If you’re here, you might be wondering how to be a writer for a living. When I see bestselling authors who have turned writing books into a full-time career, I have to stop and ask myself: “How did they do it?”
Stephen King has written over seventy bestsellers since the publication of Carrie in 1974. To this day he continues to write consistently.
James Patterson has sold more than 300 million books worldwide. He has been quoted as saying: “It’s pretty much seven days a week for me. You’re lucky if you find something you like to do and then it’s a miracle somebody will pay you to do it. That’s my situation. It’s not work for me. These are all stories that I’m really dying to tell.”
Here are the traits of a writer:
- Has a writing habit
- Thinks of writing as a business
- Writes what people want to read
- Delegates non-writing to professionals
- Habitual note-taker
- Read with purposeful intent
- Retains readers & builds a fanbase
- Recognizes the importance of rewriting
- Writes despite fear
- Master at taking rejection
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, once jobless and with a dependent child, has sold over 430 million copies of her books.
What magic formula do these authors have? What super-talent have they been blessed with? What am I NOT doing now that I could be doing to turn my passion for writing into a real career?
How to Be a Writer
Now you might be thinking, “Well, good for them. But I just want to make enough money on my writing to earn a living, not 100 million bucks!”
But it’s not about how much money you can make at your writing. That might come later, but what really matters is this: practicing the habits and actions professional authors implement as part of their work life that leads to this kind of success. You don’t have to earn a fortune to be a professional writer; you just need to model what the pros do and the outcome will take care of itself.
There are a set of definitive traits pro authors have that make them masters of the trade. Good writing that sells is the result of these essential traits. For both indie and traditionally published authors, these 10 traits of professional authors are universal and a must-have for launching your author career.
Here are the top 10 traits of pro authors, and how you can adopt these traits to become a professional writer that gets books published, earns you an income, and creates a sustainable business you can grow and love.
Pro Author Trait #1: Develop a Daily Writing Habit
Pro writers have developed the writing habit. They write almost every day and have a word count goal for the day. Pro writers stick to a consistent writing schedule and put in the time to put pen to paper [or words into a Word doc]. This is one of the most critical traits. Without putting in your writing time, your book becomes a “someday” thing instead of an “it’s-happening-right-now” thing.
By nurturing the writing habit, you are creating content people will love to read and pay money for. You will exercise that writing muscle and churn out a great story, a memoir, or a book that offers solutions.
- What is my daily word count goal?
- How many words would I have to write every day to finish my next book by a chosen deadline?
- How many books could I finish in a year if I stick to a writing habit of 1500 words per day? [You might be surprised!]
Pro Author Trait #2: Approach Writing as a Business
A hobby is something you do when you have time; the business of writing and becoming a pro author is what you make time for every work day. Authors who approach writing as a business are far more likely to succeed than hobby authors who show up occasionally with little direction and lofty ideas. A professional author is, essentially, a creative business person.
As with any business, your author business needs a schedule, deadlines, goals, and a plan. Authors spend time planning the material they are creating, how they will deliver it and, most important, they deliver when that deadline approaches.
As with any job, you have to show up every day at the time designated or else you don’t get paid. Writers who make a living at their craft go to work every day with the mindset that this IS their business and not just a dreamy project that they are going to pick away at. One of the fatal flaws many “hobby authors” make is in thinking that the writing success will just happen if they keep plugging away haphazardly. Maybe it will, but most likely, it’s your approach to the writing craft as a business that will determine your level of success.
Of course there is nothing wrong with writing as a hobby! However, if you want to turn this into a real thing, start to think and plan as a business leader. Pro authors make a living at writing because they are intentional with their business goals.
- Am I a writing hobbyist or is this my future business?
- Do I have a business plan for my author business?
Pro Author Trait #3: Write Valuable Content People Want to Read
A pro author does one of two things: either tells a good story [fiction] or provides solutions to a problem [nonfiction]. A great author can even combine both for a more compelling read!
It isn’t enough just to be a good writer, but you have to write with intentional purpose and provide valuable content people want to read. If you write fiction, you craft page-turners with crisp plots leading to a compelling climax.
For nonfiction authors, your readers have a problem and they need you to solve it. Knowing your audience and writing for them is the best way to make your content valuable and in demand. You can master your craft by giving people what they desire most: entertainment, information, inspiration, or a book that promises to change their lives forever.
- Who am I writing for?
- Does my content provide a specific solution?
- Am I engaging my readers?
Pro Author Trait #4: Delegate Business Work to Other Professionals
There are so many tasks that a writer can do that have nothing to do with writing: editing, cover design, formatting, book promotions, and social media engagement. The list is endless. For pro authors, the crux of your daily activities should focused around product creation. This could be writing a book, blogging, or creating a course.
But the fact is, time is limited. If you try to do it all, you’ll get burned out and start watching television to escape.
As with any business, you need a tribe of people assigned to different parts of the business so that you have more time to do the work that only you can do: writing books. This means creating content readers love should be at the forefront of your business. Delegating everything else to freelancers will save you precious time and eliminate the stress of feeling like “I have to do it all.”
