Sunday, December 23, 2012

Konrath's Resolutions For Writers

Every December I do a post about resolutions for writers, and every year I add more of them.


Newbie Writer Resolutions
  • I will start/finish the damn book
  • I will always have at least three stories on submission, while working on a fourth
  • I will attend at least one writer's conference, and introduce myself to agents, editors, and other writers
  • I will subscribe to the magazines I submit to
  • I will join a critique group. If one doesn't exist, I will start one at the local bookstore or library
  • I will finish every story I start
  • I will listen to criticism
  • I will create/update my website
  • I will master the query process and search for an agent
  • I'll quit procrastinating in the form of research, outlines, synopses, taking classes, reading how-to books, talking about writing, and actually write something
  • I will refuse to get discouraged, because I know JA Konrath wrote 9 novels, received almost 500 rejections, and penned over 1 million words before he sold a thing--and I'm a lot more talented than that guy
Professional Writer Resolutions 
  • I will keep my website updated
  • I will keep up with my blog and social networks
  • I will schedule bookstore signings, and while at the bookstore I'll meet and greet the customers rather than sit dejected in the corner
  • I will send out a newsletter, emphasizing what I have to offer rather than what I have for sale, and I won't send out more than four a year
  • I will learn to speak in public, even if I think I already know how
  • I will make selling my books my responsibility, not my publisher's
  • I will stay in touch with my fans
  • I will contact local libraries, and tell them I'm available for speaking engagements
  • I will attend as many writing conferences as I can afford
  • I will spend a large portion of my advance on self-promotion
  • I will help out other writers
  • I will not get jealous, will never compare myself to my peers, and will cleanse my soul of envy
  • I will be accessible, amiable, and enthusiastic
  • I will do one thing every day to self-promote
  • I will always remember where I came from


  • Keep an Open Mind. It's easier to defend your position than seriously consider new ways of thinking. But there is no innovation, no evolution, no "next big thing" unless someone thinks differently. Be that someone.
  • Look Inward. We tend to write for ourselves. But for some reason we don't market for ourselves. Figure out what sort of marketing works on you; that's the type of marketing you should be trying. You should always know why you're doing what you're doing, and what results are acceptable to you.
  • Find Your Own Way. Advice is cheap, and the Internet abounds with people telling you how to do things. Question everything. The only advice you should take is the advice that makes sense to you. And if it doesn't work, don't be afraid to ditch it.
  • Set Attainable Goals. Saying you'll find an agent, or sell 30,000 books, isn't attainable, because it involves things out of your control. Saying you'll query 50 agents next month, or do signings at 20 bookstores, is within your power and fully attainable.
  • Enjoy the Ride. John Lennon said that life is what happens while you're busy planning other things. Writing isn't about the destination; it's about the journey. If you aren't enjoying the process, why are you doing it?
  • Help Each Other. One hand should always be reaching up for your next goal. The other should be reaching down to help others get where you're at. We're all in the same boat. Start passing out oars.


I Will Use Anger As Fuel

We all know that this is a hard business. Luck plays a huge part. Rejection is part of the job. Things happen beyond our control, and we can get screwed.

It's impossible not to dwell on it when we're wronged. But rather than vent or stew or rage against the world and everyone in it, we should use that anger and the energy it provides for productive things.

The next time you get bad news, resolve to use that pain to drive your work. Show fate that when it pushes you, you push right back. By writing. By querying. By marketing.

I Will Abandon My Comfort Zone

The only difference between routine and rut is spelling.

As a writer, you are part artist and part businessman.

Great artists take chances.

Successful businessmen take chances.

This means doing things you're afraid of, and things you hate, and things you've never tried before.

If, in 2008, you don't fail at something, you weren't trying hard enough.

I Will Feed My Addiction 

Life is busy. There are always things you can and should be doing, and your writing career often comes second.

So make it come first.

Right now, you're reading A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. Not A Newbie's Guide to Leading a Content and Balanced Life.

You want to get published and stay published? That means making writing a priority. That means making sacrifices. A sacrifice involves choosing one thing over another.

