A couple years back in December I did a series of posts here about writers setting goals for the new year. And last year I brought some of the old posts forward. But frighteningly enough, the publishing industry has changed so much and so fast, those posts from just two years ago felt dated. The basics are the same, sure. Things like knowing the difference between a goal and a dream. But even with the basics still being solid in the posts, I don’t feel good enough about those old posts to even link you back to them.

So I’m going to talk about writing goals a little again as they fit into this new world of publishing. And my own writing goal as an example. Then in the comments maybe we can discuss some other basics of goal-setting for writers and how others do it.

Let me start off with a goal and a challenge I had last year at this time that I told very few people about. Simply put, I challenged myself to get one new book per week into the mail.

Okay, take a deep breath and relax. Let me explain what I was doing.

I was writing the opening of a novel (usually about thirty pages), then doing a proposal for the rest of the book (usually about ten pages) and mailing the package to five editors at a time. I did that for thirteen straight weeks, ending up with seventeen novels in the mail counting the submissions I already had out when I started the challenge. (Can you imagine an agent handling that? (snort))

That’s right, I had seventeen different novels in six different genres under five different pen names in the mail at the same time to over eighty editors. And to be honest, it was a blast. November 1st, 2009 to Feb 1st, 2010. Only reason I stopped is that I had a ghost novel to write. And then I got busy doing other stuff and other projects.

Now, I am known for being nuts when it comes to writing challenges. And I’m sure even the professionals reading this are thinking I am nuts. But it was a goal, a challenge that kept me going, kept me submitting, and got me a ton of great mail and some new projects to write. And most of all, it was a ton of fun.

And you know what, getting off to that good of a start really helped the year feel better. In fact, this has been a great year for both writing and publishing and money for me. I wonder why? (grin)

So what am I going to do this coming year? I’ll tell you in a moment.

Goals vs Dreams

What is the difference between goals and dreams? Getting them confused can really, really stop you cold, so you should know the difference.

A Dream is something you want to attain that is out of your control for the most part. For the longest time I had a dream of having five different novels on the shelf at my local Safeway at the same time. I wanted to stand there in the aisle and just smile and stare at my books. I came close one week with four, but never hit that dream. It is a dream because it is out of my control. There are so many other people involved with the process that even if I had ten books in the pipeline in New York publishing (which I did one fine year) not all of them will make the Safeway book rack, let alone at the same time.

A Goal is something you control completely, such as writing and finishing and mailing one short story per week. Or mailing one new novel every week. Now that I can control. I can’t control if an editor buys the story or not, I can’t control the mail losing it or not, but I can control the writing and finishing and mailing.

Goals are in your control.

Dreams are some event that your goals are working and building toward.

Note: The WORST thing you can do is set up as a goal like “I want to sell a novel by the end of the year.” Selling a novel is out of your control and shows almost no understanding of how publishing works. Since I started writing I have heard writers say such things and always fail. However, if you want to work in a constructive manner toward that dream, set the goal to write three or four novels and get them all in the mail to editors by the end of the year. You still won’t hit that dream because publishing and buying books is so slow, but you might the following year.

So those of you who have a dream of making a living at writing fiction, let’s break down what that will take these days.

New York Traditional Publishing Only.

Remember, writing is in your control. Selling and advances are not.

1) If you write only one book per year, then you must get lucky and have your book sell for at least a hundred-grand advance year after year after year, book after book.

2) If you write two or three books per year, then you can make a nice living with lower advances, but there still has to be some luck and high advances in the mix. And a bunch of secondary sales overseas and audio and such.

3) If you write more than four books a year, your advances can range all over the place and some books not sell and you’ll still make a nice living writing fiction every year.

It’s just numbers. In this modern world, the less you have to depend on high advances, the better off you will be.

So, if your dream is to make a living writing fiction and you only produce one book per year, the odds are bad and luck has to figure into your dream. But if you write four or five books a year, you have limited the luck factor, given yourself more chances to place books, and the freedom and opportunity to take lower advances.

So if your GOAL is to write one book a year, you are not making much headway toward your DREAM. (And thus fall into the place where so many selling writers say it is impossible to make a living at fiction writing.) However, if your GOAL is to write four books a year, then you are making great headway toward your DREAM of making a living with your writing.

