Are you finally following your dream of writing and getting published? If not, now is the best time to start! Fortunately, it’s becoming easier and easier to get noticed and publish your work.
Thanks to emerging technology, you don’t have to go through the competitive traditional publishing process of pitching to a publishing company (honestly, getting rejection after rejection is really hard). These days, you can publish your novel or short story via e-book platforms like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing.
However, it’s still not an intuitive path to publishing, whether you’re looking to self-publish or go the traditional route.
I know that when I was looking into my options for publishing my novel Iron Dogs, I was surprised by the sheer number of ways that authors are getting their books published these days! In the end, I opted to have that book published traditionally. However, I plan on trying self-publishing for my next novel!
This guide will provide clear steps and strategies to learn how to become an author and navigate the writing and publishing world.
Read on to start your author journey today!
Steps for Becoming an Author
If you want to know how to become an author, you should take four major steps: research, writing, publishing, and promoting.
Following each stage will help you get started, improve your writing, and understand how to promote yourself and your written work.
Step 1: Research
To become an author, start by researching how to write a novel, short story, or your chosen literary medium.
While your writing practice is central to improving your storytelling significantly, learning more about the basics of writing can help you map out what to write, how to write it, and who to write it for.
If you don’t know where to begin, consider these suggestions.
Read a Lot!
The best way to study storytelling is by reading books or articles about writing. Countless books and online content can help you get started, especially if you have no background in writing books or stories.
Also, reading books and stories you’re interested in can help hone your storytelling. You can learn much from professional writers in your chosen genre about writing styles, trends, and what works and what doesn’t. Reading expands your imagination, improves your vocabulary, and develops your empathy, which shapes your writing abilities.
Successful author Stephen King explains the importance of reading for aspiring authors in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft:
So, if you want to write and become a published author, spend your free time reading a lot!
Learn the Art of Storytelling
Good storytelling involves narrating or describing ideas, beliefs, or experiences in a powerful, insightful, and relatable way.
Moreover, a good storyteller knows how to catch the reader’s attention from the first few pages of a story.
When reading a book, notice how the author describes scenarios, introduces characters, and connects ideas. While these are things you can pick up while reading, it’s also best to study the craft to know how to apply them to your writing.
You can take creative writing classes online or at your local college to learn the basics of storytelling and story structure.
Also, it’s a great idea to join your local writing group, a Facebook group, or an online writing community to get advice and feedback from experienced authors.
Surrounding yourself with people with the same passion and desire to write great stories will give you the help and encouragement you need when writing becomes challenging.
Ultimately, learning the art of storytelling will enable you to identify what story to tell, why you want to tell it, and how to tell it to inspire your readers and make them take action.
Identify Your Target Audience
After learning the basics of writing and storytelling, you must identify your target audience. It’s a crucial element in the writing process as it’ll help you identify and focus on your message. Your target reader will brush your story aside if your subject isn’t relatable.
When determining your audience, try to be specific so you’ll know what they’re like, what they want, and how they think. Consider asking some of these questions when narrowing down your readers:
- How old are they?
- Are they primarily male or female?
- What is their social status?
- Are they of a particular nationality?
- What topics or conflicts resonate with them?
- What are their needs and wants?
Also, think about what they can get from reading your story. After reading your book or literary work, how do you want your readers to take action? Asking this question will help you bring value to your work and prevent you from straying away from your message.
Once you’ve thought about your main target audience, consider tapping into a secondary target audience. Your secondary market is readers who may also be interested in your subject.
For example, if you’re writing a children’s book, your primary audience is children, but you could also target parents and teachers.
If you need help identifying your audience, start with a broad market and narrow down your audience from there. Also, if you’re targeting a specific audience that you don’t know, take the time to research or interview your market to understand them better.
Step 2: Writing
Whether you have a creative writing degree or no related college degree, writing is the most significant step to becoming an author.
Anyone can learn how to write, but if you don’t practice it consistently, you won’t improve and become successful at your craft.
If you’re starting, here are steps and tips you can do to begin writing, develop your style, and finish your story.
Develop a Writing Style and Voice
Through the process of writing a book or story, you must determine your own style to maintain a consistent and unique voice throughout your written word.
Your writing style refers to your choice of words and how you combine them, and it reflects a specific way of writing that’s coherent and pleasing for readers.
However, your content, context, and purpose also determine your style. For example, an academic paper or creative nonfiction can have a more direct and formal style, while literary prose or a short story can be more descriptive and casual.