If you can't devote the time, energy, and money it takes to pursue this career, go do something else.

I Will Never Be Satisfied 

Think the last resolution was extreme? This one really separates the die-hards from the hobbyists. 

While an overwhelming sense of peace and enlightenment sounds pretty nice, I wouldn't want to hire a bunch of Zen masters to build an addition on my house. 

Satisfaction and contentment are great for your personal life. In your professional life, once you start accepting the way things are, you stop trying.

No one is going to hand you anything in this business. You have to be smart, be good, work hard, and get lucky.

Every time you get published, you got lucky. Don't take it for granted.

When something bad happens, it should make you work harder. But when something good happens, you can't believe you earned it. Because it isn't true. You aren't entitled to this career. No one is.

Yes, you should celebrate successes. Sure, you should enjoy good things when they happen. Smile and laugh and feel warm and fuzzy whenever you finish a story or make a sale or reach a goal.

But remember that happiness isn't productive. Mankind's greatest accomplishments are all tales of struggle, hardship, sacrifice, work, and effort. You won't do any of those things if you're satisfied with the status quo. 

Who do you want on your team? The kid who plays for fun? Or the kid who plays to win?

If you want this to be your year, you know which kid you have to be.


This year I'm only going to add one resolution to this growing list, but if you're writing for a living, or trying to write for a living, it's an important one.

I Won't Blame Anyone For Anything

It's tempting to look at the many problems that arise in this business and start pointing fingers. This is a slippery slope, and no good can come from it.

Do agents, editors, and publishers make mistakes? Of course.

You make mistakes too.

Hindsight is 20/20, so we can all look at things that didn't go our way and fantasize about how things should have gone. 

But blaming others, or yourself, is dwelling on the past. What's done is done, and being bitter isn't going to help your career.

So try to learn from misfortune, forgive yourself and others, and make 2009 a blameless year.


I Will Be Wary

The medium in which stories are absorbed is changing in a big way, and it will continue to change. 2009 will go down in publishing history as Year Zero for the upcoming ebook revolution. Writers should explore this new territory, but we need to understand that Print is still King, and any goals and dreams a writer might have regarding publication should be focused on getting into print.

That's not to say that ebooks shouldn't be explored and experimented with. They should be, and in a serious way. Erights are a very long tail--one that can potentially continue long after our lifetimes.

Don't forsake print for ebooks without understanding what you're giving up, and don't give away your ebook rights to get a print deal.

I Will Be A Pioneer

Remember the old saying about how to recognize a pioneer? They're the one with the arrows in their backs and fronts.

I've tried to be forward-thinking in my career, rather than being content with my role as a cog in a broken machine. Your best chance for longevity is to question everything, test boundaries, experiment with new ideas, and be willing to change your mind and learn from your mistakes.

Your job is to survive, by any means necessary. So pull out the arrows and forge ahead. Discover the difference between determination and stupidity by being an example for one or the other or both.

Though this may seem at odds with the previous resolution about being wary, it's actually quite simpatico.

Q: What do you call a wary pioneer? A: Still alive.

I Will Read Books

I'm surprised I haven't mentioned this in previous years. If you're a writer, you must be a reader. I don't care if you read on your Kindle, or on stone tablets. Reading, and giving the gift of reading to others, is essential. Period.

I Will Stop Worrying 

Worrying, along with envy, blame, guilt, and regret, is a useless emotion. It's also bad storytelling. Protagonists should be proactive, not reactive. They should forge ahead, not dwell on things beyond their control. Fretting, whining, complaining, and bemoaning the state of the industry isn't the way to get ahead.

You are the hero in the story of your life. Act like it.


I Will Self-Publish

Just twelve short months ago, I made $1650 on Kindle in December, and was amazed I could pay my mortgage with ebook sales.

This December, I'll earn over $22,000.

