Monday, March 28, 2011

Guest Post by Mark Coker, Creator of Smashwords

Are you an author? Have you self-pubbed on yet?

If not, you're missing out on making money.

In the past year, I've earned over $15,000 on Smashwords. And my numbers are on the rise.

Though I've have many conversations with owner Mark Coker over the years, I never asked him how he got started, and what he hopes to accomplish.

Until now...

Joe: What made you decide to create Smashwords?

Mark: Smashwords is my answer to what’s broken in Big Publishing.

The path to here was unexpected.

My wife (a former reporter for Soap Opera Weekly magazine) and I wrote a novel, Boob Tube, a roman à clef about the daytime television soap opera industry.

The book was repped by Dystel & Goderich, one of the top literary agencies in New York. Despite their great enthusiasm and effort, they were unable to sell the book after two years. Publishers questioned the commercial potential of a novel that targeted soap opera fans. Previous soap-related novels had performed poorly.

As you might imagine, after putting our lives on hold for four years to research, write, revise (and revise and revise and revise) and edit our book, we were disappointed to have publishers deny us a chance to reach readers.

The more I reflected on our predicament, the more I realized we were not alone. I imagined there were millions of other writers around the world much more talented than us who faced the same problem. I imagined the loss of thousands of literary masterpieces – cultural treasures that would never see the light of day. If you love and cherish books as I do, you can’t help but mourn the tragedy of this lost potential.

I decided Big Publishing was broken. Big Publishing is in the business of publishing what it thinks it can sell, not what is good. Big Publishers operate in the rear view mirror. They try to acquire books similar to what was selling yesterday, and then they release the book in 12-18 months.

“Commercial potential” is a myopic, misguided and ultimately destructive prism through which to measure a book’s value. Never mind that publishers, despite their best effort, can’t accurately predict which books will become hits. Readers decide that.

Big Publishing is unable to take a risk on every author, and as a result they say no to books readers would want to buy.

I decided the world needed a new approach to publishing, one that was faster, cheaper and more democratized. I realized there was an opportunity to solve this problem with technology.

My background here in Silicon Valley is in technology marketing. Over my last 20 years, I’ve come to appreciate what happens when technology collides with ossified industries and business models. Technology hits like a wind-driven fire through an overgrown forest. The impact is sudden and traumatic, but from the ashes sprouts healthier and more vibrant ecosystems.

My idea was simple. Wouldn’t it be cool, I imagined, if I could create an online publishing platform that would give any author, anywhere in the world, the freedom to publish what they want? I’d give readers the freedom to curate the books. And I’d turn the compensation model upside down so authors became the primary economic beneficiaries of their work.

This is what we created with Smashwords. We put the printing press online, and made it freely available to anyone as a self-serve tool. Smashwords allows me to take a risk on every author.

Joe: What drives you to stay on this path?

Mark: I’m on a mission to turn publishing upside down. Big Publishing was squandering the future of books. Their practices limited book availability, encouraged high prices to consumers, fostered lower quality celebrity books, reduced diversity, and failed to adequately compensate authors. Most importantly, readers were denied access to the diverse riches of authors’ minds.

I’m also an entrepreneur. I’ve always been drawn to startups that have the power to effect positive social change. With Smashwords, I see an opportunity to create a large, valuable business that generates significant social and economic value for our authors, publishers, readers, and retail partners.

Joe: Are ebooks going to become the dominant format for books? If so, how long will it take until it happens?

Mark: Indie authors are a leading indicator of where publishing is going. Ebooks already outsell print for most indie authors. Brick and mortar bookstores are in decline, and this is both a cause and a result of the move to online book buying, among other factors. When book shelves go virtual, the playing field between big publisher and indie author is leveled. Actually, I’d go one step further and say that the move to indie ebooks actually tilts the playing field to the author’s advantage. Big Publishing can’t compete against indie ebooks because their expenses are too high and production schedules too slow.

To appreciate the dramatic growth of ebooks, the numbers from the Association of American Publishers provide a useful point of reference. According to the AAP, ebooks as a percentage of overall trade book sales in the US reached about 8% in 2010, up from 3% in 2009, 1% in 2008, and ½ of 1% in 2007. Yet these numbers dramatically understate what’s really happening.

The AAP numbers reflect what the 12-14 large publishers who contribute to the data are doing with ebooks, but the data doesn’t capture small presses and indie authors. The numbers also don’t reflect unit volume. Since ebooks are priced less than print, the unit market share for ebooks is greater than the revenue numbers would indicate.

Large independent publishers like Sourcebooks that have embraced ebooks are already seeing 1/3 of their revenues coming from ebooks. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sourcebooks begins deriving over 50% of their unit volume from ebooks with the next nine months.

Joe: Whenever I upload a new title to Smashwords, I'm put in a queue that is often several hundred titles long. How many ebooks does Smashwords now publish, and how many do you think it will have published five years from now based on current trends?

Mark: We reached a new milestone last week: We now publish over 40,000 books, and we released 5,300 of them in the last 30 days. In 2008, our first year in business, we published 140 books. By 2009, we reached 6,000. By the end of 2010, we were at 28,500. We’re on track to reach 75,000 books by the end of this year, which means we’ll almost double in nine months what took us three years. Within five years, who knows. 250,000? 500,000? I’m hesitant to guess. We’ve been doing this for three years now and I feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of the possible.

Our Meatgrinder conversion engine burns red hot 24 hours a day. Not only are we converting these 5,000+ new titles a month into nine different ebook formats, we’re also converting a multiple of that for our 16,000+ authors who are constantly upgrading their existing Smashwords books with better formatting, better book cover images and other tweaks. A couple years ago, most Smashwords authors would get full multi-format conversions in 5-10 minutes from upload. Today, the queue is running 5-7 hours.

It’s ironic how author expectations have changed with the advent of ebooks. We’ve gone from a world where authors were previously content waiting years for their book to appear in print to today where a 5 hour wait is unacceptable. And I agree! We have a plan to scale our conversions systems so we can get back under 10 minutes.

Joe: Can the Big 6 save themselves?

Mark: The era of Big Publishing is over. I wrote the other week at the Smashwords blog about the imminent author uprising against Big Publishing. Some authors are beginning to realize that much of what they were taught about the path to authorship is a myth. The rules have changed.

Many writers today still cling to this old idea that they’re not a real author until they’ve been blessed by the Holy Father of Big Publishing. Screw that. Why should authors subject themselves to this false religion of Big Publishing? Big Publishing as we know it is dead.

Sure, some of the Big 6 will survive, but they’ll do it by getting smaller or consolidating. Their expense structures are unsustainably high. Manhattan sky rise rents add absolutely no value to a book, only expense.

Ebooks, led by indie authors and mainstream author defections to indie, will accelerate the demise of Big Publishing. Authors are already asking, “what can a publisher do for me that I can’t do for myself.” The next big questions is, “Will a big publisher limit my success as an author?” You’ve answered that question for months here on your blog. It’s a question Big Publishers don’t want their authors asking, because the answer reveals the mirage of Big Publishing.

Big Publishing was built on a model of scarcity. They controlled the printing press, they controlled access to distribution, and they limited supply. In the old print world, if a writer wanted to reach a lot of readers, they had to bow subservient upon the altar of Big Publishing.

What a difference a few years make. Thanks to the Internet, self-publishing and ebooks, the tools to publish and distribute have become fully democratized.

Authors can publish directly to their readers with self-published ebooks. Every major ebook retailer wants to carry self-published ebooks, and Smashwords is a primary enabler of this. The retailers are smart. They realize their customers don’t care what publisher name is in on the virtual spine. It’s all about the quality of the book.

The future of publishing belongs to authors, though I still see great opportunity for agents and publishers.

The opportunity for agents is to help the most commercially successful authors – traditional and indie– become even more successful. Agents will help the biggest authors navigate these dual worlds of traditional and indie – worlds that can coexist.

The opportunity for publishers is to more cost effectively do for authors what authors cannot or will not do for themselves. Just because an author has the power to be their own editor, book doctor, cover designer, production department, printer, distributor, sales force, marketer and accounting department, doesn’t mean they should assume all these roles. We’re already seeing the emergence of publishing service providers who specialize in these tasks above. Smashwords is obviously an example on the distribution side.

So in other words, the publishing professionals now working at the Big 6 still have a very bright future. There will be more authors and books published than ever before, and these authors will partner with professionals who can assist their success.

Joe: I talk numbers all the time. I regularly give complete strangers access to my personal finances. I never expect the same from anyone else, but I gotta ask: has Smashwords begun turning a profit for you?

