The Art of Setting Goals: It’s Not Always “Go Big or Go Home”

by Joel Friedlander on June 14, 2013 · 13 comments

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by J.G. McNease (@JGMcNease)

J.G. McNease, a new fiction author from Louisiana, is also a goal-oriented person. Here she looks at the goals that gradually brought her book to fruition, and extracts some wisdom at every step of the journey.



Goals are the destinations to which we journey in life. Goals give us a sense of purpose when we are working—something to achieve or strive for.

Sometimes without even knowing, we set goals and achieve them, giving us that feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment. Writing is no different from any other life or work endeavor and, therefore, goals are essential—a means to an end.

Have you ever started a writing project without an end goal? Maybe you didn’t realize you had a goal but somewhere in the back of your mind, you had a purpose for writing. It happens to me all of the time, so there’s no need to feel out of place.

When I started writing my book, I had no idea it would actually become a book, published on Amazon, and purchased by others. It was simply a story I had in my mind and I decided one day to put it down on paper.

My first time sitting down and writing, I truly didn’t have a goal for the book or chapters. I wrote three chapters at first and didn’t do anything else with it for a while.

It was never my dream to become an author. I never imagined that it was possible for me to write a book. This is where goals come in to play for me. I’m a goal-oriented, future-focused kind of woman. I set my sights on a goal and I work, work, work until I achieve that goal.

I did the same thing with writing a book as I did with running a half marathon. I set my end goal in the beginning and I worked towards that goal until I reached it. I’m going to do a bit of self-reflection and share with you my goals, show you how they changed over time, and how those goals led me to become a self-published author of a twenty chapter novel.

GOAL #1: Write a Book

My first goal, when I actually had it in my mind that I was going to write a book, was to write as much as I could each day that I had a chance to write. I didn’t have a set amount of words I wanted to write per day or a number of chapters I wanted to complete per week. I didn’t even know how long the book was going to be.

The problem with this goal was that it was big. I couldn’t see the end, which led to boredom. Because I grew tired of writing I took long breaks, sometimes even months at a time. With such a large goal, it was difficult to keep focused on my final destination.

  • TIP: Set your writing goals realistically, break your book into smaller goals, and find a style that works best for you. If you work well with word counts, then set a daily word count goal. If you work best with chapter completion, then set a weekly number of chapters goal. If you are not good with either one of those things, find what works for you and go with it.



GOAL #2: Publish

My second goal came when I was around chapter 15 of the book. I had now written more than I had ever written in my entire life and I had invested quite a bit into the story and characters. I started looking into publishing avenues and read a couple of “how-to” articles on traditional publishing.

During my research, I came across an article on self-publishing an eBook through Amazon. I hadn’t really given this much thought before, but the article was pretty convincing. I looked into Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and decided that I wanted to take this route to publish my book. Once I had set publishing as my end goal, I had more motivation to write the remaining chapters of my book.

  • TIP: If you don’t want to publish your work, you don’t have to, but it is helpful to have an end goal in mind for your writing project. Maybe you just want to write a book without publishing it. If that is the case, then set your end goal as the completion of your book.

GOAL #3: Set Launch Date

I finished writing the book, all twenty chapters and an epilogue, and let it sit for a month or so. I knew I wanted to publish my book on Amazon but I had no time frame for publishing. The book needed editing but I had worked so hard to finish writing that I had no desire to go back and read over it.

I needed a break so I took one. When I felt up to the task, I sat down and read over the book. It had errors and plot holes as I had expected but it was a quality story overall. The editing and formatting process took time, and I didn’t know when I would reach the end. It was March and I finally decided to set my publishing date around the end of May.

  • TIP: If you are self-publishing, setting a launch date will give you a time frame in which to complete everything. From there, you can set due dates for different parts of this process. This will help prevent you from becoming overwhelmed as you take on the roles of author, designer, formatter, and publisher.

