The Importance Of Being Earnest (About Your Writing Goals)

When I first started working at Sheldon Fogelman Agency (so long ago that we only accepted printed manuscripts – SASEs were a must – and didn’t take electronic anything), there was a running joke that January was always the worst month for our mail carrier. We would be overrun with submissions from authors eager to honor their New Year’s resolutions (“This is the year that I will get published!”), and then things would slowly trickle back to normal after a couple of weeks. Although I’m not sure how apocryphal that joke was (we seemed to be overrun with submissions all the time), the doldrums of February is a good time to revisit resolutions and yearly goals.

One of the most consistently frustrating aspects of publishing is how much of the process is out of the control of the author, and how many moving parts there are on the path to publication. There’s finding an agent, then finding an editor, then making it through acquisitions, and then finally seeing a contract (and that’s the condensed version of events). Along the way, there’s numerous opportunities for things to go sideways – sometimes an agent will leave publishing, an editor will switch houses, or another author will announce an upcoming book that’s the mirror version of your manuscript. All of these can derail years of work in an instant, and none of them can be controlled by an author.

For that reason, I always recommend to my clients that they focus on goals that they can achieve totally on their own, without any need for help or assistance from someone else. Rather than thinking about potential outcomes (e.g. an offer of representation, a book deal, etc), I find it’s more helpful to set concrete objectives that you can reach. Maybe it’s finally finishing that forgotten MG manuscript, or joining a writing group, or sending out at least 10 queries per manuscript, or even making sure that you’re spending at least one day every week on your writing (harder than it sounds!).

Publishing is inherently an industry of failure (much like baseball, even the best pros strike out more often than they hit home runs), and giving yourself personally achievable objectives can be a way to keep things positive and moving forward.

Dreams can (and should!) be big, but keep your goals within your control.

3 thoughts on “The Importance Of Being Earnest (About Your Writing Goals)

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  1. Thank you, Sean, for a peek at the publishing side of this writing journey. Focusing on what I can control as a writer is excellent advice.


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