Mark: Smashwords turned modestly profitable six months ago, and we’ve been running profitable ever since. This was a big milestone for us because it means we’ve created a sustainable company with lasting value.

We did this without taking outside investment and without charging upfront fees for services. We’re reinvesting the profits back into the business by adding staff and scaling our technical infrastructure so we can better serve our authors, publishers and retailer partners. For 2011, we’ll run it at just above break-even. I don’t earn a salary yet. Maybe next year.

Joe: You have competitors. Scribd. Overdrive. Google Books. Nook and Kindle take a portion of your potential sales. What are you doing to make Smashwords a Brand, rather than a Distributor? And what do you think of your competition?

Mark: Smashwords is an ebook distributor, so I want Smashwords to become the largest, best and most trusted brand in ebook distribution. I recognize there’s a knee-jerk inclination among some authors who are inclined to disintermediate the distributor. I believe in distribution.

I wake up every morning asking myself how I’d compete against Smashwords, and then I go to work to turn Smashwords into that business. There’s no room for complacency. I’m seeing more and more competitors coming on the scene. Like a poorly plotted book, most will fade away before you ever hear about them because they fail to appreciate the expense, technical complexity, and secret sauce that goes into creating what we’ve created. It’s not easy to make money in this business. The margins are slim.

Our most formidable competitors are the direct publishing platforms operated by the retailers such as Amazon’s KDP, B&N’s Pubit and Apple’s iTunes Connect.

Our opportunity, and our challenge, boils down to a simple question: Are we adding value by serving the interests of authors, publishers, readers and retailers?

For readers, our opportunity is to make books they want to read available and discoverable.

For authors and publishers, our opportunity is to help them maximize their distribution reach while minimizing the time, effort and expense of achieving that distribution. At Smashwords, you format a file once, upload it, then we distribute it the major retailers. We offer centralized control over metadata and pricing, and we aggregate sales reporting and payments from one centralized console. For this distribution service, our commission is only 10% of the retail sales price. I think over the long term, more self-published authors and publishers will realize it’s smarter to outsource distribution than build and manage their own distribution infrastructure.

For retailers, our opportunity is make Smashwords-sourced ebooks higher quality, better-vetted and more profitable for them than ebooks sourced from their own publishing platforms. Take Apple for example. Apple earns a 30% commission on every sale, whether that book comes from their own platform or from one of their authorized aggregators like Smashwords. Although Apple operates their own platform, they actively encourage authors and publishers to work with aggregators because we add value for both the author/publisher and Apple. Same thing with our retail partners Sony and Diesel (where we help power their publishing platforms) and Kobo. A Smashwords book is more profitable to a retailer than one sourced from their own platform.

If we can make ebooks more profitable for authors and retailers, we have a place in the future ebook ecosystem.

I don’t view Scribd as a competitor. I view them as a great potential partner for us. They’ve created a very cool social reading platform, and someday you might see us distributing our books to them.

Overdrive is not yet a big player in our niche of serving indie authors and small presses. They might become more of a competitor in the future. I’ll do my best to make this an unprofitable niche for them or any other potential competitor. Have I mentioned I’m competitive?

Google: I’m perplexed by them. I’d love to support them and distribute to them, but to date they’ve refused to treat indie authors with the same respect as does Apple, B&N, Sony and Kobo. Unlike their competitors, Google is reluctant to give Smashwords authors and publishers agency or agency-like terms. That’s a deal-breaker for us. We’ve got over 30,000 books ready to ship to Google the moment they give us a green light. Same thing with Amazon.

Joe: I think you’re one of the coolest, most dynamic personalities in the current publishing climate, and I’m regularly impressed with all you continue to accomplish. What continues to motivate you?

Mark: Wow, Joe, I think the same of you. The revolution motivates me. 16,000 authors and publishers have entrusted their precious babies to Smashwords, so I don’t want to let them down. I’m committed to accomplishing good things for our authors, publishers, readers and retail partners.

The Smashwords people see today is the not the Smashwords they’ll see next month or next year. We’re constantly evolving. We have a very aggressive roadmap. Our mission will remain the same, but our ability to accomplish the mission and serve our authors, publishers and partners will only increase.

Joe: You (tragically) die tomorrow, and are tasked with writing your own epitaph. What do you say?

Mark: Thank you for that “(tragically)” part. Leave it to the mind of a horror writer. Next thing I know, you’ll start imagining my mangled body pulled from the gears of a Big 6 printing press. In a true soap opera twist, however, at the end of the story the mangled meat is revealed to be that of someone (or something?) else.

How about, “Dang it, I wasn’t done yet! To Lesleyann, my wife, I love you more than I’ve ever loved another person. To my family and many friends, thank you for believing in me. Your love, trust and confidence helped me achieve my wildest dreams. I hope I helped you realize some of your dreams as well. Sorry about my tragic unexpected departure. It was not part of my plan. Dream on.”


bowerbird said...

how ironic that
the formatting
is screwed up
on the post on


J.J. Marschie said...

Can only read the first line of the post

Stephen Knight said...

Darn that Autovetter!

Guido Henkel said...

Sorry to say it, Mark, but as long as you guys are using the Meatgrinder you will never be able to really kick it with the big boys. The output Smashwords isgenerating is simply not up to par with what the market really needs. In fact, Smashwords and the Smashwords Style Guide actually encourage people to create inferior product, what with "do not use curly quotes" and such - at least the last time I checked, which was some time ago.

You would have a much better foothold in the industry if you'd allowed authors to upload properly formatted eBooks instead of forcing them to go through your proprietary technology - at least as an option.

I have stopped uploading my titles to Smashwords because I simply cannot stand behind the quality you are producing.

Jacklyn Cornwell said...

I think Mark offers a wonderful opportunity to authors and readers. Congratulations and thank you, Mark.

I am curious about distribution channels, though. How about Fictionwise and eBookwise? I know B&N owns them, but why not distribute to them since you also distribute to B&N? I know from personal experience their catalog is thin, very thin.

Kendall Swan said...

Great interview! Thanks Joe and Mark!

I have been on Smashwords for two years and am glad it is still around and getting better. I am also glad you'll be investing in making the Meatgrinder faster. Though, I recognize I was spoiled with the 10 minute wait times of yesteryear and a few hours is still faster than the 1-3 days of amazon/pubit.

I was worried about the effect Pubit would have on Smashwords but it sounds like Mark is on the ball and a few steps ahead of that issue in terms of creating value.

Have you thought about creating better backend accounting? Because that is the main reason I take the time to put every story separately through pubit--their monthly pay. I recognize you can't offer real time numbers but monthly numbers (even if still quarterly pay) would be great to see how different stories are selling for different outlets.

Also, will their be a 'Smashwords Audio' anytime in the future? That seems like an area you could rock in as well.


Kendall Swan
NAKED Vampire

nwrann said...

The article seems to be missing.

JA Konrath said...

Okay, I think I fixed the formatting. Oddly, it looked fine in Preview...

Anonymous said...

Formatting is fine now.

Great interview. I've been on Smashwords for months and love the benefits.

Thanks Mark and Joe.

Loved the line Big Publishing was squandering the future of books.

So true...

Karly Kirkpatrick said...

Great interview!

Has anyone here (I'm guessing Joe might have) used the free Smashwords ISBN in order to distribute to iBooks? I was trying to figure out the best way to do it. Is there a downside to using the free ISBN?


Karly Kirkpatrick

Maria Romana said...

@Guido: What's a "properly formatted ebook"? One that looks perfect on a particular device, or one that is readable on a 100 different devices?

Unknown said...

Glad to hear that Smashwords's owner has such a forward-thinking attitude! I'm definitely grateful the service exists, and that I have the chance to publish my works without bowing to a slow-moving, myopic definition of "marketable". Best of luck in the future, Mark.

Heidi C. Vlach
Author of Remedy

Anonymous said...


I've used the free ISBN for all my books.

No downside that I'm aware of. Getting close to 500 books sold in the last three weeks with it.

Guido Henkel said...

@Maria, if done properly, compatibility and quality are not exclusive. It is easily possible to have great-looking eBooks that work on hundreds of devices.

Helen Ginger said...