The majority of this is on Kindle. But I'm also doing well self-pubbing in print through Amazon's Createspace program, and will earn $2700 this month on nine POD books. I'm also finally trying out B&N's PubIt program, which looks to be good for over $1k a month, and I'm doing okay on Smashwords, with Sony, Apple, and Kobo combining for another $1k.

This is nothing short of revolutionary.

The gatekeepers--agents who submit to editors who acquire books to publish and distribute to booksellers--are no longer needed to make a living as a fiction writer. For the first time in history, writers can reach readers without having to jump through hoops, get anointed, compromise integrity, or fit the cookie-cutter definition for What New York Wants.

I'm not saying you should give up on traditional publishing. But I am saying that there is ZERO downside to self-pubbing. At worst, you'll make a few bucks. At best, you'll make a fortune, and have agents and editors fighting over you.

But remember: even if you are being fought over, you still have a choice.

DO NOT take any deal that's less than what you believe you could earn in six years. If you're selling 1000 ebooks a month, that means $144,000 is the minimum advance you should be offered before you consider signing.

It blows my mind to think that way, let alone blog about it. I got a $34,000 advance for my first novel, and even less for my last few.

Currently, I have seven self-pubbed novels, each earning more than $24k a year. In six years, at the current rate, I'll earn more than one million bucks on those.

But I don't expect them to maintain their current sales.

I expect sales to go up.

Ebooks haven't saturated the market yet. But they will. And you need to be ready for it. Which leads me to...

I Won't Self-Publish Crap

Just because it's easier than ever before to reach an audience doesn't mean you should.

I can safely say that I'm either directly or indirectly responsible for thousands of writers trying out self-publishing. The majority of these writers aren't making the same amount of money that I am, and are scratching their heads, wondering what they're doing wrong.

Luck still plays a part in success. But so does professionalism.

Being a professional means you make sure you have a professional cover (, and you have been professionally formatted for ebooks ( and for print books (

Being a professional means you're prolific, with many titles for sale, and that you diversify, exploiting all possible places to sell your work (Kindle, Createspace, Smashwords, iBooks, iTunes, Sony, Nook, Kobo, Borders, Android, and no doubt more to come.)

But most of all, being a professional means you won't inflict your shitty writing on the public.

Self-pubbing is not the kiddie pool, where you learn how to swim. You need to be an excellent swimmer before you jump in.

If your sales aren't where you'd like them to be, especially if you've done everything else I've mentioned, then it's time to take a cold, hard, critical look at the writing. Which segues into...

I'll Pay Attention to the Market

To say I'm excited about the ebook future is putting it mildly. But that doesn't mean I have carte blanche to write whatever the hell I want to, and then expect it to sell.

Yes, writers now have more freedom. Yes, we can now cater to niche tastes, and write novellas, and focus on more personal projects.

But if you want to make a living, you still have to understand your audience, and how to give them what they want.

Self-pubbing is not an excuse to be a self-indulgent egomaniac. On the contrary, it's a chance for you to learn what sells.

For the very first time, the writer can conduct their own real-world experiments. By trying different things, learning from mistakes, and constantly tweaking and improving, we have more power than ever before to find our readers.

A lot of folks know how much money I'm making. But how many know:

I've changed or tweaked cover art 45 times.

I've reformatted my books five times each.
I've changed product descriptions over 80 times.
I've changed prices on each book two or three times.

Unlike the traditional publishing world, where published books are static, self-publishing is dynamic. If something isn't selling as well as you'd like, you can change it. The work doesn't end when you upload your ebook to Kindle. The work is never-ending, and vigilance is mandatory.

Self-publishing is a wonderful opportunity to learn and to grow. This means you MUST try new things.

2011 is going to be a turbulent year for publishers and bookstores and editors and agents. Change is coming, and many of the stalwarts of the industry aren't going to be around for much longer.

But savvy writers will be safe from harm. In fact, they'll thrive like never before.

For the first time in the history of publishing, we have control. Embrace that control, and make 2011 your year.


Hard to believe this will be my sixth year offering New Year's Resolutions to writers. Even harder to believe is how much the publishing industry has changed during that time.

