Best Practices for EBook Publishing with Mark Coker of Smashwords

August 7, 2013

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.


Diving into E-Publishing

April 27, 2011

Song of the Day: Fly From the Inside by Shinedown

There is a great deal of excitement buzzing around lately about e-publishing. Authors across genres are casting a favorable eye toward this now viable form of publishing. More and more authors who have been making good money with traditional publishers are jumping ship in favor of more control and ultimately more income.

Add to that, many respectable authors are advocating digital books, hollering at you to pay attention to the shifting tides of the industry. Chief among them is Joe Konrath. If you haven’t already, check out his take on e-publishing. He puts it all in perspective in a series of eye-opening blogs.  Other authors at the bullhorn are Dean Wesley Smith, Barry Eisler, and even Bob Mayer.

There is no doubt e-books are the wave of the future. With Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Createspace, and Smashwords, it’s easier than ever to break into publishing.

The fever from reading blogs, writing communities, and pioneering friends is infectious. Many of us are weighing the idea of wading in the e-pub pool. I say – Great!

But, are you ready?

Don’t swim within 30 minutes of eating. In other words, just because you’ve finished a book doesn’t mean you are ready to smack that baby on Amazon. Hold up. Take a hard look at your work. Have you polished your masterpiece to the best of your abilities? Have you had a million eyes plus two look at your story? Not just friends and family, but people you trust will give their critical and constructive feedback.

Wear the appropriate swimming attire. Make sure you are marketable. By that I mean know who your audience is. Will you appeal to that market? How will you stand out among other authors in your market? You must also either hire someone to design an eye-catching book cover or learn to create your own. Either way, the key is to capture the attention of the reader as well as mimic the essence of the story. Build a web presence. In this digital arena, it is a must to have a website and/or a blog. Readers need to be able to find you, learn more about you, and connect with you. That’s one way to build a fan base. You can’t expect people to find you in an ocean of other storytellers without some kind of name recognition.

Put on your floaties. You’ll need staying power. Digital publishing moves faster than traditional publishing. Readers want instant gratification. If they like your book, they are going to want more. Will you be able to give it to them? Be prepared to offer readers more such as a blurb or excerpt from an upcoming release, even if you are still in the writing stage. Think outside the box!

Slather on the sunscreen. Because once you are out there, you will be subjected to the harsh reality not everyone will like your book.

And don’t pee in the water. Always be gracious when interacting with reviewers, readers, industry professional, and other authors. This is common sense.

Dip your toes in first. Do your research. Make sure e-publishing is right for you. It’s not just about making a book available for online purchase. You can’t expect the currents to guide you. You still need to man the oars, check wind directions, scrape off barnacles, and navigate. You are responsible for promoting yourself and your career. Participate in blogs, submit to review sites, scratch a few backs, and NETWORK.

Wait for the right wave. If you are unsure you are ready to cannonball into e-publishing then be patient. Remember, there will always be readers. But often, we only have one chance to impress.

Me? I’ve got my snorkel and fins and will be joining the tides of e-publishing soon. Stay tuned. I’ll be blogging all about my journey.


Rubbernecking – Behaving Badly

March 30, 2011

Song of the day: Re-arranged by Limp Bizkit

I had another blog queued for this week but after an unfortunate, if not absurdly comical, incident this week, I felt compelled to write about authors behaving badly.

I’ll briefly touch on said incident. But out of respect for all parties involved, I decline posting the link to this messy debacle.

An author submitted an e-published novel to a blog for review. The reviewer issued the author two stars out of five citing many grammatical errors. The reviewer did not bash the author and, in fact, commented that the story itself was quite good. However, the author needed to work on her craft. This undoubtedly upset the author as she launched into what I can only describe as a temper tantrum. She accused the reviewer of not downloading the correct copy of her book and vehemently disagreed with the reviewer’s judgment. Sadly, her rebuttal was riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, thereby, reinforcing his rating. She then followed up with posts pointing to links where favorable reviews could be read. Did she stop there? Nope. She then demanded the bad review be removed. The critic stuck by his guns, and rightly so.

At this point, blog followers began their own assessments, calling the author petty, childish, and unprofessional. Some were sympathetic, calling for her to take a deep breath and step back, but most were not. And really, who could blame them with all her backbiting and name calling. She even went so far as to tell posters to f*** off not once but twice. Thus, a viral train wreck was born. It was so bad, you just couldn’t look away. Editors and agents tweeted about it. Loops and forums lit up with chatter. This author became fodder for social networks everywhere, including a YouTube video. In truth, from the outside, this meltdown was just as hilarious as jaw-dropping. But amid the face-palming, head-shaking, and snickering, there is a smidgen of pity. The poor lady, in her fit of anger, committed career suicide. I could almost hear TAPS playing in the background.

The publishing industry is not at all like Hollywood. Bad behavior does not equal increased sales. Just the opposite. The offensive author proved that. She collected 58 one star reviews on Amazon in two days. That speaks volumes on the power and speed with which people rally. Did all those people actually read the book? Who knows. It could be argued the author profited from 58 downloads. In the long run, future readers will take note of the overwhelming amount of low ratings and skip her book. Behaving badly sank her ship.

Get a bad review? Thank the critic for their time. Leave it at that. Say no more. As the old saying goes, you’ll catch more bees with honey than vinegar. Shaking the hive will get you stung. Do NOT defend yourself. You’ll appear wet behind the ears and immature.

Never EVER bad mouth a reviewer, agent, editor, or another author in a public forum. Ever! (You really shouldn’t do this among friends either. Karma can be a bitch.) Once it’s out there, it’s out there forever, for anyone to see. There are no take backs. You’ll only look like a big fat ass, and who needs more fat asses? What’s worse is you’ll lose integrity and the respect of your peers. And for the love of Pete, don’t tell people to f*** off. Instead, take a time out. Get cozy with a bottle of whiskey. Scarf a tub or two of ice cream. Scream, kick, and sob into your pillow. Call a 800#. Then pull up your big girl/boy skivvies and slather on a generous amount of sunscreen for that thick skin you’ll be growing.

Everyone has a voice and an opinion. Chances are, at some point someone is going to ruffle your feathers. Just remember, people are listening. Conduct yourself with the highest level of professionalism.

Give me a shout. I’d love to hear your thoughts.