Call It "Artisanal," And 5 Other Ways To Crush Self-Publishing

When former Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki submitted what he believed was a perfect manuscript to a professional copyeditor, the editor found 1,500 errors. So he knows a thing or two (or 1,500) about how to self-publish the right way. Read on for his tips, including why you'll want to start with a Kindle e-book and forget the blog.

"Let’s stop calling it self-publishing and start calling it artisanal publishing," says Guy Kawasaki, former Apple evangelist and co-author of APE: How to Publish A Book.

"After all, you don’t see shoppers slamming an artisanal baker because her bread wasn’t mass-produced in a factory," he says. "So why should authors who lovingly craft their own books be stigmatized or feel less-than because their books aren’t printed by giant publishers?"

Speaking recently at Publishing University, sponsored by the Independent Book Publishers Association, Kawasaki cited self-publishing’s rich history, including Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and John Audubon’s Birds of America.

Today’s self-publishing opportunities are the best thing that’s happened to writers in quite a while, says Kawasaki, but to be successful the process must be approached with professionalism.

Here are five tips he gave authors wanting to write and publish their own books:

1. Tap the crowd.
Call on friends and social media followers to provide feedback on your manuscript from beginning to end.

"I shared a post on Google+ to find testers for my manuscript," says Kawasaki. "Volunteers received a Word file of the book. More than a hundred files were returned with thousands of suggestions and corrections."

But he advises authors to stagger distribution of manuscripts to volunteers. "Make changes and corrections from the first batch you get back before sending manuscripts to the next group," he says. "Otherwise, you’ll be reviewing the same corrections over and over."

2. Have a professional cover design.
Nothing screams self-published like a weak, amateur cover. "You’ll sell most books online, so your cover needs to be simple and bright," Kawasaki says. "Your book must stand out at postage-stamp size on websites. Make people want to click on it."

Also be sure the cover matches the genre of your book. A children’s book should not look like a business book and vise versa. "Go online and carefully study the covers of other books in your genre," he says.

3. Hire a copyeditor.
"A self-edited author is as foolish as a self-medicated patient," says Kawasaki.

He tells how he and his co-author personally edited the manuscript for APE over and over, then sent copies to friends, family, and followers for their edits. Yet when they finally submitted to a professional copyeditor what Kawasaki felt was a perfect manuscript, the editor found 1,500 errors.

"You can never get too much editing on your manuscript," says Kawasaki.

4. Start with a Kindle e-book.
To begin online selling of your book, Kawasaki recommends starting with a Kindle e-book. "Amazon owns most of the online action," he says. "If your book can’t make it on Amazon, it probably can’t make it elsewhere."

When expanding past Amazon, Kawasaki’s other key choices for e-books are Apple, Barnes & Noble, Google, and Kobo.

Write your book in Microsoft Word, he says, because of its universal application. And use Word’s basic fonts and styles to avoid uploading glitches.

5. Build your marketing platform.
"Start marketing the day you start writing your book, if not before," says Kawasaki. "Position yourself as an expert in your niche."

For marketing yourself and your book, he recommends basic online tools like emails, email newsletters, and websites. But unless an author already has a successful blog, he discourages starting one.

"It’s difficult to maintain the writing pace for a personal blog," he says, "and only a small percentage of people who visit your blog will buy your book." Instead, he suggests becoming a curator of information in your niche and a guest writer on popular blogs that appeal to your potential buyers.

[Sunset Papers: Alex Emanuel Koch via Shutterstock]

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  • Marion Gropen

    All this is worthwhile if you have a book that has commercial potential. Most self-published manuscripts will never sell more than a few dozen copies, no matter what you do to them. But if you have one that has "legs," then all of the above is good advice.

    He forgot the most important one, in my opinion: hire a content editor, before you hire the copy editor. Content editors are the folks who help you sharpen your delivery of whatever it is your readers want from books like yours -- without messing with your intent or your "voice." They should also be able to estimate how many copies your book would have sold if they'd published it in the mainstream house. Divide that number by 4, and, if you have a dynamite marketing plan (email blasts don't count!), you'll probably come close to selling that many copies. This gives you important data.

    Make sure that the content editor has experience in a mainstream house, working on books in your market segment. That matters.

  • Doreen Pendgracs

    This is a good book. I've got a copy and referred to it when I was self-publishing my chocolate travel book. It's so true that you need both a substantive editor as well as a proofreader (copyeditor.)


    The best words for when I'm finishing my second eBook and designing the cover.