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Considering Self-Publishing? Don’t Bother, Unless You Follow Guy Kawasaki’s Advice

22 January 2013

Kathy Caprino, writing at Forbes:

In 2011 the publisher of Guy’s New York Timesbestseller, 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.  …

. . . .

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).  …

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.

. . . .

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.”

Link to the rest at Forbes

Posted by Bridget McKenna

Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, Self-Publishing

28 Comments to “Considering Self-Publishing? Don’t Bother, Unless You Follow Guy Kawasaki’s Advice”

  1. Decent article.

    I could be wrong, but the tone of Forbes’ articles are changing. I think they used to be cautious, but this article is definitely “full steam ahead”.

    Self-publishing is being invited into the revered halls of finance. I think we can thank 50 Shades of Grey and it’s millions for that!

    Forbes is smart enough to see that the traditional system by-passes many potential money makers. Invite the author into the free market, and see who strikes it rich.

  2. Interesting article. Two things popped into my mind.
    I’m not an artisanal publisher – wouldn’t that mean I hand bind my books after having someone – a monk – and write and illustrate?
    And he’s a marketer, so what other advice would I get from him.
    I’m not saying he’s wrong, but marketing the hell out of one book doesn’t seem to be a good strategy. Writing more books and doing marketing seems to work the best.

    • My thoughts exactly. Considering standard sell-through percentages for copy, I don’t see the point in advertising until I have enough product available to make me likely to recover costs—and even then…

      I suspect the best advertisement might be a loss leader or two.

      • Yes, I caught this too. Write more books. Make them good books. Period. However, as an anarchist at heart, I’m all for full steam ahead.

    • Marketing nonfiction can be different than marketing fiction. I’d not spend that much time marketing either, but I’d spend more on nonfiction.

      • That’s exactly what I said on the last article about Kawasaki’s book. Nonfiction authors seem to write a lot of books that assume the same methods are necessary for fiction authors as themselves, and they are frankly ignorant. Moreover, I suspect they are more about selling their own books and platform than investigating the truth.

        And if they’d stop with that terrible “You can’t make millions so don’t bother” logic, that would be nice, too.

        • And if they’d stop with that terrible “You can’t make millions so don’t bother” logic, that would be nice, too.


        • Lynn: Yes! I couldn’t agree more. He has some really bad info in a couple of places from what I’ve heard, like recommending that you contact Harriet Klausner for reviews!

          Also, I hate when people who have huge social network followings due to previous successes and fame dating back to before such platforms existed tell you how you can succeed by marketing to social networks. Well sure it works for him. He’s got a million+ Twitter followers (who are readers not other writers!). It will only work for someone else with the same sort of platform.

          He could have co-authored the book with a fiction writer who had worked up from nothing. That would’ve given a nice range of experiences. Alas.

    • It’s true about the monks. And they’ve just unionized…

    • Darn, you’ve discovered my business model. Ok, I’m joking, but only a little. Before the printing press, each copy of a book was individually hand-crafted to the specifications of the buyer. Sadly, only that era’s 1% had books.

      There is no reason we can’t return to the notion that each copy of a book is specially prepared by {digital} monks for the purchaser. I’m going to make that happen. But nowadays, everyone can have their books designed to spec.

      You guys write the stories, I’ll make the books.

      • I want to hear more about this sometime. The idea of making an ebook for an individual always confounds me, considering that only the most… alliteratively-waste-product poor e-reader apps don’t allow a great deal of customization already.

    • Guy Kawasaki is a marketer of the Steve Jobs showman school: stir up enough attention so the journalists have to cover you, which then multiples the impact. And if you start out with something newsworthy, it can work for you.

      What I bet Kawasaki has never thought about is how many people who buy Apple products did so thru less sensational exposure: word of mouth, a friend shows someone how well their product works, etc. I know I bought my iPhone not because of Apple showmanship, but because I’ve seen what one can do with one. He thinks one strategy works — & is the right one — because he’s never needed to consider if the other might.

      • At Apple design = marketing. So you stir up attention and then you sell them on an excellently designed piece of tech. The rest is advertising. Apple spends a fraction of what a lot of other companies spend on advertising.

        Design = marketing is what sold you on your iPhone.

        My point is: being a marketing guy at Apple doesn’t impress me that much. Maybe it was different back in the day when he worked there.

      • Yeah, I was very dubious about buying an iPhone until I walked into the Apple store and picked it up, prodded at the YouTube app and SWEET STARS I’M HOLDING STAR TREK SFX IN MY HAND.

        It was like Vulcan Cupid shot me with a phaser set on SensaWunda.

        Which is probably me agreeing with both you and Hayden, really.

  3. Underlying all the discussion regarding “publishing” is perceived reward. Big money and fame seem to be the driving current in that river.

    For those who want to write to tell a story, to explain an idea, and to put a dream into words – writers write. Perhaps, some of them see no reward beyond going public with their story, their dream, or their idea. If you can accept that you, the writer, may never make money, never have fame and can still share your words with someone then you may have reached fulfillment.