When I first began this blog, it was about helping authors find an agent and a legacy publishing deal. And once they did, it was about working with your publisher to sell as many books as possible by understanding how to self-promote and market.

Now, writers are much better served learning how to upload their work to Kindle and write a product description than learning how to write a query letter or do a successful book signing.

So is there still anything left for me to say?

Yes. There's plenty.

I Will Experiment

Don't let fear prevent you from taking chances and trying new things. I'm talking to all of you who refuse to raise or lower your ebook prices. I'm talking to all of you who pass judgement without any experience to back up your position. I'm talking to all of you who insist that your way is the right way without ever having tried any other way--or in some cases, knowing nothing about the path you want to take (I'm looking right at you folks still chasing legacy deals.)

The goals you set should constantly be adapting and changing as more data comes in. But don't be a lump, expecting data to come to you by surfing the net, or reading this blog, or praying Santa Claus helps you out.

You need to be the one actively trying different things, taking different directions, and learning through trial and error.

In the past, there were a lot of gatekeepers who could hold you back.

Today the only one holding you back is you.

I Will Help Other Writers

If you learn something, share it. If you have some success, show others how to follow your lead. If you fail miserably, warn your peers.

Writing and publishing were once solitary, private matters, and everyone played their cards close to their chests. No one knew how much anyone else was earning, or how many books they sold, and this suited the publishers just fine. The dark ages are all about being kept in the dark.

Well, let there be light.

The more we share, and help one another, the more our collective base of knowledge can grow.

Self-publishing is an open source project. Add to the database.

I Will Control My Fear

There will always be doubt and uncertainty, because luck plays such a big role in success. I know there are writers who are doing everything right, who still haven't found readers.

But don't let fear own you.

It is easy to get frustrated.

It is easy to get envious of those doing better.

It is easy to dismiss the success or failures of others.

It is easy to worry about the future.

It is easy to ignore good advice. It's also easy to take bad advice.

It is easy to make snap judgments and quick dismissals.

It is easy to make predictions without evidence.

It is easy to give up.


Yes, it is the greatest time ever to be a writer. But no one owes you a living, and no one promised that even if you write a great book and promote the hell out of it you'll get stinking rich.

Not to get all Yoda here, but fear leads to doubt, and doubt will take you down the wrong path.

Controlling fear is easier than you might think. Just accept that failure is part of the process.

Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. All major success stories are filled with setbacks and mistakes and bad luck. But all successful people persevere.

We've all heard that luck favors those who are prepared. So be prepared, and stay prepared, for as long as it takes for success to find you.

Remember that. You don't find success. Success finds you.

This is especially important when you realize this truism:

What Goes Up Must Come Down

I've had a lot of writers email me that their sales are down. Mine are, too. Because ebooks are so new, no one knows what this means, and it is easy to let fear cause doubt.

Here's a mantra for you to help you get over it.

1. Ebooks are forever, and shelf space is infinite. Once you're published, you'll always be selling.

2. Ebooks are not a trend. They are the new, preferred way to read, and mankind will always have the need and desire to read.

3. Ebooks are global. Doing poorly in the USA? That's okay. There are plenty of other countries where you can make money.

4. Sales fluctuate. Always. And there is often no logical or discernible reason why. Riding high in April, shot down in May, that's life.

5. This is a marathon, not a sprint. You're a writer. You're in this until the day you die. As long as you continue to write good books, you'll find readers.

2012 is going to be a very interesting year. We'll see unknown writers get rich. We'll see big name writers leave their publishers. We'll see more and more people buy ereaders throughout the world. We'll see some companies go out of business. We'll see other companies start growing market share.

We're part of something big, and it's going to get even bigger. And while everything that goes up must come down, we've got a very long time before that happens with ebooks.

And when it does? That's okay. Formats and gadgets come and go.

But the world will always need storytellers.

Have a great 2012.


I've lived long enough to see my advice become obsolete, and that gives me hope for the future.

Back when I began, this business was all about finding an agent, finding a publisher, then doing whatever you could to promote yourself.

