Episode 48 – Writing with the Crowd with Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki‘I don’t think many authors would put themselves through what I put myself through. How many authors are confident enough or stupid enough to send their manuscript to a thousand people who they have no idea who they are, and just say, “Okay, just tell me what you don’t like.”‘

But over the course of 13 bestselling books, Guy Kawasaki has discovered that this is in fact the best way to create his best book.

‘There’s no doubt in my mind that the crowd improves my books,’ he says. It began when he sent out his first manuscripts to a select few beta readers and noticed how invaluable their feedback was.

‘Then I figured out that… maybe you don’t know all the intelligent people in the world firsthand, so maybe you should broaden your net.’

Now he puts up publicly the table of contents and then the full first draft, turning on the comments function and inviting anyone who’s interested to give their opinion. The feedback helps in the rewriting, and it also completely changes his relationship with his readers, who become invested in the book and its success.

An incredibly inspiring episode, and Guy keeps it real with his advice on getting the darn thing done and not messing up your cover.


Guy on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GuyKawasaki

Guy’s website: https://guykawasaki.com/

Sign up to the next 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge: https://alisonjones.leadpages.co/proposal-challenge/

Alison Jones:  Hello and welcome to the Extraordinary Business Book Club. Today I’m so excited to be here with one of my heroes, Guy Kawasaki. Guy is an entrepreneur, a tech evangelist. He’s worked with Apple, Google, now Canva. He’s a trustee of the Wikimedia Foundation, an executive fellow at the Haas School of Business, a brand ambassador for Mercedes Benz, and an investor and advisor to a long list of tech startups. He’s also written 13 books, all – as he puts it – he’s written one book 13 times. Welcome to the Club, Guy.

Guy Kawasaki:           Thank you. Thank you very much for having me as your guest.

Alison Jones:  Oh, it’s fantastic. It’s such a great opportunity to talk to you. You’ve formed so much of my thinking about the business of books. I love that little phrase you use about having written the same book 13 times. Tell me what you meant by that.

Guy Kawasaki:           It’s a rare attempt at self-deprecation. I have written books about evangelism and startups, and let’s just say that some of the concepts are repeated because frankly I think some of the concepts are right. There’s overlap between my books, and I don’t know how I can avoid that. In one sense, overlap is bad. On the other hand, if I tell you 13 times: “No, now believe me.” What does that mean too? That’s why it gets tricky.

Alison Jones:  Did you struggle with that initially? Did you think, “Oh, I can’t possibly write another book about the same thing,” or you’re just so relaxed about it now because you know that people need to hear it 13 times?

Guy Kawasaki:           Theoretically I make it better and better every time. It’s not like I reversed myself and said evangelism doesn’t work and now you need to do traditional sales.

Alison Jones:  That would be funny, wouldn’t it, if your next book was a traditional advertising book?

Guy Kawasaki:           Let’s just say I’m not Donald Trump.

Alison Jones:  Glad to hear it. One thing I loved about your books, and when I first started out thinking about the whole self-publishing aspect, APE was one of the books that was so formative for me. One thing that really struck me, it’s just such a practical book. It’s got a template, the InDesign template and everything. There is so much stuff in there, and that way that you have of putting your best stuff in the book so generously I think is a hallmark all the way through. I love it. Tell me a little bit about what the thinking is behind that, why you write that way.

Guy Kawasaki:           You’re telling me that all authors don’t do that?

Alison Jones:  No, they really don’t, Guy, they really don’t.

Guy Kawasaki:           Are you saying that some authors save their best stuff and don’t put it in their book?

Alison Jones:  I know, it’s unbelievable, isn’t it? Tell me why … I think about the bakers and the eaters. That made so much sense to me; I’ve used that so many times.

Guy Kawasaki:           The bottom line is that why write a book if you’re not going to tell your best stuff? I also believe that just telling you the best stuff … A, we might not be competing anyway, so what does it matter? B, to use another analogy, I can tell you the recipe, I can tell you the ingredients. That still doesn’t mean you’re going to cook as well as I am. I don’t know, it just never occurred to me to not do it the way I do. It’s a moral obligation. You know, somebody spends 25 bucks, they should be entitled to get your best shot, duh.

Alison Jones:  I couldn’t agree more, but what’s interesting is the confidence that underlies that, because I think when people hold their stuff back, actually it’s rooted in fear.

Guy Kawasaki:           Fear of what?

Alison Jones:  Maybe fear that the best isn’t good enough? I don’t know.

Guy Kawasaki:           Or maybe fear that they shouldn’t write a book.

Alison Jones:  Or fear that if they put it out there, that’s all they have, exactly. The number of times I’ve had this conversation with people, you can’t possibly say all that you know and all that you are in a book. It’s just not possible, but that book becomes like a proxy by which people value you, what it would be like to work with you.

