Six steps to becoming a published author

Posted on June 5, 2015 by Eleanor McKenzie
A writer jotting down ideas

Do you dream of publishing a book? Is it something you’ve put on your bucket list but worry that it may be a more difficult wish to fulfil than standing at the North Pole? There was a time when being a published author was almost impossible unless you just happened to be an amazingly talented writer, or you could afford the fees charged by the vanity presses. Today, things have changed dramatically and if you have a book you feel compelled to write, then there’s very little to stop you from being published – because you do it yourself!

It has been my good fortune to have eight books published by Hamlyn Octopus in the UK. I have to say that the process of writing the first one was quite a steep learning curve, but once I’d got the hang of it, I realised that the key to starting and finishing a book—two of the most difficult steps a writer faces—is planning. Forming a solid structure for your book, whatever the topic, is like having a strong spine: it will support your writing process and keep you moving forward.

Step 1 – Choose your USP

Your USP is your unique selling proposition. This will differentiate your book from others on the subject. Many budding authors don’t get started because they’re afraid that enough other writers have already covered the topic. That isn’t true. Your perspective is unique and if you’re passionate about your subject, you will find an audience. Procrastination is a writer’s worst enemy; don’t give into it!

Step 2 – Get planning

This would be Step 1 if I didn’t think that it was important to remove the obstacles that lead to endless procrastination first. Now you know that your voice is worth hearing, let’s start planning. I asked writer and book coach Jacqui Malpass to share some of her tips. Jacqui’s mantra is “All Good Books Start With a Plan,” and as she points out, when you have a comprehensive plan worked out you are more likely to stay on track. Your plan should be a start-to-finish map of your project that takes you from chapter outline to publishing and beyond. Take a look at what Jacqui has to say about getting your book published and how to “Plan Your Non-Fiction Book: In a Weekend“: she may inspire you.

Step 3 – Just write!

Well, I say that, but it will really help if you have an idea about how much you’re going to write. I was fortunate that my publisher told me how many words they wanted and I planned my pages and chapters to match that. A book can be anything from 30,000 words upwards. I have written books with fewer words, but these were highly illustrated. My last book was 60,000 but check out the word count for some famous novels. Around 80,000 is a standard minimum for fiction, but obviously Tolstoy ignored that rubric because “War and Peace” contains 587,287 words.


Books on a shelf

Step 4 – Find a friendly editor

Once you’ve completed writing, take your book to an editor. Do your research while you’re writing and find a person who can both work within your budget, and who you feel empathises with your story and with you. Your editor will polish your text and help make it shine. There are various tasks you can ask your editor to perform in addition to editing the text, such as proofing for typos: these FAQs from Society for Editors and Proofreaders may help.

Step 5 – Find a publisher or self publish?

Self-publishing is now a highly respected route to your audience. It is something of a challenge to find an agent or get a publisher to look at a manuscript. Many writers have been very successful, here’s a list of the most successful self-published authors to inspire you. There are companies such as Authorhouse UK that can help you through the process. But, with a bit of research you can go straight to or Amazon. You choose whether you want a print book, or you’re happy to stick with an e-book that readers can download. This is of course the less costly option.

Step 6 – Sell, sell, sell!

Write an attention-grabbing press release and send it to journalists and book editors at the type of publications that are appropriate for your book. Your local press offers a great opportunity for publicity: you can offer these papers and magazines free editorial and reader giveaways to drum up sales. Social media also offers you an excellent publicity tool, and if you can find blogs specialising in book reviews why not offer them a copy your book?

So, if writing a book is on your bucket list – you’re only six steps away from achieving your dream!

6 steps to becoming a published author


by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.