How to Become an Author: From Beginnings to a Lifelong Career

So you want to be an author? Perhaps you have long wanted to write a particular story. Perhaps you want the notoriety that comes with calling yourself an author. Or perhaps you are simply wondering if it is okay to call yourself an author.

There is good news! It is very easy to become an author. You don't have to have a traditional publishing book deal. You don't even have to be very good (although if you stick with it, you will be).

In this article, we will tell you all about it in a step-by-step process to go from zero to a fully established author.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. What it takes to be an author
  2. How to become an author
  3. What it takes to become published
  4. Tips and strategies to sell more books

Disclaimer: some links in this article may lead to affiliate products. But we do not recommend products we do not wholly recommend, and it costs you nothing extra.

So let's talk about how you can become an author.

Requirements to Become an Author

First, let's define what we mean by the term “author”.

Many people have different definitions for this term. It can range anywhere from someone who merely aspires to be an author, to someone making a full-time living as a traditionally-published author.

However, I define the author as the following:

  1. You have aspirations to include “author” as part of your core identity
  2. You write books consistently

Some might add that authors should be published, ‌whether that be traditionally or self-published. That's not a bad definition to have, and it is not a huge barrier either. Self-publishing makes it easy to publish a book, so if you include publishing as part of your definition, it is still not very difficult.

But as far as I am concerned, if you want to be called an author, and you write consistently, or have written a book in the past, you are an author.

That said, let's discuss the many steps to help solidify your place as an author.

Step 1: Start Writing

The first step in becoming an author should always be to write. This is the core of what makes an author an author.

A lot of people would start by telling you to study creative writing, or to get a degree, or otherwise start with learning.

I respectfully disagree. No amount of learning will ever help you to be a better writer and author, if you never write.

Let me say this again: you must write consistently to become an author.

Writing consistently is easier said than done, so let me outline four tips to use when you are just starting out.

1. Develop Habits

If you don't have good creative habits, the chances of you improving your skill is very low. Additionally, the chances of you actually finishing a book go down considerably.

So, you want to form a steady writing habit.

Some people will tell you to write every day. That is good advice, though it doesn't necessarily have to be every day. What it must be is regular.

I would say choose a time, at least once per week, and commit yourself to writing in that time. Ideally, write several times per week. I personally try to write every day, but I take one day off on Sundays.

If you do this, it won't take you long before you have not only published a book, but several books.

2. Start with Short Stories and Blog Posts

While this is not required, it is a good suggestion. Starting with a novel is like starting to run by running a marathon. There are ways to ease into it better.

Starting with a short story or blog post allows you to start and finish a project in a relatively short amount of time, allowing you to take what you learn and apply it to your next project.

This also makes it easy to try out various genres, if you are uncertain about what type of book you want to write.

And speaking of which…

3. Explore Different Genres

Even if you think you know what genre you want to write in, it can be highly beneficial to try out a few others. You may find that you enjoy writing a different genre more than you thought you would. You will also gain experience, and become familiar with the tropes of various genres.

All in all, it can be a very illuminating experience to write in multiple genres. I would recommend combining this with the previous tip, and write multiple short stories in different genres. You could also write blog posts about the different tropes and conventions for each genre, as a way of getting to know them better.

4. Write to Improve, Not to Make Money

Let's face it, most of us want to be the next big thing. We want to be J. K. Rowling and come right out of the gate with a smashing hit.

But the truth is, this is incredibly uncommon. Most successful authors do not see success until they have written multiple books. Experience is the greatest predictor of success, not how new and innovative your idea might be.

In fact, as I will illustrate further below, I don't recommend starting with your best idea, as you will probably butcher it in this early stage of your writing career.

Instead, give yourself permission to not be very good. Give yourself permission to not make money, at least for the first few years of your journey.

Focus on simply practicing writing, and getting better and better with every word you write, because this will undoubtedly happen.

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Step 2: Study the Art of Storytelling

By studying the art of storytelling, you have a much better chance of increasing your skill, and putting your practice to good work.

