On the setting of goals

Someday, I hope to write a post that starts out similarly to this one from John Scalzi:

I made $164,000 last year from my writing. I’ve averaged more than $100,000 in writing income for the last ten years, which means, for those of you who don’t want to bother with the math, that I’ve made more than a million dollars from my writing in the last decade.

Unfortunately, that day is not today! :) But I’ve been thinking about what separates a Scalzi (or Dr. Frankel – props on the egosurfing, by the way) from the rest of us who make some part of our living from writing and/or speaking — other than the obvious limit, in the library field, of our own market. Scalzi points out that he’s an outlier when it comes to writing income and provides a ton of useful advice about the business of writing and the choosing of markets at the original and a followup post.

I think a good part of this comes down to the making — and pursuing — of long-term goals. I often talk to library folks who don’t want to be where they are — but either don’t know where they actually do want to be, or think it will be too much work to get there, so discourage themselves from even trying.

Five and a half years ago, when my first son was born, I scaled back my “day job” to part time with the long-term goal of working for myself. Three years ago, I quit that part-time job. (I currently gross a bit over what I did when I left my full-time department head position in 2002, but self-employment taxes and lack of benefits leave me significantly further behind.) With two small children at home, this works for now; my new long-term goal is to scale up and start doing more work outside of libraryland, after the younger one is in preschool in a couple of years and I have the necessary blocks of time.

So here be some of my own thoughts, for what they’re worth:

  1. Set achievable goals. How much did you make from your freelance endeavors this year? Set a slightly higher goal next year, and figure out how to get there.
  2. Start out by saying yes. Say yes to things that are unpaid, or that pay badly, or that require you to go out of your way — at the beginning, this is how you build name recognition and a portfolio.
  3. Value yourself and your work. Yes, this does seem contradictory. But at some point, once you have built up a body of work and contacts, you need to start saying no and being more choosy about where you expend your energy.
  4. Get a little help from your friends. You hear about networking’s importance in job hunting — well, freelancing is like going on tiny job interviews, all the time. How do people find out about you? How do you find out about opportunities? Most often, through people you know.
  5. Do ask. Get yourself these two books by Linda Babcock: Women Don’t Ask and Ask for It. Convince yourself of the power of negotiation — and your ability to do so. (Probably more on this later; I just finished Ask for It and am thinking back on where negotiation, or my failure to negotiate, have figured into my own career.)

You may or may not want to work for yourself, but: What are your goals? Where do you want to be in 5 years? If you don’t have any idea, then how do you feel about the thought of being just where you are now, only 5 years older? Now, what are your goals?


  1. Lisa:

    Excellent advice. I started out doing free book reviews and encyclopedia entries and now I can pick and choose. It isn’t my primary source of income, I still have a day job, but I’ve dang near paid off all my debt with writing money. And I think you are right on about folks not knowing what they want to do or feeling like it will take too much work to get there. I just sacrificed two nights a week for five weeks to get a starter certificate in SQL FOR FREE thru work. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Not only did I enhance my knowledge base and vita but I met some really nice folks and can run better reports from my ILS now. Time and effort is the key. If you are willing to give those two things you can do most anything!

  2. morandia:

    It is excellent advice. I copied it to my blog – and yes, I included your URL as the author. definitely worth passing on.

  3. gbola:

    I will like Lisa to give me the link to the SQL for free as I am on a similar training but the payments I have to make is killing me.



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