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Well, we’re here. At the end of another year. 

And that means it’s time for the second annual Writing Year in Review post. It’s been a wild one to say the least. It has certainly not been without challenges, but this is by far the biggest year in the history of S.A. Klopfenstein, and that would not have been possible without all of you.

Soo what happened this year?

A little about writing:

I wrote one novel and one “short” story this year, and launched the first of four Kickstarters for deluxe illustrated editions of the Shadow Watch books.

This was a year of a lot of upfront work for the first nine months of the year, and then a very crazy last quarter that culminated in a chaotic week in which the Kickstarter for my first novel ended on a Tuesday and my seventh novel released on that same Friday.

I would not recommend doing things in that close proximity. But we pulled it off. And left just enough time to crank out a Shadow Watch short story before the end of the year, something I always wanted to write.

We also reached the milestone of 40,000 total books sold. Which is pretty amazing.

Pantheon: Guild War

The third and final book of the Pantheon Online trilogy came out one month ago. Which concludes my second series. And marks my seventh book released in the last five and a half years. It clocked in at 115k words (500 pages), and has been really well-received, which is all a writer can hope for.

After the darker, more serious tone of the Shadow Watch books, it was fun to write something more light-hearted. Though if you’ve read the series, you know there’s still a dark flourish. I guess I can’t help it.

Street Rats of the Fringes (a Shadow Watch prequel)

I finished the year with a 10k word (42 page) “short” story set in the Fringes of the Shadow Watch books. This was a Tori and Darien origin story set several years before the events of the novels in the ghettos and workhouses of Osha.

I envisioned this story a couple years ago, but found I needed a break from the world when I finished the final Shadow Watch book, and… I got caught up in the next series and never got around to actually writing it. So, I decided to include it in the deluxe edition of the Shadow Watch, so I could force myself to sit down and write it. And I’m so glad I did.

In true Shadow Watch form, it’s a dark story with glimmers of hope.

And that brings us to…

The Shadow Watch Kickstarter

I first mentioned the possibility of this project in last year’s update. The cool thing about these posts is that it allows me to plan out the future publicly. Had I not actually made the idea public, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have followed through on this.

When I get into some numbers later, you’ll hear more, but this was a fairly significant game-changer for my writing career. And Kickstarter is a platform I expect to use in the future, beyond these special editions.

We funded the project for $23,008 with 285 backers, and financed a premium edition print run of the first Shadow Watch book. This will include a new colorized map. Six color illustrations. World lore appendices. Magic system icons. Monster sketches. And of course, that new prequel story.

It’s the sort of book I always dreamed of creating. It will be seriously an ultimate quality book. Faux leather. Premium paper. Etc.

And hey, if you missed the campaign, the Late Backer store is open for a few more weeks. So you’ve still got a chance to get one of these.

A little about life:

This was a big year of change. This Spring was a very difficult time for me personally. It was busy and stressful and I struggled more to find time to write than any other time to date. 

I was seriously worried about losing all the momentum I’d gained in my writing career and in my personal life. It was time for a change. 

Career Change
So, I quit my job as an English teacher at the beginning of June, and set out in the world of freelance copywriting and web design, in hopes of being able to better balance novel writing, other work, and the rest of my life.

This has brought plenty of its own challenges, but most significantly, I have a lot more freedom in my schedule now. I’m almost certain I wouldn’t have managed the Kickstarter had I not had the freedom in my schedule to treat it like a part time job for a month or two.

Kids
My two boys are growing fast. Logan is 3 and Parker is nearly 2. They are wild, funny, cranky, unpredictable. I’m sure it doesn’t run in their genes at all.

Kaitlin has been staying home the past year and a half. Working from home has brought a lot of cool moments for me, like spending time as a family before the work day starts, something that never happened when I had to be to work by 7am.

But it also brought challenges. Logan especially had a hard time understanding that daddy being home didn’t mean he’s free to play anytime.

This is changing in the New Year, as Kaitlin is returning to work as an art teacher again. The boys will be going to daycare. And the house is going to be really quiet. I’ll be sad not to see them during the day, but it will also make it a lot easier to have a clear delineation between work-life and home-life. And I’m really looking forward to that.

