5 Essential Publishing Skills

This article is by T.L. Bodine.

ereader and booksSelf-publishing can certainly seem like the easier route to take when it comes to getting your words in front of readers.  After all, there are no gate-keepers – no agents to court, no publishers to approach.

With the click of a button, your book can be released into the ether for anyone to come across.  And if the traditional path to publication seems daunting, it can be comforting to think that going indie will be easy.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple.  There’s a big difference between publishing a book and actually getting people to read it, and many of the things readers are looking for are exactly the things agents and acquisition editors want as well.  As it turns out, most of the key skills needed for landing an agent are very similar to those for hooking readers.

Whether you’re querying or going it alone, here are five skills you absolutely cannot sell a book without:

1. The Ability to Write a Strong Synopsis

I don’t know anybody who enjoys writing query letters.  If you were to make up a quick list of tasks that turn a writer’s life into Sisyphean Hell, condensing an entire complex book into a pithy, enticing paragraph is bound to be toward the top of the list.  All the same, it’s a skill you’ll need if you’re self-publishing – otherwise, what in the world are you going to write in the book’s description and back cover copy?

So no matter what path you’re taking, you need to be able to write a paragraph or two that succinctly introduces your character and main conflict.  It needs to hint at the voice and style of the story, give the reader an idea of the stakes, and entice them to read more.

I wrote roughly 14 different query letters for Tagestraum when I was looking for an agent.  Though I abandoned that quest for various reasons, I still needed a compelling blurb when I self-published it – and for that, I turned toward that stack of queries I’d written.

2. The Ability to Deliver a Pithy Elevator Pitch

If you’re not familiar with the idea of an elevator pitch, it’s pretty simple:  If you were in an elevator with someone you desperately wanted to tell about your book, and had only the time between floors to do it, what would you say?  Basically you’re looking at a one-sentence logline that will pique someone’s interest and convey what the story is about.  As you might expect, this task is even harder than query-writing.

But it’s no less essential.  Agents are becoming increasingly fond of “Twitter Pitch Parties” and other similar contests, so you’ll have a leg up if you practice this skill.  If you plan to market your book on Twitter, you’ll also need something interesting to say.  I see a lot of people on my Twitter feed try and fail to do this compellingly.  The pitches often miss the mark pretty dramatically: At best, they’re forgettable; at worse, they actually make me not want to read the book.  Ouch.

Even if you’re not planning to use Twitter as a marketing tool, you still need something to say when someone invariably asks you, “Oh, you wrote a book?  What’s it about?”  The person asking you this is very likely to be your coworker, neighbor, aging relative or other person who has zero interest in listening to a 10-minute-long discussion of your story’s intricate plot and themes.  Keep it simple.

The two loglines I use for Tagestraum are: “Child kidnapped by his imaginary friend; social worker travels to fairy world to get him back” and “Social worker travels to fairy world made of dreams to save child held hostage by a nightmare.” Both explain exactly what’s going on and leave enough room for a hashtag and a link on Twitter.

3. Good Communication Skills

Whether you’re going the traditional route or striking an indie path, marketing is going to be a major part of your job description – and at its core, marketing relies on good communication.  You have to practice the art of selling yourself and your product (which is to say, your book) while remaining friendly, courteous and professional.

Even if you’re not querying agents, you’ll still be sending out press kits to bloggers, reviewers, media outlets and the like.  Every single one of them will have their own guidelines to follow.  You’ll probably be running a blog where you have to simultaneously be yourself and cater to the needs or expectations of your readers.  And you might even have communication with the fans themselves – people asking you questions, leaving reviews, commenting on your social media posts, whatever.  You’d better get really good at honing your social skills because they absolutely have the power to make or break your writing career.

4. Patience

Querying takes time.  Traditional publishing moves at a snail’s pace.  I have author friends who signed with publishers while I was still querying, and their books aren’t out yet.  Meanwhile, I’ve got three books on the market.  By comparison, indie publishing seems to take the blink of an eye.

But there’s still a lot of aspects of it that take a very, very long time.  Once you publish the book, you’ll have to wait to see the sales start piling up.  You’ll have to wait to hear back from reviewers.  Wait to hear from bloggers about the guest post you offered to provide or interview they want to do.  Wait for your royalties to roll in.  You get the picture.  This is a “hurry up and wait” kind of job no matter how you do it, and if you’re not making the most of that down-time – by building up your readership, networking with would-be fans, writing your next book – you’ll drive yourself completely batty.

