An author career is different from many other writing occupations.
Most writing professionals don’t work directly for a company or organization. This enables authors to write about topics that pique their interests rather than conforming to content demands. This job requires originality, perseverance and the ability to produce quality content at a consistent pace. Authors without a publishing contract also use communication and interpersonal skills to distribute their work. Because authors are often self-employed, they must rely on time management skills to finish projects on time.
While many associate this profession with fiction writing, authors often work with a range of genres and mediums. Some authors specialize in nonfiction prose and scientific treatises, preferring to develop materials grounded in real-world topics. Other authors write fantasy or science fiction that ignite readers’ imaginations. No matter where your interests lie, it’s important to build a strong foundation in language arts and practice writing on a regular basis.
An online Bachelor of Arts in English offers you an advanced reading comprehension and writing expertise. You’ll be prepared for an author career in fiction, short stories, poetry, screenwriting and more. A BA in English enables you to chart your own educational path and select courses aligned with your interests. You’ll take core classes in composition, rhetoric, literature and creative writing. You can also choose from diverse electives on contemporary social issues, linguistics and figurative language. An English degree can help you develop creativity, passion and a mastery of the written word to pursue writing careers.
A typical day in the life of an author
Although authors spend a majority of their time writing, their daily responsibilities fluctuate. This happens as projects move through different stages of the development process. Every piece of content starts as an idea that an author has to flesh out in detail before the writing begins. After a first draft is complete, authors check narrative continuity and polish the language. Revising long-form materials can take months, especially if the subject matter is complex. Creative writers often rework large sections of their stories during the editing phase. This helps ensure it’s consistent with their guiding vision. If you’re looking to pursue an author career, your day may include a variety of tasks, such as:
- Brainstorming topics, themes and content ideas.
- Conducting research on relevant subject matter and historical contexts.
- Outlining story structures, characters, dialogue and motifs.
- Writing novels, short stories, poetry, nonfiction prose or film scripts.
- Revising content to ensure quality and narrative flow.
With so many potential responsibilities, authors may feel alone in the success of their creative projects. Yet, most established professionals work alongside editors from their publishing company. Editors identify narrative issues, cut jarring uses of figurative language and fix mistakes. Creative writing careers that follow a self-publishing framework don’t offer this type of responsive support. Though, creative writing communities and independent authors can be useful sources of feedback.
What is it like to be an author?
An author’s career involves a lot of contract-based work. This type of work distinguishes it from many other writing professions. In some cases, authors take on many projects at the same time to secure their financial well-being. Yet, most authors focus their efforts on a single piece of content. Many authors decide to have their materials distributed through a traditional publisher. This gives them access to promotional support in exchange for a part of their earned revenue. According to NPD Group, print book sales volume grew by 1.3% between 2017 and 2018, with a total of 696 million units sold over the measured period. This increase suggests the demand for well-crafted storytelling is stable in the U.S. market. This is especially true when you consider the growth of the self-publishing industry. Independent authors alone released more than one million titles in 2017.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics groups this profession together with the general writer category. It forecasts an aggregated 8% growth between 2016 and 2026. This is faster than the national average for all occupations. The number of job openings in this time frame could reach more than 12,000, per data from O*Net OnLine.
The median writer and author salary was $62,170 in 2018, according to the BLS. Yet, professionals at the top of best-seller lists could see higher returns. While this salary is likely skewed by general writing positions, authors can earn more income through book royalties, speaking engagements, fellowships and more.
How to become an author
Besides creativity and language expertise, authors generally have certain core traits. These traits help them excel in their creative writing careers. An author's responsibilities go beyond storytelling and inventive communication. So, it's important to consider the unique qualities that contribute to long-term success. These include:
- Love of writing: Being a prolific writer can help you pursue an author career. But the consistent output can be exhausting unless you enjoy the work. Authors spend most of their time producing new materials and poring over their words. This makes passion an essential part of their continued encouragement. Kelly deVos, author and program alum, says, “The innate part of writing, which I think is the storytelling, is inside you. But the craft part, the actual method and movement, that is what they teach you in the program.”
- Self-motivation: The lack of direct supervision can be a benefit of an author career. But it can also prevent you from maximizing your time and being productive. This role requires commitment. You have to push through your limits and hold yourself accountable for lapses in your performance.
- Discipline: Creating long-form materials often involves several rounds of rewrites, edits and structural improvements. These can frustrate writers in the later stages of the production cycle. Authors must commit to improving their process, refining their craft and reevaluating their work. This has to happen even when the changes may seem superficial.
- Attention to detail: Authors rely on their observation skills during every stage of the content creation process. They pay close attention to the world around them. This helps them come up with new ideas and concepts. They also learn how to adapt their writing style to their audiences’ changing preferences. This tendency is also crucial during the editing phase, allowing them to catch grammatical mistakes and syntax errors.
Learn more about your creative writing career as an author
The ASU Online Bachelor of Arts in English can help students improve their writing skills. Students also learn about the creative process, from conceptualizing stories to finalizing a project. deVos says, “It’s a very creatively nurturing space. Most of the faculty members you encounter are published authors, so they’ve been through the process.” Students can learn how to adapt their style, tone and characterization to their chosen medium. They may also learn how to engage readers on a personal level through their written works. For students interested in pursuing an author career, the BA in English offers extra areas of study. These include screenwriting, film studies, poetry, fiction and more. The diverse study areas enable students to focus on the genres and formats that pique their interests.
In today’s writing career landscape, it’s important to stay competitive. Writers must assemble the right combination of skills, knowledge and experience. That’s why an undergraduate education is a valuable tool for achieving long-term success.
ASU Online – Online Bachelor of Arts in English
Writers and Authors by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
The Essential Guide to Becoming a Writer by HubSpot
Publishing Your First Book: Advice for First-Time Authors by Poets & Writers
How to Start Your Career as an Author by Houston Chronicle
Self-Publishing in the United States, 2012-2017 by Bowker
Bestseller Success Led US Print Books Industry Growth in 2018 by NPD Group