Skype is Your Friend

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January 2014
by Mary Shafer

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Mary Shafer is an independent publisher, an award-winning author, and a marketing consultant with more than 20 years in the industry. Formerly president of the MidAtlantic Book Publishers Association, she provides guidance for authors considering self-publishing, and for indie publishers seeking greater success, at IndieNavigator.com.


If you’re an indie publisher who hasn’t heard of Skype, you’re in danger of becoming a techno-dinosaur very, very soon. Because it means you haven’t been spending much time on your computer, reaching out to your readers and customers, and learning to use a modern tool that will help you run your business more efficiently and effectively.

I really like Skype. I liked it better before Microsoft got hold of it, but that’s another story. I don’t get any kickbacks if you decide to use it—it’s just a cool tool you should know about, as someone seeking success in publishing.

What You Can Do with Skype

Skype is a great tool for communicating around the world on major computer platforms and mobile devices, and mostly for free. It’s my preferred mode for consultation, because it lets me have an audio conversation while watching a person’s face for visual cues that there may be more to the story than the person is telling me. [For more on visual cues, see “Body Language Tips for Video Meetings” in this issue.] Possibly, they’re misunderstanding what I’m explaining, or they’re inadvertently leaving out some information that would help me get to the heart of their challenges.

Because a consulting business like mine is so dependent on complete information, strong personal connection, and trust, I depend on Skype as a tool that allows critical face-to-face interaction with distant clients I can’t meet in person.

But Skype is just as important a tool for me as a publisher. It lets me:

  • communicate via free domestic and low- or no-cost overseas audio and call video or chat
  • create text, audio and video conferences with individuals or with groups of up to 25 participants, including authors, illustrators, and other project collaborators
  • share my screen (through its premium versions)
  • share files directly through a conversation window instead of having to break away from a meeting to send email attachments
  • get quick updates from printers, designers, and other production pros while I’m at my computer and able to access needed information easily
  • hold online meetings with colleagues in organizations I belong to and interact with
  • present Webinars for groups of up to 25 people
  • bring a colleague in another location into an in-person meeting
  • call telephones direct (a premium paid subscription lets you use Skype to call or text telephone numbers without requiring that the receiver is running Skype)
  • see more than one location camera angle (with a MultiCam)
  • record, schedule, vlog, and podcast; see two participants side-by-side onscreen (Pamela.biz, a free downloadable plugin, currently available for Windows only)

If you’re an author as well as a publisher, you can also use Skype to:

  • make virtual appearances at book clubs, classrooms, and libraries, among other places
  • hold online meetings with co-creators
  • take virtual book tours in addition to the ones you take through blogs
  • interview research sources

The Nitty-Gritty

Skype has been in use since 2003. It’s a voice-over-IP (VOIP) service and instant messaging client. Think telephone plus texting plus video. Probably the first time you ever saw anything like Skype was on an early ’70s sci-fi TV program like Star Trek or Mission: Impossible. Only back then, this technology was still imaginary. Now it’s real. As well as free.

That is, the software is free to download from its parent site, Skype.com. As a “freemium” service, it is priced from free to paid premium levels. But even the premium services are reasonably priced.

Skype offers versions for Windows, Mac OSX and Linux computing platforms and is functional across platforms, although in varying degrees. One of the great things about it is that as soon as you click on the Downloads tab, your Internet browser will sense whatever platform you’re using and take you to the appropriate version page so you don’t have to guess which one you need.

It’s also helpful to know what Skype doesn’t do. I believe people often get disappointed and give up on a piece of software because they have unrealistic expectations about its performance.

So, on the negative side, do not expect Skype to replace telephone service (yet—its reliability still isn’t where it needs to be to replace a phone fulltime). Do not expect it to be consistent across platforms in terms of user experience (there are some significant differences in user interface between operating systems). And do not expect it to be flawless (the video has a tendency to stutter and/or freeze during extended sessions, but it’s easily fixed).

On the positive side, do not expect Skype to be difficult to understand (it’s very straightforward in function). Do not expect it to be hard to learn (Skype has a quick learning curve with lots of free online tutorials at YouTube and other sites). And do not expect it to be scary (you can’t permanently hurt anything with a wonky Skype session; just quit the program, reboot and either redial or restart).

Steps to Start With

Technically, you’re supposed to be at least 18 years old to use Skype, but actually even kids can set it up and use it. Here are the few simple steps for getting started.

  • Sign up for an account at Skype.com.
  • Download free software.
  • Immediately install the software (unless it autoloads), launch it, and go through the automatic setup walk-through.
  • Set up and test your audio/video (using the sound and video preferences or control panel).
  • For a video walk-through, visit youtube.com/watch?v=ltl0xcyDoNQ.

If you’re one of those folks who tend to skip reading the manual or instructions when you get a new toy, please do yourself a favor and pay attention to them this time. Because people you’ll be communicating with will use so much of the information you’ll enter in your profile, complete setup is very important. Doing it right will determine the quality of your entire Skype experience.

Complete all fields you can in your profile to the extent that you’re comfortable privacy-wise. Definitely include a photo of yourself. Skype is often a visual medium, which is one of its cool features, so people will expect to see who they’re talking to.

Even if you don’t run a video call, the still photo you upload to your profile will show. It can help people who are looking for you to find you. (For a thorough quick-start guide, go to dummies.com/how-to/content/how-to-set-up-your-skype-profile.html).

 After completing your profile, set up your contacts. You can check whether people in your email address book are on Skype, and import contacts from it. If you know someone’s Skype handle, you can simply enter it in the search box at top right and send a connection request. And you can search for people’s names and locations and then call or email them to ask whether they’re on Skype. Of course, you will continue to add contacts as you build your Skype network.

Once you’ve loaded your contacts, you’re ready to reach out and Skype someone.

You can do a text-only chat (SMS), an audio call, or a video call. Text chat is available during all calls. I recommend starting with a text chat, because it’s the easiest and quickest mode, since it doesn’t require any audio or video functions.

Before Microsoft bought Skype, the free version let a user share screens with one other person. Now that feature is available only in the paid versions. Same thing with conference calls; now at least one person in a conference must have a Premium Skype account (and such a person has to initiate the call).

Using Skype mobile requires a mobile app download from the Skype site or the user’s preferred app store. The mobile app operates pretty much the same way as the computer version, using data lines, but can also be used as an alternative to your telephone, using Skype’s VOIP network. Either way, phone calls require a paid subscription or prepaid credits.

Helpful Resources

Here is a list of sites that will help you get started with Skype and maximize its usefulness as a tool for publishing success.

How to Get Started and Video Chat with Skype

bit.ly/skypevidchat

My YouTube Skype Playlist (many video tutorials)

bit.ly/mas-skype

TinTin Blog (All Things Skype)

supertintin.com/blog

Skype an Author (get listed for gigs)

skypeanauthor.wetpaint.com

Class Act: Selling More Books Through School and Library Author Appearances (full how-to on leveraging Skype An Author online service)

bit.ly/classactbk

It takes a little practice, but if you follow the advice I’ve offered and make use of the resources mentioned above, in no time you’ll be using Skype as an integral part of your communications with staff, authors, and vendors, and you’ll be helping your authors connect with readers like a pro.

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