’ll keep the goal simple: write more. That pretty much covers everything I planned to say anyway 😉

Have a happy and productive 2014!

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2012 Retrospective

As 2012 draws to a close, it’s time for another retrospective blog post!

Personally, I don’t have too many complaints about 2012. I accomplished some of my goals for the year, fell short in others, and learned a whole bunch. Work at the day job was interesting and challenging, yet I still managed to carve out time for my after-hours hobbies. I finally released my first Mac app, released a heap of updates for my iOS apps, learned even more about Bonsai than I’d hoped, and came to terms with some truths about my writing. I’m disappointed I didn’t accomplish some of my goals, but that just gives me something to strive for next year.

For many years I’ve drifted in and out of fiction writing, since my first efforts in 2003 where I changed from a mindset of writing for my own enjoyment to writing for publication. Over the past 4 years my efforts have dwindled to the point where I’m really just keeping stories in circulation, and not actively writing much new material. I spend most of my spare time working on apps these days, leaving little time for fiction writing.

Last year I took part in my first NaNoWriMo and learned a lot about the craft of novel-writing, despite not reaching the 50,000 word goal. What I ended up with was two-thirds of a novel and a decent outline for the rest. It was the longest single piece of fiction I’d ever written, and I was understandably chuffed and looking forward to finishing it in 2012. Due to apps eating my spare time, I never got around to it. As November approached, I again decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, and in keeping with the spirit of the thing, I planned to work on my 2nd novel. Unfortunately I didn’t get started until a few days into November, and progress was painfully slow. It took a further week before ideas started to gel, but by then I’d begun to get discouraged and felt little motivation to plow ahead for the rest of the month. It didn’t help that I still had some urgent app updates to work on, along with a strong desire to get started on a new Mac app.

So writing-wise, 2012 was a huge disappointment. That said, a few days before Christmas I received a nice email: an acceptance from an editor of a cool online fiction market for a short story I’d collaborated on with Samantha Henderson. We were both pleased our little tale found the perfect home. I look forward to announcing the story and venue closer to actual publication.

I’d planned to do a lot more reading this year, but this didn’t work out too well, as you can see from the extremely short list below:

Horns by Joe Hill
Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

All were fantastic reads, so I’m pleased that what little reading time I had was well-spent.

I made good use of my daily commutes. I found myself drifting away from the comics podcasts I’d typically listen to, instead switching to a regular dose of short fiction through a wonderful trio of podcasts: Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and PodCastle. It was like revisiting an old friend after a long absence, finding them to be just as delightful as you’d remembered. If you’re an avid genre fiction reader with time for podcasts, I recommend these three wholeheartedly. Not only do they showcase some excellent work, but they’re also free, operating on a donation model. Throw a few bucks their way, if you can. You’ll be helping to fund some of the best short fiction produced today.

No retrospective would be complete without some stats:

2012 Stats:

New apps released: 1
App updates released: 28 (includes Lite and Paid versions)
2012 Word count: 4,382
Stories written: 0 (novels still in progress!)
Total submissions: 3
Total acceptances: 1
Total rejections: 2
Waiting for response: 0
Books read: 3
Comics read: 42

My app plans for 2012 were fairly aggressive. I planned to release my first Mac app, Story Tracker for Mac, along with releasing a bunch of updates to my three existing iOS apps: Story Tracker, Artwork Tracker, and Bonsai Album. For the latter, I planned to localize the app into several languages.

The Mac app took longer than expected, but I finally released it for direct-sale and via the Mac App Store in September. You can read all about the trials and tribulations of Mac app development here and here. It’s already received some good reviews from AppStorm and AppModo. Having gained a good feel for Mac development, in mid-July I announced a Mac version of Bonsai Album. That’s coming along nicely. I’ve posted an early screenshot, and I’m on track to release the app in spring 2013.

