Becoming an Author: How to Do It and Why You’d Want To
Let’s learn about becoming an author in six easy—just kidding.
It’s harder than that. This is going to take years.
But it’s worth it.
Is there anything better in the known universe than being able to take something from your own mind—something deeply meaningful to you—and place it in the hands of someone you’ll never meet, but someone who sees the necessity of what you’ve created?
Seriously, is there anything better? Probably not, right?
Admittedly, I’m a writer writing an article about writing for another writer, so there may be some bias at play here. Nevertheless, the potential rewards of becoming an author are more than worth all the challenges that lie ahead.
So if that’s what you want, let’s go for it. We’re going to cover every key step on your journey to authorship. You’ll learn how to:
- Build your vision
- Get educated in your craft
- Design a writing process
- Get published
- Market yourself and build a following
And that’s pretty much everything. Let’s dive in.
Choose Your Own (Writing) Adventure
The process of becoming an author gets much simpler when you clarify your vision.
What life do you imagine when you daydream about your author career? What exactly do you plan to write? Do you know what to expect when it comes to the business end of a creative life?
When you know what kind of writing life you’re chasing, you know how to build the dream. These next few steps will help you map out a course for your career.
What’s Your Goal Here?
What do you envision when you think about becoming an author?
Are you dreaming of a full-blown, full-time author career? One in which you make a living exclusively from writing?
Or is your wish simply to publish a book? Maybe there’s one specific story you want to tell and all you want is to see it in print.
The difference matters.
If you’re trying to build a career, you’ll have to commit, get serious, and pace yourself so you don’t burn out.
On the other hand, if you just want to write a book to have written a book, you still want to take the craft seriously, but you have some room to relax on the business end, especially if you plan to self-publish and don’t care how well it sells.
What Kind of Author Do You Want to Be?
Let’s start with what you want to write. You have an insane number of options, but you’ve probably already got this narrowed down to one or two interests.
If you want to write fiction, your options include:
- Historical Fiction
- Literary Fiction
- Magical Realism
- Science Fiction
- Upmarket fiction (“Book Club Fiction”)
If you plan to write nonfiction, you’re looking at things like:
- Academic Writing
- Literary Journalism
- Narrative Nonfiction
Or maybe you plan to write poetry.
Whatever your category and genre, you also want to drill down to a subgenre. If you’re writing romance, for example, is it romantic comedy? Historical romance? Paranormal romance?
Also take a moment to clarify the age of your audience. Readers are typically separated into these categories:
- Children (Ages nine and below)
- Middle Grade (Ages 8–12)
- Young Adult (Ages 12–18)
- New Adult (Ages 18–25)
- Adult (Ages 18 and above)
Finally, what’s your preferred format? Will you be writing:
- Short stories
This may all seem quite tedious and if it does, you make a fair point. But when you know what you’re writing, who you’re writing it for, and what format you’re writing in, you’re better equipped to handle this next step.
And this next step is huge.
Research Successful Authors
You don’t have to write horror to take advice from Stephen King. Nor do you need to be a screenwriter to benefit from Robert McKee’s storytelling wisdom.
But you should still pay close attention to the authors who are currently succeeding by doing the exact thing you want to do.
Find out who the bestsellers in your subgenre are. Then:
- Read their books
- Read the reviews of their books to understand what their readers love about them
- Research their journey. How did they get where they are?
- If you have a chance to see them at a reading, seminar, conference, or roundtable, do it
When you understand how and why they succeed, you’ll be much better poised to find that same success yourself.
Conveniently, researching authors bleeds into the next crucial step.
Research Your Genre
This is a must-do step even if you’ve been reading books in your genre all your life. When we read as writers, we notice different things than we do when we read as readers. And now that you’re set on becoming an author, you’re going to want to start reading as a writer.
This means noticing things like:
- Beloved genre tropes
- Essential story beats
- Scene length
- Book length
I recommend focusing your research heavily on what’s succeeding now. But read a few genre classics, too. Sherlock Holmes and Elizabeth Bennet have stood the test of time for a reason.
Also read blogs, check out Goodreads and Amazon reviews, and haunt reader forums to understand what your audience is into and why.
What If Your Vision is Still Fuzzy?
Maybe you’ve thought about writing middle grade sci-fi and adult historical fiction. Maybe you’re part memoirist, part poet, part thought leader. There’s nothing wrong with being an artist who contains multitudes.
