Monday, December 10, 2012

Interview with Guy Kawasaki

Joe sez: These past few weeks I've been finishing up the third Chandler book (after FLEE and SPREE) with Ann Voss Peterson, and ignoring all things Internet.

Next week I'll do my annual New Years Resolution for Writers post, but until then Barry Eisler has allowed me to post an interview he did with Guy Kawasaki, who just wrote an ebook that the majority of my blog readers will be interested in. Here's Barry and Guy:

Barry: Barry Eisler here. Joe has generously offered to host this interview I did with Guy Kawasaki, the former Chief Evangelist of Apple; serial entrepreneur; lecturer; and writer of numerous books on marketing, start-ups, and entrepreneurism. I just finished Guy’s extraordinary new book, Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How to Publish a Book, and it’s easily the most comprehensive, best organized, nuts-and-bolts-useful work on self-publishing I’ve seen to date. I think Guy has written the bible on self-publishing, and I expect it will be recognized—and widely used—as such.

There’s a funny, and I think telling, story behind how I got my advance copy of APE (the book launches today). A few weeks ago, I did an interview for Tim Ferris’s blog in which I discussed my favorite books on marketing (the interview hasn’t run yet, but here’s a link to Tim’s blog). Among the works I discussed were several by Guy, including Selling the Dream: How to Promote Your Product, Company, or Ideas—and Make a Difference—Using Everyday Evangelism (highly recommended for anyone trying to make a living through writing). A few days after I sent in my thoughts for Tim’s blog, Guy contacted me on Twitter. I emailed him and asked, “Is this about Tim’s blog?” He told me no, he wanted to know if I’d join him for a panel at the Churchill Club on The Future of Publishing (December 18 in Santa Clara, California). I told him hell yes, I’d be honored, and mentioned that I’d learned a ton from his books. To which Guy told me the honor was his because he’s a John Rain fan and because the book I did with Joe on self-publishing—Be the Monkey: A Conversation About the New World of Publishing—is part of what inspired him to write APE.

I was really struck by that. Reading Guy’s books made me a better evangelist, meaning what I learned from Guy both inspired and shaped what I was hoping to accomplish with Be the Monkey, and then Be the Monkey inspired the guy who inspired me! I love karma. As for both these books featuring simian references… well, I like to think there might be something to it, but it’s also possible that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Now let’s learn a bit more about this terrific book—straight from Guy.

1. Guy, there’s more on this topic in APE itself, but can you tell us a bit about why you decided to write the book, which, while drawing on your core areas of expertise in marketing, entrepreneurism, and evangelism, is also a departure for you? Can you talk a bit about why you decided to self-publish it?

I wrote APE because of my experiences self-publishing a book called What the Plus!. I wrote What the Plus! because the publisher of Enchantment could not fill an order for 500 copies of the ebook version. By self-publishing What the Plus!, I learned firsthand how idiosyncratic, confusing, and inefficient that process is, and I decided to do something about it. As Steve Jobs used to say, “There must be a better way.”

2. You’ve published about a dozen books with legacy publishers like Harper Collins and Penguin. Were you tempted to go that route with APE?

I did run it past my agent and the publisher of Enchantment, but we couldn’t come to terms. The core problem was that I wanted to retain ebook rights and sell the paper rights. That said, for a sufficient amount of money, anything is possible.

3. What did you see as the pros and cons?

The advantage of a traditional publisher is that it takes care of so many details for you such as content editing, copyediting, cover design, interior design, printing, sales, distribution, and returns. It also provides a large advance. The disadvantage is that it rightfully pays you a lot less and reduces your flexibility. Of course, if no traditional publisher wants your book, then you don’t have to weigh the pros and cons. You just do what you have to do.

4. I like the title you chose—not “How to Self-Publish,” but “How to Publish.” I like it first because your thoughts on how to package and market a book would make the legacy publishing industry more effective, so in that sense the book is applicable to anyone who wants to effectively publish a book, not just to self-publishers. But there’s another reason you chose the title, one that’s a manifestation of one of the marketing tips in the book. Can you discuss why you chose this title?

I chose the subtitle “How to Publish a book” as opposed to “How to Self-Publish a Book” because I used the Google Adwords keyword site. There you can enter various terms and find out how many times people search for it. I leaned that people search for “how to publish” fifteen times more often than “how to self-publish.” That was the end of that discussion!

