How does one become an author? Unfortunately, there are so many misconceptions out there about this topic.
That’s why I’m here to set the story straight, and to explain why your currently-held beliefs about authors, what they’re like, and what sort of person one has to be are actually not true. And I’ll show you the realities of being an author.
Misconception: Writers are just born with the talent to put pen to paper and come up with beautiful prose, no effort needed.
Reality: Just like all of us, successful authors have to wrack their brains in order to come up with the words they’d like to use. They spend hours trying to come up with beautiful prose or deciding which direction their plot should take.
What makes authors different is their ability to push through. If authors aren’t sure what the best words to use would be, they just put pen to paper and keep writing, knowing that it’s always possible to go back and revise afterward.
If authors can’t figure out how to phrase something, they simply do their best and move on. And if they aren’t sure what should come next in their writing, they just put something on the page to fix later. Authors write with enormous amounts of effort.
They’re the ones who keep writing and rewriting, day in and day out, for years on end. But we remain oblivious to this struggle because it isn’t until an author has amassed a fair amount of success that they gain any notoriety.
During the five years between completing her first book and getting it published, Agatha Christie was on the receiving end of countless rejection letters. And look at her now!
During her lifetime, Agatha Christie published 91 books (amounting to $2 billion in book sales), which contributed to her Guinness Book of World Records title of World’s Bestselling Author. Everyone wants to focus on the success of an author while ignoring all of the hard work that went into that success.
Misconception: Authors have loads of time to do whatever they please. They spend their days relaxing outside, checking out books from the library, brewing pots of tea, and sitting around thinking about what they’re going to write about.
Reality: Most of the world’s successful authors had to fit their writing career into their day-to-day life. For example, John Grisham would get to his office at 5 in the morning in order to get in a couple hours of writing before his day as a lawyer started.
Danielle Steel waited until it was late evening to start writing, often only getting four hours of sleep in order to spend her days with her children.
Like E.B. White said, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” So, keep in mind that real authors write their book whenever they can, even if this means working around daily realities and during moments stolen here and there.
Misconception: Prepare to spend lots and lots of money if you want to go from writer to first-time author.
Reality: It will definitely require some money, but not a lot – especially when you take into consideration all of the upsides of publishing your book.
If you decide to self-publish, something I highly urge you to consider, and already own a computer, the total costs of hiring an editor, proofreader, book cover artist, and maybe a marketing professional amount to $2,500-$5,000.
If those numbers scare you, keep in mind that even if you do go the traditional publishing route, you’ll still have to shell out some of your own money on editing and publicity.
When you’re publishing your first book, you’re responsible for most of your marketing, even if you have a publisher. Some of these costs may come back to you in book sales, though, or through engagements such as book signings, interviews, partnerships with businesses – there are loads of possibilities.
Those possibilities are what makes writing a book so thrilling. The money you spend initially could result in massive rewards later on.
Misconception: Successful authors write every day.
Reality: Although some authors do put pen to paper every day, it isn’t the fact that they’re writing daily that makes them successful.
It’s the fact that they have a commitment, whatever their schedule may look like, to find time to write. Some authors only write a small amount each day.
To give you an idea, Stephen King has committed himself to writing 2,000 words minimum each day. Some authors, however, prefer to write for several hours at a time on certain days during the week.
Tom Pollock is committed to writing on Monday and Wednesday nights as well as Sunday during the day. And yet there are also authors who prefer to get all of their writing done in one fell swoop, only writing during certain times of the year.
Nathan Lowell will go for months without writing and then write anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 words each day while trying to complete a manuscript.
Your schedule shouldn’t be the thing that keeps you from writing. Figure out what works for you: is it a daily word limit, a few hours a few times a week, or one month where all you do is wake up and write? It isn’t important how you do it, but that you commit yourself to doing it.
Misconception: You need to know agents, publishers, or someone in the industry in order to get your work published.
Reality: If there’s a will, there’s a way, and this applies to foregoing traditional publishers and using the Internet to publish instead. It can be as simple as clicking a button and uploading your work to Amazon.
It isn’t getting published that you need to worry about. It’s how you’re going to get people to buy your book. A contract with a traditional book publisher won’t guarantee that your book sells lots of copies.
Publishing houses put out such a high volume of books (multiple books per week!) yet only have a certain number of publicists on staff, it is pretty much impossible to adequately publicize each book.
