Friday 22 March 2013

Goals, goals, goals ... OR ... How to motivate yourself

I generally write this blog for readers of my books (and anyone else who wants to follow the madness) but I've recently had a few indie authors get in touch with me and one thing I've found that many people have in common when they start out is issues with movitivation.

Just as a disclaimer - I'm a lazy bastard. Doing something hardcore like getting up at 5 a.m. in mid-winter to write for two hours before work just isn't going to happen. In general I'd much rather surf Facebook or mess around on YouTube than be productive. I'd been scrapping around for years writing a book here and a book there without ever really getting anywhere.

On the 24th of January 2012, I entered the world of self-publishing for the first time with a short story called Forever My Baby. I was five days shy of my 33rd birthday, and after fifteen years of collecting rejection slips from agents and publishers I decided to give it a crack on my own.

I had seven novels and roughly eighty short stories already written, in various states of repair. I knew that I couldn't just rely on the backlist, though, I would need new material.

When I first pressed that self-publish button I was hellbent on eventually making writing my career. I knew I had the talent - I'd sold thirty odd short stories to magazines, two of them professionally, and Tube Riders came within a whisker of getting an agent - but whether I would have the dedication and the business sense to get anywhere on my own was another thing entirely.

Prior to self-publishing, my writing motivation was at an all time low. In 2011, for example, I wrote perhaps 20,000 words. That's nothing.

When I first started self-publishing, I concentrated on getting out the backlist, a few short stories, a collection, and then Tube Riders in March. The rest of the time I spent doing things like playing around on Twitter and emailing bloggers. In June I decided I needed new material.

Since June 20th last year I've written 325,000 words. It would probably be a lot more but for the last month I've done nothing but editing.

That's the equivalent of three full novels, or roughly a novel every three months. There are guys I know writing a novel a month but those are God-like levels. Three to four novels a year is a pretty solid output for an average mortal like me.


It's an easy answer - goals.

I have dozens of little goals, and each one of them is important, but I don't want to talk about me, I want to talk about what you - the starting out writer - can do to motivate yourself.

The first and foremost rule of setting goals is to keep them attainable. Set yourself stupidly difficult goals and you'll spend all your time frustrated.

As example of a bad goal - last November I was feeling all confident so I took on NaNoWriMo. I took it a step further - I tried to write a 50,000 novel from scratch while carrying on with all my other stuff.

It was a bridge too far.

I started out okay, but a week in my computer broke. I lost 10,000 words, most of them on my NaNo. I started out again, but it just wasn't to be - I had another computer crash and lost another 5000. You guessed it - that was my NaNo. I tried a third time but my motivation was done and I quit. And all the while I was wasting time trying to force myself to rewrite a novel that I was force-writing in the first place, I lost ground on all my other stuff.

Big mistake.

Keep your goals simple.


Wordcounts are the easy one. If you struggle to write 1000 words a day but can quite easily get 600 - 700, set your goal at 500. That way, you'll easily attain it and you'll feel good about yourself. If you set your goal at 1500 and you only make 1200, even though you've actually achieved more, you'll feel like you haven't.

Make a big spreadsheet, and every time you start a new work in progress, put it in and keep a daily tally of the wordcount. Don't limit it to daily, either - have monthly and yearly targets plus targets for each work. If you're like me and usually have five or six different WIPs on the go all at the same time, you'll find that you'll always be within 100 - 200 words of one target or another. Keep pushing to get that extra 100 - 200 words down and then you'll see another little target to aim for. I can easily get 2000 words down by aiming for these little targets.

One other little thing that I cannot say often enough - if you can't touch type, LEARN. It's the one single most useful skill I have. People tell me my writing has really good rhythm - that's because I can type it almost as quickly as I think it. If you're plodding away with two fingers doing ten words a minute - get a program off the internet or take a course. You won't regret it. It takes time to learn - after doing a course in my final year of school - I spent six months with a tea towel draped over my hands while forcing myself to use the correct fingers for each key. It was brutally frustrating, but so, so worth it. So, one more time LEARN TO TOUCH TYPE. Don't um and ah, and mutter about how difficult it is when you start out ... JUST DO IT. Trust me on this ...


Once you've started publishing, set publication goals. Remember to keep them realistic. For example, in 2012 I published 21 items - two novels, one short story collection, two novellas, one novel split into three and a bunch of short stories. My aim for the end of 2013 is to hit 40. I just published item number 25 and I have nos 26, 27, 28 and 29 in the can and ready to go. It'll be a push but with a handful of short stories I should make it. My target for 2014 will probably be 50 - by the end of next year I'll have a lot less backlog and will be relying mostly on new material. Remember - as a self-published author you're not just relying on only new material - you can bump up your publication count by creating packages or bundles. For example, if you have ten short stories, there's no reason why you can't have two collections of five, an omnibus of ten, and then each story individually, all at different prices. Remember, this is business. I don't agree with ripping people off but what you're doing is offering purchasing options while increasing your visibility. Buyers choose whether they want to buy something. As long as your description accurately matches what they're buying, you're not doing anything wrong.