From May through October, I localized Bonsai Album into six languages, including Japanese, Spanish, Italian, French, German, and Portuguese. While it wasn’t a trivial exercise, the process was made much easier by using the app localization services of iCanLocalize and managing the translated strings using the superb Linguan app. Feedback from customers was fantastic, which was one of the key reasons behind my decision to bring the app to the Mac. If you’re curious about what localization can do for your app, consider this: over 60% of the sales of Bonsai Album come from outside the US, and over 40% are from non English-speaking countries. The app market is global, and your customers definitely appreciate localization efforts.

In addition to putting a lot of effort into the user interface on Story Tracker for Mac, I tried to improve my icon design skills. I found the Icon Resource videos to be quite useful, and spent many hours translating what I’d learned into designing icons in Inkscape. While it’s by no means perfect, I’m pleased with how the icon for Story Tracker for Mac turned out. I’ve come a long way from my first effort on the iOS version of Story Tracker! I took what I’d learned from the Mac icon and gave the iOS version a much needed update, too.

This year I attended a handful of monthly meetings of the Midwest Bonsai Society, along with the shows they run at the Chicago Botanic Garden. This year I visited 3 Bonsai shows, two of which were at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and one at Morton Arboretum. I attended more workshops than in years past (Satsuki Azalea, Kingsville Boxwood, Bring-Your-Own-Tree, and Ponderosa Pine) and added a new tree to my growing collection (a Brazilian Raintree). I especially enjoyed Andy Smith’s Ponderosa Pine workshop – he really has an eye for great material and knows how to bring out the best in any tree of this species. For the Bring-Your-Own-Tree workshop with visiting master, Peter Warren, I brought along my Bald Cypress, and got some great hands-on tips and styling advice. Peter Warren’s exhibit critique of the August show was interesting and informative, which you can see here. While looking for bonsai pots online, I came across Iker Bonsai Pottery and found some great hand-crafted work. I ordered a nice pot for my new Boxwood there. This is one of those aspects of the hobby I haven’t paid much attention to until now. It’s like a whole other hobby in itself!

Things were pretty quiet travel-wise this year. We made some short road trips to Michigan and spent some time in Milwaukee and Door County in Wisconsin. Closer to home, we stayed at the incredible Ravenstone Castle B&B in Harvard, Illinois.

As usual, my personal fitness varied throughout 2012. I was off to a strong start, keeping a regular routine until May or June when I began putting even more time into the apps. I returned to my regular workouts in late November and again learned why it’s always better to avoid long gaps between workouts.

Though I always seem to have trouble meeting my personal goals for the New Year, I just can’t help myself from coming up with more. So here I go for 2013…

I got a bit out of shape later in the year, so I want to try to avoid that in future. I intend to maintain my workouts in 2013, but most definitely do not plan to participate in any marathons or other extreme contests of strength or endurance!

For apps, it goes without saying I’ll need to work on updates for my existing apps. In particular, I have some cool stuff in mind for Story Tracker and Bonsai Album. Bonsai Album for Mac will be my first priority, though. I’d also like to come up with something new. The financial return from my huge time investment in apps is still very modest indeed, and it’d be great to come up with some app ideas that really take off.

I enjoy working on the app stuff, but would like to dedicate more time to writing in 2013. I also need to read more than a paltry handful of books! At this stage I can’t see myself participating in NaNoWriMo next year, since I have more than enough on my plate with two novels to finish. I also plan to write some new short stories and get some of my inventory out into circulation again. It’s going to be a tough juggling act, for sure.

Best wishes for 2013, and I hope you have a happy and productive New Year!

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2011 Retrospective

During the first few minutes of 2012, it’s time to cast one final glance back at 2011 for my traditional year-end retrospective.

Overall I’d say 2011 was a good year. While there was still some overtime at the day job, it didn’t seem to be quite as insanely busy as 2010, and I was able to devote a fair amount of time to after-hours pursuits. I released a new iOS app and tonnes of updates for all of my apps, attended more Bonsai meetings and workshops, visited Disney World, and wrote two-thirds of a novel. Not bad at all.

