29 April 2018
Ten Habits of a Successful Author
Written by Lynne (editor)

You’ve thought of a story idea. You know it will work and you think it’s fresh and interesting and the reading public will adore it! You’re ready to sit down and start writing.

But wait! If you’re truly looking for literary success you need to go about this the right way, and that starts before you write a word.

Here are ten habits of a successful author.

1. Research and learn
Research is an important element when it comes to writing. And I’m not talking about research into the subject of your book, even though you will need to do that too. I’m talking about research into the best way to write it.

Is this the first time you have written anything? Do you know how to write? Do you know that there are different techniques that should be employed, regardless of whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction? Do you know about styles and point of view and showing instead of telling?

You need to be aware of these techniques, especially if you’re hoping to interest an agent or a traditional publisher.

The best way to learn them is to research. Look online. Join a writers’ group, either online or one in your area. Maybe you could take a course on writing. Search for ones that are run in your area or maybe ones that are run via the internet. Here’s our helpful article about writer’s centres in Australia.

It’s best to get this information before you start to write. If you discover it after, then you’ll need to rewrite your manuscript, which could take as long as it took to write in the first place. It’s best to make sure you understand these things first, then start writing.

Also, if you’re writing non-fiction, make sure you’ve researched the area you’re writing about so what you say is both relevant and factually correct. Back up any potentially fallacious comments with a reference. If you’re writing fiction, make sure you have the details correct, especially if it’s a historical or contemporary novel. Did they really use carriages like the one you’ve described in that time period? Would the police really investigate a case that way? Make sure you have these things straight, then start writing.

First-time authors have a lot to learn about publishing and promoting books. It pays to have a publishing consultant in your corner who you can call on at any time.

2. Read
Reading is an ideal way to train yourself to write and is closely linked to research. Read as many books as you can on the subject you’re writing about (for non-fiction) or in the genre you’re writing in (for fiction).

Try and ensure they’re books provided by reputable publishers, as sometimes self-published books have unintended errors which you may inadvertently copy. Make sure you read a varied number of them to get different perspectives so you can write intelligently on your subject (non-fiction) or so you know how people usually write books in your genre (fiction). Make sure they’re recently published, as trends can change and your information needs to be up-to-date.

3. Know where you’re going
Before you start writing it’s a good idea to find out what your goals are for your book. Is it something you’re writing for family and friends only or is it something you want to be made available to the public? Do you want it printed or ebook only, or both? Are you hoping it will sell well and establish you as a new author in your genre or subject area?

Make these decisions now and do some research at the outset to work out what you want your book to achieve. Writing a book can be tricky, but marketing it and making sales is even harder. If that’s your goal, it’s best to start considering some ideas on how to go about it. If you need some advice from a book publishing guru it’s never too soon to get started, even before you write your book!

4. Use the right software
There are so many ways to write a book these days, but if you use an unusual piece of software, such as a writing app, or try to skip ahead so your book can go up as an ebook more easily, you may find this will backfire. Writing a book in layout software such as Adobe InDesign, Apple iBooks or the myriad of apps and web-based ‘writing’ programs is not a good idea because these programs lack the track changes feature of Microsoft Word.

The most efficient way for an editor to show you what they think needs to change, is for them to actually do the changes in a Microsoft Word document. Track changes allows you to accept or reject each change, or select entire pages or an entire document to accept all the changes.

Microsoft Word is also universally useable all over the world, on PC and Mac, on all kinds of tablet devices and will be ready for ‘placement’ in a printed book design program like Adobe InDesign. You can find out more on What software should I use to write my book?

5. Become adept at organising your computer files
A writer’s main tool is the keyboard and computer. You must become adept at saving your files. This means using logically structured folders on your desktop computer. Use the ‘save as’ feature regularly and keep multiple copies with increasing version numbers saved into the file name, so that you can always go back if you need to.

It’s common for writers to lose hours of writing work, so try to limit the impact computer failures can have. Have an offsite back-up that regularly saves all your creative efforts, as well as any business-related files. You can use an external hard drive for this or, even better, a cloud back-up solution such as Dropbox, Apple iCloud, Microsoft One Drive or Google Drive. You can do this manually or for free or automate it by paying for a cloud backup solution.

6. Allocate time and finish what you start
If you’re going to commit to writing a book, you need to make sure you have the time to do it. Try to work out a time in your schedule which you will devote to writing. Perhaps it will be in the evening, after the kids are in bed, or during your lunch hour at work, or on Sunday afternoon, when the house is quiet.

