How to Self Publish a Book - Jon Kolko

In Chapter 9 of 21 in his 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, design educator Jon Kolko answers "How Did You Build Upon Past Writing Projects in Publishing Your Latest Book?"  Kolko self-publishes his first book which then was picked up by a publisher, where it found moderate success.  For his second book, Kolko works through a publisher and decides for his third book he will self-publish.  He shares the various aspects of the publishing process he has learned to navigate as he goes through the self-publishing process. 

Jon Kolko the founder and director of the Austin Center for Design.  He has authored multiple books on design, including "Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving."  Previously he has held senior roles at venture accelerator Thinktiv and frog design and was a professor of Interactive and Industrial Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).  Kolko earned his Masters in Human Computer Interaction (MHI) and BFA in Design from Carnegie Mellon University.


Erik Michielsen: How did you build upon past writing projects in publishing your latest book?

Jon Kolko: I learned a ton doing my first couple of books. Some brief history, is I self-published the very first one and we printed a thousand copies and all thousand of them show up in a truck and then you sell them online, blah, blah, blah, and then that got picked up by a publisher. That was moderately successful. The next book got picked up by an academic publisher, that was not very successful. And so, I got to the point where I was like, “Alright, I'm not working with publishers anymore.” I can do all the things a publisher can do, I can do them faster, and I can do them, I think, better. Again, with a caveat maybe of editing. 

So I was able to do all of those things myself and in retrospect there's actually nothing hard about publishing a book. I'm astounded that actually a lot of the big presses are still in business at all because it is so easy. And so, again there's some really pragmatic steps like acquiring an ISBN number, getting your book listed in the various services, books in print, and on Amazon and stuff. But you can Google any of that and it's all there. The only thing that is difficult that remains is what is the book about and what does it look like. Coming soon will be in which digital formats do you support and that’s starting to start to be an issue right now. Even something as simple as exporting to an EPUB and a MOBI and stuff is a pain in the ass and it won’t be in the future. 

But for the time being, if you have a good idea and you know someone who can lay it out or you can lay it out yourself, you got a book. Your audience will find you. Long Tail or any other catchy name for it like that, that works. And so, I think what I learned from the publishing experience is that I don’t need that publishing experience. It gave me the confidence to say that old, tired machine is not for me.