Updated: Feb 10
I Googled “How to become a famous author” in double quotation marks to force Google to search for the entire phrase. That got me links to 168,000 hits. I don’t know why there are so many articles on the subject because there are only two steps you must complete to become a famous author.
How hard can it be to describe two steps? Here they are:
Produce an outstanding product that is in demand
Well, that was easy.
Step 1: Produce an outstanding product that is in demand
To complete this step you must know thoroughly the principles of writing, many of which are described in my Writing Tips blog stream on this website. These principles will help govern your progress toward becoming a better writer.
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Read every day
Most new authors have a sense of how much work is required to become a literary success. But a sense is not enough. Do you want to work at 5% efficiency or 85%? If you want 85% efficiency, you must read other authors’ fictional work every day.
This requirement applies to new and seasoned authors alike. In his book On Writing, Stephen King writes that he spends 50% of every working day reading other authors’ fiction. Even Stephen King follows this advice.
I know of only one author who spent no time reading. He said it was because so many ideas came to his head he had no choice but to write continually to keep up with them. His name was Isaac Asimov. He authored over 300 books. Unless your last name is Asimov, I suggest you read fiction every day reading.
My favorite quote on the need to read other authors' fiction is by Ray Bradbury. He didn’t just give solid advice, he did it like a master:
“If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”
― Ray Bradbury
No one likes to be told to be patient. So, instead I'm going to tell you something actually useful and important: Don't be discovered too early.
If you "hit it lucky" and get yourself noticed too early, you run the risk of flaring out because you don't yet have the skill and expertise to continue to produce an outstanding product.
You want to be noticed after you're skilled, not early on when you're lucky.
If you work hard at your craft long enough you'll notice that your writing will get better over time. As you improve, you'll eventually start to think, "Why doesn't anyone care?"
Let that thought go. Dismiss it from your mind. You're job is just to keep getting better. Someday, maybe a year from now, maybe in five years, you'll somehow receive genuine acclaim. By then you have the tools, the wisdom, the wherewithal, and an amassed repertoire to maintain that acclaim. Your fan base will increase naturally by then because you have become genuinely good.
But if you try to rush it, you run the risk of becoming a "one hit wonder."
One Hit Wonders
Have you ever wondered how a pop band, author, or composer can make a creation so exquisite it practically takes over the world, but yet not be able to create a second or third?
You must hang in there and persevere even when the public doesn't adore your literary children.
Ferde Grofé composed the Grand Canyon Suite, one of the most recognized 20th century symphonic pieces. This brought him worldwide acclaim. But what about his other compositions, including ten movie scores, forty-seven orchestral works, two concertos, four ballets, and eighteen other compositions for concert bands, chamber orchestras, and solo works?
Then there is the pop musical group that performed one of the most popular pop songs ever recorded. The group was called Wild Cherry, and the song was called Play That Funky Music (1976). Wild Cherry succeeded in performing only one hit song in their career.
Those hits were not the first musical composition or performance made by Wild Cherry or Ferde Grofé. What if Wild Cherry or Ferde Grofé had given up after their first unrecognized piece?
Even great performers and authors do not always get the success they wish. You must keep working even if you experience a string of what seem to be failures.
Stephen King, who has published over sixty highly successful novels, has expressed concern that one of his earlier novels, The Stand, continues to be considered by many to be his best work (On Writing, Stephen King).
“If you want to be good at something, you must first be willing to be bad at it.”
Here is a terrifying statistic: only 1 out of 1,000 written in the United States becomes financially successful.
One out of a thousand is the same as one-tenth of one percent. Have you heard of the One Percenters, the top one percent of successful people in the United States demonized by the political Left? That’s not a small enough group for us authors. Our group is one-tenth that size.
Now that I've demoralized you, let me help you feel a better.
Two-thirds of those 1,000 books are written by schlubs (rank amateurs). If you’re reading this post, you’re not a schlub.
Of the remaining one third of annually published books, at least half of those are written by committed new writers who are well-meaning but not well informed. If you study sites such as this one, you’ll be part of the “informed” half of authors.
Now your novel must compete with only 1/6 of one thousand books, or 1 out of 167.
But wait, it gets better!
Only about one of four published books in the United States is fiction. This means your novel must compete with only 1/4 of 1/6 of all published books annually, or 1/24 of 1,000, which comes to 1 of 42.
Which means that—all things even—if you were to write 42 novels, one of them would be a success. But that assumes you're average, and you're better than average.
Summary of Step 1:
I hope you’ve gotten the point that if you wish to be a literary success, you must be extremely committed to your writing. You must take Stephen King’s and Ray Bradbury’s advice and read for hours every day.
But there is one more thing you must do yet. You must be discovered.
Step 2: Be discovered
As difficult as it is for new authors to manage Step 1, most beginning authors have even greater difficulty with Step 2. This is because most new authors think of being discovered as an event rather than a process.
You must, on your own, without spending any money or hiring an agent, complete the following two steps:
Write well enough that a sizable percentage of your relatives, friends, and coworkers tell you with great intensity, “Really, you need to become a writer. You are good! You write better stories than the last ten novels I read. I’m serious! You need to do something about this.”
The people to whom you’ve given a copy of your manuscript must, on their own, loan it to their friends, who in turn come to you and repeat to you the same speech your relatives, friends, and coworkers gave you.
Until complete strangers contact you and with great desperation insist that you "act immediately on your talent, else the world will suffer unrecoverably," you are not yet good enough as an author.
This is not silly talk or heightened literary exaggeration to make a point.
“The world will not accept you as an author any more than those whom you know personally.”
If your relatives, friends, and coworkers—and their friends and coworkers—are not legitimately and enthusiastically astonished with your work, it is extremely unlikely that the rest of the world will be any more impressed.
This does not mean you should quit writing!
No! Keep honing your skills and improving your ideas. But do it for free, without agents or marketing managers until you complete the steps described herein. Meanwhile, keep your day job. If it takes years, then it takes years. Spending money on an agent or a marketing manager won't help you become a better author any sooner.
These ideas are summarized by Andy Weir, author of the hit novel, The Martian:
To get discovered, self-publish the book. If it’s good, word will get around and it will sell. Publishers will then take an interest.
― Andy Weir
Notice I haven’t said anything about self-publishing on Amazon, which you can do for free. I strongly advice you not to publish your novel on Amazon until after you have been discovered locally, when you have received significant adoration of those whom you know, and of those whom they know.
It won’t do you any good to publish on Amazon if your novel sits there and languishes. Such will not help your cause and may hurt it if you receive negative comments. Furthermore, Amazon publishes the original date you submitted your book. It won’t look good to potential buyers if it has sat there for three years and ranks #945,284 in the Kindle Store.