I’m more than a few weeks late, at this point, in getting to talking about my goals and plans for the new year. I’ve already lost five out of the fifty-two weeks this year. But that still leaves forty-seven weeks, which is still plenty of time to plan ahead for.
I wanted to follow along in the same vein as my goals post from last year. Give a list of specific, actionable and measureable goals by which I can check myself throughout the year. (I defined “SMART” goals in my post last year.)
But before I get to those, I wanted to take a moment to muse about my long-term goals and dreams. What is it, exactly, that I want to achieve?
Thinking About Long-term Goals
I haven’t made much of a secret about it my long-term goals and dreams. I talked about them in last year’s goal post, for instance. And it’s implicit in my blog’s tagline: “A Day in the Life of an Aspiring Fantasy Author”. By “aspiring fantasy author” I mean not that I aspire to write (however slow I am at writing, I am writing), but that I aspire for my writing to be published. Of course, now we live in a day and age when the definition of the word “published” is in flux.
Of course, when I say I want to be “published” part of what I mean is that I want to be read – that is to say, that I think others will like what I write, and that it’s worth their time to read it. (A pretty audacious thing to say, I know.) And, once upon a time, the most sure-fire way to get your words in front of people who might be interested in reading them was to go the “traditional” publishing route: get your book picked up by a big-name publisher, or your story printed in a big-name magazine. Sure, you could self-publish your book, but save for a few exceptions, that way lay madness (and, too frequently, financial ruin, especially if you went the way of the Vanity Press). Without the distribution muscle of an established publisher, it was nearly impossible to get your work into bookstores.
We all know now that the world has changed. Thanks to technological disintermediation, we have a viable alternative to the old traditional way of doing things with Digital Self-Publishing. Today we have concrete examples of authors who’ve made it big bucking the old system and taking their books directly (and digitally) to the people: illustrious success stories like those of Amanda Hocking and E. L. James and Hugh Howey and so on. It’s a new golden age, a publishing bonanza! But then, when you dig right down into it, you find that the bloom is already off the rose, and amazing success (or even modest, work-a-day living success) is harder to achieve than many initially thought.
On my blog I’ve been critical, and thought critically about, both the new Digital Self-publishing paradigm and the old traditional publishing model. I’ve pointed out some of the systemic problems with each, and how those problems negatively impact authors. So, for me, it seems I could go either way. There are strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats with either road.
But when I say my long-term goal is to be a published author, I’m really talking about traditional publishing. (This probably comes as no surprise to regular readers… although I have been fairly critical of both roads to publication, I think on balance I’ve been slightly more critical of the Digital Self-publishing reovolution.) However, inspired by a recent post from Jo Eberhardt’s Happy Logophile, I find myself asking… why?
I’ve spent some time thinking, and it’s a question that I’ve found harder to answer than it should be. The answer – the honest answer – seems, at first, to be a shallow response.
A first pass: As a child, I never dreamed of getting my book digitally published; I dreamed of having real, physical copies of my books available on bookstore shelves. Riposte: So what? Times, and the world, have changed. If you want a career as a writer, you’ve got to go where the money is. Counterclaim: But there’s still too much money on the table in the Physicl Print world… why would I voluntarily give up as many as half of my potential sales. Besides, going-it-alone is essentially a crapshoot: there’s no sure-fire way of rising above selling a small handful of e-books to achieving real success, and there’s no objective or consistently-reliable way of discerning or differentiating high-quality self-published e-books from uninspired pablum. And besides again: I can’t afford the editing and cover-artwork and design and whatnot I’d need to make the thing at least marginally presentable, and I’m insufficiently skilled (and insufficiently endowed with the free time needed to gain the skills) to do it myself.
When you dig down into it, then, my reasoning is at least a little better than merely shallow. As a practical matter, I’m focused on traditional publishing because that’s what my current resources best allow. That’s not an insignificant matter. I have all the (non-free) time in the world to wait on editorial response and the machinery of publishing to do its thing. But I don’t have the free time needed to make self-publishing work.
But the real reason is more than mere practicality, I think. I want to be successful. Given my resources, I can’t be successful at self-publishing. But more than that, I suspect that even if I had the right resources, I still wouldn’t be as successful at self-publishing as I believe I would be in the traditional publishing world. The fact is… I really want to get rich off of my writing. And all things considered I still feel I have a better shot at getting rich in the traditional path.
I’m sounding shallow again. But the reality is… it’s not about the money. It’s about what the money buys. As a husband and father, financial success in publishing gains me security for my family and a true legacy to pass on to my children. And, as an author, it buys me artistic freedom to pursue the projects I want to work on without worrying about whether the next thing I do will be a home-run or just a modest base-hit (or, for that matter, a ball or even a strike, if I’m going to keep using this whole baseball metaphor thing that I’m really ill-equipped to use).
