Self-Publishing & Sponsorship: a Delicate Balance -

Shel Israel inContext

Self-Publishing & Sponsorship: a Delicate Balance

Balancing Act

I get a steady stream of questions about why Robert Scoble and I self publish and just how our sponsorship works. I could write a book on this topic and perhaps I would, but Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch already have. It is called APE: Author, Publisher and Entrepreneur, I would describe it as the guidebook for blind authors. As authors, Robert and I figured out the why on our own, but APE gave us the how to.

When Robert and I decided to self-publish, I had a barrier. While Robert had a day job, I was trying to make a living speaking and writing. A new book would require fulltime focus and I needed money to support myself and cover the costs of editing, publishing and marketing.  We turned to the experience of another friend, Rick Smolan, who has been wildly successful using sponsorship to underwrite his breathtakingly beautiful photo books including the Day in the Life series that he originally produced. He, in turn, got the idea from the former Australian prime minister.

For Rick–and us– there is a certain discomfort, about our blurring the traditional lines between church and state. We want sponsors whose brands would be helped by the subjects we cover. We want to represent companies that see our value in writing a quality product. Often, these brands also have technologies or stories that fit into the book we are writing.

This creates the need to maintain a  delicate balance between  enhancing a sponsor’s brand while maintaining editorial quality on one hand, or becoming content marketing shills–creating a new form of deceptive commercial promotion on the other, and thus  hurting ourselves–and our sponsors– with both readers and conference producers.

So, Robert and I have developed a Sponsorship Golden Rule: Do onto sponsors as we do onto everybody else.

There will never be a quid pro quo with sponsors. We will cover them if they have news that is useful or interesting to our intended readers. If they expect more than that we will not accept them. We have declined a couple of nice deals because something other than standard journalistic practices were being asked of us.

These are difficult times in so many ways. Both times and rules seem to be in flux. Writers, designers, illustrators, and so many other professionals are dealing with business models that no longer work. We are struggling  to figure out new models that can support us, without forcing us into ethically challenging positions. We need to be more transparent than ever before.

Likewise, companies with discretionary marketing resources need to explore new avenues. They know that yesterday’s best marketing practices need to be replaced by better practices, ones that build trust rather than test it. We think we have found one small way for them to accomplish that and we hope others will follow the trail we are blazing and find ways to refine it, the way we have refined what we learned from Guy, Shawn and Rick.

When you think about it, our sponsorship model is not so radical: there have been patrons of the arts since Medieval times and public radio has also been embraced by brands wishing to be associated with the content being provided.

If you want to know more about what we are doing, contact me at shelisrael on Facebook Messenger or at  And [ahem] if you have any interest in sponsoring our new book, please do the same by all means.

One Response

  • Jan 22, 2016

    I was a wondering when this would come up, Shel. so basically sponsorship in the self publishing world is analogous to an advance from a publisher.
    have fun and knock it out of the Valley.

    jim forbes Jan 22, 2016

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