Often authors will ask me about my author journey or what an author career looks like. But that’s hard to describe. The reason is, there are at least four different kinds of authors, and there is nothing wrong with any of them. Some writers keep going to the highest level of this journey. Other authors stop various places along the way.
There’s no formula though. And people actually enter at different levels depending on their long-term career goals. Most of the time that just means skipping the first tier. Rarely, someone skips up the ladder and goes all the way to the professional level with their very first book.
The four types are as follows:
- Amateur: Like Wrexham
- ProAm: Like Sheffield United
And this is how each of them work, and the pros and cons of each:
Hobbyists will forever be hobbyists: they’ll never move to the point of making money, real money with their writing. In some cases, they may never even publish their work. They will share it with friends, family, and maybe a writer’s group or two.
But there is nothing wrong with writing as a hobby. You can still do things like:
- Buy equipment.
- Get lessons from time to time.
- Go to conferences and join groups.
- Enter contests.
- Have fun with what you are doing.
If you need to explain this to your spouse and your family, help them understand this is like golf or any other hobby. If they golf, they buy clubs, they take lessons, pay greens feed and even enter tournaments, and generally have fun golfing with groups of friends.
No one will ask them if they have “made any money from that golf thing yet.” Nor will they criticize them for spending their Saturday morning on that silly hobby, or if they are “wasting time” with those lessons still.
But here are some hard truths. Hobby writers are still writers, but if you are going to move from the hobby to the next level, you will need to add some more professional tools to your toolbox. Just like if you were to move from the local golf club tournaments to a regional amateur tournament, you would need better equipment and probably a few more lessons. You’ll need to invest in editors and either learning cover design or hiring a designer. After all, even as an amateur, you will want to make sure that anything you put into the world with your name on it meets at least a minimal level of quality.
You can self-publish, but at the very least you need to understand that the pros don’t just have better books. Most have worked to build a business, regardless of if that involves paid ads, some other kind of marketing, or building a large community of fans.
And you may not want to approach publishers. They make money from professional authors who have marketing and business plans, and work to promote their work. And don’t be tempted by so-called “assisted self-publishing companies.” Unless you understand the business of publishing and put marketing effort into your books, they won’t sell no matter what publisher name is on the spine.
Like Wrexham, the small soccer team in Wales purchased by Ryan Reynolds, these can be talented lads (and ladies) who want to move up to the pro-am eventually and maybe the pro writing circuit. (Or prose, ha!)
To keep with our golf analogy, these writers take lessons and often get help from editors and coaches. They usually still have a “day job” where they make their money just like most people do. They can, and often do, pitch publishers and agents, and some even get published by them.
Usually there are two things amateurs still need to move to the next level. The first is practice and a better understanding of their craft. The second is more knowledge of how publishing works, and in some cases a break that will take them from where they are now to where they want to go career wise.
Some amateurs will make it to the pro-am and even the pros if they continue to seek the right hep in editors, coaches, conferences, writing lessons, workshops, and other education. At this point there are two aspects in play: talent and luck. But at any level, these must combine with hard work. Often that hard work can overcome the lack of talent, luck, or even both.
In other words, you can be taught to write reasonably good books, and you can be taught how to market and sell them. I often tell amateurs that there are mediocre writers out there who are making a living from selling books simply because they know how to market their stories.
That leads us, though, to the next level: the pro-am writer. This is where things get exciting and challenging, two things that often go hand in hand.
The Pro-Am writer is just that—not quite a professional yet, but not an amateur either. They’re in that in-between land where all small businesses hate to be. Sometimes, with a supportive partner, they can quit their day jobs at this point, but this might also be that tipping point too.
These writers are asking the most important question a writer can ask at this point in their career: if I stayed home and wrote more and worked more on my writing business, would I make more money than by going to work.
For me, when that question is even close, the answer would be to stay at home and write. But it all depends on your risk window. I tend to be the entrepreneurial spirit, which honestly will help you as a writer in most instances, provided you have a partner who helps you keep your feet on the ground.
Also, for some writers, depending on your threshold to “make a living” this can be enough for you to at least begin that journey. It’s as much about how you want to live and what you are willing to sacrifice to get to that point as anything else.
But the key here is that the writer in this position is starting to really understand the business of publishing and they actually have a written business and marketing plan.
These writers are making real money from their books. They have the craft dialed in, although they are always learning, and they understand the business of writing and publishing pretty well.
At this point it takes a team to run this writing business, so these writers surround themselves with people who do work for them: for example, I have a VA who does newsletters and social, I have a cover designer (technically two), editor, two proofreaders, and a small, but growing, marketing team.
Essentially, whether they self-publish or traditionally publish, they are “running a writing business” and fully understand what that means. They are making a reasonable profit from their books, enough to have steady cashflow and what we would call a sustainable income.
Where Do Agents and Publishers Come In?
Where does an agent come in? A publisher? Well, they become part of the team of the top two types of writers. Quite honestly, some of the best agents can take someone who is an amateur and move them up a level to a pro-am, and with some luck a professional writer.
Usually, publishers have to bring something to the table: stellar services, expanded marketing, distribution help, etc. Anything that will move the writer’s business forward. This used to be a given with publishers, but it’s simply not anymore.
We watched this year, some of us in simple recognition of some things we already knew, some in abject horror, as two publishers who were trying to merge essentially told congress they had no idea what they were doing. They told us that they don’t market certain books, put all their money behind existing big names, and more.
There are small presses and publishers who still do a great job with authors, but most of them approach the market with what I call an “indie mindset.” Or they are part of the Amazon publishing family, and they use the extensive data they have available to get their authors the traction they deserve.
And there are agents who can get manuscripts in front of the right editors at the right houses who actually get results. And I’m not saying that traditional publishing is dead any more than that big box bookstores are dead, because they’re not and are unlikely to go away anytime soon.
Is Indie Publishing for Everyone Then?
No, not at all. But the path to traditional success has narrowed further, the dishonest small presses who will literally rip authors off has gotten larger, and an author, regardless of their path to publication needs to be more savvy than ever before.
Finding your path certainly isn’t easy. This small course (taught by a friend of mine) is a good place to start. But no matter what path you choose, everyone starts the same place. How far you go is up to you.
Troy is a freelance writer, author, and blogger who lives, works, and plays in Boise, Idaho with the love of his life and three very talented dogs.
Passionate about writing dark psychological thrillers, he is an avid cyclist, skier, hiker, all-around outdoorsman, and a terrible beginning golfer.