This blog spoke at length about social media, and book tours, and partnering with your publisher.

Things have changed. 

I have 10,000 followers on Twitter, but I only use it occasionally  Facebook? Haven't been on there in eight months. I witnessed the rise and fall of MySpace. I've opted out of Google+ because I saw no benefits. LinkedIn? I can't even remember my password.

I'll never do another book tour. I doubt I'll ever do another official booksigning. I've stopped speaking in public, stopped attending events. Once it was important to meet fans and network with peers. Now I can do that just fine via email. 

Partnering with your publisher? Why would you do that, when they offer so little? 17.5% ebook royalties with them, vs. 70% on your own. 

I haven't blogged or Tweeted in months. I've been busy doing what writers should be doing: writing.

And guess what? My sales have remained constant. 

Many times this year, I took industry practices to task. I saw stupidity, or unfairness, and I did my best to discredit it. I fought, tooth and nail, for what I believed, and wasted untold hours arguing with pinheads.

Which brings me to my resolution for 2013.

Get Over Yourself

I have turned off Google Alerts, and don't Google my name or my pen names.

I don't go on message boards.

I don't read my book reviews.

I don't care what people are saying about me, good or bad, in blogs or on Twitter or in the media.

There will always be people who don't like you, and don't like your books.

Ignore them.

Trust me, it is liberating to be free of the opinions of strangers. We all need to focus on our writing. Because the millions of readers out there don't care about your blog. They aren't searching for you on Twitter and avoiding your books based on the comments of others. They aren't taking one star reviews seriously.

It's very easy to obsess in this business. But I haven't seen a single shred of evidence that obsession helps careers.

The thing that I have seen, over and over, is people finding success by writing good books.

I really think it is possible to make a very nice living by writing and not worrying about anything else.

We all want to believe we're doing something good for our careers, so we abuse social media, buy ads, rigorously defend our good name, cultivate media contacts, make appearances, and celebrate our own very minor celebrity.

Let it all go. Spend your time working on your books. That's the only thing that really matters, and the only thing you have control over.

I hope everyone reading this has a very successful 2013. Happy new year.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Interview with Guy Kawasaki

Joe sez: These past few weeks I've been finishing up the third Chandler book (after FLEE and SPREE) with Ann Voss Peterson, and ignoring all things Internet.

Next week I'll do my annual New Years Resolution for Writers post, but until then Barry Eisler has allowed me to post an interview he did with Guy Kawasaki, who just wrote an ebook that the majority of my blog readers will be interested in. Here's Barry and Guy:

Barry: Barry Eisler here. Joe has generously offered to host this interview I did with Guy Kawasaki, the former Chief Evangelist of Apple; serial entrepreneur; lecturer; and writer of numerous books on marketing, start-ups, and entrepreneurism. I just finished Guy’s extraordinary new book, Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How to Publish a Book, and it’s easily the most comprehensive, best organized, nuts-and-bolts-useful work on self-publishing I’ve seen to date. I think Guy has written the bible on self-publishing, and I expect it will be recognized—and widely used—as such.

There’s a funny, and I think telling, story behind how I got my advance copy of APE (the book launches today). A few weeks ago, I did an interview for Tim Ferris’s blog in which I discussed my favorite books on marketing (the interview hasn’t run yet, but here’s a link to Tim’s blog). Among the works I discussed were several by Guy, including Selling the Dream: How to Promote Your Product, Company, or Ideas—and Make a Difference—Using Everyday Evangelism (highly recommended for anyone trying to make a living through writing). A few days after I sent in my thoughts for Tim’s blog, Guy contacted me on Twitter. I emailed him and asked, “Is this about Tim’s blog?” He told me no, he wanted to know if I’d join him for a panel at the Churchill Club on The Future of Publishing (December 18 in Santa Clara, California). I told him hell yes, I’d be honored, and mentioned that I’d learned a ton from his books. To which Guy told me the honor was his because he’s a John Rain fan and because the book I did with Joe on self-publishing—Be the Monkey: A Conversation About the New World of Publishing—is part of what inspired him to write APE.