Guy Kawasaki:           Yeah, pretty sad. If a book can replace you, I would say that something’s wrong with you, but anyway, okay.

Alison Jones:  I’d really like you to share the bakers and eaters analogy actually. I don’t know if you need to remember it. It’s just one that stuck with me so much, but you said that the world’s divided into bakers and eaters. I think it’s such a powerful message. Will you just talk us through it?

Guy Kawasaki:           Sure. What I’m saying is that there are fundamentally two different kinds of people. A baker sees the world as a not zero sum game, so you can bake bigger pies, bigger cakes, more cakes, more pies. Everybody can get dessert. An eater sees the world as a zero sum game, so if you eat the pie, I don’t eat the pie. If you eat more of the pie, I eat less of the pie. I just think that being a baker is a better way to live.

Alison Jones:  Yep, and there’s always more pies.

Guy Kawasaki:           There’s always more pies.

Alison Jones:  I like pies. This appeals to me I think on various levels. When you write, what is writing for you? What does it do for you?

Guy Kawasaki:           Pays the bills. I’m now 13 or 14 books in. I never thought I had actually one book in me, much less 13 or 14, and the first one I wrote out of catharsis. Since then, I’ve just been writing because I get to a point where I believe I have something valuable to say and I need to spew it forth. That’s really what I do. It sounds a little arrogant, but I write a book when I believe that I have something important to say. I believe a book is an end in itself, as opposed to a means to an end, so I think of it as art.

Alison Jones:  When you have that itch, a thing to say, do you think is it a talk, is it a blog, is it a book, or is it all of them?

Guy Kawasaki:           I’ve done the theory of go from book to blog and blog to book. I can’t tell you that’s my preferred path. I think a book is very different from a blog. You can’t take a bunch of blog posts and glue them together. I think a book is a standalone entity, and it takes a lot to make it all smooth and cogent and consistent and properly edited. The path that I take for a book is I start in Microsoft Word. I make the most complete outline that I can, and that takes months. Then I just fill in the outline.

Alison Jones:  You engage people in that process as well, don’t you? I remember when we talked for the World Changing Writer’s Review of Art of the Start, and you said that you put that table of contents up there, and “What have I missed? What do you think about this, people?”

Guy Kawasaki:           I put my entire manuscript up a few times.

Alison Jones:  You covered the earth with the first draft, I remember.

Guy Kawasaki:           Lots of publishers and authors, I don’t think they agree. I don’t see anybody else doing it my way, but I’ll tell you, there’s no doubt in my mind that the crowd improves my books. You could make the case that some of these people might have bought your book so you can’t oblige yourself, but I’m not afraid of that. If a thousand people get my manuscript and don’t buy it, the thousand isn’t going to be the difference between success and failure. I want hundreds of thousands. I want millions of people to buy my book. If a thousand don’t, but in fact that process that makes my book better, that enables hundreds of thousands or millions of people to buy it, so be it. I would gladly give away a thousand copies to get hundreds of thousands or millions sold.

Alison Jones:  What happens to the people who are engaged in that? How they feed back, and when you say it makes it better, tell me more, give me more detail. What happens? What do they feed back to you and what do you do with it?

Guy Kawasaki:           I literally post my Word file and I turn on comment thing and I say, “Okay, insert your comments.” Some people print that out and send it to me on paper, which I don’t prefer, but I’ll do it that way. No, the bottom line is here’s my manuscript, have at it.

Alison Jones:  It’s about spreading the idea and the enthusiasm for the idea as much as anything, isn’t it?

Guy Kawasaki:           I think a lot of people have never interacted with an author this way. A lot of people have never had input into a book. They go to Amazon, buy it, and their input is inputting their credit card. There are people who can fundamentally change my book, and people have.

Alison Jones:  When did you discover with Art of the Start particularly? What came out of that process of putting it to the crowd?

Guy Kawasaki:           There was stuff that’s missing, stuff that’s inconsistent, stuff where it’s too weak, stuff that’s not believable, whatever. I can’t tell you that I listen to every comment, but I listen to most of them and as I said, I believe in the wisdom of the crowd.

Alison Jones:  I love the idea of putting it out there. It also helps you think things through. I’m convinced that when you do things in public, you do them differently and more accountably, which I really like as well. You said that first book was cathartic. That was just after you’d left Apple, wasn’t it, The Macintosh Way?

Guy Kawasaki:           Yeah, I was in a company where I wasn’t truly happy, so I did it because I wanted to write a book about how things should be as opposed to how they were, so it was cathartic. I haven’t written books for the reason of catharticism recently, but that first one was.

Alison Jones:  What did it do for you?

