Becoming a published author is an exciting milestone in any aspiring writer’s journey. Getting there successfully can be a long and arduous road–but it is so worth it when you hold the first freshly-printed copy in your hands!
If you landed here, you’re probably trying to make your writing hobby up to more than a hobby.
Whether you’re an experienced blogger, a fantasy novelist, or an industry expert with ideas to share, we’re here to help.
Today we’re outlining the journey to becoming an author in three stages: polishing your craft, getting published, and maintaining your career.
1. Becoming a good writer
Before you put a book on the market, you have to ensure that your writing is high quality. Even if you follow the fastest, most affordable path to self-publishing, this rule still applies. Practice makes perfect, so spend time honing your craft and watch your talent grow until you hit a sweet spot of high-quality, engaging style. Rushing into publishing before your writing hits that sweet spot will only damage your credibility as an author.
How do you get good feedback and writing practice without publishing a book? Oh, so many ways. This is really the fun part for many aspiring authors! You can get comfortable with your style while building a community and a personal writing brand at the same time.
Depending on your niche, your path to becoming a good writer could look very different. The most important advice –I cannot emphasize this enough–is to keep writing. If you are not already a full-time writer (e.g. blogger, copywriter, technical writer), it’s time to start writing as a side gig (a blog, a column, a newsletter).
If you want to write to help people solve problems–whether in their business or personal lives–narrowing your focus is key. Your first book will have to have a unique angle and a unique solution for readers. If this sounds daunting, try your hand at blog-writing or starting a topical newsletter. When you see what resonates with your readers, you will find the problem they want you to solve and see where to focus your writing skills.
Watch out for the looming specter of perfectionism or imposter syndrome. Writing is an art that takes time, so don’t be discouraged by poor feedback at the start of your writing journey. Consider each disappointment a new lesson and don’t stop writing! The more you write and edit your own work, the faster your writing quality will improve.
Along the same lines, dealing with writer’s block is always discouraging. If you’re finally working on a project with a deadline & paycheck, it can be devastating. But if the page at hand feels impossible to finish, you can use this time wisely! Revisit old inspirations, rehash rejected proposals from the past and read some of your favorite authors in your niche.
Writer’s block is also a great opportunity to edit what you’ve already written…and perhaps find new conclusions for your own work hidden between the lines.
2. Getting published
There are two paths to publishing your first book, self-publishing and traditional publishing. Starting with self-publishing, we will outline the pros and cons of each to help you decide which is right for you!
You can publish a book in just a couple of weeks if you self-publish. The process is easier than ever these days, and we highly recommend it to first-time authors. Self-publishing gives you a great deal of freedom. It’s an easy way to dip your toe into the world of authorship without the stress that a publishing house might inflict.
Self-publishing can be as easy (and affordable) as uploading and formatting a book onto Amazon’s Kindle publisher. But don’t stop there! With some research and a little money upfront, you can self-publish a hard copy of your book that will wow readers.
To make your self-published work stand out, you will need not only the assurance of high-quality writing but also the best possible “extras”. No MS Paint cover images allowed…unless your book is about your journey to becoming a graphic designer in the 90s.
It is essential to invest your time abundantly and wisely in editing, proofreading, graphic design, choosing a publishing platform, and every other decision you have to make. That’s right–all the decisions are up to you! This creative freedom is why many first-time authors self-publish. And with that freedom comes a lot of responsibility.
Pros of self-publishing:
- Creativity and vision have no limits: nobody is breathing down your neck with a red pen, making you change your entire message at the last minute, or cutting out your favorite chapter.
- You get more money per sale: depending on what platform you use to self-publish, you could make 35–70% per sale–far more than the average in traditional publishing.
- You set your own deadlines, launch dates, and everything else: especially if writing is not yet your full-time job, you don’t have to risk the rollercoaster of deadlines, delays, and disasters that can befall a first-time author in traditional publishing. If something comes up in your personal life, you can take a break, and your book will still be there ready to publish when you come back! Enjoy your freedom from the bureaucratic delays and setbacks of the traditional publishing process.
Cons of self-publishing:
- Scammer alert: some companies that claim to facilitate the self-publishing process will do a terrible job! Do your research, ask for proofs, and steer clear of even the slightest hint of suspicion.
- The production costs are all on you: as is the time commitment for finding an editor, graphic designer, proofreader, etc.
- All the marketing is on you: While traditional publishers often still require authors to have a promotion plan, the name of the publisher will play a big role. When you self-publish, you don’t have the advantage of the recognizable Harper-Collins or Penguin Random House logo on your book’s spine. You will have to establish the credibility of your book entirely on your own…and even if it is the greatest book on the topic ever written, you could fail to get it in front of enough readers.
