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5 Vital Self-Publishing Skills Learned from Working in Non-Profits [Guest Post]

The following is a guest post by Dana Sitar.

For most of us, writing and self-publishing are not our first steps into the professional world.

You’ve probably got educational and work histories littered with all kinds of ways to pay the bills, get a leg up, contribute to the world, and learn a little more about yourself. Adding publisher to that roster can be quite a jump.

What if your work as a self-publisher were more connected to the work you did before writing? I think it can be, no matter what that work was. By paying attention to the lessons you can learn at your “day job”, you can build a unique set of skills to apply to your writing and publishing work.

Before writing professionally, I worked and volunteered with non-profit organizations for three years. Here are some of the lessons I learned from that particular industry, and how they apply to my work as a writer now:

1. How to talk about money

For the introverted writer, this task is difficult on so many levels! Working for non-profits, I learned the importance of understanding the value of a service and knowing how to talk about it. I had to argue the need for funds before a council, prove the usefulness of my organization’s services, and explain how the money in a proposed budget would support those services.

Think of this when you’re negotiating with an editor or cover designer (or offering those services yourself). Rather than hone in on the numbers, consider the value of the services and how the budget can reflect that.

2. When to say no

When you’re in a business that is perpetually understaffed and underfunded, you will be asked to do more work than you have the time and energy for.

Even though you’re typically your own boss as a self-publisher, you may have to learn to say no to work or other activities that could interfere with the progress of your books. Figuring out how to explain to friends and family the importance of your writing is a valuable professional skill.

Learning to balance your time and dedication between a day job or two and your writing work will be vital to making any progress in publishing.

3. How to choose priorities

Much like writing, in the non-profit world, people are often working in an area they’re passionate about — the money certainly isn’t the major attraction! Whenever you’re doing what you love, you’re bound to go wild with ideas for doing even better. Unfortunately, you and your company can’t do them all at once.

In the case of self-publishing, your marketing ideas alone can quickly create a to-do list longer than you could possibly complete. The possibilities for more work are endless, so you have to learn to prioritize in order to avoid burnout and ensure that the most important work is always getting done.

4. Leadership and Management

One really cool thing about working or volunteering with non-profits is that a small team or limited resources often allow you to take on more of a leadership role than you would have been able to land in a for-profit company. Whether you go it alone or hire a team to help you self-publish, those leadership and management skills will come in handy.

You learn quickly as a self-publisher that the ability to take initiative and manage projects is important, even if you’re working alone. Non-profits taught me how to set and measure goals that help drive projects and how to work independently toward success.

5. Importance of a community, culture, and mission (branding)

Surprisingly, I learned better lessons about branding from non-profits than from for-profit companies. Non-profits, however, didn’t call it “branding”. They called it “mission”. Reframed with this language, I think the idea of branding takes on a much more important meaning than simply the reason customers should buy what you’re selling.

Your brand as an author is not only the sum of your bio, resume, logo, and marketing efforts.

It’s who you are.

It’s what you stand for.

It’s the impact you want to have on the world.

Your brand is not only the reason readers should buy your books; it’s the reason you write them. Considering branding at this angle could help you develop something that has the kind of deeply-felt impact of your favorite charitable organizations.

A final thought…

Opportunities for unique lessons exist in any workplace. But if you feel like inspiration and education are lacking in your position, volunteering for a non-profit could be a great way to build new skills that just may in handy for your writing career!

What unexpected skills has your day job added to your self-publishing arsenal?

Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a freelance journalist and indie author. She shares resources, tips, and tools for writers in search of a path through DIY Writing. Looking for inspiration? Grab a free copy of her Brainstorming Workbook to help you develop 600 story ideas in 12 weeks!

  • Susan Preston

    What an encouraging post! I will read up about ‘how to explain to friends and families…. the family is okay… the friends that’s harder..