12 December 2012

Review: APE: How to Publish a Book

The Book: APE: How To Publish A Book by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch

Price: £6.42

Review Category: Bought after it popped up in my newsfeed.

The Blurb: In 2011 the publisher of one of my books, Enchantment, could not fill an order for 500 ebook copies of the book. 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, a tech wizard, I wrote APE to help people take control of their writing careers. APE's thesis is powerful yet simple: filling the roles of Author, Publisher and Entrepreneur yields results that rival traditional publishing. We call this "artisanal publishing"--that is, when writers who love their craft control the publishing process and produce high-quality books.

APE is 300 pages of step-by-step, tactical advice and practical inspiration. If you want a hype-filled, get-rich-quick book, you should look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you want a comprehensive and realistic guide to self-publishing, APE is the answer.

Preview Available: Amazon's usual "Look Inside" deal.

Would I buy this (again)? : Absolutely

The Product: A fine example of artisanal publishing ;)

The Nitty Gritty: I bought Kawasaki and Welch's "How To" guide because I needed some advice about how to upgrade my woeful marketing skills. The book has definitely helped me and, for no extra cost, has shown me everything a "How To" guide ought to be.

After labouring over being an author and a publisher with novels and role-playing games I have evolved my own approach to the titular A (Author) and P (Publisher). So being given tips on "How To" by the authors lead me into situations where I felt vindicated and situations where I point blank disagreed with the advice given.

The book is formatted to within an inch of its life with a swish font, nice use of drop caps, stylish bullet lists. This book has had time and attention lavished upon it in terms of making it a product.

The prescription for doing this is that it will drive people nuts if you don't. This is because the display will go wappy on certain devices and you will know nothing about it as you only previewed it on your e-reader and the e-reader of a close personal friend. People will view your completed tome on all manner of inappropriate devices and you need to make sure that you have as much control as possible over the way it will display.

I permitted myself a smirk as I read this advice off the screen of my Galaxy Ace, which rendered all the wise words of quoted sources in thin columns about five characters wide. The fact is that fancy formatting is always going to break something somewhere, so I have always adopted a formatting lite approach to my books. I commit the sin (according to APE) of marking dialogue with "dumb" quotes because in some places "smart" quotes render as little diamonds with query marks embedded in them or hollow rectangles of character doom.

My approach to the smoothest possible read is to make the typography as unfussy as possible while still rendering it readable. Indented paragraphs, font sizes, italics, and ASCII characters only need apply. This is possibly because I write fiction and to me the words are the medium in which the story is contained. If people are reading Chicago Shadows thinking: Hey, I like the way he's starting each section with a weighty drop cap! then, dear reader, I have invoked the wrath of the fail whale.

If I was writing a text book maybe I would need some advanced typographical-fu. I know that in the case of the RPGs I wrestled long and hard with LibreOffice and its PDF exporter. So, the advice to publishers is largely dictated by the needs of the text being published. In other words: sometimes it's different strokes for different folks.

In addition the overview of being an author runs you through the process of deciding whether you should even write a book that did cause my eyebrows to raise. After all, if you didn't even know that you definitely should write a book then why would you pick up a guide telling you how to publish one? Circular, indeed.

I have to confess that I didn't read the Author section in any great depth. It is too late for me. Maybe this volume will help to save a few but I have my corner of Hell pre-booked and warming nicely.

Where APE came into its own for me was in the 'E' section, which stands for Entrepreneur. Essentially I have spent a long time learning to write a book and a long time learning to publish a book but I have, to date, spent no time learning how to market a book.

I am 100% positive that a marketing expert would tell me I didn't necessarily "need" to follow all of Kawasaki and Welch's advice in the Entrepreneur section, much as I would advise authors and publishers that they didn't need some of the advice in the other sections. But the point is I don't have a handy marketing expert to advise me and having a concrete list of things to do is already a great comfort.

Don't get me wrong, the authors have managed to break the bad news to me that the release of Chicago Shadows 1-3 has been handled "wrong". I have missed out several things I "should" have done prior to release. What is comforting is the fact that I now know this stuff even if I didn't before I released my heart-pounding gritty cop thriller trilogy. Following up on the tips that I can in APE means I am one step closer to being able to tell people about my books properly in future.

So, if you know all this stuff and are reading APE to feel vindicated you may find that you're not always in agreement with Kawasaki and Welch. If, on the other hand, you are clueless about any of it then APE will give you a good solid wedge of practical advice that will support you through the production of your own self-published marvel. That is all anyone can really ask of a solid "How To" guide.

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