Countdown to Publication: Every Writer Needs a Goal

Not too long ago, my writers’ group invited a publicist to come and speak to us about creating and managing our own publicity and marketing campaigns. The first thing she told us we had to do was write down our goals. Did we want to sell one million books? Did we want to garner reviews in five major magazines? Did we want to win literary awards for our writing? Did we want to sell just enough books to secure another book contract? Knowing what you want is the most important part of your plan, she told us, because it will determine where you should allocate the majority of your resources. If you don’t know what you are working for, then you could end up spending gobs of time, energy and money and still feel like a failure. So I’m taking this time to ask myself, ‘What are my goals with this book?’

Every day another review of Substitute Me comes out, both good and not as good. I’ve already seen my Amazon numbers fluctuate from incredible lows to painful highs in a ten-hour period. I’ve been invited to participate in some of the best book festivals in the country and I’ve been rejected unceremoniously from others. Without knowing what my goals are for this book, these external reactions to my work are hard to contextualize. Have I succeeded because Booklist gave me a good review? Am I failure because The Brooklyn Book Festival never called my publicist back? Without the proper mindset, I’d surely take to my bed full of anxiety and dread.

After reading a critique of my work (on Goodreads, so it’s not the end of the world, but still) where someone claimed my book was “readable” but didn’t care for my overuse of adverbs, I knew I needed to have it clear in my own mind what I wanted from this book, or else my bed would appear to be a viable option. So this is what I realized.

My goals for this book are really simple. I just want people to read it.

Even though I’ve written two critically acclaimed nonfiction titles, this book is a new beginning for me. Substitute Me is my first novel. I know it isn’t perfectly crafted, but it’s a great story with some ‘keen social insights,’ as one reviewer put it. I know it is not going to bring me any literary awards, but that is okay. It is only my first novel and I intend to write others, better than this one. Each time better. I will develop a body of work that defines me, not just this one book. So, a rejection from a book festival or no callbacks from a local radio show will not bring my world to a screeching halt. It is to be expected. Likewise, a glowing review and an invitation to be on Oprah (I wish) isn’t going to make me stop trying to improve my craft. At the end of the day, good review or bad review, I’ve achieved success because somebody read my book. And that feels pretty good. Maybe my slogan for my publicity campaign should be, “Just Read It!”

What about you She Writers, what are your goals for your next projects? And do you have a slogan for that?

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Comment by Kass on August 12, 2010 at 11:10am
Great, great post. Helps me to keep the big picture in mind (which is so easy to lose sight of when I'm swamped with rewriting and revisions!).
Comment by Janice Marie Nolting on August 5, 2010 at 6:33pm
This makes lots of sense to me. I am one who almost never sets goals, outside of my daily morning writing that is. I have set hours each morning to write and a goal to revise and finish my manuscripts but after my queries are sent out, seems I run out of steam. Thank you for giving out this helpful advice. It gives me something to think on. Janice Nolting
Comment by Karen Simpson on August 5, 2010 at 2:45pm
My novel comes out in February and I just join a book promotion workshop. I was stumped by the part where she asked for three goal. I hadn't a clue how to frame what I wanted for my novel. Your post is so helpful. Thank you Thank you

Comment by Lois Roelofs on August 5, 2010 at 10:41am
Just opened this and love this timely post. And the comments! I, too, have a book coming out in the next few weeks. I don't expect to become famous, but my goal is to have fun with the book (a memoir of my nursing career) and to help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. Thanks for this reminder to be clear about our goals. It's so reassuring to read about others' qualms about this whole idea of promotion.
Comment by Kathy Jordan on August 4, 2010 at 9:29pm
Lori, as someone who had a non-fiction book published yesterday, I found your post extremely helpful. I don't think I've really thought through what my goals were, apart from some amorphous desire to "help people." The whole promotion thing feels very burdensome to me, so your advice to focus on goals and allow that to drive how one spends one's time took a huge weight off. Thanks!
Comment by Noel Miskovsky on August 4, 2010 at 3:21pm
Thank you so much for this. I will sit down and define my goals for my first book. I never thought about it in this way but I can see how important and stabilizing it must be.
Comment by Amy Wise on August 4, 2010 at 2:13pm

My ultimate goal is to write full time. I am currently working AND writing, but I am working towards ONLY writing. I KNOW I'm going to do it and I KNOW it's going to work. It's that simple. I'm passionate about my goal so I WILL achieve my goal. I know that in my heart and soul.

In regards to reviews.....If your book came from your heart, and you wrote what YOU wanted to say, then that is all that matters. Do what you need to do to promote and sell your work, but don't let any negativity bring you down. Trust me from one who has been in an interracial marriage for 17 years (together for 18) and is now writing a book about all that goes along with that "world"....if I listened to everyone and "heard" all the negativity, I would have had only one date! Now I have a life partner and beautiful family. You have a fabulous book and wonderful future! The rest is just noise. Best of luck. Amy
Comment by Denise H. Todd on August 4, 2010 at 11:21am
Your advice is also applicable to every thing in life. Focusing on your objective, or your primary goal, in relationships, career positions, child rearing . . . everything not only make decisions easier to make, and puts consequences (intended and unintended) in perspective. Very well written, and great advice. Thank you.
Comment by Maddie Dawson on August 4, 2010 at 8:45am
As a person who also had a book come out yesterday, I thank you so much for writing this post! I, too, am trying to define exactly what I want from this novel. My bed looks like a viable option waaay too often, I'm afraid. It's such a seesaw effect, isn't it? Wild fluctuations in amazon numbers, and in reviews where people say the most casual things that just land right in our hearts! I hear you, Lori. And I can't WAIT to read your book. She Writes is just the best place for giving us a forum for these kinds of thoughts; my family members are just baffled as to why these things MATTER so much to me. But they do! Thank you again...and I wish you all the best with this book! (I saw the mention in Entertainment Weekly...that is so great.) People magazine was supposed to review my book last week--it was written and scheduled, but then didn't run, and MAY run in the next issue, but who knows? I can't help but be curious and hope it happens, but I also have to do what you did and think, "just read it." That's MY goal, too. Thanks!
Comment by Julie Jeffs on August 4, 2010 at 7:26am
Well since Oprah is ending her show the pressure is off, none of us will get that gig (trying to make you smile). I'm with you, I would absolutely love to have a bestseller that everyone loves but that's not realistic. Since my memoir is non-fiction my goals really are to have people read it and to maybe influence just a tiny bit of change or at least discussion about women in non-traditional jobs -- those usually dominated by men (law enforcement). Wonderful post, can't wait to "Just Read It!""


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