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What Skills Do Self Published Authors Need to Have?

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Self published authors need more than writing skills!

Self published authors need more than writing skills!

There Are No Shortcuts

I offer a number of courses on Udemy, the online video course learning platform. Occasionally, a student will struggle with some of the material. But often, I’ve noticed that it stems from their impatience with themselves and the process, as in the following example.

In my Udemy course on self-publishing an audiobook, one of my students sent a number of messages about the difficulty she was having with her previously recorded audio files, asking if I’d be willing to listen and figure out what was wrong. My reflexive response would be to say yes. However, I didn’t because I noticed that the student had barely started the course, finishing maybe 10 percent of the material. So I encouraged her to actually finish the course and keep trying.

Some days went by, and I got more messages from the student, basically asking the same questions. At this point, only 30 percent of the course was finished. Again, I told her to complete the course, use the resources, and keep trying.

Here’s the problem. This author wants to do the work herself but doesn’t have the patience or persistence to make that happen. If I get more messages asking about the same problem, I’m going to have to tell her to hire some professional audio engineering help.

They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know About Self Publishing

Since most self-published authors don’t come from publishing, printing, or digital content creation backgrounds, they often don’t know what they don’t know. They can print documents on their inkjet printers and think that’s the same as book printing. They do not understand responsive design principles, which is what helps make eBooks readable on a variety of devices. For audiobooks, they can play most MP3 files on their computers, and it sounds just fine to them. So they’re puzzled why self-publishing takes work.

Plus, self-published authors don’t realize that they’ll need to become entrepreneurs. Most writers are technicians. In his classic book on entrepreneurship, The E Myth, Michael Gerber notes that many people who want to be entrepreneurs are just technicians who enjoy doing their craft but don’t enjoy being in business. If you’re serious about self-publishing, even if it’s a hobby, you need to behave as a business.

7 Skills Self-Published Authors Need to Learn

Even though self-publishing is easier than it’s ever been in history, as a self-published author, you still need to have several non-writing skills.

I realize that I've had an unfair advantage in many of these skills simply because I was in sales, advertising, and publishing for most of my career. Luckily for those who haven’t been as blessed, there’s a wealth of resources from self-publishing platforms, blogs, articles, YouTube videos, online courses, author forums, and Facebook Groups that can all show them the way.

1. Editing

Self-editing skills are needed, regardless of whether you hire professional editors and proofreaders for the final manuscript or not.

2. Choosing a Business Model

You’ll need to evaluate self-publishing platforms to determine which one is a good fit for your publishing skills, budget, and sales goals.

3. Book Formatting and Design

If you’re using Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and its Kindle Create tool, you need to have some basic level skill in using Microsoft Word or similar word processing programs. If you’re using KDP’s Cover Creator tool, it’s pretty easy to create a simple, professional-looking book cover. But if you want something more elaborate, you’ll have to learn how to hire and work with a graphic designer for your cover.

4. Print, eBook, or Audio Book Production and Quality Control

Self-published authors often have unrealistic expectations for how their books should look (or sound for audio). They usually want quality that’s way out of their budget range. Being able to choose a quality level for your book and your budget takes knowledge and acceptance of what’s possible.

5. Basic Accounting Skills

The main accounting skills you need to develop are keeping good records of your expenses, production costs, and publishing income, and the ability to create a profit and loss (P&L) statement or projection. This will enable you to set a price for your book. Book pricing is both an accounting and a marketing skill since you also need to be aware of competitors’ prices, in addition to your production costs and overhead expenses. Without these skills, you will never be able to figure out if you’re making or losing money from your self-publishing adventure.

6. Book Sales and Marketing

The most hated of the skills, but the most necessary. Primarily this means the ability to build and maintain an author platform (fan base). Sometimes this may also include advertising, although that’s optional. Regardless of what marketing methods are used, you need to learn how to evaluate the results of your book marketing and sales efforts.

7. Soft Skills

The ability and commitment to communicate on social media and elsewhere online are essential for selling books these days. You also need to be able to handle rejection and criticism without taking it personally. And as we saw with the opening example, you need to have the patience and tenacity to keep on keeping on.

4 Things Impatient Self Published Authors Want . . . And What They Really Need

Some impatient self-published authors might not want to invest the time and effort in the research and learning this endeavor will take. They just want their books done

  1. now,
  2. done perfectly,
  3. easily, and
  4. for as close to free as possible.

What’s the saying? “Fast, cheap, or good? Pick two.” (Quote has been attributed to filmmaker Jim Jarmusch.)

