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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

Self-Publishing from a Rich Ex-Guru: Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki has just self-published a book on self publishing. It has some good advice, about all the advice that you can already find from hugely varying sources, without much effort. Why is Guy’s book significant? Because he’s Guy Kawasaki.

If you don’t know Kawasaki, you probably aren’t particularly tapped into the computer/digital world. He made a name for himself as the “resident guru” to Apple Computer (before it had changed its name simply to “Apple” –– maybe that was one of Guy’s suggestions). He’s highly intelligent, personable, extremely generous with his experience and thus-ly acquired wisdom, and is a funny man, to boot.

About a year ago I read a similar article about Kawasaki’s self-publishing venture. He gave a long list of helpful hints for self-pubbers. But within these hints was also a hurdle. It was almost a caveat: to be successful in your book-marketing campaign, you should expect to pay around $10,000 to really get the word, your name, and the book’s title/cover art out to book buys. Of course, even shelling out money doesn’t mean you’ll sell more than a handful of books.

Unless, of course, your name is Guy Kawasaki.

There’s a new article about Guy on Forbes, and through the Cliffnotes highlights, I could see that Guy is capitalizing on his name and self-pubbing success. The hints, tips, and hard-edged advice are all there. Just what every writer who’s considered self-pubbing should consider before writing another word.

I had to respond:

While I appreciate Guy and Shawn’s advice, they (or at least, Guy) already has a name, and a reputation. Whereas 99% of people now writing (fiction or non-fiction) and are contemplating self-pubbing don’t have a name, reputation, or a track record behind them. Nor do they have the money to do as Guy suggests in order to “get the word out”. I read his early foray into successful self-pubbing (about a year ago?) and, basically, he said it takes a good $10,000+ to do a book up right vis-a-vis marketing plan (the number could be even higher). Now, for Guy to suggest that a no-name writer without a track record, no matter how good a book is, can get traction by simply throwing money around, is hardly helpful advice.

In fact, one of the best things a writer can still do in this mass-digital environment (with all its distractions) is to get a book reviewed. BUT… reviewers DO NOTICE THE PUBLISHING COMPANY, regardless that book buyers may not. And if the book is not from a big-name pub, and the author doesn’t have a name, the book will not be reviewed in the mainstream press.

My small press publisher (Siren & Muse) did all it could for me and my second novel (WHAT BEAUTY), as I did all I could for my own book: we put together galley letters, sent out multiple press releases (and follow-ups), sent ARCs to 45 review sites/newspapers/magazines. The result: Not one of them reviewed the book. But week in and week out, they all reviewed the same five or six books that had just come out that month—from the same 5-6 big-time publishers. Can anyone say “payoff!”?? Meanwhile, reader reviews across the different sales platforms have likened my book to “reading a classic” and other extremely flattering comments.

I absolutely agree with Guy and Shawn that self-pubbers must take their career into their own hands. That means they need to become professional book marketers as well as continue to write books. Fortunately, for the good authors writing quality books, we will not let adversity dissuade us from continuing what we’ve been working on for 10, 20, or sometimes 30 years.

Thanks for a good article.

My lament is not a bitter one. It’s merely, and lightly burned around the edges with, experience. I continue to market my book(s) and am always seeing good numbers come through the sales each month. I’d love for those to be higher. And by good, I mean … more than a handful.

Hey … where are all the readers!?



What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

Are We Still Trying to Answer the Question “To Self-Publish or Wait for the Book Contract?” …?

Have you ever asked yourself the question “Is this guy a good doctor?” while standing in the examination room looking at his framed credentials on the wall? This is the sort of question a writer needs to ask of any potential agent, publisher, or reviewer. The answers cannot be found in the doctor’s framed diplomas any more than on the agents’ client list or the fancy thumbnails you see scrolling across the publishers’ website banners. And as for the reviewers, just read what they’ve written to see if they have the ability to critique a book.

