Sunday, March 17, 2013

Review: APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur

If you are thinking of writing and publishing your own book, stop right now. Go online and buy Guy Kawasaki's and Shawn Welch's new book, "APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur -- How to Publish a Book".

After reading Guy's book, I've learned that the process of writing and publishing is far harder and more complicated than I had ever imagined. At the same time, I am grateful to Guy for letting me know what is in front of me and how to make my journey as an author easier, more productive and potentially more successful. 

Guy has convinced me that self-publishing, or "Artisanal Publishing" as he calls it, is the smartest way to go in this digital age. Traditional publishers are still operating the old fashioned way, acting as gatekeepers and drastically slowing down the publishing process. They do bring a lot to the party: editing, designing, printing, and distributing. But from what I gather from APE and from my author friends, the established publishers really fall down when it comes to marketing today.

As a writer, business owner and consultant who has worked with entrepreneurs for 20 years, the entrepreneurial orientation of APE particularly appealed to me. If you are a person who doesn't want to wait for a secret empire like the traditional publishers to decide your fate, then APE should appeal to you. 

APE empowers the reader/author by breaking down the process of producing a book:
  • Author -- how to write and edit a book well, complete with tips on how to set things up on your computer from the get-go to make the process easier later, how to get people to help you edit and how to hire professionals to help even more.
  • Publisher -- how to design, print, e-publish and distribute a book using the myriad services that are out there to help you. Again, Guy gives you a huge list of the programs, professionals and services that you can use.
  • Entrepreneur -- how to use entrepreneurial or guerrilla marketing to let the your audience know your book exists and then to cajole them into buying it. (I really like that Guy calls this part "Entrepreneur", rather than selling or marketing, as it appeals to my entrepreneurial spirit.)
Following Guy's advice, I read through the entire book quickly. Now, I'm going to go back and use it as a reference manual as I make my way through the nitty gritty of book creation. Since I'm co-writing my book, I'm going to share what I learned with my co-writer.

Guy Kawasaki                                                              Shawn Welch

Got a book in your brain? Get APE, and get going writing. Available on Amazon. (You'll learn why when you read the book.)

Monday, March 11, 2013

Review: The $100 Startup

The title is what made me want to read the book: THE $100 STARTUP - Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future. Author Chris Guillebeau has made a living himself by starting one business after another while traveling the world. He wondered how many other people had created microbusinesses, using a modest investment, typically no more than $100 to get started, to earn $50,000 or more (the average income in the U.S.). He set out to discover these people and tell their stories and the reasons for their success. 

Guillebeau interviewed 1,500 such entrepreneurs and turned the results of his research into his book. The $100 Startup focuses on 50 case studies. The stories are brief, and Guillebeau writes in an easy style that I could read and digest quickly. His book is definitely not a textbook, yet it contains many of the principles that I was taught in business school and also throughout my career:
  • Create value
  • Fill a need
  • Offer a real benefit -- not just features
  • Know who your audience is
Like me, the author is a huge fan of microbusinesses. He tells good stories about them and gives tips on what it takes to make them successful. The stories, however, never get very deep. While the premise of his book is to follow your passion and turn it into a business, he gives the reader the practical advice on how to do that and make money at the same time.

The irony of the book is that it starts with the example of a person laid off from a job starting a mattress-selling business. Given the deals that man had to swing to start the business, I sincerely doubt it was started for $100 or less. My other problem with the book is the funny quote that begins Chapter 2: "Catch a man a fish, and you can sell it to him. Teach a man to fish, and you ruin a wonderful business opportunity." Guillebeau attributes the quote to Karl Marx. I've read Karl Marx, and he did not write that way. (No one wrote that way in 1848, the date The Communist Manifesto was published. Marx's other book,  Capital, was written in 1867–1894.) I tried searching for the quote and discovered that some people attribute it to Groucho Marx, which makes more sense. Anyway, this made me wonder about the fact-checking behind the $100 Startup.  

Those caveats aside, I really enjoyed The $100 Startup. And having worked with hundreds of passionate entrepreneurs myself, I know how hard it is to take that leap of faith, turn the personal passion into a business and then monetize the idea well enough to make a living. Guillebeau has done this himself and has 50 examples of others who've done it, too. If you have a passion and want to try being an entrepreneur, The $100 Startup is worth reading.

Friday, March 8, 2013

I'm One of the 61%

I'm one of the 61% of the Facebook users who have taken a sabbatical. It all started about a year ago when I took a vacation with no internet access. Despite the fact that I had glorious photos of tropical sunsets and hardened lava fields by the sea, I suddenly had no desire to fire up Facebook and share them. The week away from going online made me realize what a time-sink Facebook had become. Sure, I missed interacting with my cousins and friends who lived far away, but I had a ton of work to do, and Facebook fell by the wayside.

I took it back up again for awhile in the late fall after reconnecting in person with my far-flung cousins. But dropped out one more time after reading, yet again, how Facebook would be sharing more of my life with advertisers. I also abhorred the new Timeline.

Now that I've heard the latest news about Facebook's face-lift (aka latest redesign), I may drop out completely. Fully 20% of Facebook's users have dropped out, erasing their profiles completely.

Today (March 8, 2013), I read in The New York Times that: "Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s co-founder and chief executive, said at a news conference that he wanted Facebook to be “the best personalized newspaper in the world.” And like a newspaper editor, he wants the “front page” of Facebook to be more engaging — in particular on the smaller screens of mobile devices."

If I want a newspaper, I'm going to read the New York Times. If I want big pictures, videos and information about celebrities, artists or authors to appear on my "front page", then I'm going to use a personalized Yahoo! Ironically, I dropped Yahoo! as my starting homepage when it got too cheesy, frivolous and ad-oriented. (And Marissa Mayer hasn't improved it much.) If I want to watch video ads, I'm going to watch TV or YouTube. That is not why I used Facebook.

Furthermore, I've been reading that professional sites (like the ones many entrepreneurs and authors have) only get shown to all their friends/fans if they pay for advertising. Facebook denies this, but I've heard the complaint one too many times. (See New York Times, March 7)

As far as I'm concerned, Zuck is ruining his baby. He's turned this really cool, fun way to interact with friends and family and into a blatant commercial venture designed to send me more ads. (It's like taking a pretty girl and making her up for a kiddie beauty pageant.) That's not my idea of a social network. Zuck's original idea was to create a place that was exclusive. You could only connect with people who invited you. That's what set it apart from MySpace. That was the thing that separated his idea from the one the Winklevosses thought of. That feeling will is now be all gone.

Usually, it take professional management to destroy a great entrepreneurial vision. This time, I believe the founder is doing it all by himself.