How to Become An Author: A Step-by-Step Guide

Discover how to become an author in our step-by-step guide.

I wanted to become an author since I was five, but I didn’t take writing books seriously until my thirties. I spent far more time talking about writing than writing. It was only after learning how to write every day that I finally wrote and published my first book.

Since then, I’ve written several books and interviewed dozens of authors about their process, including New York Times best-selling authors. I’ve self-published multiple books and co-wrote a USA Today best-seller.

I discovered many people say they have a book inside of them, but few commit time, energy and resources and turn their idea for a great book into a published work. 

That’s a shame because it’s easier than ever to become an author today. The tools are more affordable and readily available than ever. Aspiring authors don’t need permission from an agent or publisher either. Furthermore, becoming an author enables many writers to earn a good living from what they love, but it starts with writing that first book. 

In this article, I explain how you can become an author faster based on my experiences and talking to other authors who find success.

1. Read Widely

As a writer, your free time is often best spent reading rather than streaming the latest hit show on social media. Successful authors spend hours each week reading books inside and outside their comfort zone. 

These authors study what works in these books to understand their preferred genre or niche conventions. They also develop their skills by questioning what doesn’t work inside of best-selling books. Many authors describe writing out sections of books they love by hand so they can understand how the author wrote. 

This type of analytical rigour helps creatives develop a writing voice. Stephen King said about the importance of reading for authors: 

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write. Simple as that.”

Reading books about the craft can also acquire the skills you need for the genre in question. For inspiration, check out our list of the best writing books.

2. Learn The Art Of Storytelling

Fiction authors understand how important it’s to hook readers’ attention from the first few pages. They spend hours learning how to show rather than tell and create memorable characters who jump to life off the page. They create characters who want something and change fundamentally as the story progresses.

Successful non-fiction authors do more than impart information and research to readers. Consider Malcolm Gladwell. He’s as famous for research as he is for telling captivating stories that entertain and inspired. 

Storytelling is more important than any writing skill, including grammar and line editing. You can learn this skill by taking writing courses or by reading some of the best books about stories. I particularly enjoyed the storytelling seminar by Robert McKee and his books on the same topic.

For help with stories, read our storytelling guide.

3. Write a Little Every day

How to become an author? Write a little every day
Rather than trying to write your book for hours at the weekend, work on it a little every day

If you’re worried your book writing skills aren’t good enough, work through your reps. The more sentences you write, the stronger your command of language will become. The more clichés you terminate, the better you’ll become at editing.

Rather than trying to write your book for hours at the weekend, work on it a little every day. Any aspiring author can find fifteen or thirty minutes to work on their first drafts and book outlines before or after work. 

Remove time-sinks like reading the news, consuming social media or streaming the latest show on Netflix. These small writing sessions quickly accumulate. If you need help, a good set of writing prompts can trigger a productive writing session.

The more chapters you write, the better you’ll be at articulating stories and ideas. And the more books you finish, the more you’ll know how to write a book. And the next book. And the next.

4. Write Short Stories and Blog Post

Every aspiring author should write either short stories or blog posts before tackling a fiction or non-fiction book. A book averaging 50,000 words can take months to write and edit, but you can write a short story in a few days or over a week, as they are only several thousand words long. 

These smaller writing projects offer aspiring authors a chance to explore different types of writing, genres and niches. They also help cultivate a writing habit of starting and finishing creative projects. 

You can publish the short story on Wattpad, submit it to a writing contest, or potentially expand it into a novel or a book. Even if you never publish it, consider it a type of writing practice that improves your storytelling skills.

Non-fiction authors should write several blog posts or articles about the topic of choice and publish them on social media platforms like Medium. They can explore their thinking and get feedback from readers and editors before spending months writing a book.

Learn how to get paid writing short stories.

5. Take a Creative Writing Class

Wanting to become an author can feel like a strange writing goal if you’re not spending much time in the company of other creatives. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on an MFA or a degree in creative writing to connect with other creatives, either. 

Spending a few weeks or months in the company of aspiring authors may inspire you to work harder on your craft. They can also hold you to account and offer feedback on your early drafts and book ideas. What’s more, you could form connections with future professional authors.

I took creative writing classes at the Irish Writer’s Centre in Dublin a few years ago. Several students went on to become published authors with traditional book deals.

