How to Become a Published Author; from Idea to Bookshelf

You've loved reading all your life. You majored in Lit/journalism/writing. You've started a novel. Ever since Paolini's Eragon has been published, you think you have it in you to become a great writer, because it can't be too hard, could it?

Consider this scenario: you walk up to a surgeon and say, "Oh, hey, that looks fun! You know, I could be a surgeon if I just had time to grab some of those latex gloves and cut up a person. I was always so good at Operation as a kid!" People would doubt your sanity.

You also wouldn't walk up to a lawyer and say, "Oh, yeah, I could easily win that case if I just had the time to go down to court, but, you know, I'm busy today."

However, everyone seems to be under the opinion that if they just had a couple of months and plenty of free time, they could bang out a hundred thousand words and publish a book.

Welcome to the real world, where perhaps one in five thousand manuscripts that cross an editor's desk ever get thoroughly read and considered. Welcome to the real world, where everyone thinks they could easily become a published author, but few really have what it takes. Whether you have an idea, a working manuscript, or not a clue, this article will guide you through the process of getting that book published. It's going to be a long and laborious journey, and only the few who love writing and are determined to the point of insanity will complete it, but this is advice that will guide you ever step of the way.


  1. Image titled Become a Published Author; from Idea to Bookshelf Step 1
    Read. There is absolutely nothing better you can do than read as much as humanely possible. Read the classics. Read really bad books. Read really good books. Start to look at an author's style, and figure out what you like about the plot, or the characters, and how the author sets that up. Read every single possible title you can that sounds similar to your idea, or in the genre that you're interested in. Read the reviews for them. Figure out what people like reading, and what you like reading. Become aware of all the similar stories so that you don't end up plagiarizing or even worse, unintentionally coming up with something that's already been done before, because an editor won't sell it.
  2. Image titled Become a Published Author; from Idea to Bookshelf Step 2
    Write. Don't start your book straight away--just write. There are places online,,, many places where one can polish his or her writing skills. Scott Westerfeld, author of the "Uglies, Pretties, Specials" series, once said, "Your first million words will be 'crap'." Find a website that is created for users to post their writings and simply write. Use the feedback to become more aware of your style, and become a better writer. Write at least one million words.
  3. Image titled Become a Published Author; from Idea to Bookshelf Step 3
    Brainstorm. When you're finally ready to move on to the book part, figure out what you want to do. What genre are you writing in? You should be familiar with this genre from your reading, but this is the part where you hatch the premise for your novel. Does it sound like something you would read? Has this idea ever been done before? Does it sound too familiar to something you've seen or heard? Is it too confusing, or does it have too many plot holes? If you're writing nonfiction, you won't necessarily have to write the entire book, merely outline it and write the first three chapters, so you can skip the next step. If you're writing fiction, continue.
  4. Image titled Become a Published Author; from Idea to Bookshelf Step 4
    Figure out your writing process. What is the most important thing to you? Character? Plot? Map out your plot if you want to. Develop your characters. Create an outline for the entire book. Maybe you work better writing vivid scenes you see in your head, then connecting the dots in between. However, and this is absolutely vital, finish your manuscript. Millions of people out there are "writing a book that they would finish if they just had the time." What makes you different? The fact that you finished it.
  5. Image titled Become a Published Author; from Idea to Bookshelf Step 5
    Re-read your manuscript. Edit it. Edit it again. Get outside opinions. Edit even more. You cannot expect an agent or editor from a publishing company to polish your manuscript up, because they're not going to look at it unless it is amazing. Go through it until you can barely stand the story anymore and MAKE it amazing.
  6. Image titled Become a Published Author; from Idea to Bookshelf Step 6
    Decide how you want to publish your book. Are you just doing this for a few family and friends, or do you see this as the next Harry Potter, the next Twilight, the next Hunger Games? If you decide to self-publish, realize that you probably will never be recognized as an author by anyone except family and friends and perhaps a few local bookstores, but your book will be in print. You will also have to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 USD to produce these books. (These self-publishing companies are sometimes knows and "vanity publishers" and if you wish to figure out which companies are such it is as simple as googling their name then "vanity"). On the other hand, getting your book accepted by a major publishing company takes a lot of work, a lot of research, and a lot of luck. Well, what are you waiting for? Continue on!
  7. Image titled Become a Published Author; from Idea to Bookshelf Step 7
    Decide whether or not you want to get an agent. On the one hand, an agent will take 15% of your royalties (what you make on the book). On the other hand, 4 out of 5 books published have an agent behind them. Authors with agents generally get larger advances than authors without agents.
  8. Image titled Become a Published Author; from Idea to Bookshelf Step 8
    Research what sort of genre your prospective agents/editors generally read. An editor/agent who is famous for his or her work in romance novels won't care about your murder mystery, no matter how good it is. Also, beware of scams. An agent should never ask you for a fee; they make 15% of what you make when the book is sold, which becomes a very good incentive to get it sold. Check out the Literary Marketplace for an updated list of editors and agents.
  9. Image titled Become a Published Author; from Idea to Bookshelf Step 9
    Write a query letter. This should include proof that you've researched (I'm looking for an agent/editor, and I know that you often work in the romance genre. I've written a book...") Your query letter should cover the mere skeleton/premise of what your book is about, and mention your writing credentials/ past publications. If you don't have any, don't worry, and it is better to say nothing than vanity/self publishing companies you've published from. If you've worked at all in the literary business, mention it here. Do not mention any publishing companies that have turned you down. Research online and read examples of query letters. You send publishing companies a query letter and your manuscript together.
  10. Image titled Become a Published Author; from Idea to Bookshelf Step 10
    If you've gotten a good agent, you're done. Your agent might offer some edits, then they will find you a publisher and help you negotiate a contract. It's their job to be a good in-between and get everything settled. Once a book is sold to a publisher, you will probably do a final edit of the manuscript, then the publisher takes care of marketing and perhaps you'll have a bit of say in cover art. Anywhere between one and two years later, your book will be released.
  11. Image titled Become a Published Author; from Idea to Bookshelf Step 11
    If you're doing this without an agent, you need to research which publishing companies accept unsolicited manuscripts. Send your manuscript along with a self-addressed and stamped postcard so that they can reply easily. If you haven't heard after three months, submit to another agency. Be sure to mention in your query letter that you will submit to other agencies after a certain period of time.
  12. Image titled Become a Published Author; from Idea to Bookshelf Step 12
    Negotiate with your publishing company, do some final edits, agree on cover artwork, and give it a year or two. Voila! Your book is published. Now that you've gotten one book published, especially if it's popular, your next will be far easier. So go on, what are you waiting for? Write!


