8 Steps For Getting Started on a Writing Career

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I got an email last week from a recent college grad. She'd stumbled across my For Writer's Page, appreciated the information there, but was curious how to get started with a writing career.

Here was her question: "I am a recent college graduate and I really want a career in writing/publishing my current novels that I am working on. Perhaps you can provide me with some advice on how to get started in that particular field. Thanks for your time."

Rather than write her a lengthy response, I told her I'd answer her question in my blog post this week since I'm sure she's not alone in wondering how to have a writing career.

Let me start by saying that I think there's a huge difference between getting published and having a writing career. I've seen many people either traditionally or self publish one or two books and go no further.

Maybe they only had one (or two) books burning within them to share with the world. Maybe they decided writing isn't their passion after all. Maybe they realized that getting a book noticed is a lot more work than they anticipated. Maybe they didn't have the sales or fame they'd dreamed about. Maybe their publisher dropped them as a result of low sales.

Whatever the case, getting published is the relatively easy part (especially nowadays with the popularity of self-publishing). But actually going on to have a writing career takes a whole lot more work and determination.

So, how does one move from publication to career writing?

In my personal experience and from watching others, here are a few of the steps that can help lead to a writing career:

1. Learn everything you can about how to write (and edit) well. 

Like any profession, writers must learn the basics. Yes, there are guidelines that help shape those awesome ideas into a format that readers will enjoy. I share writing tips here on my blog (for a categorized list check out my For Writer's Page). There are also tons of helpful writing technique books. Learn, learn, learn. There's no way around it.

2. Put that knowledge into practice by writing more than one book. 

One book just isn't enough practice or time to hone writing skills. Most career writers had to write numerous books before they finally began to have publishable quality books. (I wrote 5 before I was ready.)

3. Familiarize yourself with the writing industry. 

In today's ever-changing publishing climate, it's more important than ever to educate yourself on your options. Both traditional or self-publishing are viable options. But before deciding which route to pursue, learn what goes into each of them. Weigh the pros and cons. And realize that no matter which option you choose, both will have challenges.

4. Become savvy with social media.  

The truth is, there's really no way to have a writing career unless you're on social media. At the very basic, every writer needs to have a home base website or blog with a bio, books, and contact info. But the more a writer knows about the various social media and how to integrate them, the better.

5. Build relationships with other writers.  

Try to form writing friendships well before publication to avoid "using" people. Mutual friendships can often lead to critiques, endorsements, advice, referrals, help with promotion, etc.

6. Partner with a knowledgeable agent.  

With this particular point, I'm speaking more to those who decide to go the traditional publication route. Most traditional publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts and only look at work presented by agents. In fact, an experienced and hard-working agent can make all the difference when it comes to garnering book deals.

7. Learn how to market your books. 

Whether you go the traditional route or self-publish, you will have to get the word out about your books. There are many, many right ways to market. And there are also some very wrong ways. Give your book the best shot by learning how reach readers without antagonizing or alienating them.

8. Keep learning and write lots of books. 

During setbacks, during slow times, even during busy times, always keep writing. Career writers are constantly putting out new books. They persevere during those times when they're tempted to quit. They weather the stormy reviews. They're driven, hard-working, and passionate. And because of that, they never stop writing.

What about you? Do you have any more tips for getting started on a writing career? (Or questions?)


  1. How do you feel about guest blogging? Any tips on how to pursue that viral marketing venue?

    1. Hi Anne,

      Everyone has thoughts about blogging, whether its effective in helping with building a career or not. I'd say for non-fiction writers, blogging is essential. But for fiction writers, it's not as critical, perhaps not even necessary, especially at the expense of putting time and energy into our books which have much better payoff than blogging.

      As far as guest blogging, it hasn't helped me a lot. I think it could help to a degree if you were able to garner interviews on "bigger" blogs that target your audience (but again for fiction writers that's tough). Getting spots on bigger blogs can be challenging too, especially if you aren't well known already.

    2. Agreed, Jody. Writing loops are full of people looking for guests for their blogs. I learned (after a while, unfortunately) that this doesn't give a good return on the time and effort invested--including giving away copies of my novels.

  2. Great points, Jody. These days things are changing so fast and it's tricky to keep up. But it's a fun way to live life and pursue your passions. Good luck to the college grad!

  3. Thanks for a great post, Jody!

    I may not be the college grad who contacted you, but I'm also in that person's shoes, recently graduated and drifting a little bit. The problem with me is that I'm not sure if my work is good enough to make me a career writer. I've only finished one book, and it's not necessarily in a genre I would want to break into now (I wrote it many years ago). I look back at what I wrote previously, and I see the progression I've made to better work, but nothing has been novel length in many years, but I still pursued that Creative Writing minor and still dream about getting published. My brain just keeps asking me if it's worth it, and that's the part of myself that I need to shut off before I can move forward.

    You've given me some really good questions to ask myself, but really, what I need to do is buckle down and get some of those story ideas transformed into books. I'll never know unless I try, right? :)

    1. Hi Carissa,

      Usually our first few books aren't "good enough" for publication, but they're SO incredibly important in the process of training to become a better writer. I never once have regretted writing my first five books (even though they sit in a closet and will never be published). They got my writing skill to the point where it was "good enough" for publication. And that just takes time and a lot of practice! :-)

  4. Hi Jody,
    I haven't talked to you forever. Love the post! Everyone's different so for myself I'd have to say never stop writing unless you need a break. {GRIN}. I found I needed a pretty intense break this past year. I felt guilty the entire time I wasn't writing although I was story building in my head. I don't know how anyone writes all the time. I'm beginning to wonder if that's even healthy but I think it depends on the work (day job for me) and family situation the writer finds themselves in during their career. I'd love to know how you prevent yourself from burning out. You've done an incredible job through several books. How do you make those awesome boards like the one above titled, Career Writers? I love that stuff!

    1. Hi Jill,

      Sorry I'm late in responding to your comment! (Sorry to everyone else too!). We've been remodeling our kitchen the past couple of weeks and so I've been displaced and out of sorts! ;-)

      I totally get the need to take a break. I took a seven year break from my writing and it was the best thing I did. I had started garnering interest from publishers, but nothing panned out at that point. So I knew I was getting close, but I didn't know at the time, that I still needed lots of learning and life experiences to enrich my writing. And that's what my break did for me. So I definitely think breaks are needed from time to time to renew our inner writing spirit.

      As far as my graphics, I use Pic Monkey to make them so that my posts/pictures are pinnable on Pinterest! :-)

  5. Thanks for a great post Jody--I think 5 is a crucial step, as critique partners (who know the craft) are great at helping point out our "weak" areas. And they help keep you motivated and inspired to forge ahead during the not so good times. Perseverance is key.

  6. Great advice, especially the part about how you may write more than one book before you think you are ready to be published. My first book- I was so full of myself for writing it I thought I could publish it. I had a friend, who is a good writer, read it and she flat out said, no and told me it needed A LOT of work. Once I got over being angry (which I should not have been because I wanted an honest opinion) I realized she is right, so I went onto book #2, which went through so many edits in a 4 year period, it's hardly recognizable. I had some nibbles, but nothing panned out. But, those nibbles ("please send your entire manuscript" type nibbles from an agent) is enough to keep me writing. So, yes, keep writing. Keep learning and keep enjoying what you are doing!


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