6. Pick A Genre

A good author understands what readers expect from them. For example, James Patterson doesn’t attempt to write literary prose because his audience is more concerned with page-turning thrillers. Similarly, Malcolm Gladwell doesn’t write self-help because he understands his audience prefers story-telling combined with research. Popular fiction genres include:

  • Romance
  • Thrillers 
  • Mysteries
  • Science-fiction
  • Speculative fiction
  • Modern literature
  • Horror
  • Action and adventure
  • Children’s books

Popular non-fiction genres include:

  • Self-help
  • Journalism
  • Philosophy
  • Memoirs and autobiographies
  • Business 
  • How-to
  • Pop psychology

Identify the best-selling books and authors in your preferred and ask yourself what they’re doing that readers love. Figure out an ideal target audience for the genre in question. How old are they, what sex and what other books do they like? 

What do they expect from a book in this genre? After all, thriller readers don’t care much for the latest magic or tech found in fantasy and science-fiction books! Including or excluding certain conventions will dictate the quality of book reviews later on.

For help, read our guide to book genres.

7. Research Your Book

Book research is a vital part of the creative process. Fiction authors can travel to locations or settings they want to include in their books and take pictures and videos. Or they can use Google maps and a good travel book if they are short on time and budget. 

Non-fiction authors can interview subject matter experts about their topic of choice. Consider using a service like Descript or Rev for transcriptions to save time with interviews. These book interviews demonstrate credibility and also improve the quality of the book. They can also serve as material for blog posts and articles promoting the book in question. 

However, avoid letting research become a form of procrastination whereby you endlessly hunt for better ideas and information. At some point, an author has to turn their notes into words.

8. Select Your Book Writing Tools

A good writing app can help you plan, outline, write and edit a book quickly and easily. Scrivener is perfect for long-form writing, as you can drag and drop sections of a book. I also like using Grammarly for book editing, although it’s not a replacement for a proofreader. Vellum is a good choice for laying out a book, but it’s Mac only. 

Read our guide to the best grammar checkers.

You can quickly write a book using a standard word processor like Microsoft Word or Google Docs. Remember, hitting a daily word count and publication date is more important than any tool. So pick one that suits your writing style and budget and stick with it until done.

9. Set a Deadline

How to become an author? Set a deadline
You could pick a target date for finishing your book’s first act and a date for sending a draft to an editor

Professional authors hold themselves to account with deadlines. They pick an ideal publication date and work backwards. James Patterson, for example, publishes several books a year and relies on contracts with his publishers and his audience’s expectations. 

If it’s your first book, break it down into smaller milestones you can tick off one by one. You could pick a target date for finishing your book’s first act and a date for sending a draft to an editor. 

While setting these deadlines, block book time in your calendar for writing the book each day. Ideally, you’ll work on it simultaneously so that writing becomes a daily habit and not a chore. Allow room for error when setting deadlines, too—plan for holidays, work and life events.

10. Outline Your Book

Some writers are plotters. They like outlining and planning extensively in advance, as this process saves them time. Other authors like writing from the seat of their pants, whereby they turn up and see where the muse and their characters lead them. 

If you’re the former type of author, outline a book using index cards. They’re cheap and don’t have a learning curve or need Wi-Fi! I drafted an entire book previously using about 50 index cards. Each represented a chapter for the book and contained the key points I’d write about. The best mind-mapping software can help authors who are more visually-inclined

I use outlining as I can arrange the key ideas for a book chapter using bullet points. I can move them around and fix the structure of a chapter without worrying about line edits during an early draft. Outlining also works well for authors who dictate early drafts. 

Read our guide to the best outlining software.

11. Write a Rough Draft

The job of a first draft is to exist. Don’t worry about grammar errors, typos and other mistakes. Instead, focus on getting the words out of your head and onto the blank page as quickly as possible. Ernest Hemingway famously said:

 “The first draft of anything is shit.” 

Focus on writing the book’s first draft as quickly as possible, so you’ve something to work with and shape into a book during the revision process. 

Consider dictating the first draft using software like Dragon. It’s possible to dictate thousands of words per hour without stopping to fix typos and other mistakes. An author could dictate their book while out for a walk, tapping into the benefits of exercise and creativity. Prolific authors like PD Woodhouse famously outlined their stories using a voice recorder and gave their notes to a secretary to typos up. 

