Setting Realistic Goals – Treat Yourself like a Business

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Writing a book is no small feat. And you should be proud of yourself for all the hard work you’ve done so far. As exciting as it is to have a finished manuscript in front of you though, there is still a lot more to do after the typing has stopped and the pen and paper are put away. Some authors can afford to hire an agent or a publicist, but for others taking the DIY approach, marketing yourself and your book can seem pretty daunting. As much as you want to share your book with everyone and show them what you’ve accomplished, if you don’t set some realistic goals, you’re setting yourself up for some unnecessary disappointment and frustration. Planning how to market yourself and your work may be easier said then done, but the payoff – reaching more readers and selling more – is worth the effort.

Change Your Perspective

The first step to getting a better hold on your marketability is to change your perspective of yourself as a writer, to an entrepreneur starting your own business. You’ve done the writing, but now you have a product to sell. Whenever you take the time to put yourself “out there,” your ultimate goal should be to make a good impression on people so they’ll want to read your work, keep coming back, and recommend your book to others. You’re building your reputation—your own personal brand, and you need people to trust that brand to grow a loyal fan base. This is something that takes a lot of time, planning, and strategizing.

Any successful business, big or small, starts with a list of goals and then creates a plan to achieve those goals. A successful business also remains flexible and responsive to its customer’s needs and the current trends of the market. You can do this by having backup plans in place for whenever one of your plans doesn’t work or you need to change something on the fly.

Research What Works

Think about successful companies you know of and research the components that made them that way. You’ll find that many businesses share common fundamentals that aid in their success such as mission statements, budgets, and timelines. You can adopt and adjust these to build your own business model and better market your book and your brand. Remember, though, that a business is an investment. All new businesses spend money to move forward and it typically takes about 3-5 years for a startup to become profitable. You must invest both money and time on your entrepreneurial venture and have a solid plan(s) in place that will allow you to break even until you eventually turn a profit or move large volumes of your book.

Plan Realistic Goals and Follow Through

Once you have some clearly defined goals (such as getting your book on a retail shelf, or selling X number of copies, etc.) and a plan(s) (attending X number of book fairs, or creating a Facebook fan page, etc.) the next thing you need to do is come up with a realistic timeline to achieve those goals. I think one of the best practices a new author can do to gain traction on his or her book is to create a timeline that lays those goals and plans out with feasible deadlines associated with each one. I almost never get anything done unless I know it is due soon. Moving towards a goal with a deadline can greatly help to keep you motivated.

Otherwise, you might find yourself flying blind and quickly becoming demotivated because you don’t feel like you’ve accomplished anything. It is also crucial to be as realistic with your deadlines as you are with your goals. Don’t expect to hit the New York Times bestseller list overnight, start with selling 50 copies of your book, then 100 and check off when you’ve completed a goal. If done correctly, a timeline with realistically achievable goals can reinforce your sense of accomplishment and will excite you as you continue to reach more readers.

Think like a Business

Running a business isn’t easy, but none of this is meant to be scary. It is just meant to make a new author think about his or her approach in the journey to become the next bestseller. Be sure to check back for part 2 of “Setting Realistic Goals” next week when I’ll discuss setting realistic expectations and how your mindset can make all the difference with how far your book goes.

By completing your book, you’ve done something remarkable.  You’ve put so much hard work and energy into, it can be difficult not to be emotionally attached to your work.  But the key now, is to take a step back and start setting realistic expectations to go along with each of above steps. Otherwise, you may become frustrated or disappointed if you don’t think your book is gaining a large enough readership as quickly as you’d like.