Since 2008 my fiction writing has essentially been non-existent, with only minimal effort devoted to submitting stories to various markets and keeping them in circulation. Even this died down to nothing in 2011. The bulk of my spare time was devoted almost entirely to app development and marketing. Writing and maintaining apps, dealing with customer support, and somehow trying to get the word out in a crowded marketplace all takes a huge amount of effort. I think this is something many writers would agree applies equally to writing, especially now that many are finding their way in the eBook market and exploring self-publishing. By October it was looking like yet another year would pass without any new activity on the writing front. And then in the final week of October, I got caught up in the excitement of various blog and Twitter posts talking about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, for short). In years past I’d toyed with the idea of participating, but quite frankly the idea scared the hell out of me, and it was always easy to dismiss it and use excuses like the massive time commitment required, or not having a novel-sized idea in mind. In that final week of October, the idea that I should finally throw my hat into the ring and participate became steadily more insistent. So without having a clue about what to write, in a brief blog post I announced my insane plan to try to write a novel in a month. As the last of the trick-or-treaters left our front porch on Halloween night, I threw together some rough ideas that would soon snowball into a novel. While I didn’t meet the 50,000 word quota, I wrote consistently throughout November and learned a tremendous amount about what it takes to write a novel. By the end of the month the novel-in-progress had become the longest single piece of fiction I’d ever written. The momentum came to an abrupt halt in early December when I felt burnt-out and decided to relax and spend more time with family. That, and some quality time with the Portal, Portal 2, and Left 4 Dead games 😉 After all, I’d spent most of my evenings and weekends in November hunched in front of the computer working on my novel…

If there’s one thing I regret, it’s that I wasn’t able to read more fiction. Even my comic reading took a back seat to the writing and app work. Here’s my paltry list of reads for 2011:

Drawing out the Dragons
Elephantmen, HC Vol 1 – Wounded Animals
Invincible Ultimate Collection, HC Vol 3
How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months
No Plot? No Problem!

Audio books used to be how I kept myself amused during workouts and the daily commute, but this year I continued listening mostly to music or podcasts. Among my favourites were the Comic Geek Speak podcast, and the Comic Book page podcasts (The Mayo Report and Spotlight episodes).

Here are some of the various statistics I’ve been keeping track of each year:

2011 Stats:

New apps released: 1
App updates released: 24 (includes Lite and Paid versions)
2011 Word count: 35,769
Stories written: 0 (novel still in progress!)
Total submissions: 0
Total acceptances: 0
Total rejections: 0
Waiting for response: 0
Books read: 5
Comics read: 89

When 2011 arrived, my app plans for the year were fairly hazy. I knew I’d be updating my two existing iOS apps, Artwork Tracker, and Story Tracker, incorporating feedback from customers and generally adding more polish. I knew the Mac App Store was to be announced early in the new year, but I wasn’t yet committed to developing for the new platform. That soon changed when I had a chance to play around with it and download some apps for myself. The ease of use was astonishing, and it didn’t take long for me to realize this would be a fun and viable new platform for app development. I posted some thoughts, including the announcement of Story Tracker for Mac. So began several months of study and initial development on the new app. Unfortunately this proved to be more complicated than I thought, and several new developments conspired to make life difficult: iOS5, iCloud, and OS X Lion. With iOS5, I would have to re-test and update my iOS apps, and the impending arrival of Lion and iCloud would mean I’d need to either upgrade my slow, aging Mac to Lion (and not be able to test on OS X Snow Leopard, the other Mac App Store platform), or buy a new Mac. Finances being what they were, the latter was not an option in mid-2011. Meanwhile, I’d had an intriguing idea for a new iOS app. I’d been looking for an app to keep track of my Bonsai collection and various related activities, but there were slim pickings on the App Store. As soon as I’d wrapped up some updates to my existing apps, I wrote up some requirements for a new app called Bonsai Album and wrote a quick blog post about it. I put everything else on the back burner and spent the next three months working on Bonsai Album. On October 6th, it landed on the App Store. Initial feedback from the Beta testers was promising, and since then I’ve been very pleased with how well it has been received. Bonsai Album has been reviewed by App Advice, and even got a mention in the Midwest Bonsai Society newsletter (my club!), among others. While the app has had only modest success so far, it’s doing far better in its first few months on the App Store than either of my other two apps did. While I’m still yet to recoup my overall development costs for all three apps, 2011 is the first year in which I’ve made a small profit.