A little about business:

If you read my update last year, you know I’m pretty open about my actual numbers. I do this for a couple reasons. I like transparency. And I think hard numbers can be really helpful for other writers. It grounds perceptions of being a writer in reality. It’s one of the toughest businesses to make an actual living with, whether as an indie or as a traditionally published author.

This was made even more clear to me as I listened to the Publishing Rodeo Podcast this year. The show focuses more on traditional publishing, but is very illuminating about the challenges authors face. And the false perceptions a lot of people have about what authors actually make.

So without further ado, here’s how I did this year. These are estimates, as actual royalties won’t be finalized until early next year, and I won’t know exact printing and shipping costs for Kickstarter until later as well. But this should be pretty close when all is said and done.

Side Hustle to Part Time Writer

2023 was a year of significant growth once again. My gross income went up by 138%, but more importantly, my net income nearly doubled from last year (up 184%).

Last year, I mentioned that writing remained in side hustle territory. Well, this was the year that it moved into part-time job territory. Both in time spent and income.

I’ve got to take a moment to celebrate that. Because it’s still pretty surreal.

Around mid-year, I began to sense that to continue growing, time was a major thing holding me back. Around mid year, I began spending roughly three hours of my work day on writing and writing related work (like advertising and social media).

My goal is to write full time. I’ve got work left to do. But I’m really proud of the work that’s been done. And I’m extremely grateful to everyone who’s read or listened to my books.


Some Major Takeaways

  • Audio nearly tripled in revenue this year. Two publisher advances for the Pantheon series and a Chirp deal with BookBub helped. But another major reason for the growth was the decision to take the Shadow Watch audio out of Amazon exclusivity. Audible sales were stalling out, but going wide in audio has breathed some new life to audio sales. Most significantly, YouTube became a significant source of income, starting in August. Over the past four months, the Shadow Watch series has garnered over 300k views on YT. Something I did not expect at all!
  • Kickstarter was another major development this year. First off, obviously, I didn’t list all $23k in revenue, as the majority of money raised for the project goes to paying for artwork, production, distribution, etc., I included the estimated final profit in my numbers. I won’t know actual final numbers for a few more months when the books are printed and shipped. But based on estimates, I think this will wind up pretty close when all is said and done. And the numbers will hopefully grow with subsequent campaigns. In short, really glad I followed through on this one. And it’s going to look so amazing too.
  • Ebook revenue and general Kindle revenue was down this year. The biggest reason is that a few months into the year, advertising strategies that had been working really well for a long time quit working well (particularly on Facebook Ads). And I was forced to dial back my ad spending and try to figure out a new strategy. Historically, ad platforms change every so often, but it took me months to sort this out, and I think I’m just beginning to turn things around in the ad department. I’m hopeful that this will scale next year… One of my goals was to diversify my income. Obviously that was a success. But I’d like Amazon revenue to grow too.

Writing Projects for 2024

And that brings us to the part where we look ahead. I’m at another stage of beginnings, with two series now complete.

I’ve got several things on the docket. Now that I’m putting more time into writing, I’m hoping to write a couple of books this year, if at all possible. Most likely for two separate series in both of my existing universes.

The past five years have been spent establishing two universes in the epic fantasy and LitRPG genres, and for the near future, I’ll be focused on writing more in these universes.

Currently, I’ve got more ideas than I have time, but here’s a rough timeline for this year and a look beyond:

  • Children of the Gods (release in late 2024) – If you’ve read the Shadow Watch Saga already, you know that the scope gets huge by the end. I’ve teased about more Watcher stories to come. Well, my next book is about the ancient predecessors of the Watchers, set on another world. I’ve already started this one and it is a military epic fantasy involving an evil dragon empire occupying a peaceful island nation. Right now, I’m planning a trilogy. And expect to release Book One by the end of next year. I think it will launch first on Kickstarter (hardcover and ebook). Then, on Amazon.
  • Swordslinger (release late 2024/2025) – If you finished up Pantheon Online, you know there are more adventures to come. The first is a planned post-apocalyptic LitRPG trilogy tentatively called The Pantheon System that will coincide with events and characters in the first series in some interesting ways but centers on a new main character. I plan to release this first on Patreon and Royal Road, beginning later in 2024, before taking it to Amazon in 2025.
  • The Rage of Saints Deluxe Edition – coming to Kickstarter in summer 2024. With books 3 and 4 both hopefully landing in 2025.
  • Pantheon Online Ebook Boxset coming late 2024, I’ll bundle all three books up in one ebook volume, similar to the Shadow Watch… I’m hoping to do the same with audio, but will have to discuss this with my publisher…. and I’m contemplating an omnibus deluxe hardcover edition at some point too. But that’s probably a couple years out.

