I am working my way through the book, APE, by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch. It presents a fresh and fascinating viewpoint about the world of book publishing, and I want to share some tidbits with you.
First, the title: APE represents Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur. The term self-publishing tends to carry the dirty insinuation that if your work isn’t good enough for a bonafide publishing house to get your darling out there, you can always go to Vanity Press or, gulp, publish the thing yourself… Instead of giving the writer a sense of control and power, it makes the writer feel embarrassed, guilty.
I hope, with Kawasaki’s* help, I can debunk part of that attitude. Consider his definition of Artisanal Publishing: The concept of authors writing, publishing, and lovingly crafting their books with complete artistic control in a high-quality manner.
First, why write a book?
Enrich lives? Good reason
Impart knowledge? Good reason
Promote understanding? Good reason
Provide entertainment? Good reason
Provoke laughter? Good reason
Meet popular demand? Bad reason
Make money? Bad reason.
Kawasaki (K, for the rest of the piece), cautions those who encounter the following: “Lots of people tell me I have a good story.” Or, “Lots of people tell me that I’m a good writer.” He asks, “How many is ‘lots?’ Divide that number by a hundred to estimate how many people will actually buy your book. Then divide that number by four to estimate how many people will read your book.”
When it comes to money, K says, “The average number of copies that most books sell … is a few hundred. … making money is a possible outcome, but not the purpose of writing a great book.” He kindly adds, “May you be so fortunate as to experience both.”
Anyone who has ever tried to publish a book-length manuscript with traditional publishers has probably experienced the following: (1) Knocking on the doors of dozens of publishers and/or agents but rarely achieving success; (2) If striking gold and getting a positive response, likely facing two to three months of contract negotiation, and if lucky, getting an advance in the $5000 – $10,000 range; (3) Spending twelve months to finish writing; (4) Waiting two to three months for the editor to read your draft who will then want substantial changes. Even if you agree with the suggestions, you need six more months to fix everything; (5) Even though your spell check tells you your manuscript is perfect, the copy editor finds hundreds of mistakes; (6) You hate all of the cover designs but you’re told if you want the book to come out on time, pick one; (7) “A month after you ‘finish writing’ and implementing all of the changes from your editors, your publisher tells you that you need to rephrase what you thought were perfectly crafted sentences. There are a few dozen changes … to fix those loose lines, widow, and orphans – whatever those are.” (8) Twelve to eighteen months after you started your book is in the store, but your publicist is getting little PR traction because you’re unknown, and Mark Zuckerberg just released his book, too: F Is for Facebook: The Gospel According to Mark.
Z’s main point going forward is that the advent of eBooks and multimedia has revolutionized publishing, and he convinced me this is a positive development. It’s not embarrassing; it’s empowering. He compares the productivity of the traditional printing press. From that unquestionable important invention for the literary world, think about where we are today. Apple, Aldus, and Adobe enabled anybody with a Mackintosh, laser printer, and Page Maker to print books. Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble enabled writers to create and sell books electronically as well as print paper copies on demand.
En bref, anyone who can use a word processor can write and publish a book, and the shelf space for ebooks, is infinite. The system has become more accessible.
K discusses in detail the advantages and disadvantages of ebook publishing and he links to online references throughout his book. He cautions that just because it’s more accessible, it’s not less work. He quotes Zoe Winters: “There is no shortcut to awesome.” The entire sixth chapter of his book lays out in detail exactly what you have to do to produce a “good” book. What he describes is no different than anything you ever learned in a creative writing class. Writing is hard work.
Oh, and by the way… so are publishing and marketing. The difference is, you call the shots. You have the plan. You get the financing (he explains entrepreneurial methods). When and if money comes in, it comes directly to you. And, your book is getting exposure.
When K discusses how to avoid the self-published look, he starts with one basic principle: Appearance is everything. He goes into everything from font, to front matter, to blurbs, to copy editing gaffes: incorrect capitalization, hyphens, commas, spacing… It is ALL there.
But space and time are short here, so I’ll end with a few stories. When Audubon created his work, The Birds of American, in the early 19th century, Harper Brothers, G.P. Putman, Charles Scribner, and John Wiley publishing houses existed. Audubon self-published his book using a subscription model, five illustrations at a time.
“Until the mid-nineteenth century, most authors published their books at their own expense. Walt Whitman … self-published and typeset Leaves of Grass.”
The reality is this. During this time in our literary history, New York publishers “based much of their business on pirating the works of Charles Dickens, Emily Brontë, and Thomas Babington Macaulay. … George Palmer Putman instituted the royalty system that’s in place today. Before then, publishing was mostly self-publishing.”
I propose we may have come full circle. Having read most of Kawasaki’s book, I agree with him; the advantages of launching your masterpiece yourself far outweigh the disadvantages. He says, “Keep in mind the concept of artisanal publishing as a new, cool form of publishing – you heard the term here first!”
*I refer to the author as Kawasaki because the book is basically his; Welch is an associate.