But why would I worry about being successful at writing if I’m decently capable of being successful at a more regular career – like what I’m doing in my day job?
Don’t get me wrong: I like my day job a lot. But when it comes down to it… I never wanted to be an analytical genuis growing up. I never really wanted to be a corporate executive. And I surely didn’t want to be a mid-level manager. I’m practical, and my idea of a practical and achievable career goal has changed over time. But in my heart-of-hearts, deep down, the practical is a cage. There’s only one thread that has been constant throughout my life. Writing. If you ask me not what I am or what I do for a living, but who I am, there is only one answer, and it is an answer that has not changed since my earliest childhood: I am a writer.
As to why, then? It all comes back around to this. I am a writer. And I want to be who I was born to be and do what I was born to do. And I want to be able to do that and still be a good provider for my family and for the future.
That’s the long and short of why, so now I’d like to get back to the more traditional version of a goal-setting post: the actual, concrete, measureable goals I’ve set for myself for the (not so) new (anymore) year. I’ll start with the easy one.
1) Read at least 750,000 words worth of fiction in 2013: I wanted to set a goal that was a stretch for me – compared to last year – but which was also firmly achievable. My goal last year was to read 550,000 words of fiction, but I blew that goal away, reading over 950,000 words of novels and fiction. Since last year was the first time I’ve ever tracked the volume of my reading, I don’t have a track record: I don’t know if that’s a lot or a little for me. So I set my goal much higher than my 2012 goal, but lower than what I actually achieved. That way, I know 750,000 is achievable, but it’s still a higher expectation. I’m looking forward to
2) Write at least 1,750 words of new fiction per week* in 2013: This one is a little more challenging. In 2012 I’d set a goal of 2,000 words per week. I didn’t even come close. My average per week, when I wrote, was around 1,400 words… if you take my average for every week in 2012, the picture is even bleaker: only 940 words per week. That’s because I only wrote anything at all on about two out of every three weeks. I want to do better than that in 2013… but I also want to be realistic. I’m not going to do 2,000 words per week in 2013. Not gonna’ happen. That’s just being honest. 2012 was a busy year with a lot of stuff going on. 2013 will be much the same: different things going on (the old “Home Project” that ate up significant chunks of 2012 is mostly complete now) but still just as busy with new, time-annihilating things (I’m sure you’ll hear more about V.R. in the coming months ahead).
So, why 1,750? I approached it from two directions. I wanted to write more per week than I did in 2012. More specifically… I wanted to write an average of, or close to, two chapters in “The Book of M” per month (except for months when I’ll be working on short stories and other writing projects). So far, with 7 chapters in the bag, the chapters are averaging around 3,700 words. At 1,750 words per week, I would be writing approximately 2 chapters’ worth per month. Now, those words I’ve planned are project-agnostic: they may be from “Book of M” or from some short stories, or even from some SF&F-related non-fiction if such writing opportunities come avaialble.
You’ll note the asterisk up there in the statement of my goal. That represents a caveat. Last year, I’d intended to write a certain number of words per week, but I had enough foresight to see that some weeks things would come up. So I gave myself an escape clause, allowing me to write nothing in seven of the fifty-two weeks. In reality I spent 18 weeks writing nothing. I want to do better this year, but stay realistic. So I’m giving myself 14** weeks off, this year.
My summary assessment: this will be a difficult stretch goal for me to achieve in 2013. But I think it’s possible.
3) Complete first drafts for at least 2 short stories having less than 8,000 words apiece: This is a duplicate goal from last year. I didn’t achieve it. I got 2/3rds to 3/4ths of one short story written last year. I’m going to try to finish it and write one more.
4) Submit at least 1 completed and revised work to a professional market: Because I’m never going to get anything published if I don’t submit anything to a publisher. So this year, I want to try to do that. Unlikely I’ll have anythign accepted for publication this year. But I really ought to try if I really want to make a career out of this.
So… those are my goals for the year. They’re measureable and consistent with my overall goals and dreams for the future.
Well, then. Tell me about you. Did you set some goals for yourself in 2013, related to writing, or reading, or anything else in your life? Tell me about it in the comments, or link back to a blog post if you’ve already blogged it. And good luck in 2013! Good luck to us all!
**After some contemplation about the things I expect to take place through 2013, I had to change my expected “0-word weeks” caveat from 12 weeks to 14 weeks. I think that will be, frankly, more realistic.