The book’s finished, you’ve revised it till it shines, your Ideal Readers give you two thumbs up and remind you about the ‘Acknowledgements’ page… so what’s next?
As with all things pertaining to writing, the answer is: It depends.
It depends on what sort of book you’ve written, on what your goals are, and on your comfort level in the publishing world. If you wrote a novel and want to publish it the traditional way (with an agent and a publisher), and if you at least know the difference between those two things, then you might find my experience helpful.
I wrote ‘The End’ on the bottom of my second novel on New Year’s Eve and started 2014 with a To Do list to help me meet my goal (a contract with a respected publishing house). Here’s what’s on it (so far):
- Get up to date on my social media platforms that I let languish while I was deep in novel-writing mode.
- Start a list of agents to submit my work to.
- Draft a cover letter.
- Draft a 1-page synopsis.
- Update my CV.
- Re-read the manuscript One. More. Time.
- Start sending the manuscript out.
Over the next few weeks I’ll discuss in detail how I tackled each item on the list, but today I want to talk about setting goals and making plans.
The brass ring is publication, of course, but that can’t be achieved at one fell swoop and is, to a great extent, outside the author’s control. But I know I can increase my odds of success by breaking that big objective down into a lot of smaller ones that I can control. My goals need to be SMART:
Specific (ie, describe what you want to achieve with as much detail as possible.)
Measurable (you should be able to evaluate your progress by some yardstick.)
Achievable (by you, obviously.)
Relevant (to your overall purpose. Also should be Realistic to your abilities.)
Time-bound (with a clear target date for completion.)
To give you an example, let’s take item number 4 on my list: writing the synopsis. (I’ll address the practicalities of how I approach the actual writing of a synopsis in a later blog.)
I’ve already said this should be one-page, or about 500 words. I also know the synopsis is, for me, a very hard piece of writing so I know not to rush it. I’ll give myself two weeks to get it done.
Now, I bet you’re thinking two weeks to write 500 words – that’s ridiculous! But I know two things from past experience: Firstly, that it will take me a lot of work and rewrites to write 500 words that do justice to a 100,000 word novel. And secondly, I know the synopsis can make the difference between success and failure when an agent or publisher only has that and a few sample pages to make a judgement on your entire manuscript. Still think 2 weeks is too long?
That’s my goal for me, of course. You may be a whizz at writing synopses in which case my hat’s off to you. Perhaps you can get the job done in a day or two. But I’d still recommend you estimate how long you think the task will take and double it.
So let’s look at this goal: To write a 500 word synopsis that says everything that matters about my novel, and to complete it by January 22nd. Is this SMART?
Is it specific? Yes. I know I need a synopsis, what it needs to accomplish, and how long it ought to be.
Is it measurable? Again, yes. 500 words.
Can I achieve it? I know from past experience that I can.
Is it relevant? A casual look at the submission requirements of almost any agent or publisher will demonstrate that you cannot sell a book without one, so, yes.
Is it time-bound? I’ve allowed 2 weeks. Now, I know I may be able to get this job done a lot quicker than that, but I don’t want to feel rushed. One of the worst things writers can do to themselves is set unrealistic goals.
I should also point out that this goal, completing the synopsis, is a subset of the bigger goal, which is putting together a submissions packet that stands the best chance of success. That goal, in turn, ties in with ultimate aim of getting the novel accepted by a reputable publishing house. I have all these smaller goals leading up to bigger ones. The To-Do list serves the goals and both of them serve my ultimate aim.
On my next blog I’ll talk about Social Media, why they matter and how I’m using them to create platform. While I’m at it, I’ll probably tell you what a writer’s platform is…