- The upfront cost of self–publishing is usually between $2000.00 and $4000.00, but you get to set the price and collect most of the money for your book!
So long as you are a good marketer (or hire one), self-publishing is a great way to get eyes on your work early on. With enough sales, you could easily gain the credibility to work with a publisher for your next book!
Have you already established yourself in the self-publishing space, or are you a well-known authority in your field? If you can write a unique proposal for a book unlike any other, you are ready to follow the route of traditional publishing to become an author.
Hiring a literary agent is essential for a first-timer in the traditional publishing space. While it can seem frustrating to add yet another middleman to the mix, an agent will be your advocate in the grim and cutthroat world of publishing houses.
Your agent will work off of commission, and thus only work with you if you already have a great elevator pitch for your book. This is good because you will need an amazing proposal for your agent to show publishers anyway.
To become an author via traditional publishing, the biggest task is to craft an amazing, airtight book proposal that speaks to your writing talent and your unique idea. Your agent will help you finesse your proposal before pitching to publishers, leaving you to focus on the writing!
Pros of traditional publishing:
- Lower production costs: Your publisher will take care of editing, graphic design, and all the details that would otherwise fall to you. Your job is just to write.
- Marketing boost: from the prestige & brand recognition of the publisher. While you might still be in charge of a launch team or marketing to your community of readers, having a publisher will give you a huge credibility boost. The most obvious benefit here: your book can appear in brick-and-mortar bookstores right away.
- Opportunity for literary prizes: Not much to add here, except that traditional publishing is almost the only way to get in the mix for prestigious book awards, bestseller lists, etc.
Cons of traditional publishing:
- It is a long and arduous process, and the odds are slim: The timeline you set at the beginning of the publishing process will likely drag on and on, despite your best efforts to meet deadlines. Unwelcome editing decisions might take you off guard, and there is always a chance that the deal falls through at the last minute.
- You receive a lower cut of the royalties: If you’re lucky, you’ll get 20%. Many authors get closer to 5%.
- You could sign away some of your rights: and there are a lot of rights you might not even know about. If your book has potential for becoming a movie or documentary, for example, your publisher will probably try to lay claim to those rights from the outset. Other contractual fine print includes: translations, foreign sales, reprinting, later editions…when negotiating, think carefully about what you’re willing to let go of!
- If you’re a novice writer and have published relatively little standalone written material to a large audience before, we recommend self-publishing.
If you already have a following for your writing, are a respected expert in your field, or have published guides, courses, or other products that utilize the same ideas as your book, go for traditional publishing!
3. Maintaining your career as an author
Whether you choose self-publishing or traditional publishing, the journey to becoming an author does not stop there. Creating awareness is key to riding the wave of your first book onto a fully-fledged career as an author.
Before, during, and after the publishing process, there are many ways to build your authorial brand. Try to incorporate some of these strategies from the start of your path to becoming a published author. If you hope to shift from self-publishing to a big-name traditional publisher, these strategies are key!
What should be your first priority for your personal brand awareness, especially during the digital age?
Creating an engaging community around your writing.
Building a community should ideally start before you publish your first book, whether through social media, blogging, speaking, a launch team who fuels anticipation, or all of the above.
A community of readers will serve you beyond the role of an audience–they will be the living proof of your popularity and success. Their testimonies will give you credibility, their recommendations will give you sales, and their lives will improve because they read your book!
Maybe you already have a community of fans who are thrilled about your first published book, but how do you keep up the hype? How do you get those book sales to bring in enough cash so you can quit your day job and be a full-time author?
The path to profitable full-time writing is different for everyone, but promoting your work and personal brand is essential.
Let’s wrap things up.
Becoming an author is a dream for many that few achieve. If you’ve made it this far, I firmly believe you have the guts, talent, and determination to achieve it. It may be a long road but think of the day you stand on the stage before an auditorium of thousands at a book launch event that sold out within minutes. Even if your first book flops, remind yourself that many famous authors faced rejection at the beginning of their careers!
Get started by developing impressively good writing skills, decide whether you’ll go with traditional or self-publishing, and build an awesome brand as an author. The road may be long, but huge success awaits.
If all these ideas for becoming an author are swimming around in your head, here is a refresher of the basics:
How much money does an author make?
Traditionally published authors average between 50k and six figures. Self-published authors rarely make enough to write full-time at first, but supplementing your income with speaking and creating other products will help you get there!
What qualifications do you need to be an author?
If you have a great idea, subject expertise, and know your audience, writing skills are all it takes to qualify for publishing a book.
How many years does it take to become an author?
Perfecting your writing content and style can take years, but moving from aspiring writer to published author can take just a few weeks!
Can anyone be an author?
Absolutely! If you can write well and either solve a problem nobody else has solved before, or have a unique idea that does not yet exist in print, you have what it takes.