I have no clue how he was able to create Smashwords, it's beyond my brain power. But...I'm very glad he did and he's sticking with it.

bowerbird said...

maria said:
> What's a "properly
> formatted ebook"?
> One that looks perfect
> on a particular device,
> or one that is readable
> on a 100 different devices?

it's one that looks perfect
on 100 different devices...


mark, lots of people have
complained about your
meatgrinder, because
(1) they like to complain,
(2) they have something
they can complain about,
(3) they don't understand
the dynamics of the task,
(4) they don't understand
the difficulty of the task,
and (5) they hold overly
perfectionistic attitudes.

i am not those people...

i can show you a system
that works better than
your meatgrinder, for
_all_ of your purposes...

it will not be cheap, but
you need to ask yourself
how much the meatgrinder
is costing your reputation.


JL Bryan said...

Great idea having Mark Coker come by the blog today!

I really like Smashwords and how convenient they make the distribution. Another benefit for readers that Mark didn't mention: portability. If you go from one e-reader to another, you don't have to buy your book again in a new format, just go back to Smashwords and download it again.

I have a lot of confidence in Mark and Smashwords and I look forward to seeing what they do next!

Sharper13x said...

Mark said during the interview... "For this distribution service, our commission is only 10% of the retail sales price. I think over the long term, more self-published authors and publishers will realize it’s smarter to outsource distribution than build and manage their own distribution infrastructure."

I'm not asking this to be snarky, just trying to understand - Why is this "smarter" than just doing it yourself? I don't see the value in giving away 10% per copy just for the work of uploading a book to distributors like Kindle or B&N. Either do it yourself in a matter of hours or pay someone a one time fee. Am I missing something? What else do you get for that 10%?

David Robinson said...

My last upload to Smashwords (a revision) joined the meatgrinder at No 700+. It was still available in about 6 hours. I put up the same revision on Kindle and it took 48 hours.

Keep at it Mark. I'm with the others who are grateful you're out there, and you too, Joe, spreading the word.

Julie Ortolon said...

I love Smashwords as an author, but also as a reader. I have a Sony Reader, which is great, but it takes a while for some ebooks to show up in the Sony Reader Store. Since a lot of my author friends are using Smashwords for their backlist ebooks, I always go to Smashwords first when looking for ebooks to buy. Love it!

(Hi Mark. *waving*)

Julie Ortolon

Eloheim and Veronica said...

I had a question about how my book cover was displaying on Smashwords. I sent an email to Smashwords support and received a prompt reply from Mark himself. The question required checking in with his technical staff and that guy was prompt in getting back to me as well. Amazing customer service!

The Choice for Consciousness, Vol. 1

Anonymous said...

This is awesome. I've been following Mark Coker's blog since the beginning and I have books selling through Smashwords under various pen names.

Smashwords is an easy way to try something new, attempt a new genre, (like erotica or horror) with very little investment.

There's really nothing to lose.

Joe Flynn said...

Yesterday, I put my eleventh title, Nailed, up on Amazon and Smashwords. I got a sale on Smashwords and two on Amazon right out of the box.

Problem is, while I'm selling more books on Amazon that I thought I would at this point, I'm selling far fewer on Smashwords. The ratio is well over 100 on Amazon to 1 on Smashwords.

(The iBookstore is also a trickle compared to Amazon.)

Does Mark or anyone else have an explanation for this, and suggestions for how to improve sales on Smashwords and the iBookstore?


Haarlson Phillipps said...

Good post. Just signed up to Smashwords and looking forward to putting my stuff through the grinder. Regards.

nwrann said...

Great interview, but I disagree with a few points that Mark made.

Mark Said: "When book shelves go virtual, the playing field between big publisher and indie author is leveled. Actually, I’d go one step further and say that the move to indie ebooks actually tilts the playing field to the author’s advantage. Big Publishing can’t compete against indie ebooks because their expenses are too high and production schedules too slow."

I look to the music industry for guidance here. 10 years after musicians have had the ability to distribute independent music easily and with little expense and the music labels still rule the industry. Don't even get me started on self-distributing independent films. I can't think of a single industry where the corporate infrastructure was overthrown by the content generators and the generators made a living on selling their goods (News vs Blogs maybe but that's ad based, not subscription)

Mark Said: "The era of Big Publishing is over. I wrote the other week at the Smashwords blog about the imminent author uprising against Big Publishing. Some authors are beginning to realize that much of what they were taught about the path to authorship is a myth. The rules have changed"

Again, I don't see this happening. Look to Hocking as an example. Seemingly no reason for her to sign with a publisher yet she did because they still offer a service that she wanted.

I have a further question to ask:

Currently the playing field is "leveled" based on price point. A Big 6 novel is $10.99 but a self-pubbed in $2.99 which gathers sales based on the impulse price point. what happens when the Big 6 novels get pirated and are available easily for free? The findability of the self-pubber is now buried beneath a mountain of "free" e-books from A-list authors with massive marketing campaigns. Why buy Joe Schmoe's self pubbed book for $2.99 when you can get James Patterson's latest for free?

Are self-pubbers competing against the big 6 for sales?

nwrann said...

One more question:

Basically the assumption is that the top 1% of the self pubbers are getting rich (Hockings and Konraths.) and the other 99% don't make anything. I'm sure that's untrue but I'm wondering (and maybe this isn't the best forum for this question) what is the percentage breakdown for income amongst self pubbers.


If 1% are making it big.
Then 2% - 20% are upper class?
21% - 90% are making a couple hundred per month?
91% - 100% sell only 1 or 2 books per month?

This blog is full of tons of super success stories. Getting in that 1% is just as likely as getting a trad publishing deal. What percentage of self-pubbers out there can make a living at it? Maybe Mark can shed some light on some numbers about where the bulk of self-pubbers exist. Do the bulk exist in the 1 or 2 sales per month range? or in the 100 sales per month range?

Mark Asher said...

"I'm not asking this to be snarky, just trying to understand - Why is this "smarter" than just doing it yourself? I don't see the value in giving away 10% per copy just for the work of uploading a book to distributors like Kindle or B&N. Either do it yourself in a matter of hours or pay someone a one time fee. Am I missing something? What else do you get for that 10%?"

There's really no reason to not sell direct to Amazon and B&N that I can see. It's the other markets that Smashwords is handy for -- Kobo, Diesel, and iBooks. I don't believe they are that easy for indies to get on.

(It may be that iBooks is a bit easier to go direct with but you need your own ISBN and you need to upload from a Mac, which is a pain for PC users.)

Jon F. Merz said...

I'm not a fan of Smashwords. I had all of my titles up for sale there and sold very, very little. Plus, I have a big problem with the fact that they pay royalties quarterly. The huge attraction to Amazon and Pubit! for me is the fact that they pay monthly net 60 days. I love that. And it more fully embraces the reality of today's economy. Writers *need* a monthly check. Paying quarterly seems a holdover relic to the traditional publishing model.

I also disagree with Mark's statement that most writers will need to outsource rather than build their own infrastructure.

But I do wish him the best of luck. If Smashwords can correct the problems with the meatgrinder, improve their accounting system such that they pay monthly, and continue on their upward trajectory, it might be worthwhile to repost my works out there.

CS McClellan/Catana said...

"Why buy Joe Schmoe's self pubbed book for $2.99 when you can get James Patterson's latest for free?" Possibly because you're not interested in reading Patterson and are looking for interesting new writers?

nwrann said...

I have a feeling that the independent self-publisher is going to go through the same phases that the independent filmmaker (my background) has (and is) going through.

1st Phase: Good production quality at a low cost (Doesn't really apply to writers since writing is "free")

2nd Phase: Good distribution. (The phase writers are in right now. My book can be available everywhere without costing me much)

3rd Phase: Findability. (Kind of goes on simultaneous with distribution, but now that I can get my book out there, how do I make sure that people that will buy it can find it amongst the millions of other pieces of competition?)

Does Smashwords (or any of the distribution platforms) address the findability problem? This is why the big publishers with their imprints and bookstores will always have a place. When I walk in the store I see a limited amount of options in front of me, all placed under specific categories, and sometimes with big signs directing me to specific books. Those books are findable. 1 book among a million on-line, is not.

David said...

In 2004, only 2% of all 1.2 million unique titles sold more than 5,000 copies. Assuming that percentage stays roughly the same, 98% of authors will make less than $10,000 per title (@$2.99), and some considerably less ($1750 at the 99 cent price point). So they'll have to make up for it in volume. Of course, the ease of self-publishing now will probably make that percentage much lower. The cream will rise to the top, but it will have much farther to travel. The *average* mid-list author wishing to make low six figures($100,000), will have to have 10 books available at $2.99, or 60 titles at 99 cents. Again, this is assuming 5000 copies. Some here sell many times more than that. But of course to others, the odds of selling 5000 copies would be like winning the megamillions.

A.P. Fuchs said...

