Cementing the Goal Posts


Writing is a rigged game in which the goal posts recede as you approach them.

champersAt first, the deepest desire of the writer’s heart is to find an agent, the necessary first step toward finding a publisher. No sooner is that achieved than the real goal presents itself: selling the book. It takes an agonizing while before that happens, but assuming it does, the writer has barely downed that first celebratory  glass of Champagne before she realizes that selling the book to a publisher is just the first step in selling it to the reader. Getting read is the real goal, the writer realizes, but for that to happen, the book must be discovered by reviewers.

The first review is a wonderful thing. Someone has taken the book seriously enough to write about it. The writer realizes that the book now has an existence of its own, separate from its progenitor. Soon, though, those elusive goal posts slip backwards. It’s all very well that Publishers Weekly liked the book, the writer thinks, but what about the New York Times? The New Yorker? People Magazine? And if the book is reviewed, where is it reviewed? Does it make the front page, or is it buried in a column somewhere?

crazyThen there are sales. In the past, writers had no way of gauging them except through publishers’ semi-annual royalty reports. Now they can track their relative standing via Amazon’s rankings, which are updated hourly: a wonderful trap for obsessive authors. Whatever his ranking, the writer aspires to rise higher. Thus writers conspire with the world to drive themselves mad.

Enough, I say. Time to stop and smell the roses. Time to look around and say in the words of the late great Kurt Vonnegut, “If this isn’t great, what is?”

So today’s post is all about having fun and celebrating what is, instead of fretting about what could or should happen. This is good for the book as well as the writer. Once it’s launched, the book is all grown up now, out in the world and fending for itself. It doesn’t need its author breathing down its back and monitoring its every step.

Here’s what I’m celebrating right now: NPR station WSHU reviewed A DANGEROUS FICTION. The reviewer was Joan Baum, who enjoyed it thoroughly and recorded this wonderful piece. Hearing my work reviewed on the station I listen to every day has long been a long-time dream of mine, and this time, I’m holding fast to those goal posts.

Lots of other critics have written wonderful reviews. A few called it “the best mystery of the year.” More cause for celebration.

Readers have written to tell me that after reading A DANGEROUS FICTION, they’re going back to read all my previous work. There are no sweeter words to whisper in a writer’s ear than those. Others ask about a sequel–and I’m writing one.

With shelf space shrinking, many published books don’t make it into bookstores. Seven weeks after publication, A DANGEROUS FICTION is still out there. How can I not be grateful for that?

A Dangerous Fiction launched!

I’m not sure where I rank on Amazon. I’ve quit checking. But I do know that the book is  the #1 choice for story hour in dog parks.


Babies love it, too.

alex eating book


The story’s set in NYC and feels at home there. Here it is, in noir mode, keeping a lonely vigil over the mean streets of the city.



Exhausted by the rigors of self-promotion, A DANGEROUS FICTION was recently spotted taking a break.


Fair warning, though: A DANGEROUS FICTION is not for scaredy cats. This reader’s hair was black when she started the book.




What about you? I know you have unmet goals, too; we all do. But let’s put them aside for once. Tell me about how far you’ve come, what you’re proud of,  and what you’ve accomplished already.

I’m delighted to announce that A DANGEROUS FICTION is now out in Penguin paperback.  (It’s perfect for book clubs, if you belong to one–I’ll even skype-bomb the discussion if I can.)  NPR called it a “clever exploration of our capacity for self-deception… an absorbing mystery that keeps its secret until the very end.” You can read the opening here.

27 thoughts on “Cementing the Goal Posts

  1. Barbara,
    I absolutely love the Vonnegut line. It says so much in so few words.
    My goals? Well the ultimate goal is to have my book published. There, I called it a book and I can be proud of that because for 4 years now it’s just been something I’ve been working on.
    I’ve come very far. My book started out as a 3,000 word short story for submission to the SIWC contest. It’s come quite a ways since then, and I’m proud of that too. My writing has improved far beyond anything I ever thought of. When I started this journey I knew _nothing_ about the craft. Now I know a little and I’m proud of that.
    So thanks for the reminder to stop and look at what’s great right now.

