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Releasing "Hedge": A Few Thoughts on Publishing
European Straits #77
As most of you know, my new book Hedge: A Greater Safety Net for the Entrepreneurial Age was released last week. Several hundred copies have already been sold. But in case you don’t have yours yet:
Here’s a dedicated website designed by my wonderful team: hedgethebook.com. It includes advance praise for the book and answers to frequently asked questions. I’ll add more content related to the book as we move forward.
And once you’ve read the book, don’t forget to write a review on Amazon! Warm recommendations are the most important part of spreading the word about inventing a new Safety Net for the Entrepreneurial Age.
Keen observers might have noticed that Hedge is published through Amazon’s in-house publishing services, which means it is printed on-demand when you order! Whether you noticed or not, I wanted to use this issue to explain why we chose to publish Hedge using Amazon’s services rather than going through a traditional publisher.
I know the publishing world quite well. When I was still working in the French civil service back in 2009, one of my missions was to report on the future of the content industry in the digital economy, and publishing was a large part of that. Later I learned to use publishing as one of the most telling examples of exactly how the digital transition unfolds in a particular industry. As you can guess, this transition favors tech-driven new entrants (in this case, Amazon) at the expense of once-dominant incumbents. While the story rarely ends well for the latter, they usually manage to retain their grip on the industry for quite some time, continuing to capture a large chunk of the value added while creating less and less of that value. This is all explained in this strategy paper of mine: The Five Stages of Denial.
I have also already published two books in France, both with a branch of the mighty Hachette Book Group. The first was with my friend Henri Verdier (L’Âge de la multitude) and the other was with my wife Laetitia Vitaud (Faut-il avoir peur du numérique ?). I’ve always had a very good relationship with our editors (first Stéphane Bureau, then Émilie Lerebours), who helped improve the manuscripts a great deal. But those valuable personal relationships notwithstanding, the services performed by the publishing house have often appeared irrelevant at best, and predatory or counter-productive at worst.
So why do most authors keep trying to work with traditional publishers? For one, many are at a loss when it comes to marketing their work (and themselves), and that marketing effort has traditionally been the core business of the publisher. What’s more, if you have significant media exposure, it helps to go with traditional publishers because only they have the physical distribution firepower to translate good marketing into actual sales. The fact remains that many people will only buy your book after listening to your latest radio interview if they find it while shopping at a nearby bookstore.
You may already be able to guess why we at The Family decided it made sense to publish Hedge ourselves rather than with a publishing house:
As an investment firm focused on educating entrepreneurs, we have experience in marketing content and ideas. What’s more, in our more digital economy most traditional publishers are lagging behind in terms of digital marketing. They master traditional channels as well as mass media, but they’re not keeping up in areas such as growth hacking and social media.
As this is my first book in English, I'm not yet a household name with Hedge’s target audience. So even if I had hired an agent and dealt with a publisher, the latter would probably have been reluctant to allocate significant resources to marketing and distributing my book.
Finally, I must add that publishers, despite many of them belonging to multinational corporations, are still very much trapped within national borders. For a book like Hedge, which addresses the global tech community (and policymakers all over the world), this is a problem.
Considering all that, you can understand why I immediately agreed when my partner Oussama Ammar emerged from reading the Tim Ferriss blog convinced that we had to publish the book ourselves. It was a decision that matched our entrepreneurial ethos and that made economic as well as strategic sense. Indeed, there are many advantages to taking this approach:
Speed is key. It takes an incredibly long time to write a book. But once it’s finished, if you circumvent traditional publishers, it’s only a matter of days before you can sell it and receive feedback. And I think that nowadays it’s critically important to release content in the heat of the moment. (Plus, because it’s printed on demand, you can update the content and correct typos at any time, which is extremely convenient.)
More flexibility in the content you use is another advantage. I estimate that about 20% of Hedge was first drafted as Medium stories or issues of this newsletter before being improved, expanded, and included in the book. Yet no traditional publisher would have allowed me to re-use material that was first made available elsewhere.
We have total control over the content, illustrations, layout, cover, etc., which I’ve much appreciated given that at The Family we have a team that brings together many skills and strong opinions in those areas.
Not working with a traditional publisher makes it possible to have real-time tracking of sales, which in turn makes it possible to implement effective growth hacking. You may already know that in the traditional publishing world, authors are informed of their book’s sales several months later—if at all!
Finally, there are shortcomings of self-publishing that we were collectively able to deal with in ways that not every author can afford to do:
Editing is something I personally enjoy, and my career path has trained me to be a ruthless perfectionist in terms of both content and form. What’s more, members of my team as well as my wife and several friends have acted as complementary editors, attentively reading the book and providing harsh feedback.
I’m excited to start speaking publicly about Hedge and we at The Family have a network to set up engagements and events around the globe. From September to December I’ll go on a tour of various cities in Europe and the US to promote the book and nurture the conversation around the future of the Safety Net. From experience, I know that such events are the very best way to foster sales—and we don’t need a publisher to do it.
I’m not saying that I’ll never work with a publisher again. Maybe Hedge will pave the way for interesting opportunities with the English-speaking publishing industry. And not every book lends itself to the specific strategic trade-offs that come with self-publishing.
In the meantime, we’re able to make the most of the agility. Whether print or ebook, Hedge is available worldwide: you can have it delivered anywhere within days. The initial price has been set at a relatively low level for its category, because we want as many people as possible to hear its message—and because it’s summertime ☀️. We’ll be hiking the price up at the end of August (another feature enabled by self-publishing), so definitely don’t delay getting your own copy 😘.
All the best (from Paris, France, where a big party is underway as our national football team just won the semi-finals 🇫🇷),