By Kathy Caprino, Contributor, Forbes Jan 21, 2013
(This article appeared a few days ago in Forbes Magazine. Guy Kawasaki was one of the Apple employees originally responsible for marketing the Mac in 1984. He has written several best-selling books. His thoughts on "artinasal publishing" and your "karmic scoreboard" are compelling. The "I" in this article refers to Kathy Caprino, who conducted the interview.)
Recently, I had the enormous pleasure of chatting with Guy Kawasaki, co-founder of Alltop.com, founding partner of Garage Technology Ventures, and former Chief Evangelist for Apple. Guy is the author of ten books, including Enchantment, Reality Check, and Rules for Revolutionaries. If you haven’t followed Guy’s writing and blog, you’re truly missing out. He’s utterly brilliant, wise, iconoclastic, brutally frank, and downright hilarious.
And if you’re considering self-publishing a book, make the first resource you read Guy’s new book APE: Author – Publisher – Entrepreneur – How to Publish a Book, co-written by Shawn Welch.
I don’t recommend resources lightly, but as one who worked in traditional publishing for years and had my own book Breakdown, Breakthrough, published traditionally, I believe Guy’s new book is a true winner, full of practical, realistic solutions, strategies and tips for self-publishers.
In 2011 the publisher of Guy’s New York Times bestseller, Enchantment, could not fill an order for 500 ebook copies of the book. Because of this experience, Guy self-published his next book, What the Plus!: Google+For the Rest of Us, and learned first-hand that self-publishing is a complex, confusing, and idiosyncratic process. He decided to learn as much as he could about successful self-publishing, and share his knowledge with all those who want to venture into the self-publishing arena.
I asked Guy about the process of self-publishing, what he’s learned from it, and also what makes it worthwhile to write a book in the first place.
Here’s Guy’s take:
Why write a book in the first place?
If you’re writing a book simply as a means to an end – to get rich, or to get the word out about your expertise, or to attract more consulting or coaching business – forget it. Stop what you’re doing right now. If you’re thinking just about what you can get out of it, you’re probably writing a “crappy” book (Guy’s word), and your “crap” will be forever immortalized in black and white. Something you definitely don’t want.
Guy advises, “Write a book because you have something important to say. If you have a life story that inspires, or information that you believe everyone in a particular niche NEEDS to know, then do it.” But don’t just rush to get something out because you think it will enhance your career, profile, business, or bank account. You just won’t succeed with those inner motives.
(On that note, I’ve been floored by the advice I’ve heard some small business and entrepreneurial success coaches give my colleagues and clients – to just slap together a book quickly and get it out there, to make money and build their credibility. I’m with Guy – your credibility is shot if you do that, and trust me, your discerning readers can tell what you’re trying to do. And it’s important to realize that the vast majority of authors don’t make any money to speak of from their books.)
Your karmic scoreboard
Guy believes in the concept of a “karmic scoreboard” – that what you put out in the world will come back around to you. Self-publishing solely to advance yourself reduces your “karmic score.” On the other hand, being kind, generous, and helpful – being of service to others as your first goal – increases your karmic score. If your motivation is to help others with no expectations of what you’ll get in return, you’ll find that the process is also self-supportive, because when you set out to support the enrichment of others, it comes back to you tenfold.
Artisanal publishing (vs. self-publishing) – the new trend in publishing
In his book APE, Guy talks about “artisanal publishing” as a process that features writers who love their craft, and who control every aspect of the process from beginning to end. In this new approach, writers are no longer at the mercy of large, traditional publishers, and readers will have more books to read.
The self-publishing world has eradicated the filters and barriers that the traditional publishing world represented (where editors – typically male — made the judgments about content and worthiness). In the old days, the imprint of the publisher was a proxy for quality – if you were accepted by the publisher, you passed the test. Now the proxy for quality is how your book fares in terms of reviews and ratings on Amazon, and sales. Customers vote on the book’s quality or on their need to expose themselves to your material by clicking to purchase, or not clicking.
Guy explained that when readers contemplate buying your book today, they often don’t even notice the publisher. They look instead at the ratings and reviews received by the audience. What’s key in artisanal publishing is that you start with a good book, and then market the book with everything you’ve got. Marketing a book for many would-be authors is a daunting task, and thousands of self-published authors are ignorant of what’s required to get the word out (or they detest the marketing process altogether). In the end, if you want to be a successful artisanal publisher, you have to be willing to market.
To further the artisanal analogy, think of an artisanal baker. Do we think s/he is an entrepreneur? Absolutely. She is making the bread, selling it, distributing it, etc. Would you ever go up to an artisanal baker and ask, “Is the reason why you have your own bakery that you didn’t get accepted by a large national baked goods manufacturer?” No. We don’t even think of that question. Guy is hoping that artisanal publishers will soon earn the same respect and merit as other artisans.
How to know if your book is worthwhile?
I asked Guy his thoughts on the question, “How can you evaluate if your book is worth publishing and will be a work of quality?”
First, Guy believes you absolutely need professional copyediting. All writers, even great ones, need copyediting. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can do this on your own. You can’t. If you skip this step, the quality of your product will be sorely compromised.
Secondly, you must put yourself through a rigorous process of evaluating your book through the eyes of potential readers/buyers. Pretend you go to Amazon.com or visit a Barne & Noble bookstore. You see amazing books written by Anne Lamott, Isabel Allende, Patricia Cornwell, Condoleezza Rice, John Grisham, Lee Child, David Baldacci.
Then you see your book – The Schmoe Story, by Joe Schmoe. Guy asks you to evaluate: “Why would anyone give a hoot about your book?” You need a true reason, an engaging shtick or an angle – not a fabricated one, but authentic and gripping — that makes it an important story to tell. Your material has to be compelling and contributive, adding in a positive way to what already exists on the topic.
He gives an example of the gripping story of a single mom who endures a grueling four-year process to adopt a child from Guatemala, and is asked over and over, “Why are you adopting?” by her friends at home. Then, when bringing the child home, she is asked if she is the child’s nanny. Guy shares, “This woman’s story is just as important (arguably more important) than George W. Bush’s memoir. There’s a reason people will care about this unknown, single adoptive mom’s story – there’s a reason this book matters. You don’t have to be rich and powerful to have a riveting story to tell.”
How do you really determine if your story is worth telling? Pretend that you didn’t write the book – would you really care about this author and this story?
To help make the book better, Guy is a fan of obtaining as much feedback as possible from his potential audience, a process he calls crowd feedback. Guy admits “Strangers aren’t kind.” You’ll get a host of brutally frank comments, feedback and input that you can use (with discernment) to understand if this book has a true purpose for existing, and how to improve it.
Are you ready to engage in artisanal publishing?
Guy shared: “If you gave me two choices – one where there’s a small group of powerful people who pick the winners and losers versus complete and utter anarchy where anyone can publish a book, I would pick anarchy, fully realizing that most books that emerge in this arena will be poor quality. The situation of anarchy and the lower barrier means that there will be some gems that would never have been published in the old world – true gems — and that makes it worthwhile.”
“Imagine a world where you couldn’t start a company unless you had an MBA. That would rule out Google, Apple,YouTube, Cisco.” Supporting artisanal publishing is similar to saying “NO!” to the idea that only people with MBA’s can start a successful company. Guy shares, “A world where only a few hold that type of control and power is not a world I would recommend.”
As my fellow Forbes contributor Roger Dooley writes – “Perhaps the greatest contribution of APE will be that some individuals who have great ideas but haven’t felt they could write a book or get it published will now be empowered to start their journey.”
I couldn’t agree more.