CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become an author.
Is becoming an author right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
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A high school degree or equivalent is the minimum educational requirement to qualify for the majority of writing jobs. Coursework in English, reading, and creative writing is especially valuable for aspiring authors. While in secondary school, future writers can also develop skills and gain exposure to the field by contributing to the school newspaper or yearbook.
Select a Professional Path
Because of the diversity of the field, prospective writers should decide on a career focus or specialty before embarking on their post-secondary education. They need to consider the many options available to them and discover the one that is best suited to their talents and aspirations. This process starts with asking questions such as these:
Do I want to write fiction and be a short story writer or novelist?
Do I want to write non-fiction pieces and work as a business writer or copywriter?
Do I want to write columns and articles for newspapers and magazines and be a journalist?
Do I want to write online content and be a web writer or blogger?
Undergraduate Certificate or Degree
While a small number of authors and writers succeed on natural talent alone, the far more common route to entering the field is an undergraduate certificate or degree:
Certificate in Writing
Short-term writing certificate programs teach students applied writing skills, the mechanics and styles of writing, and how to write for different audiences. These programs generally offer curricula in multiple niche areas, ranging from fiction to business writing, newspaper to web writing.
Associate’s Degree in Writing
The Associate’s Degree curricula is an industry-focused academic program. It provides students with practical knowledge they can use to transition into an entry-level writer or editor position or to continue on to a four-year Bachelor’s Degree program. Most Associate’s programs require two years of full-time study to complete between sixty and sixty-six credit hours.
Students can opt for one of two majors when earning an Associate of Arts Degree in English: writing or creative writing. The writing major covers both the fundamentals of literary theory and development of professional skills in technical writing, business communication, advanced composition and editing, and news and informational writing.
The creative writing major serves as an introduction to genre writing. The focus of this program is to familiarize students with the four major literary genres: poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama.
Bachelor’s Degree in Writing
A four-year Bachelor’s Degree program exposes students to coursework in both general education and their chosen writing specialty. This academic pathway can lead to work as writer or lay the foundation for graduate studies.
At this level, the most common majors are English literature, creative writing, and English composition:
This major blends the study of writing with literature. It introduces different forms of writing, such as fiction, novel, and expository/informational writing. It also explores contemporary American and English literature. These programs teach students how to critically analyze written texts and use workshops to help students improve their own writing.
Creative writing programs typically cover one of six genres: non-fiction, fiction, children’s literature, young adult literature, poetry, or scriptwriting. This major integrates theory and practice in composition and revision. Its objective is to prepare students for professional opportunities as writers and to become published authors.
This major exposes students to the fundamentals of professional writing. It focuses on skills required across writing careers with non-profit groups, government agencies, and publications; and in the entertainment, media, and business sectors. The curriculum covers composition, business writing, grammar and rhetoric, and language theory. Its overall goal is to develop students’ talents in critical writing, research, and analysis.
Many writing programs incorporate internships that allow students to gain practical experience by applying what they learned in the classroom to real-world projects. Internships in the business, marketing, and healthcare fields are often available to prospective copywriters and journalists.
Master’s Degree (optional)
After gaining some professional experience, writers may choose to pursue a graduate degree in writing. Master of Arts and Master of Fine Arts programs provide students with advanced understanding of literary theory and writing techniques and an opportunity to further develop their own writing abilities.
The Master’s in writing can take several forms. The following is a summary of the emphases of each possible degree in the discipline:
Master of Arts in Rhetoric and Composition
Academic and professional writing
Positions students for careers as teachers, professional writers, media specialists
Master of Arts in Literature with a Writing Emphasis
Introduction to the study of writing and literature
A flexible course of study for students seeking careers in publishing, professional writing, or editing
Typically serves as a bridge to a Ph.D. program
Master of Arts in Creative Writing
Focus in a single concentration: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or professional writing
Development of writing skills outside of concentration genre
Graduates may become authors, journalists, bloggers, educators
Master of Arts in Professional Writing
Skill-based writing in policy development
White paper writing
Aimed at students interested in careers in editing and writing in government, business, or industry positions
Master of Fine Arts
Singular focus on developing creative writing skills
Curriculum based on a specific emphasis (for example: fiction, nonfiction, poetry)
Coursework focused on the theories of that emphasis and practical, real-world application
Doctorate Degree (optional)
Doctoral programs in writing are aimed at students who wish to work in academia as scholars and educators at the university level. As they do at the undergraduate level, students choose an English specialization (rhetoric and composition; creative writing; literature; etc.). Ph.D. programs in writing are extremely competitive as they can position graduates for tenure-track university positions.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to become an Author?
Not all authors and writers complete the same level of undergraduate education. Following their undergraduate studies, some elect to earn a Master’s degree; others do not. Still others pursue a Doctorate.
Here are the typical timelines associated with these options:
Short-term Certificate in Writing – a minimum of five to eight classes Associate’s Degree in Writing – two years Bachelor’s Degree in Writing – four years Master’s Degree in Writing – one to two years Doctorate Degree in Writing – four to six years
For individuals seeking to become authors or novelists, the road to success is often more challenging. Their path includes writing a full-length novel, securing an agent, and selling their work to a publisher.
Are Authors happy?
Authors rank among the happiest careers. Overall they rank in the 95th percentile of careers for satisfaction scores. Please note that this number is derived from the data we have collected from our Sokanu members only.
This high happiness quotient may have its roots in the equally high degree of freedom that authors enjoy: freedom to work independently as freelancers; creative freedom to express themselves in their writing; and freedom to collaborate with diverse partners, including clients, editors, and publishers.