Meanwhile, your writing voice shows a distinct style that sets you apart from other successful authors. When readers read your work, they should be able to identify it as yours.
For example, Chuck Palahniuk, the author of Fight Club, is known for his minimalist style, easily digestible sentences, and repetitive lines or phrases in the narrative.
If you’re unsure how to develop your style, you can try different methods to find your distinct style and voice. Try drawing from your life experiences and allow them to shape your writing.
Another tip is to avoid clichés. Instead of using well-known or overused expressions, come up with your way of describing a scenario. Aim to be creative and original while writing stories that reflect you and your readers.
Ultimately, the best way to develop your style and voice is to form a consistent writing habit. Writing daily allows you to find, realize, and practice your distinct way of writing.
If you want to craft an engaging story and have a successful writing career, consider developing your unique style and voice to distinguish you from countless authors.
Choose a Genre or Subgenre of Writing
A genre or subgenre is the specific category your story will fall under.
Examples of popular fiction genres include:
- Modern literature
Meanwhile, non-fiction genres include:
- Pop psychology
You may choose one genre or subgenre to focus on or combine them to form a unique story. It’s good if you already have a genre you’d like to work on.
However, we highly recommend exploring other genres to broaden your horizons and discover the ones you’re good at writing. After all, it’s possible the genre you excel in may not have occurred to you at first glance.
Moreover, trying different genres will make you a versatile writer and help improve your style, whether you’re writing non-fiction or fiction.
If you want to discover a genre you like, or you’re good at, you can try to write short stories in different genres or read good books from a variety of categories.
Also, depending on your approach, you will learn more about a genre’s standard tropes and how to write or avoid them.
Nonetheless, writing in a genre you love is equally important since it makes writing a plot, character, or setting easier and more enjoyable.
Regardless of which genres you choose, remember that finding the best fit for you can take lots of trial and error.
After choosing a genre, it’s time to brainstorm what you want to write about. If you don’t know where to begin, you can research subjects you’re interested in, pull stories from your life experience, or get inspiration from news or history.
Inspiration can spark anywhere and anytime, so you should always have pen and paper or your phone’s notes to jot down key ideas.
When writing down concepts, don’t worry if it’s not complete. What’s important is that you capture that thought at the moment since you can always fix or expound on the idea later.
If you want to expound on an idea and turn it into a story, writing prompts or a mind map exercise can help you expand your topic, let your creative juices flow, dump all your thoughts on paper, and, eventually, outline your story.
To start a mind map, try the following steps:
- Set a 10 to a 15-minute time limit.
- Start with your key topic, concept, or message.
- Write all of your thoughts without thinking of grammar and spelling.
- Feel free to add arrows or connectors to relate or tie ideas together.
- Use colored pens, highlighters, or sticky notes to organize ideas.
Ideally, you want to solidify your idea or map your story before writing. However, there are cases when some writers create the story as they write. We suggest preparing a mind map or outline to guide you while writing.
Select Your Book-Writing Tools
Before writing, consider getting book-writing tools and software to help you organize your ideas, write your draft, and proofread your work. Here are a few online tools to invest in to make writing more efficient and easier.
Sudowrite is an AI writing tool for creative writers. It can generate a draft from a concept, make your writing more descriptive, produce alternate stories and plots, and provide feedback on your content. It’s an ideal AI assistant to help with writer’s block.
Scrivener by Literature and Latte is a word processor designed for authors, screenwriters, journalists, academics, lawyers, students, and more. It runs on Windows and Mac and offers features to manage and organize notes, documents, metadata, concepts, and research in one software.
ProWritingAid is a desktop app or online editor that checks for grammar, spelling, style, readability, and plagiarism. You can integrate the app with Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Scrivener, or Final Draft. Plus, it includes in-app explanations, lessons, quizzes, and interviews with popular authors to help improve your own writing.
Grammarly or other alternative programs check for writing errors and plagiarism and includes suggestions for repetitive words, wordy sentences, and other common writing mistakes. It consists of a Google Chrome extension, allowing you to proofread your emails and online documents in real-time. The software also has integrations available for Google Docs and Microsoft Word.
Note that you need to pay for most writing software tools to access their complete features, but some come with a free trial to see which is the best fit for you.
If you’re serious about becoming an author, we recommend investing in good writing software to improve and streamline your writing.
