New Year’s Resolutions and SMART Goals

Happy New Year all. Barb here at the very end of the year. Because book one in my new Maine Clambake series was due on December 1, this is proving a particularly fruitful time for me to think and plan and dream about the New Year.

In 2010, we sold the educational technology company where I was Chief Operating Officer in August. Also in August, my mystery novel, The Death of an Ambitious Woman, was published and I became a co-editor, co-publisher at Level Best Books, with an new anthology due out November 15. Honestly, the last quarter of 2010 was a blur.

In 2011, I spent the year transitioning to a new sort of life. I traveled and promoted both Ambitious Woman and Thin Ice. I wrote most of a book. I joined this blog. But I wasn’t as productive as I’d hoped. I still felt a little structureless and rootless–and not in a good way.

So at the end of last year, I returned to my corporate roots and did SMART goals for myself. SMART GOALS, as those of you who have sat (or slept, or enthusiastically participated) through a corporate planning session know, are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound.

Goals are really just a way to examine your life, figure out what your 3-7 priorities are, and then figure out what you can do to meet them. My “business of writing” goals for 2012 were

1) Write a complete book and secure a publishing contract

2) Have a successful year for Sisters in Crime New England and the New England Crime Bake (since I was president of SinCNE and co-chair of Crime Bake in 2012)

3) Increase year-over-year results for Level Best Books

Specific and Measurable: Once I knew what my priorities were, it was time to make sure they were Specific and Measurable. Here are some specific and measurable goals for Level Best Books.

  • 20% increase in submissions
  • 4 award nominations/industry recognitions
  • 25% increase in units sold
  • 10% increase in revenue
  • 7% increase in margin

How’d we do? We had a 50% increase in submissions, so blew that one away. We had 3 award nominations/industry recognitions, so missed that one. Which enables me to make a point about the goals and measurements. You never control all the variables. We picked the best stories we could pick and we made sure they were entered for the appropriate awards. That’s the part we could do.The rest isn’t up to us. But the point is, there’s no chance a story will be recognized if it hasn’t been both published and submitted. So you do the parts you can do.

Attainable and Relevant: Very often, articulating the goal is a critical piece of the puzzle. My goal #1, told me that I cared not just about writing a book, but also about getting it published. And that I wanted to work with a publisher, not self-publish. At least that was my goal.

The proposal for the Maine Clambake Mystery series was already out in the universe when I wrote the goal, though frankly, at that point, it wasn’t looking so good. But I’d gotten close enough to make me sure that was what I wanted. And in some way, shape or form, the goal might be attainable. Not assured, but not impossible. In my corporate days, I always said goals should make you green around the gills (scared, stretched, uncomfortable) but not actively puking (paralyzed, ready to quit before you start).

Sue Grafton has said that she didn’t write a bestseller until she admitted to herself that her goal was to write a bestseller. And admitting something like that to yourself can be pretty scary. But once the vision is out there you can go for it. It’s also very clarifying. If your goal is to write a bestseller, you might approach your book in a totally different way than if your goal is to tell a particular story, or to educate, or influence. There’s power in knowing what you want.

Time-Bound: The third critical part of the goal setting is the calendarization–breaking the goals down into tasks and laying them out across the year. To achieve your goals by the end of the year, what tasks do you need to accomplish by the end of first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter? Doing this exercise helps you adjust the goals so they’re more realistic, see jam ups in the year and move tasks around.

And the whole goal-setting exercise helps you understand and internalize what you’re NOT going to do. Letting go of the “shoulds” that don’t support one of your goals is a tremendously freeing part of the exercise.

Then of course, life happens and you adjust. But I find it easier to know if I am on track or off track than not to know where the track is at all.

This fall, I participated in the Launch Lab at Grub Street–an intensive course for authors about to launch a book. I loved it and totally recommend it to others. The course not only incorporated creating SMART goals, it also backed up into creating a mission statement and developing a logic model to define success. I’m going through those exercises for 2013 right now. Maybe I’ll report on my progress in my next blog post.

About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at
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5 Responses to New Year’s Resolutions and SMART Goals

  1. Lea Wait says:

    Timely post, Barb! I used to be in corporate strategic planning, so, yes,I’m familiar … and used to set goals like those. I’ve gotten out of the habit … it was so ingrained that my personal goals automatically met most of the SMART criteria. But it’s good to be reminded, as 2012 winds down. I’m realizing I’ve set so many wheels in motion that my 2013 has the potential to be a classic seven wheeled wagon, heading wildly in circles. You’ve reminded me to take a step back … and several deep breaths … and assess possible results as well as goals. Brava! (And Happy New Year!)

  2. Barb Ross says:

    Happy New Year, Lea! I knew from your former life you could do this in your sleep.

  3. thelma straw says:

    It’s only Saturday, but with the snow here it feels like the eve of 2013! I am thankful to have discovered all of you on MCW and look forward to many more years of your posts and books! Thelma Straw in Manhattan, a little snow but nothing like Maine!

  4. Kate Burak says:

    This should be a book! Great model, Barb

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