Wondering how to become an author? Well, that answer will depend on the type of author you want to be.
Maybe you’ve always been a writer at heart, and are ready to share your story with the world and earn the title of “author.”
Or maybe you’re passionate about a certain topic, and are ready to help others by sharing your expertise.
Regardless of your reason – the issue still stands: you want to know how to become an author of a book, and a bestselling one at that. So what is an author anyway? And how does becoming an author work?
To learn how to become an author, the short answer is: You write a book.
Sounds simple, right?
But writing is rarely simple. So, let’s go for the more complex question:
How do you become an author of a book that actually gets read?
You want to author a book that’s phenomenal, polished, and packed with content that readers will truly connect with. So how do you do that?
In this guide, we’ll focus on how to become an author of a book that sells. But before we dive into the steps on how to become an author], it's important we answer some frequently asked questions to help lay the groundwork for success.
This guide on how to become an author will cover:
What does it mean to become an author?
Becoming an author means that you ideated, created, and produced a written work, most commonly a book, novel, short story, poem, or other literary work of prose.
Traditionally, an author meant someone who had written a book, and this connotation still stands today, but it has expanded with societal changes. The term author can actually pertain to journalists, essayists, and those in the digital space such as bloggers or article writers.
Writer vs author
What's the difference between a writer and author, you ask? Great question.
While writer and author are often used interchangeably, there is definitely a difference between the two. An author is a writer, but a writer isn't always an author.
What is a writer?
A writer is someone who writes or expresses ideas or concepts through the written word. There are many people who write for a variety of reasons – whether it's part of their occupation, or for creative expression.
Types of writers that aren't necessarily authors:
- Technical writers
- Content writers
Can anyone be a writer?
It depends on the type of writer, but yes, technically anyone can be a writer as long as they know how to write. However, specialized writers, such as technical writers and copywriters often require advanced experience and/or degrees in order to be qualified for a writing position.
Of course, learning how to become an author is a different story, entirely.
What is an author?
Authors are people who write books, novels, short stories, poems, literary prose, and even screenplays. What is an author, exactly? An author is someone who has written and published a complete literary work. The publishing is key. If you haven't published your work, then you are a writer but not an author.
How hard is it to become an author?
While the path of learning how to become an author is easier with today's technology and the rise of self-publishing, learning how to become an author takes determination, hard work, and usually a specific set of skills (which we'll cover more on later).
For some, opportunity comes easier than it does for others. Some people become an author and find quick success, whereas others struggle for years to complete their book and publish it.
For most people, creating a consistent writing routine and actually getting the words written is the hardest part – in which case a book writing coach could be just the person you need in your corner, keeping you motivated and accountable.
It also depends on the book publishing method, which we'll explain more on in the publishing section of this article. For example, traditional publishing deals are hard to come by, and it is a lengthy process. On the other hand, self-publishing makes becoming an author more accessible.
How do authors get paid?
Authors can be paid in a variety of ways, but most commonly authors are paid through book advancements and royalty fees.
How much do authors get paid?
The average author salary has a very wide range, and an author's income depends on a number of criteria, such as the number of books published, the publishing method, the book genre and topic, and the success of the book.
How to become an author in 8 steps
Now that you have a deeper understanding of the common questions around being an author and what that entails, it's time to dive in to the exact process of how to become an author.
When learning how to become an author, here are the eight steps you should take:
1. Invest in education
Learning how to become an author doesn't have any formal educational requirements. But at minimum, a high school degree is recommended. Becoming an author mainly requires that you have a strong set of skills, like the ability to read and write well.
When learning how to become an author, having a degree isn't required, but it can help.
There is a wide range of educational levels for authors, from those with a basic high school education to those who have completed doctorate programs. Pursuing a higher formal education degree can certainly help you learn how to become an author, but it's not a requirement.
Our society values higher education. When you’re exploring new careers, the first question is usually: What kind of education is needed for this job?
So, it isn’t any wonder that people researching how to become an author immediately ask what type of education or credentials are needed to write a book.
