Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Finish Line

I'm happy that most of our posts have to do with writing rather than with publishing. Publishing is important to me, but in the end the writing is the first obstacle and the subject that we writers are most qualified to discuss intelligently.

Occasionally, we do talk about publishing. We talk about agents and genres and query letters and platforms and hooks and literary magazines and contests. Most of this has been centered on acquiring a literary agent. Step 1: write the good book. Step 2: get the literary agent.

But, what happens after that? We're getting a glimpse of Step 3 thanks to Scott and other bloggers. But, what's the last step? And, I don't mean in our lives (that, for me, involves being trapped in an elevator with a bullet wound in my chest so that I have exactly three minutes to tell one person one thing that will change their world view forever), but I mean for each particular project. When will we know that we have reached the finish line?



Snazzy cover?



Wide readership?

Movie deals?


Most of the time, I'm working to GET AS MANY READERS AND AS MUCH FAME AND FORTUNE AS POSSIBLE. The problem is, that's a completely unrecognizable goal--I'll never ever know if I've reached it.

Now, I try to be more specific, and this is what I've come up with: I'd love to get a $10,000 advance. I'd love to know that a few thousand people have read my book. I'd love to be on Charlie Rose. I'd love to get a good review by Harold Bloom. For my first book, I think I will be quite happy if I attain all or even one of these goals, which currently seem unreachable and a little embarrassing to admit. But, as impossible as they seem, I feel like they're at least recognizable. I'll know if I've been on Charlie Rose--I'll remember the color of his tie. I'll know if I get $10,000 because I'll own that new fire-resistant lab coat I've always wanted. (Okay, more likely I'll use 70% of it for self-promotion and put the rest in my Roth IRA.)

Perhaps, if I do attain these goals, I'll realize that they don't actually reflect what I wanted in the first place. But, at least I'll know if they've happened. I don't want to chase something that is impossible to catch in publishing terms. (I'm all for chasing the dream of writing that perfect novel.)

You? How specific are your goals, and will you know when you've reached them? What do you need to accomplish before you've made it to the finish line?


  1. I will have achieved my goals when I walk into a book store and see my novel on the shelf. Everything after that (publishing-wise) will be denouement. I'd love to be on Charlie Rose, but that's not important, nor is an advance, nor are good reviews. I just want to see my book in the shops. I'd also like to see random strangers reading it on the bus. That would be cool.

  2. These are tough questions, Davin. I've thought about them since we talked yesterday, and I've come to the conclusion that I don't have a finish line. That sounds pretty exhausting, doesn't it? It is. I'll keep writing and wishing and dreaming, no matter how far I get with publishing. Because I can't ever see myself coming to a stop with my satisfaction of growth.

    I think my "finish line", if I have to come up with one, is probably what Scott says - seeing my book in print. Whether that's self published (which I'll avoid if possible), or traditionally published, hopefully won't matter. But it probably will. I'd certainly like to see people reading my books...

    In fact, come to think of it, I think one of my huge goals is the mailbox!!! I write to make a difference. And if I got emails and letters telling me I've made a difference in somebody's life (a stranger's life) with my book, I would feel some ultimate satisfaction!

    Money? Not my goal. Making it to a bestseller list? Not my goal, but certainly a dream. My name uttered from Oprah's mouth in a good way? Definitely awesome. Told I'm genius and an excellent writer. Oh, yeah! See lines of people waiting for me next book. That would rock. Sitting down in a theater to watch my book on film... *drools* - and you know how I feel about it not measuring up to the book. ;)

  3. I want to be able to make a decent living as a novelist.

    Fame and fortune are not high on the radar, although I'd be lying if I said I never daydreamed about it. If you don't aim for the stars, you'll never reach the sky.

    I like Scott's point about seeing someone reading his book. i travel by air a lot for my job, and I would be thrilled to see several of my novels in a bookstore and have the person sitting next to me on a flight pull one out and start reading it.

    I would trade an advance for a commitment to time to publish and/or marketing efforts. I want money from ongoing sales.

  4. Rick: I'd also love "a decent living as a novelist," but I know that's aiming very high. I would like my first novel to sell enough that I'll get a chance at a second novel, and so on. Likely I won't be able to quit my day job ever, but that's okay.

  5. My dream is to write full time and I'm living that dream! However, the dream is different from the goal. My goal is to publish at least two books every year.

