Setting goals for publication

Are you serious about getting published?  That may seem like a silly question, but how you answer that question determines the rest of your writing career.  Some people really aren’t serious about it.  Oh, they’d like to be published, but it isn’t enough of a priority for them to make it happen.  They write because they enjoy it and they like hanging out with other writers.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, as long as you don’t care about getting published.

Now, let’s assume you’re in the other category of writers.  You intend to make this a career.  You want to some day walk into a store and see your book on the shelf and maybe even on the NYT best sellers list.  This article is for you.

You can’t accomplish a goal without first setting it.  Seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?  So why hasn’t everyone done that already?  Maybe they just didn’t think about it or maybe they don’t know how specifically to do that.  The following is a proposed goal sequence toward getting published.  You will need to read through the steps to see where you are currently located and what you need to do from there.  It’ll adjust a little according to life, but if you follow it, things will happen-- money back guarantee.

If you have not finished your first manuscript, set a goal at five years toward publication.  You might think that’s a long time, but you have a lot to accomplish and the industry itself is a slow as Christmas.  We’re going to start this timeline at five years out and go from there.

A focus on craft  (First 2 years)

Year 1

Write and finish your first manuscript.  In order to do that, you will need to make craft your first priority.  Read beginning craft books on how to write a novel and Goals, Motivations and Conflicts, by Deb Dixon.  Join a writing organization like RWA and a local chapter.  Joining a chapter is very important, even if you can’t attend many of the meetings.  Get on the loop for the chapter and learn from those who’ve been doing it for a while.  Attend writing workshops and conferences and listen, ask questions and learn.  This is not only a good way to learn craft, but it is the first step in networking.

Year 2

Write book number 2.  Do not make it a sequel to book number 1.  Writing a sequel to a book that hasn’t sold yet is a waste of time.  Accept the fact that your first book stunk (they always do) and get on with life.  Don’t try to re-write book one until it’s perfect because that’s not going to happen.  Yes, there are people who sell the first book they write.  There are also people who hit the lottery.  Enough said?

Continue studying craft and developing connections.  Enter a contest or two with book two.  It’ll give you unbiased feedback from people who don’t know you and will let you see where you need to focus your craft issues. (see article on this website about contests)


A focus on inventory (Next 2 years)

Year 3

You are now writing your third manuscript—hopefully starting on your fourth.  You’ve learned the basics of the craft and the second book might be salvageable, but fight that urge.  You can always go back to it when you’ve honed your craft a little more.  If you attempt to fix it now, it’ll have to be fixed again later, and you’ll find yourself writing in circles.  New characters, new premises and new settings help you develop as an author.  Fixing old manuscripts will not.  Say to yourself, “I am a writer, not a re-writer.”  That doesn’t mean you don’t do revisions, but if it takes more that a couple of weeks to fix, it’s probably terminal.

At this point, you now need to learn how to produce manuscripts.  Once you get published, you won’t have the luxury of spending years on a manuscript.  Many newly published authors get hit with this reality in a rather abrupt way.  They spend years making their first salable book perfect then the editor says, “Great!  I want that next book in 6 months.”  After the author swallows her tongue, she scrambles to produce another book, which often isn’t as good as her first.

So producing inventory is extremely important, not only for learning that skill but because having several books to work increases your chances of making a sale.  My agent signed me because of book #2 while I was working on book # 6.  My first sale was actually book #5, which was bought while I was writing book # 8.  Get the picture?

In order to increase that inventory, you need a plan.  A lot of people like to argue the advantages of pantsing versus plotting, but if you want to write and write quickly, you’re going to have to do some pre-writing of some sort.  Know your story, know your characters, know what scenes are coming up and how you’re going to get there.  Yes, some very well known and successful authors are pantsers (write by the seat of their pants) but you aren’t one of them or you wouldn’t be reading this article.  A really good book to help with increasing your writing speed is “Thirty Days to First Draft” by Karen Weisner.  She recommends using a page for each scene in your book and laying out your entire manuscript in thirty days.  If her technique is too detailed for your style, you could still probably benefit from some of her ideas.

During year three, increase your contest entries and start on your query letters.  (See article on writing queries).  Go ahead and query your second or third manuscript.  Again, this is for more than just the obvious reason.  You need to learn how to write a strong query and how to take rejections.  You are going to get lots of rejections.  It’s part of the business.  Get over it.

Year 4

You are still producing inventory, hopefully 2 or 3 books per year.  Your craft is now moving into deeper levels and the books you’re studying are things like “The Hero’s Journey” by Vogler.  You should be networking and pitching manuscripts at conferences.  Hopefully, you are winning contests and starting to work on your website.

Focus on Business

Year 5

This is the year it’s going to happen for you.  You are still writing like a machine, studying craft and continuing with your contacts, but now you are working your manuscripts like you are a professional writer.  That’s the goal, isn’t it?

In this year, you query aggressively (see article on Working Your Manuscript).  By this time you should have several friends who are published authors, you should have editors and agents who know your name when they see/hear it, because you have queried them or met them at conferences.  AND you should have full manuscripts on several desks --editors or agents.  Notice I said several.  If you’ve done your querying properly, you’ll have several options floating around.  If you don’t, then you need to back up and look at the previous year’s stages and see what you’ve skipped over.

Will following this plan guarantee a sale in five years?  No.  But it will greatly increase your chances.  It might take six years or you may pull it off in 4, but setting goals and keeping them will get you there eventually.  Good luck and keep writing.


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