Publishing your own book has never been easier than now, but for aspiring authors, that’s not the issue.
Nowadays, you can publish a Novel, publish an anthology, or a collection of your favorite recipes free of charge. And… you can do all of this from the comfort of your bedroom, without submitting a single manuscript to any literary agent.
The question that every aspiring author asks themselves (or other authors) is: how can I become a successful author?
Before anyone can find the answer to that, they first need to define what a ‘successful author’ is to them.
Is it someone whose novel is on the New York Times bestseller list? Or someone who is enjoying huge book sales?
Maybe it’s getting published by a big publishing house or winning prizes. Whatever it is, becoming a successful author needs a lot of work, and in today’s environment, some guidance goes a long way.
Let’s get started.
Before you become a successful author, something has to be written, right? The best advice I got when I asked the ‘how to become a successful author’ question for the first time was:
Yes, it doesn’t matter whether you know how to become a successful author or not, there’s got to be some great content. Some have sold ghostwritten books and become successful authors without writing a single letter, but that’s not guaranteed.
So, write before you go to the success-seeking phase.
How Do I Start My Writing Career?
As I said, being a successful writer starts with writing. It’s better to learn on the job than procrastinate or worry about what comes after you’ve written your book. Many authors will tell you that they got better after getting published—the feedback from their audience and editors helped them improve their writing skills.
Don’t Ever Quit
Let me tell you one thing: all the enthusiasm, hope, and expectations that you have now will dry up!
When that happens, that’s when you’ll need to dig deep and reestablish that belief you have in yourself. See, the path to becoming a successful author is paved with spiky rejections and if you survive those, you’ll achieve something as a writer.
Take J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, for example. It’s rumored that she had to endure 12 consecutive rejections from publishers before the first Harry Potter installment was accepted for publishing. Now she’s a success story that almost every author would kill for.
Work on Your Skills Everyday
Getting published doesn’t mean that you’ve reached the pinnacle of your writing career. There’s a lot of things you need to learn and improve on.
Always seek to refine your writing skills!
Read, listen, and practice—every day, if possible. The more you learn and write, the better you become.
Do I Need A Journalism Or English Degree To Be A Great Writer?
The short answer is no.
If you want to work in a company as a writer or if you want to write some educational course material, a degree is usually a prerequisite but other than that, writing doesn’t necessarily require a Journalism or English degree.
However, I should add that some sort of education does help you write better. Like if you have some higher learning education and you’re writing to characters that are academicians, that’d help. Or if you are writing science fiction and you happen to have a physics degree, that’d also help you come up with some scientific concepts.
Fail-Safe Ways to Become a Successful Writer
Different writers have used different paths to success. However, there are things you can do to help you become a successful author.
Study Successful Writers
The best way to improve is to study great writers. Some of the famous writers from the 20th century were so good that their books are selling now with almost zero marketing, and it’s those kinds of writers you need to study.
Apart from reading fictional works by famous writers, you can also look for bibliographies and other nonfiction books which are replete with the authors’ early experiences as a writer and how they got better. Times have changed, but there are things in such books that are still related today.
Join a Writers’ Group
You don’t need to find local groups (although those are the best) because the world has become a real global village now.
You can network—through social media— with writers who are at the same point in their writing career as you. The best, as I’ve said, are local community writers’ groups that regularly meet up, read each other’s work, and offer tips to one another.
These networks are invaluable because you can learn from the experiences of other writers in the group—some of whom have enjoyed better success than you. Always listen, take notes, and help where necessary.
Connecting with other authors is important, and you should try to pop up at conferences and workshops whether in person or via online conference platforms where you can share tips or find established authors who can review your books.
And remember, some writers are avid readers too, so—you never know—you might discover some super fans at these meet-ups.
Find a mentor
Maybe the antisocial part of you won’t let you mingle with large crowds. Although that’s bad, it’s your life so don’t let me force you into doing something you loathe.
However, the fact remains that you can’t learn the tricks of the game and navigate the terrain just by reading stuff and studying other writers. You need someone to teach you one or two things, things they have learned from personal experience.
Find yourself a published author, and ask for writing advice. If you don’t have a relative or friend who’d be a mentor, then reach out to any author that you sort of admire—they’re a lot of authors who are happy to correspond with aspiring authors.
If they don’t respond to your calls or emails, welcome to the REJECTION game, it’s part of the journey.