A caveat to this: If you’re looking to publish a book on a specific topic, you must be an expert in that field or industry. A college degree helps build your credibility significantly, even though it is not completely necessary.
Common degrees to consider for aspiring book writers are:
- English. Anyone with a college degree in English has spent the majority of their college career taking classes on writing development and reading literature for deep analysis. Those with an English degree usually have a strong command of writing, and study the works of famous authors.
- Literature. Similar to a degree in English, a degree in Literature follows the same course syllabus in the sense that it is heavily focused on reading, analyzing, and writing on literary works.
- Creative Writing. Writers with a degree in Creative Writing have undergone extensive academic courses surrounding creative writing fundamentals and storytelling. Creative Writing students are expected to write rigorously to improve their craft.
- History. Because history goes hand-in-hand with many literary subjects, those with a degree in History will have a well-rounded skillset to apply as an author.
- Journalism. Writers with a journalism background are likely educated on news-style writing, features, interview processes, and more. Those with a journalism degree often have experience as newspaper columnists or feature writers, which can translate well into an author career.
- Psychology. Those who study psychology have an in-depth understanding of human behavior and interaction, which makes for great writing, especially in fiction.
- Communications. People with a communications degree often have experience in news-writing, marketing, public relations, and more, which are all fields that rely heavily on great writing skills.
- Theater/Cinema. Those with a theater background make great authors and writers due to their creativity, understanding of character dynamics, and screenwriting skills.
- Liberal Arts. Any degree in liberal arts is likely to be focused on heavy research and writing – no matter the field. Therefore, a liberal arts degree can set you up well for learning how to become an author.
- A degree in any subject you want to write about! If you have a particular industry or niche that you want to focus on in your writing, pursue a degree in that! For example, if I could re-do college all over again, I would pursue a minor degree in Women's Studies, because I love to write about those topics.
Alternatives to college degrees
There are also non-degree online education options for aspiring authors to consider. These are a great choice if you want to learn how to write a book or publish a book on your own. Programs like these are focused on achieving a specific goal, and can be completed at a quicker pace. (Example: Himalayan Writing Retreat)
If you get a traditional college degree, you likely will NOT learn how to write and publish a book. So, if you know for sure that you want to learn how to become an author, you'll save time and money by investing in a course or program that's specific to publishing.
For example, there are many online education programs specifically for aspiring authors, including self-publishing courses.
Be sure to thoroughly do your research to make sure the program is a good fit for your needs.
Some online education options for those who want to become an author are:
- Self-Publishing Courses. Start here if you want to join an education program that provides a complete roadmap to becoming a bestselling author.
- Coursera. Consider a program where you can select specific topics to learn about.
- Udemy. You can find cost-effective micro-courses based on specific topics around writing and publishing.
- MasterClass. There are limited courses for aspiring authors on this platform, but if you're particularly interested in learning how to improve your writing from bestselling, world-renowned authors like Margaret Atwood, check this out.
- CreativeLive. Another option for creative courses specific to certain topics around developing certain creative skills.
|Training Program||Self-Publishing Courses||Courses that teach how to write and publish a book|
|Learning Platform||Sites like SkillShare Coursera, Udemy, MasterClass||Micro-course offerings that teach specific topics on writing and publishing|
|Hands-on Learning||Real world experience||Many would argue that the best education you can get to become an author is to develop a skillset that improves your writing craft|
|College||English Degree||Classes on writing development and reading literature for deep analysis|
|College||Literature Degree||Heavily focused on reading, analyzing, and writing on literary works.|
|College||Creative Writing Program||Creative writing fundamentals and storytelling|
|College||History||Extensive writing and research skill development|
|College||Journalism||Extensive writing, research, and communication skill development|
|College||Psychology||Understanding of human behavior and interaction, which makes for great character development|
|College||Communications||Develop a broad skillset in writing, publish relations, marketing, and more|
|College||Theater/Cinema||Build creativity, understanding of character dynamics, and screenwriting skill.|
|College||Liberal Arts||Heavy research and writing - no matter the field.|
|College||A degree in any subject you want to write about||If you have a particular industry or niche that you want to focus on in your writing, pursue a degree in that!|
2. Learn the skills to become a successful author
While there aren’t any formal education requirements to learn how to become an author of a book, there are certainly some important skills that many successful writers have in common.