Business Projects for 2024

Last year, this section led to me setting up an LLC for my business, venturing into the recesses of TikTok, and launching a project on Kickstarter. Going wide with audio and YouTube were unexpected additions to my business as well.

This year, I’m looking into…

  • Foreign translations for the Shadow Watch… I’m still figuring out how to go about this. I don’t want to front the cost. I’ve considered pursuing an agent or reaching out to some publishers on my own. But I’d love to see this happen. And will be pursuing this next year.
  • Selling more things direct from my website… I started selling audiobooks through my website late in 2023, and I’m hoping to expand this model further next year. I want to continue to expand my revenue streams so I don’t have everything in the Amazon basket. Selling signed books and some merch from my website is something that will happen in 2024. So stay tuned.
  • Tiktok store… I started generating some sales from Tiktok this year. I want to get more intentional about optimizing that platform. And the Tiktok store is something I know other people are using.
  • Ramp up Advertising… I hoped to scale some things last year, and this didn’t happen. So next year, that is a major goal for continued growth.
  • Should there be something else on my radar? Let me know 🙂

Other upcoming projects

Even if I managed to write two books a year, Children of the Gods and Swordslinger could keep me busy for the next three years on their own… but…

  • Watcher Chronicles (maybe 2025?) – I also have been teasing about a direct followup to the Shadow Watch Saga for a couple years now. The tale of Tori v. The Chancellor/The Darkling Queen is over. But I’ve always wanted to explore what comes after the revolution of magic. There’s certainly more to be explored with the Empyrean and other spoilery things… readers have been asking for more, and I’m definitely developing some ideas further in this coming year. There’s a good possibility I’ll start writing the first one in 2024, but the earliest this would come out is almost certainly late 2025.
  • The Pantheon Games (2026?) – This will be another Gunnar and Co. series and will build off of Pantheon Online and The Pantheon System. It’s a couple years out most likely.
  • Blade of Fire (??) – I started a progression fantasy awhile back. I still fully intend to write it. I’m really excited about it. But it’s set in an entirely different universe. And well… you see the list up above already. I may slowly plug away at this when I need breaks from Pantheon or the Shadow Watch universe.
  • And assuming all those turn out as trilogies, I’m already thinking about 15 books ahead right now… so I’ll stop.

Thanks for your support!

Well, this has gotten really long. But I can’t end this year without a good bit of gratitude. None of this would be possible without all of you readers. I seriously am blown away that I get paid to write books. I’m so thankful to every single one of you.

There are also a handful of authors and reviewers who’ve been incredibly generous and helped boost me up in numerous ways.

The Forge, my writing group, has absolutely transformed my career. Having other writers to go on this journey with has made me a better writer, publisher, and person. Thanks to David, Jason, Jeff, Zack, and Blake for being great writers and great friends.

The Kickstarter was a game-changer and absolutely wouldn’t have been a success without the help of numerous people.

  • AC Cobble and his company Merrick Books were incredible to work with, and also fostered networking with many other writers who were kind enough to boost the campaign and offer feedback as it developed. I couldn’t possibly name them all, but I consider you all friends and hope to meet some of you in person this year.
  • I had the privilege of working with several incredible artists, including Rachel St. Clair at Claymore Covers, Andrew Maleski, Omer Burak Onal, Sebastian Breit, and Sutthiwat Dechakamphu.
  • I’d also like to thank Petrik Leo and Johan (from Library of a Viking) for helping spread the word about the campaign. Thanks for all you contribute to the book community at large. Your hard work and enthusiasm for indie fantasy books means so much to so many authors and readers.
  • And there are many others…

But it’s time for me to stop rambling.

This year has been a wild ride. Thanks for joining me.



Wishing you all the best in 2024,
Stephen