Best Practices for EBook Publishing with Mark Coker of Smashwords

Song of the Day: Prayer of the Refugee by Rise Against

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending a workshop hosted by Northwest Houston RWA, my local Romance Writers of America chapter. The speaker, Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords.

Now this is not the first time I’ve met Mark, nor the first time I’ve listened to him speak. But I couldn’t wait to hear him talk again. He has a very impressionable way with understanding the world of eBook self-publishing.

With his permission, I’m going to relay the notes I took from his talk on the best practices for publishing an eBook.

photo (22)

Mark and Jenn!

1. Write a fantastic book. Honor the reader with a great story and satisfy them by moving them to an emotional extreme. It doesn’t stop there. Make sure you are fanatical about the entire process, including the editing and packaging.

2. Create a great cover. The cover is not only the first impression on the path to discovery, but a promise to the reader. Use a professional cover artist, or, if you plan to do the cover yourself, make sure the cover is comparable to what New York publishers produce. Make sure your cover targets your audience. The cover is merchandised as a thumbnail. It should look great in that size.

3. A no-brainer, but warrants repeating. Write another super awesome book.

4. Give some books away for free. By doing this, you eliminate the financial risk new readers face. Free books builds awareness and trust. This especially works well for books of a series. If you have a series, at least one book should be free, even if for a little while.

5. Patience, it’s a virtue. Retailers force books out of print before they have a chance because new books are kept on the shelves for only a few short weeks. Most don’t have an opportunity to gain an audience, much less a fan base. EBooks are immortal…and changeable.

6. Maximize availability—don’t be exclusive. Play the field, play with everyone. If you are exclusive, you limit discoverability and become dependent on the site of the exclusivity. Oh, and by the way, retailers see no stigma in self-published books.

7. Build a platform. The larger your platform, the more power you have over your career. Connecting with readers becomes a form of currency. There is no single right way to do this. Use all the social media tools you feel comfortable with. Have a newsletter. Some will want to connect using blogs, but it is difficult to gain readership this way. However, once you do, they are yours for life. And here’s a biggie, offer a way for readers to connect with you at the end of your book, aside from your website. It simply makes sense, but is often overlooked.

smashwords style guide

Free! Click cover for your copy!

8. Architect for “virality”. “Spread the germ.” Get your fans talking about you. Word-of-mouth is still the most powerful way to discoverability. Book marketing is always going to stem from word-of-mouth. Utilize viral catalysts that makes your books more accessible, discoverable, desirable, and enjoyable—story, cover, title, editing, targeting right audience, book description, pricing, broad distribution, formatting, proper categorization, just to name a few. Eliminate the friction that limits the catalysts (think exclusivity, lacking cover, bad editing, etc.).

9. Unit volume is a lever for success. Every book sale has two benefits: money and a new readers. The latest survey conducted by Smashwords indicated that $1.99 was a black hole, not performing as well as higher priced units, and $3.99 was the current sweet spot for all genres. Proper pricing can maximize money made and the amount of readers. Keep in mind lower priced units will sell more units, and higher priced units will sell fewer, but the lower priced units under-perform as income and higher priced units will get you more readers. Of course, experience may vary and it is encouraged to play around with pricing to find what works best for your book.

smashwords marketing guide

Free! Click the cover for your copy!

10. Don’t worry about piracy. Obscurity is the bigger risk. Those stealing your books weren’t going to buy your book to begin with. Who knows, you may even gain a super reader out of it. Most piracy is accidental—a lending of a book, picking up a book at a garage sale, etc. This type of discoverability is effective and cheap! The best way to combat piracy is to make your book easier to purchase than steal. This goes back to distributing broadly and pricing fairly. And it doesn’t hurt to add a polite license statement in the book. (See Smashwords’ example in their style guide.)

11. Take advantage of Pre-orders. This will be available soon through all distributors. In short, list your book for sale before it officially hits the virtual shelves. Allow a sample to be downloaded. It is highly suggested books should be completely ready before listing it as a pre-order. Some retailers will credit all the pre-sales on the day the book comes for sale. This will possibly shoot the book onto various best-selling lists. Let me add here SHAZAM! Putting a book up for pre-order sale 4 to 6 weeks prior to release gives you, the author, a chance to market the book generating interest. Capture the reader and get them to buy while they are still fired-up instead of waiting until release day when they most likely have forgotten or are no longer as interested. Check out Smashwords’ blog post on pre-orders.

12. Practice partnerships and positivity. If you discover something that works well, share it with others. This builds friendships and a good reputation. Don’t be a complainer or behave badly. Everyone, including the marketing peeps at retailers, have Goggle Alerts. You will be remembered.

13. Collaborate with fellow authors. Short stories, bundles, or boxed sets are a great way to share, promote, and gain new readers with existing fan bases of your fellow collaborators. Plus the retailers like them and they sell well.

smashwords practices

Free! Click the cover for your copy!

14. Think globally. All retailers are expanding beyond the US. Aggressively. Over 40% of Apple sales are outside the US and looks to be trending higher. And these books are in English.

15. You are running a business. Business requires a profit. Most books don’t sell well, so control your expenses. Never borrow money to publish a book. Pinch your pennies. Invest in great service. If you can’t afford it, offer to trade services. Once you are profitable, reinvest in your business.

Whoa! That’s a lot of information. Absorb it! And to help, check out Smashwords FREE marketing books and style guides.

What do you think about these practices? Have you tried any? What has worked or not worked for you? Do you have other tips to share? Let’s hear from you.

16 Responses to Best Practices for EBook Publishing with Mark Coker of Smashwords

  1. Fantastic advice!! I tweeted and shared.

    Like

  2. Reblogged this on Ella Quinn ~ Author and commented:
    I’ve never reblogged twice in one day, but you have to read this!

    Like

  3. Maria Cecilli-Crust aka Ria Cantrell says:

    This is awesome. Thank you for this wonderful advice. Well put and well written. All the best!

    Like

  4. jeff7salter says:

    excellent info. thanks for sharing, Jenn.
    And thanks for including the pix of the cute female.

    Like

  5. This article delivers some excellent points about publishing EBooks. I particularly like the emphasis on building a reputation through friendships. Thank you!

    Like

    • jbrayweber says:

      Agreed. Where else can a writer find such amazing support than through the friends you’ve found in other authors? Having a trustworthy reputation certainly stokes the word-of-mouth ideal, as well. 😀

      Like

  6. Angelyn says:

    I attended that talk last year and it was worth every minute. Thanks for reposting.

    Like

    • jbrayweber says:

      Thanks, Angelyn. I, too, had heard Mark speak last year at the RWA conference. It was after that workshop that I asked him to come down to Houston and talk with my chapter mates. His advice is well worth hearing, and hearing often.

      Like

  7. reneeregent says:

    Thanks for the great notes! I didn’t make it to that one while I was at RWA13. Was wishing I had a clone so I could attend all the panels!

    Like

    • jbrayweber says:

      Maybe next year, Renee. There was so much focus on self-publishing, Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, B&N, etc. I just can’t imagine that the swell of e-pubbing will subside. It’s here to stay.

      Like

  8. odie8654 says:

    Thanks for the notes!! Sounds like a good speaker!

    Like

  9. […] Best Practices for EBook Publishing with Mark Coker of Smashwords […]

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