How I’m Publishing BIG ENOUGH

How I’m Publishing BIG ENOUGH

Big Enough, my forthcoming book, is arriving in May. It’s being published via a partnership between me and publishing industry pros. Below, I’ll explain why I made this choice, how it differs from traditional publishing and why this option might become more popular in the future.  

In 2012, I worked with Wiley, a major book publisher, to publish The Art of Explanation. I enjoyed working with Wiley and I’m proud of what we produced. Our relationship represented how publishers have worked with authors for generations. 

My goal with Big Enough, though, is to self-publish a book that’s indistinguishable from one produced by a major publisher. It will appear on the same bookshelves and be of similar quality. Before getting into that, I think it’s important to understand the variety of expertise that goes into publishing nearly any book destined for bookstores.   

Books, of course, must be written. Authors are responsible for putting ideas on a page, which takes time and produces no direct income. Writing a book comes with opportunity costs and possibly debt.

Authors need editors. Books meant for the mass market must be edited. Working with a professional editor can transform a book and increase its potential to be successful. In addition to content editing, copy editors and proofreaders ensure the book’s grammar, spelling and punctuation are correct. This work ensures quality, takes time and talented editors don’t work for free. 

Books need design. Professional book designers create cover art and select layouts, fonts, headings, and more. A nicely designed book relates to the content and stands out on the shelf. Designers also deserve to be paid for their work. 

A physical book must be printed and distributed. Like any other product, books travel through a supply chain. Getting a book into this supply chain requires business relationships with both printers and distributors. Project managers are essential in this process. 

Purchases require awareness. Marketing, advertising and sometimes, public relations campaigns can help a book be discovered. These activities require time, expertise, and can come with significant advertising costs.

The bottom line is this: high-quality books require significant investment and acceptance of risk. I think about it in terms of a break-even point. Will the book sell enough to pay for the cost of publishing it? 

Now, let’s talk traditional publishing. In working with Wiley, I wrote the book and they handled most of the work I described above. I was not required to invest in editing, design, printing, distribution, etc. In fact, they gave me an advance payment while writing the book, which I paid back through book sales. This relationship insulated me, the author, from financial risk. 

In this scenario, the publisher is betting that they can produce a book that, at least, breaks even. Because of their size and volume, they dominate the supply chains and can negotiate the best deals. They have in-house talent and decades of experience that reduce the risk. This is why “getting a book deal” is sometimes a struggle. Publishers must bet on the future work of authors.

Being an author in a traditional publishing relationship can be stressful because there is a sense of obligation. Because the publisher’s money is on the line, they call the shots. Many have a structured process designed for maximum output. Because the publisher’s money goes into production, they also keep much of the income from book sales. In this scenario, authors sometimes feel a loss of control. 

Now, let’s switch to Big Enough. 

I love the idea of self-publishing and have spent over a decade self-publishing Common Craft videos. One of the messages of Big Enough is that technology has made it possible for anyone to be a publisher and earn a living from their intellectual property. My approach to book publishing is an expression of this focus on independence. 

Self-publishing, though, has some baggage. Once it became technologically possible, authors could publish e-books with a minimum investment and without the help of experts who ensure quality, like editors and designers. Without these gatekeepers, quality sometimes suffered and self-publishing became known as inferior. 

This is where things have changed. Self-publishing isn’t defined by technology, gatekeepers, or quality. There is no reason a self-published book can’t compete with a major publisher’s book. The key difference can be boiled down to a simple question: who is taking the risk?

In the case of Big Enough, it’s me. I am investing in the expertise and relationship that I believe will make the book a success. I am putting my money on the line and betting that I can make Big Enough successful enough to break even. As such, I remain in control and earn a greater percentage of the income.

My partner in this adventure is a company called Page Two, which is owned and operated by industry veterans Trena White and Jesse Finkelstein. Page Two specializes in working with non-fiction authors to self-publish high-quality books. Their team of professionals does the work of a major publisher but on a mostly fee-for-service basis. Further, they have key relationships with printers and distributors that would be difficult for me to form. Page Two is my secret weapon in making Big Enough a major publisher-style book.

One of the things I love about this relationship is that Page Two, in publishing industry terms, is a start-up. It’s refreshing to work on a book with a young company successfully being disruptive. They encourage ideas, like direct sales from my website, that major publishers might not condone. Importantly, they reflect the values I believe are important, like independence and a sense of creative control.  

I consider this model of self-publishing the best option for me and the message of Big Enough. It represents a personal risk, but it’s one I’m willing to take. 

Learn more about Big Enough

Betting on Blurbs for Big Enough

Betting on Blurbs for Big Enough

If you pick up just about any modern book, you’ll find short quotes from influential people saying nice things about the book and/or author. These are called endorsements or blurbs and they provide a bit of social proof.

On the front cover of Jason Fried and DHH’s book, Rework, words from Seth Godin appear above the title:

On the back cover of Paul Jarvis’ book Company of One, there are multiple quotes under the title “Praise for Company of One.”

