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Review: In the emerging world of self-publishing, APE shows the way

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I’ve just read the new book from Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch, APE (Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur): How to publish a book – my major criticism: It wasn’t out three months ago when we were navigating the murky waters of self-publishing! Otherwise, I am delighted to have a review copy – many thanks!  More on the book in a moment, but let’s put the whole phenomenon of self-publishing in context first.

We recently wrote in The Global Trends Report 2013: For many years the publishing industry believed that people simply did not want to buy online or read a book or newspaper on a screen. Amazon proved them wrong and today the potential “death” of printed books is no longer unlikely. In 2007 Kindle e-readers quickly gained a 90% share of the e-book market. Only the launch of Apple’s iBookstore in 2010 encouraged innovation and competition. Now Amazon’s e-book publishing business threatens the traditional publishers’ value proposition as the intermediary between writers and readers.  Innovation in publishing is exploding, from authors with multiple options for content creation and channels to market, to publishers reinventing their role between content providers, distributors and consumers. And don’t forget the consumers with an insatiable desire for information and convenient solutions to immediate needs, who can increasingly create their own custom content through third-parties – or simply through the blogosphere.

We could have added a lot more including the fact that publishing is fast becoming – if not already – “Amazon World.” This is a point that the authors of APE make clearly – dedicating a whole chapter to navigating Amazon, which is a good place for any aspiring self-publisher to start.  We started there, took many detours and more than a few dead-ends and ended up back there, not only because their color print-on-demand costs were half the price elsewhere, but because if you author a book you need to be on Amazon…

So let’s take a look at APE.  If you are even vaguely considering self-publishing it’s an incredibly useful guide, which tackles the critical questions for any aspiring author/publisher/entrepreneur: 

  • Should I – and can I – write/publish a book? What does that mean in the digital world?
  • OK I have something to share – how do get it published and how do get it out there?
  • OK it’s out there – how do I get people to read it and interact with it?

One of great things about this book is not only that it guides you step-by-step through the self-publishing process but that it does so in simple terms – note to aspiring authors: writing “simple” is much harder than it seems –  underpinned by a wealth of experience and knowledge of the self-publishing sector, plus a sense of humor.  It does not shy away from the seemingly basic questions such as how to make sure you can finance writing and what tools you need as an author. In the latter case, naturally, a word processing program, but if you want to make the self-published circuit I’m afraid your best choice is Word, Word or Word, and yes, the authors do recognize that you need to “pound Word into submission.” But using the recommended MacBook Air which you can take with you everywhere you will hopefully have the time to do so.

Assuming you have made it through the “author” stage, it’s time to move on to the fun and games of publishing. Having done this a few times, the traditional way and now the self-publishing way, the advice in APE is invaluable. Editing is clearly important and worth paying a professional for – we did, it works. Really good tips then on producing a professional-looking (read can’t be distinguished from a traditional publisher style) book – yes, you do need to know about serial commas, widows and orphans, and again a good copy editor and a designer will be invaluable.  Then there is the cover – the tell-tale sign of a self-published book. Read this chapter thoroughly and if you still can’t part with your pet photos, read it again.

Now we get on to the fun stuff of book formats and distribution, which can literally drive you nuts, because self-publishing is evolving rapidly so there are multiple standards, a myriad of services which are not all created equal and  lots of little pitfalls to trip you up. Again a great guide through the minefield. Plus there is plenty of information on distribution channels from e-books to printed and good comparisons (including indicative prices) to let you make the best choice between direct sales, author services companies and print-on-demand, plus how to sell your e-book most effectively to the audience you are targeting.  

However, the one thing I am missing in this section – and I will be re-reading it very carefully – is how to convert a book with lots of images/graphs/graphics (which all need to be sourced and in the appropriate place) into a format that will work as an e-book. Reflowable text, while a fantastic innovation, has its limitations. As one author services company we spoke with put it: “In short, if you are comfortable with us tearing up your manuscript and making it far less attractive for the sake of distributability, we can proceed to convert it to EPUB. Your file is gorgeous, and I'm sure you've put a lot of time into formatting it, which is why I wanted to issue a full warning before we begin conversion.” One route is obviously Apple’s new author tool, but be warned this restricts your distribution options hugely.  As for other routes, I am still looking, as I hope APE’s authors are.

The final section focuses on getting your book out there, read and enjoyed, as well as creating interaction around it.  Much of the advice is around social media, for the very good reason that social media is pervasive and a great way for people to share experiences and ideas – remember this is a blog review here – and the book does tell you how to pitch bloggers for reviews. It also gives many handy tips on guerrilla-marketing, building your personal brand and sharing socially – tips which are worth revisiting regularly even if you have succeeded in getting your magnum opus out there already.

In summary, self-publishing may be in its infancy, and have lots of teething problems, but it is going to be the way of the future for books.  APE is therefore a great and timely addition to the self-publishing toolkit. In fact, if you are about to embark on – or even consider – this route, read this book first.  Then, keep it handy as you will use it as an ongoing reference text. And Guy and Shawn, if you come across how to convert graphic-heavy books to effective e-books, do let me know!


Tracey is a Director of Strategy Dynamics Global SA. She has over twenty years of experience as a consultant and executive, focused on complex strategy and organisational issues, and has worked with leading companies globally. Prior to founding Strategy Dynamics Global SA, Tracey worked with senior executives at IMD, and has held senior roles at the BBC, Booz &Co., Deloitte & Touche and Braxton Associates, as well as being an active advisor to a number of start-ups.  Tracey is a Fulbright Scholar and holds an MBA from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania where she was distinguished as a Palmer Scholar.