Electronic Publishing Only

This world is still so new that numbers are not really solid yet, but it works pretty close to the above numbers. If you write one book per year and that’s all you have up electronically, it won’t make a difference at all how much blogging and promotion you do, your one book won’t sell enough by itself to make you a living without a lot of luck. So here, just as in traditional publishing, the GOAL would be to get up as many products as possible for sale electronically to get closer to your DREAM of making a living with your fiction. Again, this is a game of numbers.

Electronic Publishing Combined with New York Publishing

Combining electronic and tradition publishing is where many of us are making some really nice money. We put up our backlist and some new products electronically. Then when something of ours comes out of a traditional publishing source, the push that the regular publishers put on a traditionally published book helps drive readers to our indie-published work and we make even more money.

So here the GOAL is to get up electronically as many things as possible while mailing as many submissions and manuscripts to traditional publishers at the same time to get to the DREAM of making a living with your fiction. Again, just numbers.

Just be clear on what is a goal you can control and a dream that you can’t. Interestingly enough, if you are clear on this, rejections mean less because you never think of the dream when mailing. The end product is finishing the story or novel and just mailing it. The mailing is the success point for you. Selling is something that happens if your craft is good and the story hits a market that the story fits. But that is out of your control. All you can control is finishing and mailing or putting up electronically.

MY CRAZY CHALLENGE THIS YEAR

I told you about the thirteen new novels mailed in thirteen weeks last year. It was a great challenge and I had a blast. And even if some of those books don’t sell eventually, I might go ahead and finish a few of them anyway to publish electronically. But honestly, five or six of them I will never write unless a publisher offers me money.

As I mentioned above, short fiction, if you love it, might be a way to go these days to make some nice money electronically. And I love short fiction, so my new goal for this next year concerns short fiction and electronic publishing.

Note.  I am not talking novels from here on out, just short stories, because that’s my challenge.

First off, some background for those of you not up to speed yet on publishing your own work electronically.

Fact:

There are hundreds of electronic bookstores around the world and more coming on line every day. Yes, I said hundreds.

Fact:

To get to the majority of these bookstores, you only have to put your story up on three places. Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. You won’t get to all of them, but you will get to a majority.

The stories on Amazon only sell on Amazon and Amazon UK at the moment, but more countries are rumored to be coming up shortly. And at the moment Amazon is the biggest. That is changing slowly.

Barnes & Noble online store inventory powers many, many bookstores around the world not counting their own Nook stores, and the money comes back to you, the author, through B&N.

Smashwords gets your story up on Smashwords (a store itself), but it also functions as a gateway site to get your work into bookstores powered by Kobo, Sony, iPad, and others. For example, through Smashwords I just sold stories through online stores in Australia, Europe, Great Britian, and Canada through Apple. And some of those, because of the exchange rate, I am making a bunch more than 35 cents per sale.

Fact:

It is not simple, but not hard to learn how to put your books and stories up on these sites. Just take your manuscript in Word, format it to the Smashwords guidelines, do a cover in PowerPoint with one of your own photos, save it as a jpg file and you are ready. Takes a little learning and some frustration, but very possible and easy to do.

Here is the simple math for short stories:

Each story sells for 99 cents. That number is pretty standard these days for short stories. The author gets on average 35 cents per sale.

Let me say that each story just sells on average 5 copies per month. That’s total across all the stores. (You won’t have even this bottom number happen until you are up near thirty stories or so. Why I say at least thirty stories is because no one can find only one story. After thirty or so you start becoming a web presence and when a reader finds something they like of your work, they can easily find other stories of yours as well to read.)

So each story makes $1.75 per month. (35 cents times 5 sales around the world total.)

Note: This is bottom level. And many stories depending on your cover and blurb will sell higher than five per month, but for this example let me just use bottom numbers. My backlist short stories up already are doing much better than this, and Kris’s are selling factors higher than this. But for this math I’m using these bottom numbers.

Total Income Per Story for the Year: $21.00. Not much. Ten year income if nothing changes $210.00 per story.

Let’s say you could write and put up electronically one short story per week. End of one year (taking two weeks off and for math ease) you would have 50 short stories up and at fifty stories you would make $87.50 per month or $1,050.00 per year (or $10,500 over ten years).

Collections: With 50 short stories up, you can put together at least ten five-story collections and five ten-story collections. That’s minimum because there is no rule that the same story can’t be in a number of different collections.

Sell a 5-story collection for $2.99. You get about 65% of that on average or $1.95 per sale. Five sales per month per collection gets you $9.75 per month per collection. With ten collections (made out of the 50 short stories) you get $97.50 per month or $1,170.00 per year (or $11,700.00 in ten years).

