In 2011 the publisher of my book, “Enchantment,” could not fill an order for 500 e-book copies. It was a New York Times bestseller.
Because of this experience, I self-published my next book, “What the Plus!” and learned first-hand that self-publishing is a complex, confusing and idiosyncratic process. As Steve Jobs said, “There must be a better way.”
With Shawn Welch, I wrote “APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneurship – How to Publish a Book” to help people take control of their writing careers by publishing their books. The thesis of “APE” is simple: A successful self-publisher must fill three roles: Author, Publisher, and Entrepreneur. We call this “artisanal publishing.”
Entrepreneurship is the most neglected and hardest of APE’s three roles because it involves marketing and sales — these are foreign concepts to some authors and despised by the rest. These six tips from “APE” will help authors understand the process of becoming an entrepreneur with their book.
1. Understand that being a writer doesn’t stop with writing
Entrepreneurs must create a product, test it, raise money, recruit talent, find customers and launch their products. Writers have to do the same things. A traditionally published author may get a large advance and teams of people — just as proven entrepreneurs have a much easier time starting a company. But for most authors, the writing life is an entrepreneurial life with all the trials, tribulations and rewards of entrepreneurs.
2. Treat your book like a business
Set a budget and plan for your book. A rough estimate for self-publishing a 300-page, 60,000-word manuscript is approximately $4,000. (Content editing 15 hours at $60 per hour = $900; copyediting 30 hours at $35 per hour = $1,050; layout and production 10 hours at $100 per hour = $1,000; cover design = $1,000, buying ISBNs (a unique tracking number for your book) is approximately $250).
Let’s assume that you sell your book for $2.99 on Amazon’s Kindle service. You’ll make $2 per copy. So as an entrepreneur, do you think you can sell 2,000 copies to break even? If you don’t, then you either reduce your costs by doing more yourself, barter for services or give up. But no one ever wrote a bestseller by giving up.
3. Own a niche and let go of niches you can’t
Pick a niche that you love and focus on it. The National Living Treasures of Japan provide good examples. The Japanese Ministry of Education has designated these people as artistic and cultural treasures because they have mastered skills such as paper-making, ceramics and metalworking. Watch the YouTube video of swordmaker Gassan Sadaichi to appreciate what it means to own a niche.
Owning a niche takes lots of energy. Owning every niche takes infinite energy. You don’t have infinite energy. If you want to own a niche, then give up the ones that you can’t own or don’t care about. It’s better to be own one niche than dabble in several.
4. Build your platform with social media
In the old days, authors used the platforms of their publishers. Indeed, this remains one of the reasons to seek a traditional publisher, although I’ve never met an author who was happy with the marketing efforts of his publisher. Luckily, social media is fast, free, ubiquitous, and the best way to build a platform.
However, the process of building a platform with social media takes six to twelve months — the same amount of time it takes to finish a book — but you cannot start the process after your book is done. If you don’t have a platform yet, you need to start building one as you are writing your book. I suggest focusing on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter to start.
For more tips for on using social media, check out this previous story I wrote for MediaShift.
5. Watch and learn
You can learn a skill by watching and copying people who are good at it. This takes the humility to admit that you can learn from others and the open-mindedness to embrace their techniques. Few people seem willing or able to do this — for example, millions of people watched Steve Jobs introduce new products, and yet they still suck at the process.
So watch what successful authors do to develop a platform and introduce their books. I don’t mean the traditionally published authors who get the multimillion-dollar advances, but the self-published ones who have bootstrapped their own success such as Darcie Chan, Theresa Ragan, Penelope Trunk, and James Altucher.
6. Pay your dues
When people ask how long it takes to write a book, my answer is “30 years” because that’s how long ago I started my career. While it may take six to twelve months of work at a keyboard to write a book, the accumulation of knowledge and understanding is the harder and more time-consuming part. Think of this as the time when you’re developing a vision for your book. Then you have to write it. And then comes the hardest part: marketing it.
The bottom line is that authors need to think of their book as a business — one that generates revenues and costs. It’s also one that the world doesn’t owe you success and sales. If you embrace the perspective of an entrepreneur with a new product, you’ll be on the right track to success as a writer.
Guy Kawasaki is the co-author of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book, which explains self-publishing, and has written eleven other books, including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller Enchantment. Previously, he was the chief evangelist of Apple. Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University, an MBA from UCLA, and an honorary doctorate from Babson College.