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.

Buying Your Way To The Top

February 27, 2013

Song of the Day: Empire by Queesnrÿche

What would you do to get on the New York Times bestseller’s list? How far would you go? How far is too far?

Oh, sure. Many of us have tried to manipulate the algorithms and sales numbers in various ways to our favor. We might offer a book for free for a limited time. Loads of people will take advantage of freebies, not thinking twice about downloading a book. It’s free, for crying out loud. We beg shamelessly, if not apologetically, for ‘Likes’ and ‘Tags’ to maneuver us to the top in genre specific search engines. We’ve had our family, friends, writing pals, and street teams do buying blitzes to get our names up on the board. These efforts are in hopes to reaching a prestigious list and inching our way up the Top 100 or Top 10 lists. These lists validate us, offer recognition, and generate interest, thereby increasing our book sales organically—preferably in a snow ball effect which launches our careers into the stratosphere. Look out JK, Nora, Stephen, and James. There’s a new kid in town.

getty rf top tenWe explore endless marketing options, participate in blog tours and book signings, deliver our souls to social media, lug ourselves to conferences and conventions, invest our hard earned pennies in ads and swag. And even some of us hire PR assistants. All in the name of success. It’s what we do to build our enterprises. Who doesn’t want to be a household name,  lounging on a private beach with muscular, oiled, deliciously bronzed gods fanning us with palm fronds, massaging our tired shoulders, feeding us grapes and adult beverages, and whispering in our ear how wonderful the movie-version of our book is doing at the box-office, or at least make a comfortable living as a writer?

But what if you could buy your way onto the New York Times bestseller’s list at the debut of your book upon your release date? Got deep pockets and a guarantee of 11,000 pre-orders of your unreleased book? You can purchase a spot. The practice is termed the bestseller campaign.

In short, you hire marketing firm ResultSource (cha-ching!) which specializes in bestseller campaigning and secure a pre-selling commitment of bulk sales that reach into the thousands.

Read more on how one author did it here.

And here’s another article in Forbes on the subject.

The argument is the same for those of us who have done freebie days or book bombing or any one of the multitude of ways to reach a list—getting your name out there long enough to glean status and interest  It’s an investment into your career.

This is surprisingly not a new practice, nor is it exactly a secret. But it seems to be one that isn’t widely discussed. And while I can’t say for certain, I would wager that burning a hole rf gettypublishers aren’t rocking the boat if their clients decide to hire a firm to catapult them onto the bestseller’s lists. It is business, after all.  And business good for the author is good for the publisher.

That said, I do want to point out that the articles I listed above are focused on business non-fiction books. However, the methodology could be applied to anyone who has written a book, has spare change burning a hole in their pockets and 5,000 Facebook friends who aren’t afraid of commitment. For me, I’d rather make a list based on my talent and merit.

So is this practice moral? Is it fleecing book buyers into thinking a title is popular and in demand?  To an author, should it matter, so long as they get their ROI and, possibly, a fan base? Is this business savvy or deception? Does this make the bestsellers lists a sham? If you were able to work the system, would you?

Let’s hear your thoughts.

Cover me! I’m going in!

January 25, 2012

Song of the day: The Way You Move by Since October

I’m a woman. I’m a writer. So it stands to reason that I am fickle and never quite satisfied. Shocking, I know.

Something has been burrowing in the back of my mind for some time now. It wasn’t until recently I decided to confront the gnawing little critter. My debut pirate romance Blood and Treasure has a couple of flaws. *gasp* The longer I tried to ignore it, the louder the flaws scratched, chattered, and hollered at me to fix them. I became obsessed by those damned errors. Now we authors know that no matter how polished and shiny our masterpieces are, we will find something we want desperately to change or improve. It’s the nature of the beast.

I could stand the incessant badgering no longer. The past couple of weeks, I poured over Blood and Treasure correcting wayward punctuation and banishing anachronistic words that somehow, either by oversight or blind eye, made it into the novel. The result? A breath of relief reviewers and readers didn’t find my faux pas—or found them serious enough to string me up by my toenails. Over dramatic and paranoid? Perhaps.

That’s not all. As much as I love my cover, I realized something very crucial. The cover need to be revamped. This became glaringly obvious once I saw the new cover for my latest pirate tale Beneath the Water’s Edge (forthcoming – I promise). These covers needed to match in tone, mood, setting, font, and heat level. Especially since they belong to the same series. As much as it hurt to let go of the current cover, it was imperative to move on. (I’ll miss you, Jimmy! Please don’t forget me. I’ll write every day! ) It’s marketing. And it makes sense.

The downside – all those print copies and trading cards sitting in my closet. I feel a sale coming on!

So what do you think? If you want to know who created the cover, check back for my next Link of the Week.


Dressing the Part – Corsets, Torture, & Voyeuristic Pirates

October 26, 2011

Song of the Day: Pain by Three Days Grace

The woman, a complete stranger, left me winded, dizzy. Like a thief, she stole my breath away and along with it, my good sense. Reining me into her designs armed with nothing more than a scrap of leather.

What’s this all about?

Since my passion is writing fun, steamy, adventuresome pirate romances, I’ve been toying with the idea of dressing the part – for appearances and book signings, of course. Last week, I visited a boutique, The Spotted Pony, in historic Old Town Spring. The shop specializes in Renaissance and pirate paraphernalia, including authentic clothing. Its proprietor is a saucy sort, old enough to be my grandmother and sharp of tongue. She was eager to help me once I explained why I was shopping in her unique store. In hindsight, she might have been too eager.

She produced a leather corset from behind the counter. An investment, she insisted. Now, I recently lost 40 pounds, but when she said the corset was a size 30 in the waist, I laughed. She suggested it was too big. I disagreed considering I couldn’t get the damned thing to latch around my ribcage. I wondered if I might have peeved the woman for chuckling as she slapped down on the counter a corset the next size smaller. She was either a witchy woman ready to deliver spite upon me or a tarot card short of a complete deck.

She had me unlace the corset while she rang out another customer. When I misunderstood and removed the laces instead, she chastised me with a wag of her finger and the shake of her head. Hey, in my defense, I write about taking these things off, not putting them on.

I followed her to the not-so-private dressing room. Ironically, I shared the space with a life-size cutout of Will Turner from the Pirates of the Caribbean. Not that I minded. After finally attaching the first button (I swear it took five whole minutes!), I was drenched in sweat. Oh, but we had only just begun.

The crazy proprietor tells me to turn around so she can lace me up. Tugging away, she tells me she has arthritis and may not be able to tighten the corset completely. Really? Imagine, if you will, the scene in Gone With The Wind with Mammy lacing Scarlett’s corset. All that yanking and cringing … I’m holding onto the door jam, giggling like a crazed fool, as the lunatic conducts torture with her arthritic hands. I half expected her to brace her foot against the wall for leverage as hard as she pulled. It’s all fun and games until someone cracks a rib.

All blood flow had been cut off to my brain, my vision blurred with the spinning of the room. Breathing had become a luxury and came only in short gasps. Good grief, by the time she was done, my boobs, which is one of my better assets, were eye level. I needed mirrors and a guide dog to walk across the room. No doubt the contraption was created by a man. Speaking of which, this is when I noticed the twenty-something man lingering by the same racks he’d been browsing before we started this cruel and unusual punishment. Hmm…

Perfect! the delightfully batty shopkeeper claimed. The lack of oxygen must have caused a momentary lapse in reasoning because I agreed. I bought the “investment”.

The things we do for our craft.

Have you ever dressed the part for your stories or bought something to help inspire you? Let me hear from you, but speak up. I can’t hear you over this heavy breathing.