Always Be Ready to Evolve
Doing things your own way is good but being stubborn can be disastrous, especially if you ignore helpful tips.
Success in the writing profession is a mixture of hard work, perseverance, and evolution. It’s a journey that changes you and you have to be able to accept those changes to become better.
You must have a look at things from an angle that perceives everything as an opportunity to learn something new—those writer meet-ups, feedback from your readers and editors all have to be absorbed and used to better yourself as a writer.
The more things you encounter along the way, the larger your experience becomes, and as a result, the better your writing skills become.
Establish an Online Presence (Market Yourself)
Marketing is a very important tool for any author; without it, your works are going to sink into the abyss of the billions of books, research papers, and blogs floating in cyberspace.
If you’re lucky enough to be one of the privileged few published by traditional publishing houses, they will promise to take care of the marketing for you. But they usually don’t devote as much time and effort as they do on marketing big-name authors—yours isn’t that big of an investment.
So, whether you self-publish or go the traditional route, being a successful author requires that you know how to market yourself.
Establish a robust online presence because, these days, everybody is online. If you want to reach more people, you’ve got to set yourself or your published works in a way that makes them available on digital platforms.
You have to set up a website and publish content and sell your books there or create social media pages and boost them to rank in searches so that people easily access your books.
You have to use these digital platforms to build communities of readers and create a brand that many can associate with. It becomes easier to market your books when your online presence can be used to create enough traction for your books.
Consider Authoring Book Series
Instead of just writing a single bestseller, consider publishing your masterpiece in installments.
When you offer your stories in a series, it’s like you’re telling the reader that you’re here to stay. The best way to prepare your readers for the next installment is to end the current book with a cliffhanger. Then after 4-7 months, you can dish them the next masterpiece.
Once your book series has a good following, you don’t have to worry much about marketing a new release—one word, and they will be scrambling for it.
Clearly Define Your Goal
You’ve studied other successful authors and maybe gotten an idea of how they succeeded, now you have to define success on your own terms.
Success won’t fall from heaven like manna, you need to define what success as an author means to you. Does it mean money, sales, or followership?
If all you crave is recognition, then look at the authors who have carved their names on the rock of history.
If it’s money, think about how much you would like to get—i.e., per month, year, per publishing contract.
If you want to author spiritual books, then define how many people you want to reach.
Know What You’re Getting Yourself Into
Having defined what kind of success you’d like to achieve, you must know what type of publishing route can give you this sort of success.
It’s good to learn by our mistakes (we mostly learn this way), but it is way better and cheaper to look at what someone else did wrong and go the other way. When it comes to the Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing conversation, which comes after this section, some people have walked both sides of the aisle and know exactly what to expect from each route.
It’s prudent to listen to both sides of the argument and make an informed decision afterward. One side will present you with some sort of guarantees (although not 100%) and compromises (on contract fees, commissions, etc.), and you have to determine which route offers benefits that are in line with your goals.
Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing
Writing a book is hard, but publishing it can be a little bit confusing if you don’t know what to expect from the two publishing routes.
If you don’t know the differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing, you are in for a lot of trouble!
You risk wasting a lot of time (and, probably, some money), so you should find out every bit of information on these two before you start making losses before you make a penny.
So, which one between the two is the right avenue for you?
Well… it all depends on the kind of success you want to achieve. And, if you can survive the sting of rejections by publishers (oh! And the hopelessness, whew!).
Total control? Who does want to be in total control of what they’re doing?
When you self-publish, you control what to publish, when to publish and how to publish. Doesn’t that sound amazing? Self-publishing gives you control over the timing of your publications and gives you more creativity.
You don’t have to worry about a publisher rejecting your manuscript (unless they are issues with fixed formatting guidelines).
And… you get a bigger piece of the pie, the money’s better than when you traditionally publish. Although they pay you some money after signing a contract, traditional publishers just have a lot of entities on their payroll (editors, support staff, etc.), and you end up receiving a small percentage of the royalties for your books. When you self-publish, you can even get as high as 70%, and you also have a say in how much your books sell.
Self-publishing makes it easier to tailor your publishing to your objectives.
Why Publish Traditionally?
One thing I like about traditional publishing is the freedom you get after writing your manuscript.
The fact that you don’t have to worry about things like marketing, printing, or distribution is just wonderful.