Speaking of numbers, etc., my experiment on "Does a good book cover make a difference in sales?" is now down, and the results are posted.

What's the conclusion? Go here to find out.


crw said...

Great interview Joe & Mark. I agree with the analysis of the future of publishing. I've blogged and posted about it myself but I've had negative comments talking about the emotional side of books. Some of these people need to get real. It's the economics that will kill books and no amount of emotional attachment is going to save them.

I published and sold my first novel as an ebook on Smashwords last week and I will be forever grateful. To help authors I would like to see Smashwords start building a brand for themselves because these things take a long time and a lot of money to build. In the UK the media only ever talk about Amazon and Apple when ebooks are in the news (spooky, they both begin with A). Maybe Smashwords should change their name to something beginning with an A, like Authorwords, or Aardvarkwords then maybe the BBC will notice them more :) Well done Mark & Joe.

nwrann said...


Substitute "James Patterson" for any of the hundreds of "interesting new writers" that the Big 6 publish, market and create buzz for, that will be pirated and available easily for "free".

The point is, when piracy hits the e-book market in a big way(and it will) indie writers don't have to worry about losing revenue from their books being pirated, they have to worry about additional competition from "Best Sellers" that are pirated. That takes away one of the main, initial purchase points of self-pubbed authors. If lower price wasn't a selling point then why wouldn't self-pub authors currently sell at $10.99?

Sharper13x said...

Mark Asher said "There's really no reason to not sell direct to Amazon and B&N that I can see. It's the other markets that Smashwords is handy for -- Kobo, Diesel, and iBooks. I don't believe they are that easy for indies to get on."

Thanks, mark. I get it now. Does that mean that you can opt out of Smashwords intermediary services for Amazon and upload on your own there?

Selena Kitt said...

We were the first publisher to put our books on Smashwords and I haven't regretted it. :) Mark is a great guy, very professional and responsive, and his main tech guy is as well. They run a good show.

Smashwords put authors and publishers in full control over the publishing, pricing and marketing of their works for the first time in the history of epublishing. Their publisher-friendly royalty structure finally recognized that authors and ebook publishers deserve more favorable terms than offered by conventional ebook retailers.

Personally, I think Smashwords singlehandedly allowed authors to mass self-publish their work through various distributors where it just wasn't possible before. They had Barnes and Noble access before Barnes and Noble released PubIt, and they were distributing on Stanza, allowing iPod users to read ebooks, before the iPad and iBookstore were even rumored to exist.

Mark has also worked very diligently to get the best possible deals for authors and publishers.

That said, we still place our books directly - where we can. But for those that involve too much work (apple) or those who haven't accepted our direct applications (sony), Smashwords is a great vehicle for getting into markets you wouldn't otherwise be able to access.

And I agree about Google. They've been a PITA about allowing any sort of agency pricing, and we've been going round-and-round with them about it as well. So far they are resistant. But I don't know that it will last forever. Once they realize how much it's hurting them, I think they'll cave.

Nancy Beck said...

Look to Hocking as an example. Seemingly no reason for her to sign with a publisher yet she did because they still offer a service that she wanted.

One of the reasons she went trad/legacy is because she wanted to sell her books in brick and mortar stores, i.e., the book physically being on the shelf (not just available to order from the bookstore). You can read her post here.

She's just listening to what her readers wanted. :-)

IMHO, it's also just good business sense on her part. :-)

Nancy Beck said...

@Stephen T. Harper,

Smashwords doesn't have anything in place (yet) for Amazon, so you have no choice but to upload directly to Amazon.

nwrann said...

IMHO, it's also just good business sense on her part.

And that's why the publishers won't go away. Authors will still sign with them and they will still spend gazillions on marketting, and buzz to make sure people believe that the best authors are available through publishers.

Hocking also wanted someone else to take over all of the admin duties of publishing.

I wonder if she will be as happy seeing her books on the clearance rack or in the dollar bin as she was to see them on the shelf? (not a commentary on her writing, just a fact that will happen)

T.J. Dotson said...

"Look to Hocking as an example. Seemingly no reason for her to sign with a publisher yet she did because they still offer a service that she wanted."

Its not an 'either or' type of choice. She's going to do both. I predict thats what many smart authors are going to do. Its not Indies vs. the Big 6. Its about using the power of current technology to get your work there for others to read. Smashwords & Kindle just make this easier to do than it was in the past.

Dave said...

Like other posters have mentioned, I work directly with Kindle and Pubit, but use Smashwords in order to reach other markets.

One thing I love about Smashwords that hasn't been mentioned is how easy it is to do discount or free book promotions through their site. You choose the book, the perrcentage discount you want to offer, and the beginning and ending dates of the promotion. Smashwords generates a coupon code that you can distribute however you like. I've done several promotions this way, and it's great because readers can get your book from a single place in just about any e-format they like.

Nancy Beck said...

And that's why the publishers won't go away.

Totally agree.

But at least now writers have a few choices that weren't available for the last, oh, 50 years or so.

Will most make Hocking or Konrath type numbers? Probably not, but what do I know? ;-) Thing is, writers should be in this for the long haul; the more product they put out there, the more of a chance they'll have to grow their business, instead of having to have a smash hit the first time out of the gate with the trad publishers.

David said...

"Its not an 'either or' type of choice. She's going to do both. I predict thats what many smart authors are going to do. Its not Indies vs. the Big 6. Its about using the power of current technology to get your work there for others to read."

Exactly. The most successful writers will be doing both. Why not self-pub shorts, novelettes, novellas and stories that are more difficult to place while publishing novels the traditional way. They'll cross-promote each other and give the writer more diverse revenue streams.

nwrann said...

@David and @Nancy and @T.J.

I think the initial purpose of my statement is being lost. It wasn't intended to focus on what Hocking is doing (or what other authors should do), it was to focus on Mark Coker implying that Big Publishing was going away under an author's revolt. Which I contend, won't happen,especially if the most successful e-pubber is willing to sell them content to publish.

Mark Asher said...

"Thanks, mark. I get it now. Does that mean that you can opt out of Smashwords intermediary services for Amazon and upload on your own there?"

You can opt out of any of the markets Smashwords distributes too. And as someone else said, they don't push to Amazon now anyway.

So yeah, upload directly to B&N and let Smashwords push your title to Kobo, Diesel, and iBooks.

Coral said...

Great interview and my experience with Smashwords has been really great as a reader! I have a couple of free short stories and the process is super easy.

One complaint - I can't post reviews unless I buy the book from Smashwords. I know there's a reason for this, but I would urge you to reconsider, since no matter where I buy the book, a review would probably help sell some copies on Smashwords.

As far as the formatting. I own an eReader and use it daily. The assumption is that eBooks need to look like pBooks. STOP THAT!!!

The easiest format for me to read has been block paragraphs. I'm still on the fence about double or single spacing after sentences. Since I can enlarge the font to whatever I need (I'm getting older so it's getting bigger), I haven't seen a big difference there. Let alone give a crap about curly quotes or not...

eBooks should have there own format, independent of what is traditionally accepted in paper books. :)

Dovetail Public Relations said...

@Guido, sorry to hear you gave up on us. We are kicking it with the big boys. We support smart quotes in all our most important formats. We've made dozens, possibly hundreds of improvements to our Meatgrinder conversion technology over the last three years (and last two months), and we will continue to improve it. We produce well-formatted books, especially for fiction when authors follow our Smashwords Style Guide and learn how to manage styles within Microsoft Word. Since we operate our own small retail operation, we're very close to thousands of customers who are purchasing our books each week, and we receive virtually no customer complaints about formatting (in our first year, we received many complaints, and that's when our sales numbers were a fraction of today), and the very few complaints we do receive are from newer books that haven't yet earned a spot in our Premium Catalog because the author hasn't formatted to the Guide. I'd also encourage you to consider that while perfection is a worthy ideal, most readers don't care. They care more about your words and your story. Some day, we will allow authors to upload their own perfectly formatted, hand-coded ebook files, though it is not an immediate priority, and if anything we've reduced the priority of this over the last few months. We'll make the feature available first to publishers who need to bulk upload hundreds of titles at once. We're currently beta testing this and just completed our first ingestion of about 300 titles from one publisher.

@J.M. When we first signed our distribution deal with B&N almost 18 months ago, their original intention was to distribute us to Fictionwise. My sense (they have not confirmed this to me) now is that distribution to Fictionwise is unlikely to happen because B&N's focus is on their main retail platform, as it probably should be.