Write a Rough Draft
Once you have your concept mapped out and you have the right tools to help you write, you can start on your first draft. However, starting with a blank page at first can be overwhelming. So, here are some tips to get you going.
For one, consider setting yourself a deadline. You can commit to finishing the entire story at a specific date and let your friends and family know for accountability.
This method is highly motivating for some, while others may not like the pressure. So, try having a writing schedule and see if it works for you.
Whether you follow a schedule or deadline, writing daily is important. Aim to write a bit each day to form a writing habit, improve your writing, and progress with your story.
Also, set a daily word count to keep you writing and help you hit your deadline. But how many words should you write?
If you’re a complete beginner, you can start writing a 300 to 500-word count daily so you can get used to writing. If you have writing experience, aim for a thousand words or more, depending on your capability.
Finally, we highly recommend creating a story outline. If you did a mind map exercise, you could use it to outline the sequence of events for your entire book or each chapter. Your outline will guide you while writing, keeping you from straying from the story.
If you want to know how to become an author, remember that discipline is crucial, no matter what methods you choose to start writing and keep yourself motivated. So, continue writing consistently until you finish your draft.
Revise and Edit
After finishing your story, the next step in the book-writing process is proofreading and editing your work.
During this stage, you’ll need to reread your entire work and catch common grammar, spelling, sentence structure, and other writing errors. It’s also a good time to polish your style and find loopholes and continuity errors in your plot.
Self-editing is a good skill for any aspiring author, but we highly recommend hiring a professional editor or writing coach to look at your work. Aside from having someone take on this tedious task, you’ll have a fresh set of eyes to provide feedback on your story and help improve your writing.
If you can’t afford to hire an editor, you can use AI editing tools like ProWritingAid or Grammarly to help you catch common mistakes quickly and easily. You’ll need to pay for the premium versions of the software, but it’s significantly less than hiring an editor.
If you can’t afford either option, here are a few tips when self-editing:
- Proofread your draft after a few days or weeks so you’ll have fresh eyes on the material.
- Aim to condense and clarify your piece for better readability.
- Avoid redundancies, clichés, and needless words.
- Show, don’t tell. But avoid too much stage direction for every character’s action.
- Don’t overuse punctuation marks.
- Always keep your readers in mind.
- Use beta readers and friends as additional eyes on the written work. They may spot things you don’t.
Step 3: Publishing
When you finish writing and revising your work, publishing your story is the next step to becoming an author.
Whether you’re self-publishing or taking the traditional route, here are the steps and tips you need to take to get your work printed.
Research the Publishing Industry and Publishing Opportunities
Learn about the publishing industry, how it works, and the different publishing companies. This information will help you find the right opportunities for you and discern which path is right for you.
There are two ways to get printed: self-publishing or traditional publishing.
Many novice authors try self-publishing since many online e-book hosting platforms make distributing books, novels, and essays accessible. For example, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing allows you to self-publish e-books and paperbacks for free.
Many prefer self-publishing since it usually offers more royalties and control over one’s rights and creative freedom. Plus, you can almost always publish your work quickly since it doesn’t have to go through rigorous proofreading.
The downside is that you’re responsible for all the marketing and promotion of your published book, with a typically smaller reach of the overall customer base.
One program that can help you with self-publishing is PublisherRocket. PublisherRocket is the perfect tool for new authors who want to self-publish their books on Amazon.
It provides easy-to-use tools and assistance such as keyword research, formatting assistance, and a step-by-step guide to ensure publishing success.
It also offers helpful resources such as tracking sales, creating promotions, and setting up ad campaigns. All of this is optimized for publishing on Amazon.
Meanwhile, the common method is going to a traditional publisher and pitching your story to agents and editors who are accepting queries and submissions. When pitching to people, look up and contact the right agents and editors for your genre.
As a traditionally published author, you would receive a book contract and possibly an advance against the book’s future profits and get printed under the company banner.
However, note that this option offers fewer rights and creative control.
But, in return, you become part of a larger marketing machine, with people to design and create the layouts and book covers and distribute your work in major bookstores nationwide or worldwide.
Either option has its benefits and drawbacks. Ultimately, it depends on your preference – and access to traditional publishers – so weigh your options carefully.
If you want to publish your work traditionally, consider the limitations you’ll be bound to.
And remember, regardless of the way you go, most of the promotion and leg work will fall on you, as neither self-publishing nor traditional publishing guarantees success or high book sales.