While I mentioned above that I recommend practicing writing above study, that doesn't mean that study should be avoided entirely.

Indeed, without at least some learning, your writing practice may result in little improvement.

But with so many resources out there, where do you possibly start? Allow me to offer a few suggestions:

1. Read Books on Storytelling

One of the best and cheapest ways to learn is to study books about your craft.

You can literally find hundreds of books about writing, and about every possible minutia of writing, from writing dialogue, to story structure, to showing and not telling.

Read as much as you can, though I would add that it is better to read from authors who have proven their competency in a field. Make sure to read the reviews, see what else they have written, etc.

2. Take a Creative Writing Class

Creative writing classes at local colleges or community centers are quite common. Do a quick search and you are likely to find something near you.

Alternatively, there are plenty of online courses that will also provide creative writing advice.

In person classes can be super beneficial, because they allow for direct interaction with fellow students and with the teacher, where you can get specific feedback about your work.

3. Join a Writer Community

One of the best ways to feel like an author is to surround yourself with friends who are also authors.

With that in mind, I recommend finding local writing groups, Facebook groups, TikTok communities, etc. where you can join in on the conversation.

These groups are invaluable for asking questions and learning, as well as providing your own feedback on what is working and what isn't.

If you are lucky enough to find a local writing group, where you can get feedback on each other's work, this can be a huge boost to your skill as a writer.

4. Copywork

One form of deliberate practice that I consider something of a “secret sauce” is the skill of copywork.

Copywork is the process of copying someone else's writing, but doing so by hand. Let's say you have a favorite author that you want to mimic (example: mine is Brandon Sanderson). Simply take something that they have written, and practice copying it out by hand.

What this does is ingrain that style into your head in a way that you can't do by simply reading. The act of copying it out by hand triggers something in the brain that helps it retain the style even better.

Artists do this all the time by mimicking other artists in order to learn. It is not cheating, and it will not prevent you from forming your own style. All it will do is teach you how the Masters do it.

5. Get a Degree

This is actually something I almost don't recommend, but a degree can help to a certain extent.

This can be a writing degree, although some authors (such as Stephen King) do not recommend a degree in English or creative writing, as it can be just as beneficial to get a degree in something else, which you can then bring into your writing. 

A good example of this is James Patterson, who used his background in law to essentially create the legal thriller. His background in law was far more important than his background in writing. Writing can be learned by simply writing, whereas other things are harder to learn.

Nevertheless, a writing degree can still get you to practice writing, which is beneficial in its own right. Here are a few examples of degrees that will help you to practice:

  • English: an English degree will get you firsthand practice at writing, sentence structure, and will give you experience studying other great masters of writing.
  • Literature: often the same as an English degree, this degree will allow you to specifically focus on great works of literature.
  • Creative writing: of the different degrees that most relate to being an author, this is perhaps the biggest, as it focuses specifically on writing fiction and creative nonfiction.
  • History: this might be my favorite degree for an author, as you still get experience writing in a history degree, but you learn from a wealth of historical information that is a gold mine for creative ideas.
  • Journalism: journalism is a very distinctive type of writing that can often be quite different from writing books, but is also one of the best degrees to learn how to write with engaging prose.
  • Communications: related to journalism, a communications degree will get you experience over a wide variety of communications technology, where writing plays a big role.
  • Theater/film: any good theater/film degree will teach you about storytelling, even though the medium will be slightly different. This is another good one if you don't want a traditional creative writing degree, but you want something similar enough to support your interests.
  • Psychology: because characters are so essential to a good story, a psychology degree is a great way to learn how people think, so you can realistically bring your characters to life.
  • Literally anything else: virtually any degree will give you material that you can use in your writing. Don't be afraid to major in something completely different, as it will make what you bring to the table unique.

If you have already been through college and don't want to get another degree, that is absolutely fine. I have personally found that I learned so much more just by writing my first few novels than I did in my entire degree. 

Just get writing, and that will be enough.

