Curious About Becoming A Fiction Author? Here Are 10 Things You Should Know Before Writing Your First Book (From A Multi-Time Bestseller)

If you’ve always loved the book world and want to be a bestselling author one day, you might be surprised by what we learn after our books are out in the world.

By K.M. Robinson7 min read
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I’ve been a published author for five years, having multiple books hit the bestseller's list, flying around the country to speak and sign at events, and being featured on multiple national news networks. In that time, I’ve grown my fandom significantly, had books with 27,000 downloads in two hours alone, run multiple bookish talk shows, and had access to some really cool experiences. One of my favorite things to do is help aspiring authors make it in this industry too – something I was doing long before becoming published. There are a few very interesting things I’ve learned along the way.

If you’re an aspiring or new author, here’s what you need to know about being an author before you even write your first book:

1. Writing Is Only 10% of Being an Author

Being an author is an incredibly fun job, but the writing portion of it is the smallest part of being successful in this industry, whether you’re traditional or indie published. The vast majority of it is marketing, engaging on social media, handling edits, reading contracts, communicating with design professionals, and interacting with fans.

Writing will only get you so far. Just because you write something incredible doesn’t mean the world will fall at your feet – if they don’t know you exist, they can’t read your book.

Studying the industry, investing time learning the market and how to work with it, and being present with your audience is the best investment in your career that you can make. Smart writers learn how to set up marketing during the writing process to save time later on. So, while understanding the craft of writing is incredibly important, it’s not the only thing a novelist should be focused on, especially early on.

2. It’s Incredibly Important To Study the Industry and Market

The book world is shifting at an incredibly fast pace – there’s something new to learn every day. With the rapid rise of indie publishing and traditional publishing trying to keep up, the power of the reader community on TikTok, and the quickly changing social media landscape, understanding how books sell in today’s market is a game changer.

As a social media educator and speaker, I stay ahead of the social changes and lean into new spaces early. Because I did, I was able to show up on TikTok early and multiply my book sales by seven, solely from posting fun book-inspired content on my account.

From the way books are sold to stores to the way we market online, learning both marketing in general and book-specific marketing gives savvy writers a creative and profitable edge. Following indie authors who are doing well online and in sales is an easy way to track what is working right now and gives the ability to predict the future of book marketing.

Studying the market can be as easy and fun as following and learning from experts who are thriving in the space and educating those who come behind them. YouTube and TikTok are excellent places to learn, but remember to only take advice from qualified sources who have had trackable success three times or more so you know it’s a strategy and not a happy accident.

3. Book Signings Are a Ton of Work and Can Be Expensive To Do

One of the most fun parts of being an author is when fans fly across the country to meet you, see you across the ballroom and scream while running full speed at you, and then nearly faint in excitement as they collide into you talking a mile a minute. But for that to happen, an author has to spend a ton of time, energy, and money getting ready for the appearance.

Learning the market and being present to your audience is the best investment in your career you can make.

Book signings can be very hard and expensive to get into as a signing author because, in most cases, the author has to buy their table, purchase all the copies of their books, ship the books to the venue if they have to fly to get to it, and then spend time setting up and tearing down. For a lot of authors, book signings actually cost them more money than they make, so events and conventions are specifically about giving back to fans and having that time to interact.

4. Everyone Writes at a Different Pace

Writers all have their own pace, and just because the old-school industry says one book a year is standard doesn’t mean it’s true. I can write full-length novels from start to finish in nine days and have it to my editor on day 10 with just a handful of errors, but many authors take several months to a year to write a novel.

You understand your writing strategy better than anyone else and can create a pace that works well for you, be it a few weeks to a year to get your book written, revised, and ready for the next steps.

Comparing your writing speed to other people’s is one of the biggest ways authors talk themselves out of finishing their stories, so put those proverbial blinders on and get your work done as efficiently as you possibly can and keep moving forward knowing the more you create, the faster you’ll grow and the more profitable you’ll be.

5. You’ll Get a Lot of DMs from People Telling You What They Think

Be prepared for your direct message inbox to explode with conversations. Readers love to write in to gush over characters, swoon over love interests, and even “yell” at writers for being so mean to their characters.

Most of these conversations are incredibly fun – and sometimes come paired with cosplay photos or fan artwork – but on occasion, these messages are taken to a place you want to quickly hide from as fans get a little too into telling you about their devotion and desire toward your main love interest.

Having pre-scripted responses to some of the questions that you get asked a lot is incredibly helpful so you can copy, paste, and tweak to save yourself some time. It’s also wise to have links on hand to send excited fans videos, articles, and art of the characters and stories they love so they can get even more into the world you’ve created.

Don’t forget it’s also okay to set limits on when you respond to these messages – talking to fans until 3 am is fun until you have to wake up to work at 6 am.

6. Never Read Your Reviews

Authors want reviews to be the lifeblood of their writer existence, but book reviews aren’t meant for writers – they’re specifically meant for readers to help other readers decide if a book would be a good fit for them or not (though sometimes readers confuse it as a place to critique the author who didn’t write according to their specific opinions). If reviewers do it accurately, the post will only help other readers decide yes or no to a book, and therefore offer no feedback to the author, and if they pen a review incorrectly, it’s unqualified advice for a writer.

Writers should solely focus on getting critique and feedback from other writing professionals who understand the industry and are actively working in it in a professional capacity. Just like a doctor wouldn’t take advice from someone who wasn’t another medical professional, writers need to remember who is qualified to speak to their careers.

Book reviews aren’t meant for writers – they’re meant to help readers decide if a book would be a good fit.

