Today’s topic is the perfect way to start off the New Year. RU Contributor Veronica Scott discusses the advantages and the reality of setting goals.
I wasn’t sure if a post on how I do my annual planning would be timely this many days after New Year’s, but then I decided most resolutions are broken by now already (mine are certainly!). So it’ll be okay to talk about laying out a plan instead.
In the old day job, I was heavily involved in the strategic planning process and the annual review and refresh of the Mission, Vision, Goals and actual specific plans for our part of the organization. We had all kinds of elaborate management tools and techniques, some years we had the luxury (or aggravation) of expensive management consultants to support the process, and we went offsite for varying lengths of time. In the old days we used to go off to San Diego or the desert but more recently it would be one day or half a day at a local hotel. When I left to become a fulltime writer, I knew I wasn’t going to miss this aspect of the job in the least. (Facilitating a room full of senior managers for any length of time can be exhausting and then you have an entire year of trying to enact the strategic plans you did come away with.)
BUT. I did think there was a certain usefulness to taking time to stop and examine my own strategic planning as an author. Over the years at the day job, I’d seen how the structure of an overall plan could keep us from duplicating efforts, from getting distracted by newer and shinier things, going off on tangents that didn’t support our stated goals….and the other thing to remember is that strategic planning is never done and can always be re-looked-at.
So for example, in 2010 when I buckled down to seriously pursue getting published, my Vision was to be a published author and if I’d done any planning after that, it all would have been centered around getting that one book published. Which I eventually did in January 2012. Then I rapidly discovered the hard truth that while yes, it’s wonderful to finally be published (thank you, Carina Press!), getting one book into readers’ hands is just the beginning. Unless your only goal was to publish a single book and stop, your lifelong dream satisfied. For some people, that truly is the end point.
Not me. I write like I breathe and I want to have lots of books out there, with as many readers as I can possibly have and someday the movie version up in lights. (I dream big, no shame there.)
In 2015, my first year of being a fulltime author, I didn’t do any strategic planning and I felt kind of adrift. I was getting books written and released, and managing my self-publishing efforts with a business mindset, but I was pursuing all kinds of promo and blogging and other things willy-nilly, as opportunities came up, without really stopping to think whether they fit with my overall goals or the Veronica Scott ‘brand’. Not having structure made me sort of anxious.
So for 2016, laughing a bit at myself, I did a strategic planning session, which took me maybe an hour because I had no room full of debating managers and used no charts/graphs/tools/exercises. I simply asked myself questions and listened to my own answers. I made a cup of tea and scribbled on my favorite lavender, lined legal pad with a fine point pen.
Everything starts with the Vision, which is ‘where I want to be in five years’. You can pick any time frame but five years is a good, realistic range for accomplishing things. I wanted to be a bestselling, well known, sought after author whose books got made into movies, made money and led to cool experiences. ‘Sought after’ referring to being asked to be on panels, in anthologies, and guest blogging. A mix of hopes and dreams there but we are talking vision. Everything I did needed to support achieving that vision in some way.
Next you define your Mission, which is basically to carry out the Vision but perhaps with a few boundaries or caveats. As an example, I had to keep my health in mind (a few chronic things) and to make the writing pay for itself, not dip into accounts I had to have for other necessities.
Then I identified my Enablers: the actions, resources or strategies that would specifically move me toward achieving parts of my Vision. The Vision doesn’t have to be all or nothing – sometimes I’m working on one part of it more than other aspects. The number one thing on my list? Writing new books! There’s so much to do in today’s publishing world, especially as an independent author, sometimes the importance of actually writing new books gets squeezed out. How often have you seen an author on social media valiantly promoting their one book, released a year ago? More books promote the backlist better than anything. It’s good to remind oneself of this simple but key tenet.
Besides, presumably you became a writer to write!
I brainstormed some challenges – it used to be the most fun part of the management retreats, asking “What will make us fail?” because there’s always a lot of negative energy lying in wait. The pitfalls and problems are right there on the tip of the tongue. Two that stood out to me were not having a newsletter (ok, I hear the gasps) and doing scattershot promo. I was also expending a huge amount of time as a volunteer in an author organization. Now the latter did satisfy the part of my mission about paying forward all the wonderful help I’ve received from other authors over the years, but it had grown to take up too much of the valuable writing time. And highlighted my tendency to say yes to things without thinking through the total impact on my time and energy.
