The last twelve months are swiftly disappearing in our rear vision mirror.
That means it’s that time of year when we reflect on what the past year has brought into our lives and start to think about the year to come. We look back at those New Year’s Resolutions we made many months ago and wonder how our good intentions to lose 15 pounds turned into the extra 5 pounds now sitting on our hips. And, as writers, we look at our aspirations to write more (more poetry, more short stories, more books, more screenplays), and wonder what happened to those good intentions to get more finished.
The truth is, New Year’s Resolutions aren’t really goals.
Their “what ifs” that we fool ourselves with when we’re railing ourselves for the shortcomings of the year just gone. Real goals can be made at any time of year. Real goals look at truly measurable outcomes based in motivations we can put our whole hearts into. Real goals, are made in incremental milestones with deadlines and data.
So, let’s look at some of the goal setting we can do as writers that truly will increase your productivity and move your business in a positive direction.
Word Count vs. Time Quota Targets
One of the first goals writers should get into the habit of setting comes down to Word Count or Time Quota (and sometimes both). I’ve noticed there tends to be balls of court here, some writers love to track and plan their progress by the number of words they write or aim to write each day. Others prefer to commit themselves to a specific ratio of time and consider the butt-in-chair aspect the testament to progress regardless of the number of words accomplished day-to-day.
Both of these techniques are effective and I recommend both. In fact, fellow self-publishing author, Johnny B. Truant of the Self Publishing Podcast crew does both at the same time! Each day he has his scheduled writing block put aside. It’s roughly around the same time each day although sometimes he alters the hours, waking earlier to finish earlier or if he has a tight project deadline (stay tuned to learn about those) and needs to achieve more words than an average day. But he also knows what he can generally expect from his word count within that time-frame and aims to at least match it, or even surpass it, so that he’s constantly striving to increase his writing speed and do more with less.
But the truth is, combining the techniques might not work for you. So try one for a week, try the other for a week, try both for a week, and then listen to what you’re instinctively finding improves your productivity.
The important thing is to make that goal, decide what you feel you can expect from yourself each writing day, and develop the habit of accomplishing that milestone regularly.
Other Author Milestones
Speaking of author Milestones, there are a few others you might want to consider. After all, while writers spend a lot of time writing, it’s not all that we need to do to build a successful business as authors. Yes, we need to write and finish new works, but we also need to get those works out into the world and do our part to ensure the world can find them.
1. Agent/Editor Submissions & Query Letters
If you’re going the traditional route, you might want to consider setting goals for approaching agents and publishers. Make a note of the works you have available to circulate, make a list for each of those of the agents and/or publishers who might be interested, and then set yourself a goal to send out a set number of query letters each week or month. Or, if that feels a bit too overwhelming, start smaller, start by setting yourself a goal to make a list of your available works by the end of this week, and a goal to make a list for the agents/publishers for the title at the top of that list by the end of next week. The important thing is to continue making small incremental steps. Focus on the things you have the power to accomplish. You can send out 5 queries, but you can’t control the outcomes of those queries, so make sure your goals are always within your power. Set the goal to send the query, rather than setting a goal to get an acceptance.
2. Author Talks, Workshops & Book Signings
Regardless of the traditional or self-published path you might take, an effective way of building your business and brand as an author is with in-person events. When you’ve got published works in the world, it’s time to look at possibilities for giving presentations. Set yourself a goal to contact your local libraries, bookshops, and schools to offer personal appearances. Don’t be afraid to state the appearance fee you expect for your time, you’re a pro and these businesses do business all the time with other professionals like you so they won’t be shocked if you ask to be paid for your time. The point is, you’re spreading the word to let people know that you’re available to give presentations. In this case, you can probably safely assume that you’ll be able to find enough people interested in having you to line up one every three months, or every month, or every week depending on your profile, expertise, and presentation skills. Set a goal to schedule accordingly.
Posting, Promotional, and Production Schedules
Speaking of schedules, goals go hand in hand with calendars and dates. It’s one thing to have some sort of ethereal aspiration to someday write the greatest literary novel in the world, but it’s much more empowering (and ultimately more likely to be accomplished) if you give yourself a specific project and set deadlines. I know, deadlines, they’re those cool things that make that “whooshing sound” as they fly by. But if you’re not Douglas Adams then it probably makes more sense to stick to your deadlines. This is especially true if you’re working with others, (agents, publishers, or freelancers,) because meeting deadlines is one of the best ways to show your respect for other people and for yourself. It’s the sign of a professional, and in every way you want to appear a professional in the writing industry. Professional writers plan and schedule the growth of their author business.
If you have a blog or periodical release like a newsletter, consider developing a posting schedule. Will you post at least once a week? Every other day? Or perhaps only once a month? Regardless of the frequency of your schedule, having one improves your odds of getting those updates written and of growing your blog or mailing list’s audience and engagement.
The same can be said for all of your promotional efforts. How regularly will you engage your readers on social media? On which social media streams will you focus your energy? Will you contribute guest posts or interviews to bloggers and print media? How often, and how many press releases and queries will you send out to ensure the interest keeps your schedule filled?
I told you we’d get to this. A production schedule looks at the body of works you’d like to produce in the coming months or years. What projects do you have lined up for the months ahead? Are you working on a book right now? When do you plan to have the first draft finished? How long will you take in your edits? When can you expect to start on your next project and do you already have next projects in mind? If you working on more than one project have you given each it’s own target deadline? If you’re self publishing, what is your release calendar like? Is it going to coincide with real-world events that can improve your sales?
Woah! Slow Down!
Okay, so I’ve overwhelmed you. I’m sorry. The truth is, these are all important questions, but they’re also advanced author business questions. They’re the sort of questions you begin to understand and answer over time, by starting with one small goal today. You build your system, your business plan, and you build these goals into that plan over time because it’s all too much to try to do every single one of them right now.
The important thing is that you do begin to set those targets. Focus on goals that are S.M.A.R.T!
S = Specific:
Make sure you’ve narrowed down your goal to one solid, specific achievement. If you need to, make multiple milestone goals toward your bigger goals so that you always have a firm sense of the next step.
M = Measurable:
Make sure it’s something you can track because if you can’t measure it, how will you know you succeeded in accomplishing it?
A = Attainable:
It has to be something you have power over accomplishing and that you honestly believe, based on your past experience of your abilities, that you can achieve. Don’t set a goal to run a marathon tomorrow if you’re only just learning to walk today and don’t set a goal to have a best seller because you can’t control your buyers, you can only control yourself!
R = Relevant:
It has to be something that matters to you right now. Something you truly do want to accomplish. Why bother setting a goal to learn to play the violin if you’d rather play the piano? Make sure your heart is engaged in your dreams!
T = Time-Bound:
Remember, deadlines! It matters. That distant someday will always remain distant unless you give yourself a time-frame within which to work.
With that in mind, what one goal are you going to set yourself right now? And while I gave you a pretty scary list of goals to think about into the future, what other milestones and goals do you think would benefit a writer’s business and branding?
Rebecca Laffar-Smith is a West Australian science fiction and fantasy novelist. In 2010, she gave up a successful 12 year freelance career to focus on her three loves; family, community, and fiction. Now, she coordinates on committees supporting local writers and bringing industry events and awareness into the local community. She launched her debut novel, The Flight of Torque, in November 2014, and her production schedule is packed full of the upcoming titles she’ll be releasing in 2015. Subscribe to her author list to find out what she’s working on next and where you can catch her in person.