Google Plus may have inadvertently changed publishing forever.
The self-publishing process for Guy Kawasaki's What the Plus? created such a disruption in Kawasaki's life that he wrote his newest book, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur - How to Publish a Book to share all of the lessons that he learned from the process. It's probably one of the most important books in recent memory for aspiring writers or frustrated scribes.
The beauty of APE is that Guy Kawasaki doesn't show people how to self-publish a book. He gives them the tools and insight to publish a good book. Being an occasional reader of printed schizophrenia, I appreciate the distinction.
Not what I expected
I'm skeptical of pretty much everything and I had few expectations of APE going in. I read What the Plus? and appreciated Kawasaki's enthusiasm despite the fact he might have been overstating the case for G+ a little. I enjoyed Enchantment very much, though it left me with the impression that Kawasaki was a rose-colored glasses sort of guy. When I was offered an advance copy of the APE book, I expected a feel-good collection of stories.
When I learned that the topic of the book was self-publishing, my expectations plummeted. After all, how would the guy whose advocacy for the concept of "enchantment" tackle self-publishing? Would he write a book of affirmations about self-publishing and tenacity, maybe including an inspiring story about how some ambitious blogger compiled all of her posts into a best-selling book (which is a colossally bad idea by the way). APE could have been a rah-rah book to further the blogosphere's self-esteem movement. But thankfully this isn't THAT book. Quite the contrary, actually.
It turns out Guy Kawasaki is a pragmatist. Not only that, he's willing to call you out on your stuff. You may want to write a published book for profit, esteem or to prestige - and G.K. writes about how ill-conceived those motivations are. An affirmation by a publishing house isn't necessary if you have a message that people need to hear. And self-publishing gives authors agility and freedom that traditional publishers cannot mimic.
He is brutally honest about the corporate publishing process, and uses author-publisher-entrepreneur as a framework to describe (in astonishing detail) the painstaking work that must be done to bring a big idea to fruition. You need an editor. You need a copy-editor You need a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style. Not only did I learn an extraordinary amount about publishing and writing, but as a begrudging reader of haphazardly conceived books I frequently nodded "Amen."
And if you still doubt G.K.'s pragmatism, he even advises using Microsoft Word to write your manuscript. Quite an admission from the former Chief Evangelist for Apple.
Why APE is important
There are a few authors that I would drop everything to read. Some that come to mind: Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink, Dan Ariely, Sally Hogshead, Jeffrey Gitomer, and Robin Thornton.
You may or may not know Robin Thornton. She's a frequent contributor to this site and is one of the people whose writing I look forward to each month (for a quick primer read "How to Do Business With a Woman (If You are a Guy)" or her end-of-year "Unwish List.") She's a brilliant writer who has "it." I don't know exactly what "it" is - but if she was writing an interpretation of the phone book, I'm pretty sure that she would make it compelling. If she wrote a book you would love it. So would I.
Many years ago I dated a brilliant writer. She was later revealed to be a pretty wretched person (subjectively speaking, of course), but she had a gift for taking seemingly mundane observations and turning them into the most thoughtful, mind-blowing narratives you've ever read. She should have been revered, and I say that as someone who still thoroghly dislikes her. Many years later she writes banal, uninspired essays that get published from time to time on the internet - a far cry from her most brilliant work.
I thought often about Robin and of the atrophied brilliant as I was reading APE. There are people out there who have interesting and insightful things to share, but because of the traditional publishing machinery never try. When I think of how excited I get to read books by authors like Ellen Bremen, Ted Rubin, and Crystal Washington, I can't help but wonder how exciting it would be to have an outlet for other people to create "artisanal" books of similar quality and substance (subliminal message to Robin Thornton). I also can't help but think about how many valuable ideas and insights go to waste because of the reliance on traditional publishers to validate long-form content.
Maybe I'm the one wearing rose-colored glasses, but Guy Kawasaki's Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur made me realize how accessible the technology for self-publishing is. As someone who publishes short-form essays by Beth McShane, Erin Feldman, Margie Clayman and Pete Trapasso every month, the thought that they could elaborate their insights for mass-consumption is pretty special.
APE may not change the world. But it's honest, it's inspiring and it's accessible. If the world were a meritocracy, it would be Guy Kawasaki's best selling book and it would spawn a litany of great books written by people who otherwise would have never considered writing them.