A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

What Makes a Qualified Author? by Catherine Doyle

Other than an overactive imagination, strange snacking routines and crippling bouts of self-doubt? Hmm…

There are many routes to publication; a lot of them are unconventional and most of them are, at least in part, a result of good timing and a massive dollop of luck.

Writing, while wonderful, is no walk in the park; there are great highs and deep lows. A good review will make your cheeks hurt from smiling. A bad review can punch you right in the heart. Selling a book will make you want to cartwheel around your kitchen or flail your arms obnoxiously while people stare at you and mutter about your sanity; failing to sell will make you want to dissolve into the ground and slither home to your bed through the earth’s core. Wait, am I just an abnormally dramatic person? You’re with me guys, right…. right?

You need to be resilient, determined and passionate. You have to be able to keep going even when you feel like giving up, to take constructive criticism and learn from it, to hear deconstructive criticism and rise above it. Most importantly though, you’ve got to have a passion for stories; reading them, creating them, discussing them, championing them. Those are the kind of personal qualifications you need to be an author. The academic kind? In my opinion, not so much.

Just look at some of the most revered authors in history. Harper Lee dropped out of law school at the University of Alabama upon realising she’d rather write dramas than depositions. The result? The Pulitzer Prize-Winning How To Kill A Mockingbird.

Maya Angelou was a cook and a performer in a nightclub before she began publishing her inspirational poetry. In fact, even though she never had a professor, she became one at Wake Forest University once her work started receiving the acclaim it deserved.

Truman Capote was so sure of his ambition to become a writer that he went straight to the New Yorker after graduating from High school and got himself a job.

Jane Austen was pulled from boarding school when her parents couldn’t afford to pay for it anymore. And without Austen, we wouldn’t have Mr. Darcy, that sweet sweet man. (Thank you Jane). Oh, and, ahem, all her other incredible works too.

Agatha Christie was educated at home by her mother. As a child she was encouraged to write, and would often play fantasy and dress-up, creating the kinds of characters that would later end up in her formidable collection of best-selling books.

William Faulkner, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949, had no formal qualifications, and was a postmaster before he published his first book at the age of 27. His advice? “Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”

J.K. Rowling, Queen of My Childhood, echoes Faulkner’s advice: “The most important thing is to read as much as you can, like I did. It will give you an understanding of what makes good writing and it will enlarge your vocabulary.”

There are many roads to publication. One of them might involve studying Creative Writing at university or pursuing an English degree, but there are countless others that don’t. What an aspiring author really needs is a good helping of self-belief, a whole lot of perseverance and the willingness to take advantage of whatever resources are available to them. We each forge our own path, and that’s why no two stories of publication success are ever quite the same.

I think a love of writing and a love of reading, together, provide the best foundation for aspiring authors. The rest will come, one way or another, but that innate passion for stories cannot be taught in any school or university if it is not already part of your soul.


Catherine Doyle
Catherine Doyle is a 24-year-old writer from the West of Ireland. She holds a BA in Psychology and an MA in English. As a child she was an annoying smarty-pants with an overactive imagination. She feels lucky to have now found a healthy outlet for her tendency to make up stories. Her debut YA novel, VENDETTA, is the first in a trilogy. Inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo & Julietand classic mafia culture, the novel takes place in modern-day Chicago, where Catherine’s mother grew up and was published by Chicken House in January 2015.


2 comments on “What Makes a Qualified Author? by Catherine Doyle

  1. kateormand
    February 18, 2015

    So interesting. I enjoyed this a lot. Thanks, Cat!

  2. coffeennotes
    February 18, 2015

    Great post, thank you 🙂

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