These six tech skills are as essential to today’s authors as hammers and saws are to carpenters. Please don’t waste your time and money learning these on a highly paid consultant’s dime when you could be working on a much higher level. Learn these tools now, before you hit that mad rush to publish. You’ll thank me for it later!
- The Styles feature on your word processor
- The Track Changes feature on your word processor
- PDF file creation from your document or any file
- Image manipulation software
- Online document sharing
- Online communication
The cleaner your manuscript is the easier and cheaper it is to get it formatted and published.
All those fancy fonts, spaces, tabs, and returns you think make your manuscript easier to read makes us crazy. They complicate the editing and formatting process by creating “invisibles” that drive editors, proofreaders, and formatters crazy. In fact, they’ll need to delete them all before they turn on Track Changes and begin editing. This will cost you more money and delay publication.
Either learn how to use basic MS Word (or similar program) Styles to format your manuscript or do not format it at all.
A huge bonus to learning the basics of Styles is that you’ll be able to publish your ebook immediately on Smashwords or Amazon KDP.
Editors commonly use Track Changes to record their edits in your Word doc and you can accept or reject them. It doesn’t matter what version of Word (or Pages or OpenOffice) you use, Track Changes is compatible between versions and programs. Even if your editor uses Word and you use OpenOffice, Track Changes will work.
There are lots of short, friendly tutorials on how to use Track Changes. Use your favorite search engine to find them. For example:
Don’t know what version of Word you’re using? Simply open it and click on its name at the top of your screen. Click About and to see the version. Now you can search for the right tutorial.
Create a PDF
Many authors buy PDF creation programs without realizing that the ability to create PDFs is built into almost every program you use. Some programs offer a File > Export To PDF function (InDesign, Photoshop) but most often (as in Word) it’ll be available through the Print dialog box. Just print and Save As PDF, as shown in the screenshot below.
You’ll need a PDF to print your book, but it has a lot of uses before that time comes. Create documents or stories and offer them as PDFs to entice people to sign up for your email marketing newsletter. (I like Mailchimp.) You can make PDFs of your PowerPoint or Keynote presentations so that they’ll run on any computer. PDFs are portable and universal.
Still need help creating a PDF? Just use your search engine to find it by entering “create pdf from …”
Edit an Image
At some time or another, you are going to have to edit a photo or an image. For this, professionals use Photoshop, which is an expensive subscription service from Adobe. They also offer Photoshop Elements for non-pros, which costs under $100. A great alternative is a free, open-source program called GIMP.
Most of your editing will be cropping and reducing the size of the image. If your author headshot is a 300dpi (good for print), rectangular jpg file, and someone wants a 72dpi (good for the web), square png file, you can do that.
If this tech skill is just way beyond your capabilities, you can hire someone at fiverr.com to do it for you for $5.
You’re going to need to share your manuscript, your book cover, and images back and forth with beta readers, editors, artists, and all kinds of people! But lots of email hosting services block emails with large attachments, so your email may never arrive. Also, attachments can carry viruses.
You’re better off using a free online sharing service like Google Drive, DropBox, Hightail (or SendOwl, SendThis, WeTransfer, and many others).
Most of these services will notify you when your invitee joins the site and downloads the document, so you’ll never have to wonder if your document reached its destination.
Sometimes it takes hours to help someone figure out how to use Skype or YouTube to communicate. These are billable hours and it’s expensive for the author. For me, it’s just frustrating.
Why not use the phone? Well, sometimes we are just trying to get to know each other, and sometimes we are working on a manuscript, and sometimes I want to show them screen shots, or send links in the chat box while we’re talking, or bring in a cover designer who has some ideas to show us.
I work with a book formatter who lives in the Philippines, a cover designer in Norway, an illustrator in Croatia, a web guy in Spain, an author assistant in Georgia, and I split my time between San Diego and Mexico.
Mostly, I use Skype, a free video chat, and Voice over IP (VoIP) service. You can even call “real” telephone numbers with Skype, and it costs much less than your phone service.
If part of your book promotion plan is to appear on podcasts, your host will likely use Skype to record your interview. So download it now (or update your old version) and experiment by chatting with friends and family. It’s easy and fun.
You might also be asked to use Google Hangouts On Air with YouTube to chat privately or publicly with one or more people. You can schedule a “meeting” for later, or you might be given a link to join a meeting. Again, try this with friends and family. Who knows, you may decide to start your own regularly scheduled public event.
The Answer to All Your Tech Skill Questions
We’re not talking about finding “the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.” If you want to know that, just Google it! There are many ways to get help.
- The answer to 99.5% of your questions lives in the Google search engine. Just type it in.
- Still can’t do it? Lots of libraries offer courses on how to use your computer and the internet. Search online for the course and community service schedules of libraries near you. (Here’s a screen shot of classes offered in San Diego.)
- Whether you just want to have somebody resize an image for you quickly, do some major touch-up, or teach you how to use Photoshop, you can find them on Fiverr very cheaply. I’ve found people to help me with PHP coding on my WordPress website, to remove backgrounds from images, and to clean up the formatting in Word documents.
Return on Investment
The benefits you’ll reap include a reduction of time, money, and level of frustration in meeting your goals. You’ll enjoy better communication and a higher level of respect from the professionals like book consultants, designers, and podcasters. Time spent learning these tech skills is much shorter than time wasted struggling to do business without them.
Get major discounts on book reviews, advertising rates, subscriptions and all kinds of author services! Sign up now for these exclusive offers HERE.