How to Set Goals as a Fiction Writer

*Note:  this is a reprint from January, before the blog imploded with technical difficulties.

It’s still January, and I’ve found a lot of great articles about goal setting. Two of my favorites have been on The Happy Writer, about how to set goals without being miserable, and when good goals go bad. It’s resolution month, after all.

“SMART” Goals

You might have heard the acronym “S.M.A.R.T.” for goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Broken down for those not familiar with it:

Specific: you not only know what you want, you know what it’ll take to get there.

Measurable: It’s really clear when you’ve achieved it.

Attainable: it’s under your control.

Realistic: you can actually achieve it in the time frame you set, without killing yourself.

Timely: you set a time frame for when the thing’s going to happen… otherwise it’s always “in the future.”

“Become a New York Times Bestseller” is not a goal.

“Become a New York Times bestseller” is not something you can blueprint your way to. It’s achievable, sure, but it’s not under your control. Even “get published” encompasses a lot of elements outside of your control.

That said, you’ve got a lot of elements that are in your control that would build a foundation for achieving those visions.

The Goals Behind the Vision.

For the sake of argument, let’s say you want to become a NYT Bestseller. The voodoo numbers behind that venerable list have been written about countless times. But let’s look at some of the factors behind the authors and the titles who have made the list, and perhaps you can find your SMART goals.

Look at your market.

Look at what’s working and what isn’t. If you want to be a bestseller, you need to not only rack up sales, but get traction… show an increase in sales and bookseller orders. Is your genre growing, or dying?

Let’s say you sold your first erotica in 2005, when the boom of that particular sub-genre hit. Now it’s waning: only those with growing numbers are going to truly break out.

Are you a break-out in that? Do you have numbers to support it? Is it the only thing you want to write? If so… what can you do to nudge it into a break-out status?

Possible goals: ask for feedback from your critique group; get a new critique group; do a SWOT analysis; take a class or work with an editor to improve your storytelling and prose; create and implement a consistent promotional plan.

Target a publisher.

Things are changing with the e-publishing landscape, admittedly, but if you want to hit the list, odds right now put that on going with an established print publisher. Until that changes, that’s what you’re going to target.

So… what publishers tend to hit the bestseller lists in your genre? What editors at those houses are looking for novels? What does your agent think? What can you give them that juxtaposes what you do best with what they want? (See: Rocking Your Hedgehog.)

Possible goals: research publishers; research editors; have a meeting/discussion with your agent, with a strategy plan for your next writing project.

Work on your marketing and promotion.

There are plenty of authors who grow by sheer blind luck, but they’re not the majority. “Fortune favors the prepared mind,” as Louis Pasteur said.

Are you prepared to promote your book? Is your website current? Are you working a consistent and thought-out promotion strategy? Are you connecting with your readership/tribe, whether you have a release out or not?

Possible goals: update or redesign your website, write a blog consistently, teach x classes a year, put out a newsletter monthly, read a new review blog and comment weekly.

Work on your productivity.

If you want to hit the bestseller list, you’ve got a better shot if you’ve got releases out on a regular basis. While your release dates are not under your control, your publisher (or publishers, multiple) can’t give you more release dates if you’re not producing the books.

Are you developing better time management to balance your writing, promo, and other life demands? Are you carving out more time to write? Are you experimenting with techniques to increase your productivity?

Possible goals: Assess your time management situation, use a planner, work with a coach, get an accountability group, wake up an hour earlier, stop watching TV every night.

Why do I want this, again?

Before you do any goal setting, be sure you know what’s truly motivating you.

If you want to be on the NYT bestseller list to finally get the respect and admiration of your family, you’ve set an unattainable goal in more ways than one.

If you’re doing it to roll in money, you might want to look at Lynn Viehl’s The Reality of a Times Bestseller. She gives the true breakdown of how much money she made on her first New York Times bestseller. While I’m sure that her next contract probably reflected her new status and isn’t factored into the post, it’s still not an automatic Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous episode.

Once you know what you want on a big scale, why you want it, and sketch out some steps to work towards, get an accountability buddy… someone you’ll feel guilty if you flake out on, and someone who will cheer your smallest achievements.

You’ll feel better as you slowly but surely prove to yourself that, through small steps, you’re building the foundation to your dreams.

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