On Writing,  publishing

New World of Publishing: Control


This is the second post on setting goals and getting ready to write for the new year that I have brought forward from 2012 and redone.

The first one was about how to handle failure, which will be a part of your new year. You won’t be able to avoid it completely.

Now this post is on dreams and goals. It is critical to know the difference between a dream and a goal. Critical to having a successful and fun year writing.

Set your goals only on what you can control.

Any business plan you decide to set up for yourself for the new year is made up of goals that can be attained with work.

The focus of the goals you set is to attain a dream.

It really is that simple and yet that hard.

Defining a Dream

So what is a dream?

Be rich, sell millions of books, hit #1 on the New York Times List? Yup, all dreams. How about winning the lottery? Yup, a dream.

How about being published by a traditional publisher? Yup, a dream.

You can send a novel to a traditional editor. But you have no control over the fact that you will be published by any traditional company. None.

And it really is a dream to think in this modern time of 2015 you can get a decent contract from a traditional publisher. But that’s another type of dream.

Not having control of an event or happening is why they are called “dreams.”

For the purpose of this series of posts, let me define a dream.

A dream is something that you want that is out of your direct control.

We work toward dreams, but we have no control over gaining them. That’s what defines something as a dream. No direct control.

Defining a Goal

Again for the sake of this discussion, let me say simply this: 

A goal is something you can do that is in your direct control.

Goals are set with the hope of achieving a dream.

Dream: Win the lottery. Goal: Buy a lottery ticket every week.

You can buy a lottery ticket. That is working toward the dream of winning the lottery. Buying a ticket is in your control.

So for fun, let me illustrate this entire topic with a pretty standard dream for fiction writers.

“Making a Living With Your Fiction” Dream

Dream: At some point in the future you hope to pay all your bills every year with only your fiction writing.

So what kind of goals are you going to need to get to this dream? Remember, you set goals to achieve dreams.

Before we set some goals, let me give some basics.

To be a professional writer over a long period of time, you are going to need the following just to start:

1) Determination bordering on psychotic.

2)  The ability to keep standing back up and going on when something knocks you down.

3) The ability to ignore the negative from all those around you, especially family and friends.

4) The hunger to keep learning writing craft and the knowledge you will never be good enough.

5) Fearlessness.

6) The desire to learn business.

7) The ability to control your own time and what comes at you.

If you think you have all seven of those points, or can learn or fake a part of them, then we can move on to the next step.

Most of you will look at those and just ignore most of them, thinking they are not important. And they might not be if you want your writing career to last for three to five years. But if you want to be around for 40 years like I have been, you need all seven completely, combined with the love of telling stories.

So what steps are next?  There are a couple of ways of approaching this as a business person.

#1… Set desired income and work backward to a production goal to attain the income… or #2…. set a production goal and work forward until the income arrives.

Both have problems I’ll get to, but if I had to pick one, it would be setting a production goal and working toward the income as it happens. Slightly more in my control. Both methods need production goals set, just as any manufacturing business would.

So that’s where I’ll start. (Notice, I started with a dream and am working this down to set goals to work toward the dream.)

How to set production goals

FIRST STEP… even if you are writing pretty well already, take an inventory of all the time you spend every day for three or four sample days. Doing everything.

Every minute in fifteen minute chunks. Do a log. And be honest. And also record your mental state during the time frame. For example, up at 6:30 a.m. but too tired to think until 8:30 and two cups of coffee.

After you have the log, figure out how much writing time you have.

Add in reading time, research time, and so on.

CAUTION!!!  Writing time is only writing time, creating new words only. Rewriting, researching, reading, taking a workshop is not writing time. Be clear on that because if you start to blur those lines, you will discover your new word production has decreased.

(Honestly, I expect very few of you to do this, even though it might be the most important step you take in production. Most writers fall down on point #7 above and it is often terminal to a writing career.)

SECOND STEP… Keep time over a number of writing sessions how many NEW words you get done in an hour. Round that to a general number per hour. For example, I write slower at the starts of stories and faster at the ends. So the general number I use for myself is around 1,000 words per hour. I tend to be comfortable with that and many professional writers I know are in that range.

Find your own range and be clear on it and don’t tell us. This is for you to figure out for yourself.

THIRD STEP… Look at all your writing time from step one and your word count per hour from step two and figure out how much you could write in A PERFECT WEEK.

Divide that in half and that is your writing goal of new words per week.

Example: So say with your day job and kids, you can carve out ten hours per week of actual writing time. Divide that in half and if you write about 1,000 words per hour of new words, you will be producing 5,000 new words per week. (5 hours x 1,000 words = 5,000 words per week.)

Take two weeks off and you get 50 weeks x 5,000 words or 250,000 new words per year.

That’s just five hours per week.  That’s how you write a lot of words.

If you can manage to actually write ten hours per week of original fiction, just over one hour per day, you would produce a half million words of fiction in one year. (And you would be called one of the fastest writers in publishing if you worked that one-plus-hour per day for a few years. Not kidding.)

What is the next goal?

You can’t do anything without producing and finishing new novels and stories. So the production goal has to be the top importance. Period. Those hours have to be protected like gold. And you have to work during those hours, not play video games on your computer or answer e-mail. You have to protect those hours from yourself most of all.