GOAL #4: Format

Over the next month, from March to April, I researched best practices for self-publishing an eBook. I read about everything from cover design to formatting to marketing. I hadn’t realized how difficult the self-publishing route would be to do it all on my own. I had a deadline of the end of May to complete everything.

self-publishingFormatting was a nightmare and it made editing look like a piece of cake. I tried templates and suggestions from blog posts and websites, etc. to get my book formatted correctly in Microsoft Word. It was a tedious process—format, convert to HTML, convert to .MOBI, test on Kindle Previewer, find an error, repeat.

I did this formatting dance countless times before I finally found Scrivener which made my life so much easier. The formatting was done, saved, and I was ready to produce the final product.

  • TIP: Formatting an eBook for Amazon may not be a problem for you. There are people out there who will do it for you for a fee. If you don’t want to spend any money, invest in Scrivener. It changed my life and made the daunting task of formatting much easier. I’m pretty computer savvy but formatting apparently isn’t my forte. You can find the Scrivener application and even try it out for free at http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

GOAL #5: Sell Book

I had a discussion with my husband a few weeks before my launch date about my goals of selling the book. What I wanted was to publish the book but I hadn’t thought about what happens after I publish it. I didn’t have a big following of readers who were anxiously awaiting the launch of my book. In fact, I didn’t really have a following at all.

I decided that it didn’t matter to me how well my book sold, so long as I could sell at least one book. The end of May came and I launched my book, The Last Navigator, on Amazon Kindle. I can’t even begin to explain how good that felt to have accomplished my goal of publishing a book.

Once it went live, I sent the link out to family and friends and waited for the purchasing to start. In the first few days, I had 5 purchases which would have been really great considering I had a goal of selling at least one book.

Somewhere in between the time I set my original selling goal and the time I started selling, I had let my imagination run wild with the possibility of becoming a best-selling author. This was a mistake. The 5 purchases I had in the month of May were as follows: my husband, me, my mother-in-law, my brother-in-law, and my dad. I hadn’t thought about the fact that all of the purchases might be family members who were just trying to support me. I was discouraged about my book sales even though I had technically accomplished my goal.

  • TIP: To avoid getting discouraged, set your goals smaller. It isn’t very likely that you will become a best-selling author overnight if you aren’t well known in the world. Don’t let this stop you from dreaming big, though!

Defining Goals and Starting Small

I shared my story with you as an example of real-life goal setting by someone who isn’t a professional writer or experienced author. I fell into the trap of “Go Big or Go Home” and I want to warn others that it’s easy to fall victim to this notion.

If I could have gone big, I would have certainly loved to do so. It isn’t a reality for me, at least not yet, and I needed to set my goals to reflect my current circumstances. After a week of severely slow sales, I came home and cried to my husband. I was a ball of self-pity and couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel anymore. I was fully prepared to take my ball and go home when he gave me this nugget of advice.

He reminded me of my original goal to sell just one book. He told me that if I had changed my goal, I needed to come to terms with that and work harder to reach my new goal. He advised me to try to set realistic goals for myself and not expect to become a best-seller overnight.

I reflected on this for a while and came back to him later on in the night. My goal had indeed changed and it was an unrealistic goal that was only going to lead to disappointment. When I told him this, he smiled and told me that I just needed to sit down and define my goals—starting small and celebrating the little accomplishments.

With a deep breath I embraced his advice and set my first real selling goal as follows: to sell my book to one person with whom I am not related and have no relationship. I got a call from my dad the next day who told me that one of his former students (with whom I have no relationship and I am not related) bought the book. Goal accomplished! I set my next selling goal to sell at least 10 books during the month of June and have made it almost half way already.

  • MY ADVICE: Start where you are in life and make changes as your circumstances change. If you go big, you may end up going home.

self-publishingJ. G. McNease is an administrative professional by day and an avid writer by night. In 2011, she received her Masters of Social Work degree from Louisiana State University in her hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Her educational background, passion for the human condition, and Christian faith, among other things, have a significant influence on her writing and storytelling.