    I also want my books to improve and to not fall into creative purgatory.

  6. I've always said my primary measure of success will be walking into a bookstore and seeing my book on the shelf, with my name on it. Secondary is having someone read it, and making a difference in their life for it. Fame and fortune would be nice... but simply being published would, for me, mean "success". Everything else will be icing on the cake. (Of course, I say that now, before publication...!)

  7. At this point, I just want to have a book published (not self-published). Of course there is more than that I want, but for now, it's already going to take a lot of time and work to get there.

  8. I love this post! This thought has haunted me for the past few weeks. Then by pure accident, I picked up Richard Paul Evan's novel, The Perfect Day at a book fair. It's about a guy who loses his job, gets depressed and writes a novel. Then it does well...really well, as in #1 on the NY Bestseller List. His life spirals toward fame and fortune and he loses himself and his family because of it.
    It brought me back to my real reason for writing. And that's because I love it. When it all boils down, the love for words remains. Fame could come...or most likely not. Money could come... or most likely not. But the craft stays the same. Sure, I would love to find a publisher and see my novel at Barnes and Noble, but then the focus will shift to sales figures and the next project. There must be a deeper driving force.

  9. I want to hold my book. Read my book in its book form from cover to cover. And write more books and read them too. Just to hold my book with my name on the spine. And to see children holding my book and reading it. That would be unbelievable. Nice post and I can't wait to see what everyone else says. No matter what Davin, I'll keep writing. It's what I do! :)

  10. So, here's a little follow up question for some of you. If you only care about seeing your book in book form--which a couple of you said, is self-publishing, as Michelle mentioned, on the table?

    And, does anyone know if a self-published book ever makes it on the book store shelf?

  11. I want so much to entertain those who read my book. That's sort of hard to measure, so I'll just fall back on it being on the best sellers list somewhere. If it's entertaining, I'd hope it would sell well. I'd be satisfied if I were happy with it though.

    I'd love to see strangers reading my book, but not just reading, snickering at a scene or missing their stop on the subway or whatever because they were so wrapped up in the story. That would be the dream.

  12. Great post, Davin. I don't know if I'll ever have a finish line. I'm too driven. If I reach one, then I'll make another for myself. Ultimately, my goal is to always be improving in my writing craft. No matter how many books I've written or how much or little money I've made from them, if I'm growing as a writer, then the rest is just cake.

  13. My self-published "strange science-fiction sex novel" was on a Borders shelf, post-my having done a book-signing there. The store bought the copies for the signing and shelved the copies I didn't sell. I had to apply for the signing with a press kit and a copy of the book, so it did go through an acceptance/screening process.

    My book isn't the only one; others have made it on shelves and still make it on shelves. It just isn't easy or often, as snobbery abounds.

    An independent bookstore also bought a few copies of one of my novels and shelved a few others. Another independent shelved a few copies on consignment.

    Seeing my books on a shelf somewhere had been one of my three writing goals--that's the only one I've ever achieved. Unfortunately, it wound up being a meaningless one overall.

    Many notable writers have self-published, and I feel like I've followed a tradition of the ancients, as the very first writings were probably self-published. I see nothing ignoble about this. On the contrary, I'm sorry I didn't start doing it sooner.

    I've done whatever I felt I must do to reach readers--another of my three goals.

  14. If I hire an agent, see my novel published, and know that people are interested in reading more about my novel's protagonist, I might go wild and die of heat stroke. Ha ha.

  15. Reason Reanimator, Thanks a lot for your first hand knowledge. It helps to make to the point that trying to get an agent may be an unnecessary step in many writers' goals. That should make life less stressful.

  16. My goal used to be more specific; get published. See my book in print. That involved all sorts of little fantasies such as acquiring a specific publisher and a fantastic advance. These things changed and my "finish line" is not so black and white anymore. Now that I will see my book in print later this year, my goals are centered around reaching people. While bestseller status and great reviews would be lovely, I'd rather get that one e-mail in my inbox that says, "hi, I read your book and it really moved me" or something of the sort.

    I'm more motivated toward making writing a career, to get out a message I know I'll be happy, even excited, to promote as long as I live. There are too many ideas in my head to stop writing now, so hopefully writing works as a career :D And even if not, I'll keep writing for the joy of it.

