How to become an author: the ultimate guide

To the question, How to become a writer, there is a very short answer. Just publish a book. With advances in self-publishing, you could technically write and publish a book this afternoon and call yourself an author. Instead, we ask ourselves a better question: how do you become a self-sustaining Author?

In this post, we share with you the approaches that countless authors have taken to become full-time authors. Regardless of the type of book you want to write, here’s an approach that will help you set the wheels of your publishing career in motion.

Part 1: Laying the groundwork

If a healthy publishing career is like a garden, the first step to success is to prepare the lot. And in both gardening and writing, there’s a lot you can do to make sure your soil is fertile and ready for the season.

Find out why you want to be an author

Becoming a writer is a massive undertaking, and if you don’t know why you’re doing it, you could set yourself up for failure once the going gets tough (and trust us, it will). Some of the most common reasons to become a published author are:

  • Creative Fulfillment;
  • Reaching readers with your work;
  • To make money (from royalties, etc.).);
  • To become famous and critically acclaimed;
  • To support your existing business.

Writing is art, so of course many of you will balk at the idea of getting into publishing to acquire money and recognition – but it’s a reason that’s as legitimate as any other. And keeping such a high price tag in mind can help you stay focused. On the other hand, "creative fulfillment" is not necessarily such a strong reason to become a published author: You can achieve the same result by simply writing for yourself (and not having to deal with editors, critics, and sales figures).

If you’re writing nonfiction, this last point – "to support your existing business" – is extremely important. Most successful nonfiction authors go into publishing to build their personal profile or increase their authority on a particular topic. For example, you’ll find that it’s easier to develop opportunities as a real estate agent in South Florida if you’re also the bestselling author of the book Miami Living: An Insider’s Guide to Buying Property in South Beach are .

Determine the type of book you want to write

This may sound obvious, but before you can really start sowing the seeds of your writing career, you need to consider what kind of books you want to write. Some of this is informed by:

  • Your answer to the last step (why do you want to write a book);
  • The kind of book you like to read yourself; and
  • The topics and perspectives you are uniquely qualified to address.

You may be a big fan of epic fantasy and have your heart set on writing something in the genre – but what about your personal experience can you use to differentiate your epic fantasy novel? When writing nonfiction, also think about the specific topics for which you are an authority-and what you have to share that people will want to know more about.

And once you’ve figured out which corner of the publishing world you’re going to attack, you should also take a moment to look at your market.

Find your readership

How to become an author - target reader

When we say "market" we don’t mean anything higher than The people who will want to read your book . While you can get really specific and create proto-personas and try to get under your potential reader’s skin, your first step doesn’t have to be too complicated.

What are comparable books of fiction genre? If you know you’re writing a book you hope fans of Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy will enjoy, this is a good place to start!

Ask yourself in the non-fiction book, Whose problem I’m fixing? If you write a cool book about shaving techniques, your market might be urban hipsters or potential parents looking to buy something for their growing kids.

To learn more about how to appeal to your target reader, read this post.

At this point, you could possibly write a book directly. But what if you don’t feel ready yet? Well, for those who aren’t in a hurry, you could always lay more groundwork!

Develop your craft and build your readership

There is no art form where creators are expected to produce a near-perfect work the first time around. But that’s the pressure many first-time authors put on themselves when they decide to write a book. You don’t have to complete an MFA or write a dozen unpublished novels just to produce your debut book – there are many ways to develop your writing skills and gain a readership at the same time (which will come in very handy a little later).

