What Do You Want?

Trying to get writers to agree on something is like herding cats. We are all passionate people. We have a tendency to flare up over minor disputes (especially online). And we can usually pen a tight argument for pretty much any position.

But I also think a lot of disagreements spring from the fact that we are all very different people, with different dreams, goals, and ambitions.

As such, what might be good advice for one writer could be bad advice for another. Especially if you are aiming for different targets.

So, what do you want?

It would be nice to sell a million books. It would be flattering to have every agent and publisher in New York clamoring for your signature. But it would also be nice to win the lottery.

Let’s talk about realistic goals.

I’m going to earn enough this month – my third month self-publishing – to cover most of my rent. Next month, or the month after, I might be able to cover the whole thing. That’s a realistic goal.

Before anyone gets too excited, my rent is quite low. However, that’s one less bill for me to pay. And the thought of book royalties covering it is immensely satisfying.

Maybe I’ll be earning enough in a couple of years to live off. Maybe not. But I think that’s something I can aim for. I don’t think it’s unobtainable. Not if I can keep publishing stuff that people seem to enjoy.

When I was younger, seeing my book in a bookstore would have been my #1 goal. While I would still get a kick out of it today, it has been supplanted by the dream of making a living from writing. In fact, it’s quite far down the pecking order of things I would like to happen.

More recently, getting a publishing deal – any deal – was all I was interested in. That’s no longer important to me either. I’m very happy working on my own. I wouldn’t be foolish enough to turn down a check with lots of zeroes, but it’s not something I’m actively working towards.

Because seeing my work in bookstores and getting a publishing deal are not important to me, self-publishing makes perfect sense. My primary career goals at this moment are financial, and I believe that self-publishing affords me the best opportunity to make a living from writing. There’s no question in my mind about that.

You may well be different. You may dream of being taken on by a super-agent, of hobnobbing with editors, of author signings, of being on a publisher’s table at a conference, of getting a review in Kirkus. I don’t. Those things aren’t important to me. Some of them might be nice, but I’m not working towards them.

Decide what your dreams are. Decide what’s important to you. Then set a series of obtainable goals – that you can work towards – that will bring you closer to your dream.

I would like to earn enough from writing so that I don’t have to worry about money. That really wouldn’t take much. I’m pretty low maintenance. I would like to travel quite a bit – that’s pretty much the only thing I do spend money on, outside of seedy bars – but aside from that, my overheads are pretty low.

But money is only one aspect of what I want to achieve. I also want to write lots and lots of books. There are so many stories I want to tell. I’m sure you know the feeling.

My problem is never finding ideas; it’s finding the time, the discipline, and the right words to execute them well. And there are some ideas that I’m not ready for yet, and they are waiting in my little notebook for me to improve.

I’m under no illusions. I think I can write a good story. But I also think I have a lot to learn about the craft. I can see areas where I can improve. Lots of them.

I would also like to expand the scope of what I write. I want to learn more. I want to grow as a writer. I want to improve with every title I publish. I want to push myself.

I also want every title I publish to be a quality title. I’m not just talking about the writing here. I want good covers, good editing, good formatting – I want to be proud of the work I put my name on. I want the story to be satisfying to readers. I want readers to really want to read more of my stuff after they finish one of my books.

I don’t just want to take their money and run. I would much rather sell 5,000 copies each of 20 books than sell 100,000 copies of one book and a handful of the rest. I’d like to know that I found my audience and kept them.

My goal is to publish lots of different stories and lots of different novels in quite a few different genres. I think that’s achievable. And if I work really hard, maybe some of them could be great. Time will tell.

There is a happy symbiosis here. If I work hard at the craft, if I only publish my best work, if I present it all professionally, and I publish lots of stories and novels, then that gives me the best possible chance of making a living from it.

Right now – for me – self-publishing is the only viable path I can see to achieve those goals. That may not always be the case. This business is changing so rapidly that no-one can say with any confidence what it’s going to be like in five years.

There will be more people reading e-books. Some publishers will probably go out of business. But, there are so many variables that we can’t say for sure if the business conditions for self-publishers will be more or less favorable in the future. My gut says that they will be more favorable, but nobody can be certain.

And maybe my goals will change. But for now, I’m very happy with the path I have chosen, and the opportunities it give me.

In a couple of months, I will release my first full-length work of fiction. It will also be the first time I attempt a higher price point – $4.99.

I think I can justify it. It’s an epic historical, it took a very, very long time to write (in particular, to research), it’s long (around 120k), and I think the genre can handle higher price points.

On top of that, I will have a few other titles at lower price points, so that readers have a cheap “in” to my work. If they like the way I write and the stories I tell, I don’t think they will balk at paying under five bucks for a meaty novel.

If it sells well (at $3.49 royalties per copy), I will move a little closer to the dream of supporting myself.

Now, it may not. It may be priced too high. And there is some evidence to suggest that historical fiction readers haven’t started making the switch to e-books yet. But I won’t know unless I try. And I can always drop the price, because I am in complete control.

It will also be the first book that I do a print version for, which is very exciting (and maybe I’ll try and get it into one bookstore in Dublin, just for kicks).

I know what I want: to earn enough so that I never have to worry about money. Maybe that’s pie-in-the-sky. But I also know what I would be very, very happy with: supporting myself from writing.

Maybe that’s a little more achievable. It may seem far away right now, but I just have to break it down to tangible steps. Like paying the rent by October. Releasing my historical novel before then would help.

It’s written, but it needs work in places (a lot in some). But I think I can get that done in two months. I have a realistic, achievable goal with a clear plan of action. I may succeed, I may not, but it’s in my hands.

What do you want? How are you going to get it?

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.