Steps to becoming an Author
The steps to becoming an author or writer vary somewhat according to the chosen professional path and specialty.
What are Authors like?
Based on our pool of users, authors tend to be predominately artistic people. Take our career test to see what career interest category best describes you.
The work of authors is by nature inventive and artistic. Author Sydney Sheldon said, ‘A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God.’ While it was likely not Sheldon’s intention to equate authors with God, his words articulately – and with humor – speak to the artistic challenge which writers and authors take on every day: to create something original, imaginative, compelling, and memorable.
Should I become an Author?
Writing talent alone is not enough to make it as a professional author. Authors and writers of all kinds need to have a well-rounded skill set to be successful. The decision to enter the field should be preceded by consideration of all of the skills that the occupation demands:
Language Skills While this may go without saying, authors must possess solid language skills. Without heightened knowledge of the rules of grammar, spelling, word usage, and phraseology, writers lack the very foundation of their craft.
Imagination Authors start with a blank page. They fill it with their imagination. To do so, they need to be creative thinkers, able to generate raw material, be it for a novel, a poem, a business document, a magazine article or a blog post.
Research Skills The capacity to effectively research topics and interpret data is a core component of the author’s toolbox. Thorough research can be the difference between content that is valid, well-founded, and compelling; and content that is inaccurate, questionable, and inconsequential.
Communication Skills In their role, authors must often call upon their communication abilities to interact and/or collaborate with clients, sources, editors, and readers.
Digital Media Savvy The modern marketing landscape requires that authors understand the basics of website creation and search engine optimization. With this knowledge, they are able to create in-depth content focused on web publication and online audiences.
Diligence Writing is a repetitious process that often takes numerous drafts to complete. The best writers are therefore industrious and unrelenting in their pursuit of the perfect piece of writing.
Ambition Because many authors and writers are self-employed freelancers, they must be self-motivated and determined. They have to take a strategic approach to landing new clients and producing strong material and content.
As important as what writers must have to succeed is what they must give up to flourish in the field. If you plan to write for a living, plan to give up these things:
Your Sense of Entitlement Nobody owes you their attention. If you intend to make a living with your writing, your words are – by definition – a product. It is your responsibility, therefore, to create your best work. Consistently ask yourself these questions: Why should anyone want to read my writing, visit my website, or buy my book? Am I a diligent and dedicated writer? Am I making a steady effort to produce quality material and connect with people who would be interested in my writing?
Your Romanticism Writing is artistic. It is a craft. While these statements are true, they can also get in the way of the pragmatism required of aspiring authors and writers. You may love the romanticized version of the work, the idea of being a writer. But are you practical about the writing itself? In other words, do you pay attention to the person on the other end of the page – the reader? Does your writing meet a market need? To become someone who actually earns money from their writing will likely mean abandoning your idealism and fantasies about the work. An extensive vocabulary and the technical ability to compose beautifully balanced sentences will not make you a great writer. Moving people will make you a great writer. Entertaining, educating, and inspiring people will make you a great writer.
Your Fear of Marketing You may want to just write. You may think that good writing should be enough on its own. It’s not. The build it and they will come mentality is not a recipe for success as an author. Accomplished writers find people who want to read their kind of writing and get it in front of them. They market themselves. This means finding websites with established audiences and publishing your work there. This means creating a blog. This means connecting with influential people who can help promote your work. Art and business are not mutually exclusive. Marketing is not a dirty word. It’s a prerequisite for success.
Your Time & Your Excuses Building a writing career takes time. It doesn’t happen right now. It happens eventually. When you write consistently, your writing skills grow exponentially. How many blog posts have you written? Have you outlined your book? How many words do you have under your belt? Do you write every day? Be honest with yourself and be patient. Are you putting in the work or are you complaining too early?
Your Need for Approval Being an author or novelist is not the most traditional of careers. It is a deviation outside the normal path, one that some people around you will probably not understand or be receptive to. They will tell you that it is impractical or risky; and that they don’t want you to be disappointed. Resist putting your identity in someone else’s hands. Trust yourself. Trust the process. And take advantage of the fact this is the best time in human history to become a writer, because you don’t need a publisher to endorse you. You can self-publish and let you audience be the judge.
How to become an Author
Writing is an extremely diverse occupational field with multi-faceted career paths. For this reason, there is no single route to becoming an author, which is one of the major benefits of the profession.
Using their command of the common language of their audience, authors conceptualize, research, write, and edit manuscripts, poems, articles, and other types of written content. They work across genres, from nonfiction to poetry, fiction to satire. In the business environment, they work as journalists, web writers, copywriters, technical writers, blog and feature writers, and as editors. This spectrum of opportunities in the field means that authors and writers are broadly employed in different industries.
This is a unique occupation, as the majority of authors are self-employed – approximately two-thirds – according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Along with superior writing skills, authors must have advanced research skills, as they are often called upon to conduct exhaustive research, to parse data and find the story within that data. In terms of education, there are two types of writing training: formal and informal. Formal training includes completing a degree program at the undergraduate or graduate level. Many authors and professional writers choose either an Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree in English with an emphasis in writing, creative writing, business writing, technical writing, or science writing. Others may pursue a degree in journalism or communications. Writers who wish to work and be published in a specific industry or technical/business sector may also complete studies or supplemental degrees in those areas. The informal aspect of learning to be an author is obvious. Beyond completing a traditional degree program, writers need to write and develop a portfolio.