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The skills you need to write and publish a book

All in one place - finally

JGOWI? But then what?

You need a variety of skills to write a book. Yes, there’s the JGOWI school of thought – just get on with it – or sit down and write regularly and everything will be ok. I buy into that to a certain extent, but what happens next, after you’ve written regularly for a while? What else do you need to know?

I was thinking about this and I realised that I’ve never seen, all in one place, a list of the skills you need to write a book, even though I’ve written several, done a prestigious Creative Writing MA, and worked as a writing tutor for many years. So without further ado, here are the skills you need to write and publish a book. Scroll to the end of this post to download the list.

Finally all in one place

  • Idea generation – do ideas have to be unique or unusual to work?
  • Time management for writers – how to fit writing into your life
  • How to establish a writing habit and keep going – or how to write regularly
  • Structure – how to build a book
  • Writing techniques (e.g. character and plot) – there are plenty of tips and tricks out there but which should you trust?
  • How use grammar etc. correctly – you have to get this right (or employ someone to help you get it right) to be taken seriously.
  • Editing skills, including proof-reading skills
  • Literary citizenship – the best ways to interact with the writing community
  • Mindset – how you think about your writing has a big impact on your likelihood of success
  • How to present or format a manuscript – knowing the conventions
  • How publishing works – the different routes to publication and which one will work for you
  • How websites and social media work. This one is an adjunct, but it definitely helps.
  • If you’re self-publishing, you may need design skills, although it’s popular to buy-in cover design.
  • Freelance business skills for writers – if you’re serious about making money from your writing you need to treat it like a small business

These are all processes in their own right. In other words, each has more than one element, and each involves a journey from inexperience and unfamiliarity to experience and proficiency.

Here’s the good news

If you’re already experienced and proficient in one or more of these areas, then the skills are transferable. You might already be great at coming up with ideas, building connections, or running a freelance business. In fact, you might be so good at whatever it is that you’ve forgotten what it was like to be a beginner!

Different routes to a solution

Leading on from that, it’s an interesting exercise to think about the best way to learn each of these things. Thinking about the stuff on the list you don’t know much about, you might have tried:

  • Googling – fine if you know what question to ask and how to filter the results.
  • Social media – ok but you don’t necessarily know if you’re getting good advice.
  • A book – my preferred route, great for background knowledge, but not for accountability.
  • Talk to friends – works if your friends happen to know about the subject and for recommendations, but probably not a long term solution.
  • Identify friends of friends who can help – this widens your network of contacts. substantially but is likely to lead to a recommendation rather than a solution.
  • Take a face-to-face course – brilliant for motivation and accountability but can be time consuming.
  • Take an online course – again, fab for motivation, but make sure the course will provide a solution to your specific problem.
  • A coaching programme – useful if you want to be mentored through the process and change your way of thinking, but may not involve improving specific skills.
  • Joining a writing community – great for ongoing support.

The best way to learn

If you were re-learning the skills in the above list that you’re already proficient in which one of these routes would be the best? Knowing what you know now, which would you recommend?  Say you’re already proficient in freelance business skills, which route or routes would you suggest if you were mentoring a keen but inexperienced newbie?

Don’t try to do everything yourself

When I left my full-time Creative Writing lectureship I worked out which skills I lacked and learnt about them, sometimes for free online, but also by reading and doing courses. Plus I joined a coaching programme called Dream Author, which I love. I also realised that it’s better NOT to try to do everything myself. While I loved Art at school, I’m never going to be good at design, for instance, no matter how hard I try, so I recently paid for a book cover redesign. That’s all in progress, without me having to learn PhotoShop!

Sometimes you need to NOT learn a thing but rather to trust someone else to do it. Turns out you don’t only need to identify which skills you already have and which you lack. You also need the wisdom to tell the difference between the skills you need to aquire and those you can leave to other people.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Lou xx

P.S. If you think of any other skills you need to write and publish a book, drop them in the comments.

P.P.S. So you can work out which of these skills you need to learn more about and which you’re already proficient at, I’ve turned the above list into a free checklist for you to download.

P.P.P.S. I’ve written a book for beginner writers. You can find out more here.

 

 

 

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