This article is by T.L. Bodine.
Self-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.
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.