The 5 Commandments of Becoming a Published Author

There are five qualities a person must develop in order to “make it,” according to Hend Salah, who calls them the five commandments of becoming a published author.
Publish date:
Image placeholder title

by Hend Salah

Writing is a passion. It’s an art. It’s an expression of personality and creativity. It’s a jumble of words that are interpreted differently by everyone who comes across them, regardless of how concrete they are. Above all, it isn’t really very hard to do. All you need is paper, a pen, and a bit of spare time. Yes, it’s easy to write, but it isn’t quite as easy to become an author.

Becoming a published author is akin to beating the final boss in a video game about the literary world. With a pen for a lance, you pass every stage in the writing process and level up until you are finally knighted and dubbed a member of the court.

Hopefully without melodramatically mixing metaphors the way I just did.

There are five qualities a person must develop in order to “make it.” I call them the five commandments of becoming a published author.

1. Thou shalt not be inflexible.

We are naturally biased about our writing. We think it’s perfect the way it is. Changes, especially big ones, are hard to make when we think we’re done. However, fresh eyes often see things we don’t, especially those that belong to people who have been in the business for a long time. Being rigid is going to hold you back, no matter what. The “It’s my piece, so I know best” attitude will bite you in the head, shoulders, knees, and toes. You have to give a little to gain a lot. Publishers, editors, and publicists will appreciate and note that you are easy to work with, and that is extremely important.

2. Thou shalt trust thyself.

No story will ever be perfect. I repeat: No story will ever be perfect. Proofreading is indeed extremely important, but there is such a thing as going overboard. Second- and third-guessing yourself can lead to the essence of the piece getting lost in the midst of simply too many edits. A good strategy is to go all the way through a couple of times, and then leave the project alone for a while. Revisit it one last time after you’ve spent some time apart. You will return with a new perspective.

Image placeholder title

2nd Draft critique & editing services can help you perfect your manuscript, query letter and more.

3. Thou shalt not mimic another author.

It’s easy to fall into that trap. It may start out as just looking for inspiration, but remember, the path to hell is paved with good intentions. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t read the work of your favorite authors for inspiration, but tread softly. Think back to when you had to turn your college papers in to plagiarism scanners. Book buyers are even more pedantic and harsh than your toughest professor. The nitpicking will drive you up a wall, and though it is impossible to be different in every aspect, copycats are unpopular among readers.

4. Thou shalt not be impatient.

Don’t be pushy. Agents and editors have many other things to do. They will get to your project when they can, and constantly nagging them to make you a priority won’t work. It takes time to read a proposal and make a decision. A good book isn’t enough to keep a publisher or agent in your corner. A positive attitude is just as important as having an excellent piece.

The 10 Commandments of How to Write a Thriller

5. Thou shalt not give up.

Nothing happens overnight. It is extremely unlikely that the first publisher or agent you seek out will give a first-time author a standing ovation and a contract right off the bat. There may be heartbreak. You might see the polite “I’ll pass on this project” many, many times. You might have someone read the first few pages and then ask for a full manuscript, only to turn it down in the end. This journey is chock-full of let downs, but you are the only one who can seal your fate completely. Get feedback from experienced professionals, work and rework until your fingers fall off, and most of all, never give up.

All your dreams can come true, if you grow out that spine and stubbornly chase them across seas and oceans.

Walt Disney said that. More or less.

Image placeholder title

Hend Salah is a New York born, horror loving, mental health counseling, loud-mouthed, opinionated mass of contradictions. She has a cornucopia of sensibly insensible controversial opinions, and is allergic to romance. She loves putting a dark twist on a good argument. Once upon a Midnight Dreary, she was a journalist. She has written for several news outlets and still runs her own website: There, she shares some of her professional work, somewhat twisted thoughts, and dark humor. Hend is currently a counselor at Franklin Academy, and spends her days working with kids and writing under cover of darkness.

Image placeholder title
Plot Twist Story Prompts: Split Up

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Split Up

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have your characters split up.


Deborah Hall, 2020 Writer's Digest Poetry Awards Winner

The winner of the 2020 Writer’s Digest Poetry Awards discusses the inspiration behind her first-place poem, “The Loneliest Whale."

Kerry Winfrey: On Writing a Romance that's Cozy and Comforting

Kerry Winfrey: On Writing a Romance that's Cozy and Comforting

Author Kerry Winfrey wrote her latest romance, Very Sincerely Yours, during the 2020 pandemic to comfort herself. Here, she's explaining why that tone is important for readers.


The 2020 Writer's Digest Poetry Awards Winners

Congratulations to the winners of the 2020 WD Poetry Awards!


Your Story #113

Write a short story of 650 words or fewer based on the photo prompt. You can be poignant, funny, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.

E.J. Levy: When Your First Draft is Your Best Draft

E.J. Levy: When Your First Draft is Your Best Draft

Author E.J. Levy discusses her journey with drafting and redrafting her historical fiction novel, The Cape Doctor, and why her first draft was her best draft.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 569

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write an "In the Name of Blank" poem.

Writer's Digest July/August 2021 Cover

Writer's Digest July/August 2021 Cover Reveal

The July/August 2021 issue of Writer's Digest features a collection of articles about writing for change plus an interview with Jasmine Guillory about her newest romance, While We Were Dating.