That’s why publishing houses put all of their marketing energy into authors who have already sold a lot of copies of their books. This means that the odds are stacked against first-time authors, and you’ll be no exception.
Fortunately, the amount of people who can speak and read the English language and have access to the Internet is only growing and doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.
Your potential readers are out there – and there are a lot of them. Don’t think that you need agents, publishers or connections in order to reach them.
Misconception: Authors are super rich.
Reality: There definitely are authors who have made their fortune through book sales, like John Grisham, James Patterson, J.K. Rowling, Bill Bryson, David McCullough, Danielle Steel, Tony Robbins, and Malcolm Gladwell.
Yet they are not the norm. Most authors don’t make tons of money from book sales; instead, they market their book, which means any profits from book sales actually pays for the time they spend doing that. This allows them to keep writing.
If you spend 200 hours on writing and revision, as well as 50 to 100 hours on the logistics of publishing, as well as who knows how many hours on marketing, your book would need to earn quite a lot of money in order to earn back just minimum wage for what definitely amounted to over 500 hours of work.
The takeaway is this: authors are in it for the opportunities, not the money.
The biggest reality: It’s definitely possible for you to write a book.
As I laid out above, there are so many misconceptions about what it’s like to write a book. Some of these misconceptions depict it as an impossible task, while others make it sound incredibly easy. Yet now that we’ve cleared up some of these untruths, it’s time to discuss you – specifically, you writing a book.
It doesn’t matter who you are – it’s possible for you to write a book. It doesn’t matter if you have awful grammar skills, if you don’t have a lot of time, if you aren’t sure what you’d like to write but know that you want to write something. It’s possible for you to write a book.
Don’t know anyone in publishing? It’s possible for you to write a book. Don’t have a lot of money? It’s still possible for you to write a book. Hands so wracked by arthritis that it makes it impossible to type? Hire a transcriber and hey – it’s possible for you to write that book.
Possible, of course, doesn’t mean easy. But it means it can happen.
These misconceptions about how to become a successful author have taken up too much of your time and energy. They creep in when all you’re trying to do is sit down and write your book, and prevent you from getting anything onto the page.
“I wasn’t born with the talent to write.”
“I need lots of free time to sort through my thoughts before I try and write.”
“No one would ever read my book because I don’t know anyone in the publishing industry.”
All of the time that you spend thinking about those tired misconceptions is time that you could have spent writing your book.
So forget those and choose to focus on what led you to want to become an author. There are so many reasons that lead people to write books in the first place, some of which we’re going to talk about right now.
You have a desire to tell others about your story: How often do we sit down and simply listen to another person’s story? The real stuff, unabridged, good and bad times included.
Hearing another person’s story and how they became the person they are today can be very powerful experience that truly connects you to that person.
That connection also happens when we read someone’s story in the pages of a book. Whether they’re on a page or spoken out loud, words carry a lot of power. And if you think your story could mean a lot to another person, that’s a pretty powerful reason to go ahead and write that book.
You have a desire to help other people: You may want to write a book because you have something helpful, whether that be knowledge, tips, or experience, that you want to share with the world.
Maybe you’ve dedicated yourself to a certain hobby or skill over the years, and have developed lots of ways to improve your craft.
Or maybe you’ve gone through some rough periods, during which you picked up several life lessons, and now you want to share those lessons that you wish you had been privy to so many years ago.
It’s also possible that you simply wish to share a certain life experience. Any of these are more than enough to justify writing a book – and it is always noble to desire to help others.
You’re self-employed: Whether you serve clients or get products in shape to sell, you’ve got some expertise. And writing a book is a great way to truly own that expertise and impart some of that expertise onto others. One of the best ways to establish yourself as an expert in your chosen field is to write a book.
You want to be self-employed: Don’t wait for clients or products to start writing a book! Use your book as a way to get new clients. Again, if you’ve got the itch to write a book, go ahead and scratch it and get writing. It will only help your burgeoning business later on.
You’ve got a message worth sharing: Even if you aren’t sure what the best way to get your message out would be, whether it’s a book, a blog, a podcast, a series of YouTube videos, or simply getting out in the world and talking to people, I’d recommend that you go ahead and start writing the book.
After all, there’s nothing stopping you from sharing your message across multiple platforms. Although there might be an option that feels better for you, and this is the one I recommend you ultimately go with, writing a book takes a pretty long time. So go ahead and start now.