Useful Non-Writing Skills for Writers
Fun fact: during my first year doing this job full-time, I actually incorporated Thunder Pear Publishing and named myself as president. Now while I’m sure that seems like self-serving silliness, and I’ll grant you it was a tad bit just for fun, there’s actually a solid reason I went to that trouble. Anyone who is familiar with this blog knows I never shy away from the fact that this job could end at any moment. Even assuming the books keep moving, so much of the market is controlled by Amazon that one policy change by them could send me and many in my position into a tailspin. Knowing that, the reason I incorporated was for the sake of my resume. A multi-year gap is unacceptable, and “writer” wasn’t going to look a lot better if I had to jump back onto the corporate wagon, so being able to honestly say I spent the time running a start-up was my best way to keep the resume accurate and up-to-date without giving myself a major hurdle to climb down the road.
And while the position started as just ‘writer’ way back then, in the time since I’ve had to take on many other jobs as I’ve learned more about how publishing works. I know there are plenty of authors who tell you to be your own marketer and edit on your own as much as possible before passing the work off to neutral eyes, so I’m going to skip those. Instead, today I want to talk about some of the skills and tools you’ll benefit from learning as soon as possible in your writing career.
I did a blog a few weeks back about the importance of tracking your money as an indie author, so I won’t harp on this point too much. But the simple fact is that you are going to be running a business, which means making sure you have enough income to cover your bills, whether they be for supplies like books or shipping materials or for things as mundane as rent. There are plenty of programs out there for keeping track of your income streams, but if you’re broke and don’t mind a slight learning curve you can use Excel (or a free Google knock-off) as an exceptional fiscal tracking tool.
It does take some learning, however there are free class options, Youtube tutorials, and good old fashioned Googling the answers to the problems you might hit along the way. That last one is how I learned it, in fact, and over time I’ve become downright competent with the system. Or you can always pay for the fancy money-management software if that’s an option, but whatever tool you use you do need to get used to balancing your books. Future-You will be thankful when tax-time comes.
Digital Book Formatting
Digital Book Formatting is, in its most basic form, turning your manuscript into a file readable by the digital device (Kindle or Other) that you’ll be using. At the bare minimum, someone who claims to do this should be able to make a functioning .mobi or .epub file without any stuck together chapters or other issues. At slightly higher levels, you have things like image insertion and creating a Table of Contents. And while there are plenty of services that will do this for a fee, as a writer you’ll want to take the reins on this as soon as possible.
Why? Because you’re going to have to format a lot of books. Not because you’ll be churning them out so fast, although if you focus on short stories that certainly is possible. No, you’ll be converting a ton because every time you make any change in the manuscript, that amounts to a fresh conversion. Suddenly found a few typos you missed? Either leave them in or do another conversion. Found out a chapter break isn’t properly inserted? Fresh conversion. Missed a comma in one sentence? Fresh conversion. As you can imagine, the fees per conversion would pile up quickly, so it’s much better to be able to handle this in-house.
The good news here is that while the fancy formatting stuff is tougher, the basics are pretty, well, basic. I even wrote a blog about it years ago (http://www.drewhayesnovels.com/blog/ebook) detailing how to get through your first formatting session. There are pictures and everything. Best of all, the two tools you need for this (Calibre and Sigil) are both 100% free, so there’s no fiscal investment in taking control of this part of your business.
I probably should have just said “photoshopping” above, but Photoshop is an Adobe program that costs a shitload, and I don’t want you thinking you need something that high-end out of the gate. There are plenty of affordable image manipulation programs out there. Personally, I use GIMP, but if that doesn’t look like your jam google around until you find one that suits you.
As to why you need an image program, believe it or not I’m not going to say use these for covers. Cover-design, for me, is beyond my artistic skillset, as it is for many other authors, and in those cases I advocate paying someone who knows what they’re doing. Yes, this is a high-cost, however for most books it’s also an indispensable investment. That said, you don’t necessarily need to outsource the work every time you need an image made or tweaked. Sometimes you want to do something simple, like make a bookmark design using your existing logos, build an image for social media, or even design business cards. Just last month I used GIMP to tweak the A&D logo for our Sexy Authors & Dragons event. These are projects that, with time and effort, you can handle on your own at a level that will be of serviceable quality with a much lower price (time does have a cost) than if they’d been outsourced.
You’re going to wear a lot of different hats when you run your own business, it goes part and parcel with the job. And you should absolutely pay people for their expertise when the situation warrants those skills, but mastering these three early will save you some cash and give you a greater level of control of your work. Oh, and bartending! Shit, nearly forgot the most important one there. Yeah, definitely know how to make a few quality cocktails, especially around release time.