Goals, Long-Range Planning, and the End of the Year

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

The topic of today’s post might seem a bit premature to you. After all, the leaves are just beginning to change color in most places. But when I counted the weeks left in the year to wrap up proposals and get them out to editors, the reality struck me: there really are only nine weeks left for business to take place this year.

Every area of this wonderful but unpredictable publishing industry requires long-range planning and goal setting. For example, publishers currently are planning and budgeting for their 2015 releases. Product managers are working with acquisitions editors, designers, typesetting and editorial departments to create each book’s production schedule. After Thanksgiving, editors concentrate on getting current projects ready for the printer before they take time off during the Christmas holidays.

With this in mind, how might you need to alter your writing plan for the remainder of the year? Perhaps it will entail making an adjustment to your expectations. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to set goals for ourselves. Especially so for writers. Goals keep us motivated and disciplined. But, speaking to unpublished authors, don’t let them become like a ball and chain around your neck, dragging you down to discouragement when it’s apparent you won’t reach all of them despite your hardest effort. In that weakened attitude condition the temptation to give up the long haul that Rachelle Gardner blogged about yesterday can take root.Planning-goals

Instead, take inventory of your writing work to this point and adjust your year-end goals or find a way to double your efforts where necessary. All with an optimistic outlook and pure trust in the One who is in charge of Everything. Here are sample scenarios:

  • If all your manuscript needs is a thorough proofreading, you have time to get that done and potentially for your agent to shop it to editors yet this year. Unpublished authors still have time to secure an agent with your outstanding proposal and manuscript.
  • Perhaps research took longer than you expected because you found the most incredible details that will add depth to your book. Take the pressure of a self-inflicted submission goal off your shoulders and instead, rejoice! Your unexpected find might cause you to miss a goal to submit your proposal this year, but you’ve enhanced the ultimate goal to make your debut book the best it can be.
  • When you get a contract, due dates aren’t so adjustable for the author. But hopefully, you have followed your long-term plan, which included padding for the unexpected. This week one of my clients got an email from her editor asking if she could turn in both manuscripts early because the publisher wants to move her two books, scheduled for a 2015 simultaneous release, up to Fall 2014. My client had planned well–doubly well, in fact–and was able to respond, “Sure, I can send you one manuscript tomorrow and the other one next week, when the proofreading is complete.” Her editor is thrilled. My client scored major points with her publisher, and she is ecstatic that her books will be published months earlier. Ah, the benefits of long-range planning and discipline.

Goals and planning are two of the writer’s best tools in your professional toolbox. When you build in room for flexibility, they can become a writer’s best assets both for your own positive outlook and also in your relationships with your agent, your editor, and your publisher.

Which of your writing goals is your biggest challenge at this point in the year? What realistic adjustments can you make to keep a positive, teachable outlook? What long-range planning lessons have you learned from personal experience?

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37 Comments

  • Jill Kemerer says:

    Nine weeks!! Yikes! It’s interesting to hear what editors’ schedules look like at this time of year. It’s also exciting to hear your client was prepared for a special surprise–congrats to you both!

    I make daily, weekly, and annual goals. My biggest challenge? The annual goals. I find that they change as the year wears on, so I get a lot accomplished, but it usually isn’t what I originally planned! :)

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      “…I get a lot accomplished, but it usually isn’t what I originally planned!” I hear you, Jill. So often that is the case. It’s hard always to know when God is redirecting our plan and when we need to exercise more discipline. If you have insights, let us know.

  • Jeanne T says:

    I love this. I’m a goal setter by nature, and I did set goals for myself this year. With some unexpected good things happening (a final in a contest with a book I hadn’t finished yet), and with writer’s block setting in for a few weeks, I’m not where I thought I would be by now. But, I’ve re-set my personal deadlines, knowing that December isn’t the month to send things in. :)

    I have a question for you. When is a good time to query after December?

    Lessons I’ve learned with long range planning include: frequent assessments to see where I am in the achieving of long range goals. If I’m behind and can do something about it, I ramp up my pace. If I’m behind and I can’t change that, I set a deadline further out. And, having a reward I get to have after the goal is achieved is always a plus. :)

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Jeanne, a good time to query after Christmas is perhaps the second week of January. Agents are caught up with emails sent over the holidays, and editors are looking for new acquisitions to fill remaining slots for the year and into the next year.