What these authors really need is self-awareness. They need to understand they don’t have what it takes to do it all by themselves. They need professional help from others. That will not be cheap, even though it might be fast and good.

The One Self Publishing Skill You Shouldn’t Outsource

Of all the outside help that you could hire, book sales and marketing is one that I’d strongly recommend that you do not outsource. This is where a lot of self-published authors go wrong. They love writing but hate book marketing and selling or are completely confused by it. So they’re happy to pass it off to anyone who claims they can market and sell books. Here’s the problem with that. There are a lot of book marketing “experts” out there, especially online that say they have the “secret” to making book sales. They don’t. No one does.

Your self-published book marketing boils down to one thing: your author platform, also known as your fan base. No marketing help can build a loyal following for you. That’s all on you. There is no substitute for you personally connecting and engaging with your fan base.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 26, 2020:

Dina, first of all, thanks so much for your thoughtful comments! Glad you found the post thought provoking.

Regarding the fan base issues, you'd be surprised to learn that many self published authors don't even begin to think about building a fan base until after they've published. I guess they just assume it will automatically be there for them.

I have another post on that topic of author platform that you might also want to read: "Self Publishing Tips: Should You Build Your Author Platform or Publish First?" I don't think I can put links in the comments. So just search for it on HubPages and it should come up.

Again, I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts. Have a beautiful day!

Dina AH from United States on August 25, 2020:

I have no intention of approaching self-publishing (or traditional publishing), but I still found incredible nuggets of wisdom in your article (as always). I think that introduction jolted me because I've not thought of my own work ethic this way. You totally named this lingering anxiety that I'd run out of time, somehow, or that I was behind. Incidentally, I wonder if it's also a self-sabotage tactic, because that energy spent on worrying (and seeking quick fixes) could have at least led to a few more tries (and failures, or missteps).

Aside from my heart racing when I read the mention of accounting here, I am keen to learn more about fan base stuff. How do you approach this as a self-published author? I suppose it's kind of a chicken and the egg situation because (for whatever reason) I assumed that self-published authors have a fan base prior to officially publishing their work (self-published or not). Is that not usually the case? Or, can a self-published author build from a community of fans after publishing?

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 12, 2020:

Dora, hey, we all start out not knowing what we don't know! :) But if I can shorten the learning curve for someone, I feel like I've accomplished something. Thanks so much for stopping by and have a beautiful day!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on August 12, 2020:

You've provided helpful answers for those of us who don't even know what we don't know. Thank you.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 09, 2020:

Adrienne, you're right! Some authors think it's push button publishing. Nope. You're playing for real.

Thanks for chiming in and have a great week ahead!

Adrienne Farricelli on August 09, 2020:

Hi Heidi, we are at a time where people want to get results without putting much work into it. I hear you. It can be frustrating at times. Self-publishing is a competitive field and requires lots of effort and no short cuts should be taken by those really serious about it.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 09, 2020:

Hi Nicholas! Glad you found the article helpful! Audio books definitely have a future and have been experiencing rapid growth. So worth considering as part of your self publishing adventures. I've self published 9 books on Audible. Has quite a learning curve, but it can be done. I created a Udemy course on it if you're curious about what it takes.

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments and good luck with your self publishing adventures!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 09, 2020:

Hello Mallika! Glad you found the article helpful. Thanks so much for your kind comments and good luck with your writing adventures!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 09, 2020:

Peggy, I guess I would have thought you might write a book. But glad to know you it might not be for you. I wish other writers were so self aware!

Thanks so much for your continued support! Have a beautiful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 09, 2020:

Hi Pamela! Those authors seriously underestimate what self publishing takes! As I noted in the article, it's just because they don't know what they don't know. Glad you found the article informative, and I hope others do, too. Thanks so much for your kind comments! Have a lovely day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 09, 2020:

Hello David! Thanks for reading and your kind comment. Have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 09, 2020:

Hi Greg! Your dad was right! I agree, writing is the easy and fun part. Then comes the real work... and learning. And, yes, once you start on the self publishing path, a lot of this will make sense.

Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments! Have a wonderful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 09, 2020:

Hi Linda! Authors are so stunned when they realize all the nitty gritty details they now have to deal with when self publishing. That's why I'm sharing them so they know. Thanks so much for your kind comments! Have a beautiful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 09, 2020:

Doris, we definitely have similar career experiences. But I found self publishing to be a whole different world of entrepreneurial challenges.

