Author Career Investments You Should Be Making

I know some of you reading this aren’t looking to build a whole author career; writing is a hobby for you, or something you want to dabble in from time to time but not something you want to invest significant portions of your life into. That’s totally fine, and I do think that this post–this series, in fact, because I had too many points for a single post–will still be of value to you in helping you be as professional as possible with the projects you do release.

But if you’re one of many whose goal is to make a career out of writing (and/or writing-related endeavors), this series is for you. Creating a sustainable author career requires investment of many different kinds in many different areas, and this series will dive into what some of those areas are and how to invest well for the career that you want to build.

Today’s post is about some of the most foundational investments to make, which largely center around skill and polish. It’s important to note that your author career is built, foundationally, on two things: you and your books. This means you want to be as solid in your presentation of yourself and your books as you possibly can; you need to know your strengths and weaknesses, your interests, your values. And you need to be growing in your writing skill as an author. So let’s look at some ways you can invest in these areas.

Invest in Your Worldview

At first blush, this may seem like an off-topic item for this list. What does what you personally believe about the world matter for your author career? Well, it matters for a few reasons, actually. For one thing, your worldview shapes what you write about and how you write about things. Your values, beliefs, and interests color everything you do, and particularly creative work like writing. Your creativity draws from who you are, and that’s distinctive; you can’t write anything quite like someone else can, and your distinct worldview is a powerful trait to be aware of.

Your worldview is also going to help you find and connect with both the readers who want what you write and fellow authors with similar goals whom you can collaborate with and mutually spur on. I’ll talk more about investing in those relationships in a later post, but overlap in worldview is a huge piece of connecting with the right people in your author career and in life.

That’s why your worldview is important to have a grasp on, but how can you invest in that area practically?

In large part, your worldview will be shaped by simply living life and engaging with the world. The way that you respond to things and the way you filter information and experiences will tell you something about your overarching worldview; it’s just a matter of recognizing it.

But beyond that, dive into practicing what you say you believe. If you’re a Christian, take time to read your Bible and pray and fellowship with other believers. If you value community, invest in the people around you, reach out to make new friends, renew old friendships, introduce people to one another, support those around you in their endeavors, build community. If you value homemaking, lean into it; find ways to beautify your home, be hospitable, practice cooking and baking. If you value hard work, find places to volunteer, be diligent in your vocation, practice balanced rest so you can enjoy the fruit of your labor and be renewed for more work. These things may not sound like much, but living life and living it in a way that’s consistent with your values will provide you with experiences that will shape your creative work and the way you connect with others.

If you want something a little more directed, practice thinking through your worldview with specific topics and questions. Not only will this strengthen your understanding of these topics and enable you to defend what you believe, but the more you understand a variety of worldview topics, the greater variety of worldview topics you can confidently explore in your fiction.

Develop Your Writing Skills

In contrast to the previous point, this might seem like the most obvious item on the list. Of course, in order to build a stable author career, you need to be growing in the actual craft of writing so that the books you put out are quality stories told in an effective and beautiful way.

You don’t have to have “arrived” right away, and you’re not expected to; the best authors are always learning and growing even beyond the point where their work is considered excellent by readers. It is important for any author seeking to build a career and to become a great writer to have an attitude of humility, to be willing to learn and grow and explore beyond what they already understand. Pride stunts growth, which stunts quality. Even great writing can become boring if it becomes stagnant (which I’ve seen happen to authors before, particularly with long book series).

Once the attitude is right and you can acknowledge your flaws, you must identify your weaknesses in writing. Maybe you’re a perfectionist and it’s keeping you from finishing projects, or perhaps you’re too hasty and end up publishing before your books are really ready, or maybe your characterization is weak, or your worldbuilding is generic, your plot lines meander, or your pacing is choppy. (I’ve dealt with every one of those problems, and I’m still weak in some of those areas.) Only once we know what problems we have are we able to address them and become better writers.

This is part of why feedback is so important. Even when we acknowledge that we have weaknesses, it can be difficult for us to identify them ourselves. Trustworthy, constructively critical writing friends can point out the weaknesses we might have missed, enabling us to shore up those weaker spots.

