If you’ve ever dreamed of becoming a published author, you could hardly have picked a better time to be alive. A full-blown revolution is afoot in the way books are written, published and distributed, and the playing field has practically been nuked. It makes for some feel-good, tech-democratizes-all type stuff, but just because the playing field is level doesn’t mean it’s easy to navigate. Guy Kawasaki wants to help.
The entrepreneur and former Apple evangelist has published books using both the traditional and DIY routes, so he’s familiar with the inner workings of both. He recently coauthored a book titled APE (Author, Publisher and Entrepreneur): How to Publish a Book, which is being released through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program. (He’ll be talking about his book at a ReadWrite Mix event in San Francisco this week.)
APE aims to be a sort of field guide for self-publishers, surveying the current landscape and laying out recommended tools for writing, publishing and selling a book. As the title suggests, Kawasaki advocates an approach that requires wearing all three hats: not just of a writer, but as a publisher and businessperson as well. Doing so, says Kawasaki, is the only way the DIY set can begin to compete with traditional publishers.
After all, it’s still big publishing companies that sell most of the books and have the advantage when it comes to professional editing, distribution and marketing. Self-publishing platforms like Amazon’s are beginning to chisel away at that dominance, but it’s really the proliferation of tablets and e-readers that’s fueling this shift.
The Explosion of Tablets and E-Readers
“You can get a tablet for a hundred or two hundred bucks now,” Kawasaki says. “It has so many advantages over trying to buy stacks of books. When you walk onto an airplane, even in coach, everybody’s reading a tablet now.”
Apple is well on its way toward selling its 100 millionth iPad (if it hasn’t already) and it’s now joined in the tablet arena by the likes of Amazon’s Kindle Fire, the Nexus 7, Barnes and Noble’s Nook and the brand new Microsoft Surface. Then there’s the whole category of e-readers, a pack which Amazon’s line of non-tablet Kindles leads (even if they’re not forthcoming about the numbers).
As this list of players grows, there’s a seemingly corresponding drop in prices, which further fuels their adoption by consumers. The more of these gadgets land in consumers hands, the most e-books they buy. Indeed, during the first quarter of this year, digital book sales revenue surpassed that of hard covers for the first time ever.
Self-Publishing Is Easier Than Ever – But Still Hard
Finding and buying books may be easier than at any point in human history, but publishing those books isn’t quite as simple as tapping the purchase button. There’s a cobweb of platforms, tools, formats and strategies, a path which Kawasaki and Welch attempt to illuminate. With authoring tools like Adobe InDesign and Apple’s iBooks Author, the act of publishing is getting far more user-friendly.
But for self-publishers, writing the book is the easy part. Where much of the hardest works comes into play is with editing, distribution and marketing – you know, all the things a traditional publisher typically cares of. That is, if you can manage to get a book deal.
“It is just a stark reality that if you’re a self-published author, you are responsible for your own marketing,” says Kawasaki, who acknowledges that established authors like himself and Tim Ferriss have a unique advantage on this front. Not every self-published author will make six figures, or even make a living from their writing at all, but the opportunity they have to give it a shot is one that never existed before.
The entrepreneurial skills self-publishers need to hone can go a long way for authors using the traditional method, Kawsaki adds. That’s because big publishing houses only put a limited amount of time and effort into marketing a new book before moving on push the next one.
“Even if you’re with the best publisher in the world, it always helps to have your own platform,” he says. That’s something self-published authors will have to work very hard to build.
With self-publishing, the trade-off is clear: Sure, it’s easier and more democratic, while authors have more freedom and they earn more money per book. But selling those books is much harder without the backing of a traditional publisher and the whole process requires much more of the author than just sitting down and writing.
It’s a concept Kawasaki refers to “artisanal publishing,” wherein the creators play a more hands-on role throughout the process of crafting and selling the product. In other words, it’s more work.