As an entrepreneur, one of the best ways to establish yourself as an expert in your field is to write a book. But getting the attention of an established publishing house these days is difficult at best. Last Saturday, popular author, investor and entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki gave an audience at the annual BookExpo America conference some advice: Publish your book yourself.
"For many people, self-publishing still may have a negative connotation," said Kawasaki, who has authored 12 books. "I would like to substitute a new term: 'artisanal publishing.'" He argued that self-published authors should be viewed like small-batch winemakers and other modern craftsmen.
Kawasaki delivered a keynote speech based on his 2012 self-published book APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur -- How to Publish a Book. Although advocating an entrepreneurial approach to authorship, he said he would happily return to traditional publishing if a publisher offered him an enormous advance -- say, $2 million. But most book advances are only a tiny fraction of that, and he believes there are better ways to raise that money "than sucking up to a New York publisher for nine months." He recommended crowdfunding through platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
What follows are six tips for self-publishing drawn from Kawasaki's keynote:
1. Write for the right reasons.
The wrong reasons to write a book, Kawasaki said, are to make money, get famous or boost your company's visibility or sales. By contrast, he said, the right reasons include having something meaningful to say, hoping to further a cause or wanting to meet an intellectual challenge. Although you may make money, get famous and help your company by publishing a book, "the core of why you should write a book," he told the audience, is if you have a unique experience or perspective that can "enrich people's lives."
2. Use the best tools.
Although a diehard Apple user, Kawasaki put Microsoft Word at the top of his list of tools a self-publishing author should use. It's the industry standard for word processing, and there is no getting away from it, he said. He also recommended Adobe InDesign for designing your book's layout; Evernote for note-taking, which he called "the OCD person's dream app"; Dropbox for saving manuscript copies, because you should "always have a backup in the sky"; and YouSendIt for transmitting large manuscript files.
3. Get help from the crowd.
Some authors keep their work hidden from the world until it's truly worthy of being brought out into the light. Not Kawasaki. When writing a new book, he taps into the crowd at critical stages. First, he invites his social-media followers for a critique of his book outline via a Google document viewable by others but to which only he can make changes. Second, he asks for volunteer edits of the first draft of his manuscript. With APE, 250 people volunteered to edit the manuscript, and 60 followed through, he said. He then reviewed the edited manuscripts and compared them to his original, using Word's Track Changes feature. He believes the process "doubled the quality of APE," saying these editors gave him crucial suggestions for content to include in the final version.
4. Hire a copy editor.
It is essential to have a professional copy editor work on your book before you publish it, Kawasaki said. No matter how careful you think you were, you will have made mistakes. Even though APE had two detail-oriented authors and 60 volunteer editors, he said his professional copy editor still found 1,400 errors in the manuscript.
5. Hire a cover designer.
Although we're often told not to judge a book by its cover, many buying decisions depend on the cover alone. This is especially important in the digital format, where a customer can't pick up a book and easily read the back cover to get a better idea of its substance. "The proxy for quality on Amazon is the [book's] cover and the number of stars" given in reviews, Kawasaki said. He recommended the site Writer.ly to find freelance design professionals to create a public face for your book.
6. Don't give up.
Kawasaki closed by listing some of the all-time great self-publishing successes: John James Audubon's Birds of America, Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass and the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey. Although the odds are small that your book will join that pantheon, he said, it is worth looking to them as inspiration to keep yourself motivated.