CJ Bernstein

CJ Bernstein

2020 Expectations Vs. Reality

I’ve been trying to write this post about how our plans and expectations for 2020 in no way lived up to the reality of 2020, but I’ve been sidetracked by a thousand different issues, including someone in Iowa incessantly trying to take down the Ackerly Green site for the past week. (Hi, Iowa!)

That’s pretty much the perfect example of what this post is all about: I spent most of 2019, with immense and indispensable help (and patience) from Catherine, building the foundation for a new business model, new operations, new experiences, books, merchandise, interactivity…

Basically, we designed a brand new company for 2020.

And 2020 has consistently and heartily laughed right in our faces every single step of the way. Like, there’s some spit on our cheek from all the laughing.

This year has felt like I started a fun new game I was really excited about, only to somehow stumble into the final boss battle in my level zero underpants with nothing but a stick and a bunch of well-laid plans to defend myself.

I’m a pretty positive guy, but whoah, 2020.

But anyway, here’s the post. In it are lots of words. Some are used to describe how we originally intended 2020 to look, but most are about what we’ve learned this year, and what we’re going to do going forward into 2020 and beyond.

There are many good news words below, so I hope you’ll read it, and maybe, we can look forward to the coming months, finding wonder, doing magic, and creating together. I’d like that very much.

If you want to just skip to our plans for the future, scroll down to
“What the Rest of 2020 and 2021 Will Look Like.”


What the Alternate Timeline 2020 Looked Like


I don’t want to dwell on what wasn’t to be, but Catherine and I spent much of 2019 doing tons of reading, researching, writing, and strategizing, all to get smarter about how we run the company and stronger in areas we felt weak (marketing & long-term planning to name a couple.) In addition to our daily roles in the company, we put in a lot of effort to develop a new model for Ackerly Green, where subscription and enrollment models sustained us, provided what we believe you’re all looking for here while also funding the company. All supported by powerful marketing campaigns to bring in new community members and unique merchandise that better reflected the company and our ethos.

It was a big, good plan that we were very proud of, but wasn’t to be.
Again, I don’t want to hyperfocus on what went wrong. But only a few months into the year, we were losing followers and revenue, struggling with delayed 3rd party fulfillment and production, sympathizing with overworked, overwhelmed, and unavailable editors, illustrators, and contractors, and struggling to do anything we’d initially set out to do. While also dealing with everything on a personal level, the pandemic, civil unrest, and our failed government, just to name a few. People kept telling me, “It’s a good thing Ackerly Green is all online. You probably aren’t being affected like other companies.” Which wasn’t nearly accurate, and also, there are still only two sensitive human beings at the helm. We were super affected.
I don’t talk about this a lot, but it’s probably apparent to many of you that I am VERY hard on myself. I always feel like I’m never fully living up to my potential or what is expected of me, and always letting people down (feelings that are mostly byproducts of my upbringing and my recently diagnosed ADHD, both of which I’m in treatment for) so I spent a few months REALLY struggling with the direction my writing and company were taking. I should’ve been more upfront about this, but I always want to give you all the best experience possible, especially when many of you are struggling too, and me moaning about how hard everything is kind of takes away from the fun, in my opinion.

Also, words have been precious and hard to come by this year, and I’ve been devoting them all to BC33, The Briar Society, and The Book of Briars. Those are big promises I made, and I’m determined to make good on them, barring things out of my control like editorial and design.

BUT, and more importantly, the massive changes this year has brought have also helped us better see and appreciate what matters. We’ve been forced, sometimes painfully, to come up with more straightforward and efficient ways to do things. That’s been the blessing of 2020, realizing what’s essential and what isn’t, both professionally and personally.

So, let’s get to the good news.


What the Rest of 2020 and 2021 Will Look Like


AG+ and The Briar Society
AG+ was Ackerly Green dipping its toes in the water of ongoing subscriptions as a sort of patron-based tip jar with rewards. Barring some hiccups with fulfillment this year, we’ve been happy with the engagement and response. But now that The Briar Society, our premium interactive experience, is also subscription/enrollment-based, we realized that nurturing both, and offering quality and content for both, was quite a challenge, and balancing the workload of both was sometimes confusing and stressful.

A good chunk of this year’s narrative for The Briar Society was reworked or pushed back because of several delays. To honor your commitment and trust in me, I’m going to continue the narrative through the end of the year instead of ending in October to give you everything promised and make sure your first year as a Briar is a positive and compelling one.

Also, to help us do our best, in 2021, AG+ will become part of The Briar Society, merging the two in a once-a-month subscription offering both in-world and out-of-world benefits. As an ongoing member of the 2021 Briar Society, you will receive the best benefits of AG+, cover reveals, game nights, monthly Guide to Magiq horoscope forecasts, and free, early access to new merch several times a year. In addition, you will also gain access to The Briar Society, a secret magimystic league, and the heart of our ongoing interactive narrative, which will run from February through October every year.

Annual members will receive personalized moments within the story (because we know you’ll be around for the year and can plan the narrative around your enrollment) and an annual exclusive gift made only for The Briar Society that monthly members can purchase as well.

We will have more details about enrollment and pricing before the end of the year, but we’re taking a giant leap with this change by ending all monthly and annual subscriptions at the end of 2020 and refunding any outstanding payment. It’s a scary prospect to be without ongoing revenue of any kind, but we want to start fresh in 2021. That might cost us in the short term with people not resubscribing, but we’d rather do things right and in a way that best benefits you all.


Publishing
Given that BC33 and The Briar Society will be the primary narrative focuses of the year, we’re dialing back the publishing schedule of significant tentpole books like The Book of Briars. Starting in 2021, we will release one “premiere” novel a year, near the end of the year. We intend to release a hardcover version of The Guide to Magiq next year, and an additional to-be-announced novel at year’s end.

So going forward, Ackerly Green’s publishing timeline will be:

  • January: Subscription drive for The Briar Society
  • February-October: The year’s BC33 and The Briar Society narrative arc
  • November: The Briar Society ebook/paperback release for the year
  • December: End of year premier novel release


Merchandise
In 2021, we’re going to continue trimming and archiving existing merch, keeping the shop small and special, and filling it with meaningful, well-priced items that feel curated and connect to the larger narrative.

We have plans for a lot of new candles and new guild-related pieces, which will make up the bulk of the shop’s contents. Some of which you might be seeing very soon.


Information & Updates
Starting at the end of this month, we’re going to start combining the weekly narrative recaps into one monthly chronicle that will give everyone updates on the events at BC33 and The Briar Society.

We’re also going to make an effort to share updates and information in several places, email, social, the blog, and the forum because we’re all bombarded by companies vying for our attention, and we want to make sure that you have access to the information and updates you want, without feeling overwhelmed with constant emails.


So that’s it. Again, I want to thank you all for your patience during these endless waves of change, your continued trust in me, and your devotion to what we’re creating here together.

We’re in this together, and I hope you continue to rely on this community and find hope and comfort even in the craziest of times. We’re in this together.