Hello, and welcome to the April A-Z Blogging Challenge! Over the first 26 days of April, we will explore aspects of writing and marketing books – authors, feel free to weigh in, and readers, feel free to observe and ask questions!
Ah, targets. They’re about as insanely difficult to hit in writing as they are in archery. Actually, scratch that, they’re more difficult. What are we even going for? It’s not a nice canvas ensemble with helpful colored circles, it’s some vague notion of a “good book.” Are we even sure what kind of good book we want to write? No. No, we are not. What if we get halfway into our lighthearted romance and there turn out to be Important Themes? What then, brain? Did you think of that?
And then, just as you’re contemplating a career of self-loathing and moroseness, you stumble across a blog article that has Very Specific Guidelines on how to structure your career: identifying your genre, your subgenre, your tone, your themes, your target market, and your social media strategies before you ever set pen to paper. And because you’re feeling particularly vulnerable just then, you start taking notes because no wonder you aren’t J.K.Rowling yet, you’ve clearly been doing everything wrong.
Put the pen down. Take a deep breath. We’re going to go a few steps back today to talk about targets: the targets you have, the targets you’re too afraid to tell yourself. The targets that are just dreams still, because that’s right where you want to be right now. Dreams are great things, right up until you set goals that slowly turn those same dreams into a cage. Dreams must be held loosely, or they will literally eat you alive. And yes, that’s corny, but please learn from my mistakes. It is true. (Also, I feel obliged to point out that if I had courted only what I thought was my target market, I’d actually have missed the bulk of my readership.)
What is your writing dream? Just take a second to think about it. It might be bestsellerdom, or you might decide, after some thinking, that you’d love just to have a steady income so you can keep writing and pay all your bills and live in a cottage. Maybe it’s awards you want, or a meaningful connection with fans. Whatever the case, write your dream down on a little scrap of paper and fold it neatly away in a desk drawer. Don’t worry, you won’t forget it.
Now spend a few minutes thinking about what you need to do to make that happen. For a steady income, for instance, you’ll need somewhat of a backlist and a steady output of new books. For fans, a social media platform is key. For awards or sales, it’s difficult to know when genre-conforming and genre-bending will be to your advantage – and while the desire for both speaks to a deep need for understanding and adoration (believe me, I feel it), the best way to get there is to write a really, really good book you’re passionate about, no matter the theme or genre designation. In fact, that’s usually the way towards anything in this business.
Okay, so you have a dream and a rough idea of what you need to do to get there. Now you have a target. Targets are great, nice and loose and adaptable – much more mobile here than in archery. And all you need to do now is take slow, careful steps in that direction, adjusting as necessary (perhaps your dream will shift, or your success will change your opinions on where to go next). No great big lists of Absolutely Necessary. The way to find your path through a career is to write one great book you love, then another and another, all the while being a generally reasonable person to interact with for fans and coworkers. Your target simply shifts this goal a little to one angle or another.
We’re almost done now, but unfortunately, what’s coming up is the most difficult part. Write down one more thing: I will not let my targets become a cage. Targets are there to give you something shimmering off in the distance like a mirage, lovely and mostly unattainable. They are not there to dog your every step, whispering, “you should be writing,” or, “you only get to enjoy your book when you’ve produced a Nobel-worthy chapter.” Targets are there to keep you running, not trap you here and now.
What are your targets, fellow authors?