For many people, the most fascinating part of the Harry Potter series is not the books, but the background of their author, Joanne (“J.K.”) Rowling. Rowling was riding on a train when the entire storyline came to her in a flash. At the time, she was a struggling single mother on welfare and wrote much of the first book at a local pub. She suffered 12 rejections before Bloomsbury Publishing finally published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone—and the rest, as they say, is history.

Many people who heard Rowling’s rags-to-riches story were inspired to try their hand at writing. In fact, a career as an author is possible for anyone who enjoys writing and is willing to persevere through the inevitable rejection letters.

Perhaps the best way to prepare for a career as an author is to read many different kinds of literature. Taking English courses can help, too, since most literature classes will require you to analyze the characters, plot, and other elements that compose a good story. Most colleges also offer creative writing courses. In these courses, you write and share your work with other aspiring authors who offer suggestions and encouragement. You may even benefit from taking journalism classes that will teach you to organize information and write for specific audiences.

In addition to taking English courses, you need to spend time actually writing. This may seem obvious, but part of what sets a pseudo author apart from a published one is that the latter carved out time to write and then did it. Get up early and write while it is quiet…or stay up late. Take “writing sabbaticals” where you hole up for a while in a hotel room or a friend’s house. Spend your lunch hour writing at your desk. One of the best things about being an author is that you can write around working or raising a family.

Even if your initial attempts at writing are terrible, that is okay. Most authors took a while to hone their craft. View your early writing as a learning experience and remember that you will most likely improve with time.

One of the best ways to get encouragement and feedback for your work is to join a local writers’ club. Writers’ clubs meet weekly or monthly and consist of aspiring authors who share their work with the group. Having others review your writing can be invaluable because they will often be able to spot problems you overlooked.

You might also consider hiring a professional editor. An editor can review the manuscript for style, character development, and consistency. Hiring a professional will be more expensive, but most editors are willing to adapt their review to whatever level of detail you can afford.

After you have polished your manuscript, it is time to submit it for publication. This is where many writers become discouraged, because inevitably, your work will be rejected many times. Keep in mind that almost every successful author has a drawer full of rejection letters. Louisa May Alcott, Stephen King, and even Dr. Seuss had manuscripts rejected many times before they became published authors.

One of the biggest mistakes new authors make is to fail to research publishing firms before submitting their work. Mistaken authors send a manuscript for a historical novel to a publisher that produces science fiction and then wonder why their book is rejected. Determine which firms are most likely to publish a book in your genre and submit to them before going to more general publishers.

Even if you target your submissions, it is normal to have your work rejected a few times. Determining which manuscripts will make commercially successful books is a subjective process, after all, and not every publisher is going to see the value of your work. A rejection letter—or even dozens of rejection letters—does not mean you are a bad writer and ought to give up writing.

There is no average “salary” for authors. How much money you make will depend on who publishes your book, how successful it is, and whether you are able to publish more than one book. Most authors can expect to make very little from their first published book, but if that book is successful, you will be able to command much more the second time.

Being an author may seem like a prestigious career reserved for a few lucky souls, but every published author started the process the same way: as an ordinary person with a good story, who wanted to share it with others. With a little training, some time, and a lot of perseverance, you may find that a career as an author is within your reach, too.


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