The Art of Setting Goals: It’s Not Always “Go Big or Go Home”

This article was a guest blog post on The Book Designer in June. In the article I look at the goals that gradually brought my book to fruition, and I extract some wisdom at every step of the journey. If you would like to see the original article, click HERE. I hope you enjoy this re-post! Happy weekend!


The Art of Setting Goals: It’s Not Always “Go Big or Go Home”

Goals are the destinations to which we journey in life. Goals give us a sense of purpose when we are working—something to achieve or strive for.

Sometimes without even knowing, we set goals and achieve them, giving us that feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment. Writing is no different from any other life or work endeavor and, therefore, goals are essential—a means to an end.

Have you ever started a writing project without an end goal? Maybe you didn’t realize you had a goal but somewhere in the back of your mind, you had a purpose for writing. It happens to me all of the time, so there’s no need to feel out of place.

When I started writing my book, I had no idea it would actually become a book, published on Amazon, and purchased by others. It was simply a story I had in my mind and I decided one day to put it down on paper.

My first time sitting down and writing, I truly didn’t have a goal for the book or chapters. I wrote three chapters at first and didn’t do anything else with it for a while.

It was never my dream to become an author. I never imagined that it was possible for me to write a book. This is where goals come in to play for me. I’m a goal-oriented, future-focused kind of woman. I set my sights on a goal and I work, work, work until I achieve that goal.

I did the same thing with writing a book as I did with running a half marathon. I set my end goal in the beginning and I worked towards that goal until I reached it. I’m going to do a bit of self-reflection and share with you my goals, show you how they changed over time, and how those goals led me to become a self-published author of a twenty chapter novel.

GOAL #1: Write a Book

My first goal, when I actually had it in my mind that I was going to write a book, was to write as much as I could each day that I had a chance to write. I didn’t have a set amount of words I wanted to write per day or a number of chapters I wanted to complete per week. I didn’t even know how long the book was going to be.

The problem with this goal was that it was big. I couldn’t see the end, which led to boredom. Because I grew tired of writing I took long breaks, sometimes even months at a time. With such a large goal, it was difficult to keep focused on my final destination.

  • TIP: Set your writing goals realistically, break your book into smaller goals, and find a style that works best for you. If you work well with word counts, then set a daily word count goal. If you work best with chapter completion, then set a weekly number of chapters goal. If you are not good with either one of those things, find what works for you and go with it.

GOAL #2: Publish

My second goal came when I was around chapter 15 of the book. I had now written more than I had ever written in my entire life and I had invested quite a bit into the story and characters. I started looking into publishing avenues and read a couple of “how-to” articles on traditional publishing.

During my research, I came across an article on self-publishing an eBook through Amazon. I hadn’t really given this much thought before, but the article was pretty convincing. I looked into Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and decided that I wanted to take this route to publish my book. Once I had set publishing as my end goal, I had more motivation to write the remaining chapters of my book.

  • TIP: If you don’t want to publish your work, you don’t have to, but it is helpful to have an end goal in mind for your writing project. Maybe you just want to write a book without publishing it. If that is the case, then set your end goal as the completion of your book.

GOAL #3: Set Launch Date

I finished writing the book, all twenty chapters and an epilogue, and let it sit for a month or so. I knew I wanted to publish my book on Amazon but I had no time frame for publishing. The book needed editing but I had worked so hard to finish writing that I had no desire to go back and read over it.

I needed a break so I took one. When I felt up to the task, I sat down and read over the book. It had errors and plot holes as I had expected but it was a quality story overall. The editing and formatting process took time, and I didn’t know when I would reach the end. It was March and I finally decided to set my publishing date around the end of May.

  • TIP: If you are self-publishing, setting a launch date will give you a time frame in which to complete everything. From there, you can set due dates for different parts of this process. This will help prevent you from becoming overwhelmed as you take on the roles of author, designer, formatter, and publisher.

GOAL #4: Format

Over the next month, from March to April, I researched best practices for self-publishing an eBook. I read about everything from cover design to formatting to marketing. I hadn’t realized how difficult the self-publishing route would be to do it all on my own. I had a deadline of the end of May to complete everything.

Formatting was a nightmare and it made editing look like a piece of cake. I tried templates and suggestions from blog posts and websites, etc. to get my book formatted correctly in Microsoft Word. It was a tedious process—format, convert to HTML, convert to .MOBI, test on Kindle Previewer, find an error, repeat.

I did this formatting dance countless times before I finally found Scrivener which made my life so much easier. The formatting was done, saved, and I was ready to produce the final product.