Consider these skills like prerequisites – you should aim to improve these skills if you truly want to learn how to become a writer.
In a society of high competition, possessing many of these skills will set you apart and increase your chances of gaining a solid readership.
The top skills needed to learn how to become an author are:
Exceptional writing development skills
Being an excellent writer who can communicate effectively through words is the premise of learning how to become an author successfully. We’ll cover more on the fundamentals of writing that you should master in the next section.
Creative storytelling that engages
It’s an art in itself! Whether you’re writing nonfiction or fiction, no matter what genre your book falls in, you need to be able to craft an engaging story that pulls readers in.
The ability to research well
Ask any successful author, and they will tell you that a major factor in successfully writing a book is to conduct thorough research. You need to know your content in and out – whether you’re writing historical fiction, a children's picture book, or a self-help book.
Since you’re reading this article and researching how to become an author, there’s a good chance you’re already research-savvy!
The tendency to naturally observe people and places
In order to create life-size characters, make your story come alive, and describe people and events vividly, you need to possess the power of observation. If you’re not one to naturally sit back and watch from the sidelines, try improving your observation skills.
Vulnerability and grit
Authors put everything they possess into their writing. It takes vulnerability to put your words out there, and resilience to keep at it when the going gets tough. To learn how to become an author, you’ll need to overcome some serious mental blocks, and be courageous even when you’re overworked or fearing judgment.
3. Master the fundamentals of book writing
Having an excellent command of writing skills builds a solid foundation on which to begin your author journey.
Many people can write, but not many people can write well. And if you can’t write well, that’s okay!
The good news is that there are a number of ways to improve your writing.
Writing isn’t necessarily a talent, it’s a craft. It can be cultivated. It can be strengthened. And with a growth mindset, you can improve your writing skills by mastering the fundamentals.
Some basic examples of the fundamentals of writing are being able to express ideas clearly and in an organized fashion, using powerful word choice, developing a clear point of view, and using proper grammar and punctuation.
However, there are a lot more fundamental writing techniques to learn and implement in your own writing.
- Learn the writing fundamentals. First, learn all there is to know! You can learn basic writing fundamentals by taking writing development courses, and reading books on writing.
- Study the fundamentals. Be an avid, deep reader. Don’t just read to understand the story. Read to analyze how the author told that story. Study the author’s style, specifically in genres you want to write in. By doing this, you’ll start to identify characteristics of remarkable writing.
- Practice, practice, practice. Put what you’ve learned into practice. Remember all the literary elements you learned about in school. Start actually using those in your writing. Try mirroring an author’s style that you admire. Write often and make it part of your everyday life. Write in a journal, complete writing prompts, write letters to friends, or write short stories.
- Explore different genres. Part of finding your author's voice and developing yourself as a writer means experimenting with other genres that you may not have written on before. Use creative writing prompts to help you practice your writing fundamentals.
- Show, don't tell in writing. This is the number one rule to writing, and it's important for you to master. Practice showing and not telling in your own writing, and understand when to use it.
While you shouldn’t cut corners on your writing development, it’s important to not get stuck in this phase.
At the end of the day, you can read and take all the courses in the world, but the most growth and development you will experience is when you’re actually writing.
4. Create a positive author mindset
Many writers experience feelings of insecurity. Ernest Hemingway supposedly said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
If writers are figuratively transforming the essence of their being into words on paper for others to read, then it’s no wonder the best writers suffer from their own insecurities and fear of judgment!
Feeling inadequate is expected, and totally normal. But the ability to pursue your goal to learn how to become an author (despite your fear) is what will set you apart from all the other aspiring book writers out there.