@Kendall - As we've seen both single authors and our larger publishers start selling thousands of books each quarter, it helped expose limitations in our first generation reporting systems. Our current reports are unwieldy. We're planning a revamp of the backend reporting so the data is more easily accessible. Re: Audio, no immediate plans there, though maybe some day. :)

@Karly: Thanks for the question on ISBNs. ISBNs are probably one of the least understood, most confusing aspects of publishing for many authors. Only two of our retail partners require ISBNs. They appreciate ISBNs only because (in theory), the ISBN is a unique numeric identifier tied to the book, so even if the title/author/book/metadata changes, the identifier stays the same. We offer three ISBN options: 1. A free ISBN. This identifies Smashwords as the "publisher" in the ISBN record. We're not a publisher (we're a distributor; we consider our authors the publisher), so that designation is more a reflection of legacy labels imposed by the international ISBN agency. 2. A "Premium ISBN," which labels the author as the publisher. There's a $9.95 fee attached to this, which is deducted from your earnings. Personally, I consider our $9.95 ISBN a poor option, even though the cost is 90% less than what a single ISBN would cost from Bowker. Why a poor option? Because of all the retailers we distribute to, only one that I'm aware of (Sony) polls Bowker for that metadata. Retailers simply don't care about the underlying ISBN record, probably because the data is often out of date and inaccurate. Why do we offer it? Only because many authors and publishers (for whatever their reasons, right or wrong) feel it's important to have their name in the record. Nevermind that 99.99% of the world will never care or see it there. The third option is for authors/publishers to supply their own ISBN. My advice: Use our free ISBN. We paid for it so you don't have to.

Dovetail Public Relations said...

@bowerbird re: Meatgrinder: Thanks. People have always criticized us for our automated approach. Although we've lost a few authors and publishers along the way (and I don't like that one bit!), our approach has worked well for us and our authors and publishers. It's impossible for us to be all things to all people. IMHO, expense is the enemy of everything. We've created a system that, despite minor imperfections that we are very open about, it produces a book that is 95-100% perfect (perfection is in the mind of the beholder) that satisfies 99.5% of the customer demand at up to 99.99% less cost than the cost of perfection. We've essentially stripped out all the cost of ebook production, not counting the investment of an author's time to study and implement the Style Guide. When ebook production becomes free to authors, as it is now at Smashwords, it enables some magical things to happen: 1. Ebook publishing becomes accessible to all, including those who don't have the technical ability or financial wherewithal to produce an ebook. Free is very important to me because free increases accessibility for authors. I'm fairly certain we have homeless authors on Smashwords; we have authors who don't own their own personal computer (they work at the library); and I know we have authors who are on the verge of homelessness. I want to serve these people. 2. If we can eliminate the cost of book production, we make books more profitable for authors. 3. If book production cost is zero, it means authors have greater latitude to sell their books at a lower cost. This increases unit sales by increasing the affordability of books. Lower cost books benefit readers. 4. When production is free, it means the cost of updating is free. Our authors are constantly upgrading their books with better formatting, better covers, etc. We produce these updates at zero cost to the author. We enable books that evolve, free of the financial constraint of expense. As we evolve Meatgrinder, these books can evolve with us.

Dovetail Public Relations said...

@Stephen: It's a fair question, and the answer is not one-size-fits-all. At Pubit, where you earn 65% list, you're only giving up 5% by letting Smashwords handle it (we pay 60% list there), and if you have books priced under $2.99 or over $10.00, we actually pay 60% list vs their 40% list (so in some cases, you make more going through us). Let's say it takes two hours to set up your own upload account at a retailer, and then one hour a month to monitor the results and update metadata (arguably, some authors spend more or less time at these different pub platforms). With my numbers above, conservatively, that's 14 hours per year minimum, and if you're an author who makes frequent metadata updates, or if you're managing multiple books, that 14 hours will balloon. For example, if you've got 10 books, you can change the price of those books in 5 minutes at Smashwords, and we distribute that change to all our retailers automatically. What's your time worth? Again, this varies person to person. How could you better spend that 14 hours multiplied by the X number of retailers you can work direct with? Let's say your time is worth $25/hr (the approximate equivalent of earning $32,000/yr working full time). 14X24=$336.00. In the case of Pubit, where you give up an extra 5% to us (assuming you're priced between $2.99 and $9.99), and assuming you're investing time worth $336/year, that means if you sell $5,000 worth of books at B&N, you'd earn $3,250 through Pubit or $3,000 through Smashwords. A difference of only $250. The vast majority of authors, if they attach any value to their time, are better off using a distributor for the benefit of broader, simpler distribution and centralized control. The advantages and disadvantages of either approach are highly personal. Some authors appreciate the ADHD rush of watching the minute by minute sales updates at B&N. Others find that depressing. Some authors appreciate the monthly payments from B&N vs. our quarterly payments. You're not right or wrong to choose either. It's up to you.

Dovetail Public Relations said...

@Julie. Hi! I'll be in touch with you soon!

@Joe Flynn. Results vary. Although we operate our small retail operation, and although it's growing quickly, they're an elephant and we're a gnat. We help you expand your distribution. We help you reach readers and retailers you won't reach at Amazon. I often hear and read about Smashwords authors who are selling more through our distribution network than they sell through Amazon. Maybe some day I'll do a scientific poll. My guess is that overall, most authors today still sell more at Amazon compared to the aggregate total of Smashwords+our retailers, but I expect over time that gap will diminish. The great thing for you and every author here is that it's not an either/or situation. You don't have to decide if you're on the Amazon team or the Smashwords team. You can choose both, and by doing both you'll reach more readers than by doing only one.

@Nwrann. In music, where the price per song is essentially 99 cents, there's not a big price differential between indie and traditional. If the Big 6 publishers drop their prices down to $2.99 indie levels (the average SW book is under $4.99), then that would diminish the pricing advantage indies have, but it won't diminish the royalty advantage for indies. Like I said, if publishers can do for authors what authors cannot or will not do for themselves, then publishers have a bright future and authors will continue to partner with them.

Re: the Hocking example. I think what she pulled off was brilliant. She took the $2 million dollar bird in the hand, and in exchange for that she'll get a publisher that gives her high priority over their other authors, and all the hard work of that publisher and the print distribution (while print is still the dominant format for reaching readers, and while brick and mortar bookstores are still important) will subsequently drive more readers to her self-published books. It also frees her to focus more on writing and less on running the operations of her own publishing company. As I hope I communicated in the interview (but possibly not forcefully enough), successful authors will have the freedom to take advantage of both indie and traditional opportunities.

re: indies competing against free pirated copies of big 6's $10.99 books. Not a factor. The vast majority of the book buying public are not frequenting the underground pirate sites. Traditional books are more likely to be pirated simply because their prices, and their artificial scarcity (such as limited country by country availability). If you make your book broadly available (as most indies do), and you make your book affordable (as most indies do), then you remove much of the incentive for people to pirate. And yes, indies are competing against the Big 6. We will sell millions of dollars worth of indie ebooks this year. That's millions of dollars on books that didn't go to the coffers of a Big 6 publisher. Granted, our millions are smaller than their millions, but the trend is in the indies' favor. :)

Dovetail Public Relations said...

@ NWrann part II - Most self-published authors will not earn a living from this. However, many self-pubbed authors will earn more than what they'd earn with a traditional publishing deal, and many will earn more than if their books languished unpublished on their hard drive earning nothing. I think the most talented, hardest working authors will earn more from self-pubbing than from traditional. The economics of self publishing are so tilted to the author's advantage. Indie ebook authors earn the author 60-70% list at the major retailers. From a traditional publisher, they'll earn 17% list at most, and often closer to 12%. That's a huge differential. I think Joe has done a great job of showing how traditional publishers are squandering the potential of the books of his they still control by over-pricing them. He's got the data to back it up.

It's also worth pointing out that not all authors publish for the money (if this were the case, there would be very few books).

AuthorVStone said...

First off, congrats on finally reaching profitability. Staring down the thousands of lines of code that came together to form Smashwords and not seeing profitability in sight for three years, yet still persevering and pushing forward, is an unbelievable accomplishment.

There are a few things that Mark said that didn't really resonate with me, though. For example:

"A Smashwords book is more profitable to a retailer than one sourced from their own platform."

I don't see how this can be the case. I agree with bowerbird in that a significant improvement to the service would be perfectly formatted books across 100 devices, not just 'readable' books on all of them. When uploading directly to Amazon or B&N, authors have better control over formatting and presentation. Which brings me to my next point..