Submit a Manuscript
After doing your research, it’s time to pitch your story and submit a manuscript.
If you plan to publish traditionally, it’s best to find an agent to screen your work and vet your story to publishers. It saves you plenty of time and opens up more opportunities for a company to notice you.
When submitting pitches or manuscripts to an agent, publishing company, or e-book platform, always read the submission guidelines carefully.
Usually, you need to submit a query letter, synopsis, proposal, and sometimes, the first few chapters of your book. Some agents only require your pitch and a few sentences describing your story.
If you’re writing fiction and a publisher accepts your pitch, they’ll ask to read your whole manuscript. Here’s the usual formatting for a manuscript:
- Times New Roman font
- A 12-point font size
- Left-justified paragraphs
- Double spacing without spaces between paragraphs
- Indented paragraphs to a half-inch
- File format in Microsoft Word .doc or .docx, or as a pdf, if it’s a digital copy
- A one-inch margin on all sides
Follow this formatting unless a publisher or platform specifies a certain style. If you’re self-publishing, you must only upload your work on the website and wait for the platform’s approval.
Design a Book Cover (If Self-Publishing)
Your book cover is the first thing readers see, so it should catch a person’s attention and interest while embodying your book’s story or message. It also helps readers identify your book more easily, making it a crucial part of publishing.
We recommend hiring a professional book cover designer to get a polished cover that reflects your story, especially if you want an intricate design.
But note that a custom cover can cost around $600 or more since it can include a photographer, model, or a hand-drawn design.
However, you can still create your book cover if you don’t have the means to hire someone. Many design software, like Canva, Adobe InDesign, and Blurb BookWright, allow you to create original covers, even without a background in graphic design.
Many of these platforms are beginner-friendly, making them suitable for anyone. We highly suggest designing your cover if you want to self-publish and cut costs.
Note that if you sign a deal with a publishing house, they’ll be the ones to handle your published book cover from concept to execution. Depending on your contract, you may not have a say on the book cover.
Navigate the Publishing Process
If a publishing house likes your book, you’ll need to navigate the publishing system, depending on your publishing method.
For the traditional route, you’ll receive a book deal, enabling you to publish your book under the company banner. Before signing your contract, make sure to review it with a lawyer or your agent.
The contract will include details regarding intellectual property rights, royalties, copyrights, grants, manuscript delivery and acceptance, warranties, indemnities, and other exclusivities, such as the publisher getting the first look at your next piece.
After signing, your publisher will handle additional editing, formatting, and book design. Then, you’ll start earning royalties after the company distributes your book. However, remember that publishing companies offer smaller royalties, unlike self-publishing.
Meanwhile, you have higher royalties and control over your work if you choose to self-publish.
You only need to prepare your piece in the right format, have the book cover ready, submit your manuscript, and wait for the platform to publish your book online.
Sometimes, you don’t undergo extra screening, as some platforms like Wattpad publish them instantly.
Step 4: Promoting
You might think you’re done after writing and getting your book published. However, a vital step to reaching your audience and becoming a bestselling author is marketing your book. Whether you sign with a publisher or self-publish, you should know how to market yourself and your book.
Develop a Marketing Strategy
What are your goals, and how do you want to reach them? Answering these questions will help you develop your book marketing strategy.
When you have your answer, the next step is to research the different ways to promote your book.
Some of the ways you can promote your book and connect with your readers include:
- Launching an author website or other author platform
- Setting up a shop on an online marketplace
- Building an email list
- Sending copies of your books to book clubs for feedback and promotion
- Promote or advertise your book on book promo sites.
- Investing in digital ads like Google Ads, Facebook Ads, and Amazon Ads.
- Attend book fairs and expos to make connections and reach new audiences
If you’re self-published, remember that promoting your book will take a lot of time, money, and energy, so be sure to consider these when creating a marketing plan.
Do You Need an Agent or Manager?
Consider if you need help promoting your book, especially if you’re self-published.
Aside from drafting a query letter to publishers and negotiating your deals, a literary agent or manager can help set up a book-reading gig at your local coffee shop or manage a book signing event.
But who should you hire – an agent or a manager? Well, it depends on your needs.
Ideally, an agent focuses on selling your work, negotiating with publishers, working in concert with a lawyer on the contract details, and finding the right people to help in your writing career.
Overall, a good agent is someone well-connected, understands how the industry works and seeks good opportunities for you.
