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Millions of people write as a hobby, but going from a hobbyist to a successful writer can be intimidating. Looking at the traditional publishing industry from the outside, it seems that so much goes into becoming a professional writer—from generating book ideas to establishing a daily writing habit to finding literary agents to getting on the radar of a publishing company.

Indeed, trying to tackle all of these at once would overwhelm even the most ambitious aspiring writer. But if you approach the process methodically, it really is possible to become a published author. Whether you aspire to become a bestselling author or simply self-publish your first novel while keeping your day job, the key is to adopt a plan and stick with it.



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How to Become a Published Author

Becoming a published author takes persistence, industry networking, and a healthy dose of luck. However before any of these come into play, a successful author must be committed to actual book-writing. Here are some important tips to help first-time authors produce good writing and understand the industry at large:

  1. Develop good habits. Most beginning writers will have to balance their writing with other responsibilities. Setting aside consistent blocks of time for writing is an important step. Your writing time can be early in the morning or late at night or on your lunch hour, but keep it consistent, and insist on prioritizing that writing routine.
  2. Use your limited time wisely. Before you sit down to write, think of ideas, remind yourself of where you left off in the story, or make a mental plan for what you want to accomplish during that session. Some people strive to write 2,000 words a day. Others disregard word count and are more comfortable alternating between days spent reading, outlining, or researching. No matter what you choose, it’s a good idea to give yourself daily goals. This will prevent you from spending precious writing time staring at a blank page.
  3. Network with other writers at conferences. Conferences are an invaluable help if you’re looking to network with other writers, publishers, and agents. They will usually provide educational programs geared toward specific genres. Also consider joining a writers’ association, which can provide similar benefits to its members through online connectivity. A writing group is a perfect place to get feedback on your work and connect with other writers.
  4. Find an agent. Publishing via traditional publishing house means you need to find a literary agent. These professionals are the gatekeepers of the publishing world. With the support of a well-connected agent, a great book can reach the most prestigious publishers in the world. Publishers have been known to offer publishing deals to writers who lack agents, but the process is considerably harder. Reaching out to agents starts with a query letter, a strong book proposal, and sample chapters. From there, the agent will decide whether it’s worth their while to submit your work to publishing houses.
  5. Build a relationship with an editor. Editors are a hugely important part of your publishing process, so if you’re so fortunate as to command interest in your manuscript, you’ll want to do everything you can to ensure a good fit. A good editor will make you a better writer, but a bad editor can compromise your artistic vision. Check their references, look at their backlist (prior books they’ve edited), chat with them about expectations, and look for a personal connection. Ask yourself what traits you value in a collaborative partner. A good connection between a novelist and editor makes a huge difference in what tends to be an intense process.
  6. Consider traditional publishing. New authors seeking to distribute their first fiction or nonfiction book have two publishing options. One is to sign a book deal with a traditional publisher. The traditional publishing process generates the vast majority of books that are read by large audiences. Almost every novel or nonfiction book you see listed on the New York Times bestseller list was issued by a traditional publisher. Even professional authors with modest book sales still can land deals with prominent publishers.
  7. Consider self-publishing. Due to the many hurdles in the traditional publishing industry, the vast number of first-time authors must initially prove their chops in the world of self-publishing. Self-published authors eschew the publishing house and get their novel out into the world on their own. They do this by making the book available for print-on-demand, as an ebook, as an audiobook, or by printing and selling copies of the book themselves. If you’ve written something that traditional publishers consider less marketable—like an anthology of short stories or poetry—you may want to consider self-publishing to get your own work out in the world.
  8. Never stop writing. Once your book has been published, plan a celebration and be proud of your success—but don’t quit your day job just yet. It’s very common for first-time authors to have success with a first novel only to find it difficult to get the next novel written or published. This sophomore slump can happen at any stage of your career, even if you’ve committed to pursuing writing full-time. Don’t spend time worrying about the things you can’t control. Instead, stay focused on your writing. Continuing to write will not only keep you grounded in your craft; it is also the most important tool to keep your career going. This can be the hardest part of a writer’s career, but if you stay in touch with what made you want to be a writer in the first place, you’ll maintain a healthy relationship with the craft, even when the industry doesn’t cooperate.

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