If you are an aspiring novelist Short Stories A Fantastic Foot in the Door. While writing novels is a different discipline, working on short stories is a great way to make your storytelling more efficient and discover your specific authorial voice. There’s no shortage of literary magazines – both online and in print – that are always looking for new talent: If your stories are accepted, you can gain much-needed reader feedback, trust, and maybe even fans! And who knows, an agent might even read one of your stories and get in touch with you. Here are a few resources for aspiring short story writers:

  • How to write a short story (instructions)
  • prompts for creative writing (resource)
  • Short story submissions (guide)
  • Poetry submissions (guide)
  • Submission-ready literary journals (directory)

For nonfiction authors, a blog is a great way to develop your voice and find out if what you’re writing about has appeal. Many bestselling authors of the last decade started out as bloggers and columnists – and some of them even hit the big time with their periodical work. Just look at Tim Ferriss ( The 4-Hour Work Week ), Tucker Max ( I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell ), Lindy West ( Shrill ) and Julie Powell ( Julie and Julia ) to. To learn a bit more, read this post about how to turn a blog into a book.

Even if you plan to write a novel, a blog can often be a good idea. When it’s time to finally publish your book, you’ll already have your first readers.

Part 2: Writing your first book

Writing a great book: so simple in concept, but so hard in practice. There are many resources and guides on Reedsy that can help you with different aspects of the book writing process. But to simplify things, we’ll break it down into three steps:

Plan your book

Some writers prefer to fly by the seat of their pants. But to have the best chance of actually finishing your book, we recommend that all first-time authors plan out their book. But what might they mean?

Novelists can plan their book by creating character profiles, dabbling in world-building, and outlining their plot. Remember, just because it’s in your plan doesn’t mean it’s set in stone – these documents are only there to give you direction. To learn more about planning your novel, check out the resources below:

  • How to sketch a novel (with template)
  • How to Plan a Novel Using the 3-Act Story Structure (free course)
  • How to create a character profile (with template)
  • Worldbuilding: the master guide (with template)

If you’re writing a nonfiction title, a plan is even more important. Almost every serious nonfiction writer creates a book proposal, Before begins with the draft – regardless of how he wants to publish it. The book proposal is the document writers submit to publishers: it’s a document that not only outlines the book’s content, but also analyzes its market potential. To have the best chance of attracting an editor’s attention, many authors work with professional ghostwriters to develop the proposal, even if they want to write the final book themselves.

For a complete guide to writing a proposal, see the resources below:

  • The complete guide to writing a book proposal (with template.)
  • Ghostwriting a book proposal (Reedsy service page)

Write like a pro

How to become an author: the ultimate guide

After all that fuss, let’s finally get to the part that’s all about , Writing your book . There are many resources out there to help you understand the craft of writing a novel or nonfiction book – so we won’t focus on those right now. Instead, let’s look at what it means to write like a professional author.

The first thing to remember is that the vast majority of published authors do not write full-time. Generally, they don’t make enough in royalties to keep the lights on. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t consider it their profession – which means they always find the time to get their writing done.

Some writers don’t write more than an hour or two a day, five days a week. If you have a full-time job and a family, it’s up to you to take time off during the day. Some writers wake up at 5 a.m. and squeeze out a few hours before their school run; others stay up late. However you accomplish it, make sure you post regularly and develop it into an unbreakable habit. Otherwise, you’ll have a hard time finishing your first book, let alone boosting your career.

For help developing this writing habit, check out these links:

  • Stop hesitating! Create a solid writing routine (free course)
  • How to create a regular writing habit (webinar and transcript)

Edit with fresh eyes

To continue our garden metaphor from earlier, you are now at the stage where all the seeds in your garden have been planted. While you may be tempted to just wait for summer and hope your hyacinths turn out perfectly, there is still much to do. Branches need to be trimmed, patches need to be weeded, in other words, it’s time to edit.

Before you start submitting your manuscript to publishers and agents (or before you hire an editor), edit as much as you can yourself. After you clean up your manuscript, you should share it with some trusted readers to get feedback. Don’t let the first person to read your book be someone you promote – instead, look for beta readers! For more tips on this part of the process, see:

  • What to expect from beta readers (and where to find them) (article)
  • What are sensitivity readers (and should authors use them?) (Article)
  • Self-processing like a pro (free course)
  • 6 Things Almost All Writers Do Wrong When They Self-Edit (article)
  • 8 Types of Editing (Guide to Professional Editing)

Part 3: Publishing

How to become an author - get published

Let’s assume you’ve now gotten your script into the best possible shape you can muster. There’s only one hurdle standing between you and your goal of becoming an author: getting published. At this point you have three options in front of you – the most suitable option probably depends on the type of book you have written.

