Self-Publishing Reality Check: You're No Guy

Am I the only one who finds Guy Kawasaki’s success with APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur—How to Publish a Book a little depressing?

Before I get into this too deeply, I should probably do a little disclaiming. He seems like a really nice guy. I talked to him once at the height of the Author Solutions Jared Silverstone scandal. And, for what you can tell about a person in a 5-minute phone conversation, he seemed nice. Smart and nice.

But that’s just it. I know a lot of smart and nice self-publishing authors who will never have even one iota the success Kawasaki’s had. That reality should be a bit deflating for you people out there planning to self-publish. I mean, it’s not his success per se that’s deflating. It’s the comparison. The knowing that you will almost certainly never see anything even remotely like it.

When Kawasaki’s book was released on January 7, 2013—and for a couple of weeks thereafter—the internet went APEshit. (That joke’s been made already, hasn’t it?) My Google Alert for “self-publishing” was all Kawasaki, all the time*. Review links were popping up everywhere on my LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook timelines and in my Google Reader feed. Hell, even as far back as October 2012, the man had people lining up to fill out a form just for a chance to be one of APE‘s beta readers.

By the way, he had such a large pool of beta readers to choose from that he was able to treat his solicitation for volunteers like a job posting:

“A background in writing and publishing is helpful. Looking for any kind of comments such as copyedits, content, facts, style, etc. OCD is highly desirable.”

He had so many volunteers that he was able to turn people away.

In contrast, the self-publishers I know are sometimes reduced to begging for beta readers, and the ones they get typically have little to no real experience in copyediting or fact checking. They’re usually moms and friends and writing group buddies. Those beta readers are appreciated; don’t get me wrong. But there’s no denying the potential discrepancy in skill sets.

APE wasn’t the first project for which Kawasaki had asked for beta readers. That was What the Plus! At the time, he had asked 1,100,000 of his “closest friends on Google+” to volunteer, and 241 people signed on in just 24 hours. He reported after the fact:

“I sent the Word file manuscript to all of them. Approximately 100 returned the file with comments within a week. Not counting duplicates, this is what they found: 147 grammatical and spelling mistakes, 27 factual errors.”

Kawasaki did send the book on to a copyeditor after that, but think for a moment how much valuable feedback he got (for free!) and how quickly he got it back. If that’s not impressive enough for you, chew on this: Kawasaki figured he’d gained somewhere between 100 and 240 evangelists for What the Plus! in the process.

And here we are weeks after the release of APE. People are still writing about Kawasaki and the book. Diane Brady introduced him this way yesterday on Bloomberg Businessweek:

“Every wannabe pundit knows the drill: Do something cool, preferably in Silicon Valley or against all odds; talk and write about what you learned everywhere you can; build a following; then get a book deal. That’s what Guy Kawasaki did, converting his four-year stint as Apple (AAPL)’s chief evangelist into a 1989 book on guerrilla marketing called The Macintosh Way. Kawasaki has since produced 11 more books and established himself as a marketing guru and venture capitalist. With 1.2 million Twitter followers and a popular blog, he’s a brand.”

And I think that sums it up, doesn’t it? Guy is his own brand—and he has been for a couple of decades now.

I’m not saying the man didn’t work hard to get there. I’m not saying success on that scale can’t happen to anyone ever again. And I’m not saying that self-publishing is a worthless endeavor for non-celebrities.

I’m just saying…you’re no Guy.


*Ten arbitrary points to the first person who can tell me the second name on the book without looking.

Photo credit: Kawasaki

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