Guy Kawasaki:           It launched a writing and speaking career, that’s for sure. I guess it made me feel better.

Alison Jones:  You made that available for free as a download as well, didn’t you?

Guy Kawasaki:           Yeah, it was done 1987, and yeah, I suppose five people in a year might buy it, but who cares at this point? I look at it like not that many people are going to buy it anymore. What have you got to lose? What’s the downside? The royalty on five copies, so $7.50. On the other hand, maybe it will introduce some people to my writing and they’ll buy other books, or who knows? Listen, I spend 15 bucks a day for breakfast, so why would I care about risking $7.50?

Alison Jones:  That’s the thing, isn’t it? Actually the revenues on books are so teeny-tiny, unless you’re doing it at massive scale. You’re right, a hundred thousand copies, you’re getting serious revenue, but generally for most people, it’s not so much the revenue from the book, it’s what the book allows, it’s what the book facilitates.

Guy Kawasaki:           I hate to say it, but I’m not sure I agree with that, because if you’re saying by writing a book it positions you as a knowledge expert or a sector expert, or increases your speaking fees or increases your consulting, I must admit I disagree with that theory.

Alison Jones:  Oo, go on.

Guy Kawasaki:           I don’t think that theory is wrong. Don’t get me wrong, you could write a book. You could therefore increase your consulting fees and your speaking fees, but I think that books are an end in itself and not a means to an end. Whenever I meet people and they say, “Yeah, I want to write a book,” and I say, “Why?” They say, “Because it’s going to help me get speeches, help me get consulting.” I try to talk them out of it because I think you should write a book because you have something to say, not because you want to pimp yourself. Let’s just say, a lot of people don’t agree with that.

Alison Jones:  No, I think you’re right actually, but I think we’re coming from slightly different angles. It’s like a business, isn’t it? Why would you do your business unless you’ve got something to say as well? You’re right, you don’t do a book in … I don’t know, you’ve got to be pragmatic about it, but you don’t have to be cynical. There’s a difference, isn’t there?

Guy Kawasaki:           Yeah.

Alison Jones:  No, but thinking that you’re going to write the book and then the revenues are going to roll in from the book is a different thing as well, so if you’re doing the book it’s about communicating your message in that deep dive way.

Guy Kawasaki:           I’m trying to be not cynical at all. I’m trying to be the most idealistic. At an extreme I would make a case that even if you knew that it didn’t increase your consulting, it didn’t increase your speaking, even if you knew you weren’t going to sell that many copies, would you write the book? If the answer’s yes, then you should write the book.

Alison Jones:  Yeah, there needs to be something below it, doesn’t there? Yeah, that’s a really good way of putting it. Some of the people listening to this will be in the throes of writing their first business book or their first book at all, and they’re going to be facing all the stuff that everybody faces when they write a book: all the despair and oh my god, where’s it going? I’ve lost control of the thing. When you talk to writers, what’s your best bit of advice for them?

Guy Kawasaki:           The best advice is … not to be sexist, but just man up. It’s not an easy process and I’m not your psychiatrist. Who said writing a book is easy? Who said being a chef is easy? Who said being a musician is easy? Who said being anything successful is easy? Every profession requires sacrifices; books are no different. As I said, I’m not your psychiatrist. You either do it or you don’t. I don’t know, tough love.

Alison Jones:  If it’s hard, it’s probably going okay actually. I think that’s quite important as well. I think some people think, “Oh, this is really hard, therefore something’s wrong.” It’s like no, no, it just is really hard and I think people don’t do that kind of sustained work very often. We work on a much quicker gratification schedule these days.

Guy Kawasaki:           Yeah, but tell me a person decides to become a professional musician and six months later is Beyonce. Tell me someone wants to be a professional athlete and six months later is David Beckham. It’s just not true, so it’s not true for anything that’s worth achieving. I guess my most practical advice is get up every day … and believe me, I violate my own advice … get up every day and at least write one page.

Alison Jones:  Consistency.

Guy Kawasaki:           Every day. If you wait for the perfect time where your kids are straight A and they got into the school that they wanted, that your house is clean, that your spouse is happy, that it’s sunny, the birds are singing, Donald Trump isn’t President anymore; wait for that perfect day, you’ll never write your book.

Alison Jones:  Get up when it’s messy and you’re tired and the kids are shouting, and just do it.

Guy Kawasaki:           Yeah.

Alison Jones:  Awesome advice. I always ask people on the show as well to recommend someone that they think has something interesting to say about the business of business books. Who do you think I should invite on?

Guy Kawasaki:           You mean as another speaker?

Alison Jones:  Yeah.

