I suspect that every avid reader has, at one time or another, thought words to the effect of “Wouldn’t it be great to be an author?” And quite a few of them, myself included, made that leap.
If you or someone you know would like to take the plunge, here are some of the things that I’ve learned in the nineteen years since I opened a WORD document and started to write a story.
In the world of publishing, there are two categories of authors, traditionally published and self-published. A few authors are both. In the world of traditional publishing, there are a handful of large publishers who publish the work of their writers. The big-name authors make large sums of money; the mid-list authors make a living; the authors below the mid-list (most of them) often don’t make a penny after their initial advance which may have been as low as $5,000. To break into the world of traditional publishing, you will need to find an agent. No easy task. There are directories of reputable agents which you can find online and there are books and online resources which will tell you how to craft a query letter to an agent. But be aware that every agent gets hundreds of query letters every month.
The world of self publishing is another thing entirely. Anyone, with even limited computer skills, can self publish. There are quite a number of self-published writers who are making multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and many who are making a good living writing what they love. The vast majority however are not.
So if you are planning to become a professional author, here are some of the things that you should know.
To be traditionally published.
If you decide to go the traditionally published route, plough through a directory of accredited agents. Go to their websites, find their submission criteria and read them very carefully. If an agency has multiple agents choose one for your genre. Learn how to write a query letter (this can take a lot of study) and learn how to write a short, highly-compelling blurb for your book (to get this right also takes a lot of study). I had Bryan Cohen write the blurbs for my first three books until I got the hang of it myself. If you have the resources to employ someone to do this, it might be worth it. When you have a good query letter and blurb in hand, send out your submissions to your list of agents and be prepared for a lot of form-letter rejections. If a reputable publishing house accepts your work, don’t expect that they will do all the marketing. They may expect you to do many of the things self-published authors have to do, for example: create and maintain an email list of fans, regularly post on social media and try to get guest appearances on podcasts and other media.
To be independently published.
If you go the self-publishing route, you need to know that you will absolutely need to become an astute publisher and marketer. There are a number of courses being offered by a vast number of people to help you be a successful self-publisher. Most of them will not be worth the price of admission. Probably the best of the available courses is Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing 101 course. It is expensive but will tell you everything you need to know about being a self-publisher. And believe me, there is a lot to learn. The course will take you weeks to complete.
You will also need to navigate through waters filled with sharks who pose as publishers for independent authors and self-styled, self-publishing marketing gurus.
The good news.
I hope I have not painted too dark a picture. There is good news too. I think the market has become overcrowded with average (or worse) books. I believe that the key to a long-term career as a writer is: write really good books. It may seem obvious but readers, myself included are getting jaded about the quality of books out there. I read a lot of the sample pages of books and reject most of them after a page or two. When I find a really good book, by a new author, I read all of their books.
As a new author here are some things you must do to make sure that your books are great.
Don’t assume you know how to write. Even if you have a Masters in English Literature with courses in creative writing, don’t assume you know how to write a book (either fiction or non-fiction) that will compel a reader to turn to the next page. Take online classes on the craft from successful published authors in your genre.
Go to writers’ conventions. Take all the courses you can on the craft of writing given by the authors at the conventions. Meet with agents and publishers. If it’s your style, meet with other authors and maybe get into a writers’ group or form one yourself. Chat with the authors. Even the superstars are approachable.
Read lots of books on the craft of writing. I highly recommend Don Maass’ books.
Make sure that you have a good developmental editor. You can meet one at a writers’ convention or find one at reedsy.com. A good editor will become your mentor. If you think you can’t afford one, find a way.
Make sure you use a proofreader. Nothing is more distracting and disappointing to readers than typos and misuse of words.
If you know an author, whose work you love, see if they will be prepared to mentor you. You might be surprised.
Most of all, English is the richest language in the world. Play with it, love it and craft it to put your heart and soul on the pages of your books.
It is a wonderful world that authors live in. Come and join us.
Robert is an English-born Canadian. He has been a software developer, an actor and is the author of the Cal Rogan crime-thriller series. As a reader of Little Ruby’s Treats, you can get the first book in the series free from his website robertpfrench.com.