So You Want To Be An Author

Are you sure? Are you really, really sure?

Great! One question, before we get started: why?

This article is aimed at new writers.

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No, I’m not trying to dissuade you from writing. I’m asking you to examine your reasons for wanting to write. If your answer is along the lines of I heard you can make great money writing smut, stop right there. Do not pass go.

But I want money, you say? Well, there’s many reasons NOT to try writing for money – the first and foremost being, the average writer’s income was a median of $6,080 in 2017, down 42 percent from 2009, according to the Author’s Guild. This was published January 2019. It’s WAY down, in part because there’s so much free content available. This isn’t to disparage free books. But it’s created an expectation of free that isn’t sustainable for authors. So if money’s your primary motivation, look elsewhere.

Writing is a lot of hard, lonely work. It can be lucrative, but success is *far* from guaranteed, even in the day of Kindle Unlimited and simple digital distribution across continents. If your answer is I love telling stories and I love reading romance, then strap in. I’m happy to share what’s worked for me as an author.

Step 1: Learn to write

Have you’ve ever read a romance novel – or other book – that didn’t work for you? I’m not offended if it was one of mine. More on that later. If your first thought was, I could do better than that, I will be the first to encourage you to do it!

Mostly because you’ll quickly learn just how damn difficult it is to produce even a “terrible” book. Hours of effort have gone into producing the worst book you’ve ever read. I’m a mid-to-fast writer by word count. I can, at top speed, produce a thousand words an hour. I’ll keep about three-quarters of them after editing. That’s a vast improvement from where I started as a baby author, when I’d produce 300 words an hour and throw out two-thirds of them in revision. If that’s what you’re doing now, that’s okay. Keep going.

Romance Writers of America defines a novella as between 20,000 and 40,000 words. A short novel is between 40,000 and 56,000 words. The definition of a long novel depends on category. In historical, a long novel is more than 89,000 words. That’s a lot of words! Even if I’d kept every single word of my first book, The Wild Lord, I’d have spent 80+ hours of my life producing that book. I wrote it from 2011-2016, and didn’t keep most of the words, so trust me when I say I spent upwards of 300 hours producing a story you’ll read in three or four hours. That doesn’t include the time I spent querying agents and editors, getting rejected, finally obtaining a contract, getting orphaned, and finally deciding to go self-published in 2019. That’s my most successful book to date. I’ve been publishing since 2017. 

Here are some resources that taught me to write better and faster. All are free or under $10. Many of these will be available from your local library, either in print or electronic format.

Understanding Show, Don’t Tell, and Really Getting It by Janice Hardy

  • Literally the first writing advice you get says, “show, don’t tell.” What does that mean? Janice Hardy breaks it down, sentence by sentence. $3.99 on Amazon and well worth the $9.99 paperback price. Check your local library for a copy.

15 Story Beats to Keep Your NaNoWriMo Novel on Track by WriteOnSisters (Free article)

  • Do you know what story beats are? Neither did I. Once you do, though, you’ll recognize them in every story you encounter.
  • For more depth, check out Save The Cat by Blake Snyder. Once you understand the basics of story structure, you’ll spot them in every movie, television show and book you read. Many people “learn” these beats by osmosis, but as a writer, it’s very helpful to have them laid out in step-by-step order.

    Personally, I found Stealing Hollywood by Alexandra Sokoloff extremely helpful for story structure. Again, check your library to get this for free.

If you want to sell a high-concept story to a publisher, or hit exactly the right notes in self-publishing, read this book. As of this writing, $3.99 on Amazon.

Step 2: Preparing your book for submission or publication