Steps to build a positive author mindset:
- Overcome imposter syndrome and self-doubt as a writer. Give yourself permission to be an author. Don’t shy away from calling yourself a writer – start owning it.
- Accept that you’re a work in progress. Don’t strive for perfection in writing. Maintain a growth mindset, and understand that there is always room for improvement. You are constantly learning, and improving, and there isn’t anything wrong with that. If you wait on perfection, it’ll never get done.
- Set a writing habit. Making writing part of your daily lifestyle is super important. If you tend to wait for inspiration as a writer, you’ll be left high and dry more often than not. We’ll cover more on how to set a writing habit in the next section.
- Focus, focus, focus. We’ve all been there. You sit down at the table to write, and find that an hour has passed and you’ve only churned out a few sentences. Find a focus technique that works for you and stick to it.
- Think courageously. Try not to get too bogged down in the negative “what-ifs.” What if no one likes my book? What if my writing sucks? What if this book is an entire flop? It’s okay to fear failure, but learn to shake it off and be courageous instead. For every negative thought you have, try to think of two positive thoughts!
- Define your own success. Success means something different for every author. Some writers want to share their words with the world, while others simply want to build an author's salary to support their writing. Whatever your reason is, get clarity around your definition of success.
5. Write your first book to learn how to become an author
To truly learn how to become an author, you have to write a book first.
The world is full of great writers with stories to share. The trouble for many is – they never get around to actually finishing a book.
It also depends on what type of book you want to write. If you want to write a nonfiction book, the process is different than learning how to write a novel. The same is true if you're learning how to write a memoir.
This is where it can really get tough. But with grit, determination, and a clear game plan, you can do it. We’re cheering for you!
Here are the steps to write a book and learn how to become an author:
Get clear on your foundation.
Because writing a book can be an uphill battle, you want to make sure your foundation is rock solid. This means getting clear on why you want to become the author of this book. Once you’re super clear on your foundation, you’ll be able to write your book with intention.
Foundational questions you’ll want to ask yourself are:
- When do you want to have this book done by?
- How will you position the book?
- Who are you writing this book for (your target reader)?
- What is your book's topic or genre?
- Why are you writing this book? Here are some reasons authors write a book:
- To grow your income
- To build a reputation/authority
- To fuel a passion project
- To share a story or knowledge
Brainstorm with a mind map.
Letting your ideas flow freely with a mind map is an effective way to get those creative juices flowing. With so many ideas to explore for your book’s topic, mind map exercises will help you “brain dump” all your thoughts.
Follow these steps to create a mind map for your book:
- Set a timer for 10-15 minutes to start.
- Always be writing – don’t worry about grammar or spelling, just write out your thoughts without reservations!
- Start with a central idea, topic, or concept.
- Add connecting branches of key ideas that relate to that central idea.
- Jot down any words that tie ideas together.
- Use colored highlighters or sticky notes to organize similar concepts or ideas.
Create an outline.
Using your mind map, start creating a basic outline for your book. Don’t get hung up on the details. Think of it in terms of a beginning, middle, and an end. A simple outline will help you get the ball rolling as you start writing your first draft. As you dive deeper into the writing, your outline can get more detailed, and be revised as needed.
Set a writing schedule.
Commit to your writing goals each and every day if you want to learn how to become an author. Set a specific plan for yourself, and set small milestones or goals, whether it’s by word count or time spent writing.
You can have all the ideas in the world, but if you aren’t setting time aside each day to actually write, then the chances of your book being completed will be low.
Tips for setting a writing schedule:
- Set up a distraction-free writing space
- Plan for short brain breaks to avoid burnout
- Set a daily word count goal
- Do NOT edit as you write
- Have a buddy keep you accountable
- Use book writing software to help you meet your daily goals
- Set a deadline to complete your book by
Write your rough draft.
Sounds simple, but it’s definitely easier said than done. You can do it! The only way to write a book is to actually sit down and do it. You become a book writer by writing a completed book. Use your outline for guidance, and remember – don’t edit while you write!
