Transitioning From Freelance Writer To Author

This post, from Raj Dash, originally appeared on the Freelance Folder site on 7/31/08. While it’s aimed at freelance writers, its content will also be of interest to bloggers who are looking to transition from blog to book. 

Go on. Admit it. You might be a freelance writer for now, but you’ve dreamed of being an author, yes? Some of you might even be authors already, but for those of you who are not, there are ways to transition into being an author.

Being an author has its own rewards but not always necessarily monetary. However, with the demand for premium content online, there are opportunities for those of you that can package an offer of a book with other types of “premium” content, as discussed below.

How Do You Become an Author?

For me, the process was a long one, though it doesn’t have to be for you. I’d been writing creatively and technically for a long time before my first book pitch in 1989/90. The Editor liked my outlining approach and hinted at the possibility of my writing computer programming books for him for a long time, including book revisions – a cash cow for authors back then.

He had plans to come to a big author’s shindig in Toronto, and when he landed in town, he called and left a message. Unfortunately, my roommate decided not to tell me for three or four days. I missed out on meeting him and several well-known novelists.

He accepted my explanation of the situation, but we never reached any specific agreement. Despite my detailed outlines and pitches, they weren’t right for that publisher’s market. A missed opportunity for sure. It wasn’t until 2002 that I finally found an Editor who liked my book proposal, and ultimately became a co-author for a book that I designed, content-wise.

Your path to becoming an author might be a lot quicker from desire to actuality, but you have to want it, as well as be willing to take the good and the bad that comes with it. That’s just the start; you have to actually research your market and select a project to start with it. 


Why Become an Author?

This is something only you can answer. My family and cultural background is one of education, teaching and dissemination of knowledge. Writing a book, for me, is the pinnacle of sharing a skill. It’s never been about “making lots of money” – something few authors do anyway.

For such authors, it’s everything else that comes with being an author:

  1. Regular work – the royalties from a series of books could help keep food on the table.
  2. The talkshow circuit, which helps with promotion.
  3. The lecture circuits, which usually pays per appearance, not to mention aiding in promotion.
  4. Professional recognition, which can lead to other opportunities, including teaching.

So there is secondary or tertiary income opportunities sometimes, even with a minimal level of success as an author. Here’s what it usually takes:

  1. Prove your stamina as an author – i.e., actually complete books that you sell.
  2. Be in a relatively profitable niche (fiction and non-fic).
  3. Enjoy at least a minimum level of sales – varies by niche, but selling out your initial run helps.

Meet these criteria – and sometimes others – and authoring could be a long-term career for you.

Pros and Cons of Being an Author

Some people just like the concept of having been an author, not actually doing the writing. Trust me, if that’s all you want, write an 8-page ebook and have done with it. The writing of books has been said to end relationships, marriages and day jobs, and drives some writers to drinking and other intoxicants.

Let’s hope your authoring career isn’t so dramatic, but writing a book is often a thankless task. Don’t do it because it’s “cool” or seems romantic. If you’re lucky, your book won’t be remaindered in the discount bins of a big chain bookstore. The publishing industry real is a game of averages. For every big-name author, there are literally hundreds who are relegated to obscurity.

Some things to consider:

  1. It’s easy to plan and propose a book, but actually completing the book can be a considerable emotional effort. It’s more likely that a fiction author will go through emotional hurdles, but it happens to non-fiction authors as well.
  2. You need to pace the workload. If you have X days to complete a rough draft and Y pages to write, then you need to average Y/X pages per day. But don’t get hung up on the exact number of pages written per day. If you’re concerned, keep a log but judge your productively weekly rather than daily.
  3. Take breaks regularly, reward yourself for daily milestones. I used to go to the theater and watch an afternoon movie, or jump on the bus to eavesdrop on conversations.
  4. It’s important to actually get away from your writing environment at least once a day. Having a clear head is more valuable than spending hours on end getting nowhere. I found that I could spend 4-6 hours writing, break for 2-4 hrs, then spend 4-6 more in writing and get just as much done in 8-12 hrs total per day as spending 16 hrs straight being miserable and unproductive.
  5. Depending on the “value” of your book, as assigned by the publisher, you might get to do a signing circuit. This can be either good or bad, depending on the schedule and whether you can afford to take the time off. Make sure you negotiate these sorts of things before you sign a book contract.

Ultimately though, if you can handle all the cons, there are the positives of being an author, which include gaining professional respect that can be leveraged into ROI later. What your Return on Investment is will depend on you, what you do, and how you leverage your effort. It could be the opportunity to produce “premium content” marketed online, such as ebooks, books on demand, and podcasts or video workshops packaged on DVD. This is where being an author in this Internet Age can be lucrative. 

Read the rest of the post on Freelance Folder.

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