  • TIP: Formatting an eBook for Amazon may not be a problem for you. There are people out there who will do it for you for a fee. If you don’t want to spend any money, invest in Scrivener. It changed my life and made the daunting task of formatting much easier. I’m pretty computer savvy but formatting apparently isn’t my forte. You can find the Scrivener application and even try it out for free at http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

GOAL #5: Sell Book

I had a discussion with my husband a few weeks before my launch date about my goals of selling the book. What I wanted was to publish the book but I hadn’t thought about what happens after I publish it. I didn’t have a big following of readers who were anxiously awaiting the launch of my book. In fact, I didn’t really have a following at all.

I decided that it didn’t matter to me how well my book sold, so long as I could sell at least one book. The end of May came and I launched my book, The Last Navigator, on Amazon Kindle. I can’t even begin to explain how good that felt to have accomplished my goal of publishing a book.

Once it went live, I sent the link out to family and friends and waited for the purchasing to start. In the first few days, I had 5 purchases which would have been really great considering I had a goal of selling at least one book.

Somewhere in between the time I set my original selling goal and the time I started selling, I had let my imagination run wild with the possibility of becoming a best-selling author. This was a mistake. The 5 purchases I had in the month of May were as follows: my husband, me, my mother-in-law, my brother-in-law, and my dad. I hadn’t thought about the fact that all of the purchases might be family members who were just trying to support me. I was discouraged about my book sales even though I had technically accomplished my goal.

  • TIP: To avoid getting discouraged, set your goals smaller. It isn’t very likely that you will become a best-selling author overnight if you aren’t well known in the world. Don’t let this stop you from dreaming big, though!

Defining Goals and Starting Small

I shared my story with you as an example of real-life goal setting by someone who isn’t a professional writer or experienced author. I fell into the trap of “Go Big or Go Home” and I want to warn others that it’s easy to fall victim to this notion.

If I could have gone big, I would have certainly loved to do so. It isn’t a reality for me, at least not yet, and I needed to set my goals to reflect my current circumstances. After a week of severely slow sales, I came home and cried to my husband. I was a ball of self-pity and couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel anymore. I was fully prepared to take my ball and go home when he gave me this nugget of advice.

He reminded me of my original goal to sell just one book. He told me that if I had changed my goal, I needed to come to terms with that and work harder to reach my new goal. He advised me to try to set realistic goals for myself and not expect to become a best-seller overnight.

I reflected on this for a while and came back to him later on in the night. My goal had indeed changed and it was an unrealistic goal that was only going to lead to disappointment. When I told him this, he smiled and told me that I just needed to sit down and define my goals—starting small and celebrating the little accomplishments.

With a deep breath I embraced his advice and set my first real selling goal as follows: to sell my book to one person with whom I am not related and have no relationship. I got a call from my dad the next day who told me that one of his former students (with whom I have no relationship and I am not related) bought the book. Goal accomplished! I set my next selling goal to sell at least 10 books during the month of June and have made it almost half way already.

  • MY ADVICE: Start where you are in life and make changes as your circumstances change. If you go big, you may end up going home.

Interview on “Meet The Author”

I had the pleasure of being interviewed for the “Meet The Author” blog by K.M. Francoeur. The interview is posted on the blog but I wanted to give you a preview here. Below are the first few questions of the interview. If you would like to read more, click HERE.


J. G. McNease Interview Preview from “Meet The Author”

J. G. McNease

Question:  How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing since I was just a little girl, but started writing novel-length fiction about a year ago.

Question:  What was the name of the first book you ever published, and when was it published?

The name of my first book is “The Last Navigator”. I published it in May of 2013.

Question:  Was this book published by a publisher; or did you self-publish?

I chose to go the self-publishing route with “The Last Navigator” using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program.

Question:  Tell our readers about this very first book.  (For example:  What was the inspiration for writing it, and what was it about)?

My inspiration to write “The Last Navigator” came from experiences I had while participating in a graduate school course in Hawai’i several years ago. While visiting the School of Social Work at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, we learned of the Navigators, and of Nainoa Thompson, one of the few remaining true navigators. The Navigators are a group of people who use natural elements, such as the stars, the planets, the movement of the waves and clouds, to find their way in the ocean. The title, “The Last Navigator”, was inspired by the Polynesian Navigators and, although it is not about them, the Navigators in my book do use the stars to find their way. I pulled from elements of the Polynesian Navigator traditions to write “The Last Navigator” and develop my characters. The storyline and many of the characters were also shaped by my background as a social worker and my desire to learn about and understand the human condition.

In writing “The Last Navigator”, I wanted to create a story that pulled from my experiences in Hawai’i as well as from current societal and personal life themes. Themes such as the empowerment of women and the hardships of single parent households are evident in the book. The main character in “The Last Navigator”, Lani, is a young female whale who dreams of being more than average. She wants to make a difference—and she does. In developing her character, I wanted to empower young women to follow their dreams and not simply conform to the norms of this world. Lani is shaped by her life experiences and her relationships with other characters, such as, Mother, and Kilo, and even the zany character of Manny, the sea turtle. She learns through trials and overcoming obstacles that she can indeed reach for the stars and achieve great things. My hope is that in reading “The Last Navigator”, some part of Lani’s character will resonate with each reader. Whether that resonance is found in her search for life’s meaning, or her desire to go against the grain, I hope she will touch the hearts of readers young and old.