Whenever it is, commit to keeping that time for your writing. Of course, there will be circumstances when that time is not available to you, but if you don’t commit to a specific time in the first place, you’ll likely just do snatches of it here and there, and end up coming back to it after too long and not remembering what was happening. If you don’t commit time to writing your book, you may lose interest and it may never be completed.

Finish the manuscript you start. Don’t let lack of interest or writer’s block prevent you from completing it. If you think it isn’t working, remember you can always go back and edit it later if you need to improve it. There’s no point in improving an unfinished manuscript, as it will never be ready until it’s complete.

Try to stay focused on one manuscript at a time. It can become very confusing if you are working on three or more books in the same period. It is likely to be more efficient and result in more cohesive writing for you to start and finish each piece.

7. Get a professional edit
You’ve finished your manuscript and you think it’s pretty good. You’ve done your research and you’ve followed all the necessary techniques. You’ve read up on your subject and genre and you think you’ve nailed it. It’s time to search for a publisher!

Not so fast. Have you had your book professionally edited? This is an essential step many authors overlook. Even the most popular best-selling authors still have their books professionally edited. Why? Because they know they’re too close to their book to see it objectively. They need a professional to look over it and let them know what they need to do.

Ah, but I gave it to my English professor to look at, you might say. Or to my mother. She used to be an English teacher. Unfortunately, this is still not enough. Unless these people are professionals in the field of writing for public consumption they will likely miss things that a professional editor will pick up. And even if they have experience in this area, if it’s not up-to-date, they may not be aware of current trends, as a professional author would be.

Do not skip this step. Many authors forego a professional edit and end up releasing books that are filled with errors or contain so much backstory and incidental information that they’re hard to follow. Make sure you get a professional edit. It will make your manuscript more likely to sell.

8. Have realistic expectations
Your manuscript is completed. It’s been professionally edited at least once and you’ve followed your editor’s instructions on how to improve it. Now you’re looking for a publisher. You’re absolutely convinced that you’re sitting on the Next Big Thing and pretty soon the publishers will have a bidding war over your book!

It’s not a good idea to go into writing with this expectation. Even the biggest authors had to start somewhere, and often that road was long and difficult. JK Rowling shopped Harry Potter around for ten years before it was picked up.

It is extremely difficult to get a big publisher even if your book is amazing, so if you can’t get one, don’t worry. Self-publishing is a step many authors take now (including some who are now making a good name for themselves) and it may be the best thing for you.

Regardless of whether you’re traditionally published or self-published, you will be expected to do a lot of book marketing to help this book sell. Why wouldn’t you want to do that? The more people who hear about your book, the more sales you’re likely to have. You need to consider every marketing avenue possible.

And even if you take all of them, it will still take time to build up your profile, your ‘author platform’. Most authors don’t gain a decent reputation until about the sixth book or so. It will take time and it will require a lot of work on your part, but the result will be that you’re a published author with well-written books to your name. Isn’t that why you started this journey in the first place?

9. Commit to marketing
Marketing your book is something you must commit to doing, even if you get a big name publisher. They will only give you a limited time to show your book can be a success, so you need to do whatever you can to help you get over the line.

Research marketing ideas. What should you do? Do you have an active internet marketing strategy, including website, blog and social media? Are you using video, podcasts and other multimedia to spread your message? Can you go to book events for books in a similar genre to yours? Are there other events on your subject where you can take your book so people interested in that subject know it’s available? Is your local bookstore interested? Or your local paper? Maybe they could feature you.

Take every opportunity to let people know about your book so that word of it gets out.

10. Make yourself available to other people
Readers love to communicate with their favourite authors, so as your book becomes known, they may want to email you or contact you via social media. This means it’s a good idea to have social media accounts dedicated to your books and you as an author. This can make it easy for them to contact you.

It’s also a great way to get feedback from your audience about what they liked and what they weren’t that crazy about, and that’s something that’s only going to benefit you when it comes to future writing projects.

As an author you will also need to network with other people in your industry, other authors and people in publishing. Most successful authors have a tribe of people following them, and one way to get a tribe is to build one through networking in person and online. Writing an awesome book that your target market is hungry for would also be helpful!

Have you ever wondered why some books have a foreword written by a prominent person in the same field as the author? The author has made this happen through their relationships and networking skills. The credibility you can gain from networking with other influencers, in the most genuine and one-on-one way possible, will start you on the path to becoming an influencer yourself.

So before you put pen to paper… or fingers to keyboard, consider these things. Do you want to make a good name for yourself? Do you want to do it right the first time? Look at the above steps and start at the first and work your way down. It will help improve your writing and make you more confident about where you’re heading as an author.

Happy writing!

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