  • It doesn't matter what your age is; simply don't mention it in the query letter and let your work speak for itself. If you're thirteen, get this through your head: you are not being discriminated against because you are young. Your book is being compared with people who have been writing since your age, majored in writing in college, and have already written several novels yet to be published. You need to be not as good as them, but better than them to catch an editor's attention. Your age won't matter, your skill will, and the reason that most ten-year-olds don't get published is because they lack the knowledge of syntax, spelling, and LIFE to write a gripping novel. Not because they're ten.
  • Stay professional at all times. Don't take rejection personally, because it's not about you, it's about what a publisher thinks will sell. You will be rejected many times in your writing career, and if you stay profession, calm, and collected, publishers will remember you and thank you.
  • Have a few friends or trusted family members that you can bounce ideas with or send chapters to. However, be aware that these people won't be an unbiased source, and therefore cannot tell you if things are confusing, especially if they know more of what's going on than is evident in the writing. You also want a friend who has no idea of the premise of your novel to read it and tell you if they find it confusing/the thoughts going through his or her head at any particular point.


  • Many authors experience separation anxiety once they send their manuscripts off. This is perfectly normal. Calm down, and breathe.
  • You will receive negative feedback, and you will sometimes be ignored by editing companies.
  • You're probably not going to become the next New York Times Bestseller. I'm sorry, but that's a fact. Ask yourself, would you be willing to write five books if only the fifth would be published? If the answer is yes, then you're writing because you love writing, and good for you. If the answer is no, then you're writing for publication, and you're probably less likely to get published.

Article Info

Categories: Writing