      It sounds like you already have a well-balanced long range plan operating, which shows your natural planning/goal setting attribute. It will serve you well in your writing future.

  • Thank you for this: “Perhaps research took longer than you expected because you found the most incredible details that will add depth to your book.” I have been feeling a little stressed because I had planned to start the first draft by now but who knew that bells were so complex? Campanology, bell-ringers, bell foundry plus all the myths and legends related to bells? All helpful because one of my main characters is a bell. :|

  • For me, planning varies from project to project but the goal is always the same; produce the best work regardless of how long it takes. Although I work from an outline, I require the most time crafting a first draft. Creativity does not always come on a schedule. OK, it never comes on a schedule, that’s why I plan extra “stumped time” when setting a deadline.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Good point, Kathryn. Creativity can’t always be scheduled, even when trying to be disciplined. Factoring in “stumped time” is a realistic necessity. You may have coined a new term.

  • I was just noticing yesterday, Mary, that we’re only three months from Christmas. Eek! I was also thinking of my next project. My current manuscript just needs a tiny bit of tweaking, and my mind is ready to move on to the next story (unless my CP says otherwise :) ). My goal is to have a first draft by Christmas. I have so many ideas swirling around, though, that the challenge is to choose the right one. I’ve learned from experience not to let myself get paralyzed by the different choices but to pray and choose one story line and stick with it. Otherwise, I flounder between ideas without getting anything significant accomplished. Also, the conference was, of course, one huge teachable moment, particularly the same question I was asked over and over and over. As a result, I’ll be adjusting my next story accordingly by bringing to the forefront what I had previously thought of as minor.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Meghan, great thought. Thanks for sharing your experience of how prayer and discipline help you, a creative person, avoid becoming overwhelmed with so many ideas. Your example will encourage writers not to veer too far off their plan.

  • Thank you, Mary. I was feeling discouraged this morning and your blog gave me encouragement. I am a yet-unpublished author. I have written a novel before so I know that the process takes unexpected turns (characters don’t always cooperate!) and that sometimes there are surprise bear traps, but I tend to be a goal setter and tend to be rather hard on myself when I don’t accomplish goals on schedule. I am writing a fantasy, so there is a great deal of world building to do. So far, I had been able to do it in bits and pieces so there was no information dump, but I’ve run into a spot where the back story is complicated and I am having difficulty figuring out how to get it in without doing information dump and slowing down the novel’s pace. This is quite frustrating and has definitely interrupted my plan. However, I think that, since I’m not under time pressure from a publisher, the important thing is just to work out a solution without undue concern about my original goal. Although I wanted to query this year, life will not end if I have to wait until January. Perhaps this experience will help me be more realistic in my goal-setting.

    Blessings!

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Christine, as an unpublished author, your response to your scenario definitely is the positive way to view your self-determined submission goal. That goal served a purpose to keep you moving along with your writing, but it isn’t iron clad for you. As you inferred, the higher priority is to get your manuscript to the best it can be.

  • This is good.

    Of course, it’s making me second-guess the goal I sent in last night. :/

  • One thing I’ve learned from restoring antiques is that fine, meticulous work cannot and should not be rushed and done with any sense of urgency in one’s hands.
    That is when you break something or dig your Dremmel in too hard and have to either sand down below the mistake or jury rig something to cover your impatience.
    Then, when things need to be varnished? Layers and layers and layers of thin varnish look better than one bucket of goop dumped on the piece and spread around to look good.

    I know I have a lot to do, but someone I respect very much used a lovely phrase to describe when something was ready. It should be a “smooth as silk page turner”.

    So, it’s time read alouds, proof reading, giving the work time to simmer and definitely not rush things.

    Until I have a defined external schedule, I need to do my work, listen to advice from my agent, ask questions, be teachable and aim to turn in the best work I can. If it means 6 months or a year before my MS is ready and silk-y, then so be it.

    I don’t want my name on something that readers think needed more work.

  • As I’m fairly certain I’ve expressed before, I love setting goals. There’s nothing better than making lists and being able to cross something off!

    I have finally finished my manuscript and just sent it off for submission last night. So…now it’s on to my next book. I have the basic plot but need to do some research. I figure I’ll spend the month of October doing that, as well as plotting the book (total plotter here!). Then I’d like to participate in NaNoWriMo to get a good chunk of the first draft written before the holidays.

