The Book Publishing Digital Skillset

For those who make, edit, and market books in the emerging digital era.

For the past year, I’ve been teaching a course entitled “Digital Strategies in the Book Industry.” This class provides an overview of the massive changes going on in book publishing right now, where everything is a challenge, but also, an opportunity. To truly provide some real world insights, I focus in on new digital products — case studies on how they are made and how they are marketed. Words like “ecosystem,” “enhanced ebook,” “leveraged,” “platform,” and “digital skillset” are used frequently — to the point where I even warn the students that they will get sick of hearing them. In a recent class, one of the students spoke up and asked something along the lines of: “I get the components of the digital skillset, but how exactly are they leveraged.”

Such a good question. Such a great use of the word “leveraged,” even though it was probably the fifteenth time the word had been spoken during that particular class. It got to the heart of what the class was all about. So I wrote up a response, to delve into the concept of the “Digital Skillset,” how it allows one to meet the new challenges of delivering new products and get the word out about new projects in the emerging digital era of book publishing.

First, the skills in the “digital skillset”:

— Basic HTML

— Working within a CMS (content management system, like WordPress)

— Posting/sharing on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. — they’re all very different). Not just how to post, but how to post the right content in the right platform at the right time so that it will be not only seen, but read, commented upon, and shared.

— A comprehensive and forward-thinking understanding of what different devices, formats, and platforms can and cannot do.

— Building and leveraging digital assets (headlines to essays to slideshows to animated gifs to videos to audio files) to utilize/publish through various platforms.

— Creating wireframes — this is an early step in building out a website or advanced digital product. Reveals the scope, and sets the path for structure, functionality and usability.

— Video editing (iMovie, FinalCut)

— Audio editing (Audacity, just one example — lots of audio editing programs available)

— Photo editing (Photoshop)

— Presenting / Sharing your in-progress and completed work effectively, so your team/co-workers/boss know what you are doing, how it was done, what you have accomplished, and how it succeeded (or failed).

Creativity

The functional skills can only take you so far — you need to write, cut, build and deliver meaningful content and content platforms that understand different mediums, audiences, and the fast pace of the digital space. Tumblr is very different than Twitter. Facebook is not a website. How best to use limited resources, finite digital assets, for editorial, marketing, publicity, product pages, etc. — you’ve got to get very creative.

Marketing

You have to know how to not only pull levers, but build and grow the levers. How do you not only tell people about things, but get them to share it? You need to actually engage people. Great, they clicked on a link. Now what? You have to think through and deliver the narrative of the experience.

Essentially: Build, run, and grow websites, social media channels, and newsletters.

Project Management

Knowing how to take an idea to finished project/product in the digital space. This can be a website, an enhanced ebook, a digital campaign, an app.

This is about how you effectively leverage your functional and creative digital skills, and those of your team/co-workers/agency, to plan out, execute, and — on deadline—deliver a result that can serve your current and long-term needs.

Communication Skills

You have to have the hands on knowledge so you can explain, and the salesmanship/political skills to navigate the somewhat behind the times upper management levels of an organization that has not truly embraced digital. And once you get the greenlight, you have to use those same skills to make sure your project gets the organization’s full-court support.

You will have to both explain and sell your project to all levels of the organization. It’s a challenge, and also an opportunity. On the one hand, you may not have a position in which you can even make your case to the decision-makers. And yet, if you are savvy and push the sell, you can become more visible and be seen as a go-to person on future/forward-thinking/innovative projects and products. All while not-stepping on any toes. A challenge, to say the least.

Working Fast

The digital space moves very fast. A better digital skillset allows you to keep up, get things done faster. One issue here is sometimes people who have no digital skillset at all have no comprehension of how long something actually takes — they may think you are taking too long! That’s where your communication skills come in.

Seeing the Big Picture and Understanding the Evolving Landscape

The digital skillset, especially right now, allows you to have an insight into how things might play out — no one knows for sure, but by actually being on the ground floor, so to speak, understanding the nuance of the different ways in which products, sites, and social media channels work (and work together), you will have a foundation from which to not only make judgements, but develop new and innovative programs and products — you’ll have a keener sense of what might work around the corner, places that others aren’t even thinking to look.

Yes, the digital era has beset the book industry with countless challenges, but with every challenge, there is opportunity. They go hand in hand. The short of it is, we need new ideas. The good ones will come from people who have a strong digital skillset.