For now, pick a starting project. Throw yourself into that one genre with all your heart and soul. You don’t have to abandon the rest of your artistic identity. It will still be there waiting for you.
The main thing is to carry out one project to completion. Make a choice, follow through, and then choose your next adventure.
If you’re serious about becoming an author, you’ve got to be serious about learning the craft. No matter how much you already know about writing, learn more.
Here’s how to master your craft.
Start Writing Now
The more you write, the faster you learn. So don’t wait until you read all the books and attend all the seminars.
Start writing now. Let your early work be bad and apply what you learn as you learn it.
Read to analyze what works and why it works. Examine story structure, character development, conflict, voice, style, and pacing. Read to understand your genre and form your own opinions about what good writing really is.
And read to absorb good writing—to learn not just how to recognize it, define it, and explain it, but also how it feels.
In summary: read a lot. It pays.
Actively Seek Out Learning Opportunities
What tools are missing from your writerly tool belt? Could you use a little help with character development or plotting? Are you familiar with the most beloved tropes of your genre? How are your worldbuilding skills?
A quick online search will direct you to articles, books, and videos with helpful tips. You can also browse the DabbleU library to find information on just about every topic related to writing.
If you’re just getting started and don’t know where your gaps are, that’s just fine. Start with the broad stuff. I recommend checking out:
- Our free downloadable ebook that covers everything you need to know to write a great novel
- This list of the best writing books
- This ridiculously comprehensive article on how to write a book
In addition to educational reading materials, look around for writing classes, seminars, panels, and conferences.
Build Your Writing Community
Join a local writing group or start your own. Jump into online communities like the Story Craft Café to connect with your peers. If you can swing it, attend a conference or writing retreat.
From an educational standpoint, your author community is key because you’ll be sharing resources with these people. You’ll find critique partners, and you’ll each use what you’ve learned individually to help each other improve.
Bonus: these will be the people who understand the struggles you face on your path to becoming an author.
And that’s important, because this is about to get tough.
Create a Writing Process (And Then Proceed)
You need a process. A system. A structure. It’s not a very romantic way to look at the creative life, but it’s still essential if you’re set on becoming an author.
Having a process does two pretty major things.
First, it ensures stuff gets done.
Second, a system eases your mental load because you always know what comes next.
Make no mistake: there will be bewilderment. There will also be panic, dread, elation, exhaustion, pride, and exasperation. But you’ll have the luxury of feeling those feelings about the work itself, not because you’re wondering when, how, and if you’re going to get your first round of revisions done.
So how do you create a writing process?
Here’s the short version.
Set Up Your Writing World
By “writing world,” I mean:
- Your writing schedule
- Your writing space
- The tools you need (including programs like Dabble!)
- Whatever rituals help you get in the zone (like playing a certain kind of music, lighting a candle, or starting a session with a writing exercise)
Basically, you want to do everything you can realistically do to create the circumstances in which you can do your best writing.
Now, you don’t have to wait until the system is perfect. Just take your best guess about what’s going to work for you, start writing, and adapt your process as you go.
The most important thing in the beginning will be creating your writing schedule. We have a whole article on this, but here are a few quick tips:
- Write daily if you can, even if it means writing for shorter sessions.
- Notice what time of day you’re most alert and creative. If possible, schedule writing sessions at that time.
- Actually block out writing time in your calendar so you commit to prioritizing it.
- Let your loved ones know when you’ll be writing and why sticking to a schedule is important to you. Ask for their support.
Once you’ve got your schedule set up:
This is when it gets real. You have to actually sit down and do the big thing. And honestly, I don’t have a lot of rules to give you in this phase because you kind of have to do it your own way.
What I can do is clarify some common hangups new writers run into on their journey to becoming an author. Things like: Do you have to outline before you start drafting your novel?
Nope! I mean, I do, but that’s because I like to know the story mostly works before I jump in.
But you should do whatever helps you write the best possible story and enjoy yourself in the process. What matters most is that you have a system for making sure your character development and structure are solid.
Maybe that means outlining and analyzing every detail before you begin. Maybe it means creating an outline to match what you’ve already written to see where changes need to be made. It doesn’t matter. You do you.
Finally, at some point in this process, you’ll probably encounter writer’s block. Or you’ll get bored with your story. Or you’ll get a shiny new idea and decide that the new idea is the one you’re actually passionate about.
But the one thing all successful authors have in common is that they keep showing up, even when they don’t want to.
Don’t let your anxious writer brain bully you into thinking you can’t do this. Keep showing up and keep claiming that dream of becoming an author.