If you’ve come to the conclusion that some list of agents you’ve created through research can help you make it big, or on another list of publishers that would be perfect for your book and career, then please stop reading this so you can go polish that query letter, proofread your MS, and set the egg timer to 4-8 months as you wait for their reply. You’ve got work to do … and wasting time reading a blog post is only going to make your life that much more anxiety-filled.

However, if you’ve just finished the umpteenth draft of your third novel and polished its prose like the fender of a ’64 Corvette, and you’re not sure about sending out another round of 50 query letters to agents and publishers that haven’t responded (or have flatly declined to read your work), then please, you have a few minutes to spare before getting back to the new project.

My advice is this: Publish Now, Perish Later

If you DO NOT HAVE a living-breathing contact in publishing, and that contact is willing to vouch for you and your book and your future books, then traditional publishing might not be the route you need to take at this point in your career. The reasons are many, but a few are clear: writing query letters is as much a craft as writing a novel; researching the agents and publishers whom you can contact directly (and sending out letters) is nearly a full-time job; and then there is the waiting — weeks, months, sometimes half a year. Meanwhile, you’re MS sits in limbo, your mind might be swirling with anticipation that work on the next book is hampered. Meanwhile, you’re potential readers are scouring the bookstore shelves and online retailers for that next great read — but they won’t find yours among the stacks or thumbnails.

Then you sit some more, collecting rejection slips to fill a fold or tape to the wall because you “won’t let these bring me down!” … and there in the slush-pile of rejections jumps out the odd “yeah, sure! send in your manuscript!” after a 3-month wait, only to be asked to wait another 3-to-6 months for another response. Ouch! Life is short, and so is the attention span of editors.

Hey, I could be wrong. New writers get contracts every day; not good contracts anymore (in the ’80s, $30,000 advanced were par for the course; today, unknowns get $2,000). If you’re already an Indie sensation — with a certified-copy of 100K sales — you’ll be courted by a NY house. This is today’s publishing environment, and the faster you understand that and get used to it, the better you’ll realize that today is the day you need to known everything, and tomorrow you need to know more.

Hell, if Knopf called me today with a publishing and distribution contract for my two already-published novels (they’re out there, in view for any Knopf talent-spotter to see and realize a hot property sits among the chaff), I’d probably sign it, take the money and run, earn more coin on the commission, and buy myself a small cottage in the south of France where I can write, raise dachshunds with my wife, and eat cheese and drink wine. Believe me when I tell you, I’m not holding my breath for this call.

If, on the other hand, you feel your book is ready for readers to open the cover and accept you as a writer and your work as authorial, self-publishing is a good start and perhaps the best road for your fledgling career. There are several platforms available, and each is nearly stupid-proof, only with their own brand of learning curve to see a clear path to successfully getting your book into the hands of at least a few readers. Amazon’s printing partner, Createspace, does a fine job, and Amazon lists your book in six countries — immediately. That’s pretty good distribution, by any measure.

The biggest task for you, as a writer, is to hire a line & story editor, unless you already have trusted editorial help in your pocket. And then you must design the book cover and interior. Neither is particularly difficult, but you’d do well, also, to hire a professional designer for that task — a good cover makes all the difference; there is such crap out there that self-designed covers can be spotted at a thumbnail’s size from across the room on a darkened video screen.

So, then, to recap: if you have an agent and/or publisher on the hook, try to reel them in. But if you have a marketable book (the genre makes little difference) and some book-promo savvy (or the potential to learn), then study the POD platform providers and see if you, too, should throw your spine into the ring.


What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

Both books are published by Siren & Muse Publishing, a small-press dedicated to keeping “the book” alive. I’ve got the contract to prove it, and we use Amazon to distribute my books (my choice) because I have the means to move product worldwide.

45 ARCs sent out — 0 Reviews returned

Sending out ARCs (advanced review copies) of your new novel to reviewers takes an investment in research, promotional writing, time, and money. Promoting my book is important, as it should be with any author, well-known or starting out. And while social-media promotions — Twitter, FB, GoodReads, blogging and the like — are the new flavor in book ad/marketing, these venues reach thousands whereas mainstream newspapers and magazines reach millions.