I've been traditionally published in the past, just like Joe, and decided to try going indie under a pen name to see if my books can shine through without the power of my name. My first book is coming out in less than a month (don't bother clicking my name to see what it is - I haven't yet set up a proper blog or website or any other sort of web presence). Anyway, my understanding of how Smashwords operates is that it allows indie authors access to a great variety of ebook platforms after one centralized upload of their manuscript. The downside, like bowerbird, guido, and others have mentioned, is that formatting will never be *perfect* on most of the devices. Which is why I'll be publishing directly to the ibook store, B&N, Amazon, and any other retailer that lets me. But Smashwords offers easy access to the remaining stores, which is obviously a great help. Unfortunately, all the other stores combine to make up only a small fraction of sales.

Now, Smashwords profits when the books they send out into the world are sold (actually, I'm not clear whether Smashwords takes 10% of all sales across all the ebook stores, or just from those books sold directly through Smashwords?), so its in YOUR best interest, Mark, to allow authors to have greater flexibility over formatting to output prettier books. I understand that the meatgrinder is a technology that you've put a lot of time and resources into, but unfortunately that technology doesn't allow authors to make the best looking books. And when the most popular indie publishing platforms (Amazon and B&N) offer authors access to their customers while giving them better control over formatting -- well, there's no reason to use Smashwords for those two anymore. And that means you're losing out on a great deal of potential revenue for SW in the future.

Last point. You said: "I’m also an entrepreneur. I’ve always been drawn to startups that have the power to effect positive social change."

I appreciate that mindset, but I wonder why Smashwords has clearly spent so *little* time on UX and UI? If you only profit when books are sold directly through Smashwords, it seems a no-brainer that your first priority moving forward would be to revamp the entire interface. Because right now, SW is solely an "author's" site, I'd imagine. That is, based on the sales numbers I've seen from popular indie authors, there aren't many readers buying their books on SW. Why? I'd wager to guess that the 1998-era styling of the site is driving potential customers away. Especially when they've grown complacent with the glossy interfaces made common by Apple.

So, my advice is to save up your generated profits and dump them into a new site design. Make it sleek, make it sexy -- hell, hire one of the entrepreneurs that hang out around Make it so it looks better than the ibook and kobo stores (which have the best designs out of the ones I've seen). Then you'll attract more customers, become more of a publishing platform yourself, and increase profitability. And us authors would benefit from even more sales.


nwrann said...

@Mark Coker

Thanks for the responses.

Evie said...

GREAT article, I've been trying to explain the benefits of self-publishing to author friends who are still brainwashed by Big Publishing propaganda; I shall direct them to this article from now on!

One question for Mark: one thing that put me off using Smashwords was that I'm instructed I have to put the words 'Smashwords Edition' in my book. I don't put the name of the distributor or retailer in any of my other books (print or ebook!) so why should I be forced to do it here? Yes, the publisher name goes in, but Smashwords isn't a publisher, they're a distributor and retailer. Amazon doesn't make me put the words 'Amazon Edition' in the ebooks I have on their site, and if I sell books at my local bookstore, they don't expect to see their name INSIDE the book! This put me right off... it seemed kind of slimy. Can you explain the reasoning behind this, and whether I *have* to put that in my book to sell it on Smashwords?

Eloheim and Veronica said...

I am super happy to have found Smashwords. One thing that was really confusing and took me some time to figure out was this: (taken from my post about my journey in self-publishing so far):

When you load your book to SW it will give you options on which formats you want to offer your book in – meaning which sites you want them to send your book to. On Konrath’s blog, folks are always saying that you should opt out of Barnes and Noble on SW and load directly to B&N to get higher revenues. When you load your book to SW there is one check box for B&N, Sony, and Itunes (the Epub line). I couldn’t figure out how to say yes to Epub but no to B&N.

Here is how you do it. Say yes to Epub when you load your book initially. Then go to your SW Dashboard and click on Distribution Channel Manager in the left menu. Scroll down to opt out of B&N and opt in to Apple. You will not be distributed to Apple if you don’t opt in on this page.

The Choice for Consciousness

bowerbird said...

mark, when i said that
my formatting system
"wouldn't be cheap",
i meant _for_you_ to
_license_it_ from me...

i didn't mean that you
should pass the costs
along to your users...
(never occurred to me
that you'd think that.)

but it sounds like you
are happy with what
you've already got...

i can understand you
have a lot of sunk costs
in the meatgrinder, and
all of those complaints
have probably made you
bond even tighter to
the meatgrinder... but
i'm not sure that it is
helping you like it could.

so if you'd like to look
at something different,
i could show it to you...

but if you are happy,
that's all that counts.

and i think that you are
doing a _heck_ of a job,
let me be perfectly clear.
your ability to get your
books in so many stores
really helps authors out,
even if they ain't quite as
beautiful as they could be.
(the books, not the authors.
but maybe you could do
something to help _both_?
that would be sweet.) ;+)

at any rate...

smashwords has been a
very valuable contributor
to the e-book revolution,
one of the _most_ vital...

so best of luck with it all.


Paul Rogers said...

I like the way Mark replies personally to query emails (in my case anyway). The sign of a decent guy working real hard to succeed. Good luck.

Shayne Parkinson said...

Thanks for sharing this interview, Mark and Joe.

Having my books on Smashwords has been a great experience for me. My books have gone from lying neglected on a shelf to being out there for readers. I never expected to be in a position where I'm regularly getting fan mail! Then there's the nice little bonus of the money. :-)

I hope Smashwords continues to go from strength to strength.

PulpDogg said...

Thanks for the Interview Mark. I especially like that it is easy for Non-US authors to publish through SW. Amazon allows this as well, but B&N's PubIt doesn't for instance.

AuthorVStone said most of what I wanted to ask and suggest, namely "Why is it more profitable for a retailer with an SW book than with his own operation?" Because of the overall cost of building his own operation or on a book by book basis?

And I agree with her comments about the layout. This needs a lot of improvement. It indeed does look a little 90s internet like.

The search function could use an update as well. As far as I am aware, I am not able to search for language. So if someone publishes in something other than language (which they have to select via dropdown on the publish page), I can't filter my search results for it. And since it is an option the publisher/author has to choose, I think it would be pretty easy to incorporate into search. Then again, I am no programmer :).

On last thing, directed at Joe. Did you change how comments are handled at your blog? Because the last time I commented (a few days ago) I had numerous options to sign in to comment or even post anonymus. Now I can only log in with my Google account ...

Stephen Booth said...

Easy, you say? Well, I'm really glad, especially for those who can get a personal response from Mark Coker to your emails. I should be so lucky!

Here in the UK, I've been itching to give Smashwords a try, but can't get any response at all to a simple query regarding my tax status. I've been trying for three months now. Result? Nothing. Just this kind of deafening silence...

Being ignored at this stage is pretty discouraging. Maybe Mark has decided he doesn't want non-US authors publishing on Smashwords after all? Or is it just me? You can tell me, Mark - I can take it!

Oh, well. Bang go the dreams of emulating my hero, Joe Konrath. :)

Karly Kirkpatrick said...

@Daryl and Mark Coker,

Thanks for the info on the ISBNs!

And Mark, it's very cool to get to chat with you! :D

Karly Kirkpatrick

Jake said...

Thanks for the interview, Mark. As always you have a lot of interesting points to make and as far as I can see they hold true now even as the first time you made them.
I've been on Smashwords just over a year now and if not for you I wouldn't have known I could publish online. Sure I currently publish at Amazon, too, but only because they haven't made a deal with Smashwords and I don't want to miss any sales (which have been good there).
I look forward to all the upgrading you have planned and the fact that you look for new and better ways to keep Smashwords at the top of the industry. It makes ebook selling that much better for all us authors.
Keep hitting it, Mark.

JodyKihara said...

Stephen, I'm a non-US resident using Smashwords (I'm in Canada) and I've found Smashwords to be THE most helpful site so far - Amazon won't lift a finger to help us get our ITINS, and B&N is even worse, I can't even *post* my books there until I have the ITIN, which is completely circular, to the point I gave up on B&N.
Have you read this?
Smashwords, AFAIK, is the ONLY e-tailer who's actually trying to do something to help out non-US authors, so HUGE thanks to them for that!! It's still not an easy process for us non-US authors, but Smashwords is doing as much as they feasibly can to help us out.

JD Rhoades said...

The good and the bad of Smashwords, IMHO:

Good--multiple formats. Speed of initial uploading and publishing (even with the long queues, it's quicker than Amazon or B & N).