If you absolutely feel the need to know what reviewers are saying, have someone else read the reviews and bring you any qualified common threads from the posts that could be helpful to you in the future, and do the same for other authors when asked.

7. You’ll Get Recognized in Public

If you’re an active and engaged writer, you have to be prepared to be recognized when you go out. Not only do I get recognized when I go to events, conventions, etc, but I even get recognized when I go out in public where I live or vacation.

It’s important to remember once you have a public platform, you need to be mindful of how you will be perceived so that you’re happy with the way you present yourself if you’re noticed while “off duty” – and that can look different for everyone.

I’m not recognized every time I set foot outside my house, but I’m always prepared if someone comes up to ask for a signature or photo. My fandom is incredibly important to me, so I’m always ready to engage, ask questions, and talk about what made that individual fan excited to meet me. 

Meeting fans in the wild is one of the most fun parts of being an author and I always take time to make each person feel seen, heard, and appreciated before moving on, and that’s really gone a long way in my career.

8. Screenplay Adaptations Are a Long and Strange Process

Many authors dream of having their novel turned into a movie or television show – and lots of them start down that path – but it’s more difficult than you think. Screenwriters are actively looking for content to adapt, so many authors start having their scripts turned into screenplays, but most never reach the finish line.

The adaptation journey is very long and goes through many hands. We’ve seen time and time again how popular novels will start the process, get all the way through casting, and even some of the filming before the project is canceled. What most readers don’t realize is that it's not just popular novels that go through this process.

Just because one adaptation didn’t come to fruition doesn’t mean it won’t happen later even with the same manuscript. Finding the right team, attaching yourself to the right people, and having the savviness to know how to rest in each part of the process makes it a much more peaceful transition no matter which path is taken. It can take years and many attempts before a book ends up on screen, even if some of the big players are involved in it.

9. Social Media Presence Is a Game Changer

Have you ever found the most incredible television show but were heartbroken when it was canceled because no one watched it? It’s because not enough people had heard of this incredible, life-changing masterpiece to keep it relevant. This applies to the publishing world too. You might have written the best book the world has ever seen, but if you’re not talking about it online, no one will know it exists.

Being on social media is the fastest way to organically get your book out in the world. You don’t even have to speak like a sales pitch to be successful – just show up and engage with the book community. Readers are incredible at searching out information and finding your books if they relate to you on a book-lover level.

You might have written a great book, but if you’re not talking about it online, no one will know it exists.

Creating a book-inspired presence online sets your place as a go-to authority on good books (note: good books…not just your books!). By showing up and having bookish conversations, you create a community around yourself, so when the occasional time comes to speak about your book, your audience is ready to hear about it and take action to go read it.

Simply by showing up on social media, I’ve amassed a dedicated following that’s taken action to protect and build me up more times than I can count. By treating my community like friends, I’ve built a fandom I can trust with the important parts of my life, created a reliable group of people I enjoy being around, and allowed myself to grow a dependable source of income because my fans are always telling new readers about me and my books. Social media has changed the game for me in terms of a following, financial stability, and having a group that is willing to fight for me should I ever need it in this community.

10. You’ll Need To Pick a Specific Path for Each Individual Manuscript 

Each manuscript you write will have a different publishing path. Long gone are the days when the only books that counted were the ones traditionally published. Now, authors can indie publish their books and make more money, rise to bigger fame, and have total control of their stories.

While both traditional and indie (also known as self-publishing) paths can lead to success as a writer, it’s important to remember each manuscript is an individual and the path an author chooses shouldn’t be a singular path defined by the author as the deciding entity, but as multiple paths defined by the projects and where each will best thrive.

The traditional publishing space comes with a built-in audience and occasionally some limited marketing funds if you’re the house’s favorite for the publishing period. The majority of marketing is done by the author unless they’re the diamond of the season, as they say in Bridgerton, and all final decisions on the book’s future are made by the publisher after the author signs their rights over to the house. The author receives a portion of the royalties for the books that are sold.

The indie publishing world means the author is taking on all the responsibility by themselves and has to put in a little money upfront to hire professional editors, cover designers, and formatters, but all royalties are then kept by the writer and not split with anyone else. These authors have to build their own fandom and do their own marketing but get to make all decisions and aren’t held back by any timelines.

I’ve been both traditionally and indie published, but my career and financial security in this industry is heavily due to my indie work. For each manuscript I write, I have to decide which market is best for that individual story and pursue that avenue. Latching on strictly to one or the other and blindly rushing down that path usually doesn’t work to an author’s benefit, so understanding the markets and making well-informed decisions can lead to massive success in this industry.

Closing Thoughts

Before I stepped into the publishing world, I heavily studied the industry. I talked to many authors, followed all the leaders educating in the space, spent years working with publishers and authors to market their books so I could test and educate myself, and I still learned so much after my books were released to the world.

Author life is incredibly fun, but it’s more work than most jobs no matter what path you take, so loving the community and industry is essential if you’re going to step into it as a professional.

Five years into being published, I’m a multi-time bestseller – something I never thought was possible. I’ve seen my books on shelves across the world. I’ve turned down contracts that weren’t good enough, worked with companies adapting my manuscripts into screenplays and videogames, and get to enjoy spending time with my fandoms virtually and at in-person events. I wouldn’t change my career for anything, even knowing how much work and effort goes into creating a community that’s uplifting for my readers.

If you’re looking to get into writing, there’s never been a better, more exciting time in this industry to take charge of your career and flourish in the reading community! The opportunities are endless, and there is space for anyone willing to put in the hard work.

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