How to become an author?

I just spent the last week interviewing writers, researching authors and their journeys to success, and in general revisiting my own trials and tribulations as I learned how to become an author. Not uber successful, just a writer who’s steadily getting better and starting to make more money.

Let me tell you, it was exhausting!

Here’s what I confirmed: everyone’s an “expert”, no one agrees, and before you even begin your writer journey, you end up more confused than when you started. It’s no wonder so many of us would-be successful authors are ending up frustrated and procrastinating with no idea which direction to head.

The “Become an Author” market is like a shark feeding frenzy right now!

I’ve watched as writing course after writing course and expert after expert has thrown their hat into the author training three ring circus, ready to cash in on the seemingly insatiable appetite that we indie authors have for hope.

Jack Canfield even wants to sell you some “Poultry Broth for the Aspiring Writer’s Slowly Simmering away Soul.” And so help me, if Stephen King comes out with a writing course…!

But all of them know what we’re after and every one of them has a course to help you find your inner writer.

And just what does your little inner-writer child want?

Yes, that’s right, in the beginning, at least for most of us wannabe scribblers, we’re simply searching for hope. A little light at the end of the typing tunnel of our longing-to-become-famous scrivener souls—write books, or craft novels, or pen anything worth reading. Even a glimmer of ghostwriting goodness that doesn’t turn out to be a train would be welcome.

And most of us, I know I have been guilty of this many times, are willing to listen and pay to learn this indie self publishing game from the ground up … if we could only find out what works, what doesn’t and more importantly, which writers, pushing pencils filled with advice, we should trust.

So we buy and consume creative writing courses, blog posts about authorship, YouTube videos about building out an author platform… Anything and everything, like little composing locusts hell-bent on crunching every last ounce of copy that might contain the answer to our prayers—“Make me a rich writer, Jesus, and I promise I’ll…(insert half-serious hail Mary promise here)”

The TRUTH … about how to become an author.

There are 9 of them. (Because we all like to see small numbers we can wrap our minds around and I couldn’t stretch the list to that magic “10“)

#1 – We all have an irrational fear of writing when we start out.

This is so universal that I’m surprised there isn’t more information on the subject. However, marketers LOVE this. Why? Because fear sells … just about every damn thing on the planet.

An irrational fear of writing, or as I said it in the book I wrote on the subject— The fear of “Sucking at writing”, has sold more courses on writing, how-to “authorpreneur” books, and writer software wizardry than anything else.

It seems that we all suffer from the same writer self-doubting psychosis—“Can I do this?” The short and sweet answer, Dorothy, is YES!

Here’s the catch.

In the beginning, you WILL suck and the only way to get better is to write more.


#2 – You gotta really want to be an author

“Writing’s easy. Simply stare at a blank sheet of paper until blood pours out of your eyes.”

I’ve read more old-dead-author quotes that went something like that than I can count. There must be something to that writing advice though, right? Indeed there is.

During your creative career, more than once, and the tenth time won’t be the last, you will hit the wall. Your writer muse won’t show up, your author mojo will shrivel up, and your scrivening willpower will dry up.

AUTHORPRENEUR ADVICE – Don’t take my word for it, Elizabeth Gilbert (you might recognize her famous book turned into a Julia Roberts EAT, PRAY, LOVE fest) did a TED talk about it. You gotta just keep writing!

#3 – Becoming an author is not “EASY!”

There’s that word—“easy.” You know why all marketers tell you it’s easy to become an author? Because the word “easy” sells shit, lots of it.

Can you imagine these headlines for a writing course or authorship book:

“The hardest way to struggle to make a living there is. You’re gonna love it. Click HERE.”

“The cold, hard, lonely, anxiety-ridden, self-doubting, frustrating pathway to writer success. Click HERE for the book.”

#4 – Your writer journey will take T … I … M … E.

What about this headline for a writing course?

“3 years to become a successful self-published indie author. Click HERE for the 1095 day course!” (Yep, that’s how many days it is. Trust me, I used the calculator app on my MAC to figure it out.)

No hopeful author would buy a course on writing with that title, so most of the marketing aimed at writers you’ll find out there, my hypocritical shit included, sucks you in with titles like, 9 easy steps or 1 fun-filled month or 90 totally tribulation-free days and you too can become a bestselling author.


#5 – Becoming a successful author is HARD work.

THREE years! that sounds like real hard work, doesn’t it? And when we decided to check out this writer thing, we weren’t looking for any more of that crap, were we?

Most of us already have soul-sucking JOBS that can take care of the “hard work” part of living life, but that’s what it’s gonna take.

Still don’t believe me?

#6 – Three years, Grasshopper. Author success takes three years.

I’ve followed a few successful indie authors’ journeys, and to a last one of them I’ve WAGGED (Wild Ass Guessed – Educationally Determined) that they each took about … you guessed it … three years.