  17. I should add that because Borders had given me and my work a chance, I've always liked the store since. The night of my signing during the holiday season, the place was slow. And several times the employees apologized to me for the slowness! That obviously wasn't their fault; it's just the way it worked out for whatever reasons.

    Not once did they ever treat me with snobbery; as far as I could tell, I got treated the same as traditionally published writers. The store sent out notices about my signing, and they kept announcing my presence during. I really did have a good experience there. I also sold three copies of my book; people say that if you sell only one at a book-signing, the signing is a success. Considering I was (am) a nobody and the store's traffic was slow, I did pretty good--better than I expected, which was that I'd sell none!

    Yes, about the stress. Not only that, but agents can be bypassed in the traditional system too. Some editors will accept work directly. Less so than years ago, but these editors are still out there. I used to focus on them when I queried. In my opinion, these accept-directly editors are the real deal.

  18. Oprah? Yikes. *slinks back into the cave*
    For me, the joy would be to be published and make enough to write more.

  19. Scott, I agree that bus thing would be cool too. In my fantasy, the person is reading and then gets to the author photo in the back, looks up at me, and puts two and two together.

    Michelle, that mailbox thing is great! I'd settle for personal communication too. However we hear from the readers.

    Rick, that goal of making a living has always seemed out of reach for me. I don't even fantasize it. It's like Neo in the Matrix, we have to push ourselves to even imagine some things.

    Jill, two books year is awesome! That's so productive.

    Faith, I agree that publishing would be nice. Nowadays, the act of publishing can be very easy, so you're really close to your goal!

    Annie, Yes, a lot of time and work and work and work and time and work. :)

    Amy, I agree that the love of writing must come first and foremost. That makes any other successes or failures seem less significant. I think I'll always be writing.

    Robyn, yes, that idea of having the finished product is nice. I do love that idea.

    Lois, yes, REACTION! Good point. I was telling Michelle one of my favorite favorite things is when a reader cries after reading my work.

    Jody, I think I'll always be writing too, but I think there's some satisfaction in taking the time to reach goals, or subgoals, to feel like you are constantly making progress.

    Justus, so...only one book for you then? :P

    Cindy, I think our goals will always be changing. But, it's good to realize that you have accomplished your initial goals right? New ones are great because they keep us moving and improving.

    Tricia, the nice thing is that it doesn't take much money to be able to write more! That's what I love about writing, over oil painting, for instance.

  20. Is it wrong that I kinda wanna be the person in the elevator with ya? I wonder what you'd say... (although, of course, I'd be using my mad 4-H skills to save you from the bullet, btw)

    My goal: To have someone, preferably a kid (since I write kids lit) to tell me that my book meant *something* to him or her. That's such a cliche, but if that happens, it means a) the book's been published and is in stores and b) someone is reading it and c) the someone reading it likes it. That's really all I want. Fortune's a by product, and that's enough fame for me.

  21. I think there are always great and greater things to aspire to. I try to keep my eye on the current mini-goal so I don't feel overwhelmed. Or worse, so I don't forget to enjoy the journey.

    That being said, I'd love to get a little thing called a Newbery. I'm just saying...

  22. Okay, Beth, but I must warn you, the circumstances that get us in the elevator in the first place are rather hair-raising! I like the idea of making a difference with our books.

    For Tess, the mini-Newbery. :)

  23. Okay, my finish line is a little different...and it's not really a finish line, but it is just a little goal I have.
    It is my private little dream. It would be the hot fudge on my sundae if I ever got the words "beautifully imagined" written about one of my books.
    (Of course, I haven't really written the right book for such praise yet, but someday.....)


  24. I've been thinking about this, and I've changed my mind. Sure, I want to have a book published.
    But what I really want is to get to the point where I'm actually writing at a steady pace--doesn't necessarily have to be every day but close--and stop being in the place where I'm afraid to get in and do the work.
    Because part of the work is learning! I just want to enjoy the process, and actually be IN the process.

    Less stalling. More writing.

  25. I'm also to admit my dream goals in public. But I've already mentioned on my blog that my husband has kindly pointed out I would need to make a million dollar advance JUST to make up for having wasted my time writing for the past ten years, never mind the years to come. ;)

  26. left out a word -- I meant to say I'm too embarrassed to admit my dream goals in public, but...


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