Measure Your Self-Publishing Competence

POSTED ON Mar 6, 2013

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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What does it take to become a successful self-publisher? An author who learns how to publish her own books successfully, develops a market for her content, and continues to expand her books and other offerings into a sustainable business?

Okay, that’s a pretty big picture, I agree. This came up in a recent conversation with fellow BAIPA board member, Joel Blackwell and the other members of the Program Committee. We’re creating a document to give us an idea of who to invite as presenters to our regular meetings and workshops.

We have two great presenters this Saturday, and you’ll see how they fit into this story in a bit.

The 6 Competencies

This first draft of the document was developed in iThoughts HD, a great piece of mind mapping software for the iPad.

It seemed that most all the skills needed sorted into 6 core areas.


  1. Self-Assessment—The ability to honestly maximize personal strengths and account for weaknesses. (It’s always useful to start with the same question: what would success look like to you? What do you hope to get out of self-publishing? Authors who can make this kind of self-assessment are likely to approach publishing in a much more organized way, and that’s generally a good thing.)
  2. Manuscript evaluation—Comparing your manuscript against the goals you’ve set out for the book (You may have to acquire this skill from a third party like an editor who knows your category, genre or niche. But successful authors have some way of knowing—intuitively or from their own experience—what will sell to some select group of buyers.)
  3. Business skills
    • Hiring freelancers—Finding, vetting and hiring editors, designers, marketing and publicity help, dealing with contracts and disputes (Publishing is a business, and successful self-publishers can navigate these tasks. It may just mean knowing the right person to ask for a referral, but can also include some understanding of contracts, licenses, and standard business procedures.)
    • Record keeping—Understanding income and expense, and organizing records for business purposes and tax filings (An often-quoted fact is that many new businesses fail due to bad record keeping. I don’t know if that’s true, but if you’re in business you need to be businesslike.)
  4. Marketing
    • Networking—Identifying and interacting with potential partners, bookers, writers, or publicity sources (Many authors shy away from these kinds of contacts, but successful publishers don’t exist in a vacuum. Being able to advocate for your projects and connect with others is key.)
    • Social media—Establishing a platform of trust, authority, and likeability (This is where authors can make a reputation, gather a readership from dozens of readers to millions of followers, and create a platform to launch their books.)
  5. Book creation—Understanding what makes a successful book within a specific category, genre or niche (Most authors are not designers, but need to have some idea of what competing books look like, and why. As a publisher, you are the ultimate decision maker, so it pays to become an expert on the books in your field.)
  6. Monetization strategies—Being adept at finding ways to re-purpose content and identify opportunities for profit (Book sales are frequently only a part of the income of successful self-publishers. Expanding into special sales, foreign rights, consulting, training, workshops, joint ventures, software, products or other possibilities can all contribute to the publisher’s bottom line.)

What Does It Mean?

We’ll be using this document to help us select speakers and trainers who can enhance the BAIPA membership’s level of competence in these areas.

And as we look at programming for the year, we’ll have a guide to what areas of education to bring to our membership.

But for individual authors a list like this can be daunting. There are very few people who can claim to have a high level of competence in even three or four of these skills, let alone all six.

And hey, we’re just people. I’m not the most organized person, for instance, and that’s probably not going to change. What I can do is make allowances. For instance, almost all the people I partner with are highly organized, and the combination works.

If you feel like your own deficencies might hold you back, look for ways to achieve functional balance by:

  • hiring in the talent you need for that specific task,
  • partnering with someone who has complementary skills,
  • assembling a group of authors who can each contribute to a complete whole, and publish as a collective.

And of course many authors become successful with a great book, or one that satisfies an exploding need at just the right time.

BAIPA Programs This Week

Now for those two programs. With the list in mind, we can see how these fit right into our plan.

Addressing the platform-building need of successful authors, Stephanie Chandler of Authority Publishing will give a presentation on Own Your Niche on the Internet and Beyond: Simple Strategies to Build Your Audience and Sell More Books.

Then in the afternoon, Nina Amir of How to Blog a Book fame, will run a workshop that addresses the manuscript evaluation need: How to Evaluate Your Book for Success.

These events are very reasonably priced, so if you’re in the San Francisco area and can make one or both of these back-to-back learning events, make sure to stop by and say hello.


Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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