The internet can be wild and wonderful marketplace, but it can be wily and—let’s get real—wretched, especially for an emptor who is not expert at cavere. Evidently, scams flourish in a personless exchange.

Most prospective self-published authors know to exercise caution when vetting publishing, marketing, or promotional schemes. But most will (and should) spend relatively significant sums on hiring help to write, edit, design, format, convert, print, market, promote, and distribute a book.

According to a recent NetGalley Insights post, reporting on a joint NetGalley and Independent Book Publishers Association survey of author-publishers, “the majority of authors spent between $1,000 and $6,000 on their books”

Self-published authors may expect a front-end expense to actualize their ideas as books, but traditionally published authors can (and should) allocate funds for their books, too.

Traditionally published authors will receive an advance and/or royalties for their work, and these are more likely when an author has a finished (and excellent) manuscript in hand. Of course, completion takes time, and time, as discussed in a prior post, is discrete and therefore valuable.

While the advance (and/or royalties) can offset costs, it rarely compensates for time already spent, much less extras such as marketing and promotion beyond that offered by a traditional publishing house. That’s why traditional authors can benefit from building in a line item for marketing and promotion expenses, too.

Not all traditional authors will need or even want to spend money on a PR or other promotional plan, but quantifying the expense in a book budget can help make good on the time already invested.

bulls eye target​We typically offer suggestions for nuts-and-bolts practicality: Schedule your project! Create a flow chart! Try a cool app! Read a great book! But we don’t typically talk about what this practicality serves. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s not really your “project,” it’s actually your goal.

While “goals” are somewhat tainted by association with “objectives,” “targets,” “ambitions,” and other jargon-adjacent terms, goals still serve to concretize aims and aspirations. Goals still imply the promise of attainment (and therefore invoke the necessity of strategy).

A goal is hard to make because, once stated, we assume responsibility for achievement. For big projects, when just getting started feels like responsibility enough, stating a goal can feel paradoxically too small and too big. That’s why we frequently hear demurrals in the form of “let’s just get going” or “let’s just see how things turn out” or “let’s take the first step.”

But in our experience, a project becomes more doable, and ultimately more efficiently successful, when writers take the time to define their goals and (in what can be a bit of a thought experiment) to create a strategy for realization.

When approaching your own project and determining your own goals, you may be tempted to take your cue from productivity wonks and their SMART methodology (goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely). But such specificity is not really required, and it can sometimes become a subversive avoidance tactic. Instead, ask yourself what your project must do out in the world for you to consider it a success. Then push yourself to answer this question in concrete terms.

It is certainly possible to start your project without a goal—for some lucky people, it’s not an external goal that motivates, it’s the necessity of realizing something more like an internal vision. But for most people, it’s much easier to finish your project and launch it into the world when you know exactly where you’re aiming.


As part of the Do-More/Do-Less banner I’ve unfurled for 2019, I’m revisiting Jane Friedman’s book The Business of Being A Writer. Friedman, whose Twitter bio declares that she knows “far too much about the publishing industry,” is the cofounder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the call-is-coming-from-inside-the-house newsletter about publishing.

​​Her book gives a comprehensive overview of professional writing and pragmatic, utterly helpful advice. While it’s an ideal reference for anyone dipping a toe into the world of professional writing, the insight and advice ripples outward to other professionals, too.
Take, for instance, Friedman’s injunction to avoid wasting someone’s time. For writers, a pitch to an unresearched editor, to an ill-chosen agent, or to an unsuitable publication is not a hail-mary strategy—it’s a waste of the reader’s time and a waste of the writer’s time.
This is the case for all types of pitch-makers. You might be pitching a report to shareholders, a book to an agent, an argument to an audience, a grant to a grantor, or a professional background to an interviewer. In each case, your aspiration should be for your audience to consider the time they spend with you and your work to be worthwhile.
You will gain their appreciation by knowing that audience not as an indistinct bulk but as a single person. Recognizing your audience as a single (and actual) person makes it easier to undertake the work of understanding their professional background, needs, and aspirations. Only then can you determine if your work (or your speech or your grant) really is a good fit. Can you give this person something they need? If yes, then you can succinctly and persuasively explain what you have to offer.
This type of reconnaissance isn’t as fuzzy as it sounds. You don’t have to divine motivations (though you may want to). You simply have to turn to Google to trace your audience’s past work and current efforts. The time you spend—no matter your pitch, no matter your audience—will always be well-spent.

PictureJoleen Pete photography

​As December’s performance winds up (or down, depending on your POV) and January creeps closer to center stage, I’m ready to give in to the annual tradition of the yearly critique.

Even if the timing feels a little arbitrary, I like reflecting back on work completed (or abandoned), projects finished (or started), and goals met (or missed). And of course, my favorite sentient frenemy—the algorithm—is always (always) there to helpfully remind me of books I’ve read, music I’ve listened to, miles I’ve logged, and social media moments I’ve posted.

Most of us count on the relative success (and/or failure) of this reportage to jumpstart new-year plans for productivity. And if my inbox is any indication, 2019 is going to be The Year for The Big Project. It’s the year to Become an Artist, to Find a New Job, to Run a Marathon, and possibly, to Write a Book.

I capitalize to make fun, but I’m a productivity adherent (if not [yet] a practitioner): I am most definitely creating a Google Sheets tracker for 2019.

Happily, though, the zeitgeist also suggests that 2019 might be a year for doing things differently.

For once this doesn’t appear to necessarily refer to a plan or program or workshop or webinar or other delivery mechanism for efficiently maximized production. Instead, it seems to refer to actually doing less to reach normative notions of success.

I’m all for it, especially after reading David W. Orr’s words from Ecological Literacy, recently excerpted by Tina Roth Eisenberg on Swiss Miss. The world, Orr writes, “desperately need[s] more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind…It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world more habitable and humane.”

In 2019, I for sure want to take on more projects, make more money, and accrue some tangible success, but more than that, I want to be less quantifiably busy and more qualitatively engaged in peacemaking and restoration, in practicing the moral courage required to make the world more habitable and more humane. I don’t yet know quite what this means, but I do know that you should join me. Do less in 2019! But also do more.