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My big, scary goal

I couldn’t talk blithely about my goals today without stopping to mention the tragedy in Boston yesterday. My heart hurts for all those affected. It also swells at the stories and pictures of those who raced in to help just seconds after the bombs went off. After such devastation, we need a reminder that most people still care about their fellow humans.


Set a goal so big that you can’t achieve it until you grow into the person who can. ~ Unknown

LadderLast week I talked about being bold and setting big goals. Not just big, but scary goals that represent what you really want out of life in the long term.

Since I’ve been challenging you, I figured it’s only fair that I set my own goals and share them here. Talk about scary. If I put my goals on the Internet for everyone to see and then fail…

Here goes. My overarching goal:

To make enough money from my teaching and writing activities that my husband can quit working when he’s eligible to retire from the Air Force in 2016.

(Excuse me while I go breathe into a paper bag for a minute.)

That’s my big, scary goal. It used to be just a dream, something that would hopefully happen one day after I finally got published. But wishing for something—which often means you think it can’t really happen—does not get help me get things done. Nor does it help me figure out which path to take. Goals, on the other hand, can be broken down into progressively smaller pieces until you get to something you can start today.

I’m already making some money from teaching—and from Scrivener For Dummies—but I really want to generate income from my fiction. With that in mind, I started thinking about the best way to do that.

Keep working toward traditional publication, or self-publish?

Even a year ago, this would have been a no-brainer for me. New York all the way, baby! But times have changed. While I would love to be on bookstore shelves—if there are any left in a few years—and would love the ego stroke that getting a traditional publishing deal would bring, I don’t need either one to consider myself successful. Neither is a guarantee that the money would follow.

So, my plan is to self-publish. I think for all but the best writers among us there’s more money to be made going it alone.

That said, I don’t want to self-publish just because I’m not good enough to get a deal. I’ve seen enough work by authors who should have waited a few years to upload their books to Amazon, and I hope to not be one of them. But the kind of feedback I’ve been getting tells me I’m close. With a little help from an editor, I hope readers will never even notice my book doesn’t come from Avon, Signet, or St. Martin’s.

Am I averse to risk? Oh, yes. But there are different types of risk. While I’m loath to plop down the cash (that I might never earn back) for an editor and book cover designer, I’m even more worried about giving up my rights indefinitely to a publisher.

I also like to be in control. By self-publishing I can choose my covers, titles, release dates, book lengths, and story lines. For better or worse, success or failure is all on me.

(Where'd I put that paper sack again?)

By defining my ultimate goal, and determining that I intend to reach it by self-publishing, something dramatic happened. My daily priorities changed drastically.

I dropped my current WIP cold. It doesn’t fit with my new plan to release a trilogy in the spring of 2014, so it had to be pushed aside so I can work on revisions for the first book in the series and get to work finishing book two.

Without defining my goals so carefully, I would have kept pushing really hard—25,000 words in January, for example—on the wrong thing. Productive, yes. Helpful, no.

I can now make more informed decisions about how to utilize my time.

Sign up for editor/agent pitch appointments at a conference? Nope.

Read a blog post on writing great query letters? Pass.

Take a class on self-publishing? Sign me up.

See? A month ago, the answers to those questions would have been very different. There’s the real value of creating specific goals and plans for achieving them.

There's no guarantee I'll succeed, anymore than there was ever a guarantee I'd get a publishing contract. But at least I know I’ll be heading in the right direction.

Photo credit: By SOIR (Own work) (GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Tell your friends!


  1. Reply

    Good luck, sincerely. I set a goal of being financially self-sufficient with my writing by the end of 2015 (I set this goal at the end of 2010). To get there I needed a serious back catalogue. At the time I had published one and was working on a second book. Today 7 are published, and I’m working on number 8. After 10 (mid-2014)! Itake a breath and focus all of my efforts on “discovery”, since marketing isn’t really the problem, getting your works discovered by readers is…

    • Reply

      Thanks, Tony! You were probably being a bit more realistic than me, but I figure I’d rather run late on the goal than not aim for it.

      The backlist is key, I think. That’s one reason I’m going to wait until I have three books to release back-to-back. (Not to mention that I need some time to figure out what I’m doing.) Great job putting out seven books in three years. If you figure out the secret to discoverability, feel free to share. 😉 Good luck with that 2015 goal!

  2. Reply

    Gwen, if you haven’t seen some of Valerie Bowman’s blog posts (she’s been guest blogging on multiple blogs) she’s got great tips for both marketing and discoverability.

    Congratulations on setting your big goals. I absolutely agree with you, wishes blow in the wind but goals we work to achieve. Thanks for the reminder that to achieve the big goals, we need to conquer those progressively smaller pieces. 🙂

  3. Reply

    Gwen: Nice goals! There are so many of us in the same boat–trying to find our niche and to be able to publish stuff that’s worthwhile and that others will find and read and tell others who will read and tell others…and so on…Like you, I’ve set a goal to have several stories and books published, and just this past weekend I jumped into the Amazon KDP scene and published two short stories (“Hobo Willie” & “Pinewood Farm”) that have been lurking around in my “someday-I’m-going-to-do-something-with-these” folder. After one final revision and edit for each, they were sent on their merry ways, an extremely simple process, thanks to Scrivener and the Compile feature. I couldn’t have done any of it without Scrivener!

