The Acquired Skill
By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin
It seems easy to publish a book. Thousands are doing it every day. I’ve been studying the market for years, reading and looking at books. What is not obvious to readers and people outside of publishing is this fact: each aspect of the process is an acquired skill. Because it is an acquired skill, you can learn this skill but you will have to make a concerted effort for it to happen.
Let’s take the back cover of books as an example. Many years ago, a publisher hired me to write back cover copy for their books. They mailed a hard copy of the edited manuscript, which I read then crafted the words for the back cover. If you study back covers, you will learn a consistent pattern for how these words are written. At times, they begin with a short and powerful quotation from someone well-known who is endorsing the book or the author. Other times they will have a moving headline to draw you to reading the other words on the back cover.
You only have seconds to catch someone’s attention with these words so they have to be carefully selected. The words often have bullet points and they emphasize the benefits from reading the book. What will a reader gain from spending time reading this book? That is a critical question which you want to answer with the back cover copy.
Sometimes the back cover will include a sentence or two about the author. Other times the entire space is used to entice the reader to purchase the book. This acquired skill is called copywriting and can be learned but the writer has to make a conscious effort to learn this craft. To learn about copywriting, you can take an online course or read a book on this skill.
One of my long-time friends and a skilled copywriter is Robert W. Bly. His book, The Copywriter’s Handbook is in the Fourth Edition. You can learn a great deal as a writer if you study this text.
Another acquired skill for book creation is gathering endorsements and/or a foreword for your book. In these articles, I’ve written about this process in the past (use this link to see some of those articles). I’ve encouraged you in these articles to build relationships with well-known authors and other leaders. If you have these relationships, then you can use them to gather endorsements. A foreword is like a short magazine article and typically 1,000 to 1,500 words. I’ve written forewords for a number of well-known people. The key action in this process is to make it easy for the person to say something like, “That looks great. Run with it.” You have to secure their permission to use it from the person themselves. Your editor doesn’t gather this foreword or the endorsements but the writer gathers these words as a part of the book creation process.
Whether you publish with a traditional house or an independent publisher or self-publish, the back cover copy, the endorsements and the foreword can be critical elements which will help you sell books. Forewords are typically used with nonfiction books--not fiction or children’s books or gift books. To get this detail right, you have to study the type of book you are publishing, then make sure you conform to the expected details in this process.
Whether you are aware of it or not, every aspect of the publishing process involves an acquired skill. It’s something you can learn and do--but you have to take action in this process or it will not be done. What are other acquired skills in the process of publishing a book? Let me know in the comments below.