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What to Expect When You’re Expressing: APE Delivers [Book Review]

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What do you do when your publisher can’t figure out how to fill an order for a few hundred e-copies of your book? You break up with them and publish the next book yourself.

And once you do that, if you’re Guy Kawasaki, you write another book about what you learned about self-publishing. Especially if you’re Guy Kawasaki, you make it the new gold standard for everything (and I mean everything) you need to know about writing, publishing and selling your book.

APE, which stands for Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur is more than an oddly-named how-to guide. It’s a comprehensive text on the dismal state of old-style publishing, the promising new world of self-publishing and the confusing, often frustrating road from great idea to successful book launch.

If you have children, you will remember the baby book that practically dissolved in your hands from constant use, and this will feel like familiar territory as you tackle your magnum opus.What to Expect When You’re Expressing: APE Delivers [Book Review] image cover1563x25001 187x300

The first bit of the book is part rant and part sorry tale of how traditional publishing has, for decades, stewed in the juices of its own self-importance and gross inefficiencies. If you don’t care, you can jump past this bit. In fact, the authors tell you early on to jump about in the book to the parts that can help you on any given day. But before you rocket out of the second chapter, do check out their links to Slush Pile Hell and So You Want to Write a Novel.

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If you’re new to e-books, fear not! You’ll get a good tour of the platforms and offerings to be found in this new medium, and some great tips on all the equipment and software you’ll need to fire up your writing career. If you and MS Word have not previously agreed on style sheets, Kawasaki and Welch helpfully provide the template they used to format this book. Even if you’re an old pro at the publishing thing, give the Utilities list on page 48 a look for a list of tools that will make you a model of efficiency and fairly boring at parties.

There follows a chapter on the actual mechanics of getting down to writing and being productive about it. If you were expecting a lonely garret and sharing your outline with your Basset Hound, forget about it. Crowd–reviewing is the new way to get feedback:

“After I’ve taken my best shot at an outline, I place a copy on Google Docs and invite a few million close friends
to read it and send me the feedback. “

Interestingly, despite the automated, crowd-sourced, template world in which modern self-publishers exist, the advice for finishing the whole thing up is strictly old school. That’s right: print your final, take it to Starbucks and go at it with a red pen until your fingers bleed or they throw you out for crying in public.

The middle third of the book explains the minutiae of publishing your book. All that stuff those smug old-school publishers do as “value-added” are firmly in your control. Everything from editing to design to indexing is now your problem. Oh dear. Since most of us have exactly zero skills in those departments this book steps in with a rich set of resources to help us get through.

And while there are plenty of detailed assessments of online tools, there is a refreshing acknowledgement that sometimes you just need to pay an expert to do the hard stuff. Like editing:

“… every time I turn in the “final” copy of a book, I believe that it’s perfect. In APE’s case, upward of seventy-five
people reviewed the manuscript, and Shawn and I read it until we were sick of it. Take a wild guess how many
errors our copyeditor found. The answer is 1,300.”

Or design:

“Unless you’re a professional, hire a professional to create a great cover because, in spite of how the old saying
goes, you can judge a book by its cover. Or at very least (sic), people will judge a book by its cover.”

There is a comprehensive chapter on writing for style and clarity: though I doubt it will help a poor writer be a good one, it may remind a good writer to be better.

The next few chapters are all about how books are sold and distributed in the post-publisher age. Kawasaki and Welch take us through all sorts of business models from Kobo to Apple to author services and print-on-demand, with clear pros and cons for each. This is the bit of the book new authors, like terrified new parents, will return to over and over again. It’s well-researched, helpful, accessible and incredibly detailed. It will also be the bit that ages the fastest. There’s a particularly funny bit called Amazon from Cradle to Gratitude near the end of the second section, which illustrates how pervasive this company is to all aspects of writing and publishing.

The final third is about the delicate art of marketing your work, and Kawasaki is an expert at this bit. Which is good, because most publishers, despite their claims to the contrary, are pretty bad at it. The more specialized your subject matter and audience, the less likely your traditional publisher will be to have a clue about how to move copies.

This is a textbook on marketing anything with social media platforms, as it patiently explains infographics, branding, Twitter, online profile photos, etiquette, being nice to bloggers (well someone has to like us) and pretty much everything else you’d need to know.

Bottom Line:
If you have a manuscript you’ve been terrified to do anything about, this is a great book to kick you off. If you are ready to sit down and kick out a book, this is also a great place to start. If you think you might one day like to publish something, wait until you’re a little closer to actually doing it before you buy this book. The detail here is far too great to have a shelf life (is that ironic?) of much more than nine months. The platforms and players are simply too fluid in this space for APE to make much sense without an annual revision.

Title: APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur–How to Publish a Book (ISBN 978-0-9885231-1-1)
It’s $9.95 at Amazon and makes a heck of a Happy New Year gift to yourself.

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