But writing growth is also about identifying and leaning into your strengths. If your pacing is awkward but you have a great handle on prose, use your prose to fix your pacing. Or maybe your problem is plot, but you’re excellent with theme; make your themes the heart of your plot lines. Conflict is a struggle for you, but you have vividly detailed worlds? Look to your worldbuilding for natural conflict! Not only will your strengths help you work through your weaknesses, identifying them can also boost your confidence and give you something to focus on when you need a reason to push forward, and those strengths will still resonate with readers even if certain elements of your book aren’t as strong.

There are a lot of ways to invest in your writing skill, whether you’re investing time alone or time and money. First, of course, is simple practice. Write, and write a lot. Write a variety of things. Experiment. Finish drafts and set them aside. Remember that some books are just practice books and don’t need to be published (at least not in their first iteration), but they’re still valuable. Exercise different writing skills. Join a writing group and find someone (or multiple someones) you can exchange feedback with.

If you have a little more cash on hand, buy craft books to read (and apply). Enroll in writing courses (Story Embers has some great ones, and if your struggle is with worldbuilding then my Worldbuilding Toolbox might be for you). If you’re up for an even bigger investment, try a writing school like The Author Conservatory or The Company (formerly School of Kingdom Writers).

There are so many ways you can invest in your writing skill, whatever your circumstances, even if you’re only sneaking brief bits of practice into a busy schedule. Figure out the best investment for where you are right now, and put your energy there.

Professionalism: Quality Edits

The first half of this post was foundational; this second half will go into how to make your individual publications look polished and professional throughout your author career.

The first thing you need for a professional-grade release is quality editing. This means investing in your self-editing skills, learning to work with beta-readers, and finding a high-quality professional editor who understands the vision behind your work (if not two or three editors for different levels of editing).

Learning to self-edit should be part of honing your writing craft, so I won’t go into a ton of detail in this point. But learn story structure and scene structure, study theme, analyze and practice prose, etc. Learn how to build a strong story, and practice shaping your completed drafts to that framework. And don’t stop with just one pass! Editing requires persistence to work through draft after draft until your story is as strong as you’re able to make it.

Having people to exchange feedback with is also something I mentioned in the previous point, but beta-readers will be a more specific group. Critique partners may see snippets of your story, they may see short stories or exercises you write for practice, they might see the bulk or even the entirety of your early draft(s) in more of an alpha-reader capacity. But beta-readers will see a completed, self-edited copy of your book and look at it not only as writers but also as readers. They’re there to help you find the inconsistencies and the plot holes and the awkward sentences that will trip up readers. And then you get to take that feedback and edit again!

I have a whole post on the differences between alpha-readers and beta-readers and the functions of each, so check that out for more on that topic–as well as some good places to find such readers.

After that, it’s time to get a professional eye. If you’re publishing traditionally, these services will be covered by the publishing house. There should be no paying for edits out-of-pocket with a traditional publisher, and if you’re running into that, you’ve probably found a vanity press.

If you’re going indie, finding a good editor is going to be a bit more work and a lot more of a financial investment. When you go looking, there are generally three kinds of editors you’re going to find: developmental editors, line editors, and copy-editors or proofreaders. I’ve talked about each of these in depth before and why I think each is a worthwhile investment, so check out those links for more. But in short, a developmental editor is going to help you restructure the bones of your story so that it works at its best, a line editor is going to find all of the mid-size problems (inconsistencies, voice issues, lingering plot issues, etc.) and polish your prose to maximum effect, and a copy-editor/proofreader will find and fix all of the pesky typos and grammatical errors that have been missed in previous runs through.

If you don’t have the budget to hire out all three (which I would venture to say most of us don’t), my opinion is to prioritize line edits. I’m somewhat biased in saying that because line edits are where I focus as a professional editor myself, but I say it because a line editor is going to cover the most out of any of the options. A line editor focuses on the line-level–cleaning up your paragraphs and whatnot–but they’ll point out the larger problems that contribute to your paragraphs not working, and they’re liable to fix up your grammar and spelling in the process as well.

