Notes from Democratization of Publishing: Survive & Thrive

Democratization of Publishing: Survive & Thrive
Aaron Rubenson, Director Amazon Appstore for Android, Amazon
John Densmore, Artist, @JohnDensmore
Libby Johnson Mckee, North America Director, Kindle Direct Publishing, @libbyjm3415
Steve Carpenter, author, creator of Grimm series on NBC, @GrimmStephen
Guy Kawasaki, @GuyKawasaki


·      LJM: All of these guests have had the opportunity to traditionally publish and chose to self-publish.
·      John Densmore
o   Had 6 figure deal from major publisher
o   Kept getting requests “more stories about Jim Morrison”, “we don’t like the title”.
§  They wanted “The Doors: The Inside Story”
o   Realized my baby was going to be morphed into something I didn’t want.
·      Steve Carpenter
o   Very similar story to John.
o   Wanted creative control.
o   No bar to entry.
o   I just had to figure out how to upload the book, and then I was published.
o   It was up to me to sink or swim.
o   After waiting 4 to 6 weeks just to get a phone call returned, I realized I would have to wait a year or more to see it in print.
o   And also realized I’d have to pay an agent 15%, which is more than the 10% I pay for movie agent.
o   So I decided to do it on a lark.
o   The first reviews all mentioned the lousy formatting. So I unpublished the book, hired a real person to reformat it.
o   Then the reviews mentioned they didn’t like the ending. So I unpublished it, rewrote the ending, and published it again.
o   I’d rather hear from thousand of people who paid money to read the book than to hear from one person to whom I am paying money.
·      Guy Kawasaki
o   I’ve published a lot of books, so I have more creative control.
o   But the speed of publishing: it’s less than 24 hours with KDP. With a traditional publisher, even the fastest is at least six months, and they lock the print and ebook together.
o   The royalties are great: If I had a $10 book, I make $7 with KDP, and I’d make maybe $1 traditionally published. That’s 7 times the revenue.
·      Rubenson:
o   Apps grew up in the a world that was self-publishing from the beginning.
o   There’s so many self-service options out there, which one to choose from? There are many different stores.
o   The challenge is where to publish and how to get discovered.
·      Q: This shift happening in publishing, where if everyone publishes, then there is so much out there. How do you stand out in a crowd? Is this a problem?
o   Guy:
§  You shouldn’t have gates up. If I have a choice between 6 large companies in NY picking what people can read and everyone can pick forthemselves, I would choose that everyone picks.
§  It doesn’t matter now who the publisher is. The proxy for quality isn’t the publisher, it’s the number of stars on the revenues.
§  Spend $1,000 and get a professional cover.
·      You have about a second to make people click.
o   Carpenter:
§  I struggled with this for a while.
§  Went to a panel this morning, speaker said: “The good news is that it’s a meritocracy. Be awesome.”
§  The tools for being discovered are way better now than four years ago.
§  Get into KDP Select. “Think like a drug dealer. Give away the stuff for free.”
o   Densmore:
§  Thanks to technology, everyone can make their own music, movie, book.
§  I hired –someone- to do my cover. The cover is hot. So hot that publishers are coming back to talk to me.
o   Carpenter: Made a tabletop display. Cost me $300. I put them in a friend’s coffeeshop, go into bookstores and put them into the books there.
·      Q: There’s a lot of conversation about how authors have to build their platform. But authors ask “How do I do that?” What are your platforms?
o   Guy:
§  Platform is the sum total of the number of people in the world who have heard of you.
§  Start today. It takes 6 to 9 months to build a platform.
§  Use the NPR model.
·      They make great content 365 days a year.
·      They have a telethon to raise money once a year.
·      They have earned the right to bother us during the telethon because they’ve shared such great stuff all year long.
§  As an author, you must share great content on a subject. You are establishing credibility and expertise in a given area.
o   Carpenter:
§  I asked my 16 year old son how to tweet.
·      He said “Just pretend you have a cool life.”
o   Rubenson:
§  The tools are often the same for app developers.
§  Developers spend a ton of effort to use one app to build the platform for future apps: by cross-merchandising other apps, by selling stuff within the next.
·      Their goal is to get to 100% adoption of their next app from the current app users.
o   Densmore:
§  I had to ask my son to turn on the television there were so many buttons. Now I tweet and use facebook.
§  There’s people who won’t admit that they want as many people as possible to see their baby. That’s the first step.
·      Q: There’s a shift from the business of writing to the business of publishing. Can you talk about the shift in your mindset?
o   Guy:
§  Everything that a traditional publisher does, you now have to do yourself. With total control comes total responsibility. You have to do it or hire people to do it.
o   Carpenter:
§  Don’t pass up any opportunity. Do they have a blogger with six followers? Do something with them. Don’t turn down an interview.
§  Guy: If they have one follower, don’t turn them down. They could be the next west coast director for Rolling Stone.
o   Rubenson:
§  Developers are looking at exploiting intellectual property across all of their properties. The Angry Bird folks have a cookbook, merchandise, etc. They want creative content that spawns everything.
o   Guy:
§  My 10th book was called Enchancement. I thought that was the pinnacle of my literary achievement. So I got a facebook page forenchancement. Now I have 35,000 people following that page. I can’t move them over. I should have done a fanpage for Guy the Author. Now what do I do? A page for each book? That doesn’t help me market the next book.
·      Q: Let’s talk about pricing. I get the most questions. What’s the role of free? How do you think about pricing?
o   Densmore:
§  I priced in the middle ground.
o   Carpenter:
§  Trial and error. I tried a bunch of different prices. Since you can choose yourself, why not try a bunch of different things?
§  I thought it was important to stay under $5. Because of the retail theory that anything under $5 people don’t think that much about.
§  I eventually settled on $3.99.
§  I love the free promotions. It allows the book to get up onto a list. It doesn’t matter that it’s the free list. It’s right there next to the paid list.
§  Let it ride, let it get out there. Get onto that first page.
§  People who get your book for free tend to write really positive reviews.
o   Guy:
§  We wanted APE to be taken very seriously. It’s not a get rich quick. I want it to the Chicago Manual of Style, not get-rich-quick.
§  We wanted the lowest price that still seem serious. That’s $9.99.
§  We also wanted to get the 70% royalty.
§  (We got blessed to be the Kindle Daily Deal one day, sold thousands of books.)
§  If you price your book too cheap, it sends the message it’s not good.
§  If I was a novice novelist, I might try 99 cents to get to $2.99.
§  But for non-fiction, pricing it too cheap sends a message that something is wrong.
§  I sent a message to 5 million of my closest friends, asking people to fill out a form, if they wanted a review copy.
·      We sent out a thousand or so full manuscripts.
·      Amazon won’t let people post reviews until the book is for sale.
·      So after the book went on sale, I sent a follow up message to those people with the manuscript, and told them to post their reviews.
·      And so the first day of sales started with 50 reviews.
·      Q: What have you learned? What shocked you?
o   Guy: It astonished me that to this day, people think that they need a kindle device to read a kindle book. I was stunned people didn’t know there is a kindle app for every platform.
o   Carpenter: The thing that shocked me is how many books I sold. I did it as a lark. I did no social media. It took about six months, and then something just kicked in.

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