6. Online Courses

Online courses are another way to process information. They often don't include the same amount of face-to-face interaction that you might get with a workshop or a writing group, but the information is often more in-depth than what you would get in a simple book on writing.

Online courses can vary significantly in price, which is why we recommend starting with a few distinct services, such as Udemy, Masterclass, or Wondrium.

7. Practice, Practice, Practice

By far the best thing you can do to learn is to continue practicing. In addition to simply continuing to write short stories and books, here are some ways to deliberately practice writing:

  • Edit somebody else's work
  • Have someone else edit your work and then you can review and implement changes
  • Follow writing prompts
  • Practice specific skills such as show don't tell, or writing descriptions, while writing a specific short story or chapter

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Step 3: Decide What You Want to Write Long Term

To find success as an author, you have to keep your eye on the ball. So it is now time to decide what you want to focus on for the foreseeable future.

While it is absolutely fine to continue experimenting with different genres or writing styles, if you want to find success as an author, you will need to focus your efforts on one specific thing for a while.

By this time, you will have gained experience writing in multiple genres, and you will know what you want to write.

1. Pick a Genre

Again, this does not mean that you will never write in another genre ever again, but I do recommend picking one genre and sticking with it until you find success.

Make sure this is a genre that has enough readers to sustain you, but that you also enjoy enough to continue writing in it for some time.

This can be anything from a broad genre like fantasy, to something more niche like clean, contemporary billionaire romances.

2. Identify Your Audience

This is similar to picking a genre, but can differ slightly. Identifying your audience allows you to know exactly who to write for. For a lot of authors, the audience starts as an audience of one: yourself. That is fine, but we recommend you find other like-minded people who would enjoy reading the same kind of things you want to write.

This also gives you a head start on the marketing process, as understanding where your audience is located is a key part of marketing to that audience.

3. Assemble Your Tools

Any author's journey requires multiple tools. If you are just starting out and have little to no money, you can make do with Google docs and an Internet connection, otherwise we recommend a few things:

  • Atticus: Atticus is, by far, the best software to write and format your book. It is built as an all-in-one software that will walk you through the entire process from when you first begin typing to when you format your completed manuscript.
  • Publisher Rocket: Publisher Rocket is a key tool to help you in your research, to find books that have starving audiences, and to help you select your keywords for a given book. It is also great for finding and selecting your book categories.
  • Plottr: Plottr is an outlining software that can be extremely useful when planning your initial novel. It contains multiple plot structures so that you can get right to work in the planning process.
  • ProWritingAid: if you need a good editing and proofreading software, look no further than ProWritingAid. It has a ton of reports, is relatively inexpensive, and even has a lifetime deal that you can get 20% off of using our special code: KINDLEPRENEUR20.

4. Don't Pick Your Magnum Opus

A lot of people, when they are just starting out in their writing journey, pick the best idea they have ever had and run with that. I strongly recommend that you don't do this.

Instead, pick an idea that you can afford to fail on. Because, to be brutally honest, your first book is not likely to be that great.

(Feel free to prove me wrong, though.)

Remember, being an author is a long game. You want to focus more on your growth as an author, and on building your backlist, then on making a ton of money right out of the gate.

For that reason, I recommend setting your best ideas aside, and go for something straightforward, something that fits the genre, but you will still enjoy writing.

Step 4: Write a Novel

You've done a whole lot of prep work, and now it is time to actually write that novel you have been dreaming of writing for years.

This step is often the most intimidating, but it doesn't have to be. If you have done the work so far of building your writing habits, it will probably take you less time than you think to finish a first draft.

That said, here are a few tips to help you along.

1. Begin with Research

Most books will require some type of research, even if it is not a research-heavy genre like historical fiction

You may have to research the street layout of Paris, or what actually happens in an autopsy, or you may even need to invent your own research by world building a fantasy or science fiction story.

Whatever the case, it helps to have a lot of this extra knowledge at your fingertips when you start writing.

2. Set a Deadline

While I don't recommend this for everyone, because some authors (myself included) find deadlines to be extremely stressful and disheartening.