I was really struck by that. Reading Guy’s books made me a better evangelist, meaning what I learned from Guy both inspired and shaped what I was hoping to accomplish with Be the Monkey, and then Be the Monkey inspired the guy who inspired me! I love karma. As for both these books featuring simian references… well, I like to think there might be something to it, but it’s also possible that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Now let’s learn a bit more about this terrific book—straight from Guy.

1. Guy, there’s more on this topic in APE itself, but can you tell us a bit about why you decided to write the book, which, while drawing on your core areas of expertise in marketing, entrepreneurism, and evangelism, is also a departure for you? Can you talk a bit about why you decided to self-publish it?

I wrote APE because of my experiences self-publishing a book called What the Plus!. I wrote What the Plus! because the publisher of Enchantment could not fill an order for 500 copies of the ebook version. By self-publishing What the Plus!, I learned firsthand how idiosyncratic, confusing, and inefficient that process is, and I decided to do something about it. As Steve Jobs used to say, “There must be a better way.”

2. You’ve published about a dozen books with legacy publishers like Harper Collins and Penguin. Were you tempted to go that route with APE?

I did run it past my agent and the publisher of Enchantment, but we couldn’t come to terms. The core problem was that I wanted to retain ebook rights and sell the paper rights. That said, for a sufficient amount of money, anything is possible.

3. What did you see as the pros and cons?

The advantage of a traditional publisher is that it takes care of so many details for you such as content editing, copyediting, cover design, interior design, printing, sales, distribution, and returns. It also provides a large advance. The disadvantage is that it rightfully pays you a lot less and reduces your flexibility. Of course, if no traditional publisher wants your book, then you don’t have to weigh the pros and cons. You just do what you have to do.

4. I like the title you chose—not “How to Self-Publish,” but “How to Publish.” I like it first because your thoughts on how to package and market a book would make the legacy publishing industry more effective, so in that sense the book is applicable to anyone who wants to effectively publish a book, not just to self-publishers. But there’s another reason you chose the title, one that’s a manifestation of one of the marketing tips in the book. Can you discuss why you chose this title?

I chose the subtitle “How to Publish a book” as opposed to “How to Self-Publish a Book” because I used the Google Adwords keyword site. There you can enter various terms and find out how many times people search for it. I leaned that people search for “how to publish” fifteen times more often than “how to self-publish.” That was the end of that discussion!

5. I’m continually fascinated by the politics of publishing—by what I see as a struggle between a publishing establishment and a publishing insurgency. Joe and I touched on the politics of publishing in Be the Monkey, and naturally one of my favorite sections of APE was the one that put the current battle in publishing in a historical context. Some of that history was new to me, and I wondered if you could talk a bit more about it here.

The historical trend of publishing, like many other industries, is towards democratization and an open system. It used to be that only the church and royalty had scribes. This meant a lower level of literacy, and that one had to go to church to learn about God. Then Gutenberg invented the printing press, and it was possible to print many more copies of the Bible. Now people could learn about God by reading the Bible without going to church.

Fast-forward to the introduction of Macintosh, LaserWriter, and PageMaker, and now anyone with these products could print a book. The current curve doesn’t even involve printing: anyone with a computer, a word processor, and Internet access can upload a book to Amazon. Then anyone with a computer, smartphone, or tablet can read the ebook. The democratization of information is not something to get in the way of.

When the industry crossed the chasm from print to ebook, the rules changed. There were physical limits to publishing: how many titles a store could physically display and stock. This meant that gatekeepers—arbiters of taste—were necessary to act as filters. If Random House or Penguin published a book, it must be good. And only a Random House or Penguin could print the book on dead trees and get the dead trees to the store.

This isn’t true anymore. Do you care who published a book? Do you even look to see who the publisher is before you buy a book? I don’t. I just look at the number of stars it has on Amazon and read a few reviews and buy it. Seconds later, I’m reading about John Rain and the yakuza. [Excellent choice. J]

6. How do you envision the future of publishing? Is it an either/or universe, a Manichean battle between legacy and self-publishing, paper and digital? Or can different systems and formats coexist? Do authors have to choose an entrée, or can they choose a buffet, instead?