The upfront payment that you get from traditional publishers isn’t that big, but it’s—sometimes—better than the agony waiting on your self-published book sales, which are not guaranteed in a saturated industry like this. And, apart from receiving the upfront payment, there are no costs incurred on your part since the publishers take care of ‘everything.’
The money’s good, but some would say that the bragging rights that come with being a traditionally published author are worth it on their own. Everyone knows that it’s not easy to get your manuscript accepted, especially those writers who have had to endure rejections from traditional publishers, so getting published this way kind of makes you seem like a legit writer (more legit than others who’ve published on their own).
Will Self-Publishing Hurt Your Chances With A Traditional Publisher?
Some years back I met some writers who told me that self-publishing would actually hurt my chances of getting published by a traditional publisher.
It was confusing how one could affect the other… don’t traditional publishers want writers who’ve proven that they can sell books, even without huge marketing budgets?
I later found that a successful self-published author had more chances of getting published by a traditional publishing house.
Self-publishing success can attract major publishers because they are also looking for authors who can bring in some revenue.
Once agents see that you’ve already built a good following as a self-published author, they won’t need extra convincing.
Everyone is looking for some sort of success, so you might not need to look for agents once you start making a name for yourself, some literary agents may approach you.
That means you’ll also have more bargaining power.
Becoming a Bestseller
How many books do you need to sell to be a bestseller?
Uh…. It’s not a straightforward thing. You might think that if you get more sales than other authors then you’ll automatically land on a bestseller list.
Nope! It doesn’t always work that way. Actually, those lists are way more complicated than they seem.
The business behind most of these lists is not as shrewd as we may perceive, and the criteria for compiling is usually kept under wraps. The most famous and perhaps most secretive list is the New York Times Best Sellers report, and the criterion has never been officially disclosed. New York Times uses data from a few of their selected online and in-person sources (book retailers). There have been cases where people have accused the New York Times of being biased and using the list to advance some political agendas.
The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, isn’t as secretive as its counterpart and uses the Nielsen BookScan to compile their list.
If you self-publish with Amazon, you have a better chance of making it to their list because they update their two lists (one for print books and another for e-books) based on the site’s sales.
Although making it on these famous bestseller lists isn’t straightforward, many authors who’ve been on these lists reckon that if you sell between 3,000 and 10,000 copies, you have a chance of landing on one of these lists.
If you have sold a lot of copies but you haven’t made it onto the list, don’t worry; most of those “bestsellers” haven’t sold as much as you think.
Ways to Get Your Work Noticed On Amazon
1. Create an ‘Author Central’ account
The free author account helps authors to manage their books and gain exposure. Inside the account, you are allowed to create your profile and it’s here that you can put a lot of info—using links—that readers get in touch with you or see your other works off the site. On your profile, you can include your photo, videos, bio, Twitter feed, blog feed, etc.
2. Create a Juicy sales page
How do you convince someone who hasn’t read your books before?
Use your Author Central account to format the description and put some extra info. Post reviews, authors, and other necessary details that will help you add more keywords to your book page (SEO is the biggest tool for writers now). The more keywords you have the higher the probability of your book showing up in one of the keyword searches.
The thoroughness doesn’t only improve the book’s chances in keyword searches, it also gives the page’s visitors a clear view of the book from the ‘outside.’
3. Tease Your Readers
You can participate in Amazon’s “Search Inside This Book” program. With this program, Amazon lets you give your readers a preview of the contents of your book by showing them some of the pages in the book—Amazon readers then browse these pages to see if the book is good enough. If you’re a good writer, then this feature can lead to an increase in sales as the “browsers” will be convinced to buy your book. Plus, some say that this feature improves your book’s SEO and the book has a higher chance of showing up in keyword searches from the text.
4. Get more reviews
The more reviews you have, the higher your chances of getting noticed. Although reviews are very important, don’t try to get fake reviews for the sake of increasing your book sales; that does you more harm than good.
Market your books first, and although negative reviews will harm your chances of selling books on Amazon, ask the readers to leave an honest review.
Becoming a published author might have become easier but becoming a successful writer is still as hard—if not harder—as it used to be decades ago.
There aren’t such things as overnight successes in the writing profession, and I’m sorry to tell you that you won’t be the first.
It takes a lot of work, and for some, a lot of years. However, there are magic words that you can always use to achieve success as an author, and these magical words are: