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Be a Happy and Successful Author: A 9-Step Plan

Updated on June 11, 2008


I've been writing books since 1997. During that time, I've written 28 books. A few have tanked. Some have sold extremely well. And a couple have become bestsellers. I've learned a lot during about the publishing business over the past nine years. Here's the lowdown on some of the most important things I've learned -- tips that may help you to become a happier and more successful author.

STEP ONE: Be Nice to Other Authors

Other authors are not the enemy. If you learn to work cooperatively, you will find yourself on the receiving end of incredibly valuable information that will allow you to thrive in the marketplace. While some authors think that they have to operate as lone wolves, I think they have it all wrong: writing was actually meant to be a team sport. It's when we don't work cooperatively -- when we don't share market information with one another -- that publishers end up with all the power. And that's bad news for all of us.

STEP TWO: Invest in Yourself

You are the resource, the source, the supplier, the distributor, the factory, the product, and the package. Your entire career depends on your ability to protect and renew your creativity, ideas, and energy. If you intend to thrive as an author over the long-term, you need nurture yourself, enrich yourself, expose yourself to new ideas and new ways of thinking, and treat yourself as the precious commodity that you are.

STEP THREE: Have a Plan

Rough out a business plan, even if it's just a page of notes you write to yourself while you're sitting in a coffee shop or on a park bench. The secret is to make it an annual ritual and pull out and reflect on that business plan throughout the year. Your business plan is basically a road map for the upcoming year, and we all know what happens when you head out on an extended road trip without a road map. You can end up taking some rather unexpected detours -- and you may not even make it to your original destination at all.

STEP FOUR: Be Choosy About Who You Work With

Make it your policy to only work with people you genuinely like. Life is too short to work with divas, people who are unethical, or people who are just plain mean.

On the flip side, be the type of person you would like to work with: honest, trustworthy, reliable, and ethical. You get what you give.

STEP FIVE: Find Your Niche and Work It

Zero in on something that you can do better, faster, or with more style and passion than anyone else you know. Then think of all the ways you can work your niche. And look for some complementary writing specialties.

Expand your territory. Look to international markets. Look to other media. Think about self-publishing. Consider collaborations with experts and those with complementary niches. The sky's the limit.

Look for ways to get maximum mileage out of your existing material. Could those old features be reworked as tip sheets to promote your new book? Could they be updated and resold -- or repackaged as Q & As? Could they form the basis for a radio documentary?

STEP SIX: Become Contract Savvy

Don't sign the first version of a contract that is presented to you.
Realize that it's what's written in the contract that counts, period.
Don't start nodding off whenever the conversation turns to so-called motherhood issues like copyright and moral rights and intellectual property rights like trademarks. These aren't boring, abstract concepts. That's your retirement savings fund we're talking about.
Educate yourself about these issues and work with other writers via writers' organizations to ensure that our rights as writers continue to be protected.

STEP SEVEN: Don't Be Afraid to Pay for Good Advice When You Need It

Don't be afraid to pay for good advice when you need it.
Do you want to play amateur lawyer and amateur accountant -- and risk making some major career and financial faux pas -- mistakes that could cost you huge amounts of money for years to come? Or do you want to be proactive and pay for the services of lawyers and accountants when you need them?
You'll likely be able to keep your costs down by doing some of the prep work yourself, but when it comes to getting hardcore advice, it's best to trust the experts.

STEP EIGHT: Love What You Do

If you're doing something other than writing and you are totally in love with the written word, find a way to make writing a bigger part of your life. You owe it to yourself to follow your dream.
If you're falling into the trap of doing more and more of the writing work that "pays the bills" and less and less of the writing work that you love, see if you can find ways to free up more time to do the writing work that you love.
If you spend 50 weeks a year doing something you're less than passionate about, you're shortchanging the other people in your life -- your clients as well as your family/friends. Remember, you can't fake passion.

STEP NINE: Define Author Success on Your Own Terms

Know when to be satisfied and when to push yourself to shoot for more in the various arenas of your life. There will always be an author who is better known, more successful, better-selling, or better-looking than you. You can drive yourself crazy trying to be "the best" or to make it to the top of the bestseller lists (and the stuff you have to deal with just seems to get crazier the more awards you win or the higher your numbers climb at Or you can come up with a recipe for success in your life that includes different ingredients: writing a book that makes a difference in people's lives, mentoring and encouraging other authors (particularly young authors), or simply taking joy in the act of writing. In other words, dare to define author success on your own terms.

Quotes About Writing

A list in progress

"Writing is making sense of life. You work your whole life and perhaps you've made sense of one small area."

- Nadine Gordimer quotes (South African novelist and short-story writer, 1991 Nobel Prize for Literature, b.1923)

"Whether or not you write well, write bravely."

- Bill Stout

"Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else."

- Gloria Steinem quotes (American Writer and Activist. b.1935)

My Five Favorite Books About Writing

I own tons of books on writing. I've had time to enter a few of them into the system over at (Just search for the tag "writing" and you should get 59 hits for writing books in my library.) But since limits me to five picks in this module, I've had to go through the tortuous process of limiting myself to these five:

Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True
Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True

Reading this book was an amazing experience for me. It made me realize I had what it takes to write fiction. I haven't had any published yet, but it's given me the courage to try. That was a major breakthrough for me. It's a truly inspiring and empowering book.

Seven Steps on the Writer's Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment
Seven Steps on the Writer's Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment

This is a brilliant non-fiction guide to the less-than-linear and gilded path that you can expect to tread as a writer -- assuming you can actually stay on the path. (Sometimes we stray from the path for a while, or decide we'd like to be anywhere but on the path. That's okay.)

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

A funny and reassuring guide to writing. (No, you're not the only one who plays head games with yourself in order to trick yourself into writing. That's part of the creative process, as Anne will teach you.)

How to Write a Book Proposal
How to Write a Book Proposal

This book taught me how to write book proposals. It's easy to read, straight-forward, and will teach you how to structure non-fiction book proposals so that it's clear to an acquisitions editor what makes your book unique and special.


Write: A 30-Day Guide to Creative Writing by Sarah Quigley - A book you'll want to read in September!

This book has been available in Canada for a few months, so I had the pleasure of reading it this summer. It's fabulous -- one of my all-time favorite books about writing. I'll be reviewing it at as soon as the book becomes avaliable for sale at the site.

Quotable Authors

Author wisdom brought to you by the members of The Authors Group

"Before I begin each new book I keep a notebook. I write down everything that comes to mind during that period before I actually begin. It might take months or weeks. That notebook is my security blanket so that I never have to face a blank screen (or blank page)."

- Judy Blume, during an author chat at The New York Public Library

Enjoy more author wisdom by visiting other lenses in The Authors Group.

Did I miss some of the secrets of becoming a happy and successful author? Do you have some secrets of your own to share?

So What Do You Think?

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    • Digory LM profile image

      Digory LM 5 years ago

      Thanks for the lens. It is very helpful.

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 5 years ago

      A new blessing on this lovely lens and may you have a wonderful, successful and happy 2013. Hugs

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 5 years ago

      A new blessing on this lovely lens and may you have a wonderful, successful and happy 2013. Hugs

    • profile image

      asema-dinasylova 5 years ago

      could you please refer me to the downloadable sources for the mentioned books? many thanks.

    • GregKuhn profile image

      GregKuhn 5 years ago

      Thank you for these words of experience. I am a self-published author, having just published my first work (after years of ghostwriting and collaborating). It's very fun to work for myself!

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 5 years ago

      Great tips and well presented, Featured on Blessed by Skiesgreen 2012-2. Hugs

    • profile image

      msseiboi 5 years ago

      I love it..great thoughts

    • profile image

      rhianna-ramshaw 5 years ago

      LOVE your advice!!! you really gave me the push to be an author!

    • profile image

      neoanderson004 6 years ago

      Thanks for sharing these tips with the public and these important steps.

      Public Liability Insurance

    • Spiderlily321 profile image

      Spiderlily321 6 years ago

      My fiance and I are both writers and recently finished writing our debut novel together. We're hoping to get it published soon. Great lens with great advice. Thank you for sharing!

    • Lynne-Modranski profile image

      Lynne Modranski 6 years ago from Ohio

      Excellent advice! Thanks for sharing!

    • MJsConsignments profile image

      Michelle 6 years ago from Central Ohio, USA

      Thanks for providing some great and very motivating advice. Success to us all!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Great lens. God bless!

    • profile image

      Prescriptiondrugrehab 6 years ago

      Great lens about being more professional at writing

    • ilike2create profile image

      ilike2create 6 years ago

      very informative and motivating. Thank you.

    • profile image

      TheSummerStore 6 years ago

      Thanks for the writing advice!

    • adamfrench profile image

      adamfrench 6 years ago

      Thumbs up, great lens

    • PRONTOMEDIA LM profile image

      PRONTOMEDIA LM 6 years ago

      Excellent stuff. Very well explained.Thumbs up.

    • profile image

      adityashinde 6 years ago

      great info...thanks for sharing :)

    • wizardgold lm profile image

      wizardgold lm 7 years ago

      Good informative lens that will be of help to many a writer I think.

    • mariatjader profile image

      mariatjader 7 years ago

      What an inspiring lens, blessed by a squid angel*

    • profile image

      WriterBuzz 7 years ago

      Very cool lens. Informative and fun. Thanks for sharing. Thumbs Up given.

    • profile image

      WriterBuzz 7 years ago

      Very nice lens. Thanks. I gave you a thumbs up, because it's a nice lense.

    • WiscBear profile image

      WiscBear 7 years ago

      good advice. Thanks.

    • profile image

      SociologistTina 8 years ago

      Love your lens! Happy to join the chorus...

