Thursday, November 15, 2007

What Are Your Goals?

At some point, you discovered you wanted to write. So much so that you gave up lunch hours or sleep or time with friends and family to pursue your dream.

Almost as important to your writing life as that commitment and discipline is self-understanding: What do you hope your writing will bring you? Peace, contentment, satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment, riches, fame, a full time job?

Knowing what you want out of writing will go a long way to helping you understand what sort of commitment you need to make to marketing and promotion.

The truth is, very few writers make a living wage. That’s not to say that you can’t, only that statistically, many don’t. But perhaps that isn’t an issue for you. Perhaps all you want is the opportunity to work on your craft and tell your stories. Conversely, maybe writing is meaningless to you until you hit the NYT list. Or maybe you just want to sell enough books to guarantee you get another contract.

All of those goals are perfectly terrific goals, as long as they're yours, and not someone else's vision of success that you’ve assumed like an ill-fitting pair of hand-me-downs.

Clearly, the marketing and promotional needs of the person who wants to hit the bestseller lists will be markedly different from those of the person who just wants an opportunity to tell their stories in their own good time when they’ve been crafted to perfection.

An important step in your writing journey is to sit down with yourself and really explore what role you’d like writing to have in your life. What you expect from it. Here are some questions to get you started thinking along those lines.

  • What is it you enjoy about writing? The creativity? The freedom? The discipline?
  • Why did you start writing? Because of the voices in your head? You wanted to earn a little extra cash on the side? It was the only path you could find to fame?
  • Why do you want to get published? What do you think that publishing will bring you that writing has not? Make a list of those things you hope being published will bring you. Be honest, and then study that list carefully. Is what you want really something that can be obtained through the publishing industry?
  • Where does the act of writing fit in your life? Would you do it no matter if you ever got published? How much does it take away from other things you love? Are you willing to keep making those sacrifices? Could you do it eight hours a day, five days a week? Could you perform under the pressure of writing to a contract that paid your mortgage?
  • How do you define success in general? How do you define success in your writing? Money? Critical acclaim? The contract in hand? A bestseller list?
Now study those answers. How many of them are focused on the act of writing, and how many of them are focused on the act of being successfully published, because they are two distinct and separate things.

If you find that many of your goals are publishing oriented, then chances are promotion will have a significant role to play in your career. It is a rare, rare thing to get big contracts and hit bestseller lists without an enormous marketing effort, usually a cooperative one between the publisher and the writer. That's not to say it can't happen. It can. But if it's integral to how you define success, best to know that now so you can “grow” that particular skill set along with your writing skills.

If, on the other hand, your answers are more focused on personal, artistic satisfaction and a creative outlet, then maybe marketing and promotion won’t have such a big role in your career. And isn’t that a comforting thought!

So spend some time with these questions and see where the answers take you. It might not be where you expected.


Anonymous said...

I have read dozens of how-to books about writing and publishing, and I've never seen these questions before. They have given me a lot to think about. Thank you!

Mary Hershey said...

Great post, Robin! Excellent job connecting some dots . . . I'll be assimilating this all day.

I really appreciate that you've offered some permissions here to writers to let some outcomes go if it clearly is not part of their overall vision.

Later, miss--

Saints and Spinners said...

Robin and Mary,
Today's Unshelved comic strip made me think of you and your recent book title contest:

Carol Newman Cronin said...

Thank you for fleshing out something I've been thinking hard (and blogging) about. Your questions help me frame my own.

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