At least, that’s what they do for the selected books/authors. But a funny thing happened to me on the way to the forum …

While awaiting notice from my publisher, Siren & Muse, of incoming tear sheets sent by journalists to publishers of a forthcoming review publication, I noticed something on the websites and in the print editions of these review outlets: there is a pattern of who and what gets reviewed.

I compiled a list of the publishers and the authors who were reviewed in the two months leading up to the release of my own novel, “What Beauty” and the three weeks since its release. What I found was that 95% of the reviewed authors were published by the big NY houses, including W.W. Norton, Knopf, Random House, FSG, Penguin, Picador, and Doubleday, to name a few. And the authors’ names were on that same percentage of high-profile, or powerhouse, or at least higher-than-mid-list names who have several books behind them and lots of publishing clout. The other names, and the 5% of non-major publishers, were featured as local authors who’d published a novel with a local angle/tie-in (Seattle, Houston, Cleveland).

And me? This is my second novel, and I publish with a small-press out of Chicago whom I actively assist in promotional writing, ad work, and industry research. My work with them is as much about being my own best marketing manager as much as helping Siren & Muse Publishing get their name out to readers and establish a reputation for publishing quality books. You see, I’m not the only writer in their “stable.” I wish they had the budget to do more for their writers, but I’m doing lots for myself, too.

As I mentioned, 45 copies went out to newspapers and magazines from East coast to West coast, Minneapolis to Miami, and numerous points in between. We did the right things: an advanced press release, a well-written galley letter, good and timely follow-up work. I never expected all 45 reviewers to read and review my book, much less embrace it as “a modern classic.” But I hoped for something auspicious and perhaps 5 reviews. “That would be a good number!” I told myself. My excitement, as you might imagine, was like something worked into my skin, a heat, a tan, a hot-tub soak in melted chocolate.

This excitement turned to confusion, and then disappointment. No one reviewed my novel. Not one of the 45 newspapers and magazines gave it the time it deserved. What’s more, Siren & Muse promotional manager, Bert Wells, told me he hadn’t received any responses from the three separate letters sent to each of the reviewers (the first press release, the galley letter insert to the ARC, and the follow-up press release during “release week”). Hmm.

Was my book that bad?

Of course not. My book isn’t “bad” at all. It’s a good novel, a story told with flair, wit, passion, and compassion for its characters. A story about love, about art, about urban life and the struggle for acceptance and recognition in the modern world. Essentially, a book that is familiar to us all but unique, timely, and relative — something readers would want to read.

All good promotional copy, right? I think so; and if the reviewers had opened the book — which I’m not sure they did — I would have got one or two reviews. Right? Well, maybe WRONG is the answer. Of course, if I had sent out 10 copies to the best, most highly rated and, thus, highly competitive review outlets (NYT, NYRB, USA Today, and Washington Post Book World) then I would not, and could not, be surprised that my novel was passed up for the likes of reviewing Richard Ford’s new novel, or Toni Morrison’s, or even “Fifty Shades of Grey.” [Oi!]

Getting no reviews from 45 ARCs leads me to believe something far different. Not something nefarious, but systematic — and symptomatic — nonetheless: small presses are pushed aside by the big-money advertisers in the body of NY Houses; and if you don’t have a name (or the houses haven’t given you your name), reviewers are shy to touch you.

The result is this: Life Goes On. I’m disappointed, but not defeated. And I’m about to start writing my next novel, for which I’ve been writing scenes and “Notes & Dialogue & Characters” for nearly six months. This is what we writers do. Likewise, I can take comfort in this: Nobel Prize-winning author Saul Bellow sold just 1,506 copies of his first novel, “Dangling Man” and 2,257 copies of his second novel, “The Victim.”

We all start somewhere, and must rise by our own merits. It’s time to write another book … and do more promo work for “What Beauty.”

Keep on writing!


What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.