I continued to attend the monthly meetings of the Midwest Bonsai Society in 2011, along with the shows they run at the Chicago Botanic Garden. This year I again visited 4 Bonsai shows, three of which were at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and one at Morton Arboretum. I also attended 2 workshops (Satsuki Azalea, and Pomegranate) and added a new tree to my growing collection (a Bald Cypress). I’ve learned a little more about the art of Bonsai this year, unfortunately mostly related to the impact of pests and long-delayed repotting. Like most things, I anticipate this hobby will involve a lifetime of learning.

We didn’t plan much travel this year. We’d intended to just make some short road trips to Michigan and Wisconsin, but that was about it. What actually ended up happening was a totally unexpected trip to Disney World in Florida with my wife’s parents. We decided to make a big trip of it and spent a few days at each of the parks: The Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and the Animal Kingdom. We also made some side-trips to visit SeaWorld and Cape Canaveral, including catching up with some Florida-based relatives. We had an absolute blast, and our trip was definitely the big highlight of the year. For Thanksgiving this year we spent some quality time in Green Lake, Wisconsin.

One of my goals for 2011 was to get back into a regular workout habit. I managed to keep at it for about half the year, until hurling myself back into app development and writing the novel. I returned to it in December and promptly realized exactly how out of shape I’d become. Ouch!

Sadly, I wasn’t able to make much of a dent in our massive photo backlog this year. I’m still over a year behind! I think it has helped having to at least keep ahead of my wife’s scrapbooking. When she needs the photos, I make the effort to get them organized in time.

As is usual in the waning hours of the year, I like to come up with goals and hatch devious plans for the New Year. So what’s cooking for 2012? I’m glad you asked 😉

I’d like to at least reach my previous level of fitness and build on that for 2012. I’m probably not going to bench press 170 lbs again anytime soon or start running marathons, but regular workouts and a decent level of fitness are definitely achievable. The pain of having to start all over again from square one should be sufficient motivation!

For apps, I’d like to put out more updates for my existing iOS apps, possibly including those much-requested language localizations for Bonsai Album. If the app continues to do well, that’s definitely on the cards. The big one, of course, is to finally launch Story Tracker for Mac. I know a lot of people have been waiting patiently for this one, and I hope they won’t have to wait too much longer. I finally bought that new Mac Mini, and I’ve spent the last few hours getting it all setup for app development. After I get Story Tracker for Mac out the door and have a few updates under my belt, then I’ll think about what comes next.

In 2012 I’d really like to get back into writing in a big way. Starting a new novel in 2011 was a good start, but now that I know what it takes, I’d like to build on that and finally break the writing drought of recent years. Task one will be to complete my novel, Plague Magic. You can track my progress on the sidebar on this blog. Task two is to get back into writing short stories and start submitting again. I may do some dabbling in self-publishing. I also plan to ramp up my fiction reading, not only for enjoyment, but also in support of my writing efforts. You can’t be a writer without being a reader, right? And though it’ll be a stretch, I plan to write at least one more novel in 2012.

While I intend to update the blog periodically, I spend most of my social networking time on Twitter these days. I mostly follow other iOS developers, writers, and Bonsai fiends. You can look me up at @andrewnicolle.

I wish everyone the best for 2012, and hope you have a happy and productive New Year!

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