First, here’s a surprising statistic: only about ten percent of the publishing business is ebooks. It’s going to be a long time before all books are electronic—probably never for a coffee-table book of Annie Leibovitz photos. The thoughtful and informed response to this question is “it depends.” Most of all, it depends on what type of book we’re talking about. Adult novels, I think, will be the first to go mostly electronic. Photo books will be the last.

There will continue to be the “big six” or so traditional publishers who are looking to find and keep blockbuster authors like you and J.K. Rowling. [Did I mention Guy is a very nice person? ;)] One thing is still true: most authors want to be published by Random, Penguin, etc. Who doesn’t want a big advance and all the hand-holding.

When the dust settles, I hope self-publishing empowers “everyone” to write a book. The cream will rise to the top. Then the traditional publishers will acquire those titles and sign those authors to future deals. This is the genius of Amazon Encore—Amazon’s system of watching what sells well and acquiring the title.

It’s also probably the madness behind Penguin buying Author Solutions and the lunacy of Simon & Schuster partnering with Author Solutions after the Penguin acquisition. Why both companies are trying to buy their way into self-publishing astounds me.

7. You’re a pretty smart guy with impressive experience and credentials in business. If you were hired as a consultant to help legacy publishing executives adapt to the changing world in which the industry finds itself, how would you advise them?

I would take a cue from what’s happened in the tech and venture capital space. It’s much cheaper and easier to start a company today because of Open Source tools, cloud-computing, and virtual teams. Venture capital is less necessary, so now firms like Y Combinator help companies start with $25,000, and many startups also raise money on Indiegogo and Kickstarter.

The publishing equivalent of Y Combinator is a writer’s incubator—real or virtual—where you can raise $25,000 to write a book. The company would receive 10-20 percent of the book’s earnings for this “seed-stage” investment. The publishing equivalent of Indiegogo and Kickstarter is Unbound and Pubslush. All four organizations are interesting plays. So in addition to creating a Y Combinator of publishing, I would look at buying, investing in, or starting an Indiegogo or Kickstarter for books.

8. Beyond writing the best book possible, what do you think is the most important thing for a self-published author to understand and implement to maximize her chances of commercial success?

The most important thing a self-publisher has to understand is that the hard part of publishing a book is marketing it, not writing it. On the day you start writing your book, you should start building a marketing platform, too. I recommend three hours per day writing and one hour per day building a social-media presence. You cannot wait until you finish your book before you start building a marketing platform. Life for a successful author is doing things in a parallel, not serial manner.

Thanks, Guy. Again, the book is APE and it launches today. You can also follow Guy on Twitter at @GuyKawasaki and on Google+.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Amazon Removes Reviews

I've been buried in a book deadline for all of October, and haven't been paying much attention to anything else. When I finally took some time to catch up reading email, I noticed I had many authors (more than twenty) contacting me because their Amazon reviews were disappearing. Some were the ones they wrote. Some were for their books. One author told me that reviews her fans had written--fans that were completely unknown to her--had been deleted.

I took a look at the reviews I'd written, and saw more than fifty of them had been removed, namely reviews I did of my peers. I don't read reviews people give me, but I do keep track of numbers and averages, and I've also lost a fair amount of reviews.

Puzzled by this, I contacted Amazon, and received in response an explanation that I assume means the deletions were the result of some new automatic system, along with a link to the updated Review Creation Guidelines. Since all of my deleted reviews followed these guidelines, I wrote them back, cc'ing several people I know who work there in various departments. Here is my letter:

Thanks for the explanation about why dozens of my Amazon reviews were removed. I cc'ed several of my Amazon contacts on this response. Please understand I'm not pointing fingers at any of you fine folks. You know that I have total respect and admiration for you guys, the work you do, and the company you work for. But I don't know who in the office should hear this, and I'm hoping one of you passes it along to whoever made this decision.

