Getting clear on your WHY is one of the most important parts of writing a book. In my last post, we talked about the importance of identifying your goals and the difference between internal and external goals. Hopefully, you’re a little clearer about your emotionally driven reasons for writing a book. This week we’ll talk about setting appropriate and reachable external goals. When you’re clear on why you’re writing a book, your writing will flow easier. When you’re unclear, you’re far more likely to be plagued by procrastination and resistance. 

An external goal is one that is outside of yourself, is quantifiable, and is achievable. Let’s look at some common external goals. You might want to:

  • Book [X] speaking gigs 
  • Bring in [X] amount of business leads
  • Bring in [X] opportunities to teach and/or consult on your topic
  • Sell [X] amount of books
  • Make [X] money from sales of the book
  • Make it on a bestseller list
  • Establish yourself as an authority figure or thought leader in your field
  • Sell your online course or product

When made specific with numbers and timelines, these all have a clear outcome – you either hit them or you don’t. 

Some of these are easily quantifiable. If you decide that your external goal is to gain more speaking gigs from your book, you could say “I want to have booked three speaking gigs within three months of publishing my book.” This is measurable and attainable, and the goal also sets you on a clear path as far as who you will market your book to.  

Some of these are not so easily quantifiable. For example, if you decide you want to be a thought leader in your field, you will have to decide how that can be measured based on your specific area of expertise. Someone in academia will have a far different metric to reach than someone who calls themselves an entrepreneur. Does your field tend to favor traditionally-published books over self-published books? Your audience may not care about that distinction at all, but they may get instantly put off by a poorly-designed book. On the other hand, your field may not be dissuaded by low-quality cover design. I once watched a woman at a charity book sale push a shopping cart up to the romance novel table and shovel all of them in with her arms. She clearly didn’t care about cover design. 

If your goal is to bring in more leads for your business, you’ll want to think about the kinds of leads you want, and what kind of book would speak to those people – in other words, how will your book meet them where they are, and then entice them to go further with you as a client? Then you’ll want to think about what you’ll have available in the form of packages and services or courses and online assets when they’re done reading the book and want more. 

It’s common for an author to say, “I want to make money from my book.” They don’t realize that book creation will initially put them in the hole given the costs of editing, designing, printing, and marketing their book, and the sales of their books may not bring in the boatloads of money they expect. Generating book sales month after month takes a considerable amount of marketing work. Authors tend to see more of a return on the backend, meaning they get opportunities for coaching, speaking gigs, consulting, or teaching that boosts the revenue of a new or already existing business.  

As you can see, external goals might be easy to identify but need some clarification. Above all, here’s what not to do: Don’t set a goal that is actually a dream. Goals are achievable under your own power, and dreams require a bit of luck and good fortune. While they are important to have, making your dream the goal has often ended in soul-crushing disappointment.

Here’s an example of a dream versus a goal. 

Your dream might be to make the New York Times bestseller list. For this to happen, you need to be traditionally published, you need to be able to sell at least 10,000 books in the first week and have sustained sales of at least 5,000 in the weeks following. Even if you manage to do this, you still might not get on the list. 

Why? 

Because getting named to a list is an editorial decision. This means that you could sell oodles and oodles of books, you could outsell every other author on the list, you could dance and sing your book’s praises on all the shows and podcasts in the world, and if the NYT powers that be don’t like you, your book, or your message, they won’t put you on the list

Do you see why that’s not a goal? You don’t control the outcome. The outcome is based largely on other people’s subjective opinions and decisions. 

I’ve had a handful of clients who had the ability to go for it. And yet, even though they hit all the numbers and did all the right things, they didn’t make the list. Then, instead of being proud of the incredible effort it takes to hit the right numbers and get the publicity (which truly is an accomplishment in and of itself), they’ve experienced crushing disappointment because they didn’t get an accolade that had nothing to do with the effort they made, or even reader responses to their book. 

So, I invite you to think hard about what you want. If it’s a dream, consider writing it down, but then acknowledge to yourself that this requires a bit of grace and luck, factors that are outside of your control. Then get real about the parts of the dream that you actually do control. You can still make the goal in line with the dream, but I hope you truly do the work to get yourself to a place where you can be proud of what you accomplish, even if it doesn’t garner the recognition that you hoped it would. 

So, if your original dream is to be on the NYT bestseller list, and you’ve done the work to let that go and now want to set a goal with an outcome you can control, your goal at a minimum would be: 

  • Secure 5000 pre-orders before the launch date from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other major booksellers
  • Show sales of 10,000 book sales in the first week, spread across the United States
  • Consistently show sales of 5,000 or more in the following weeks, spread across the United States
  • Have [X] amount of media and podcasts appearances in New York and throughout the country in the week of launch and the weeks following

These are admirable goals all by themselves. If you manage to do all of the above, you will have generated a ton of buzz and interest in your book, which boosts word-of-mouth, which eventually leads to more sales, which leads to wider notoriety for you. Even if you didn’t get the accolade you wanted, attaining these goals alone is an accomplishment that every author should be very proud of. 

Whatever your goals are for writing the book, write them down, both the internal and the external goals. Keep them somewhere that you’ll look at them frequently – over your desk, on your vision board, as the wallpaper on your phone – so that you’re reminded why you’re taking on this creative endeavor. You’ll need a boost now and then when you get into the work of creating your book, and your goals will keep you clear and on purpose. 

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