Writing Your Own Career: How to Become an AuthorWriting Your Own Career: How to Become an AuthorWriting Your Own Career: How to Become an Author

Opportunities for writers are plentiful in our content-driven, super-connected world. There are countless blogging sites and social media outlets that allow users to post about any topic. Writers can pour their words onto paper — or, in this case, a keyboard — and disseminate their thoughts to the world. But becoming an author is different.

Although both writers and authors produce and arrange words to convey a story or idea to a reader, there is a subtle but important difference between the two professions. A writer can produce a technical manual or marketing copy that, while functional and useful, isn’t art. An author, on the other hand, writes to entertain, inspire emotion, start a discussion, and contribute to the body of human artistic expression.

Becoming the next Ta-Nehisi Coates, Joy Harjo, JK Rowling, or John Grisham doesn’t happen overnight. Pursuing a career as an author means dedicating oneself to the craft of writing, finding a niche and a unique voice, and becoming a master storyteller. While there is no guarantee of success for authors, the potential payoff in terms of fulfillment, creativity, influence, and financial well-being can be high.

Author sits in a cafe and brainstorms a topic idea to write.

What Does an Author Do?

An author creates works of art through the written word. This can include long-form writing, such as a New Yorker article or a novel, and shorter pieces, such as a poem or essay. Authors compose works of both fiction and nonfiction and spend much of their time in the steps of the creative process: researching, planning, writing, reading, editing, and rewriting.

They also spend time managing the publication of their work. They can self-publish, which entails paying for the printing process and selling their work directly or through a major distributor such as Amazon. There are also print-on-demand companies where a customer buys a book and a copy is printed and shipped to them. They can also work with a publishing company or media outlet, which pays for the work or takes a percentage of the profits in exchange for printing, distributing, and marketing it. Experienced authors with a track record of sales or influence earn more lucrative publishing deals, often with the representation of agents who pitch their work to publishing houses and advocate for them during the publication process.

While some publishers do market authors’ materials, even the most prestigious publishing houses often expect authors to participate in marketing efforts, such as through book tours and signings, selling books at conference booths, communicating with readers through an email list, and engaging in social media.

Steps to Become an Author

The process of how to become an author can be lengthy. Both traditional publishing and writing for web outlets can be extremely competitive and must meet particular parameters of voice, audience, and content. Writers can be challenged to pitch stories, complete research, and create pieces that are interesting to the reader. Becoming an author is not a process that offers shortcuts or guarantees. Instead, it requires hard work and dedication to the craft of writing, along with the right education to lay the foundation.

Dive into Literature

The most important task for all aspiring authors is to immerse themselves in writing and literature. They need to read voraciously. They can benefit from a background in the classics, knowledge of contemporary literature, and an understanding of religion, philosophy, history, and culture.

When authors pick up a book, they need to read for more than pleasure. They should analyze what they’re reading and think about the choices the author made, from specific words and phrases to storylines and character development. By evaluating great pieces of writing to determine what makes them great, prospective authors can learn vital skills for when the time comes to create their own art.

Get the Right Education

Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in English gives students a deep dive into English literature and language, with courses in classics, world mythology, creative writing, minority voices in literature, and more. It teaches future authors to think critically about literature and language while familiarizing them with important works from around the globe.

Hone Your Craft

Finally, authors need to write. Only by practicing can they continue to improve, come up with new ideas, tell compelling stories, and discover exciting ways of looking at the world. Authors don’t need to wait until they’ve earned a bachelor’s degree to begin writing; many have been practicing since a young age.

Author Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual income for authors and writers was $62,000 in 2018. The lowest 10% earned less than $31,700, and the top 10% earned more than $121,670. Pay varies based on several factors, including work environment, years of experience, reputation and influence, previous publications, and awards.

Employment Outlook for Authors

The BLS reports that 64% of the 131,200 authors and writers in the United States are self-employed. It expects the job market for authors to grow 8% between 2016 and 2026, which is average for most jobs in the U.S. The data points to 5,300 new self-employed writers and another 1,200 working in technical services among the 10,000 jobs added during that span.

Learn More About Becoming an Author

Becoming the next best-selling author or world-famous poet starts with earning the right degree and getting those first words onto paper. See how an online Bachelor of Arts in English from Maryville University could equip you with the skills to become an author and build a fulfilling career that inspires readers across the world.


British Broadcasting Corporation, “Top 10 Tips for Being a Best-Selling Author”

Glassdoor, “Author Salaries”

James Altucher, “How to Self-Publish a Bestseller: Publishing 3.0”

Jerry Jenkins, “How to Become an Author: Your Complete Guide”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Writers and Authors

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