My reviews followed all of Amazon's guidelines, and had received hundreds of helpful votes. They informed customers, and they helped sell books. They represented a significant time investment on my part, and they were honest and accurate and fully disclosed my relationships with the author I reviewed if I happened to know them. And these reviews were deleted without warning or explanation.

Obviously Amazon can do whatever it wants to on its site. It isn't up to me to dictate policy. It's your company, your rules, and I fully respect that. But I believe Jeff Bezos is very much about treating customers fairly, and I've heard it said many times that Amazon considers its authors to be valuable customers. So you should know that I'm just one of dozens of authors who are saddened by this, and those are just the ones who have emailed me.

The community you're trying hard to nurture is upset by your actions. They feel those actions are unwarranted and harmful.

Please express our disappointment in Amazon to anyone who needs hear it, and let them know I'll be blogging about it. People are seriously disappointed in how Amazon handled this. It was a knee-jerk,  inappropriate reaction to a ridiculous case of unjustified moral panic, and a Big Fail.

Again, I'm not trying to point fingers, signal anyone out, or place blame. Amazon obviously had concerns about their review system, but I believe those concerns could have been dealt with in a much better manner. As you know, I've been a huge supporter of Amazon for years, and I've publicly  supported many of Amazon's decisions when others hated on you. I'm personally responsible for dozens of authors joining Amazon Publishing, and thousands (tens of thousands?) of authors using KDP. And now those authors are emailing me saying, "Joe, what the heck is Amazon doing? I thought they were the good guys."

The fact that a binder can get a thousand fake reviews because of Romney's comment, but I can't honestly review one of my peers because I'm an author, is a bit silly, don't you think? Amazon allows 1 star reviews from people who haven't even read the book, but deletes positive reviews from people who honestly enjoyed it, and somehow that's improving your review system?

I don't expect any of the deleted reviews to magically reappear. I don't expect you to change your policies. And I'm still Amazon's biggest fan and supporter. But my hope is that if this email gets to the right people, maybe something like this won't happen again.

Thanks for listening, and thanks for all you do for authors.


Now, as I expressed in the letter, I'm disappointed, and a bit annoyed, but that's as far as it goes. I just did a quick check, and I've still got thousands of reviews, and my star averages are unchanged. My appreciation of Amazon hasn't faded. I still believe they have done more for authors than any other company in history. Though I now will be more choosy about what I review, because I don't want to waste my time reviewing something that will be removed for no reason. Other than that, I won't be affected by this hiccup at all.

Unfortunately, many authors who don't sell as well as I do now have lower star averages, which could hurt sales. This doesn't strike me as fair or helpful, and I understand the fear and outrage I've seen in the emails I've gotten. 

But I don't blame Amazon for this. While I don't think they approached this situation in the right way, they were showing how customer-centric they are by reacting to public opinion. Namely, complaints about their review system brought up by those very clever No Sock Puppets Here Please authors.

Congratulations, NSPHP signatories. Because of your concerns about Amazon's review policy and your ridiculous little petition, and the resulting media witch hunt, thousands of legitimate reviews have now been deleted. 

Good thing you brought it to Amazon's attention. You should be very proud.

I was going to use a "one bad apple spoils the whole bunch" analogy here, but that isn't appropriate, since that petition had over 400 author signatures. I think it's more like tattling on a fellow student for making fart noises in class, and then the teacher making the whole class skip recess as punishment.

But let us all applaud Democracy In Action. You complained. Amazon listened to you. And now you've lost thousands of honest reviews.

If it makes you feel better, I'm sure a few sock puppet reviews were also deleted along with all the legit ones. So once again, congrats. You have killed an annoying mosquito using a nuclear weapon, collateral damage be damned.

Hmm... I seem to recall someone saying that it would be wrong if Amazon started policing reviews. Who was that guy? He said:

Oh, wait. That was me. And apparently I was wrong. It IS possible to police a system, if you don't mind the baby being thrown out with the bathwater...