Build a Genre, Build a Brand

All successful writers had to start somewhere.  Authors like Stephen King and Dan Brown are continually at the top of The New York Times Bestseller list because after years of work, they have figured out the formula for attracting their readers.  Part of their formula is knowing what their genre is and sticking to it.  In that way, these authors have created a brand for themselves.  Everyone knows you read a Stephen King book if you want to be scared, you read Dan Brown if you want to figure out a mystery.  Obviously, some genres are going to sell better than others based on how reader-friendly they are.  It isn’t realistic to expect a niche-oriented book about nanotechnology to sell as much as a young adult title about sexy vampires, no matter how cutting edge and revolutionary it is.  You must determine what genre you’re trying to fit into and go after the readers that are interested in that genre.  Creating a solid personal brand will greatly help you gain momentum as you build your readership.

Find the Right Audience

Many of the books on Lulu are written with a very specific audience in mind.  And are great because they offer knowledge on topics that can’t be found anywhere else.  In fact, some of our bestsellers are books from these niche genres.  What makes these books bestsellers is that the authors took the time to zero-in on the right audience – the readers that their content matters to.  As much as you want your book to sell millions of copies, you must realize that you’re not writing for everyone – not yet at least.  At first, you’re writing for a very specific and small group of readers – maybe just family, friends, and colleagues.

Building a loyal following is something that comes with a lot of time, patience, and research.  You must constantly be in the habit of self-promoting your work.  The good news is that with the internet, it is easier than ever to find your audience and promote your work. For example, if you write a book on photography, start spending time on all of the top photography blogs. Network and become a part of the conversations and prove to those communities that you are a reputable and reliable source of information, then begin to introduce you work.  Be sure to play by the rules too, no one likes a spammer that sends a link of their book out hundreds of time a day.

Publicize with Passion

If a bookstore sells a biology book that is a bestseller, but you have written a biology book that you want them to sell instead, even if you know its better, you’re going to find it pretty hard to convince them to stop selling that bestseller if you can’t stand by your product.  Who else understands the topic of your book better than you, the person that wrote it?  Even if you have an army of publicists, no one can represent and promote your content better than you can. When you’re starting out, your name and your book’s title should always be mentioned in the same sentence. You are the authority and you must show conviction in your work. 

Do not expect to sell anything if you’re not willing to put in the effort, time, and energy required to convince readers that your book is the only one they need in their hands.  Your personality and passion play a large role in this, but you should always make sure to list your credentials, experience, or qualifications whenever you’re publicizing your work.  You must also be willing to attend book fairs, trade shows, signings, lectures, and publicity events.  Once you have determined how much time and money you are willing to invest the publicity of your book, you can begin to set realistic expectations for how successful your book will be.  The most important part however, is to always give it your best.

18 thoughts on “Setting Realistic Goals – Treat Yourself like a Business”

  1. I understand what it means to walk blind. Thanks for simple advice in making my direction clear. I look forward to reading your future comments.

  2. I would say the first step is to take an objective look at your product. Is it as good as it could be? Is the spelling nd grammar correct? is the layout and cover right for the book?

  3. JENNIFER E. TROTMAN

    Hi AJ,
    Greetings! The type of information you have provided is considered to be sound business advice. The DIY TIPS, coupled with the strength of the LULU Support Team will give to any new Author a drive to succeed.
    Thank You! Continue your good work!
    Sincerely,
    Jennifer E. Trotman Smith

  4. Hi AJ,
    This was a good article. Could you also address how to get your books into the Libraries? I have been met with much resistance because the libraries do not want to add titles that are self published. Please give us hints on how to overcome this.
    Thanks,
    Craig

  5. I was able to get my book into the Fairfax County Library by providing them with 5 copies. In these tight budget times, they were happy to get it. The library has a system for this and the information was available at the branch.

  6. Good business article. Writing a book is one thing,getting it circulated is another. Tips on libaries, contact the main libary in the area you wish to target, in other words start at the top.

  7. This is a great article. You are absolutely right. You have to treat yourself as a business. It all about the mindset and setting real attainable goals to reach. Thanks,this was a very inspirational post.

  8. I like this article!
    I realize that marketing is now my biggest project- I’ll have to GO TO TOWN and follow AJ’s advice!
    Thanks for the tips!
    J

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