For help, learn how to practice dictation.

12. Track Your Wordcount

Writing a book is one part creative and another part hard work. Oliver Stone once said, “Writing is butt in the chair.”

Becoming an author is easier if you hold yourself to account by tracking your daily output. For most writers, this type of quantification involves keeping track of a daily word count. 

Do this in a spreadsheet or notebook. That way, you can realistically evaluate your daily output and if you will hit those deadlines. Review your production once a week and assess if you’re turning up often enough in front of the blank page.

During the editing process, consider changing what you track to time spent working on the book rather than a daily word count. The editing process involves condensing, clarifying and revising rather than hitting an arbitrary word-count goal daily.

13. Finish Your Drafts

It’s easy to start a book draft, but it’s much harder to finish writing it. However, authors must learn the value of persistence. After completing a book draft, you’ll have something to show to beta readers and an editor. 

By finishing, you can become the kind of author who thinks of an idea, fleshes their idea out, edits, rewrites, polishes and rewrites some more, then presses publish. That takes guts.

The editing process often isn’t as gruelling as writing that painful first draft, either. Feedback is invaluable. It’s your chance to learn how to become a better writer. Neil Gaiman said about the importance of finishing book drafts:

“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.”

For help, check out our list of first draft examples.

14. Learn How to Self-Edit

After finishing a book draft, let it sit for several days or even weeks. It’s best to separate writing and editing as they engage different brain parts.

When you’re less attached to your book draft, read through the draft in one or two sittings marking it up with annotations. Identify what structural changes the piece needs first and rewrite accordingly. 

Condense, clarify and revise. Ensure each chapter draws on the five senses and has compelling hooks or stories so that it hooks readers. 

While revising the first time, don’t worry about typos and grammar mistakes. You can fix these during later drafts once the book’s structure is set. Later, look for sections with readability issues and consider if you’ve overused words and clichés.

Check out our list of manuscript editing software.

15. Hire a Professional Editor

Hire a professional editor
A good book editor will save you time on rewrites and provide valuable advice for your writing career

A good book editor helps with revising, restructuring and proofreading your book. Best to involve them earlier in the book writing process than you think. They will save you time on rewrites and provide valuable advice for your writing career. You can send them book chapters or acts as you finish them rather than at the end. 

Plus, many good book editors have a waiting list and may not be able to review a draft for weeks or even months and not when you finish it. You can find a book editor using a service like Reedsy.

Typically, an author should budget for a developmental editor who works on the book’s structure. They’ll also need a line editor or copy editor who will fix sentence structure and grammar issues. Finally, they’ll need a proofreader to spot typos and other mistakes. That said, it’s possible to commission one editor who can complete all these services as part of a single package. 

Expect to pay one to three thousand dollars depending on the length of your book, genre, and the work required.

16. Face Your Fears

Most authors have many unpublished works on their computers and know more about disappointment than success. Stephen Pressfield, the author of many best-sellers, including the War of Art, tried to become an author for years. He said:

“We must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause.”

Writing is personal and not something you can fake or dial in. If you want to finish writing your book, you’ll fail at some point. For help, learn more about conquering common writing fears.

Some aspiring authors worry about what will happen after they publish a book. How will friends and family react? One new writer emailed me to say she worried about what would happen if she became famous. She wrote:

“I want to tell stories, and I want people to read them and get joy and satisfaction from them; I just don’t want to become a subject under a microscope!

Worrying about how those around you will react to your book is natural. It’s normal to wonder what will happen if you become known for being a writer.

Well, it’s impossible to please everyone, so if some people aren’t comfortable with your success, that’s their problem. If you succeed, you’ll discover a new side to yourself and your craft, which will only enrich your life.

After all, you will regret not having the courage to see your ideas and your book through later. So hold through to your values, and finish writing that book. 

17. Try Self-Publishing

Years ago, a young writer had to learn how to write a book, find an agent, and land a book deal. Traditional publishing is tough to break into when starting out with no name recognition.

Nowadays, you can write and self-publish a book on Amazon, Kobo and Act for several hundred dollars. Technically, you can do it for free, but I’d recommend budgeting for working with an editor, proofreader, and cover designer.

Self-publishing a book will teach you how the process works and help you discover the types of titles you want to write in the future. It may even land you a traditional book publishing deal, as happened with Hugh Howie, author of Wooland E.L. James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey.