Meanwhile, a manager guides and assists you from conceptualization to promotion. Between the two, a manager is a long-term partner in your writing journey. Also, a manager works more intimately than an agent, as some authors talk with their managers daily.
In both cases, it is standard for these roles to earn a percentage of their client’s overall earnings – typically anywhere from 10-20%.
If you don’t have the means to hire someone, you don’t have to get an agent or manager. However, remember that promoting yourself and your book may be more challenging.
Engage With Readers
When you publish your book, you must let your readers know about it by connecting and engaging with them. Thanks to technology, reaching your target audience across the globe is now possible.
One avenue is setting up your website and selling your e-books there since Amazon, Kobo, and iBooks aren’t the only platforms to distribute your work. Also, having a website allows you to publish a weekly or monthly blog post to update your fans and keep them engaged.
Besides this, many authors create podcasts to promote themselves, their books, and their interests and causes. If you’re a non-fiction author, this is the perfect way to reach your audience, especially if you talk about a specific niche.
For example, Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, hosts a podcast where he interviews various industry experts and shares his productivity hacks.
Use Social Media
Social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok offer various ways to reach your audience, communicate with them, and build an online following. You can form relationships that can turn visitors into buyers by being active on these platforms.
Plus, you can sell your books via social media by connecting them to your website or online shop.
You can either promote ad campaigns for your latest book that link directly to your online shop or have readers buy directly from your Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok page. The latter is possible if you create a business account on these platforms.
However, if you don’t plan to be active on your social channels, aim only to have around two to three accounts. It’s enough for readers to find you and for you to keep in touch with them.
Overall, if you’ve established a solid online fanbase, it’s easier to promote your new books since you already have a market that’ll buy your book and spread the word.
What Is an Author?
An author writes novels, books, short stories, poems, plays, and other literary works. The term comes from the Latin word auctor, which means authority, founder, and originator. So, by definition, a written work is considered original when the creator is the only source.
Besides producing original literary works, an author needs to be published. Distributing your work via publishing houses or e-book platforms allows you to secure a copyright of your piece, share your story with others, and establish yourself in the field.
Producing original pieces and being published differentiates authors from writers. So, if you pen an article, blog, or content that comes from or takes inspiration from other sources, you can consider yourself a writer.
And if you write books, stories, and poems but don’t publish them, you’re still a writer. Therefore, to become an author, your work needs to be published.
Some also define an author as someone writing literary works consistently and professionally, meaning their career significantly involves writing literature.
Some best-selling professional authors include Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, James Patterson, Harper Lee, and William Shakespeare.
Common Questions About Becoming an Author
How much do authors get paid?
According to PayScale, entry-level authors in the US receive an average of $49,665 per year, while experienced authors can earn around $75,000 annually. However, an author’s income depends on many factors, such as the number of projects they’re writing, the number of published works, critical reception, audience reach, and whether they’re self-published or a traditionally published author. Those who traditionally publish their books earn fewer royalties than self-published authors, but it doesn’t mean they earn less since self-publishing may not earn as many sales. Also, in reality, many writers don’t earn a minimum wage by writing, so most have full or part-time work.
Is it hard to become an author?
It depends on your goals! If you’re writing for personal fulfillment, becoming an author is as simple as putting pen to paper. However, if you’re aiming for bestseller lists or widespread recognition, it’s a competitive field that demands skill, resilience, and dedication.
Can I be an author with no experience?
Definitely! If you think about it, most authors don’t have prior experience in writing a book or have a background in literary writing. Many successful writers who didn’t have a degree in literature or writing include JK Rowling, Harper Lee, and Charles Dickens, among many others. Fortunately, you can learn creative writing skills and knowledge by taking online or offline courses, reading plenty of books, and getting feedback or mentorship from established authors. If you want to know how to become an author without experience, you only need the willingness to learn and the patience to practice.
Final Thoughts: How to Become an Author
If you want to become an author, learn about writing and storytelling, practice writing daily, have an editor proofread your work, pitch your story to publishers or self-publish online, and market your book to engage with readers and generate sales.
You need to take the above steps to enter the industry and make your mark – perhaps even as a bestselling author. Also, this guide applies to anyone wanting to publish short stories, poems, essays, audiobooks, and non-fiction books.
Ultimately, remember that you need discipline, patience, and the willingness to learn if you want to learn how to become an author, write a book, and break into the industry.