Digital and other non-writing skills helpful to the modern writer

Writers need more than strong stories to succeed. They also need to utilize organizational, production, and promotional tools to gain an audience.

Non-writing skills
Writers have to have digital and other non-writing skills to be successful. Photo by by 24Novembers/Shutterstock

Design & media

Posts with visuals – whether a photo, animated GIF, graphic, or infographic – generally outperform text-based social media posts. Poupore explains that more “clutter” online means more competition for eyeballs.

“You need something that stands out immediately and impactfully,” she says. “People need a reason to come to your content. It needs to look interesting to them in the moment.” 

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It’s about algorithms. The better something performs, the more it will show in a Facebook timeline, whether a status update or a link to another website. Gone are the days where you needed to be a Photoshop expert. Free tools like Canva and PicMonkey allow you to create stunning, bold, brand-related visuals of all shapes and sizes, from a Facebook header or Twitter graphic to an online ad or postcard. While these drag-and-drop programs may require a small learning curve, you can get up to speed quickly. Experiment. You may surprise yourself. 

Analytics & data 

Without data, you can only assume what’s working, only guess what your readers like or where your traffic is coming from. Analytics help us get to know our audience better – and it’s a tool that should be talked about more in the literary world.

“You need to be able to get actionable feedback to make informed decisions,” Pennington says, giving an example that if you’re getting a lot of sales via Facebook (because you see the most traffic to your “buy” page comes from facebook.com), you will know to spend more time there. “Having data allows you to have a stronger strategy…to refocus or retool what you’re doing.” 

Google Analytics, a free tool, offers a wealth of data; it’s relatively easy to set up and has a large knowledge base. Facebook Insights is robust, and Twitter offers some solid stats. Your web platform may provide basic reports. 

Writers often joke that they’re not good at numbers, but analytics also tell a story. It’s time to make friends with data. Stat! 

Crowdfunding considerations

Many writers today turn to crowdfunding to help bring book-related projects to life. However, a quick search among completed campaigns will show that many miss their goals; this can be devastating for writers using platforms that only reward fully funded projects. This is where comfort with digital tools can literally pay off. 

Brin, from GoFundMe, explains generous and philanthropic people “want to know your cause is going to make a difference, that they aren’t giving you money so you don’t have to hold down a ‘real’ job.” He says this means being transparent and having a professional social media and web presence well established, well ahead of time. 

“Show that you already are, or that you intend to be, a player in your writing space,” he advises. “If you don’t look legitimate, you probably won’t see a lot of success on your campaign. If you don’t take the time to market yourself beyond the creation of the crowdfunding campaign, you probably won’t see a lot of success.” 

Project management and productivity 

Project management tools and group chat programs are used widely in agency and tech environments, and their power can also benefit writers or small editorial teams – and they take tasks out of email. 

Brin uses the free version of Asana to track his ideas and progress. For example, he creates a “task” to group characters together, another to jot down locations – he adds to it whenever he has a brainstorm and follows up later.

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“There’s no space limit, so write it all down, and then take out what you don’t need later,” he says. “I highly recommend it, if you need to be organized.”

Tools like HootSuite, TweetDeck, and Buffer lead to more efficient social media management; features may allow you to schedule posts, monitor mentions, track engagement, and even co-manage accounts. 

Communication tools, like Slack, are wildly popular in certain industries for keeping connected, sharing files, and even boosting morale. Pennington uses it for the blog and tech conferences she organizes. 

Think about where you need assistance and consider how a tool can make your life easier. 

Bringing it all together

It’s easy to see how these can work together to help a writer find opportunities, build a platform, promote their work, and connect with others. This know-how is also transferable to writing-related, communication, and other careers – a resume booster for sure. 

“The best thing about the proliferation of tech is that it’s more accessible for people to do things the right way, rather than take shortcuts,” says Pennington. “Don’t be afraid or intimidated. The more comfortable we can get [with tools and technology], the better we’ll be.” 

But, above all, craft is the heart of what we do. Brin says when it comes to the actual writing: “If you still enjoy the mechanical sound of an old-school typewriter and that’s the fastest way to churn out your manuscript, then do that,” he says. “The hardest part of writing is actually sitting down and doing it, so don’t cheat yourself there. Do what’s best for you.”

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Donna Talarico, an independent writer and content marketing consultant from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is the founder of Hippocampus Magazine and its books and conference divisions.