Writing your first draft is only the beginning. The revision process is where things start to get wild. It’s also where having a system really pays off.
I recommend that you edit your first draft yourself before you go shopping for feedback. If you get stuck, you can share a section with a critique partner or talk through a problem with an alpha reader.
But for the most part, this is your time to figure out what you think about your story before anyone else starts telling you what it needs.
After a few rounds of solo editing, share your work with your critique partners for feedback.
Apply their notes, then send your manuscript along to beta readers. These are folks who know your genre well and can give you feedback from a reader’s perspective.
If you plan to self-publish, you’ll also want to get input from a professional editor and possibly a sensitivity reader.
As for how you apply all this feedback…
Manage Feedback Strategically
As with everything else, you’ll create your own rules and systems as you go, but here are some tips to help you get started.
Every time you request feedback from multiple people at once, collect and review all their notes before you start revising.
You don’t have to take every note. But before you dismiss feedback you disagree with, ask yourself if there’s something you can learn from it.
For example, if you read a note and think, “They obviously don’t understand what’s happening in this scene,” consider whether that scene could use more clarity. If they suggest a “fix” that’s all wrong for your story, try to understand what problem inspired that “fix.” How can you solve it in your own way?
Once you’ve decided which changes you’re going to make, start with the big stuff first.
Now, I’d like to tell you to continue revisions until the manuscript is solid, but you’ll always be able to find something that could be better.
So instead, notice when you start feeling a bit dizzy and nauseous because your work has become a blur and you don’t know what good writing even is anymore.
That feeling usually means you’re in danger of over-workshopping. It’s time to give this thing a final proofread and get ready to move towards publication.
This is what most people really want to know when they ask about becoming an author.
You’ve got a big decision to make here. You can either publish traditionally or self-publish. Here’s a breakdown of each to help you decide which is right for the career you want.
In traditional publishing, a publisher handles the production, distribution, and marketing of the book and pays the author a percentage of the profits (royalties).
This is what’s great about traditional publishing:
- You don’t have to pay for anything. Editing, cover design, production… it’s all on the publisher.
- Publishers have more resources for marketing your book.
- Publishers will be able to achieve wider distribution than you would on your own.
- Bookstores and libraries are far more likely to carry traditionally published books than self-published books.
- While attitudes are changing, traditionally published books tend to get more respect than self-published books.
Here’s the not-so-great stuff:
- You have to get through a lot of gatekeepers to get published.
- The traditional publishing process takes a long time.
- You have very little say in production decisions, such as cover design and title.
- Publishers pay lower royalties than you could earn self-publishing.
- Publishers tend to save most of their marketing dollars for popular writers and celebrity authors. You’ll still have to do a lot of marketing for yourself.
How to Get It Done
If you decide to take the traditional route to becoming an author, you’ll probably start by finding an agent. (It’s possible to do this without an agent, but it’ll mean working with a smaller publisher who pays smaller royalties or has a smaller reach and marketing budget.)
You find an agent by sending query letters to several agents who are looking for work like yours. If you write fiction, interested agents will respond by asking to read a synopsis, sample chapters, or the whole manuscript. If you write nonfiction, they’ll probably ask for a book proposal.
Once you sign with an agent, they’ll have you make revisions to get your manuscript publisher-ready. Then they’ll shop your book around to publishers.
When you sell a book to a publisher, they’ll also request revisions. After you’ve completed those, you’ll want to throw yourself into your next book, because this one is the publisher’s project now.
You just sit tight and look forward to holding the culmination of all your dreams in your hands in about a year or so.
This is the DIY track to becoming an author. When you self-publish, you handle everything. You’re the one who makes sure the book is well-written and marketable. It’s up to you to make decisions about interior and exterior design, production, distribution, and marketing.
This is what’s great about self-publishing:
- You don’t have to wait for the gatekeepers to decide your book is worthy of being published.
- You have total creative control.
- The timeline is mostly up to you.
- The royalties are much bigger than with traditional publishing.
- It’s empowering to take control of your publishing dreams.
Here’s the not-so-great stuff:
- It takes a lot of work.
- While you can self-publish and market your book for free, you’ll have to pay out of your own pocket for the things that give you a better shot at making a living from your writing. (That would be things like professional editing, design, and advertising.)
- You have fewer distribution options and will have a tough time getting your book into bookstores.
- Many people still don’t see self-published books as “legit.” (That said, if you invest in quality editing and design, most folks won’t even realize your book is self-published.)
