So you want to be a successful author. You’re hardly alone, as the idea of working from anywhere in the world and doing what you love in exchange for a decent check appeals to many.
But you’re going to need more than just a way with words if you truly want to become a “successful” author—you’ll need plenty of time, effort, and some marketing savvy on your side.
How to Become a Successful Author
We’ve developed a blueprint for how to become a successful author—14 steps, plus the most valuable tools and resources you’ll need—so you can get to work today.
1. Join a Community of Writers
One of the first things you should do once you’ve decided to pursue a career as an author is surround yourself with other successful authors.
And that doesn’t mean you need to move in next door to Danielle Steel. You can search online for writers’ groups near you, or start your own.
If you can’t find any groups that meet up in-person, there are plenty of active groups on Facebook and other social media platforms that you could join.
Joining a community of writers helps you to not only make valuable industry connections, but it also offers an outlet for discussing your ideas, receiving feedback, and even venting your frustrations about writing to people who understand.
2. Develop a Consistent Writing Schedule
Practice makes perfect, which is why you should try to develop a daily writing habit.
Choose a time of day during which you have a block of uninterrupted time. (This will vary from person to person.)
If you work a full-time job, you might find that writing first thing in the morning or just before bed works best for you. Or, perhaps you feel inspired to write during your lunch break.
Whatever time you choose, make sure that you have a place to work where you can focus with limited distractions. You might even consider creating your own writer’s nook, where you can work calmly and productively every day.
Set reminders on your phone if necessary, or pencil in some time in your planner to make sure that your writing time doesn’t get lost in your busy schedule.
3. Read (A Lot!)
In order to grow as a writer, you’ll need to study the works of other writers. (And when you do become a successful author, that doesn’t mean school’s out! Successful writers keep up with the latest works and take notes from their contemporaries.)
Start with the classics, as these inspired, in one way or another, writers of the generations that followed. Then, catch up on more modern masterpieces and study what authors from your generation are up to.
Reading the words of others will not only help improve your writing, but inspire you with new ideas and help you to understand which writing styles you do (and don’t) like.
You should also take time to read some of the best books on writing to study what the experts have to say about your craft!
Once you have an idea of what you’d like to write about, it’s time do some homework.
Research for Fiction
If you’re writing fiction, that means you should research:
- The types of stories that are currently in demand for your genre
- Your target audience’s demographic
- What’s already been published
- What is (and isn’t) working
With all that in mind, think about how you can add a fresh perspective to what’s already out there to satisfy your readers.
When you’re ready to start writing, your research will expand to all the little details you’ll want to fact check, such as:
- Dates and other information of real events in history
- Names, demographic, environmental details of places you describe in your book
- Job descriptions or habits of your characters
- Daily life in your story’s time period
Research for Nonfiction
If you’re writing nonfiction, you should research:
- The types of books in demand right now
- Your target audience’s demographic
- What’s already been written on your topic
- The average length and style of successful books on your topic
Once you’ve done adequate market research for your book, you should know who your ideal reader is, what they want, and how to give it to them.
5. Outline Your Book
Before you set pen to paper, create a book outline. (You may be anxious to start writing, but trust me, you’ll thank yourself later!)
Your outline can be as broad or as detailed as you like, but it’s helpful to break down your outline first by each important concept, and then by chapter, if you can.
This will help you to organize your thoughts, prioritize your ideas, structure your book, and ensure that you don’t get stuck or lost once you start writing.
In Write Your Book in a Flash, author Dan Janal explains how writing an outline for your book will help you write your book faster, saving you time, and ultimately, money.
And outlines aren’t just for nonfiction—you can outline your novel, as well. This can prevent writer’s block and help you to see any potential holes in your plot. Many writers love using the snowflake method to outline their stories.
6. Learn to Self-Edit
While you’re writing your first draft, you need to turn off your internal editor. Write words as they come to you, and don’t worry about things like whether you need a semicolon or em dash at this point.
But once you’ve completed the first draft of your manuscript and given yourself at least a few days to rest, it’s time to try your hand at self-editing.