    On the critical subject of “discoverability,” I’m always eager for tips, tricks, potions, hocus-pocus, hoo-doo, spells, and almost anything (short of incantations!) that will show us just how to become discovered. Though there is no substitute for good quality writing, we all need some breaks–and a little bit of luck–to reach our goals. Enough of my rambling, already! Thank you for your ideas. you shared here. –Mark

    • Reply

      Mark: I’d love to hear more about your KDP experience in a few months. I hope the stories sell well! Glad Scrivener worked for you. Once you “get” Compile, the process is pretty simple, and once you set it up, you can save the settings to make next time a snap.

      My friend recently learned HTML in order to format her debut novel and I had to chastise her for not spending the time learning Scrivener instead. 😉

  4. Reply

    Once again, Gwen, you are inspiring me with your determination and clarity. Thank you. Having had the privilege of reading your fiction, I have no doubt you can be successful in which ever venue you choose. In light of your recent decision, you might want to take a look at (if you haven’t already) Elle Lothlorien’s website. Particularly her FAQs page. She has been very successful with self publishing and shares some good insights and advice. Best wishes and good luck!!

    • Reply

      Thanks, Maura! Sharing is frightening, but I figure I can’t be the only one out there who needs to do these things. Why not share and we can all be scared together? 😉 Thanks for the link; I’ll check it out!

  5. Reply

    Hi Gwen,
    A couple of years ago, I made this exact same decision. It is really scary but it does give you a huge sense of motivation. I actually ended up with a contract after I self published, but I will self-publish again for all of the reasons you mentioned. If you have any questions or I can help in any way, please do not hesitate to reach out. 🙂

    • Reply

      Thanks, Stephanie. At my chapter retreat this weekend, and feeling like I need to try a little of everything. Some self-pub, maybe some e-pub, traditional. You know, if I get any offers. 😉 I appreciate *your* offer!

  6. ABE


    There’s a book lying around this house somewhere with the title: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. Can’t remember where it came from, nor the contents right now, but the title says it all.

    If you’re going to be brave, I’ll join you. I want to finish Pride’s Children, Book 1 (of trilogy), by Christmas of this year, and Book 2 by my birthday in September, 2014. Since I can’t publish until then – and making those deadlines is not going to be easy – 8 or 9 months each should do it.

    I’m halfway through editing/rewriting/revising Book 1 – finished Chapter 10, Scene 2 this morning (Yay!), so I’m cheating a bit, but I ended up spending more time learning to blog – and post PC on my website – than I thought it would take (picky about formatting and stuff). Months more. Several months more – I’m slow.

    I’m hoping the learning curve (both for blogging and for creating ebboks) is flattening, and I will be out of formatting boot camp and spending my time exclusively on writing/editing from now on.

    Oh, and the financial goal? Selling like Darcy Chan (The Mill River Recluse) or even The Help. 600,000 copies sounds like a nice reach goal.

    Thanks for the goal-setting goal. Just writing it down makes it tangible.

    • ABE


      Oh, and if we’re going to be specific: I also want 10 beta readers who like mainstream/contemporary/women’s fiction, and are willing to be nitpicky but stick with me. I write long and dense, but promise everything interconnnects and works by the end.

      The first two chapters are up on the blog, the novel is finished (all three Books – some places rougher than others), and your Scrivener course helped me get through the major software change that was needed.

      Why is it so hard to SAY you have specific goals? I don’t really care if anyone laughs at me – maybe I’m just worried about my future self watching me (possibly) fail. So I’ll say ‘So what?’ and do it anyway.

      All it is is confessing publicly that I HAVE those goals – I know I do.

      Thank you.

  7. Reply

    ABE: Yay! Thanks for stepping up with me. 😉 Funny how hard it is to put it out there even if you don’t care what others think. We’re more afraid to disappoint ourselves. Good luck with your goal!!

  8. Reply

    Gwen, I say go for it!

    I did, and it led to getting a fabulous agent who is now trying to sell my next book to a traditional publisher. I was extremely fortunate my books have done well. I’m just going with the flow and seeing where this adventure leads. There is no right or wrong way to sell a book.

    • Reply

      Thanks, Kathy! Congratulations on all of your success. I agree, there’s no right or wrong way. As much as I love the control of self-pubbing, I’d still consider a traditional contract or an agent under the right circumstances. After my retreat last weekend, I think the industry is starting to notice we have other options and they’re changing their tune on things like rights reversion and such.

      So excited for you! 🙂

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  11. Reply

    Wow- just found this post when you linked to it today, and I’m amazed at how your thinking on this issue lines up with mine. Next time someone asks why I’m not pursuing traditional publishing, do you mind if I just refer them to this post? 🙂

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