"Year of Foundations" in Review

Today, I'm taking a hard look at what I've accomplished this year as 2015 comes to a close. It's important to measure your progress if you want to properly manage your goals. What you're not measuring, you're not managing.

This year was my Year of Foundations, and I've done a lot of horizontal groundwork in order to have a proper platform to begin building my verticals. This year was filled with trial and error, but in the end, I've accomplished much more than I actually thought I would.

You can find the original "Year of Foundations" goals post here, but I've included the text in this post so that you don't have to page hop.


Establishing My Brand

I do a lot of different things because I enjoy having one foot in one project while another rests in something different. I play, write, and record music. I work for a tech company. I write stories. I try (though I sometimes fail) to also be a very available father. I can’t do everything I want to do, but I can strike a balance between the things I like the most.
I need to be able to have a ‘brand.’ Doing so many loosely related projects does little to build a career and I need to be able to give a sense of what I do in the smallest amount of time possible. I’ll be experimenting with what works best so that I can narrow down a mission statement and more specific long-term goals.

I’ve made some great progress on this front. My website redesign was a big piece of this puzzle. I cut down on what I feature on the site so that it’s a bit more focused. This way, it can be easily understood what the site has to offer. I created a “start here” page that explains what the site is about and directs people to where they need to go. There are quite a few more features, and they all will need to be refined as I build more content.

I’ve narrowed down my mission statement to this: “Create amazing things, share them with the world, and help others create amazing things.” Until I need to make a major pivot, this will guide everything I do for the foreseeable future.


Building My Platform

Jimwilbourne.com is going to be the cornerstone of my platform. I'm working on building it out and though there isn't much here yet, I have a lot of content in preparation. Most are my own creations, but some of it is content to help you create new things.
I also need to build relationships with those who enjoy my content both here and on social media. This will be a challenge and won't be a huge concern until I actually have more people checking on these channels.

I started 2015 with little more than a website and three books in development. I didn’t have much available, but now there are dozens of articles that are geared to helping others kickstart their creativity. Almost all of it is not even the content I planned to release. That content has been set aside until I’m in a better position to promote it (which will likely be after I have a few fiction works on the market).

I also wanted to build connections with readers and visitors. I’ve built relationships with a few people and I hope to find more people to connect with in 2016. It’s hard to find people who understand where you stand. I’m so grateful for all the engagement I’ve received, and I will continue to make it a point to further those connections.


Testing the Waters

This is primarily for my fiction. I haven't published anything yet and I don't completely understand how everything works under the hood. I hope to have the first book ready to go in Q4 of 2015. I'll be figuring out exactly how it works, what strategies work best for my distribution and what I need to do for my next releases.
I have a specific book for this. It's a side project and something I'm very okay with playing around with until I have a better feel of the market.

This goal took a turn. I had a very specific project that I wanted to use for this. It was a book in a market that’s very hard to sell. The goal wasn’t to sell a lot of books, but since this market isn’t very competitive, I realized that I could do better by making sure it was the best in its genre. Instead of pushing forward and finish building it, I decided I wanted to place it back in the incubator so that it can mature a bit more.

So, instead, I decided to start with a short story (which I released in Q4). I didn’t actually put it on any external markets, but I did place it on my site. Just to see what would happen. The splash wasn’t significant, but I didn’t expect much.

This may sound like I backed out of the goal because of fear or insecurities (and trust me, I asked myself if this was truly the reason over and over), but the route I’m taking is better if I’m to maximize my brand and launch efforts.

The first idea wasn’t in my primary genre and, therefore, off-brand. Releasing it would be purely for the sake of experiment because it wasn’t likely to attract my core audience. The second idea was much more inline with my needs, but I decided to push this back until I had several more stories to share.

My plan is to give them to my Founders first, then share them with the world in order to attract a few more readers before my first big project hits the market. The plan is more strategic and I think it’ll serve me better than my original idea. I’ll have less time to learn the ropes, but I’ll be able to capitalize on the momentum of a backlist.


Exploring Avenues of Collaboration

I really like the idea of working with other creatives to make a bigger vision come to life. I feel like creatives often feel like they're competing with other creatives when in reality we should be working together to help each other achieve their goals.
There are things I'm not good at that many other creatives are. Cross-pollination between platforms and finding the right people who are enthusiastic to create new art can be a beautiful thing. When egos are put aside, you focus on what's awesome.
Artwork, co-authoring, book bundles, song compelations, guest blogs for jimwilbourne.com and me guest blogging elsewhere could all play into this.

I’m really excited with where this goal has taken me. I still believe collaboration is key to accomplishing my long-term goals, and, frankly, I’d rather work with others instead of trying to do everything myself. I’m more likely to grow faster by working with others.

