5 Digital Skills You Need to Self-Publish a Book, and 2 You Don’t

If you’ve never had to do anything but write, the other aspects of publishing a book–marketing, distribution, etc.–can be unknown, scary territory.

But the ability to market your book, and market it digitally, is necessary territory…even if you go through a conventional publisher (who is unlikely to set up your author website, ghost-blog on your behalf in perpetuity or manage your social media accounts).

And taking charge of your own distribution can keep your overhead down and your ability to sell in multiple channels open.

Can you afford to hire an experienced professional to build your website, manage your sales, and handle your content marketing and social media on a daily basis for years? If not, you must take control of your digital destiny. Here are five digital skills you need to acquire today to succeed as a self-publisher (and a few you don’t).

1. Creating and Maintaining a Website and Blog to Market Your Book

As a writer today, it’s critical to become comfortable with blogging platforms, most of which will create something that looks like a website from which you can also blog. One of the most common and affordable all-in-one platforms is WordPress, and if you need help using it for the first time, read my recent post on how to set up a basic author website using WordPress.

2. Maintaining and Building Your Author Mailing List

Just putting content out there isn’t enough. Ideally, you also need to capture information about the prospective audience who is visiting your website so that you can communicate directly with them on an ongoing basis.

If you have a self-hosted website, this is easy to do by implementing a plugin that will capture leads and send them to your email list in MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, Constant Contact or other CRM. If you’re using WordPress.com (which doesn’t offer plugins), you could do this by creating a Google form to collect emails. You would then manually copy these emails into your list.

Thriving self-published authors tell us these lists are their most valuable asset. Once you’ve built yours, you can send communications about your latest book, special promotions and tease future releases. This is easy nowadays, with most newsletter platforms offering pre-built templates you can write in. Be sure to choose a mobile-responsive one–it’s statistically more likely to be read.

3. Building and Promoting Your Personal Brand as an Author

One of the key joys of being a writer used to be the fact it was anonymous, solitary. You could lock yourself away, live in your imagination and ignore the outside world for long periods of time. Sadly, this is no longer the case–even if you have a traditional publisher. In fact to get a traditional publisher nowadays, you’re going to have to prove you have a large, devoted and desirable fan base, and to do this, you’ll need to build up your personal profiles on the Web.

Having a presence and a voice on social media is no longer optional. But managing your brand on social media doesn’t mean you just post and pray. Doing social media effectively means posting content strategically and analyzing at a granular level what’s working best on your channels, then devoting your energies to the actions with the highest ROI.

4. Understanding SEO for Book Marketing

You’ll need to employ smart SEO strategies to make your book appear in bookstores searches to people interested in your topic.

Replace an abstract title with a more literal, searchable one, or at least add a searchable subtitle and/or tagline to help boost discoverability.

You should also optimize your book description for SEO. Use Google’s Keyword Planner to see what relevant terms and phrases are frequently searched on your topic. Also, search bookstores for similar books, and note the keywords they contain. Then optimize your book’s description to include the most relevant of these.

5. Distributing Your Book

Getting your book into the ebookstores and print-on-demand is pretty simple, but there’s a learning curve, and you may have to invest a few hours the first time. Across most of the stores, all you need to do is enter your bank account and tax information, upload your book files and description, and proof your files. That’s easier in some stores than others. But if you do this yourself, you’ll keep all your royalties and won’t pay a fee to a middleman, both of which cut down on overhead. Plus, you’ll be able to access your own sales reports and set special promotions.

For technophobes, there is some good news: Two technical skills no longer stand in your way as a writer. And it wouldn’t be worth your time to acquire them.

1. Cover Design

While you theoretically could do this yourself nowadays, you probably shouldn’t. The cover of your book is its most important marketing asset, so we recommend leaving this to design professionals. But you still don’t need to spend a lot to get it done. Here’s a quick guide to sourcing an affordable book cover, from our book The Pressbooks Guide to Self-Publishing.

2. Graphic Design and Ebook File Conversion

Nowadays you also do not need to learn to lay out a print book or do the ebook development that’s needed to manually create an ebook responsive to all the devices in order to self-publish. And you don’t need to pay someone to do this manually either. Pressbooks has replaced the need for both graphic design and programming to convert your manuscript to the necessary file types and book designs. You can simply cut and paste your content into Pressbooks.com, and the technology does the output instantly for you.

To learn more about how to make a book, download our free ebook, The Pressbooks Guide to Self-Publishing

So unless you want to spend thousands of dollars a year paying others to keep up with the digital age for you, you need to become a digital ninja and conquer some new digital challenges. The good news is, book design is no longer one of them.

Elizabeth Mays is the marketing manager for Pressbooks.com

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