5. The Ability to Write a Fantastic Book

Last but certainly not least – no matter what route you plan to take, you need the best book you can possibly write.  It’s worth taking your time, getting the opinion of beta readers and editors, and combing over the book for errors several times before sending it out in the world, whether you’re sending it to an agency or Kindle Direct.  Because ultimately, it’s not marketing or any special secrets that sell a book: It’s a great story that inspires others to recommend it to their friends.  Once you have that, the rest will all begin to fall into place.

Do you have something to add to this list?  Is there a skill that’s proven invaluable to your writing career?  Let us know in the comments.

About the Author:

T.L. Bodine is a dark fantasy novelist and video game writer.  Her newest book, Tagestraum, is now available on Amazon.  She lives and works in Las Cruces, New Mexico.  You can visit her blog at tlbodine.blogspot.com, and can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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Joe
Joe
6 years ago

That is a pretty solid list in my opinion. Not sure what I would add to that.

Mike
Mike
6 years ago

for me, Good Communication Skills and The Ability to Deliver a Pithy Elevator Pitch is what sets everything else aside. Its what I practice the most to ensure my success.

Mike Cairns
6 years ago

Hi T.L
Great post, thanks. I think you’ve hit the major ones here, particularly the last two. It’s nice to read the part on communication. As an author, you imagine your whole job is communicating an idea, feeling and story with your audience. Yet communicating effectively and clearly is rarely mentioned in the skill set. 
The sixth one I’d add is being creative outside your writing. Marketing, formatting, cover design and all the other parts of the business need creativity, not just following the set paths. 
cheers
Mike

Jess
Jess
6 years ago

I’ve been thinking of giving self-publishing a go in the future, and these tips will definitely help me out a lot when the time comes. Communication skills is such an important one – both for marketing your work and for giving the readers somebody they can relate to and interact with. Loving your posts!

Kyra L
Kyra L
6 years ago

Lots of good advice. I would say your point on patience is
especially important. I’ve haven’t self-published  (yet!) but I know a couple people who have and
they’re constantly doubting and second guessing themselves, even after several
different approaches. Eventually they get it right, but it’s important to keep
trying and not expect things to happen immediately.

Annie Marie Peters
Annie Marie Peters
6 years ago

I agree.  All 5 of these work in conjunction.  I would also add that you have to be self motivated.  It takes a lot discipline to get your work published.

AdamBoustead
AdamBoustead
6 years ago

Very good advice wired about social network not very good at them

Antonio del Drago
6 years ago

author_sullivan Thanks for the tips, Michael.  

Regarding your item no. 4, would sort of pricing do you think pegs a book as “self-published”?

Thanks!

devinberglund
devinberglund
6 years ago

This is a great post! After I finish my final edit for my book that I am working on. I plan on writing a book that I could self publish! This is really great information! 🙂

author_sullivan
author_sullivan
6 years ago

A good post – but I would put #5 as #1. I know you said last, but certainly not least but I think you need to start with a fantastic book or else is a waste of time.

To this I’ll add…Produce a book that is indistinguishable from a traditionally published release. You already covered the back of the book marketing copy (#1) but add to that: 
1. An attractive and professional looking cover
2. A good title that fits the genre of your book
3. Exceptional editing – as you have to be twice as good to get half the credit
4. Pricing that doesn’t peg your book as “self-published.”
5. An opening that delivers – as people are always going to sample your book. Especially if they think it might be self-published.

libraryoferana
libraryoferana
6 years ago

I’d definitely agree with most of this. I hate writing synopses, and trying to condense a book to a single snappy paragraph is definitely an art. Patience is key to publishing. Sales take time to build, I often see people on the KDP forum who think their book will be an overnight best seller. It won’t. Be realistic, build a following and keep writing. The more books you have the more likely people will find you. 

Also do your homework. Find out what is needed from the publishing site – read the TOS and the FAQ, find out what the blogger needs and their time scale. Don’t expect the reviewer to post immediately. Many have a long list of books to work through.

Tony Dragani
Tony Dragani
6 years ago

Of all of the skills on this list, I think that patience is the most important. Doing something right takes time, and expecting instant results will only lead to disappointment. I would also add persistence, which goes hand in hand with patience.

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