    As someone who started two years ago and who still doesn’t do it very well I am satisfied to know that my tall tales are there and, despite my spelling and punctuation, may be shared with someone.

    I’m sure I’ll never be number one but were it not for ebooks and Amazon no one would know what I feel, no one would know me, and no one might enjoy what I wrote. That’s enough for me.

  4. Guy makes a lot of sense, making a parallel between any other business and self-publishing. The sooner writers will think like inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs the sooner they will succeed.
    But now let’s talk reality. A book and a loaf of bread are two different products. A loaf of bread fulfills a need. A book fulfills a want. Practical people buy first what they need and then if they have extra money and time will buy what they want, the book. Another distinction is the market where these two products are offered. We all know where to buy bread, a bakery, supermarket, or even at a street corner, near a market. For books, the trade publishers established such a market, the bookstore. Except, only they were able to sell through the bookstores, not the self-published. Now the bookstores are disappearing being replaced by the virtual bookstores. Everyone can publish and offer a book for sale now, except any one book is just a grain of dust in a dust cloud.
    Is it hopeless? I don’t think so. Even bread won’t sell if you sell it in the wrong place. The trick is to find the market and the concentration of readers for your genre of books. Where are those places? Well, the narrower the subject of your book, the easier is to find the interested book buyers. For example for my book Escape from Communism, the political forums are the place to market it. For my YA Fantasy book, Arboregal, I haven’t found such a concentrated market, yet.
    There is another way, although it is going to take a lot longer, and that is making your own market by writing more (good) books. If we take the analogy of the dust cloud in space, eventually the dust particles will clump together and create a center of gravity, your many books could be that center of gravity. The readers will be attracted to it, especially if it grows into a planetoid.

    • Brilliant comment.

    • Good luck with your books.
      My former neighbor escaped from Communism, too. After 2 years of being in jail, he was kicked out of the country with a suitcase holding little more than his underwear. He was a doctor. His name was Dan Cantacuzino, maybe you heard of the family, Dumitru.

      • Thank you for your comment, Barbara! I have not heard of Dan Cantacuzino. Hundreds of millions of people from all communist countries experienced what I wrote in my book. Like I said on the front page of my book “Truly free people can never be enslaved.”

  5. I agree with most of what he said, especially “Why write a book in the first place?” But his advice to market it with everything you’ve got… really? What would that involve? How many hours/how much $ do we put into that, versus time spent writing the next book. I guess he expects us to find out by buying his book. I dunno. Directly contradicts Dean Wesley Smith and others. I’m only a third of the way though a list of several hundred YA bloggers, asking them to consider reviewing my book. Except for three bites, radio silence… feels like a time suck.

  6. I am curious if nonfiction authors could put out as many books as a fiction author, which might be a reason for the assumption that you have to heavily market each book?

    If I were writing nonfiction and wanted it to support my platform, I would try to be as definitive as possible on at least one aspect of that platform. Of course, there could be other aspects, but I would think the one book a year model would work better for nonfiction than fiction. So, if you can’t really write hundreds of books all about the same platform, ie. for the target niche, you’d want to heavily promote each one, and tie it into your current platform as much as possible. Their platform limits the success of their name, in a way.

    However, as self-published fiction writers, we can write all sorts of things and go on all sorts of tangents, and use pseudonyms to help this process if we want. We’re not limited by our platform, platform only aids us. The big publishers have to artificially limit their fiction authors so they aren’t overwhelmed (or so they think), and it’s created a mindset that throws an author into platform building to keep them busy when it may not really be necessary.

    That leads me to conclude that self-published nonfiction writers might find branching out into fiction, via a pseudonym, might help their finances without burning them out on trying to spend all their time marketing their platform. Yes, their platform might build more slowly (Oh, dread, I might not be a millionaire by next week? Rust and ruin!), but it might keep them in the business longer and prevent burnout. I do think that while it might be possible to run multiple nonfiction platforms, nonfiction works best when someone’s face is on something, and that might limit you.

    • I read a lot of nonfic, marketing, self-help, nutrition, history, etc. A common complaint you’ll find in reviews of a nonfic author’s later books is that they’re rehashing earlier material and repeating the same things in only slightly different ways.

      So yes, they can’t put out as many books as a fiction writer unless they have more diverse material and put out a lot of smaller highly focused books. No way they can do 4 books a year like I can.

      • On the other hand, Isaac Asimov reported that it took him an average of nine months to write a science fiction novel, and about three weeks to do a typical nonfiction book. Mileage varies, it would seem.

        Being a polymath with a near-eidetic memory must have helped Asimov write and sell so much nonfiction; having a reputation as a polymath with a near-eidetic memory helped more. After about 1965, he could write about any subject he damn well pleased and some publisher would print the book. I suspect a lot of the nonfiction writers who repeat themselves do so because they are only able to sell books on a narrowly specialized topic.

        • If you look closely at Asimov’s list of books, you’ll see a number of series aimed at kids, such as a history of the Roman Empire. These are shorter books, and presumably easier to write.

          He also spent a lot of his time writing. He was capable of putting in 12-hour days and edit in the evenings. It did not result in a happy family life.

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