How to Become an Author
Author Careers & Degrees

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Many people aspire to become authors and novelists, seeing your own work in print can be very satisfying.

However, the path to authorship is a long one.

To be successful you’ll need to be willing to put plenty of time, as well as effort, into your craft before you can expect to reach the dizzying heights of the publishing world.

An author is the person who creates the text or content that makes up a book.

It could be a fiction or non-fiction work.

It might be a book aimed at children, young adults, or other demographics.

If you love reading and literature, have a strong aptitude for research, and harbor a love of the written word, then becoming an author may be the right choice for you.

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Education Requirements to Become an Author

There is no formal education requirement to become an author, many successful people in the field will tell you that you do need some life experience, some natural talent, and a strong work ethic.

You can take courses in writing at most colleges, as well as community colleges.

A good start is to take an undergraduate degree in English or humanities.

This will allow you to study subjects like literature, writing, history, and philosophy, all of which will help shape your knowledge of literature and broaden your world view.

If you enjoy studying, you might like to go on to complete a master’s degree in writing, or even a doctorate.

These kind of degrees can be taken part-rime and are offered by colleges which allow you to study off campus, so you can work at the same time if you wish.

While you are studying, you might like to intern at a publishing house to get a feel for how the industry works.

It can also be useful to get a part time job in a book store.

If you want to write for a particular age group, for instance teenagers or elementary school aged children, then look at doing a job that allows you to mix with your intended audience.

A good author always reads more than they write, there are not really any exceptions to these rules.

Reading across all genres is important, from the classics to the modern bestsellers.

Reading magazines, literary journals, and periodicals will help you expand your industry knowledge.

Another good idea is to join a local writers group.

This is a great way to meet like-minded people who share your interests.

You’ll have an opportunity to share your work, and also critique others.

The most important part of being an author is learning to write.

While taking courses will help, the best way to learn this craft is by doing.

Take every opportunity you can to write, be it on your own blog, for your college magazine, or local street magazines that will print your work.

Write some short stories and give them to your friends to read, or even publish them yourself at a site like Lulu.

Of course, to call yourself an author, you’ll need to be published.

Write your manuscript, and start sending it out.

You might like to limit it to a sample, the first three chapters is a good amount.

You’ll need to write a really good query letter to go with it as well.

Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen for you right away, most successful authors write more than one novel before they get published.

Author Job Description

An author writes books, but there is far more to this job than just putting pen to paper.

Here are some of the tasks an author may find themselves completing.

  • Writing content for books
  • Coming up with ideas
  • Editing work
  • Researching story lines and characters
  • Communicating with publishing houses
  • Promoting and marketing work
  • Attending book launches and signings

A big part of being an author is promoting your work once it is published.

While a publishing house will do some of this for you, when you are just starting out you will need to do a fair part of the work yourself.

Author Salary and Career Path

Authors are almost always self-employed.

Some publishers who specialize in educational texts may keep writers on staff, but most often they are employed on a contract basis.

There is a lot of hard work in getting your first piece of work published as well as in promoting it.

It is very hard to predict the income as an author.

Some will receive an advance on their work, others will get royalties after books sell.

Some who work on contract will get a set amount of money for each job they work on.

While some authors make millions of dollars from their work, this is the exception and not the rule.

Some authors may move on to other areas of writing later on in their career, such as journalism or editing.

Some may become teachers, or have academic careers.

For those who love their craft, a career as an author can be incredibly rewarding.

However, much dedication and work will be needed before the goal of publication can be met.

Stay focused on your goals, and work towards them one step at a time.

The below information is based on the 2019 BLS national averages.
  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary

$73,860
$33K
$46K
$73K
$87K
$122K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$66,990
Alaska$65,630
Arizona$55,500
Arkansas$44,400
California$90,970
Colorado$62,670
Connecticut$82,750
Delaware$63,430
District of Columbia$103,980
Florida$64,070
Georgia$66,820
Hawaii$51,210
Idaho$52,330
Illinois$66,820
Indiana$71,500
Iowa$52,780
Kansas$60,230
Kentucky$55,400
Louisiana$42,080
Maine$72,400
Maryland$74,750
Massachusetts$76,870
Michigan$61,010
Minnesota$65,110
Mississippi$58,470
Missouri$56,860
Montana$53,690
Nebraska$50,570
Nevada$53,800
New Hampshire$60,030
New Jersey$80,690
New Mexico$69,330
New York$91,280
North Carolina$67,560
North Dakota$53,350
Ohio$53,790
Oklahoma$46,860
Oregon$69,070
Pennsylvania$63,140
Rhode Island$67,260
South Carolina$53,430
South Dakota$56,590
Tennessee$50,770
Texas$57,550
Utah$50,630
Vermont$62,480
Virginia$70,740
Washington$68,010
West Virginia$65,260
Wisconsin$60,390
Wyoming$47,670
Puerto Rico$43,770

The top earning state in the field is District of Columbia, where the average salary is $103,980.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

District of Columbia - $103,980
New York - $91,280
California - $90,970
Connecticut - $82,750
New Jersey - $80,690
* Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Writers and Authors, OCC Code 27-3043, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionWhat does an author do?

Authors are the professionals who work closely with words; they would use the language to evoke various emotions in the readers, hold their interest or educate them.

There are a lot of types of authors – journalists, poets, novelists, copywriters, screenwriters, and so on.

At the same time, there are a lot of different genres of writing – creative, professional, business, journalistic, academic, etc.

Depending on the path that the author had chosen, his main aims and the ways he or she expresses the ideas and information will differ a bit.

A story writer, for example, is someone who writes short fiction stories for magazines (or other employers).

A novelist writes long stories, while a non-fiction writer can write in a specialized field (like technical writers do).

QuestionHow much do authors make?

On average, an author can make a little more than $62.000 per year in the United States.

In case you decide to choose this career path, you can expect to earn anywhere between $32.000 and $122.000 annually.

The salary would certainly depend on a variety of factors – your education and experience level, the employer, the location and so on.

Authors that work in the District of Columbia, California, and Connecticut, for example, have the highest average salaries.

An entry-level author can earn around $15.00 per hour, while a top-level specialist with plenty of experience can make $58.00 and more per hour.

QuestionHow much does it cost to become an author?

There certainly are authors that can succeed on their talent alone; however, in most cases, aspiring authors have at least a certificate or an undergraduate degree.

A short-term writing certificate program can cost you a few hundred (or thousands) of dollars.

You might want to go for an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree in writing, in order to become an author.

A year in a university can cost you anywhere between $8.000 and $45.000 (and more); the cost depends on a variety of factors (the books, supplies, and accommodation expenses are not included).

To improve job prospects, you can decide to go for a master’s degree in creative writing, professional writing, fine arts, etc.; that can cost you $6.000-$70.000 per year.

QuestionWhat is the demand for authors?

Between 2016 and 2026, the author’s job market is expected to grow by 7.6%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That is close to the average for all occupations in the United States.

Bear in mind that the majority of businesses and organizations will be focusing on digital content in the near future.

The industry is mainly concentrated in Texas, New York, and California.

QuestionHow long does it take to become an author?

There is plenty of writing certificate programs; the short-term ones can last only for a few weeks or months, while others might require a year or two of your time.

It will take you 2 years to acquire an associate’s degree, 4 years to obtain a bachelor’s degree, and 1-2 years to earn a master’s degree.

You can consider seeking an internship during your last years in university to get that on-job experience as the majority of employers prefer the candidates to have at least a few years of experience.

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