Get an agent

If you’ve written a novel in a fairly commercial genre, the most common route to traditional publishing is through a frahlingen. Large and mid-sized publishers don’t tend to accept "unintentional" submissions, so it may be worth checking with some agencies. To learn more about agents (and how to secure one), take a look at these:

  • What do frahlingen do (and do you need one)? (free course)
  • How to write a query letter in 7 steps (with checklist)

Send directly to publishers

Some types of traditional publication do not require an agent. Some small boutique presses accept direct submission; so do publishers of niche categories such as education, reference, science or poetry. For tips on submitting directly to publishers, see:

  • Here’s how to submit a book proposal in 3 steps (how-to guide)
  • How to perfect your submission: tips from a publisher (article)

Self-publishing

Then there’s the self-publishing option, which more new authors are taking advantage of than ever before. The benefits can be incredible: greater creative freedom, a publication guarantee, and a higher royalty rate. Regardless, there are also many challenges associated with independent publishing. So make sure you’re up to the task before you commit to self-publishing:

  • How to publish a book: self-publishing for beginners (how-to)
  • The cost of self-publishing a book (guide)

Through one of these options, you can have your book published. And once that book is available on Amazon, Kobo or the shelves of a brick-and-mortar store, its Mission accomplished : You are now an author! Congratulations!

But…don’t stop yet.

Part 4: Keep up the good work

How to become an author: the ultimate guide

(Photo by Stage 7 Photography)

Remember, as we said at the beginning, this should not be your goal, a Becoming an old author, but becoming a self-sustaining author. With that in mind, here are a few things you should always do to build on the success of your first book.

Expand your profile and market yourself

One of the biggest misconceptions is that if you have a publisher behind you, they will take care of your marketing. The truth is, the vast majority of their promotional dollars go to their top five or six authors. Any marketing budget allocated to you (as a new author) goes largely to "trade marketing", That works with booksellers to showcase your book more prominently in stores.

With that in mind, authors need to take an active role in their own marketing and promotion. This may mean hiring your own publicist (at the more expensive end) or organizing book signings and signing events. If you can’t afford that, at least make sure your online platform is working: Twitter, Instagram, and blogs are pretty much free!

Have multiple ideas on the go

You should always be thinking about what comes next. Professional authors are constantly generating ideas that could become a book – and working on several at once. Who knows when someone in the industry will show interest: If you run into a situation where someone wants to work with you, you need to have some ideas in the bank.

Think about writing a series

This is true for traditional publishing and even more so for indie authors. If your first book Thousands of copies sold and readers love it, the easiest way to profit from its success is to continue the series. If you’ve written a fantasy novel, the main character (or one of the charming secondary characters) might return for another installment? If people really love your nonfiction title on kitchen renovation, you could then write a companion piece on bathrooms?

With each book you add to a series, you can theoretically increase your sales exponentially. Every new reader you attract buys not just one of your books, but three or five or fifteen of them.

Additional reading: "How I became a self-publishing millionaire" (interview)

Create secondary revenue streams

Movie theaters are known to make losses on their ticket sales . but they make up for everything at the concession stand. If you have a captive audience that loves your book, what else can you do with them? Nonfiction authors regularly tell their readers, if you liked my meditation book, why not buy my online course on yoga or join my (paid) annual retreat to an ashram in Bakersfield.

This can be a little more difficult for novelists, but you can always have an online store selling tote bags and t-shirts to go with your book. There’s no shame in it: if you want the time to write full time, you need to find a way to pay the bills.

With all this hard work, some talent, and a dash of luck, the garden of your writing career should begin to bloom. But this is only the beginning. They need to work consistently to continue to thrive and gain new readers. If you are ready for this, roll up your sleeves and get to work!

If you’ve recently become an author and would like to share your thoughts and experiences, just drop a note in the comments below.

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