Bad--long delays getting into the "premium" catalog (which is required, apparently for Apple). Excessive persnicketiness about what gets kicked out during the approval process (I can't have my title on the title page be 18 points? Really? ) And for some reason, I sell, at last calculation, one book on SW for every 46 I sell on B&N and Amazon. If it wasn't apparently the only way to get on IPad, I wouldn't bother.

That's my customer feedback for the day.

Paul Rogers said...

My experience re tax status for internationals is the same as JodyKihara. Smashwords has been helpful.

For Stephen Booth: publish on Smashwords, fill out the US ITIN form (W7) and get an apostille copy of your passport, sell something, ask for a letter from Smashwords, submit everything to US Internal Revenue.

You don't have to wait to put something up on Smashwords, only the withholding is a problem, but country tax agreements can get around this as long as you get an ITIN.

Not easy, but that's how it goes. I'm working up to this now.

BFuniv said...

I think it's funny that comments started with a bunch of middle school English teachers. They want a perfect world that never existed to return. They are reacting to exponential growth as we reacted to their red pencils.

Great news! The bureaucratic age is dying.

Younger generations are having their grammar and spelling shaped by texting, FB, and Twitter. They care about story, not unnecessary rules.

Self-publishing has not yet reached internet speed; but improvements at Smashwords (and with their meatgrinder) are conforming to Moore's law. As a writer I'm thrilled to be flying with them.

In comparison the "Too Big Boys" are still pre-Gutenberg.

Shayne Parkinson said...

I, too, have found Smashwords good to work with as an international author (I'm in New Zealand). They pay via Paypal, and they send the letter needed for an ITIN application.

Somewhat OT: I've successfully applied for an ITIN. Just in case my experience can be of use, I documented the process here:

The process is somewhat simpler (and cheaper) in the UK, as the IRS has a branch at the London Embassy, so you don't need to use a Notary Public.

JodyKihara said...

THANK YOU Shayne for posting this! For Canadians who are trying to get ITINs, there's a great blog post here:

Jody Kihara

Dovetail Public Relations said...

@AuthorVStone re: profitability - I'll try to elaborate here on what I mean... It costs a lot of money for a retailer to build and operate a self-publishing platform. There's never-ending technology investment and customer service expense. Most self-published authors don't sell well. If a retailer does the math, they can look at the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars it costs them to operate and scale their publishing platform, and then divide that cost by the number of authors they're representing, and that will give them a rough estimate of the cost to onboard an author. Or, they can divide their operating costs by the number of books and arrive at an average cost per book. Or, they can look at the overall sales of all books from their platform and divide that by their operating costs. However they cut it, they'll find they're spending money to acquire books that they could easily acquire at a fraction of the expense from a distributor. If they're paying the same cost for the book whether they get it direct from the author, or from a distributor, then the distributor-sourced book is more profitable to them. A good analogy might be the traditional brick and mortar business. Retailers prefer working with distributors and wholesalers because they specialize in bringing in the books. The retailer doesn't have to create separate business relationships with every author.

Re: "Perfect" formatting or not. Our authors are producing a lot of books their readers consider perfect. Maybe you might want to give us a try. Maybe we'll be a lot better than you expect. I don't mean to stand here and say our system is perfect. It's not. It's good though, and it's getting better all the time.

Re: UX, UI. We have room for a lot of improvement here. It'll happen in time. The SW you see today is not the SW you'll see in the future.

@Evie - re: "Smashwords Edition". We strongly recommend that our authors label the book somewhere as either Smashwords Edition or they add a notation that the book was published by the author at Smashwords. It's a signature of where it came from. It helps identify the source of book, and helps us hold ourselves accountable for that book if there's ever a problem with it. We would also like to think that there are some branding advantages to this statement, both for the author and for us. If a Smashwords book appears at a retailer, it means it's passed our Premium Catalog vetting process, which is probably much more rigorous that other self-publishing services. I know our retailers appreciate the low number of formatting errors or customer complaints they get on our books. For the very rare author or publisher in the past who didn't want to include this statement, we've made exceptions for all who requested an exception.

Paul Rogers said...

Really useful Shayne and similar to the process in Aus.

DFAT charge $60 for an apostille and I suspect the notary charges are similar unless one stikes a kind-hearted lawyer as you did. He may be the only one in existence! (No, that's not fair, my guy is very reasonable, although not a notary.)

Nice point about checking that the notary is recognised by US Tax.

Dovetail Public Relations said...

@stephen booth: I apologize if we missed your email or emails. You're welcome to contact me directly any time at first initial second initial at We're completely committed to serving authors outside the US. Approximately 1/3 of our authors are outside the US. As some other folks kindly pointed out, we have a detailed checklist in our FAQ designed to help you make the IRS' rules a little less vexing.

@ JD Rhoades That's fair. There are certainly opportunities for us to make the process faster, easier and less persnickety.

Paul Rogers said...

BTW, for Aussies reading this, here is a list of "Notarials" currently on file with the US Consulate.

Tara Maya said...

Great interview, I've shared it about. :D

On a completely unrelated and self-agrandizing note, my book The Unfinished Song: Initiate, made it up to #5,300 Paid in Kindle Store and the sequel, The Unfinished Song: Taboo, released today, is up to #6,331 Paid in Kindle Store. I know this isn't much by some people's standards, but for me it is really exciting!

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate
The Unfinished Song: Taboo Only $.99

Eloheim and Veronica said...

@Tara I, for one, am thrilled for you!!!

Kekoa said...

nwrann mentioned 'findability'.

The opportunities for promoting your ebook are widening in other media (videogame/TV/movies/internet/wireless content).

The entertainment industry in LA usually go to the legacy publishers in NY to poach for content and the publishers would sneak galley proofs to them before the books would hit the shelves.

Guess what? Disintermediation means they'll come to the authors now.

Proof? It happened to me. I've sold a few copies of my novel on Smashwords and Amazon, and it was enough to get me the attention of certain circles within Hollywood. I don't have a deal. Yet. And that wasn't the reason I wrote my book.

But it doesn't even have to be a movie deal. Maybe this attention can lead to opportunities in the videogame industry. Or manga/sequential art. All of which will only strengthen the sales of the original product: the ebook.

I shared my good fortune with Mark and he was quick to respond with encouragement. SW is a great service.

It's like Joe's been telling us: the sky's the limit.

Much mahalo,
Kekoa Lake

Walter Golden said...

I had an address problem with my book, Blue Glory. I e-mailed Mark this afternoon. When I got home this evening it was solved. That kind of service is impressive

Lee Goldberg said...

I think Smashwords, over all, is a wonderful resource for writers and that Mark Coker deserves a lot of appreciation and respect for what he's done to make self-publishing free, easy and honest (don't under-rate honesty...up until now, self-publishing was a haven for scumbags out to swindle aspiring writers out of their money. Thanks to guys like Mark, and Amazon's Kindle platform, sleazebags are being driven into extinction).

My biggest problem with Smashwords is their clunky financial reporting. Their online statements are a mess to slog through. Has anyone here ever downloaded their Excel spreadsheets and tried to work with them? I haven't, either. But my wife has...and I learn some new French profanity every time she does.

Smashwords really needs to streamline their financial reporting and make it easier to track sales of multiple titles across their multiple outlets (Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, etc.).

And, as others here have mentioned, it would be great if Smashwords let you upload your own epubs, PDFs and PRCs if you choose to rather than relying on the "meatgrinder" which, all too often, lives up to its name.


Chris said...

I love the passion you always have in your interviews, Joe. Mark seems to be one of many new players in this industry to, in his own words, "be on a mission to turn publishing upside down." Love it, love it, love it.

You inspire in me much hope that I will be able to crash the party. My only wish is that I was ready now.

Michael Canfield said...

Count me as another grateful user of Smashwords, Mark. Since discovering you through Dean Wesley Smith's I've uploaded 20 short stories, and have had few problems. I did read the style-guide though, apparently a stumbling block some writers don't want to do, which I don't get at all. Once you learn it, it doesn't take any time to repeat the process with your future projects. A lot faster than visiting every Sony, Apple, Kobo, etc each every time. Smashwords is a very active site, every week there are updates and improvements, like longer description options, which is recent. I like the visit the new releases almost every day, to see what people are putting up, the good, the bad, what I think works, what I think won't. Smashwords, it seems to be is focused on authors and distribution rather than pulling readers to the site, but I start my purchasing searches there, and I'm always happy when I can buy a book on Smashwords. For one thing I know the writer will receive a very high royalty rate, for another I can read part of sample in java or html rather than downloading a sample. I'm not a Kindle user. I'm an epub guy. Thanks Mark!

ECP said...

