A short time ago I posted about the 10 ways writers fail, and I believe I mentioned that it was inspired from an article I found in a newspaper. Well, while doing research I’ve stumbled upon yet another job related article that can be applied to writers. You can read the original article here. Unlike the original article which suggests you ask these questions of the job interviewer, I will suggest that you as a writer ask these of yourself. Whenever you reach a new “stage” in your writing career you should re-evaluate your goals and commitment. Only then will you know how to proceed with planning out your writing career. So when you decide to write for a living, when you are getting ready to start a new manuscript, when you decide to step up your marketing campaign etc., think of yourself as both the interviewer and interviewee, and give these questions a thought. Write them down, ask them out loud, or just ponder them when you have nothing else to do.

  • What should I accomplish in the first 1 – 3 months? – You should set challenging but realistic goals for yourself. Whether it’s a page count or word count, or how many agents you will send your manuscript to, make sure you do your best to achieve these goals. Having a concrete goal to aim for makes it easier to reach, so don’t just say “I will write,” but “I will write 200 pages.” What are the exact marketing steps you will take?

 

  • How can I evaluate my results? – This is the main reason you want to be as specific as possible in question 1. Page and word counts are easy. You could even calculate what percentage of your goal you reached. But what if you are just starting a marketing campaign? How will you know how well you did if you don’t know what you were aiming for? If your goal for question 1 was just “I will market my book,” then you will know (hopefully) whether you succeeded or failed, but that’s about it. If instead you told yourself “I will market myself on these platforms to try and produce this many more sales,” then you have several points to evaluate. Did you succeed in marketing on all these platforms? Why or why not? Did you reach the number of sales you wanted? Why or why not? Asking why and trying to determine what you might have changed or done better will help you the next time you create a marketing plan. The same can be said for your writing goals as well. If you didn’t write as much as you wanted try to determine why, so that the next time you sit down to write you will be more effective.

 

  • What are the common attributes of other successful writers and/or books in my genre? – I guess this falls under market research. Genre is a funny thing. It is the closest thing you can get to a magic formula for instant results, and yet it is also the easiest to mess up. I’m not trying to say you can’t break the rules, but if you write in a specific genre (like romance or science fiction) there are certain things that your reader expects. Fail to deliver those things and you are condemning your book to die a fast, but lonely, death. Furthermore, I will go out on a limb and say most new writers have certain expectations about what to expect when they make writing a career. I’m guessing that at least a few of those expectations are wrong. Writers need to do their research. Read books in the genre you are writing (new and old, so that you can get a gist of the trends), read books and interviews of established authors (whether they are in your genre or not) and pick up some tips. For that matter read anything slightly related to your genre, and a few things that aren’t related at all. Read books and watch videos about the publishing industry and its competitors. Did I mention read?

 

  • Does this lifestyle really fit me? – You can ask yourself this if you are just writing as a hobby, but this is more geared toward those people who want to be full-time writers. After a certain period of time you must stop and ask yourself if you are happy. If the answer is “no,” then you must figure out why. Is it just that you are disappointed in the results you are getting, or do you not like spending every waking moment, that you are not at your day job, writing? You can still make money writing part-time, and there is less stress. Of course, the answer isn’t always this drastic. If there is a certain part of the business of writing that you do not like (such as marketing), think about paying someone else to do it for you. Maybe you just want to find a different writing outlet. Instead of writing novels, perhaps you want to try short stories or screenplays. This is the question that will help you evaluate yourself.

 

  • What are the 1 or 2 things that are driving my results? – What are you doing that is making a difference? What habits do you have that really help you to write a lot and reach your goals? What marketing platforms are producing the most sales? What parts of your query letter are really hooking the agents? Needless to say, once you determine what you are doing right, you can become more efficient. Try more things related to what you are currently doing and see if you get even better results.

 

  • What are the 1 or 2 things that are bringing me down? – Just as important as knowing what you are doing right, is knowing what you are doing wrong. Drop the things that aren’t producing results as a bad investment of your time and try something else. Much of writing seems to be trial and error, and what works for one person may not work for another.

 

  • What am I doing in my time off? – Personally, I think that for most writers the answer to this should usually be “what time off?” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying writers should write 24/7, but there are many ways you can contribute to your writing career even when you don’t have a pen in your hand. Reading is always important (see question 3). People watching can be useful, even watching tv can be used to inspire new ideas or make notes on how successful writers bring their stories to life. Get into the habit of carrying around a writing notebook on your time off (it can be a small pocket-sized on), and jotting down ideas and observations as they come to you.

 

  • How will I deal with…? – In Blake Snyder’s “Save The Cat” books (a great series of books even if you aren’t a screen writer), he talks about a rule in scriptwriting that goes “just when everything is good, it isn’t.” If that’s not true to life, I don’t know what is. Problems are always popping up in the real world. Even when you think you are ahead, one accident, one problem, one unexpected setback, can really throw you off. Why not plan for the most common ahead of time? What will you do if you write full-time, but don’t sell enough books one month? What will you do about taxes? How will you handle rejection? What if your book is accepted by an agent, but not a publisher? Think about the hard questions before they come up, so you won’t be thrown if they do.

This was a rather long article for me. Are there any questions that you normally ask yourself while working? Drop a comment and let me know. I’d love to hear about it.

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