What Does it Really Take to Be an Author?
By Sue Campbell
Many, many people harbor secret dreams of writing a great book and finding recognition and success as an author.
And yet, many of those same people won’t even cop to being a writer when you ask them. And I know, I talk to lots writers.
My editing colleagues and I go to packed writers conferences and ask everyone we talk to, “Are you a writer?” You wouldn’t believe the amount of “Well…sorta,” responses we get.
How on earth are these people going to get from wanting to be a writer to actually writing and then to building an audience and putting a book into the world?
The sad fact is, most of them won’t. We’ll never get to read their stories.
There are lots of “sorta” writers out there. How are they different from people who actually become authors?
Let’s break down some of the mindset and skills you need to actually make it as an author.
The author mindset
Anybody who’s written and published a book has managed to clear some serious mental hurdles and adopt a professional mindset. If you want to do the same, you’ll need the following:
Willingness to claim the mantle. First and foremost, if you want to be an author, you have to take yourself seriously enough to actually call yourself a writer. If you say things like “I want to write someday,” you’ll keep thinking of that identity as belonging to your future self and never do what it takes to make it happen in the here and now. Even if you haven’t written so much as an email in the last five years, start calling yourself a writer today. Not an “aspiring writer,” a writer. Put “writer” in your Twitter profile. Introduce yourself that way at a party. The cognitive dissonance will make you crazy and put your ass in the writing chair so you won’t be a liar.
Persistence. Without tenacity, you’re never ever going to finish writing a book, much less build a platform that will sell it. As an author, you have to be absolutely committed to getting words on the page, then editing those words until they make enough sense and impact to change someone’s life.
Willingness to embrace rejection. As an author, you’re going to have to keep on putting yourself and your books out in the world, at risk of being ignored, rejected and humiliated. In fact, being ignored and rejected is pretty much guaranteed, even for the most successful authors. You have to be willing to take the bestseller list with the Twitter troll.
Patience. There are no overnight successes in this business. Books take months, more often years, to write and audiences take years to build. If you don’t have the patience to see the process through, pick a different vocation.
Trust in yourself. Ultimately, you as the writer have to make all the final calls. You decide when to scrap a book and when to ship it. As Kenny Rogers says: “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.”
The author skillset
The skillset of an author is a broad one. To become an author, you’ll have to get good at the following:
Doing the study. Good writing doesn’t just happen. Yes, lots of people have natural talent when it comes to cobbling words together, but talent only gets you so far. You have to read widely so you can learn the difference between the formulaic and the fresh, writing that works and writing that doesn’t, and stories that work and stories that don’t. And while good line writing is important, only amateurs ignore story structure. Structure is absolutely critical to writing a great book. (That’s why it’s the main thing our developmental editors focus on at Pages & Platforms.)
Putting down the words. You’ve got to develop the discipline it takes to get words on the page. I won’t pretend there’s a magic formula for what it takes to do this. Some people swear by sitting down for an hour every morning, or two hours every night after the kids go to bed, or weekend marathons. You have to find what works for you.
Accepting feedback. At some point, you’re going to have to share your manuscript with people who can help improve it. And, believe me, every manuscript a writer thinks is done can stand to be improved. You’ll have to ask for (and pay for) professional feedback and then be willing to revise, even if it means killing darlings and adding weeks or months of work.
Knowing the business. Whether you want to be traditionally published or set yourself up as an indie author, you need to understand the business of publishing. The days of being a writer who can just write and be insulated from business and marketing by an agent and a publisher are long gone. If you really want to be a successful author, you’re going to have to be informed about the industry and willing to jump into the marketing fray to get your book in the hands of its ideal reader.
Our From Writer to Author workshop
If reading all of the above got you slightly more excited than terrified, congratulations! You may have what it takes to be an author. And you might be ready for the next step.
Because we’ve met so many writers that had potential but didn’t know how to make the jump to being an author, we set up the “From Writer to Author” workshop.
It’s a weekend intensive that’s designed to help you bridge the gap from where you are as a writer to where you want to be. We want you to write the best story possible and find an audience for it, and we have practical tools and proven methodologies to share that can help you make it happen.