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.