My goals are pretty high but I consider them attainable. Remember to set your own - for example a short story every two months, or a novel every six months, or one novel and two short stories a year. Keep your targets within what you are confident you can achieve.

Marketing Goals

You can pick and choose what these are, depending on your preferred forms of marketing. If you use Facebook a lot, then you can aim at building up your number of likes. I'm currently aiming for 500, mostly by using Facebook ads to target possible readers and then engaging the people that join up as much as possible to make them stay ... for a comprehensive breakdown on how to use Facebook for marketing, study and memorise every word of this excellent post by a good writing buddy of mine, John Daulton. That is the blueprint to using Facebook as an author.

Twitter, also is another one that authors often use. I'm not a big fan, but setting follower goals or tweet goals can be useful. Personally I've had little success through Twitter, mainly because I hate it, but some people swear by it.

Goodreads is my favorite place on the net for marketing. There are tons of things you can do there - set up groups, run events, giveaways, all sorts. One stat I keep an eye on and try to improve is how many users have my books on their to-read shelves. You can get on loads of these by doing paperback giveaways. My target for 2013 is 2000 unique users. Currently it's 1082, but I should make it if I do perhaps one giveaway - of a single book at a time - every two months. This is one of those things that you won't see an immediate sales bump for, but it's part of visibility and its that whole "speculate to accumulate" thing. I currently put about 80% of what I earn into marketing and book stuff - covers, formatting, editing, proofreading.

When you start out, it's best to concentrate most on writing rather than marketing. This post by the very successful thriller writer Robert J. Crane basically sums up why. In short, if you write a book that someone likes, you want them to have a bunch of others to choose from. It's possible to blow up and be a bestseller with one book, but it's rare. You're far more likely to have steady success across ten books.

Sales Targets

My personal favorite - this is where you get the cash. In theory ... Again, be realistic. If you have just one short story out you might be lucky to make a sale a month. I've been there. I have shorts out now that haven't sold a single copy in six months.

As always, keep them reasonable. Of course, when I published Tube Riders last March, I was hoping to have sold 10,000 copies by the end of the year. It didn't happen - but that doesn't mean it won't sell 10,000 this year, or next year. However, putting your money on a sudden boom like this is unrealistic. They happen, but not often. It's far better to look at your overall trends and aim for a gradual improvement as you put your books out.  By August or September last year my target was a sale a day - and it was a struggle, but they gradually came (mostly from hammering Amazon free promos). This year my aim is 100 sales/month. I've managed it four months in a row, mostly through endless free and bargain book promos, some of which are costing me money. Again, speculate to accumulate. If you're a real writer you're in this for the long haul - building up repeat customers over time is of paramount importance.

Long Term Goals

So, what do you want from all this? Do you want to be a pro, or do you just want to make a bit of cash for a year or two? It's all up to you, of course, but again here's another opportunity to set targets.

Mine, of course, are huge. I started this just shy of my 33rd birthday and my goal is to be doing this for a living by the time I'm 40. Seven years. In the interim, my three year goal is to be making $500 a month. I'm currently making about $200, although most of that is going back into the business. I'm not getting rich yet. Still, got to start somewhere ...

As always, look at what you think you can achieve, and keep your goals realistic. I know writers who've been able to quit their day jobs within six months, but out of half a million or so self-published writers that really is like being struck by lightning. It might happen, but it probably won't, so plan according to what you think is attainable.

Well, my hands are getting tired from typing all this, and I apologise for not being one of those bloggers who breaks up blocks of endless text with cute pictures - I could put some book covers in but I think you've seen all those already ... I hope some of you out there find this useful. Feel free to add any comments or link to this blog anywhere you like and if I think of any more information to add I'll update the blog as I get to it. Most of it is pretty basic stuff but you're building your career from the ground up after all ...

Chris Ward
March 23rd 2013


  1. Ha ha - don't apologise for not breaking your blog up with pictures. I prefer just the text myself :)

    This was a great post, with some great ideas. I liked reading about how you set your own goals, and your long term goals. I also have set goals for myself, but one thing I noticed you pointed out here is to set realistic goals, which is very wise advice indeed! The first time I set a writing goal I failed miserably as I didn't take into account the way life gets in the way :)

    Thanks for sharing

    1. PS - I did find this useful, by the way :)

  2. Thanks for this Chris. The advice has come at the best time for me.:)

  3. Your posts are always so helpful and motivating, Chris! Thanks for sharing your experience.

    I prefer working on a few things each month too, then I don't get bored and can also let work 'breathe' a little while I switch to something else.

    I've been stumbling a bit the past few months b/c I haven't been able to set goals like I usually do, but once I settle in the US (in May) I'll be stricter again about planning ahead.

    I'm looking forward to reading your new books/stories this year :D