APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur | Reviewed

It takes a lot to laugh. It takes a train to cry. That’s a little bit the way I feel about Guy Kawasaki’s latest book, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur—How to Publish a Book. Just when self-publishing didn’t need another buzz word, Kawasaki introduces ‘artisanal publishing’ for the uninitiated author.

“Artisanal publishing features writers who love their craft, and who control every aspect of the process from beginning to end. In this new approach, writers are no longer at the mercy of large, traditional publishers, and readers will have more books to read.”

Co-written with technical wizard, Shawn Welch, Kawasaki, a former chief evangelist of Apple, Silicon Valley venture capitalist and blogger, has taken this book and savvy self-publishing by the scruff of the neck and dragged it screaming into the foyers and news desks of some of the largest media corporations in the world. Over the past few months, since the publication of APE late last year, I don’t think I’ve witnessed as much publicity around a self-published title (excluding E. L. James and William P. Young) as Kawasaki’s book has garnered, let alone a book not just self-published, but specifically aboutthe process of self-publishing. It’s actually hard to find a credible and well-trafficked website dedicated to self-publishing which has not run some article, interview or review on APE and Kawasaki over the past couple of months. The opportunity to interview Kawasaki for TIPM was offered to me by his media representatives but I’ve taken my time to read through APE and wait until the storm died down a little.
If Mark Levine’s seminal The Fine Print of Self-Publishingwas a methodical nuts and bolts dissection of the self-publishing service provider industry, Kawasaki’s APE is an express train of marketing nous and adventure for the modern independent author. In fact, both would make remarkably good companion guides for self-published authors, but I suspect, with APE, that was never Kawasaki’s intention. APE is about the modern self-published author going it alone without safety nets and the support of so-called self-publishing companies. APE is about being in total control of a book project and managing it through the processes of production, distribution and marketing. This is modern self-publishing for the modern app and Kickstarter generation. And, crucially, I felt the book seemed to marginalise the majority of authors entering the self-publishing field and instead treat all authors as would-be commercial investors. There is a disturbing disconnect with the supposed target audience of this book and, at times, I felt Kawasaki bordered on self-serving.

Kawasaki might be an Apple evangelist, but I didn’t need to be reminded numerous times about the company’s products, the author’s Google Plus book and experiences of Steve Jobs and Silicon Valley constantly referred to. The core elements of this book are a godsend for self-published authors navigating a complex area, and even I picked up some things I didn’t know about, particularly in regards to dealing with distributors and discounts, but there is far too much in APE that doesn’t belong in a book on self-publishing. As a self-published author, I don’t need to know about the inner workings of Amazon or Apple, nor do I need to know about Kawasaki’s personal dislike of the traditional publishing, or how his ebook order for books was dissed by a big publishing house, or the mechanics of reading and writing books.

In some ways, I think Kawasaki’s APE is a remarkably laser-sharp and information-laden book on self-publishing, terrific on facts and detail, inspiration and get up and go do it, but flawed by its own cleverness to deliver more than its actual components. Few self-publishing guides include advanced detail on dealing with self-publishing services, going about creating an audio book or investigating translation rights. In a way, I think there are two different books embedded in APE, one about the essentials to self-publishing a book well, and the other about the publishing industry and modern marketing techniques. The days are long gone where you can write a single book aimed at covering all aspects of self-publishing, from production through to marketing and selling subsidary rights. Had Kawasaki approached this project with greater hindsight, I am sure he would have seen the perils of trying to do everything in one book. Ironically, a good editor at a large publishing house would, I think, have offered the same advice and stripped APE by at least 100 pages. Perhaps, then, the author might have written a How to Self-Publish guide that appealed to a wider audience of self-published authors, and maybe one or two specific follow-up books.

As it is, APE is for the accomplished entrepreneur with money, time and a large inbuilt readership platform on their hands. Most authors considering self-publishing have a limited amount of these three elements. Kawasaki recommends using Adobe InDesign and contracting professionals to design and market a book. There is nothing wrong with this advice in an ideal world, except that most authors who self-publish cannot afford the recommended minimum outlay of $4000 and expensive software for every book project. It’s a community and reality APE consistently misses in many of its pages. And when APE does celebrate the economies of self-publishing, it’s often to simply evangelise the success of the corporate platform, software tool or app itself, rather than the authors using them.
Kawasaki has a website and marketing machine dedicated to the publication of APE. He has already revised the initial edition of the book and the website also features some great resource tools like layout templates, a quiz questionnaire and dummy contract forms for publishing services. APE might prove to be greater than the sum of its parts, and, I suspect, the actual execution and promotion of this self-published book might prove to be the real lesson to learn for authors interested in self-publishing.

Two years ago, this would have been the perfect self-publishing guide for Amanda Hocking. Today, it’s no more suitable a guide to Hocking than most self-published authors. Two years ago I would have championed a book like APE, but with the explosion in DIY self-publishing platforms and the real demographic of new authors to the field, I think the book is something of a niche within a niche. That isn’t to say all self-published authors won’t gain a great deal by picking up a copy of APE, but it’s written by an idealist for idealists.

But then, in an ideal world, there’s nothing wrong with that.

RATING: 6.5/10    

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