But after setting the production goal, (and defending your writing time and actually writing in that time) it will now depend on your own beliefs in both myths and how you want to go at  the publishing industry. You have choices.

Are you writing short fiction or novels or both?  (Again, please only answer for yourself in your own planning.)

Do you also have a dream of traditional publishing novels? Or can you be happy indie publishing and making a living that way?

Let Me Help a Little in the Decision…

Going back to doing a business plan, let’s come at the entire thing from another direction.

First, set how much money you need to live for a year. Say the number is $50,000.00 for the sake of this article.

Traditional Publishing Route:

If you are writing for traditional publishers and making $5,000 advances, you will need to write and sell ten novels per year plus to get close to that amount. Or get higher advances. If you want to make $50,000 per year and only write one book, you need to sell it for $50,000 plus. And do that every year.

Yup, that’s a dream like winning the lottery. It’s possible if you buy enough tickets… I mean write enough books. But in this modern publishing world, not likely.

And remember that selling a novel to traditional publishers is a dream, so to achieve that dream you will need to pound editor’s desks with dozens of novels for years. It will take a long, long time, as it has always done.

But I suppose it is possible. That’s how I did it. And for years Kris and I taught that road, the only road before five years ago open to writers.

Remember, I am writing this assuming the dream is to make a living with your fiction. To do so on the traditional route, you would have to set your goals to write a lot of books, far more than one hour per day, actually, and plan on taking a lot of years.

I walked that road for decades and never really got very lucky. I just worked harder than almost everyone and have now published over a hundred novels with traditional publishers. It can be done.

Do I suggest it as a road to walk in 2015?

No. God no, actually. But it is your career. Your choice. If you can stomach giving away all control and losing your book for the life of its copyright, go right ahead. I can’t do it anymore.

Indie Publishing Route:

First ten to twenty novels you put up you will be lucky to sell 25 copies per month average over a year. Average. Some will sell none, some more. (And I’m talking across the planet, not just Kindle. If you go only exclusive with Kindle, all bets are off.)

But do the math. If you are selling the novels at $5.99 each electronic (ignoring paper and audio for the moment) you make about $4.00 per sale or about $100 per novel average per month. Or around $1,200 per year per novel.

You will not do this with your first or second or even fifth or tenth novel. This path, just as traditional publishing does, takes a lot of product. And a lot of time.

That is a drawback. If the first year you write three novels (about six hours per week), you would be lucky after the first year to make great dinner money on all three books total every month. Some writers have gotten lucky and made more on fewer books, but I just flat don’t believe in luck as a business plan.

Also, you have to go back to Step One above and figure in the time where you can learn how to do covers and layout interiors of books.  And that can’t be your writing time. You must dig out the indie production time from other time. Not writing time.

And you will need to set up a business as a small press or indie publisher. My “Think Like a Publisher” posts under the tab above are free. So that can be learned, but not on writing time.

Indie publishing route is much easier to do business “projections” on. Say you have finished ten novels in four years. You are averaging 25 copies per month sold over those ten titles. That is a pretty steady income of $12,000 per year. Not $50,000, but a nice start.

As with traditional publishing, this method of approach assumes a few dreams happen given enough work.

With traditional publishing, this method assumes that with given enough years and work, you start selling regularly to traditional publishers. That’s the dream part.  It might not happen.

In indie publishing, the dream part is that you average 25 copies per book per month in sales. That might not ever happen either.

You can’t control if you sell to New York and you can’t control if your books sell to customers.

So that approach does not really work as a business plan, because it assumes sales that are out of your control.

So I’m going to back up to what is a goal, what can be controlled.


You control in Traditional Publishing:

1) Your writing output.

2) How many manuscripts you put on the market for sale, meaning how many do you mail to traditional editors and how you keep them in the mail to as many editors as you can over time.

3) You control if you will sign a contract or not.

That’s it.

You control in Indie Publishing:

1) Your writing output.

2) How many manuscripts you put on the market for sale.

3) You also control the quality of the cover, the blurbs, and where your book is sold (paper, electronic, audio and all markets for everything around the world, plus what genre you put it in.)

That’s it.

Control of both major paths ends right there. 

So how do you work to get the money flowing and growing and eventually make a living if you don’t control either sales to editors or customers?


1) You control where you attempt to sell your work.

2) You control how much you are learning to make your work better every time.

3) You control how much product you put out.

On where to sell your work, my suggestion is this: Attempt to sell your work everywhere you can think of, in as many forms as you can figure out..

Let me repeat that, since it is such a simple sentence and so fantastically hard for people to follow.

Attempt to sell your work everywhere. And in as many forms as you can figure out.

That you can control!

You control the attempt to sell. You don’t control the buying or not buying, but you control the attempt to sell.

So a goal can be to get your work out to every market you can get it out to in all fashions. EXCLUDE NOTHING.


You control three basic areas in your business:


2… Learning of both craft and business.

3… Where and how your try to sell your work.

If you keep those three things firmly in mind going into the new year, and keep the dreams as dreams, you will be fine.

Set your goals on what you can control for 2015.

Set goals on production.

Set goals on learning.

Set goals on where to sell your work.

You do that, hit your goals, or keep going at your goals, you might be surprised one day how your dreams have suddenly just arrived.


Copyright © 2014 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime