2016 Annual Review

By J.T. Ellison

Welcome to my annual review!

For the past several years, I’ve been doing annual reviews of my life and work, based on the format from Chris Guillebeau’s wonderful Annual Review on his blog, The Art of Non-Conformity. Chris’s system is exceptionally detailed, more so than I really need, but the gist is there. It’s a great system for those of us who are self-employed and want to do an assessment of our work for the year. Here’s the link to the actual post. Go on over there and take a read. I’ll wait.

And if you’re interested, here are the links to my previous annual reviews for 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.


It’s hard to quantify things sometimes, but on the whole—2016 goes down as the best year I’ve had since I started writing. All the hard work of the past decade seemed to pay off at once, which was both gratifying and frightening, because dear God, what have I gotten myself into? Be careful what you wish for, right?

I spent too much time on the road, and definitely didn’t write enough, but had a major first for me: creative satisfaction. I finally feel like I’m hitting the mark with my work. And that gives me so much hope and excitement for the years ahead. Who knew giving up my biggest goal would allow it to get within my reach?

I’ve been in this game for nine years now, and over that time, I’ve learned a very important and valuable lesson: writing what you love, what scares you, and what you think is going to get you in the most trouble, is the way to go. My training wheels are off. I’m riding free and easy. And I haven’t been this excited and happy about my art since my debut year. That’s what 2016 gave me. And what a gift it is.



This is the year I let go of all my earlier goals and preconceptions and live in the moment, focusing on controlling what I can control and not worrying about things out of my immediate control. No more striving, no more craving. As always, trying to make do with what I have, reading books I’ve already bought, minimizing clutter, allowing for better organization. I want to learn how to be more present, more involved in the now, which means more yoga and meditation. Taking all I’ve learned about writing and productivity and putting it into action. And letting go of the idea that I can’t work on more than one project at a time, which is simply resistance. Continue meaningful and satisfying connections with friends and readers, be a good boss, a good wife, a good reader and writer, and learn how to sit back and enjoy the ride.


All in all, I have to say, 2016 was a raging success in terms of sticking to my plan. I was absolutely more present, absolutely more focused. I worked very hard on tending my own garden and breaking a lot of bad habits. Professionally and personally, I feel like I got a handle on my self-destructive/procrastination issues, especially using the internet as a tool for avoidance. That’s gone. No more. And it has created so much space that I didn’t realize I was missing.

In terms of the good things that happened, it was a magical year.

I released six books in 2016, two original novels (NO ONE KNOWS and FIELD OF GRAVES); three paperbacks (THE END GAME, NO ONE KNOWS, FIELD OF GRAVES); and released my first print short story collection through Two Tales Press, THE FIRST DECADE.

A WORD ON WORDS was reupped for a second season, and the first season was nominated for an Emmy®! It was an incredible year on the show, with awesome authors and a fabulous crew.

Catherine and I moved to Gallery with Nicholas and Mike at the end of 2015, and I’m loving everything about our new home. THE DEVIL’S TRIANGLE is out next March, and it is hands-down my favorite book in the series to date.

I also signed a new deal with MIRA Books for another new standalone, and am doing a slight creative pivot to allow myself time to write both standalones and series books with them. Which is Very Exciting Stuff, as I’ve always wanted to write standalones. I have four books to come from MIRA, which is excellent news for all the Taylor and Sam fans out there and for the standalone fans.

My secret project from last year became my new standalone novel — LIE TO ME will be out next September 5. I’m hopeful it is a breakthrough novel for me. I know it was for the art. The sense I had when I completed it was utterly unfamiliar, until I realized it was creative satisfaction. It’s eluded me for a very long time, really since Jade’s passing five years ago, so I was relieved and grateful to have it back.

Amy has continued to be a godsend. I’m not sure what I did to deserve such an amazing right hand — because she’s much more than her titles — but under her steady leadership, I’ve felt more and more comfortable sticking with writing and interactions. (A note for writers here: you need someone to help. You really do. Even on an ad hoc basis for certain projects, clearing mind space for your work is a necessity. I’ve talked at length about ways to do this, from interns from your local colleges to virtual PAs. Trust me, it’s worth it.)


This list of what I didn’t do well is, as usual, long and varied:

  • I didn’t hit my word count goal
  • I didn’t read enough books
  • I definitely didn’t lose any weight
  • I lost my yoga practice
  • I didn’t play enough golf and my handicap went up (ugh)
  • I allowed myself to be distracted by things that didn’t matter and were out of my control

The biggest downside was the travel—as happened last year, I was on the road pretty much continuously from March to November. I had a several-month stretch where I wasn’t home for more than 2 weeks at a time, and there was a moment when we were actually counting down the events: only 10 more, only 9 more, 8 more… I was unbelievably stressed by all the commitments I’d made.

This year, that is not going to happen. I’m putting real constraints on myself, curtailing appearances and declining opportunities. I simply have to stay home and write for a while, and focus all my attention on my work. It’s selfish, I know, but art is selfish. I’ve resolved to unapologetically focus on me and mine for a while.

But the thing is, the positives of 2016 outweighed the negative so far that I can’t even start to complain. I am four years removed from my All Is Lost moment, when I seriously considered whether I should be doing this at all, and I am exceedingly grateful I didn’t give up.


Though it wasn’t my most productive year, I did complete two new books: THE DEVIL’S TRIANGLE with Catherine, and my own standalone, LIE TO ME, plus started a new standalone novel, wrote three brand-new short stories, and started another.