If you’re exploring self-publishing, consider what formats you’ll create. For example, many non-fiction authors earn more money from audiobooks than Kindle books. Similarly, fiction authors can earn more from print copies. 

For inspiration, read our profile of famous authors who self-published.

18. Hire a Book Cover Designer

A good book cover is a primary driver for book sales. Best not to skimp on it. Hire a professional book cover designer who can create a compelling cover relevant to your genre. 

As many readers buy books online, your cover must look good in small sizes and on the Amazon store. Don’t attempt to create a cover yourself unless you have professional design skills. Your time is better spent editing and writing than tinkering in Photoshop or other design software.

If your budget is tight, you could buy a pre-made cover for one or two hundred dollars and swap it out later when you’ve more money. 

Learn more about working with a book cover designer.

19. Avoid Letting Perfectionism Halt Your Writing Career

Many aspiring authors hold off on writing and publishing a book until they have enough time, money and skills. That’s a mistake. Every author learns by doing.

In my mid-twenties, I spent years struggling to become a novelist. I wrote dozens of short stories and abandoned them. I researched articles I wanted to write for newspapers and never wrote them.

There wasn’t any moment when I learned how to finish my work. Instead, I got a job as a journalist writing for a newspaper. There, I had to finish my articles by a deadline because the editor would fire me if I didn’t.

I know this because he called me into his office after I missed a deadline and said so. So I overcame perfectionism. I stopped polishing my articles until they were perfect, and I finished them. On more than one occasion, my editor returned articles to me, saying I’d left out an introductory paragraph or my introduction needed reworking. After listening to his criticism, I wanted to quit.

On other occasions, the sub-editors of the paper reworked my articles. This process felt like a brutal dressing-down, but at least I was getting paid to write.

For help, learn how to beat procrastination in writing.

20. Sell Your Book

As an author, your job doesn’t end after submitting a manuscript to a publishing house or uploading the final files to Amazon. Whether you have a traditional book deal, you still need to sell copies via book marketing.

Many publishing houses write off the cost of book deals because they don’t believe a book will sell. Others don’t do a great job of selling a book on behalf of their clients. To avoid this problem, learn the basics of author marketing.

  • Set up an author website
  • Build an email list of engaged readers
  • Run book promotions regularly
  • Send advanced copies of your book to an early readers group for feedback and reviews
  • Study how Amazon ads work and use them

 For help, read our guide to selling self-published books.

The Final Word on How to Become An Author

Most people spend more time telling their friends they have a great idea for a book. But, they don’t spend much time turning their vision into reality.

No matter what tips on becoming an author you learn, please understand it takes tremendous hard work and mental discipline to write a book.

While releasing the best possible version of your work is smart, you’ll need some self-knowledge to finish it. There will always be a gap between what you want your creative project to be about and what comes out on the blank page.

The best way to narrow that gap and improve the quality of your book is to put in your reps: write more often, finish your work and publish it. You, too, can become an author.

FAQs on How to Become An Author

How much does an author get paid?

The average author sells 250-500 copies of their book in the first year. According to the Guardian, they usually won’t earn more than $1000 or earn back their advance due to how book royalties are structured. That said, book sales hit an all-time high in 2021, suggesting people are reading more than ever.

However, successful fiction authors don’t rely on one book to pay the bills. They build a back catalogue of work that sells over time. Many non-fiction authors rely on their books to sell related services like public speaking, consulting or a course.

What qualifications do you need to become an author?

You don’t need any qualifications to become an author. It’s much like an entrepreneurial career choice; the onus is on the writer to develop their skills, work on a book, and publish and sell it. However, it’s helpful to have a strong command of the English language. Therefore, many authors study English, journalism or a related discipline at the university. 

Does an author make good money?

Newer and mid-tier authors can earn several thousand dollars a year from their books, granted not quit your job money. However, authors can make good money if they have a back catalogue of books, sell related products or services or have built a name for themselves and their work. James Patterson is an example of a top-tier author who is earning upwards of $100 million as part of his last book contract.

What is the best time to publish a book?

Books sell the most copies before the holiday season. As such, it’s usually best to publish before December or Black Friday as book lovers are already in a shopping mood. The summer months are also a popular time for sales and people like buying books they can read on holidays.

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