The Dog Days: Eclipsing Heat

“The kind of heat that August brings eclipses hot in an odd way; the atmosphere radiates with such intensity that you know fall is on its way.”

This week’s episode of The Dog Days is going to be shift from the norm. My wonderful husband, Kyle, has written a guest post about summer heat, vacation, and thoughts on life and death. It’s a refreshing break from the stories about dogs and it gives us a little more to ponder as summer comes to a close.


If you have been following this blog lately, then you already know that Jamie has been writing about the dog days of summer.  Since she has been so courteous as to extend an invitation for me to write something this week, I will keep to that theme—though I will approach it a bit differently.  Bear with me.

In our master’s program, Jamie and I had a professor who taught us the power, process, and dynamics of group therapy.  In our process recordings we were forced to reflect on as many of the exchanges we could remember from each group session.  Our professor asked us if we noticed a trend.  No one spoke up with an answer and, as she was a pretty thorough Freudian, she informed us that the topic that kept coming up was death.  Like a gyre, the conversation spiraled from humdrum talk of classes and grades to the profundities of life.  You could set your watch by it; every session, the group would end up ending up with talk of the end.  What does that have to do with the dog days of summer though?

In the deep south, the August heat chases dogs to the coolness of shades, preferably ones under the porch or, better yet, IN the house.  The kind of heat that August brings eclipses hot in an odd way; the atmosphere radiates with such intensity that you know fall is on its way.  The burning gusts of August will eventually give way to a milder fall—continuing a cycle that began before us and will continue long after us.

The dog days of summer are my favorite days of the year, weather wise.  The heat signals something in my unconscious and creates a longing to return to places of my youth—places where happy memories and moments were shared with my family.  Just about every year of my life, we loaded up in a vehicle and traveled to the same vacation spot.  I am sitting there now, which, of course, makes it here-now.  I am here now, again.  This here is the last place I ever saw my grandfather draw a breath.  I am sitting a few feet away from the same spot that I perched upon so many years ago, as I strained to catch a few glimpses of my papa.  Continue reading

It’s Been A Month!

On May 29th, 2013, I uploaded my final file to Amazon Kindle Direct publishing and hit “Submit”. In a matter of hours, all of the hard work of writing, editing, and formatting paid off when I did a search for The Last Navigator and it showed up on Amazon. I immediately took a picture with my phone and sent it to my husband and my parents. It hadn’t truly hit me yet that I was a published author.

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Now it’s been one whole month since that glorious day and I have written two guest blog posts (“J. G. McNease’s Debut Book” and “The Art of Setting Goals: It’s Not Always ‘Go Big or Go Home’“), gotten two 5-star reviews on Amazon, met and exceeded my selling goals, scheduled a freebie event (set for July 3rd and July 4th), and I am now working on formatting The Last Navigator for publishing in print. Just a month ago I was just an aspiring writer. Now, I’m a published independent author! I managed to do it all on a tight budget and working a full time day job.

My advice to all aspiring authors out there is this: don’t let your circumstances get you down… You can always find a way to accomplish your dreams!

 

Until next time…

J. G. McNease

It’s Things Like This…

It’s things like this that make it all worth while. I always wanted to make a difference in the world one day, which is why I pursued a career in social work. I never expected to be making a difference through my writing rather than through social work, though. Life is funny that way.

I received an email in my inbox today about my guest blog post on The Book Designer, The Art of Setting Goals: It’s Not Always “Go Big or Go Home”. The email simply said this:

Just received this in my email about your article, wanted to pass it along:

“This is my favorite article from The Book Designer so far! I needed to hear this message. Thanks.”

It’s the little things like this that make me feel like I’m doing what I always dreamed of doing. Maybe I’m not doing it in the way I imagined but I’m still able to make a difference. I may not be a best selling author but by touching at least one person with my story, I feel successful. I had a lengthy discussion with my husband yesterday about my slow sales and he had to remind me again that I’ve already done more than I ever imagined. Take-away lesson: success doesn’t always come in the same packaging. It may be big with a bright red bow on top or it may be a small, plain cardboard box. No matter what packaging your success comes in, big or small, be sure to celebrate your accomplishment.

If you’d like to read The Art of Setting Goals: It’s Not Always “Go Big or Go Home” at The Book Designer, click the link below.

http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2013/06/j-g-mcnease/

I hope you all have had a wonderful Father’s Day and a nice weekend.

Until next time…

J. G. McNease