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The Changing Nature of Publishing – The Growth of “Artisanal Publishers”

On Wednesday, September 25th, a group of publishers gathered at Funger Hall on George Washington University’s campus to listen to Shawn Welch discuss APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur – How to Publish a Book. Shawn was the coauthor of this book, working alongside of Guy Kawasaki, and strangely enough the audience was not there to string him up as a threat to their livelihoods. It was to find out what they could learn from this apparent publisher gone rogue, as Shawn had worked at a large publishing firm for several years until he started publishing on his own. The big question on the everyone’s mind? What is going to happen to our profession?

Self-publishing scares a lot of publishers. The stigma surrounding publishing your own work is rapidly eroding because consumers do not shop by publisher.  They shop by author or genre. Now that self-published book are looking and reading just like books produced by traditional publishers, reader reviews impact a consumer far more than whether or not a book was published by one of the big publishing houses. But one thing that Shawn made a point of saying is that publishers aren’t going away, it is simply the relationship that is changing. “Artisanal Publishers” – a term coined by Guy and Shawn – have a lot of options. The premise of their book is that the people writing books must be Authors, Publishers, and Entrepreneurs in order to be successful. Since so few people are all three of these things, it is possible to hire freelancers to cover the Publishing side. Entrepreneur and Author should really be done by oneself, but everything else can be done by a freelance editor, or even by your readers.

The main problem self-published authors always come up against is marketing. A video of a cat chasing a ball of string generates 2 million views on YouTube in a matter of days, while a performer may find their view count stagnating without the proper circulation. One thing APE talks about is the need to be generating interest while the book is being developed and written, not after. Authors need to be visible, be deemed credible by contributing to the online communities about their topics. Make it known they are writing a book on the topic. Build excitement for it. Guy and Shawn gave away thousands of copies of early editions APE for FREE and told their readers to review it and send it back with revisions. Typos, wrong content, additions, anything they felt the book needed. They made their readers invested in the book, which turned every single reader into an advocate for the book. The idea of giving away an unfinished book for free made the audience members stomachs turn at the thought of all of those lost sales. Even worse was the fear of piracy. Shawn’s response? “If someone else can write the book better than we can, we don’t deserve to be writing it.” Shawn is not the only one suggesting this method though. Peter Armstrong, the founder of Vancouver’s Leanpub makes the same argument. “You use lightweight tools and many iterations to get reader feedback…until you have the right book.”

Publishing is changing, no one will deny that. It’s more than just the digitization of content though. As more and more self published books make it on the best seller charts, APE was number 9 on the Wall Street Journal Bestseller list for nonfiction e-books back in February, alongside the big league players we are going to see more and more authors trying to promote their books through Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, and Blogs. Here will be where publishers will be able to bring their power to bear. Not in deterring self publishing, but in lending some marketing muscle to the Entrepreneur side.


“Publishing Gone APE: What Can Publishers Learn from Self-Publishing” Shawn Welch, September 25, 2013, Washington, DC.




Suggested Reading:

“34 Strategic Ways You Can Use Pinterest to Market Your Book and Your Author Brand” Kimberley Grabas http://www.yourwriterplatform.com/use-pinterest-to-market-book-and-author-brand/

“4 Time Saving Social Media Tips for Authors” Joel Friedlander http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2013/09/frances-caballo-2/


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