5. I’m continually fascinated by the politics of publishing—by what I see as a struggle between a publishing establishment and a publishing insurgency. Joe and I touched on the politics of publishing in Be the Monkey, and naturally one of my favorite sections of APE was the one that put the current battle in publishing in a historical context. Some of that history was new to me, and I wondered if you could talk a bit more about it here.

The historical trend of publishing, like many other industries, is towards democratization and an open system. It used to be that only the church and royalty had scribes. This meant a lower level of literacy, and that one had to go to church to learn about God. Then Gutenberg invented the printing press, and it was possible to print many more copies of the Bible. Now people could learn about God by reading the Bible without going to church.

Fast-forward to the introduction of Macintosh, LaserWriter, and PageMaker, and now anyone with these products could print a book. The current curve doesn’t even involve printing: anyone with a computer, a word processor, and Internet access can upload a book to Amazon. Then anyone with a computer, smartphone, or tablet can read the ebook. The democratization of information is not something to get in the way of.

When the industry crossed the chasm from print to ebook, the rules changed. There were physical limits to publishing: how many titles a store could physically display and stock. This meant that gatekeepers—arbiters of taste—were necessary to act as filters. If Random House or Penguin published a book, it must be good. And only a Random House or Penguin could print the book on dead trees and get the dead trees to the store.

This isn’t true anymore. Do you care who published a book? Do you even look to see who the publisher is before you buy a book? I don’t. I just look at the number of stars it has on Amazon and read a few reviews and buy it. Seconds later, I’m reading about John Rain and the yakuza. [Excellent choice. J]

6. How do you envision the future of publishing? Is it an either/or universe, a Manichean battle between legacy and self-publishing, paper and digital? Or can different systems and formats coexist? Do authors have to choose an entrée, or can they choose a buffet, instead?

First, here’s a surprising statistic: only about ten percent of the publishing business is ebooks. It’s going to be a long time before all books are electronic—probably never for a coffee-table book of Annie Leibovitz photos. The thoughtful and informed response to this question is “it depends.” Most of all, it depends on what type of book we’re talking about. Adult novels, I think, will be the first to go mostly electronic. Photo books will be the last.

There will continue to be the “big six” or so traditional publishers who are looking to find and keep blockbuster authors like you and J.K. Rowling. [Did I mention Guy is a very nice person? ;)] One thing is still true: most authors want to be published by Random, Penguin, etc. Who doesn’t want a big advance and all the hand-holding.

When the dust settles, I hope self-publishing empowers “everyone” to write a book. The cream will rise to the top. Then the traditional publishers will acquire those titles and sign those authors to future deals. This is the genius of Amazon Encore—Amazon’s system of watching what sells well and acquiring the title.

It’s also probably the madness behind Penguin buying Author Solutions and the lunacy of Simon & Schuster partnering with Author Solutions after the Penguin acquisition. Why both companies are trying to buy their way into self-publishing astounds me.

7. You’re a pretty smart guy with impressive experience and credentials in business. If you were hired as a consultant to help legacy publishing executives adapt to the changing world in which the industry finds itself, how would you advise them?

I would take a cue from what’s happened in the tech and venture capital space. It’s much cheaper and easier to start a company today because of Open Source tools, cloud-computing, and virtual teams. Venture capital is less necessary, so now firms like Y Combinator help companies start with $25,000, and many startups also raise money on Indiegogo and Kickstarter.

The publishing equivalent of Y Combinator is a writer’s incubator—real or virtual—where you can raise $25,000 to write a book. The company would receive 10-20 percent of the book’s earnings for this “seed-stage” investment. The publishing equivalent of Indiegogo and Kickstarter is Unbound and Pubslush. All four organizations are interesting plays. So in addition to creating a Y Combinator of publishing, I would look at buying, investing in, or starting an Indiegogo or Kickstarter for books.

8. Beyond writing the best book possible, what do you think is the most important thing for a self-published author to understand and implement to maximize her chances of commercial success?

The most important thing a self-publisher has to understand is that the hard part of publishing a book is marketing it, not writing it. On the day you start writing your book, you should start building a marketing platform, too. I recommend three hours per day writing and one hour per day building a social-media presence. You cannot wait until you finish your book before you start building a marketing platform. Life for a successful author is doing things in a parallel, not serial manner.

Thanks, Guy. Again, the book is APE and it launches today. You can also follow Guy on Twitter at @GuyKawasaki and on Google+.