That said, it can be an incredibly motivating technique.

You can set a deadline by promising to your friends that you are going to do it, setting up a preorder on Amazon (that one will really light a fire under you) or simply commit to yourself that you will finish the book by a certain date.

Then, it helps to break down how many words you need to write each day so you can hit that deadline, and then make your writing habits work in your favor.

3. Outline Your Book

If you are an author that writes by the seat of their pants, a.k.a. discovery writing, then you might want to skip this section. However, outlining can be an incredible tool to write your book fast.

Outlining is the simple process of plotting out your book and your character arcs, etc. in advance, so you know exactly where you are going with each chapter.

If you intend to write many books and do so quickly, outlining is almost essential, as it will completely shorten your editing phase.

4. Write Your First Draft

It's time! Get started writing that novel, and the sooner you can start, the sooner you can finish.

Again, I cannot emphasize the need for a writing habit enough. The more you can chip away at this every day, the faster your first draft will finish.

If you want to finish your first draft even faster, I recommend deliberate practice, or you can choose alternative writing techniques, such as the use of dictation.

Whatever you decide to do, stop everything until you finish this step. Focus on finishing the first draft, and once it is done, then you can move forward.

By the way, by this point, if you haven't already, you can definitely call yourself an author.

Step 5: Refinement and Continuous Improvement

Writing is a long game, and it will take continuous improvement over years before you get really good at it.

I recommend being intentional about how you improve your writing. Not only do you need to improve your story, but also how much you write, how well you edit, outline, etc.

A lot of this is simply following my tips from step 2, and continuously learning. However, there are a few more steps that you can take, now that you have finished a book.

1. Track Your Word Count

One of the best ways to improve on something is to measure it. Therefore, at some point in your process, I recommend tracking your word count. Doing so will not only give you excellent feedback about how you were doing, but it will motivate you to write more.

Studies show that simply by measuring a thing, that thing increases in its performance. Therefore, try tracking your word count and see if you don't write more.

2. Revise Your Drafts

After your book is written, you start the revision process. Revision can be a short or long process, depending on the author. If you write by the seat of your pants, chances are your revision process will be longer. But the outliner should give some effort to revise as well.

This will help to point out your mistakes, and give you better feedback for the future.

While self-editing is definitely a good skill to have, I highly recommend getting a professional editor to look at your work as well. This is one of the best ways to improve your writing, as you can get professional feedback from an editor that will help you improve future manuscripts.

Additionally, using a tool like ProWritingAid can also help your sentences improve, and help you catch common grammar mistakes.

Step 6: Choose Your Publishing Paths

Now that you have a completed manuscript, and have spent some time editing it, it is time to pick your publishing paths.

Here at Kindlepreneur, we are a little biased toward self-publishing, but it is certainly not the only option. Traditional publishing is a great avenue for many people, or you can do a little of both to diversify your options.

1. Traditional Publishing

Assuming you want to traditionally publish your book, here is what you do next:

  • Start by pitching your book to various agents and editors. Make sure that you have researched the agents and editors that specialize in your genre.
  • If an agent picks up your book, they will present to publishers
  • If a publisher picks up your book, they will offer you a book contract
  • Be sure to have a lawyer look over your book contract to make sure it is fair, although your agent can potentially do this too.
  • The publisher will then take care of additional editing, formatting, and cover design.

Once your book is published, you will begin to earn royalties, though keep in mind that they will be significantly lower than self-publishing.

2. Self-publishing

For many authors, self-publishing is a viable alternative to traditional publishing. If this interests you, here is what you do next:

  • Make sure your book is professionally edited
  • Format your book using a program like Atticus
  • Hire someone to create a genre-appropriate book cover
  • Publish your book through Amazon or other retailers
  • Begin marketing your book

Self-publishing is a much more active approach, but it also gives you more control and more royalties. If you are willing to make the effort, it can be hugely rewarding.