How to Get It Done
Because you don’t need representation to publish your own book, you can jump right into production after you finish editing.
You’ll need to make some decisions about how and where you want to publish your book. Do you want to publish in e-book form? Paperback? Hardback? All of the above?
However you want to share your book with the world, you’ve got loads of options. IngramSpark handles digital publishing as well as POD (print on demand). They also distribute your physical and digital books to a wide range of markets.
Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon) is another popular choice for digital and POD, as well as Kindle Vella which allows you to release your story one “episode” at a time. For e-books only, you might consider Draft2Digital.
And those are only the most popular of the most popular options. Do your research to decide what’s right for you.
Once you’ve chosen your platform and format, you’ll need to format the interior of your book and design your cover. (I highly recommend bringing a professional in for cover design unless you have mad design skills yourself.)
Now, while all this is going on, you’re also going to be thinking about your marketing strategy. Marketing begins long before you click “publish” and lasts… well, for the rest of your career.
So let’s make sure we get this right.
No matter which publishing avenue you choose, marketing is essential to becoming an author and maintaining a literary career. Even traditionally published authors can’t depend on their publisher to invest heavily in the marketing of their book.
If the thought of marketing yourself and your work makes you feel a little icky, let me offer another perspective:
This is about connecting with your readers. You know, the people who follow your work because your stories speak to their soul.
Look at it that way, and it’s almost a noble extension of your art.
Almost. Sort of. Just go with it.
Establish a Platform
Start building your platform long before you publish. “Platform” is just a market-y term for the channel(s) through which your audience knows and follows you.
These days, most platform building happens online. You might have a strong social media following, a blog, a YouTube channel, or a weekly newsletter with a robust mailing list.
However you create your platform, make sure you create a dedicated author account. Don’t try to build a following of readers through the same platform you use to post your kids’ potty training announcements.
If you want advice on which channels are best for building an author platform, it’s out there. Find out what’s working for other authors in your genre and consider whether their methods might work for you.
But also keep in mind that the best platform is one you can enjoy and maintain.
Don’t build your brand around your first book. Build your brand around you, and market your books under that brand.
What sets you apart? How do your voice, writing style, and stories make you unique? What reputation do you want to build?
You can establish your brand with visuals—the color scheme of your website and book covers, the style of your headshot, even a logo.
You can even give yourself a tagline that tells people exactly what you’re about. (“Romance, but make it witches.“) Put your tagline on your social media accounts, add it to your email signature line, and use it to introduce yourself at author events.
Finally, be mindful of your brand when you create content on your author platform. If you’re the inspirational memoirist, maybe skip the Facebook rant about what happened in the Costco parking lot today.
If you self-publish, you’ll likely run ads at some point. At the moment, the most popular advertising channels for self-published authors are Amazon, Goodreads, and social media platforms. But when the time comes to create your own ads, do some research to learn where you’re most likely to have some success.
Be aware that advertising is about constant experimentation. If you get an idea that something might work—a tagline, a design, a target keyword—give it a shot with minimal financial investment. See what happens.
If it works, double down. If the results are less than stellar, hypothesize about what’s not working. Conduct a new experiment around that hypothesis. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Actually, Just Be Strategic About All of It
By which I mean, create a marketing plan around your publishing schedule.
If you’re releasing a new book, plan your book launch months in advance.
Set a post-launch plan for maintaining the hype and sharing rave reviews.
Once you have a publishing schedule you’re confident you can keep, start teasing the next book.
As you get more books out there, don’t forget to show some love to your backlist. Is it the tenth anniversary of your first book? Did you just create a new cover for your third book? Let the people know!
Sit down with a calendar and figure out when you need to create buzz, push pre-orders, and announce events.
With some thoughtful strategizing, you’ll become the author you always knew you could be. And never forget:
We’re Here for You on Your Journey to Becoming an Author
Dabble is here to make it easier for authors to build the career they know they’re capable of. As daunting as this journey may be, you can always count on us for:
- Loads of advice on both the craft and business of writing
- A hoppin’ community of fellow writers who understand the struggle and are eager to cheer you on
- A comprehensive writing tool that helps you with every step of the process from brainstorming and plotting to drafting and revising
Most of those things are free. Even the Dabble writing tool comes with a 14-day free trial to make sure it fits your writing needs. You don’t even need a credit card to get started. Just click here.
TAKE A BREAK FROM WRITING...
Read. Learn. Create.
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