What's Your Mountain?

Posted by: Kevin Tumlinson 7 months, 2 weeks ago

Luck doesn’t make for a good business plan.

Sure, there are some authors who have stumbled into phenomenal success, catching momentum from a passing wave that just happened to be close enough to drag them along. It happens. But it isn’t a strategy. You can never count on it happening to you.

A better approach is to craft your own strategy or business plan, and forge ahead to make it happen.

The starting point for that is to set goals. Or, as Neil Gaiman might put it, “Define your mountain.”

NEIL GAIMAN’S MOUNTAIN

In his 2012 keynote address to the University of the Arts, Gaiman told graduating students that his career was a result of a deciding what he wanted, and making sure that everything he did took him in that direction.

Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.

And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come along earlier I might have taken them, because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at the time.”

(Watch the video and read the transcript at http://www.uarts.edu/neil-gaiman-keynote-address-2012).


Gaiman also goes on to say he never had a career plan, but that doesn’t seem quite true. He may not have formalized his plan, but he did have a list of things he wanted to accomplish—though, granted, that list was made pretty early:

“Looking back, I've had a remarkable ride. I'm not sure I can call it a career, because a career implies that I had some kind of career plan, and I never did. The nearest thing I had was a list I made when I was 15 of everything I wanted to do: to write an adult novel, a children's book, a comic, a movie, record an audiobook, write an episode of Doctor Who... and so on. I didn't have a career. I just did the next thing on the list.” 


Knowing your goals gives you direction. You go from “trying to become an author” to “becoming an author,” and it’s as easy as doing the next thing on your list.

DEFINING YOUR OWN MOUNTAIN

An important part of any business is having a strategy. You may call it a business plan (which scares the bejeebers out of some people), or you may call it something else. What it amounts to, though, is a list of goals you’re trying to achieve.

Neil Gaiman got by with simply that list and a common sense approach, taking the next step whenever he came to it. That still smacks of luck, though. So let’s look at a way to define your mountain that puts you a bit more in control.

The key is to make your list of goals, and then make those goals actionable.

Basically, this just means that you not only know where you’re going, you know how you’re going to get there.

For that, there are three rules regarding actionable goals:

  1. They are specific—You’ll want to clearly define the goal, so that you can determine at a glance when the goal has been met.
  2. They are concise—Aim for a simple, one-line statement, not paragraphs. Remember … specific.
  3. They are measurable—As a result of being specific, you will have the criteria you need to determine whether or not you are meeting your goals.

With that in mind, let’s start with a list.

Take out a sheet of paper, or open a blank digital document, and start this whole shindig off with a list of exactly what you want to accomplish with your author business.

Keep things simple. Don’t fill the page with goals—instead, aim for 3-5 at the most. You can always add more goals later, but it’s sometimes easier to boil things down to the absolute basics.

For example:

My Goals:

  1. Sell 1,000 books per month
  2. Get 1,000 subscribers on my mailing list
  3. Make $25K per year in book sales

These goals may be a bit modest for what you want, but let’s treat them as a starting place. We’ll call this our “Year One Goals.”

We assign values to our goals, because that makes it easier to gauge how we’re doing. We can look at our sales and see if we’re hitting that 1,000 books per month, or we can look at our mailing list and see if we have 1,000 subscribers. And if we do, we keep doing what we’re doing for now. If we don’t, we know we have to make a change.

The point is to have goals, and (more importantly) to make them measurable.

One mistake a lot of small business owners make is to set goals that aren’t measurable. You’ll recognize them by their vagueness: “I want to make enough money to quite my full time job,” for example. Or “I want to have a lot of readers.”

These aren’t specific, so they aren’t measurable. And if they aren’t measurable, they’re daydreams, not goals.

The starting point of your author strategy is to define, exactly, what you want to accomplish, and how you’ll get there. You can do this with a year in mind, or you can aim for writing monthly goals. When you’re just starting, though, it’s sometimes a good idea to project a little further out, so you have room to experiment.

And don’t worry … you can always adjust your goals, at any time.

GPS FOR AUTHORS

Having your list is a great start, and making sure you have measurable goals makes things a lot easier. From here, it’s just about tracking.

Data is GPS for authors. With it, you can see how far or how close you are to meeting your goals. You can see when things might not be working, which lets you adjust your plans and change direction as needed.

How you track your data is really up to you. There are more tools for tracking sales, subscribers, and other aspects of your career than we can possibly name in this post. But, since this is our blog and all, we are cosmically obligated to mention that the author dashboard in your Draft2Digital account gives you a lot of useful information to help you track progress. If you’re distributing through D2D, you can see both overall sales data and store-specific data, so you can know exactly how many books you’re selling, and where. There are other data points you might find useful as well.

Just remember, if your goals are specific and measurable, there will be data for your to track. That’s the sign that you’ve done it right. If there’s nothing to track, revisit your goals and find a way to make them measurable.

YOUR MOUNTAIN IS WAITING

All this talk of goals and data may have you feeling a little frazzled, but it doesn’t have to.

The thing about mountains is, they aren’t going anywhere. It’s true, it may take you a little longer than planned to get there, to scale it, to reach the top. But the one thing you’ll never have to worry about is that the mountain will up and leave.

This work you’ve gotten yourself into—it can be a little grueling. It can be tiring and troubling. It can make you want to weep. Or get stabby. But it can also inspire you.

You have it in your power to make progress, every day. You have the ability to grow. You can learn new things—tricks and shortcuts that can get you to your mountain faster. And you can adopt new attitudes and philosophies, changing your speed by changing the fuel you run on.

It all starts with deciding where you want to go, and determining that, no matter what, you’re going to get there. The rest is just planning and execution. Like writing a novel. If you can do that, you can do anything.