  2. Well, I’ve probably written the required million words since I started this whole venture, so that’s something.

    No matter what happens, I’m proud of what I’ve written. And I’m proud I made it past the first hurdle — get an agent. Although truly, the first hurdle is really “finish,” so I guess I dodged around that one to take the second one. [g]

    I’m also proud of all my writer friends and their many successes. Here’s to your latest! 🙂

  3. “So today’s post is all about having fun and celebrating what is, instead of fretting about what could or should happen.”

    Gosh, I needed to hear this. I’m about to have my first novel published. It’s something I’ve been working toward for 30 years. And I’ve been feeling lots of angst that it’s being put out by a small publisher with basically no marketing budget. But the thing is, I’m finally going to have a book out there. And I should spend more time celebrating that.

    Thank you.

  4. This morning’s writing session was one where the right words were hard to pin down and frustration was front and center. I wandered over to your blog, your latest post and received a breath of fresh air.
    Goal posts are slippery buggers. More than once I’ve had them in my grasp only to have them slide from my hands. Setbacks are disappointing. But today I’m going to celebrate the fact that I’m still here, still showing up to the page, and the words, whether they come easy or hard, are still being written. And that means I’m still in the game. I’ll remind myself how far I’ve come and that perseverance does pay off. Sooner or later, I’ll be grasping the elusive goal post again. I’m looking forward to that day. 

  5. Love those photos!
    And yes, every time I worry about not having an agent yet, I think of Stephen King’s advice to Neil Gaiman – enjoy the ride. And then I remember to enjoy the time I have now, when I can keep fiddling with and researching for my stories to my heart’s content.

  6. Hi
    I live the innovative way you promote your book. Some great ideas here. Hard work as paid off. I’m soon to self-pub my book ‘The Deadly Caress’ on Kindle. Hope mine does as well as yours. Olga

  7. Dear Barbara,
    Of course my goal is to be well published, reviewed and raved about by readers. LOL Well, you DID ask about goals.
    In the meanwhile, I’m proud that I continue to write stories and to query despite ongoing rejections. I’m proud of work I do for my website, and that the numbers of visitors to the site and readers for my blog continue to grow. I even had one visitor ask where he could buy The Luck of Two Magpies. That was encouraging!
    Oh, and just so you know, the dogs are still so frightened over the reading of A Dangerous Fiction in the dog park that day that they still sleep with me in my bed at night.

  8. Well, I’m late to the party, but that’s because I’ve been working hard, in the writing course, taught by our own wonderful, Barbara Rogan!
    I’m seriously proud of my middle grade novel, ‘The Last Traveler.’ I began working on it about seven years ago, and hadn’t the faintest idea about writing a novel. I know, I know, what a brave soul–right?
    Anyway, after writing at least a million words, editing, editing again, editing…
    I put the manuscript away, then found Barbara, pulled it back out, dusted it off, and am finally hopeful that it will become publishable (is that a word?)
    I love the word hope–there’s always hope.

    • Hi Jan! Lovely to have you in the class–you’re one of those people who facilitate bonding and communication, and I’m always grateful when there’s one like you in a workshop. Oh, and publishable is definitely a word—don’t know if it’s in the dictionary, but it’s certainly part of the lingo—and a very reasonable goal.

  9. Thank you for this post, Barbara! You were the very first person to assess an extract from ‘All Our Tomorrows’, my first novel, and your kind words encouraged me to ‘keep at it’. Since then I’ve completed one online writing course (with Faber Academy) and am now on a second; I’ve attended my very first writing festival (Festival of Writing in York last month) and I am thoroughly enjoyed learning how to ‘read like a writer’, meeting other writers and learning the how to use the tools of the trade, which I hope will serve me well in the coming years.

    I hope that I will never lose sight of just how much fun this all is!

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