A three-years-in-the-making dream team of indie author success.

Joanna Penn – I’m telling you, I can’t flip to a writing course’s testimonial page, do an SEMrush keyword competitiveness search on “writing fiction novels”, or turn over an indie author summit “rock” without J.F. Penn or The Creative Penn website URL staring back at me.

And roughly from the time Joanna wrote her first novel, bought a crapload of physical books and sat on them in her garage, and then commenced to self-publish, indie-author herself to greatness was IMNSEHO—three years.

HINT – If you’re a warm writer, if you’re thinking of writing “fuzzy” fiction, if people call you “nice”, if you’re a delicate flower of author feelings, if your authorpreneur skin is thin, you think you can’t take a “hit”, you smile at every puppy you see, and you prefer your writing “gods” with happy and hopeful faces, full of encouragement, Joanna Penn is your priestess.

(J.F. Penn gushes writing success hope like a fire hydrant that just got run over by a taxicab.) this is a CTT And I mean that in the nicest way, Joanna.

Mark Dawson – The MD of author dreams of stardom, I like to call him. Mark Dawson started out writing fiction thrillers, hooked up with another awesome UK author, Nick Stevenson, and then turned his “insane writing on the train” habit into a $450k a year author-rags-to-riches, hope-giving, Facebook author AD training dynasty!

Mark Dawson is on fire and pouring on the petrol, as they say in his native UK.

You wanna find out why your fiction is failing? Mark Dawson will show you the way to get in front of Facebook fans … even if you write “50 shades of little gray alien” sci-fi smacky-butt romance novels.

Mark’s like the Tony Robbins of Facebook ads for aspiring authors.

Steve Scott – Okay, the only reason you’re third on the list, Steve, is because you’re my non-fiction guru and I’m super prejudiced toward fiction authors.

Unassumingly awesome! That’s how I’d describe non-fiction nice guy, indie author sensation Steve Scott. He started with a catalog of habits books, moved to a self-publishing podcast and ended up at teaching you how to become an author with authority over at Authority self-publishing.

In comparison to my other two dream team members, Steve Scott only pulls in an educated and estimated by me, $30-40k/month. That number may be a little high, may be a little low, but I think most of us first year and before authors could scrape out a living on even say … $20k/month if we absolutely had to give up the yacht and private yoga studio. It would be tough, but we could suffer through it.

And that brings me to number…

#7 – Becoming an author is—at least in part—about the money

Don’t let anyone else kid you, and don’t delude your little wannabe author self either, this shit’s about getting paid.

If it weren’t, every piece of marketing copy you read about becoming an author read would be about how to seclude yourself in a cabin in the mountains for the rest of your life, write like Hemingway, and then wait until you were dead to be discovered. I mean, you wouldn’t want your creative voice and art destroyed or tainted by all that nasty money, would you?

Think about it, you’re not breaking fingers clicking into blog posts, getting carpal tunnel signing up for writer courses, or hanging on the every word of Stephen King [gag-reflex for the over-referenced writing advice and over-quoted writing quotes] were it not for your interest in the money and how successful authors made and make it!

I told you at the beginning of this post—truth.

#8 – Author advice is like what, again?

It seems like everyone with a literary pulse is pumping content aimed at would-be writers who want to become authors these days. Yes, yes, me too, however, I’ve written a few million words of fiction and several hundred thousand of non-fiction and haven’t done half-bad in making some money, so I have a little bit to say on the subject. And here it is…

Your writer pathway is your own.

No two writer lives will be alike. You’re not Stephen King, no matter how many times you read his On Writing book. I could no more be Joanna Penn than a Pitbull could be a Pomeranian.

My best advice to you is to take all writing advice with a grain of salt. Use what makes sense to you and fits with your own genuine writer voice, style, and circumstances. Then disregard the rest of it, even if it’s by the most prestigious MFA professor, the most successful NYT bestselling author, or the best indie author you’ve ever heard of.

Why? Because you are you and you can only write like you, in your voice. Your life will give you the time you can commit to writing. Your personality will dictate how much you can write in one sitting. Your schedule will dictate how often you can write. Your willpower will effect how fast you learn to write better. And every last ounce of that is exactly how you should become a writer—you as an author. Stop trying to emulate someone else, and be yourself with your own writer voice.

And yet … there is one thing you have to do above all else. Something so simple that, in our quest to get to the finish line of writing success faster, many of us skip over and neglect it.

The last truth that I’m sure you’re ecstatic to get to, number nine.

#9 – Would-be authors, Stop Aspiring and Start Perspiring

You have to stop ASSpiring (yes I meant that extra “s” to be there) to maybe, one day, possibly write for a living and start PERspiring in order to become a professional author right now.