“I will write 1,000 words a day!”
“I will find an agent in six months!”
“I will have a book deal in six months!”
It’s easy to make goals like these, but it might make more sense to understand the steps it takes to reach those goals. After all, how can you find an agent if you don’t know how to find one? A good one? They don’t grow on trees. In order to capture an agent’s attention, you have to write a fabulous book.
It’s great to write 1,000 words a day, but how much do you understand about the technique of writing? You can write 1,000 words a day of unprintable bantha fodder, and you’d be no closer to that book deal because book deals don’t grow on trees, either.
Perhaps it would be more helpful/beneficial to have some layers to those goals that will alter the author’s landscape, and not just be a temporary quick fix. So here’s what I came up with :
I’ll spend the next six months learning more about writing
This is a step toward being more successful. I’ve seen authors bang out manuscripts, and none of them are ready for prime time because the authors continue to recreate the same mistakes. If you don’t understand POV switches, then every book you write will have them. It takes a deft hand to do POV switches where the reader won’t look for strong rafters in which to hang themselves. Or you.
If you don’t understand Backstory, then your stories could all be bloated codfishies that kill the pace and flow of your story.
If you don’t understand Character Development, then you could be repeating the same cardboard characters in every book you write.
Many new writers don’t know what they don’t know, and that is a recipe bound for frustration. So make it a goal to learn the craft of writing.
I will define my readership and learn how/where to find them
It’s frustrating to ask an author who they perceive as their audience, only to be told, “Oh, this book is for everyone.” It’s a sure sign they haven’t taken the time to consider who their potential readers are because I can guarantee that the book isn’t for “everyone.” Dig deeper. Are they women? Men? Adults? What age? What demographic? The more concise you can be, the easier it is to find and target them. Are they in colleges or medical buildings? Elementary schools or national foundations?
And here’s the kicker; you may THINK you know who your audience is, and you could be wrong. I discovered that firsthand with my novel. I was sure the alternative care healers would lap up my book like the beagle does with good tequila. So I targeted them heavily. Crickets. Freaking crickets. Conversely, the last group I ever expected to touch my book was the medical community. They ate it up. Lurved it.
If I had to do it over again, I would have tested both communities before the book was pubbed, to see where I got the most response. After publication, I would have spent my time targeting that group.
This has happened with books we’ve pubbed as well. What we think, and what is can be two different things. Make it a goal to define in detail who is your readership.
I will figure out my platform
The time to gear up your platform isn’t two weeks before your book comes out. Given a choice as to what books to buy, bookstore genre buyers look for the authors who have the most going for them. Do they have a strong internet presence? Do they have a column in a magazine or newspaper? Are they active on the speaker circuit? All of these considerations go into the decision-making as to whether a genre buyer will pick up a book for their stores.
The louder the squeak, the more grease you’ll get. Have a platform you can share with your editor and publicity team. It makes our jobs so much easier…and fun.
I vow to learn about the publishing industry
This is especially important if your intention is to have a career in writing. If you don’t know about the industry, how can you expect to know what decisions are advantageous to your literary future?
Unrealistic Expectations: Understanding the industry helps prevent unrealistic expectations. There are things publishers can and can’t do, and it’s vital to your sanity to know the difference. Unless you wrote the Harry Potter series or The Hunger Games series, your book won’t be in every store. Knowing this will ensure that you don’t run screaming to your editor; WHY ISN’T MY BOOK IN EVERY STORE?? The sheer hurricane force of that question is enough to rip off the rugs of bald men in a 50-mile radius, and blow out the lungs of your editor.
Hello, Oprah?: Understanding the industry will put a realistic face on how publicity works, which means you understand why the Today Show won’t have you on their show, but perhaps a local NPR station will.
Book Events: Understanding the industry will put a realistic face on how event planning works. So if it’s Friday night and you just found out the CRM from a bookstore failed, for whatever demonic reason, to get your books in time for your upcoming book event, you won’t insist they open up the warehouse in Reno on a Saturday so they can get the books in time.
This will not happen. Ever. Instead, you’ll always call a week before your event (or whoever scheduled your event for you) to make sure the books are really there. Furthermore, you’ll have a box of books in your trunk just in case someone flubs up. And it happens. And yes, it ages everyone at least five years.
We recently had a case where the CRM got mixed up with his events, and told publicity that the books were in the store when, in truth, they weren’t going to arrive until the day after the event. You’ve never seen an editor vent her spleen as I did when I had to drive an hour away to deliver books and save that guy’s bacon and my author’s media-laden event. Hence, books in trunk = good idea.
I will learn what constitutes a good agent
This is an important goal and much more realistic than simply saying “I want an agent.” Thar be lotsa agents who aren’t an appropriate choice.
Don’t Be a Guinea Pig: For instance, is it a wise idea to give your nonfiction to an agent who has normally sold Fantasy/SF? Answer: NO. You don’t want to be anyone’s guinea pig. You want an agent who is established in the genre you write.
Case in point; I knew an agent who was repping fiction – commercial, mostly. He was just getting started and signed up a slew of fiction writers…and made zero sales. So he decided to start repping nonfiction and ended up orphaning almost all of his fiction writers. They were understandably bitter because some had been with him for at least a year. In that time, he poisoned the waters by querying editors and getting rejections, which meant few agents would be willing to take on those authors because there were few places left to query.
Don’t let this happen to you.
Contract Negotiations: Contract negotiations are a ticklish adventure if you don’t know what you’re doing…or your agent doesn’t know what they’re doing. Good agents know what to negotiate, how to negotiate it, and when to back off from a hot button issue. Believe it or not, it’s not always about the advance.
Earth, Calling Brain: Good agents know how to read a royalty statement. Seems silly, right? But we worked with an agent many years ago who had no clue how to read our royalty statement. We have one of the easiest, clearest statements around, and the fact that we had to literally walk her through Math 101 was fodder for the water-cooler crowd, along with feeling infinitely sorry for the author.
A good agent is your and our best friend.
Hopefully, these goals will produce more thoughtful consideration to your writing future. Do you have other goals that will invite more success?