Merriam-Webster Online defines the word goal as “the end toward which effort is directed.”

For my purposes here, I would like to modify that definition a bit for writers. My definition, then, would go something like this: The quantifiable end which effort within a writer’s control is directed.

With that definition in mind, would something like I want to be on the New York Times bestseller list ever be considered a valid goal?

Sorry, but it would not.


For one thing, getting your name and the title of your book on that list is far beyond your control as a writer. You can do everything humanly possible, starting with writing what you consider to be a commercially-viable story and ending with promotion out the ying yang, and
99.9% of the time you’re still not going to make the coveted list.




Because it’s not within your control. There are many factors that come into play (timing for the market, co-op placement, orders from major chains and big box stores, reviews, etc.). It’s just not a valid goal. It’s not within your control, and it’s not quantifiable. There’s no way to measure your efforts to insure that it happens.


But…but…but…you might say, if I land a top New York agent, and s/he submits to all the major publishers, and one of them agrees to publish my book…


Hold on thar, Bob-a-looey. Landing a top New York agent is not within your control, either, nor is it quantifiable. It’s the same thing as saying that your goal is to be a NYT bestseller. You can say it all you want, but nothing you do is necessarily going to make it happen.


Try to keep your goals quantifiable, and within your control. Here are a few examples for aspiring authors:


I will write X number of words per day (week, month, or whatever time frame you can manage).


I will improve my craft by reading more, writing more, attending classes and workshops, communicating with online groups and forums, etc.


When my book is finished (that is, when several drafts have been completed, and when comments and suggestions from beta readers and critique group members and possibly even a freelance editor or two have been incorporated to the best of my ability) I will submit X number of queries to agents I have researched, and to whom I feel would be a good match for my project and myself.


I will research and submit to X number of legitimate presses that accept unagented submissions, presses with the resources, memberships in professional trade associations, distribution channels, etc., commensurate with where I see myself as a published author.


While I’m pitching book #1 and hoping for the best, I will start book #2 and give it the attention it deserves, knowing I’m a better writer now than I was when I started book #1…


Realistic goals depend on quantification and control.


Keep it real, and you’ll be a better and happier writer for it.



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Oh well hell Jon. Gots to hear that story... come on. Shot with a gun?
Okay, I'm making up my own story. You were drinking and skeet-shooting with with Padgett Powell and Dick Cheney .....
I can't say what I want to say here, for fear of being visited by the Secret Service. But the story isn't that great: Padgett had, in those days (1998/9) a little sporting clays range set up on his property outside Gainesville. Basically it was one springloaded LL Bean skeet flinger (with seat!), with a number of shooter's stations around it. One guy would fling the clays and the other would shoot, then you'd switch, then you'd move to the next station. Fun! Especially when bourbon and cigars were involved. One of the stations, though, pointed pretty much straight back at the flinger: an obvious problem, given that the key to good scoring in sporting clays is to shoot low and early. So I'm manning the flinger, and Padgett's shooting, and it looks dangerous from where I'm sitting so I'm actually hunkered way down, but he gets still me in the jeans and shirt with three or four pellets of 12-gauge bird shot. It doesn't have enough steam on it to penetrate my clothes, thank God, but they leave nice little bruises--feels like getting stung by a bee.
Well put, Jude. If more people understood the difference between dreams and goals--on any field--the world would be a far more well-adjusted place.
Thanks, Dana. It would be a start, anyway!
Great post, Jude!

I always tell aspiring writers to be realistic. But many don't listen because they have stars in their eyes. The stars are what kills the writers. We all have dreams and that's why we write! Most of us are living our dreams as writers but you have to be realistic as well.

I always tell aspiring writers to learn the business and keep their heads on straight. Being a realist is the difference between a happy writer and a miserable one. If you are realistic, nine times out of ten, even if you don't reach all your goals, you'll still be happy with what you've accomplished.

Best Wishes!
Thanks, Stacy!
I think it was Red Skelton who said, "I don't care if I ever become the greatest, I just want to be a player." That's me. I don't know if that's a goal or a dream or even realistic for the book business, but it's how I feel.

Learn as much as you can about the business, Sharon, and just keep writing. I skimmed your blog, and I hope you know by now to NEVER trust an agent who refers your to a book doctor. It's a scam. Your best bet is to stick to agents who belong to AAR, or to referrals from other authors.
Hah! Good point! Never to be forgotten by aspiring authors.
Sorry about my drippy "player" post. I had gotten another emailed rejection letter before I posted that, so I was kind of bummed. It's a new day and the sun is shining, so all is right in my little world, once again. :)

I've come a long way from the very green newbie who sent her MS and a large sum of money to a book doctor. And I know what to watch out for, now, when searching for an agent.


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