Anyone can self publish a book these days. If you don’t know how to go about it there’s a tonne of information on the internet and you’ll find articles about Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace Publishing on this site. If you’ve just got one book and don’t plan to make writing your career, then you can self publish your oeuvre and have the satisfaction of saying, “I’ve done it!” But just because self publishing is an option, does that mean it’s the right career path for every aspiring writer? In this post I’m going to examine the skill set that I think you need in order to self publish successfully.
You’re unlikely to make a career as an author if you’ve only got one book. To get noticed you need to have multiple titles which means constantly creating new work.
Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction you need to keep coming up with new ideas.
You need to feed your creativity by whatever means, whether that’s reading a lot, watching films and television or taking inspiration from real life.
You can’t afford to let the well run dry.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
― Stephen King.
Your editor shouldn’t have to correct basic grammar and punctuation errors.
If you’re a bit hazy on where to stick that darn apostrophe, then you need to sharpen up your skills.
This website has a section devoted to grammar tips.
A great book on punctuation is Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss.
But writing correctly is only the first step.
The best writers out there write with a feel for language: their prose has rhythm and style; they exploit the power of words and have fun with vocabulary; they vary sentence length to keep the reader engaged and they carry the reader on an emotionally rewarding journey.
Good prose should not be the sole preserve of literary fiction.
Stephen King is a great writer not just because of the thrilling content of his books but because he has a masterful control of the English language. When you read his prose, you get the impression he had fun writing it.
Ullman stood five-five, and when he moved, it was with the prissy speed that seems to be the exclusive domain of all small plump men. The part in his hair was exact, and his dark suit was sober but comforting. I am a man you can bring your problems to, that suit said to the paying customer. To the hired help it spoke more curtly: This had better be good, you. There was a red carnation in the lapel, perhaps so that no one on the street would mistake Stuart Ullman for the local undertaker.
― The Shining; Stephen King.
I think it’s a mistake to outsource this job to someone else because you need to be able to maintain the website yourself.
Some of the technical skills I’ve had to learn include:
- Building a website with WordPress
- Creating smart links that use affiliate tracking
- Compiling ebooks using Scrivener
- Using the publishing platforms
- Using the social media platforms
- Writing basic HTML for formatting
- Manipulating images
I’m from a generation that didn’t have computers growing up. I didn’t use a computer until I was twenty-two and even then it was a dumb terminal connected to a mainframe.
No one is born knowing how to write HTML or how to install a WordPress plugin.
For some people, lack of technical skills is a major stumbling block. The point is, you have to be prepared to learn this stuff.
As a self published author you’re running a business. You’ll incur costs (web hosting, editing and book cover design, paid advertising etc.) With any luck you’ll also receive revenue from royalties and, potentially, affiliate marketing.
Your costs minus your revenue will give you your profit.
Your profit, at least in the early days, might be negative. Hopefully, over time, it will become positive.
This is fairly basic stuff, but you will need to keep track of every penny spent and every penny earned otherwise you’ll have no idea if your writing is a profitable venture. You will also need accurate figures for tax purposes.
If you invest in paid advertising then you might want to calculate your Return on Investment or ROI to see if the advertising was financially worthwhile. ROI is the gain or loss generated relative to the money invested and is shown as a percentage.
x 100= ( / Cost of )
You don’t need fancy software to keep track of costs, revenue and profit.
Microsoft Excel will do the job perfectly well as long as you plug in all the numbers correctly and use a few simple formulae to calculate the bottom line.
I create a new sheet for each financial year using this basic layout:
Marketing starts with understanding the market for your genre, whether that’s fiction or non-fiction.
In order to sell books you first have to create something that is marketable.
This means creating a book that fits into a recognisable category (or categories) and packaging it so that it will appeal to readers of that genre.
Marketing is also about reaching out to other people, maybe creating a blog with useful content.
It’s also almost impossible to get your books noticed without doing some form of paid advertising, whether that’s on Facebook or via a service like BookBub.
Project Management and Time Management Skills
I’m from a corporate IT background so I’m used to managing projects with teams of people, deadlines and clearly defined deliverables.
Self publishing is not that different.
You probably won’t be employing a team of people, but you will most likely contract out editing and book cover design. Your editor and book cover designer will want well-defined terms of reference and, certainly in the case of cover design, input from you on design options. You must be able to work well with other professionals.
Self publishing a book is a project with multiple steps. To achieve these steps efficiently you will need to plan ahead and, effectively, project manage the process.
Above all, you must be able to manage your own time. It can take months, even years, to write a book and unless you manage your time effectively each day and create a routine for yourself then you’re very unlikely to reach the finishing line.
Adaptability and a Willingness to Learn
Finally, I think one of the most important prerequisites for a self published author is the ability to adapt and keep learning. This a fast-changing business and it’s vitally important to keep up to date with the latest news and technologies.
This doesn’t mean that you should change course with every new fad that comes along. But you should definitely keep your knowledge about the industry relevant and stay tuned to developments.
There are loads of books and courses available. Sometimes it’s just a matter of going to YouTube and finding a video that will show you how to do something specific.
A good way to stay up to date is to listen to podcasts whilst you’re doing chores around the house, exercising at the gym or commuting to work. Here’s a list of my favourite podcasts on the topic of self publishing.