      The link to Ann Lamott is absolutely outstanding, and your advise seems very helpful, useful, and do-able! Thanks so much --I can really use the help & inspiration. I'm a Newbie.

    • profile image

      dellgirl 8 years ago

      I love your lens, it's so full of interesting and helpful information. Thanks for sharing these wonderful resources.

    • profile image

      counselorart 8 years ago

      Hi Ann,

      I loved your lens! I'll refer back to it again and again for the resources and ideas you shared. It's truly helpful!

      All the best,


    • profile image

      Jack_Bergstrand 8 years ago

      Great lens! You give some excellent tips and information for would-be authors. When you have the chance, I'd love for you to visit my lens and say hello.

    • profile image

      rydigga 9 years ago

      Great advice. #1 is the key. Being courteous, nice, and pleasant is always in demand but costs nothing. People will go out of their way to help a nice person or listen to their story. 5*

    • kencasey profile image

      kencasey 9 years ago

      Thanks for sharing some of your resources on becoming a better writer.

      My wife read a lot of fiction; so, I tried to write her some. The stories were terrible. (She was nice and told me they were good.)

      She also advised me to write what I know. So I did. I write science articles.

      Your lens is like her advice--I'll look further into the world for expanding my niche.

    • profile image

      alexaldon 9 years ago

      I appreciate for your advices and suggestions.Good lens with a clear presentation.Visit it my the accountantguide blog

    • emmaklarkins profile image

      emmaklarkins 9 years ago

      Wow, this was very helpful and inspiring! I've read quite a few articles on this subject, and I find your lens refreshing. I'm doing pretty good with the first two steps, I think now I just have to write a business plan... It's one of those things that's a pain, but it's better to have it written down than floating amorphously in my head.

      Thank you! ~Emma

    • profile image

      Sleep_Soundly 9 years ago

      Good advice and interesting and informative lens. Read and share your review on Personal Path To Pregnancy and many other Womens Health Related Ebooks here.

    • profile image

      craigtheairplaneman1 9 years ago

      Hi authors and those that will be:

      If I may add that while you were being modest and said "Some of the books tanked", the truth is making the effort makes each book a winner. Don't let it only be about sales. The size of the heart can be as important as the size of the wallet!

      Thanks for letting put my few words in,

      Craig Fenton

      Author of the Jefferson Airplane book:

      Take Me To A Circus Tent

      Jefferson Starship:

      Have You Seen The Stars Tonite

    • profile image

      qlcoach 9 years ago

      Great advice and support ideas. Here is my author suggestion: "First and foremost, start writing your own journal. There is something healing, therapeutic, and thought provoking about the whole journaling process."

      Sincerely: Gary Eby

    • ChristinasFavs profile image

      ChristinasFavs 10 years ago

      Great Lens! 5 stars! The 9 steps were great! I would love for you to check out and rate my lens on promoting your book or info product. Visit it at Virtual Book Tour Secrets

    • profile image

      geetoo 10 years ago

      Good lens. More interesting and informative. The 9 steps are really superb. Nice work. Keep it on posting. A similar informative site about Self Publishing on Self Publishing Please step into this site to surf more information about Text Book Publishing, Trade Book Publishing, Steps To Publishing A Book and more and more types of Self Publishing.

    • profile image

      DavidSandhu 10 years ago

      Great lens. I think the only piece of advice that ever mattered to me was- sit down and write.

    • profile image

      anonymous 10 years ago

      Terrific lens!

    • profile image

      hopewrites 10 years ago

      Terrific lens!

    • anndouglas profile image

      anndouglas 10 years ago

      Thanks for all the lovely comments, everyone. I'm just catching up after a few weeks away. (I know: I'm always catching up....) :-) Anyway, I appreciate all the positive feedback and support. Thanks so much.

    • Rusty Quill profile image

      Rusty Quill 10 years ago

      Great tips and advice! Congratulations on your success, and finding something you love to write about. Thanks for stopping by my Family Vacation Idea lens as well. =)

    • profile image

      anonymous 10 years ago

      A very interesting lens; you've offerred some sound advice; nicely done. I'm marketing my own book on Perhaps you would suggest some feedback on what I've done at: --Joe

    • profile image

      liluluna 10 years ago

      Hi Ann. Great lense, You're bookmarked and voted. See my lense about self-publishers.

    • profile image

      kellermedia 10 years ago


      Your lens a great resource for authors both published and unpublished. I particularly like the advice about being nice to other authors!


    • EelKat13 profile image

      EelKat13 11 years ago

      I've got a group here on Squidoo for lenses like this one. I'd love for you to add this lens to my group. Here is the address:

    • profile image

      HotbuttonPress 11 years ago

      What a great lens you have! Nice job. I've just created one for daily writing prompts:

      The Write Prompts

    • profile image

      writertiff 11 years ago

      Hi Ann! Your lens has ome very sound advice to writers. Many feel so alone and Step 1 is so important - you can network as a writer and benefit greatly. Come check out my site if you want to: and join my forum there, too! Take care, Tiff :)


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