I picked a few authors I thought were good examples of what I wanted to be, came up with a slogan for myself and I was done.
Flash forward to the end of 2016 and time to review my Strategic Plan and revise as necessary for 2017. Took me two hours and now runs three pages! I learned quite a bit. I moved “Pay it forward” into the Vision itself, because that’s a very important aspect of what I feel is important, especially in the relatively compact science fiction romance (SFR) world. We pretty much all try to help each other. It’s a supportive community of authors.
I laughed hysterically at the authors I’d picked as my examples a year ago. They’re wonderful, highly successful people but a year wiser (never older LOL), I realized they live in another world and I have people who are much more in my wheelhouse that I can learn from.
I simplified the Mission to just “Enable the Vision.” Enough said.
I added a Strategic Goals section, which I hadn’t bothered with the year before. Silly me. I’ll share a couple: I want to write a 3-5 book SFR series with an overall series arc this year and I want to try writing in a totally new genre. The latter is my stretch goal. Will I get there? Unknown but it keeps my thinking fresh.
I gleefully did the Challenges and then worked on the Barriers to success again, in a bit more detail. I added one – I’m really introverted, folks. I wish I was one of those people who was naturally chatty, on Facebook for example, and forged deep, personal relationships with each of my readers while we talk about our daily lives together. I admire the authors who do! But it’s not me. So I have to look for ways I can compensate for that because I do want to be connected to my readers. I answer every reader e mail I get and cherish those interactions. I blog a LOT. I post on FB and interact with commenters, but I rarely share personal stuff.
I re-examined my Enablers. Doing ok there. Added a new platform or two.
I wrote out my Successes for 2016, which included releasing five books, three short stories in anthologies, and one audiobook; chairing a panel at the RT Booklovers conference, being a member of another panel at RT, keeping my health stable and….wait for it….getting a newsletter up and running!!! Celebrate those successes – I’m sure you got a lot more cool things done in 2016 than you realized at the time, so take a moment to acknowledge the achievements.
I made myself look at my ‘failures’ because they’re all learning opportunities.
I picked out two major themes to concentrate on for 2017, aside from the writing, which is always the number one priority.
I took stock of my regular networking and blogging, such as posting here once a quarter (which I love doing), to see if there were some which weren’t in line with my plan (time to drop those) and whether there was anything I should add.
I listed the books I believe I’ll write in 2017…
And I came up with a new slogan for 2017 because the 2016 one was really sort of self-limiting.
I’m going to try to revisit my Strategic Plan once a quarter this year, just looking it over and reminding myself of what I thought was important, not conducting a big deep dive analysis or anything.
And then at the end of the year I’ll see how I did in 2017, what I learned and what I need to be thinking about in 2018!
So what kind of planning do you do each year?
Star Survivor – November 2016
The survivors of a terrible wreck meet again—but this time only one can survive.
The long-awaited, standalone sequel to The Wreck of the Nebula Dream…
They survived an iconic spaceship wreck together. She never expected to see him again … especially not armed to kill her.
Twilka Zabour is an interstellar celebrity. She built on her notoriety as a carefree Socialite who survived the terrible wreck of the Nebula Dream, and launched a successful design house. But now the man who gave meaning to her life, then left her, is back–this time for the worst of reasons. Will he kill her … or help her survive?
D’nvannae Brother Khevan survived the Nebula Dream in the company of a lovely, warm woman, only to be pulled away from her, back into his solitary life in the service of the Red Lady. Now Twilka’s within his reach again–for all the wrong reasons. Khevan will do everything within his power to discover why Twilka has been targeted for assassination, and to save her.
But Khevan is not Twilka’s only pursuer. Will allies Nick and Mara Jameson arrive in time to aid the couple, or will Khevan and Twilka’s ingenuity be all that stands between them and death?
Bio: Best Selling Science Fiction & Paranormal Romance author and “SciFi Encounters” columnist for the USA Today Happily Ever After blog, Veronica Scott grew up in a house with a library as its heart. Dad loved science fiction, Mom loved ancient history and Veronica thought there needed to be more romance in everything. When she ran out of books to read, she started writing her own stories.
Connect with Veronica via her blog, Twitter, and Facebook.