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Crafting success: a guide to creating author goals

Goal-setting is an important part of any new undertaking and can have a profound effect on productivity. If you’ve ever found yourself saying (and I’m speaking to myself here!), “I wish I could write a book” or “I wish I could publish a book,” then setting goals might be the vehicle that finally gets you there!

Two types

For authors, there are two types of goals that, while related, serve distinct purposes: writing goals and publishing goals.Writing goals focus on the act of creating content. They might include word count targets, daily or weekly writing sprints or sessions, completion of drafts, finishing specific chapters, self-editing, revising, etc. Writing goals serve the end goal of completing a manuscript.

Publishing goals are focused on how a book will reach its target audience and might also include its commercialization. Finding literary representation, finding beta readers or hiring an editor, marketing your book, or self-publishing are all publishing goals that help you navigate the publishing industry and get your book into the hands of readers.

Despite the differences, writing goals and publishing goals work together. Effective writing goals contribute to the creation of high-quality manuscripts, which in turn enhance a writer’s prospects for achieving their publishing goals.

Varying timelines

Writing goals and publishing goals often operate on different timelines, but there’s no reason that the two cannot overlap. Depending on how you plan to publish, writing goals may inform your publishing goals, especially if you need to produce a complete manuscript within a certain amount of time. In general, though, writing goals are going to be more fluid and dependent on the author’s determination, needs, etc. 

Publishing goals may also feel abstract at first and highly dependent on an author’s motivation (acquiring literary representation, for example); however, being specific about goal setting can help create the structure of a timeline—e.g., sending a certain number of queries in a specified time frame—and once other actors (agents, publishers, editors, etc.) are involved in the process (whatever the publishing path), then there may be less flexible, clearer deadlines to be met that naturally act as stepping stones, leading you toward your publication goal.

Short-term vs. long-term

While writing a book is no small feat, and some writers may take years to finish their first draft, writing a book can be broken into many, many short-term tasks. This is especially true if you have decided to write books as your career. Every day will consist of tasks that work together to produce a finished manuscript. Milestones might include finishing a chapter or a draft or self-editing in chunks.

Publishing, though, is often full of long-term tasks because of the nature of publishing but also because of an author’s professional or career aspirations. Authors may set goals related to how many books they will publish in a specific time period or create timelines for the publication of a single book. 

Control and influence

As mentioned above when considering timelines, authors should also consider how much control or influence they have over milestones in the writing and publishing processes. Since writing is largely an author’s undertaking, the author will dictate the overall timeline and exert maximum control over the actual writing of the book based on their own writing habits and output.

Publishing goals, however, are going to be naturally influenced by outside factors, like market trends, competition, industry gatekeepers, timing, and the availability of those in the industry who are moving the book along toward publication day.

Make them SMART

I’m sure you’ve heard this one before—it’s a common acronym, and you can’t write anything about goals without mentioning it. The SMART framework for goal setting stands for: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound. Any goal you set, no matter how big or small, should fit these standards. So a writing goal might be to write 2,500 words daily on your current manuscript for the next thirty days in order to complete a first draft. For publishing, it might be to set aside one hour this week to make a pros and cons list for the top three book distributors you are interested in using for self-publishing with the ultimate goal of making a decision about where to set up an account.

A good first step

For those just starting out in their author career, the saying “you don’t know what you don’t know” is relevant. You might already have writing goals set (that’s often the easiest part!), and perhaps you’re reaching those goals. But the publishing industry can feel overwhelming, and it may be more difficult to know where to begin with those goals. Starting with the following two questions can set you on the right path.

  1. What are my publishing options? IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association) has a useful map of publishing paths, and Jane Friedman keeps an updated infographic here.

  1. (Then, narrowing down) What are the publishing options available for or most appropriate for what I am writing? (Genre, word count, etc.)

With the answers to those two questions in hand, you’ll be able to focus on setting goals within your publishing path that will support both your creative process and your professional aspirations.



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