- Is there anything I’m doing that falls outside of content creation?
- If so, could the extra work be done by someone else?
- Could I find someone on Upwork or Fiverr to take care of it, or do I need to look elsewhere?
Identify where you can save yourself both time and stress by delegating the little stuff so you can spend more time doing what pro authors do best…write books!
Pro Author Trait #5: Become a Habitual Note Taker
Both fiction and nonfiction writers craft their books around the ideas they have day and night.
And we never know when or where these ideas are going to strike.
Ideas are like rainbows; one minute they’re here and the next minute…poof, they’re gone!
You need to be ready at all times to catch ideas as they come.
If not, you’ll struggle to remember hours later what that “golden idea” was that passed through your mind.
Get into the habit of carrying a small notebook with you.
When you go to sleep, keep your notebook within reach for ideas that come in the night, or as you doze in the morning.
- Am I prepared at all times for capturing ideas?
- How can I set up my system for note taking when I’m on the run? When I’m sleeping? When I’m at a party conversing with important people and suddenly get that idea I’ve been waiting for all year?
Pro Author Trait #6: Read with Purposeful Intent
Writers read! Yes, we love reading. It stimulates your imagination and paves the way for more ideas. You can read books in your genre or read something totally unrelated. When you’re not writing, set aside time to read your favorite book. If you are writing a series of books on sales, you could read books on that topic. It could give you more insight into your area of expertise.
Reading just fifteen minutes before bed enhances sleep patterns, reduces cortisol levels, and improves cognitive functions. So don’t find the time to read; make a conscious choice to create that reading habit, even if it is only for a few minutes.
- How much time can I read a day?
- What book can I start reading now that would improve my business or contribute to personal development?
Pro Author Trait #7: Retain Readers and Build a Loyal Fan Base
If you notice, almost all professional authors got that way because they focused on a particular brand or niche. Then they built a strong following of raving fans in that niche. Readers become fans and fans become regular customers who buy your other books.
The best way to create a loyal following is to write for your fans. Keep giving them more of what they crave by constantly creating content that offers value. When you write, know who you are writing for and create content they need.
By using an email marketing service such as MailChimp or AWeber, you can gather email addresses of your loyal fans and communicate with them regularly. Pro authors understand the absolute must of having an email list, and they build their author business entirely around it.
- Am I writing for a specific niche, or do I change topics often?
- What do my readers like about my work? If you aren’t sure yet, find out why people are reading your stuff.
- What email marketing service am I using to collect email addresses?
Pro Author Trait #8: Recognize the Importance of Rewriting
Every great author knows that the real writing isn’t in the first draft—the real work towards greatness begins during the self-editing phase. The first draft offers a framework for the book and the rewrite is the guts of the machine; it’s here that all the sweating and crying pays off.
Writing is 10% talent and 90% hard work. The pros spend about 20% of their efforts on the first draft and the rest goes towards rewriting, revising, pulling their hair out, and refining the manuscript until they get it to the point that it’s good enough to ship to the editor.
Many authors, even the pros, can get bogged down in editing. This is especially true when the perfectionist monster is on your back. But real pros know that an unfinished book is an unpublished book, and nobody reads a book that isn’t published.
In a very tiny nutshell, here’s how to be a writer:
Be a pro.
Revise your work.
Let a professional editor polish it.
Ship your product.
- Do I spend enough time on rewriting?
- Do I get bogged down in the editing phase and need to ship it to the editor?
Pro Author Trait #9: Ship Product Consistently Despite Their Fears
“Ship often. Ship lousy stuff, but ship. Ship constantly. Skip meetings. Often. Skip them with impunity. Ship…The paradox of our time is that the instincts that kept us safe in the day of the saber tooth tiger and General Motors are precisely the instincts that will turn us into road kill in a faster than fast internet-fueled era. The resistance is waiting. Fight it. Ship.”
James Patterson published 15 titles last year. Indie author Patrick King publishes a book every 4-5 weeks.
Pro authors are always putting out content and creating. But shipping raises fear in many people. Let’s face it, it’s scary to put stuff out there for everyone to judge and criticize. But if you want to become the professional you know you can be, you have to ship your product as often as you can.
- Am I stuck because I’m afraid of shipping my book?
- How can I get over the fear of putting my content out there?
Pro Author Trait #10: Become a Master of Rejection
If there is any one trait that a professional writer has it is this: the ability to keep pushing forward despite the critics, naysayers, and abundant forms of rejection. You’ve no doubt heard the stories of power authors like Rowling and Grisham, King and Margaret Mitchell. Getting rejected or having your draft torn apart by critics and reviewers can crush your confidence, but only if you let it.
The one trait that turns an average person into extraordinary is the ability of taking rejection and crushing through the barrier of being told “No.” The authors who make it develop grit. In psychology, grit is based on your passion for a particular long-term goal, alongside motivation to achieve your objective. In other words, you get what you want when you want it badly enough.
- How badly do I want to write this book?
- Am I passionate about the story or content I am crafting?