Lasairiona McMaster

Indie authors face numerous challenges: the ever-changing landscape of social media platforms, suppressed visibility, the constant battle to get your books in front of readers’ faces, marketing woes, and more. How can you tell whether you’re making any progress in your career?

When it comes to the business side of publishing, hitting monetary milestones can allow you to gauge some sense of growth. But how should you approach setting these financial goals for your business—and how can you be sure they’re attainable? 

Before looking ahead, you need to know where you’re starting. We’ve put together a list of five tips to help you figure out where your business is now in order to direct its future.

1. Find Your Why

“Knowing your ‘why’ is crucial.” —Katie Forrest, author of Time Management for Writers

It’s important to note from the outset that each author’s business—and their motivation for publishing—looks different. There’s no one-size-fits-all version of success, so treat your research as an advice buffet, presented for you to cherry pick what might work for your own business. 

The same is true when it comes to setting financial goals. First, understand what drives you to self-publish. Are you writing for fun? Do you want to work your way out of a day job? Do you just want some extra money to supplement your income, or does your household depend on the monthly royalties you receive? How you approach your business will vary based on your core motivation.

2. Question the Premise

“Creative goals are for authors. Business goals are for publishers. If you are an indie author, you are both.” —Erika Everest, author of The Strategic Author’s Guide to Mailerlite

In her book, Dear Writer, You Need to Quit, Becca Syme suggests that indie authors need to question the premise of what they are facing before diving into the unknown. Let’s consider her advice: Why should indie authors need to set monetary goals for their businesses in the first place?

Business goals, which increase your bottom line, serve a different purpose than creative goals, which shape your brand. Creative goals don’t always correlate with more income, and they don’t always allow you to consider your work as a product.

Authors who aren’t as savvy with the business side of publishing should especially focus on setting business goals. That doesn’t mean you have to find an agent or go the traditional publishing route. Set monetary goals when self-publishing, and you’ll be able to critically view your work for its value to readers rather than its value to you as the author. You’ll have more opportunity to spot weaknesses on the business side of publishing and decide what to change about your writing process or your author brand ahead of time to keep your audience invested. 

By having goals on the business side of your career, you can shift your writing from hobbyist to professional. And without measurable goals, you can’t gauge growth. “It’s a mindset change,” says Contemporary Romance author Tracie Delaney, “and one that not enough focus is put on.” 

3. Decide What Success Looks Like

“Success isn’t glamorous. Success is dedication and consistency over time. If you’re hitting someone else’s yard stick, it can feel like you’re failing.” —Meg Jolly, British Crime author  

Don’t set goals in a vacuum. You will feel inadequate if you write down a list of arbitrary targets that are someone else’s and don’t mean anything to you.

Think about how you define success. Is it a certain number of books sold? A specific monthly income? Is it the ability to work a half day and spend more time with your family while earning the same amount of money?

Financial goals need to be linked to tangible benefits and concrete targets. Otherwise, the money is meaningless, and you will keep chasing it blindly. Instead of choosing an arbitrary amount to strive for, decide what you wish to achieve with that money, such as turning your writing into a full-time career, and calculate goals from there. This mindset will help to break the goal into more manageable steps, but it will also help you weigh the value of that money against your other priorities, such as family time or your health. 

We could all make more money or write more books if we invested more time and effort, but only you can decide whether that time and effort is worth the personal price you will pay.

4. Break It Down

“Goals are like jet fuel. If you have nothing to aim at, it’s easy to wander or just stay at one level. My first goal was to have no days for a whole month where my royalty was zero.”—K.A. Gandy, Dystopian author

When creating goals, start small and clearly define what you want. Perhaps you want to pay a specific bill in your household every month from your royalties, or maybe you’d like to pay for one of your kid’s after-school activities.

Then scale up to the next level. Perhaps you want to pay for your weekly groceries, a car payment, or your family’s annual vacation.

When you start seeing success, consider whether to set bigger challenges. Alternatively, if your first goal seems to be too much of a stretch, scale back to something more achievable while you work to see what parts of your business model you can improve.

5. Make It Happen

“I used to really believe in making S.M.A.R.T goals (small, measurable, realistic, time bound), but I’ve changed to something more simplistic. I set a huge, unrealistic goal. Then I backtrack to all the steps along the way it takes to get there and make small, bite-sized goals. The big goal is something more than six months out. The bite-sized can be achieved in around one to two months.”—A.W. Scott, Romance author

As we mentioned in step one, the “how” will come much easier once you have worked out your “why.” It’s often one of the first things author coaches will ask in a session. If you cannot answer why you want to self-publish, then the process for how to best grow your business becomes cloudy and unclear. It can be frustrating when you are wading through molasses to reach a vague and nonspecific target that you’re not even sure you want—or need—to hit.

Everyone’s goals are different; therefore, the methods they use to achieve their goals will be different too. However, anyone can take certain steps to reach their goals.

If your goal is to earn a set monthly amount, you can easily calculate how much you need to hit per day to make it happen. From there, look at the tools in your author arsenal and decide which would be best suited to help you get to where you need to be, such as paid ads, newsletter swaps, Facebook group posts, paid newsletters, or larger street teams to promote new releases. 

Everything you try will always come down to analyzing the data you have for your business and testing what does and doesn’t work for your specific situation.

Want more resources on setting monetary goals? Business and finance magazines offer great tips for how small businesses can approach growth and goal-setting in a realistic, achievable way.

These articles from Forbes Magazine are a great place to start:

Lasairiona McMaster

Picture of Lasairiona McMaster

Lasairiona McMaster

With a bachelor of arts in Politics and a minor in Culture and Media Studies, Lasairiona McMaster left the Emerald Isle for the great state of Texas and found her soul's home among queso and margaritas. When a decade of volunteering, expat and lifestyle blogging, and living abroad came to an end, she repatriated to Northern Ireland. Dusting off an old manuscript she'd penned in college, she hit the “publish” button in 2019, and hasn't looked back. She writes relatable romance featuring themes of societal taboos, like male mental health, and that “just one book” is now a multi-series world that keeps growing. When she's not in the writing cave, she's a professional nagger, developmental editor, and has mastered the art of making great friends from complete strangers. She's a left-handed Aquarian and enneagram four who loves to travel, sing, and never wears matching socks.

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