“Managing our career.” “Managing our expectations.” “Managing our resources and time.” All these “management” terms being applied to the writing life — with good reason — can make it sound like we might actually need an MBA to reach our goals as writers.
In fact, in this age of the “writer as an entrepreneur” responsible for a growing share of the work required to not only create but also to sell a book, adding management skills to our repertoire of abilities is not at all a bad idea. Which is why a group of smart thinkers at GrubStreet — the Boston-based writing nonprofit that happens to be my in-town writing family — have come up with a tool to help writers become more strategic without having this task become yet another item on an already-overflowing to-do list.
And it happens to be based on a classic non-profit management tool.
Fascinated by the concept of applying a real-life management system to the often messy and unstructured process of writing, publishing and promoting one’s books, I asked authors Katrin Schumann and Lynne Griffin, who together lead GrubStreet’s Launch Lab program where this tool is taught, to walk me through it.
Called the “Logic Model” (sound like an MBA course offering? read on….), its goal is to help writers make the best decisions about where to focus their creative energies and efforts when it’s time to launch their books.
Katrin and Lynne explained that often, as launch time approaches, authors get overwhelmed by thinking that they have to do “everything:” Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, ad campaigns, bookstore talks, conference panels, media articles, email newsletters, book clubs…you name it. But inevitably, this kind of effort is depleting. We wind up doing too much, including things that don’t match our unique personality, skills, or career goals.
The Logic Model frees us from this by helping identify what our goals really are and where our true interests and strengths lie, allowing us to then develop a framework for deciding which areas it makes the most sense to focus on when launching a book.
It starts by dividing the thought process into three categories:
1. Mission / intent
Here, we ask ourselves, honestly, what our goals are beyond sales. Do we want to educate people? Influence or move them? Entertain? Having sales as a unique and overriding goal is far too broad to act on in a meaningful way, so honing in on other goals — not just about a specific book or books but about our broader career — enables us to develop a more actionable plan. It all boils down to: “Why do I write?”
2. Definition of Success
This is where we can too easily set ourselves up for disappointment by focusing only on quantitative objectives and not qualitative ones too. Quantitative, measurable goals crop up at nearly every step along the path to publication: finding an agent, then a publisher. In many cases, receiving an advance. Or choosing to self-publish and, if so, making the various concrete decisions that come with it. Eventually, the goal-setting process leads to, “how many copies will I sell?” But this can distract us from focusing on the journey and discovering along the way that success comes in many shapes and sizes.
A more viable definition of success does have a quantitative element, but it doesn’t necessarily mean “number of copies sold or dollars earned.” It can mean other measurable outcomes such as landing a teaching job or a column in a respected publication.
The crucial qualitative element, however, is often overlooked. This is the side of the equation that writers actually find more meaningful. And it’ll help us rule out unproductive priorities. For example, perhaps giving talks in bookstores even if we loathe public speaking will only make us feel drained and unsuccessful. Or maybe we know we’ll never want to engage with strangers on twitter — but on the other hand, enjoy blogging. If we set goals that suit us specifically, then we can focus on putting our energies toward endeavors we love, which yield a tremendous amount of satisfaction. Isn’t that a valid measure of success?
Based on our mission and our definition of success, we can then work out a manageable set of steps to take in line with our specific interests and goals. We feel more in control and less anxious about having to “do it all.”
Visually, the Logic Model looks like this:
In the Launch Lab, Katrin and Lynne work one-on-one with authors and in small groups to map out their individual logic models and set up the right action plans. For example, author Ron MacLean discovered that he loves connecting with readers online. The steps he took subsequently — authoring a series of articles published by online outlets such as Cognsocenti — helped him celebrate the achievement of having written a novel and feel engaged with the reading community.
At GrubStreet’s upcoming Muse & the Marketplace conference, Katrin and Lynne will lead a targeted “conference-within-a-conference” called the Marketplace Clinic drawing on the logic model to help writers build their careers and focus their book marketing efforts in authentic and sustainable ways.
Having led a session myself at the 2011 Muse & the Marketplace on Redefining Success as an Author, I’m thrilled to see this concept being translated into a roadmap for action — one I think can be useful to all, time and again, at various places along the writing path.
How do you define success as a writer?
Have you found yourself taking steps in the process of launching your book that aren’t a good fit for you? If so, what?