Guy Kawasaki Talks APE and "Artisinal Publishing"

Jan 21, 2013


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Article ImageGuy Kawasaki probably needs no introduction, but just for the record, he is the author of 12 books, a former chief evangelist for Apple, and an entrepreneur. He is the co-founder of Alltop.com and a founding partner at Garage Technology Ventures. And now he is an "artisanal publisher."  Kawasaki teamed up with Shawn Welch to write and publish APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur. Kawasaki is now a bit of an evangelist for "artisanal publishing" and took the time to answer some of EContent's questions about his book and trends in publishing.


Q: Anyone who has self-published a book -- or even thought about it -- knows that the options are endless and confusing. There are countless blogs that try to help authors muddle through the process. Can you start off by telling us a little about why you thought it was necessary to write this book?

A: It was necessary to write this book for the very reason that you cite: the process of self-publishing a book is very confusing. And it gets worse--even if an author figures out that part of self-publishing, the big challenge is marketing her book.

In total, there are three stages: writing, publishing, and marketing, so that's why there are three sections in APE. Our goal was to provide one holistic solution for the self-publishing conundrum that accommodated the interactions and dependencies of all three stages.

By the way, can we stop calling it "self-publishing" and use the term "artisanal publishing"? Because there is a stigma attached to "self-publishing" that is no longer true. People who publish their books are artisanal craftsmen in the sense of artisanal brewers, bakers, and winemakers.

Q: Many traditional publishing houses are opening self-publishing wings. Personally, I find this confusing. Do you have any thoughts or advice for people thinking about going this route?

A: I don't get it either. One explanation is financial: "We can make money off the kind of people we've been rejecting." Not to be sexist, but it's like a pretty woman who turns down dates and then says, "But you should join my fitness center and diet program so that you'll be more attractive to others." I doubt that the underlying logic is, "We believe in the artisanal publishing revolution, so we are shifting our business in this direction."

By the way, APE explains this author-services option, but it also shows you how to find your own freelance editor and designer and create your Kindle, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Nook accounts for those who want to control every step of the process.

Q: While we're starting to see change, many book publishers still don't seem to be taking advantage of ebooks. To the outsider it seems like ebooks give publishers the perfect way to experiment with new authors, content  types, etc. What's the hold-up?

A: The holdup is ingrained patterns of thought: if a company has been successful for decades, it's hard to embrace change. The first stage is denial. The next stage is anger. The next stage is mergers and acquisitions. Finally, there is death. Hopefully, these publishers will "get it" before it's too late, and they join the scrap heap of typewriter companies like Smith-Corona and Remington-Rand that couldn't get to the computer curve.

Q: When will we see publishers finally innovating?

A: A near-death experience is often a good thing--if you don't die. It will take near-death experiences for them to break out of the constraints of historical practices. The signs that a publisher "gets it" include: removal of DRM and supporting libraries. I've never seen a company copy protect or litigate its way to success.

Q: Over the past few years we've all heard examples of self-published authors finding success and then getting traditional book deals. (For instance, you mention Amanda Hocking in APE.) At the same time, we've been hearing  about established authors, like yourself, deciding to go the self-publishing route. How do you explain these different attitudes toward old-fashioned publishing?

A: The simple explanation is that the Amanda Hockings of the world are smarter than the Guy Kawasakis of the world. Because Amanda didn't have the luxury of traditional publishing, she had to find another way. It's like Steve Wozniak not being able to afford a lot of components so he created an elegant design for the Apple I that used fewer chips. Necessity is the mother of innovation.

Amanda Hocking came to artisanal publishing because she had no other choice. Established authors are coming to a similar conclusion because they've observed three changes: First, they are doing the writing and marketing yet getting the smaller share of the revenue. Second, moving printed books is much less important. Third, readers don't use a publisher's imprint as a proxy for quality anymore. What matters now is word of social-media mouth and Amazon star ratings.

Q: It seems to me that certain genres lend themselves better to self-publishing, like business books and fantasy novels. There are often built-in audiences for these types of books. Have you noticed any trends like this, and do you have any advice for authors in harder to market genres?

A: Adult and teenage fiction are the best genres for artisanal-publishers. Non-fiction is less well suited because many business people like to use printed books to employees as gifts. Giving a promo code just doesn't have the same emotional effect yet. Still, the way to go is to start with an ebook to test the market.

Q: Do you have ideas for self-published authors who want to go beyond text to create a more multi-media ebook experience?

A: The coolest path for them is to create a Multi-Touch book for the Apple platform. This seems to be the leading edge of interactive ebooks. It means you're betting on one horse, though, the Apple iPad. Still, that's quite a horse to bet on!

Q: Having done it both ways, can you see yourself going back to publishing books the traditional way?

A: All it would take is a big enough advance. Seriously, there are now three plans in publishing for authors. Plan A is to find a traditional publisher, get an advance, write a great book, and live happily ever after. This hardly ever happens. Plan B is the APE plan: take control of your destiny and artisanal publish your book. Plan C is to do Plan B and then a traditional publisher who "gets it" discovers you, acquires your book, and signs you to a multi-book deal.

For decades there was only Plan A. That's because shelf space, printing-press access, and methods to reach readers were all limited. It's a whole new ballgame now in which publishing is far more democratized. This will mean more books and more readers. Nothing can put this genie back in the bottle.


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