Love the story about the book you edited! Yes, such is the royalty bonanza on Amazon. :-D But, hey, you got experience and insight out of the deal.

Well, at least you know what's involved in the self pub game. Sorry you won't be able to do your own audio books! But you could hire a narrator if that's something you really want to do. Given the cost, though, carefully consider whether that's an avenue for you.

Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us! Have a beautiful day!

Mallika Lotus from Hyderabad, India on August 08, 2020:

Thank you for such a nice article. I am a budding writer and want to publish some of my books.

Nicholas W King on August 08, 2020:

Thank you for this. I published my first book this year through Kindle and have been looking at other avenues. This was greatly informative and I will be taking these ideas to heart, especially about crafting an audiobook (which is one of the avenues I've been considering).

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 08, 2020:

I will probably never write a book, but your information is still fascinating to read since I know several people who do wish to become authors of published books. Thanks for continuing to share your expertise with us.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 08, 2020:

It sounds like people seriously underestimate the skill required to self publish and then promote their book. This is a great article and I have learned a lot from you, Heidi. I know you have been a great help to numerous people.

Dr David Salzhauer on August 08, 2020:


greg cain from Moscow, Idaho, USA on August 08, 2020:

Great article, Heidi. Thanks for putting this out there. This very much reminds me of lessons learned from my dad and from my early days in the workforce: the job isn't done until the job is done. The writing sounds to me like it's the easy part: we are practiced at it, we've been doing it for years. When it comes time to publish, we will need to be patient and learn and work our way through how to get it done. Thanks to your article, I believe that part--when we get there--will be easier to understand.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 07, 2020:

You've shared important information, Heidi. I can see that there's a lot of information that someone interested in self publishing needs to know. Your articles are a great resource for authors.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on August 07, 2020:

Glad to read this article, Heidi, because I saw myself here. I have experience in broadcasting, advertising, writing and editing. What I don't have or even like is entrepreneurship. I finally finished the book I rewrote and edited for another person, then he wanted me to market it. I refused and it was self-published on Amazon. So far, it has made us $5.60 in royalties. LOL. But I'm not sorry, because what I got out of this was priceless: EXPERIENCE.

Now I know what to do for my own books that I complete, but I'll never do an audio book of my own. I lost that ability when my throat and voice were affected by thyroid surgery.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 07, 2020:

Hi Liz! Glad you found it interesting and helpful. There's so much to this that people don't realize. So my goal is just to share so that they can avoid some headache or heartache along the way.

Thanks so much for your kind comments! Have a great weekend!

Liz Westwood from UK on August 07, 2020:

I have learnt a lot about self publishing from this helpful and interesting article. I find it fascinating to read the tips that you have accumulated from your experience working in this field.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 07, 2020:

Flourish, glad you said it so I didn't have to. ;)

Though I try to make it as simple as possible, I can't know every issue that these students or authors will face. I didn't know everything either! I think the problem is, as we've discussed in other places, they cannot tolerate failing. Well, that's not going to serve them going forward.

And given the small amounts of money I make on these classes, I'm certainly not throwing in custom consults.

Thanks for being so supportive, as always! Have a lovely weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 07, 2020:

Thanks, Mary, for your kind comments! And glad you agree that writers are the ones that need to build their fan bases. Many are mentally stuck on that old traditional publishing model where authors didn't do anything but write books.

Appreciate you stopping by and chiming in! Have a beautiful weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on August 07, 2020:

Oh, Bill! You know you haven't failed because you've reached YOUR objectives. That's all that matters.

But some authors want a whole lot more, but don't want to do a whole lot more. They'll learn.

Thanks for chiming in, as usual! Happy Weekend to you, too!

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 07, 2020:

Excellent advice and I’m so glad that you gave that student the tough love. Some people are so impatient that they do not read, listen, follow directions and play along then they interrupt and ask the same questions that would be answered if they would just focus. I have found that these folks unfortunately lean younger. What they really want is for you to either do it for them or give them a radical Readers Digest cheat sheet version, showing them step by step interactively how to do it. Nobody has time for free handholding like this.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on August 07, 2020:

This article is very beneficial for those who want to start publishing. You have identified the issue self-published writers face, and I am glad you highlighted the fact that they are the only ones who could build their followers.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 07, 2020:

Well shoot, no wonder I fail on a regular basis with my novels. LOL

All you say is true. Great resource for writers who want to surge ahead of the crowd.

No, I don't really think I fail. I accomplish exactly what I want to accomplish when I publish a new novel - the satisfaction of a job well-done. :)

Happy weekend my friend!