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Five Years of Taking Control

In place of my normal Friday Report this week, I wanted to share some thoughts on a significant anniversary.

Five years ago, on May 1, 2017, I took control of Take Control Books. I’d like to reflect on the experience and briefly ponder the past, present, and future of Take Control.

But first, a word about the number five, which has been begging for attention recently. There’s the five-year milestone, which occurs in the fifth month, and also, I’m currently 55 years old. So, to mark the occasion, we’re having an anniversary sale! For five days, from 5/1 to 5/5, selected titles are available for just $5 each. Visit our catalog any time during that range of dates to save big on some of our most popular ebooks!

The Past

It has now been nearly 19 years since I wrote the very first Take Control book back in 2003. At the time, I didn’t expect it to be anything more than a one-off experiment. Well, life is full of surprises.

Speaking of which…a little over five years ago, I was looking for new adventures and considering a major change, from being a full-time Take Control author to something else that would (ironically) give me more control over my career. Just as I was about to turn that corner, Adam and Tonya Engst proposed a different turn: buying Take Control Books and becoming the new publisher. That idea had never even crossed my mind, but after all the requisite soul searching and due diligence, I decided that was the right way to go, and with considerable effort and quite a bit of trepidation, we made it happen.

On the whole, I kept the business running as usual. We continued putting out new and updated books, by the same authors, using the same template, selling them at the same prices to the same people. I like continuity, and I know many of our customers do too!

A couple of years later, when our former payment processor eSellerate shut down, we were obligated to find a new company to handle our payments, and switching to that company also required us to redo our website. So, there were significant visual and functional changes—mostly, but not entirely, for the better—though the books themselves remained pretty much the same.

That transition was a huge project, and at the time we flipped the switch, a bunch of features that we’d had on the old site were still not functional on the new site. I assumed I’d have time to wrap that stuff up within a few months. But in some cases, the work still isn’t done, even now. That’s largely because, back then, I didn’t realize what a huge chunk of my life would soon be spent meeting the needs of our younger son. Nor did I have the vaguest inkling that I’d end up moving to another country (and, in the process, selling a house and buying another one).

Interlude: Real Talk

Although my wife, Morgen, and I run Take Control Books together, practically speaking, most of the work falls on me, while Morgen spends a disproportionate amount of her time and energy caring for our special-needs child. Even so, I never (never ever ever) have a full (as in eight-hour) work day. It is completely impossible. I squeeze work in an hour here, a couple of hours there, as best I can, in between my parenting and household duties, which are nonnegotiable.

That’s why these days, everything takes vastly longer than it should. And it breaks my heart. I dearly want to churn out updates rapidly and fix bugs and add all those long-promised features to our website, but I don’t have the luxury of time (or, for that matter, money with which to hire other people to do the work). I keep plugging away, as best I can, in highly imperfect circumstances.

If the gods are smiling on me and the wind is at my back and the planets align (oops, I guess that ship has sailed) and all my metaphors are thoroughly mixed, I would like to imagine that the backlog will be cleared by the end of this year; I say more about that below. But there are my plans, and then there’s the reality that life is largely unpredictable.

The Present

Since my family and I moved to Canada back in December, we’ve spent a lot of time just getting settled and making sure the machinery of everyday life is functioning. Although we’ve made good progress—and life is certainly less stressful here than in San Diego—we’re not back to full work efficiency, and likely never will be.

Be that as it may, I do have a comfortable, nicely configured, and relatively quiet office, which helps me make the most of my too-few work hours. It’s now warm enough that I can go outside without a jacket, and our kid recently started at a new school that seems to be much better suited to his needs. So, there’s a bit of optimism in the air, and I’m hopeful that it will carry over into Take Control projects in the coming months.

The Future

As I look back over the weird and implausible directions my life has taken, it’s clear that any efforts to predict the future are likely futile. That said—and very much subject to change—here is what I currently imagine the future of Take Control Books to be like:

  • This year (2022): Clear the backlog. That means getting a long list of books updated, fixing bugs, adding features to our website, and undertaking some other large projects that we’ve been promising for years. (For example: People are constantly asking us for printed versions of our books, and we want that too! But it’s a big undertaking.) My Take Control to-do list is well over 100 items long, and that’s a huge amount of work, but I’ll do my best to get through it. And, of course, we’ll continue publishing new books by other authors too!

  • Next year (2023): Once I’m more or less caught up, I’ve got a list of new books I want to write, and I’m also keen to explore other ways of sharing advice about technology, such as video courses. I hope to streamline and automate more of our editing, production, and marketing processes. And it would be marvelous if we can also add some new authors to our lineup!

  • Two+ years ahead (2024 and beyond): Who knows what the world will look like in a couple of years? The political and economic climate (as well as, you know, the actual climate) could change in ways I can’t foresee, and that might affect our long-term thinking. But very, very tentatively, I’d like to continue running Take Control for years to come, gradually shifting toward more evergreen titles (meaning less-frequent updates) to allow myself more time to explore other things I’m interested in (such as non-instructional writing, cooking, and teaching t’ai chi).

I might eventually retire. Sometimes people do that, I hear. If I had to guess, I’d say that might be ten years down the road. However, as I may have mentioned, my predictions about the future are not terribly reliable.

In any case, for the foreseeable future, whatever that means, we’re going to keep on taking control.