For a 10-story collection you sell it for $4.99. Again you get 65% so you get about $3.25 per sale. Five sales per month gets you $16.25 per month per collection. Or with five collections made out of the 50 stories you get $81.25 per month or $975.00 per year (or $9,750.00 in ten years).

So at the end of one year of writing one short story a week and getting them up electronically and taking two weeks off, you would be making $1,050.00 plus $1,170.00 plus $975.00 which equals $3,195.00 per year after that for the work you did the previous year.

That’s only one year.

And that’s at the bottom rate of only five sales per month over hundreds of bookstores. And of course, that’s not counting POD publishing. For this discussion let me stay just electronic.

HOURLY RATE:

Let’s say your stories average around 3,000 words. And take about five hours to write per week on average. 50 stories is about 250 hours spread out over the entire year.

$3,195.00 divided by 250 hours equals $12.70 per hour. Not great, not bad.

And, of course, once up selling electronically, there are no changes needed and no more work needed to be done.  Your stories will just keep selling. So say the sales continued along the bottom like this for another year, your hourly rate would go to $25.40 per hour by the end of the second year. Of course, if the stories kept selling at this bottom rate for ten years, your hourly rate would be $127.00 per hour spent writing short stories during that one year. Now that’s getting decent.

A NEW WAY OF THINKING

So many people in this country work a job, get a paycheck, and that’s the end once the bills are paid. There is no thought of the person who worked those five hours on a Tuesday in 1999 being paid yet again for those same five hours. Never happens.

But writers create a product that when put into a magic bakery can earn a ton of money for years and years and years. So a short story written now can still be earning money for the writer in ten or twenty or fifty years. This is a very difficult thing to grasp for most writers when setting year-end goals. An hour spent in this new year finishing a product will be an hour that will continue to pay you money for decades.

Some writers tend to look at books as produce. Once done and sold, it somehow is spoiled. If the advance or the sale isn’t enough, or the story doesn’t sell, the story isn’t worth anything. But with this new world, that has really, really changed. Now it is economically viable to build an inventory, even though the upfront money isn’t that high. And that inventory will earn money for a very long time for the writer.

Writers must learn to take the long-term view in this new publishing world.

What if…

For fun, just do the quick math. What happens if the fifty stories you write in one year average 10 sales each average per month around the hundreds of sites around the world. One story sells three, another twenty. So that would double the $3,195.00. 15 stories average per month per story would triple the $3,195.00 to just under $10,000.00 for the year.

What if…

…you managed to do this for another year? By the end of the second year you would have produced 100 short stories. At the bottom rates, you would be making $6,290.00 per year. Every year, with no extra work needed. Selling ten average would be making you $12,580 per year every year.

What if…

…you set up a plan and a routine and did the same thing regularly for five years? At the bottom rate, which you would not be at by that point, you would be bringing in $15,975.00 per year. If your sales had increased to averaging ten sales average per story, you would be bringing in $31,950.00 per year.

Again, this is just short fiction, not novels, and working about five or so hours a week. (Note: It takes me less than a half hour to reformat my short story manuscript, do a quick cover and get it up on all three electronic sites, so I’m not counting that time. Early in the process it takes longer, but becomes very easy as you go on.)

You have a dream to make a living with your fiction. I just outlined one that has short, weekly goals, that will get you darned close in five years.

So What Is My Challenge for 2011?

Starting the week of January 1st, 2011, my goal is to write at least two new short stories per week. I have a book about old books with weird titles. I will just use those old weird titles and write stories around them. And I might find a photo I can use for a cover and write a story around the photo. Or I might write around something else I heard.

But every story I will get up electronically when finished and post here for everyone to read. And I will say where the story came from and how long it took to write and any problems in the writing and that sort of thing.

The goal is to do at least 100 new short stories in 2011. I will miss some weeks, miss with some stories. Nature of the beast.

But the goal is to write at least two per week and get them up electronically for sale, plus put them up here for free for you all to read for a short time.

For those of you watching, it should be an interesting window into the life of a working writer. And crazy, yes. I also have novel projects to write and workshops to teach and conventions to attend and so on.

But it’s going to be fun. Last year I did the novel challenge, this year I’m back to my true love of short fiction thanks to this wonderful new world of publishing allowing me to make real money with a challenge like this.

I haven’t been this excited about a writing challenge since Nina Kiriki Hoffman and I challenged each other to write and mail a short story per week back in 1982.

Stay tuned. If nothing else, it will be interesting.