Are You Aiming Too High?

Ask most unpublished fiction writers about their goals and they’re likely to tell you they want to land a publishing contract and secure a spot on the bestseller list. The odds are heavily stacked against that kind of success, even for writers who produce a high-quality novel. High expectations can lead to disappointment and dejection.

My expectations have shifted over the years–not that I ever got deluded into thinking I would get on The New York Times bestseller list. It’s not that I don’t believe I am capable of writing a bestseller, but I’m a realist. Goals and expectations are two different things. A writer should set realistic goals and work to achieve them. Expectations are a different animal. Writers in many cases set realistic goals and unrealistic expectations. There is a school of thought that if a writer puts in the time and effort over a period of years, success will naturally follow. In short, a writer could do everything right, from learning the craft to producing a gem of a novel, and still struggle along as an unpublished author.

I’ve read numerous blog posts by writers (accomplished or not) who seem stunned and hurt that they have not gotten published. It’s a numbers game. By some estimates a million books (traditional and self-published) are produced each year. Publishers select books that they believe will sell. I know unpublished writers who are probably in the 90th percentile among traditional and self-published authors in terms of the quality of their writing, but they have not succeeded in attracting a wide audience for their work.

My expectation is to produce and publish a novel each year. My goal is to eventually achieve sufficient revenue from sales to support my writing habit–enough to hire a book editor, designer, marketing support and maybe attend a writer’s conference or two. About ten grand would be nice, but I’m nowhere near that now. That is clearly a “stretch goal.”

Some might describe these as low goals and expectations, but unreachable goals only produce frustration and disappointment.

What are your goals and expectations?


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6 responses to “Are You Aiming Too High?

  1. byjhmae

    My goal is to always enjoy writing, to love what I’ve written, to be brave enough to share it with others, and to hopefully please some of my readers with my stories. Oh, and to never sacrifice my vision and voice for success.

    Nice post.

    • Thanks for stopping by. You make a great point about not sacrificing your vision for success. I’ve always thought it was insincere for writers to follow trends and try to write in a genre that sells, but one about which they don’t feel strongly or particularly like. Thanks for your comment.

  2. I dream big and take small steps towards the dream. I try to remember the process is worthwhile, not just the end goal. It helps keep me in love with writing and safeguards me against too much discouragement.

    • Julie,
      Thanks for your comment. You have a sound approach. I just hope a lot of writers aren’t setting themselves up for disappointment by having unrealistic expectations. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. You know I have to agree with you. I think we, as, novelists, tend to forget there are also other, easier ways to achieve some name recognition, ways that can eventually help in getting a novel or series of them to sell better, which can help land an agent– like publishing stories, poems, and articles. It’s helpful to have a track record of meeting deadlines and completing assignments, and it pulls your name out of the never-heard-of-her land that most new novelists inhabit.

    If there are things worth writing about in novel form, there are probably things worth writing about in a shorter form, too.

    • Mary,
      Thanks for your comment. I’ve been working on a trilogy lately (three short stories in serial format), but it’s not nearly ready for publication. I just finished reading Jennifer Haigh’s outstanding short story collection, News From Heaven, and I am about to post my review here. Short stories are challenging, though, because every word must count.

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