Becoming an Author: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a career as an author? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary information to see if becoming an author is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming an Author

The terms author and writer are often used interchangeably, but author more specifically refers to individuals who develop and write original content for books, stories, scripts and other similar works. Take a look at the following pros and cons to see if you want to pursue a career as an author.

Pros of a Career as an Author
Opportunity for creative expression in a wide variety of genres*
Advances in digital technology have made it easier to self-publish*
Flexible work environment (work from home or anywhere with computer access)*
Industry demand for authors and writers with multimedia experience*

Cons of a Career as an Author
Keen competition due to the large number of people attracted to the career*
College degree usually required for salaried positions*
Employment expected to be slower than average from 2012-2022 (three percent)*
Pressure involved with juggling numerous projects and finding publication opportunities*
Self-employed authors may have to work irregular hours to meet deadlines*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Authors develop the content, style and format for a variety of fiction and nonfiction materials that are usually targeted towards specific audiences. Those who write fiction develop the themes, organize the plots and create the characters and settings for novels, short stories, plays and scripts. Authors of nonfiction may perform research or conduct interviews to obtain factual or first-hand information. Some authors also write online content and blogs, and advances in digital technology have made it much easier to publish your own work online. Although literary authors often do not have a 'supervisor,' they do work with editors who help them shape and polish their work.

Career Prospects and Salary Information

According to the Association of American Publishers, overall U.S. publishing net sales were, for the most part, flat from 2012 to 2013. This lack of significant year-over-year growth was reflected in the job outlook for authors. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), slower-than-average job growth was projected at just three percent from 2012-2022. In addition to slower sales, competition for this field is keen. Opportunities should be best for authors who are comfortable working with online media. The BLS also reported that two-thirds of authors and other writers were self-employed and 25% worked part-time as of 2012. In May 2014, the median annual salary for authors and writers was about $59,000.

Education Requirements

While there are no strict requirements for becoming an author, a bachelor's degree in English, journalism or communications from a 4-year college or university is often required to obtain a salaried position. The curriculum for an English major typically includes classes in a variety of literary genres, grammar, linguistics and literary theory and criticism. If you want to write about a specific topic, you may need formal training in that field. For example, if you want to write non-fiction books about politics, you may need to have an education in politics or a related major.


For this career, you'll obviously need strong writing skills and a sense of creativity as well as the interpersonal skills necessary for working with editors, clients, publishers and other related professionals. Potential employers and editors will also expect you to have:

  • Computer proficiency for online publishing
  • Organizational and time-management skills
  • Ability to meet deadlines
  • Drive and determination
  • Ability to work in solitude

Job Postings from Real Employers

Becoming a published author often involves sending transcripts of your book or other composition to publishers and waiting for a response. Meanwhile, many authors work additional jobs to supplement their wages. For example, contract writing positions obtained through publishers of online content are one way for new, computer-literate authors to gain experience while acquiring some writing credits and supplementing their incomes. More experienced writers may find on-staff positions that allow them to use their creative writing abilities outside of the publishing industry. The following job postings from May 2012 will give you an idea of the kinds of opportunities currently available in the field.

  • An online writing community in New York is looking for bloggers and freelancers to write two or three posts per week on topics of their choosing. No educational requirements are listed and authors will be paid according to an impressions-sharing program, with authors receiving 60% of profits and the employer receiving the remaining 40%.
  • An industry leader in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in Pennsylvania is advertising for an entry-level content writer with a bachelor's degree in English, communications, journalism or a related major. Qualified candidates will be responsible for writing articles, blogs, press releases and website content.
  • A business advisory company in Texas has an opening for a creative marketing writer with a bachelor's degree in English, communications, journalism or marketing and seven years of writing experience. The successful candidate will write business-to-business copy for online and offline marketing content, including email campaigns, brochures and advertising materials.

How to Advance in the Field

Publishing work in prestigious publications, receiving positive reviews and pursuing more ambitious writing assignments are all standard ways for authors to build their reputations and get ahead in the field. You might, for example, acquire real-life writing skills during college by writing articles, reports and scripts for college-based publications, broadcasting stations and theater productions. Developing a solid track record for meeting deadlines is also important. To be competitive in this billion-dollar industry, authors need to continually work on their craft, stay mindful of current literary trends and know where to look for new and emerging markets that might be receptive to their work.

Join a Professional Organization

While authors may not be engaged in the most social of occupations, a membership in a professional writing organization can provide you with a sense of community as well as valuable resources for enriching your career. For example, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs offers its members access to a job board, publishing opportunities, job-hunting advice and discounts on continuing education conferences.

You might also join a specialty author's association, such as the American Society of Journalists and Authors or the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Another renowned organization is the Authors Guild, an advocacy group for writers dealing with copyright defense, free expression and fair contracts. This group requires its members to have a book published by an established American publisher.

Other Careers to Consider

Technical Writer

If you love writing but want a job with more stability than an author's career, consider a job in technical writing. Technical writers, who are employed either on staff or as independent contractors, prepare assembly instructions, how-to manuals and other related materials that help people understand complex information. A bachelor's degree in English, communications or journalism is usually needed to enter the field, and some employers require credentials or experience in computer science, engineering or technology.

According to the BLS, employment opportunities for these professionals were expected to grow by 17% from 2010 to 2020, nearly three times the growth of that of authors. As of May 2011, the median annual salary of a technical writer was nearly $65,000.


If you want a career that's more involved in the publishing side of authoring, consider becoming an editor. As an editor, you'll evaluate manuscript submissions and help authors prepare their work for publication. A bachelor's degree in a relevant major is typically required to obtain a position, and although most editors are office-based, advances in computer technology have made it possible for them to work almost anywhere. As the intermediary between authors and the public, your responsibilities can include correcting grammar, punctuation and spelling mistakes, verifying factual information and rewriting copy for clarity and readability. The BLS reports that the median annual salary for an editor was more than $52,000 as of May 2011, and little or no change in employment was expected between 2010 and 2020.

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