Self-edit your book.
Once your rough draft is completed, it’s important that you focus on self-editing your book. Although your book will go through a professional editing phase during the publishing process, if you self-edit thoroughly, your editor will be able to focus on other edits that you weren’t able to catch.
Tips for self-editing your book:
- Do a verbal read through to find areas of improvement in your sentence structure and storyline.
- Work chapter by chapter to increase productivity and focus.
- Don’t get stuck in the editing phase.
- Remember that any points of uncertainty will be cleared up in the professional editing phase.
6. Publish your book
Through blood, sweat, and tears, you’ve committed to writing your book, and have officially become a writer.
Now, it’s time to take the next step and learn how to become an author. And that means publishing your book!
Here’s how to become an author of a published book:
Decide how to publish.
You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of each, including the cost to publish, and determine which route is more advantageous for you.
If you traditionally publish your book, this means that an actual publishing company will publish your book for you. However, landing a book contract with a traditional publisher is extremely competitive, and the chances are slim for most authors.
So what is self-publishing, you ask? If you self-publish your book, this means that you will be in charge of the publishing process yourself. There are many benefits in going this route, but you'll need to make sure you are self-publishing the right way to ensure book quality and success.
Follow these steps to traditionally publish a book:
- Pitch your book draft to literary agents.
- If your manuscript is accepted by an agent, your book will be pitched to publishers.
- If a publisher accepts your work, you will be offered a book contract.
- The publisher will have your book edited, formatted, and designed.
- You earn royalties based on the number of books that are sold.
Follow these steps to self-publish a book:
- Find a book editor for each type of editing needed
- Hire a formatter (if needed) for your book.
- Hire a professional book cover designer to create an engaging book cover.
- Choose which self-publishing platforms to sell your book on.
- Upload the book to the self-publishing platform.
If you still need help deciding how to publish, compare your earning potential with our Book Royalties Calculator.
Book Royalties Calculator
1. My book will be published by a...
2. My book will be an:
3. My royalty rate will be:
*Please note that this royalty rate is based on the market averages for paperback books. Actual royalty rates for traditional and indie publishing can vary by author depending on several factors.
4. My book's retail price:
5. The # of books sold:
Your Profit per Book Sold
For books sold, you earn:
For 1,000 books sold, you earn:
For 10,000 books sold, you earn:
Royalties Comparisons for 10,000 books sold
7. Market your book to become a bestselling author
Whether you traditionally publish or self-publish, you need to launch and market your book to learn how to become an author successfully.
This step is crucial because if you don’t market your book, how are you going to reach potential readers?
You dedicated time, effort, and – at times – your sanity, to get your book out. Now it’s time to let the world know about it.
You’ll need a strategic book launch and marketing plan in place, which should include a number of techniques to gain readership and sell your book.
Here are some book marketing strategies to consider:
- Build a launch team before your official book release
- Social media marketing, such as on Pinterest and Instagram
- Effective book pricing that appeals to prospective readers
- Build an author website to create your own author platform
- Use book advertising on various book promo sites like BookBub
- Get book reviews to increase visibility, reach, and credibility
To dive deep into your book marketing, plan ahead, set a budget, do research, and reach out to your network!
8. Write another book!
Your first book is a learning experience, and once your first book is published, you'll realize how many ideas you have for more books.
And that is where the real success comes in. In today's digital author landscape, it's important to keep writing books in order to build a career as an author.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that one book will find instant success. While that does happen for some writers, it is the exception and NOT the rule.
So keep going! Write your next book. The more books you write, the smoother your process will become.
Are you ready to become an author?
Great books make the world go ‘round, which is why we’re all about helping writers learn how to become authors.
As you research how to become an author, one thing becomes clear: it’s a process that takes time, dedication, and some serious effort.
But nothing worth having comes easy.
Becoming an author can be one of the most rewarding, and fulfilling accomplishments of your life. You deserve to celebrate it!