First, I found a great critique group. They function as a test group for my fiction so that I can fine tune the work. Great film companies have a group of writers that give input. This method will allow me to come out the gate with a story that has been tempered by the critical eye of several storytellers.

Next, I teamed up with a highly skilled editor. She is amazingly patient with me and gives me the time and attention that I need in order to take my storytelling skills to the next level. Her attention to detail and eye for character is exactly what I need to polish my art.

Finally, I teamed up with an artist to help me bring a visual element my world building. I’ve always wanted my world building to become extra content for super fans. I want to go above and beyond for those who love my stories, and my collaboration with my artist will make that a reality.

I’ve also tried several other collaborative ventures that haven’t panned out yet, or have led to dead ends. This hasn’t wavered me. Three wins is great progress with everything else I have on my plate.


Building a Fanbase

This goal will be the smallest portion of my progress and will hopefully be a byproduct of the other goals set. By releasing at least 1 book by the end of the year, starting a mailing list and blogging more consistently, hopefully some people will be interested in the entertainment I provide. I'm not overly interested in any sort of rapid growth in this arena. I'm still finding my legs, and I hope that by the end of the year, I'll be ready for pushing this goal further for 2016.

Because I pulled back on my “testing the waters” goal, I was unable to reach the exact audience I planned to reach. Instead, I created the Founders program. Though I haven’t seen rapid growth (and honestly, I didn’t expected it at this stage), I’ve seen more than I thought I would. Growth that I did very little to foster.

This is a goal that I will need to wait until 2017 before it gets the attention it deserves.


Amendment 1: World Building

Because I’m primarily writing Speculative Fiction, I often have to create new worlds and invent my own rules, governments, cultures, races, and characters. This is both the best thing about writing Science Fiction/Fantasy and the worst thing. World Building takes time, care, and is often a lot of research. This bleeds the time that I have to create the stories that are built on top of these worlds.
For every bit of my world I reveal in my stories, I have to create a lot more on the back end to make sure everything functions correctly. I need to start building up my story and world bibles this year for the various epics I plan on unleashing. Many of these stories won’t come to fruition for years to come, but by putting the pieces in place now, I’ll have less stress to deal with later.
Part of my creative mission is to push the boundaries of the genres I love and create rich experiences for those who dare dive in. I want to provide extensive wikis, visual feedback, and soundscapes that capture my worlds. By doing this, I hope to allow you to dive in deeper and create your own stories long after mine have ended.

I’ve taken this goal seriously and have done a lot on this front. This includes partnering with an artist and building worlds that are more unique than I originally planned.

This goal started out as my want to make more worlds for the future (which I did begin), but I got far more done in the world that will surface first. Because of the amount of building I did, I began to create whole new spin-off stories that will allow fans to see the things I’ve created. I’ve dug deep, but I can dig even deeper. This world expands more and more by the day.


Amendment 2: Development Diaries

While observing where the guys at Sterling & Stone have taken their Dream Engine project, I’ve decided that I can do my own version of Development Diaries. I believe it will be healthy and helpful to mind dump some of the thoughts that I have about my stories so that I can later return to them and remind myself exactly how I wanted the story to feel in that moment.
I’m not sure if anyone will find these interesting, but I’m doing them anyway. And who knows? Perhaps writing a journal about my creative process might inspire others who come by to create new things themselves. What’s even greater than creating something new myself is inspiring others to create as well.
I’m also toying with the idea of making special annotated editions of my stories where I compile these diaries and include them as bonus material. Because this kind of content can be repurposed, it’s better to have it ready then have to start from scratch when there are those who do want it.

I definitely went all in on this idea. I did one development diary a month this year and will continue to do so into 2016. I’ve also used this as my own form of content marketing by sharing these journals in forums where fantasy fans congregate. I’m still experimenting with what will make the best diaries and now that I have an artist to work with, many of them will have artwork.


In Conclusion

This year has truly been a Year of Foundations. I’ve laid the groundwork for the next 10+ years, and now I have to begin building my verticals before I can circle back to more foundation work.

My big wins were:

  1. Establishing a brand with a strong mission statement.
  2. Consistently publishing content every week for a year (save the first week of December… I deserved a week off).
  3. Starting my Founders program.
  4. Hiring an editor and finding a team of critique partners.
  5. Releasing a canon story in my first epic.

Though I didn’t release a book this year and did little to gain a large fan base, I can reattempt these goals in 2017 when I have a much stronger cache of stories, and when building momentum is most critical.

I’ve become much smarter, skilled, and strategic this year. I’ve built several systems that I’ll be able to leverage in 2016 (a lot of S’s there). And, with what I’ve learned, 2016 will be even better.


What about You?

I’d love to hear how your year went!

Let me know what you accomplished in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!