Review of “APE: How to Publish a Book” By Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch

April 22, 2013

To be as frank and clear as I can, if you’re interesting in self-publishing at all, you must buy APE: How to Publish a Book by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch. No, I have not read every book on self-publishing that exists, but I doubt there are any as good and as thorough as APE, let alone better. 

The book’s authors have enough experience and diversity to know what they’re writing about. Kawasaki has written eleven other books, consults for numerous companies (including many related to publishing and social media), and was a key player at Apple for years. Welch has written three other books (all on iOS), and worked as an editor at Pearson Education. (Disclaimer: Almost all of my books have been published through Pearson, but I don’t think I ever met Mr. Welch).

The premise of the book is simple: when working with traditional publishers, you only have to write the book, and help with some of the marketing. The publisher will edit the book, compose it (lay it out), market it, distribute it, etc. But when you self-publish a book, you’re more than just the writer, you have three roles to fulfill:

  • Author
  • Publisher
  • Entrepreneur

(APE is an anagram for those three roles.)

Not only to do you have to act in all three capacities, you will most likely need to do so simultaneously. From that perspective, over the course of 29 chapters, the book explains what it means to be an author, a publisher, and an entrepreneur.

The author section puts forth the reasons you might want to write a book, what traditional publishing is like, what self-publishing is like, and the role that the ebook format has today. The book also discusses the tools you’ll use (e.g., Microsoft Word) and the writing process itself. That information is most meaningful if you haven’t done much professional writing already.

The publisher section constitutes the bulk of the book and has the most useful information (in my opinion). In simplest terms, this section explains how to create the actual book and how to get it to readers. As easy as that sounds, the devil’s in the details. And there are a lot of details.

For example, one chapter covers how to have your book edited, and another explains all the little things that differentiate the amateur’s book from the professional’s. This includes proper use of punctuation, having an actual copyright page, how to format the layout, and so forth. There were definitely ideas in that chapter that had not crossed my mind. You’ll also learn how to get a professional cover for your book, and what to keep in mind about that cover considering your book will likely never be seen physically in a book store (in other words, cover design is a different issue when focusing on ebooks first).

Then the publisher part goes into creating the book file (the tools you’ll use and the process), getting those files onto various sites (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.), and selling directly to readers. You’ll learn how print on demand works, and what author-services companies can do for you. There’s a discussion of how to price your book, and even how to pursue audio and foreign language versions. Logically, the book provides ample coverage of Amazon and the Kindle format, too.

Again, I really learned the most in the book’s second part. And in some cases, I maybe didn’t learn anything new, or change my mind, but I was presented with concepts worth considering, or validation of what I already thought.

The third part of the book explains how to be an entrepreneur: how to promote and sell your book. The key concepts in that part are:

  • Marketing
  • Creating your brand
  • Using social media
  • Getting your book into the hands of bloggers and reviewers

There’s nothing revolutionary in this section, particularly if you’re savvy with social media, but it’s thorough, and important material.

The two biggest strengths of this book are its thoroughness and its reliance upon research, facts, and hard numbers. The book doesn’t always provide absolute recommendations (although it does sometimes), but it certainly provides enough information for you to make your decisions.

For me, the only negative is that the book is geared towards general audiences: any type of writer. This is as it must be, but the type of technical writing that I do makes some of the suggestions (like relying upon Microsoft Word) less applicable. Still, that’s a minor complaint for an otherwise top-notch guide.

The book is only $16 at Amazon in a print version (nearly 400 pages), and is also available in Kindle format.

As if the book itself wasn’t enough of a find, the corresponding Web site is a masterful resource (and free to everyone.) There you’ll find over 350 links to items also mentioned in the book. Along with those, you’ll find additional resources, like the royalty calculator. Did you know that some self-publishing venues for ebooks charge based upon the ebook’s file size? Neither did I, but the royalty calculator takes that into account for you. There are also a couple good downloads, mostly templates.

Again, if you’re even remotely thinking about self-publishing, you couldn’t do better than read APE: How to Publish a Book. It’s very informative, extremely thorough, professionally researched, and well written.