    Of course, as Jill pointed out, sometimes things come up and our plans change. If, for example, I were to secure an agent in the next several months and that agent wanted me to make changes to my current manuscript…well, my current plan would change! But for now, moving on to my next ms will help me make progress and hopefully keep me from obsessively checking email. It’s good to be prepared either way. And to be flexible…I’m still working on that one! ;)

    Thanks, as always, for the encouragement to find peace in the journey through seeking His will. It’s such an important reminder.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      LOL, yes Lindsay, I recall your enthusiasm for goal setting from previous comments. I also see that you are organized, disciplined, and flexible. All important tools for your writing journey.

  • Norma Horton says:

    Mary, thanks for the gentle nudge. I’m delighted we’re in this together. NLBH

  • It’s taken me two years to figure out what type of writing goals I can realistically set–but I’m sure I’ll have to adjust as necessary when the situation calls for it. I like to think of it as a journey. I know where I’m at, I know where I’m going, and I have a map–but I don’t know what unexpected pit stops I might have to make while I’m traveling. My goal right now is to finish one last proofreading and get my manuscript to my agent by October 1st. I’ll take the months of October, November and December to plot and research my next novel. I’ll begin writing after January 1st when my husband (the landscaper) will be home and I can dedicate more of my time to my story. I did this last year and it worked very well. I had my manuscript completed by June 1st and then had the summer free while my husband worked. Hopefully all goes as planned!

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Sounds like a well-tuned, long range plan, Gabrielle. One you may be able to repeat every year until you reach the point when you are writing more than one book a year. But by then, the children may all be in school :)

  • Mary, thank you for your wonderful organizational tips.
    Since I write historical novels, getting sucked into research is a regular occurrence. During those moments or hours, dragging my feet can be so enjoyable, but it doesn’t help the forward motion of revising my MS.
    One of my current goals is to establish a methodical way to revise, as I know this will be a boon in my writing career.
    My manuscript is under scrutiny with a few people whose opinions I value and trust. When I hear back from them, my goal is to integrate their suggestions and address areas of needed growth.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Aren’t critiquing friends wonderful. Worthy of the best chocolate. If they are available for your future books as well, you’d have a stable editing/revision system in place. I hope that works out for you.

  • Jaime Wright says:

    I love this post!

    Last year I took stock of my life as it stands now to determine how “goals” fit into the scheme of a 40 hr/week job, 2 children under the age of 3 and marriage to a youth pastor (insert multiple evenings a week of single-parenting :) I talked with a few close published author friends to find out what their “contracted” timeline was to produce a 1st draft, edit an existing book, plus market. Since I’m not editing another book at the same time or doing heavy marketing, I cut their first draft time by about 1/3 and made that my goal. That gave me an estimated time of 3-4 months to produce a first draft and first set of edits with 6 months to have a final copy (after crits and beta readers ripped it to pieces) :) My thought process was if I could accomplish that goal WITHOUT telling my babies to go away or shelving my husband, then it was a realistic goal as an unpublished writer. I was able to accomplish it and have a manuscript ready to pitch at the ACFW conference. SO, those are my identical goals for 2013 into 2014. It’s fun to work under pressure, even if self-imposed. :)

    I also joined an online accountability group. Sort of like Weight Watchers for Writers. :) That helps a lot too.

  • Great post, Mary. I have a question–when is the best time to submit proposals to pub houses, would you say? I usually wind up submitting in spring, and then soon after, publishing houses are on vacation, then it’s ACFW, and you are saying that in fall they are lining up what they’ve already contracted? Just trying to nail down the best possible date for submission.

    And congrats to your contracted client who is ready to go with book #2!

    Sometimes plans get a bit derailed. I hadn’t planned on self-pubbing this year, but things took a drastic and actually wonderful turn. So now I need to get serious about finishing my next Viking novel, but have to focus on marketing and launching the first one first! I also have another (completely different) book out on submission. Trying to focus on one book at a time…and stay somewhat calm in the process (I’m not succeeding, just ask Jennifer Major–grin).

  • I’ve already begun making plans for 2014, so this post is timely for me. I had hoped to finish my middle grade novel this year, but instead I focused on picture books. Not necessarily a mistake, put since I need to wait for illustrators for the latter, it might not have been the best use of my time.

    For 2014, my goal will be to finish, edit, and submit that MG novel for consideration. I plan to reduce blogging time and focus more on writing books.

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    Only nine weeks! Ah, so little time; so much to write.

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