Among the most important things you should check for are:
- Redundancies and crutch words
- Passive voice
- Too many unnecessary adjectives
- Unnecessary adverbs (choose stronger verbs instead)
- Overly fanciful language
- Inconsistent points of view
- Double negatives
- Flashy dialogue tags
In addition, you should also ask yourself whether the overall flow and structure of your book makes sense.
Are there certain parts that would be better suited in earlier or later sections? Is the current organization of your book the best way to teach your audience about a subject, or tell readers a story?
It’s not too late to move things around and find what works best for your book.
7. Find a Literary Agent
You might not necessarily need a literary agent to represent you and your book, but they can certainly make things easier.
Literary agents can help you to negotiate deals, especially publishing contracts and publicity gigs.
While you might feel confident about securing those deals on your own, the fact is that writing query letters, submitting your manuscript, and handling other business matters take time. And if you’re a writer, time is money.
If you want to focus the bulk of your time on writing the best book you can, consider finding a literary agent who can help you take care of all the business that goes into publishing.
8. Choose Your Publishing Route
When it comes to publishing a book, authors usually have 3 main options: self-publishing, traditional publishers, and small press publishers.
Take the time to research each option carefully to determine which route is best for you and your book.
The self-publishing game has changed in recent years, with more and more authors choosing this route for their book.
While self-publishing requires quite a lot of effort on behalf of the writer, it comes with a number of attractive benefits: it’s fast, cheap, and you can do it all on your own.
Traditional publishers are what most people think of when they think about publishing a book—Manhattan skyscrapers, fancy offices, and big names like HarperCollins and Penguin Random House.
While signing a deal with one of the “Big 5” publishers is the dream of many aspiring authors and might be your best bet if you want to become a household name, signing with a traditional publisher is definitely not easy, and even if you do sign, it typically takes about 2 years to publish your book.
Nonetheless, it’s not an impossible or unworthy goal, and there are steps you can take to improve your chances of success.
Start by learning how to write a query letter. You’ll need a literary agent to represent you, since most of the big publishing houses are closed to submissions from unrepresented authors.
With hard work, patience, and a bit of luck, signing with a traditional publisher is possible.
Small Press Publishers
The process of publishing with a small press, or independent, publisher isn’t all that different from traditional publishing.
As with traditional publishers, you usually don’t have to pay for editing services, cover design, or advertising once you’ve signed a deal.
However, many small press publishers accept unagented submissions, and your chances of getting a deal are considerably higher than if you choose to pursue one of the elite Big 5.
9. Hire a Professional Editor
This step mostly applies to those who have chosen to self-publish their book, since traditional publishers and most small press publishers come with in-house editors.
No matter how skilled a writer you are, and no matter how good of an eye you think your cousin with a master’s in English has, you should definitely hire a professional editor.
The right editor can help you to see where some sections of your book could be better organized, make suggestions about the point of view or tone, and of course, catch typos and other mistakes.
Good editing can make your book, while bad editing can break it—so make sure you invest in an experienced, quality editor.
10. Choose a Bestselling Book Title
Your book’s title is one of the first things potential readers will see or hear about your book, so it’s got to make a great impression!
Your goal should be to strike the right balance between memorability and searchability—that means it shouldn’t be hard to spell, and the main title shouldn’t be unnecessarily long. When possible, repetition or alliteration can also go a long way.
The more you’re repeating the book’s title in your marketing, the more it will sink in for your followers. Repeat your title with confidence, and that enthusiasm will start to transfer to your readers.
11. Write Blog Posts
There are several reasons why you should do this:
- You’ll practice a different type of writing
- You can establish yourself as an authority in your field
- It’s free publicity for your book
- You can build your author platform and grow your social media following
Write often and consistently about anything related to your field. This is a great way to tell potential readers more about you and your book.
You should also keep all of your social media accounts up to date and stay active on each. Engage with your followers by responding to comments, asking them questions, hosting live events, and posting videos.
12. Brush Up on Marketing Skills
If you’re working with a small press or traditional publisher, you should have plenty of help in the marketing department.
But even with that help, and certainly if you’re self-publishing, it’s always a good idea to brush up on your marketing skills.
