It’s easy to draw parallels between publishing and music recording industries. In both cases, the traditional gatekeepers (record labels and book publishers) have faced withering disruption while digital has empowered artists to take more control of their own careers. But arguably writers can enjoy a faster path to success than musicians thanks to the emergence of publishing platforms like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and the more mainstreamed process of writing versus recording (fewer production tools needed). That’s why APE: How to Publish a Book, a new book by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch, is so important: it’s the most comprehensive book on the market for writers to learn how to write, publish, finance, and market their own books. APE is a manifesto for writing in the digital age.
APE is so named because Kawasaki and Welch believe successful self-publishers must fulfill three roles — author, publisher, and entrepreneur. That’s why I believe APE is a manifesto for writing in the digital age: it doesn’t matter whether you’re self-published, are lucky enough to have a contract by a publishing house, or operate as a brand as publisher: if you want to succeed as a writer, you have to think like a publisher and a marketer. Your job doesn’t stop when you complete your manuscript — it’s only just started. APE helps you understand what you need to do to succeed throughout the entire process.
If you are just getting started out as a writer, you’ll appreciate the care with which Kawasaki and Welch lay out the tools authors can use to write (down to the level of describing how to use Microsoft Word to track changes) and edit (including how to crowdsource the editing of your book). But you don’t need to be self-published to appreciate the chapter, “How to Avoid the Self-Published Look,” which could just as easily have been titled, “How Not to Look Like an Amateur” because the chapter discusses embarrassing gaffes to avoid, like using dumb quotes and apostrophe marks. The Chapter “How to Finance Your Book” explains the nitty gritty costs for editing and producing a book and what you need to do to break even. (And you don’t need to be a finance major to figure it out.) Chapter 12, “How to Sell Your eBook through Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Google, and Kobo” and Chapter 21, “How to Navigate Amazon,” cover the hottest topics in publishing — how these platforms work and the fine print you need to understand (e.g., Kindle Direct Publishing monitors the price of your book on other reseller sites and matches the price automatically without your input).
The chapter on author-service companies and forms of book distribution are especially useful for anyone in charge of a company’s thought leadership program in addition to authors. The self-publishing revolution is a corporation phenomenon, too. The brands-as-publishers movement has taken hold with companies ranging from American Express to my own employer iCrossing relying on the power of publishing useful content and ideas to become more relevant to their audiences. As a result, brands have hired people like me to act as in-house editors, writers, and publishers — and we need to appreciate the ethos of APE.
The last section of the book, on being an entrepreneur, is essential reading for anyone in publishing, period. The book covers major forms of marketing ranging from social media to the art of convincing bloggers and reviewers to pay attention to your book. “But I’m a writer, not a book hustler,” you might protest. Wrong. Writers are the most credible marketers of their own writing. They are more knowledgeable and more passionate about their work than anyone. A request from the author to review a book he or she has written carries more weight than an appeal from a hired marketer. And reviews are critical to getting noticed, whether you’re a first-time author or a seasoned writer. So if you read one chapter in this entire book, please do yourself a favor to read Chapter 28, “How to Pitch Bloggers and Reviewers,” and then the following chapter on how the authors went APE.
Then live the ethos of APE. It’s your writing life. Live it right.