2016 Word Total: 877,650
Fiction Total: 217,228
Non-Fiction Total: 126,882
Email: 533,600
Fiction Percentage: 25%
Books Read: 66 (of a goal of 70)

2015 Fiction Total: 203,749 (Fiction 28%)
2014 Fiction Total: 291,114 (Fiction 36%)
2013 Fiction Total: 270,000 (Fiction 34%)
2012 Fiction Total: 265,000 (Fiction 34%)
2011 Fiction Total: 252,300 (Fiction 35%)
2010 Fiction Total: 198,383 (Fiction 32%)
2009 Fiction Total: 135,738 (Fiction 27%)

It wasn’t my most productive year. I failed to meet my 400,000 word count goal for fiction. With all the external commitments, it’s not a surprise, though I was disappointed in the final numbers. This year will be better. I’m setting a hard and fast goal of 300,000, and I will meet it. That equals three novels. Two are already deadlined, and I have to get ALL FALL DOWN done too. Those three books should take me right to the goal.

I went all over the country on two different book tours, one for NO ONE KNOWS and one for FIELD OF GRAVES. All of the events were fun and interesting, and I fell in love all over again with several wonderful indie bookstores.

The books themselves were very well received this year, too:

  • 2 Okra Picks (NO ONE KNOWS and FIELD OF GRAVES)
  • 1 Starred PW review (FIELD OF GRAVES)
  • 1 Starred Booklist review (NO ONE KNOWS)
  • 1 Romantic Times Top Pick (THE END GAME)
  • 1 Book of the Month Club Pick (NO ONE KNOWS)
  • 1 USA Today (!) showing (for reprint of ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS)
  • The Brit in the FBI books hit the top ten of all the bestseller lists
  • One more awesome thing that’s secret until sometime this week…

Really, I can’t ask for more than that!

I made several changes to my daily accountability processes, including starting a spreadsheet specifically for my non-fiction. It made this process so much easier. I felt like my non-fiction was more successful this year because I pulled back on the quantity and focused on quality, something that will continue into 2017 and beyond. I also started tracking social media reach in a sustainable way, and was happy to see a lot of growth in the newsletter, which has become the staple of our outreach. Hey, we own it, unlike other networks. I have very specific goals for it next year; we’ll see how I do.

Something else I need to look at—my email number is apparently the equivalent of five nice, meaty novels. I think that number, though an estimate, may be high. My calculations assume all things are equal, and runs the average from the number of emails sent (in this case, 5530 emails * 100 words). Of course, that’s not always accurate. Some emails were short, some were long, some were goofy meme wars. I’m not too bothered by the idea of 5 novels worth of email, because Amy and I do 90% of our work through email. And I don’t track texts, so those will more than make up any deficiencies on my end. That said, I do know I need to limit my email consumption and output. Noted for the future.

I also abandoned my first adopted status. I was able to get into a great bullet journal method, which I’ll be discussing at length in the coming year. I relied heavily on Scrivener, Freedom, and Wunderlist, and got a new laptop for Christmas, which I predict will help my productivity tremendously. In case you’re interested, I did a permanent link to my Writer’s Tools here on the site. I’ve streamlined and am very happy with my system now. It’s simpler, easier to manage, and doesn’t rely on trying every new thing that comes down the pike.



After purposefully pulling back from external commitments, 2017 is the year I give my art my full attention again by staying home and working on my writing habit. Consistent writing brings me great contentment, and that is my goal for 2017 — contentment through consistency. This applies to more than just writing; it is my personal goal as well. Staying home allows for regular habits to grow and thrive — not just writing, but yoga, golf, friendships, minimalism for the house, and lots of regular, protected deep work time. This deep work practice will create great flow, allowing me to focus and challenge myself in my work.

Home. Deep Work. Consistency. Contentment.

These are such simple words, to go along with my simple goals.

  • I am going to stay home and write this year.
  • I am going to challenge myself to write more.
  • I am going to increase my deep work time.
  • I am going to lose myself in my habits.
  • I am going to regain my yoga practice.
  • I will create flow.
  • I will not allow external distractions rule me.

How am I going to achieve these goals? To start, I’m not scheduling anything on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays in order to create the space I need to write. I have a productivity course I’m going to take in January called “Zen and the Art of Work.” It’s the perfect way to start my year, in a contemplative and meditative examination of my productivity. I have arranged to go to a yoga class on Fridays to enforce my desire to reboot my practice. I’m already walking three miles per workout regularly, I’m going to add two more days a week.

What do I hope will come out of these goals?

Well, in addition to being more bendy and in better cardiovascular health, I want to finish three books. I will finish THE LOST ONE by April. I’ll finish Nicholas Drummond #5 by November. And if I get some free time in there, I will keep working on the new Samantha Owens, ALL FALL DOWN. And then, who knows what might happen? There could even be another secret project in the mix. 😊

I’m also going to take a real vacation, with no writing, somewhere overseas where I can truly allow myself to detach. Ireland, maybe. Or Spain. Someplace I’ve never explored before so I’ll want to be present and engaged. A beach with a pile of books would work, too.

I have two original novels releasing, two short story collection re-releasing, and a big surprise from Two Tales in the Fall. And I will continue mentoring new authors, helping my friends, and being a contributing member of the writing community, so long as my work is done first. It’s a relatively quiet year, considering. Fall will inevitably ramp up because of LIE TO ME’s release, but that’s 9 months away.

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”


That’s what the “Year of Flow” means to me. Doing. Lots and lots of doing.

It sounds very simple, and I hope it will be easier than I think. Thanks for helping cheer me along! Happy New Year!

The Deets: 2016 Writing

JT 2016 Worksheet.jpg

Via: JT Ellison


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