That said, prioritize according to your needs! If you really struggle with story structure, pacing, character development, etc. then you’ll want to prioritize hiring a developmental editor. If you really struggle with spelling and grammar, a copy-editor is a wise investment. There are reasons I recommend line edits highly, but you should always look for what your book needs.

Also, keep in mind that not all professional editors have the same level of skill, or the same interest in and understanding of your book. Look for an editor whose portfolio you respect (if possible) and an editor who is excited about your book and understands your intentions. You may find an excellent editor who just doesn’t understand your pacing choice or the voice of your prose or the theological angle you’re coming from. In some cases, you’ll need to consider whether they actually don’t understand or whether you’re holding too tightly to something that’s not really serving your story, but if you can take a less-biased look at your work and you’re sure it’s a matter of stylistic dissonance–and especially if you’ve gotten feedback from multiple people who do understand and appreciate a given choice or perspective–there’s nothing wrong with finding a different editor for the next book (or passing on an editor, if you’ve only done a sample with them). And sometimes the same editor will be a bad fit for one book but a great fit for the next! So consider quality, worldview, and taste when working with an editor, but build peaceable relationships in that space.

Once you do find the right editor for your work, however, you can often stick with them for your entire author career, making the investment to find them well worth the tradeoff.

Professionalism: Quality Cover Art

If you’re traditionally publishing, you don’t really need to worry about these next two points since your publishing house will handle cover design and formatting. This section could still be beneficial for informational purposes, but generally the house you’re working with will know what they’re doing and spearhead the design process.

Indie publishing, on the other hand, often gets a bad rap on quality for its cover design. In many cases, it’s really easy to look at an indie book and say, “Oh, that’s indie.” Why? Because covers on indie books are often less high-quality–at least as covers; some feature beautiful artwork that just doesn’t fit well as cover art–or don’t match with the book they’re trying to advertise. (And yes, your cover is advertising.)

Here are some things to consider as you’re designing a cover, hiring a designer, etc. if you’re seeking to build your author career with independent publishing.

A quality cover will have a cohesive look. The font or other layers shouldn’t look like they were just slapped on; they should flow together naturally. Stark lines can be useful in certain designs, but in many cases they’re going to contribute to this slap-shod look. The balance to this is that you don’t want your cover to become too blended together; it still needs to be legible, not only at full-size but also when readers are seeing a thumbnail in places like the Amazon search catalogue.

Your cover should reflect the story your readers are going to get, in both genre and content. An example I find particularly useful is the romance genre. There are, say, fantasy romance novels that are explicitly clean romance that I’ve overlooked because their covers too closely resembled the style of covers for “spicier” romance novels. Take a look at the covers of published books in your genre (indie and traditionally published), note some of the patterns, and maybe even look at the covers in genres you don’t want to match so that you can note patterns to avoid as well.

If you do get a cover designed, there are some options. You can buy a pre-made cover and have the designer plug in your book’s information (in my experience, the quality of pre-made covers can vary drastically, so know what you’re looking for). You can take a specific cover request to a designer and have them make it a reality (again, know what you’re looking for; check the designer’s portfolio, and also be aware that the image you have in your head might not translate as well to an actual cover design as you think). Or, you can go middle-of-the-road with someplace like 99designs and allow a variety of artists to put forward designs based on a more general vision you provide, which is what I did for Calligraphy Guild‘s cover. Any of these options can work really well (or really poorly), so go with whichever works for you, your book, and your budget.

Professionalism: Polished Formatting

Again, if you’re traditionally publishing then this section won’t be especially relevant to you. But if you’re indie-publishing, this is important!