3. My Recommendation: the Hybrid Approach

If I were trying to break into publishing today, either in traditional or self-publishing, this is what I would do:

  • Take my book and present it to various agents and publishers
  • If a publisher accepts my book, write tie-in novellas and self-publish those
  • If a publisher does not pick up my book, split the book into three parts and self-publish
  • Write the next book and repeat the steps

Why would I split the book into three parts? Two reasons:

  • A) Because a series will always sell better than a standalone, and 
  • B) You can get valuable data by splitting a book into three parts, because you can track how many people read the first part, then buy the second part as well

After you have multiple books that you have split into three parts available online, you can see which one is most popular, and then continue writing in that series.

Step 7: Market Your Book

Whether you plan to self-publish or traditionally publish your book, chances are you will need to market your book anyway.

If you are self-publishing, then there are a few extra steps that you should consider. We recommend checking out our book marketing 101 article for a full breakdown of these things.

But even for traditional publishers, you will need to consider the following:

  • Your Author Platform: every author needs a website at a minimum, so you can showcase your books and allow readers to learn more about you. Additionally, we recommend picking at least one social media platform, and building an audience there as well.
  • Build an Email List: the single most important marketing tool that you have is your email list. These are people that have opted into learning more about you and your books, and who want more information. It is also a platform you control, unlike social media. See our in-depth article about how to grow an email list.

Even if you're self-publishing, if you can only do these two things, you are well on your way to a career as an author.

If you want to know about other ways to market your book, check out our “book marketing 101” article, and our “how to sell a book” article.

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Step 8: Rinse and Repeat

If you want to be a successful author, you will probably need to write several books. It is time to rinse and repeat.

As you continue your author career, here are a few additional tips to help you out as you continue to write more books.

1. Write in a Series

You have a much better chance of making money from a long series than a single book. That is why we recommend writing sequels to the books you have written so far.

As you do this, you can afford to send more advertising dollars toward your series, with the hopes of making a profit.

2. Brainstorm Multiple Ideas

Authors are known for having ideas, but it can help to take a lot of time to really research idea possibilities and brainstorm what you might write next.

Take some time to write down every idea you can think of, take inspiration from the news or from history, and write down how you can use those ideas.

Chances are, a new book idea will soon emerge, and you will be on your way to another awesome series.

3. Diversify Your Income Streams

As with any endeavor, it is important to diversify your income streams so you don’t have all of your eggs in one basket.

The problem here is that it is easy to try and do too many things that you spread yourself too thin. You also want to maintain focus on what is most important: your writing.

That said, there are many ways to diversify your income, such as publishing an ebook, print, and audiobook, publishing on multiple platforms, forming a Patreon, pulling in revenue from other sources such as blogging or a YouTube channel, creating a course, etc.

Whatever works for you, we recommend you find a way to diversify your income and make your job as an author even easier.

You're an Author, Harry!

By the time you get through the steps, there is no doubt that you can call yourself an author. In fact, from the time you finish your first short story, I believe you can start calling yourself this.

The path to becoming a successful author can be a long and hard road, but the first step is simply solidifying that identity as an author in your mind.

If you aspire to be an author, and you back it up with writing, you are an author.

And don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does an author get paid?

For traditional publishing, a first-time author can expect to get an advance of $1000 – $10,000, with 5 – 15% royalties once their book has earned out that advance. Self-published authors make significantly higher royalties at 35 – 70%, but they do not receive an advance.

How hard is it to become an author?

To become an author, all you have to do is want to be an author and write consistently. To become a published author, you need to have a traditional publishing deal, or self-publish the book yourself. The hardest part is actually writing the book.

What qualifications do I need to be an author?

None! All you have to do is write books. To become a published author, you also need to get a traditional publishing deal for your book, or self-publish it yourself. Other than that, there are no qualifications.

Is writing a book worth it?

Yes, writing a book is absolutely worth the effort. In fact, in my own professional experience, I find that there are few things as satisfying and fulfilling as typing “The End” at the end of a book. If you have always wanted to write a book, do it! Don't let anyone stop you.

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