You’ll get helpful tips for managing your website and social media accounts, as well as how you can develop your author brand.
13. Create a Publicity Plan
Finally, in addition to brushing up on your marketing knowledge, you’ll need to create a publicity plan, either on your own or with your publisher.
Although you’ll want to schedule most of your publicity campaigns/events around your book’s release date, you should actually start thinking about your publicity plan well in advance.
Among the skills you’ll need to master are:
You’ll want to make a stand-out media kit, and also make sure that your author website is in tip-top shape.
The more excitement you can generate around your book, the more books you’ll sell!
14. Write and Publish Multiple Books
If you want to increase your odds of earning a full-time, steady income from writing, don’t stop at just one book.
When it comes to fiction especially, the first book can seem like a huge hurdle. But once you get your first book published, you can still celebrate, promote, and market—but don’t stop writing!
On average, series writers can enjoy up to twice as many earnings per book compared with authors of stand-alone books. This is also good to remember if your novel is on the longer side.
If your book is upwards of 100,000 words, you might want to consider breaking it up into installments. By breaking up extra long books into shorter novels or novellas, you’ll enjoy the monetary benefits that serial authors enjoy, and your books are more likely to be purchased and read.
How Much Money Does a Writer Make?
It’s quite difficult to project how much a writer will make in any given year, since there are so many factors that can influence that number, including:
- The writer’s chosen publishing method (self, traditional, or small press?)
- The terms of their publishing contract (if applicable)
- The market for their genre/type of book
To illustrate how author salaries can vary greatly, let’s look at the different reports for a writer’s annual pay:
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for writers and authors was $62,170 per year as of 2018.
However, this statistic combines the reported earnings of “information, professional, scientific, and technical” writers with those of writers in the performing arts, spectator sports, and related industries.
A better representation of an average author’s salary might be found in this article from the Houston Chronicle, which explains that for beginning authors, advances are typically between $5,000–$10,000.
Then, considering an average 10% royalty rate, and the fact that most books sell fewer than 5,000 copies, one can see that after paying for marketing, editing, and other services, there isn’t much left over for the author.
If you want to become a full-time author, keep in mind that these numbers are anything but guaranteed, which is why many writers keep their “day jobs” until they’ve got at least a few lucrative projects under their belt.
For more on what authors who earn more than $100,000 per year do that sets them apart, check out this article by WrittenWord Media.
Is Being an Author a Good Career?
When we think about a “successful” career, each of us likely has a slightly different idea of what that word means.
For some, success might mean becoming the next Stephen King, making millions of dollars per year, and seeing your characters portrayed by stars on the big screen.
For others, success might mean making a bestseller list for even just one Amazon category. Or maybe getting your book published at all is a huge success (which it definitely is!).
Your vision of success might be achieving the luxury of working from home, on your own schedule—in which case the writing lifestyle is probably a great match.
All of these dreams are equally valid reasons for wanting to become an author, but before you get started on your journey, you should know that a career as a writer, while a dream come true for many, isn’t for everyone.
So, to answer this question, let’s start with some of the potential downsides or challenges that can come with being an author.
Cons of Being an Author:
- You and ONLY YOU are responsible for your failures and successes.
- It’s not the most financially secure job, nor the most social.
- Self-doubt and imposter syndrome can be really draining.
- Too much independence or lack of structure doesn’t work for everyone.
- You’ll be open to public scrutiny, along with the praise.
- You may face rejection—over and over again.
Now that we’ve gotten the bad news out of the way, let’s take a look at what makes being an author such a great profession.
Pros of Being an Author:
- You have the freedom to work where and when you want.
- You have a huge platform for expressing your ideas.
- There are chances to improve your craft with every new project.
- Seeing your work published can offer a real rush.
- You’re your own boss (except for maybe a few nagging editors).
Become a Full-Time Writer
The road to becoming a successful author isn’t an easy one, but it can be one of the most rewarding journeys you’ll ever embark on.
Before you set out, make sure you’re prepared with as much knowledge as possible. Then, with hard work, patience, and persistence, you can find success as a part-time or even full-time writer!
Why do YOU want to become an author? Share your dream with us in the comments below!
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