In publishing a book, these endorsements can be a way to differentiate and give potential readers a way to evaluate what the book is about and for whom it is intended. This is also the case with my book, Big Enough. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been on a mission to contact influential people and ask them, in the parlance of authors, to “blurb my book.”

To be honest, I dreaded this part of the process, in part, because it’s such a big ask. I am requesting that they spend hours reading a draft of my book and then come up with a pithy remark that serves to market my book, all within a deadline of a few weeks. Of course, their name on the cover or on the book website is marketing for them, too, so it’s not as one-sided as it seems. But still, I recognize the size of the request.

Today, I sent an early version of Big Enough as a PDF to twelve kind people who had agreed to read it and potentially provide a blurb. With that complete, I’m reflecting on the experience and most of what I feel is gratitude. Anytime you ask someone for a favor, there is always a chance of rejection. Going into the process, I figured that I simply wouldn’t hear back from most. That wasn’t the case at all. Of the 20 people I contacted via email, only two didn’t respond and there is some chance that email algorithms played some role in that process.

The endorsement worked like this for me…

My publishing partner, Page Two, provided a spreadsheet with labeled columns for helping me manage the blurbs. Using that sheet, I started brainstorming influential people I know whose work or reputation fit the context of Big Enough. I looked through my email contacts, Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections and browsed the blurbs on related books. I listed a mix of people I knew directly and those who I planned to contact. With the names in place, I started reaching out one by one.

It starts with an email that explains the basics. For most connections, I would mention how we know each other, an event we attended or a personal connection we have in common. I remind them about Common Craft and explain that I have a book coming out. On a few occasions, I asked people in my network for an introduction to someone I didn’t know personally and that was productive, too.

Here’s a version of the message I sent to people aware of Common Craft:

I’m writing to ask for a favor. As you know, my wife Sachi and I have run Common Craft since the early 2000s. Our early videos helped established the explainer video genre, etc. Behind the scenes, we were always focused on entrepreneurship, technology, and business models. Over the last decade, we transformed Common Craft into a company that’s intentionally small, product-focused and designed to promote a healthy quality of life. 
The favor is this: I have a book coming out in May of this year. It’s called Big Enough and it tells our story. Today the book is being designed now and I’m reaching out to a handful of influential people to ask about reading the book and potentially providing a testimonial. I think you’d find it entertaining and relevant, especially in the context of technology’s impact on small businesses like ours. It’s relatively short (big enough?) and can be read in an afternoon.
If you’re interested, I’d like to send you an uncorrected proof as a PDF. If the book connects with you, it would be awesome if you could share a few words I can use on the book and/or website. I would need the blurb by XXXXX.

To my surprise, it worked. The majority of people I asked responded and said they were happy to take a look. This doesn’t mean the blurb will happen, but it’s a step in the right direction. I am also grateful to those who responded with a simple “no”.

The next challenge is working with the blurbers to get their quotes in-hand and ready for production. I’ll probably have to send reminder emails and warnings about deadlines, but that goes with the territory.

Over the last couple of weeks, my dread regarding this process turned to excitement. I realized I was learning a new skill and developing a strategy I could use in the future. More than that, I was excited by reconnecting with old friends and potentially making new connections. In a few cases, my emails led to phone calls and online meetings. It felt like my network was getting stronger.

The Editorial Calendar for Big Enough

The Editorial Calendar for Big Enough

In much of our daily work, things happen on an ad hoc basis and that’s how we like it. An example is the release of a new Common Craft video. Since 2007, we’ve published a new video every month or two. Once a video is published, the clock starts ticking and over the following weeks, the pressure builds to publish the next one. Over twelve years, I’ve grown used to the constant production.

It works, in part, because we are in complete control. If we see an opportunity to improve a video, we can just delay the publishing date, or publish something else instead. No one is the wiser. Our goal isn’t sticking to a strict calendar, it’s building a quality video library over time. The same is true with blog posts and anything else I share. Our editorial independence and control of our calendar are big reasons the process has been sustainable.

Now that I have a book called Big Enough arriving in May, this free-wheeling approach to publishing must become more rigorous. Between now and the publish date, I am making it a priority to publish book-related articles every week, with occasional posts in between. For this, I am using an editorial calendar to keep myself on track.

The words “create editorial calendar” have appeared on my to-do lists many times before and have disappeared just as quickly as they arrived. This time, however, it’s different. The next few months are a time for me to write regularly and do everything I can to build awareness for the book. Because this is so important, I’m not willing to let it happen ad hoc. I need rigor.

For now, I’m promising myself to publish a book-related article once a week, on Thursdays. I hope to write more regularly and share more on this blog, but these book posts will be different. They will be more composed. They will be shared on platforms like LinkedIn and Medium.

Today, it feels like I’m standing at the bottom of a big hill. At the top is the release date of my book, Big Enough, on May 5th, 2020. Between now and then, I will climb that hill. Rather than just showing up and climbing, I’m planning and preparing so that it’s a smooth and manageable ascent.

While it feels a little daunting, I’m now looking forward to it and watching where it may lead. It is an experiment, after all.

Curious about Big Enough?