You wrote a book. It got published. Does that make you an author?
Oh sure, technically, you can say you’re an author. But when you file your taxes, under occupation, do you write “Author?”
I do. And when I meet somebody new and they ask my occupation, I say “author” then, too.
To do that, you have to be a successful author. Here’s what that means, and how to do it.
How successful authors make a living
Sure, there are people who make enough money from book advances and royalties to make a good living. But that shouldn’t be your ambition, at least at first.
If you want to call yourself an author, your ambition should be that writing books generates the bulk of your income.
That doesn’t just mean book advances and royalties. It also includes speeches. Or it may include consulting on the topic of your book.
You’ve heard the quip “Don’t quit your day job.” Well, if you make enough from book advances, royalties, related articles, speeches, consulting, and other related revenues to quit your day job, then congratulations, you are an author. If your book is so successful that it changes how your company thinks of you — and as a result, your day job at the company becomes more and more related to the book — then yes, you are an author.
One more thing. If you want to be a successful author, you can’t stop at one book. Books age and fall out of favor. So to truly be an author, you need publish, or have a plan to publish, more books.
Let’s recap. To make a living as an author, you need to publish a book, make enough money from that book and related sources to make a decent living, and have a plan to publish more books.
But how do you do that?
How to become an author
If being an author is your ambition, how do you do that?
Here’s an incomplete list.
- Have a unique, differentiated idea that’s big enough for a book. Develop the idea to make it bigger, better, and stronger.
- Figure out how to get the time to work on that idea, either outside your work, or at work with the permission and encouragement of your employer.
- Plan carefully. Line up case studies, do web research, and collect data.
- Choose a publishing model — either pitch a traditional publisher or hire a hybrid publisher. What about self-publishing? That’s a fine way to get a book out, but it’s not the best way to build a business as an author.
- Write. Authors write. It’s not all they do, but if you don’t write, you certainly won’t become an author.
- Prepare to promote. For you to make a living as an author, the book needs to be more than just a bound sheaf of pages. It needs to sell — and it needs promotional resources. Unless you promote the book, it’s not going to generate enough visibility to build a business around.
That might seem a lot harder than just writing and publishing. Writing and publishing are enough to make you a writer. But to be an author — a person who makes a living from writing books — you’ll need to work a little harder.
Luckily, the life of an author is awesome. Speaking as a person who accurately types “Author” as my occupation on tax forms — it’s worth it.
2 responses to “What does it take to call yourself an author?”
“If you want to call yourself an author, your ambition should be that writing books generates the bulk of your income. That doesn’t just mean book advances and royalties. It also includes speeches. Or it may include consulting on the topic of your book.”
I just told an author yesterday to think more holistically about writing books. One need not sell oodles of copies to justify the time, effort, and expense. Hell, you could sell 15 copies to CEOs, land 15 speaking gigs, and make far more than you would if you sold 15,000 books, especially if you work the traditional publishers.
I’ve written several non-fiction books, mostly to update or complete existing series. Only one was the product of my imagination. I refer to myself as a writer, not a journalist or an author. Even then, I think of Paul Froiland, lecturing at the University of Minnesota, who said: “If you want to be a writer, write. If you just want people to think you’re a writer, buy a beret and some clove cigarettes and head down to the coffee shop.”