Guy Kawasaki:           I would invite Bob Cialdini. Bob Cialdini wrote a book called Influence. It’s about social psychology. He also has a new book about pre-suasion, and I think that his discussion of how to influence and persuade people, how to use social psychology would be extremely valuable for any author.

Alison Jones:  Fantastic. That’s an awesome recommendation, thank you. Now what should I have asked you that I haven’t asked you?

Guy Kawasaki:           Boy, you’re such a great interviewer, there’s no answer to that. How’s that?

Alison Jones:  That’s a nice shoulder slip. It’s interesting, when you talk to authors, generally they’re used to talking about the subjects of their book. They don’t so often talk about the process of writing them. I don’t know how it is for you when you write. I don’t know whether you just sit and the words flow. It’s interesting, when you say about people should expect it to be hard, I think that’s part of the problem. We read these books and they’re effortless and they’re just beautiful, and you don’t realize the work that went to getting them there.

Guy Kawasaki:           Listen, any author who tells you that writing is effortless is a liar or has a co-author. By definition, there is no such thing. Maybe one of the reasons why you can’t ask many business authors about the process of writing a book is because they didn’t write the book.

Alison Jones:  The elephant in the room, isn’t it?

Guy Kawasaki:           Yeah, some co-author, some intern, some … I don’t know, turn on a tape recorder and transcribe it. I don’t know what it is, but I don’t know how many business authors literally sit down mano a mano with their computer and write a book.

Alison Jones:  Is that the way you do it?

Guy Kawasaki:           Oh, yeah.

Alison Jones:  Old school.

Guy Kawasaki:           Oh, yeah.

Alison Jones:  Well, just you and the whole world, obviously, as co-authors.

Guy Kawasaki:           In a sense, yes, but even that is a process. I don’t think many authors would put themselves through what I put myself through. How many authors are confident enough or stupid enough to send their manuscript to a thousand people who they have no idea who they are, and just say, “Okay, just tell me what you don’t like.” That takes a level of masochism.

Alison Jones:  When you did it the first time, was it an accident or was this a deliberate strategic move on your part?

Guy Kawasaki:           You don’t send a manuscript to a thousand people by accident.

Alison Jones:  I get that’s the way you do it, but how did it happen the first time? It reminds me of that phrase “That was a brave man that first ate an oyster.”

Guy Kawasaki:           I honestly can’t remember how I came up with this genius of a move, but I think that even before I came up with this idea, there were 10, 15, 20 people who I respected in the world who I would send my manuscript to, and I noticed that they came back with very good comments. Then I figured out that, God, maybe you don’t know all the intelligent people in the world firsthand, so maybe you should broaden your net or enlarge your net. Then I said, “Well, how are you going to enlarge your net? You’re going to ask people if they have PhDs in literature, or have they successfully started a company? What are you going to do?” I said, “Well, maybe the guy who failed with the company knows more than the guy who just stepped in shit and came out smelling like a rose.” When you think about it, you just have to assume that it’s the law of big numbers, and that’s what I do.

Alison Jones:  It’s brilliant, it’s genius. Thank you so much, Guy. I think there’s a huge amount in there for everybody. I’m really inspired. I’m going to put my table of contents up.

Guy Kawasaki:           I want to give authors one more tip.

Alison Jones:  Okay, go.

Guy Kawasaki:           Actually two more tips. Tip number one is … I see authors do this all the time. They get too many blurbs. They think that the more blurbs, the more convincing, and it is I think the opposite, that if you have more than three or four blurbs, it looks like you’re trying too hard because you have a piece of crap, so you’re trying to get the regional sales manager of … I don’t know … Hooters to say that you have a great book. I think two to three is the sweet spot. Zero would be the goal, where you don’t have to have external blurbing. That’s number one.

Number two, I think that authors, they tend to look at their book covers one up six by nine, and when you look at your book cover six by nine printed in your hand, you think, “Oh, look at this beautiful delicate font and look at this earth tone awesomeness, and look at this delicate little subtitle.” They don’t understand that nobody buys a book like that, that the context in which your book is bought is Amazon, or at least in the US. It’s Amazon and your book cover is like the size of a postage stamp. What you need to do is look at your cover as a postage stamp, and then can people even read the title? No, most people look at a six by nine, fantasizing that it’s on the front window of some bookstore in Manhattan.

Alison Jones:  “This would make a great poster.”

Guy Kawasaki:           Yeah, it just ain’t going to happen that way.

Alison Jones:  Yeah, brilliant advice, and you’re right about the earth tones and the subtlety and the lacy fonts. Just stay away.

Guy Kawasaki:           Yep, you want sans serif, big font, bright contrasting colours, that’s it. That’s the whole key to a cover.

Alison Jones:  Brilliant. Thank you so much, Guy.

Guy Kawasaki:           You’re welcome, take care.



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