Since her debut novel, The Last Navigator, J. G. McNease has written several other short stories which she hopes to compile into a collection of works. She has also begun working on the companion book to The Last Navigator, which has a working title of Through Ryan’s Eyes. She works and writes in Tallahassee, Florida, where she and her supportive husband currently reside. You can find The Last Navigator [Kindle Edition] at http://amzn.com/B00D35TQNQ. Learn more about J. G. McNease and her upcoming works at http://jgmcnease.wordpress.com.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com. Amazon links contain my affiliate code.

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    { 8 comments… read them below or add one }

    Carol Brill June 14, 2013 at 3:51 am

    Hi J.G., congratulations on achieving your goal.
    Over the years of writing my novel, PEACE BY PIECE, I often had the “go big” fantasy. At times, it served me well, fueling my passion to devote many hours to writing and learning writing craft to achieve the dream.
    But it absolutely helped to chunk down the big goal into manageable pieces –small wins along the way.
    all the best in your sales. carol

    Reply

    J. G. McNease June 14, 2013 at 7:00 am

    Carol,
    You are right about the “go big” fantasy fueling the drive to write and write well. I often needed to dream big when I would get tired of writing and want to take a break or even quit. When I was still in undergraduate school, the football coach at LSU came out to my sorority to make a speech and the only thing I could find for him to autograph was a pillow case. When I handed it to him, he smiled and asked me for my name. I told him and he wrote a quick note. Later on that evening, I looked at the pillowcase and read the note. It said:
    “Dear Jamie,
    Don’t be afraid to dream big!
    - Les Miles”
    There’s no shame in dreaming big because if you don’t reach for the stars you will never touch them.
    Good luck with your writing!
    - J. G. McNease

    Reply

    Greg Strandberg June 14, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Nice post. I also think it helps to channel some of that anger/rejection/despair over not having a lot of sales and use that as a kind of fuel to write your next book.

    I think the main thing is to just not give up. I had 4 novels collecting dust on my hard drive for more than a year before I read about self-publishing in a magazine. I had never thought about it before, but it never stopped me from writing.

    Reply

    J. G. McNease June 17, 2013 at 5:18 am

    I agree with you, Greg. It does fuel the desire to write another book and get it out there. I understand having projects that collect dust on a hard drive. The Last Navigator did just that for about half a year until I had the itch to start writing again, this time with a goal of completing the book. I have several novels/novellas started that are saved on a thumb drive. I work on them from time to time but they mostly just collect dust. I haven’t given up on them yet, though. Good luck with your writing!
    - J. G. McNease

    Reply

    Steve Vernon June 15, 2013 at 3:22 am

    Great post. Like that opening photo of a football field this game of writing is often measured in inches – or centimeters up here in Canada.

    (which we ACTUALLY spell centimetres…but my American Spellchecker keeps correcting me)

    I’ve been in this e-book business for about two years. When I started out I made about fifty dollars a month. Now I’ve upped that a little bit to about one or two hundred a month. I hear other writers explaining how they sell 1000′s of copies a month and how they are making money so fast they needed to hire someone just to fold up their folding money – but I try not to let that bother me.

    I’ve sold one book this morning. I’ve sold as many as ten books in a single day several times in the last six months. You add that to the fact that breath is still going in and out of my lungs – although it usually winds up smelling a little funky on that going out part of the process – and that’s good enough for me.

    Keep it simple.

    Keep it real.

    Hannibal didn’t knock down the Berlin Wall on top of Genghis Khan in a single day – now did he???

    Reply

    J. G. McNease June 17, 2013 at 6:01 am

    Steve,
    It’s great to hear of your success as a self-published author. Even though you may not be selling millions of copies each month, it is still an accomplishment to be selling as many as you are. I hope that you continue to have successful sales and maybe one day you will be having to hire someone to fold up your money. :)
    - J. G. McNease

    Reply

    Dan June 25, 2013 at 3:56 am

    If you’d like a tool for setting your goals, you can use this web application:

    Gtdagenda .com

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote and Google Calendar, and also comes with mobile version, and Android and iPhone apps.

    Reply

    J. G. McNease June 25, 2013 at 7:34 am

    Dan,

    Thanks for the comment! That application sounds like it may be helpful.

    J. G. McNease

    Reply

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