Formatting seems like it wouldn’t be that important. Don’t you just put the words on the page and print them? Well, yes… and absolutely not. Unfortunately, it’s a lot more complicated than that to put together a professional-looking book. There are so many details that we take for granted or overlook in the books we read, and you have to think about all of them when you format your own book! Things like:

  • Page numbers, and making sure they skip front matter, back matter, and the first pages of each chapter but don’t start over the count with each new chapter.
  • Chapter headers (not only the headers that go at the beginning of each chapter, but also the headers at the top of each page that show the book title, author name, or chapter title).
  • Line spacing. Don’t forget to make your paragraphs single-spaced if you’ve had them double-spaced, but also don’t forget to remove extra space before and/or after paragraphs. (Been there, done that!)
  • Justified text alignment (having an even line along the right side of the page makes more of a difference than you think).
  • Proper paragraph indentation. Paragraphs that are too deep look weird and take up too much space.
  • Margin size, and making sure it accounts for the inside edge where your pages connect to the book spine. Don’t make your margins over-wide or over-narrow; the former will look weird and the latter will make your book hard to read. (Again, been there, done that!)
  • Overall page size (standard for a paperback is usually 5.25″ x 8.25″).
  • Title pages. There are often two of these per book, one that more closely resembles the cover (using cover fonts, etc.) and one that is more basic (more standard font, etc.) It’s hard to describe, so I recommend picking up a published book to see what I mean.
  • Table of contents, with page numbers.
  • A dedication page.
  • Acknowledgements and an “about the author” page (which can include website links, other works, and the like… or those can be separate pages as well).
  • Oh, and don’t forget that you have to format before you can finalize your cover, since the formatted page count of your book will determine the width of your cover’s spine!

That’s just what I can think of now and/or have written down in the past; there may be other small details I’m missing. But the point is, it’s a lot more than you might think and it’s a sizeable undertaking. Formatting has always been the most frustrating part of publishing to me.

I recommend trying formatting for yourself at least a time or two to have the experience and to learn how to do it, since it is a useful skill for an indie author to have. But I personally hire out my formatting when I can because it stresses me out and there are others who have done it a lot more than I have. Thus far, that means I’ve hired out the formatting only on Calligraphy Guild (and I’m aware of formatting oddities/errors in some of my other published works; one’s author career tends to start on a tight budget!). But if you prefer to hire out that service, there are people to do it.

That is the advice I have for building a strong foundation for your author career and ensuring that your publications are polished and professional. Next week I’ll talk more about valuable investments for your writing education and resources to find. But for now, let me know which of these investments is next for you to make, or which one has paid off the most for you already!

If you’re looking to build a career as an indie author and you’d like a downloadable checklist for the self-publishing process, sign up below!

4 thoughts on “Author Career Investments You Should Be Making

  1. I read this post a few months ago, appreciated it greatly, wrote up a long comment for you, and forgot to post it XD. So the thoughts below will probably be a combination of what I’d already written and new thoughts on rereading this.

    Firstly, I really appreciated what you said about investing in your own worldview first and foremost—diving into truly practicing what you say you believe. I’ve been thinking about this somewhat recently (in different words) but I definitely needed to hear it again. (So thank you!)

    Connected to that, I loved what you said about choosing to build community. Investing in people, making new friends, reconnecting with old ones, introducing people to each other, and supporting others in their endeavors. I’ve known for a while that I need to be more deliberate about building community—and I actually have access to a great community, I just need to take advantage of it. This was another confirmation to me that this is what I need to be doing!

    When you listed four problems people can have in their writing, the meandering plot lines stood out to me, since I’ve been realizing recently that’s been a major problem of mine with past projects.

    I really appreciated what you said about leaning into your writing strengths, and actually using them to overcome your writing weaknesses. I hadn’t really thought about it that way! I’ll have to think about how I can do this in my own writing.

    It made me so happy that you mentioned the Author Conservatory here! I joined several months ago and I’m loving it so much.

    Thank you for the list of factors to keep in mind when formatting your book. I don’t plan to indie publish in the near future, but I’m thinking of doing so someday and this looks like a really helpful list to have on hand!


    1. I’m glad to hear this post was such an encouragement to you!

      Living out your values and intentionally building community are things I often need to be reminded to focus on more, as well. They’re incredibly important, but so easy to become passive about!

      I’ve heard such great things about the Conservatory! My seasons of life haven’t really been conducive to enrolling myself, but I’m so glad it’s there as a resource for other authors–and the results I’ve seen come out of it have been really encouraging, as part of the Christian writing community.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the post! Again, I’m really glad you found it helpful. ^-^

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