Thanks for everything Mark. I've been a Smashword author since the beginning and have greatly benefited. I also want to thank Mark and Snashwords for their partnership in Operation eBook Drop, the success opf which is in no small part Mark's contribution. Millions of free coupons to our service folk. Can't beat it.

Edward C. Patterson

Naomi Clark said...

I've been very keen to get my indie stuff on Smashwords, but have failed miserably at every attempt to format it correctly for the Meatgrinder. I use Open Office, which just seems to be poison to the grinder... I get a different end product every time I try! The Smashwords free formatting guide hasn't helped, no matter how carefully I follow it.

I sound very whiny, I know, but it's frustrating to have this potential avenue right in front of me and not be able to use it!

Robin Sullivan said...

Mark Corker is a smart guy with a great concept and I love Smashwords. I think you are right about the future of publishing but at this exact moment I think there is still some power in using them to help round out the brand of a new author (which is why we are publishing through Orbit (Fantasy Imprint of big-six publisher Hachette). I'm not saying we'll do all future work thourh the big-six but having a foot in both worlds is good as on my own we can't really get into libraries (Overdrive is too expensive) and bookstores.

Robin | Write2Publish | Michael J. Sullivan's Writings

Robin Sullivan said...

nwrann said... One more question:

Basically the assumption is that the top 1% of the self pubbers are getting rich (Hockings and Konraths.) and the other 99% don't make anything. I'm sure that's untrue but I'm wondering (and maybe this isn't the best forum for this question) what is the percentage breakdown for income amongst self pubbers.


If 1% are making it big.
Then 2% - 20% are upper class?
21% - 90% are making a couple hundred per month?
91% - 100% sell only 1 or 2 books per month?

Review the author guests posts here on Joe's blog then come over to kindle boards there are hundreds of authors selling well and making good ... some great ... money with self-publishing. There are more of us then most people think ;-)

Robin | Write2Publish | Michael J. Sullivan's Writings

Robin Sullivan said...

T.J. Dotson said...
"Look to Hocking as an example. Seemingly no reason for her to sign with a publisher yet she did because they still offer a service that she wanted."

Its not an 'either or' type of choice. She's going to do both. I predict thats what many smart authors are going to do. Its not Indies vs. the Big 6. Its about using the power of current technology to get your work there for others to read. Smashwords & Kindle just make this easier to do than it was in the past.

I so agree with your comments!!

Robin | Write2Publish | Michael J. Sullivan's Writings

Robin Sullivan said...

Lee Rogers said...
I like the way Mark replies personally to query emails (in my case anyway). The sign of a decent guy working real hard to succeed. Good luck.

^^This - I've had a few things I needed straightened out that was "outside" the normal process and not only did I get prompt personal attention - but from the guy running the company - kudos!

Robin | Write2Publish | Michael J. Sullivan's Writings

Stephen Booth said...

Mark wrote:
As some other folks kindly pointed out, we have a detailed checklist in our FAQ designed to help you make the IRS' rules a little less vexing.

Thanks, Mark, I will contact you directly.

But just to make it clear here, I have had NO problem with the IRS rules. I already possess an ITIN, which I've been using successfully for 12 years for my US royalties from traditional publishing. And, yes, I obediently worked my way through your checklist 3 months ago.

Dealing with the IRS is a doddle. It's being ignored by Smashwords that I've found vexing!

But it sounds as though it is just me after all...

Michael Scott Miller, author said...

Mark --- just a quick note to say thanks for everything you do. I tested my book free on Smashwords for awhile and had over 1,500 downloads and lots of positive feedback. Now I'm seeing if I can get readers to fork out 99 cents for it. Thanks for giving me and others like me the opportunity. Your site rocks!

Carradee said...

I use Smashwords, both as a reader and a writer. It's my first choice for buying an e-book. I love the multiple formats, the lack of DRM, and the ease of use, even if it does get a little ungainly for those of us who buy e-books for play AND some for work. (Can we get a sortable library, please?)

So far, all I've put up is a free short story, but I'm releasing a novel on Friday, April 1st. On the short story, I did my own formatting for Kindle and Nook, but I'm thinking I'll rely on the Meatgrinder to format the full novel for Nook.

I confess, I had a headache of a time figuring out formatting with the Meatgrinder, even with reading the style guide — because I somehow missed the detail that you do NOT use soft returns or paragraph spacing. Once I figured that out (which took awhile of grumbling and fiddling), I've not had any trouble.

My main complaint about Smashwords is the interface is great on the surface, but as soon as you're looking for something specific, finding it is a bit of a hassle. I looked up "Amanda Hocking" the other day, and it didn't show certain of her books that I was particularly looking for.

But it's usable. I know different people think and organize things differently, and I'm evidently one of the odd ones, from others' comments.

Anonymous said...

In my opinion, organisations like Smashwords are nothing short of a godsend. Does that sound OTT?

Well, this author was about to give up writing and, if not for Smashwords, would probably never have put pen to paper again.

My book has been up less than a month and, although it's not set the world on fire, I'm still learning *everything* about epublishing from scratch. After twenty years of frustration, I'm in no hurry. I know that if my book does not sell, that is my fault, not Smashwords' fault, not Mark's fault. Mine only.

Ebook indie publishing gives so many people an opportunity denied by mainstream publishers.

Smashwords and Mark Coker deserve all our thanks for their efforts.

Keep up the excellent work!

LK Hunsaker said...

I've been indie publishing since 2003, paperback format, and was horribly excited to find Smashwords in early 2009. I'd been looking around and am quite particular about what I do with my work (which is why I'm indie).

This system is exactly what I wanted: no set up fees, low service charge percent of sales, the flexibility to add/remove/altar my books at any time, and someone else to do the extra formatting and distributing and accounting from here and there that I DON'T want to do myself! I'm already doing my own original formatting, my cover art (I have art/design experience), have my own company for my books (and a few others to join soon), my own ISBNs, my own marketing ... and there are only so many hours in the day. I have to have writing time, and plenty of it, with 4 WIPs and several more in notes stage. Not to mention the kids and such...

Anyway, as I said when I joined SW, "THANK YOU for this service!" And a caveat: as of today, my first quarter sales are barely shy of matching my sales from last year. A good sign of things to come, the way I see it. Of course I spend an incredible amount of time on each book with rewriting and editing, so quality does matter.

The one thing I'd like to see in the future: since my books are under my company's ISBNs, I'd love to see them show up on other sites as published by Elucidate Publishing instead of by SW. Small thing, since readers don't care once you get them pulled into your work.

nwrann said...

@Robin Said
"come over to kindle boards there are hundreds of authors selling well and making good ... some great ... money with self-publishing"

As @Dave pointed out there were 1.2 million titles published in 2004 (I'm sure that number is higher now)

and Mark Coker stated that there are over 40,000 titles and over 16,000 authors on SW alone.

Which means that even with "hundreds" making good (how much is good?) money that number is still below 1% of self pubbers even making "good" money.

I agree that if you have an ms sitting around collecting dust and it's already been rejected by every publisher imaginable then obviously the best choice is to self pub. However, the reason for crunching these numbers and looking at the percentages is to determine if, at this time in history, with a great novel in a popular genre is there is a better chance at spending the time and money courting a publisher and getting a $5,000 advance or is there is a better chance at getting into that (less than) 1% of self-pubbers making "good" money (5,000 copies per year?).

As far as Mark Coker's statement that "not all authors publish for the money" I believe this to be false. The ONLY reason to PUBLISH is for a writer to make money from their work. Otherwise, why not just post your writing to a blog where the world can see it for free. A more accurate statement would be that Not all writers write for the money.

Scott Semegran said...

I love Mark's enthusiasm and the opportunities Smashwords provides. I deal directly with other eBook distributors but Smashword's focus on getting your work on as many devices / computers as possible while providing the broadest array of retailers is phenomenal. As an indie author considering Smashwords, I think you would be doing yourself an injustice by not using Smashwords.

Scott Semegran

Uncle Sam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Uncle Sam said...

Hi Mark and Joe, Great interview. You are both visionaries.

Mark, I'm one of Smashwords authors and publishers, Dee Dawning and New Dawning Bookfair. Your beef, and rightly so, was with the elitists in Manhattan. I never managed to get that far. I couldn't get one of the hundreds of haughty agents I queried to show the slightest interest in my work. Why? I don't know. All I know is they thought it was UNFORTUNATE.

The system sucks. The pubs and their acolytes, keep pushing their pet authors to churn out more and more books of a deteriorating quality rather than look for fresh writing. And now rather than wait for these authors to pen new works they've been re-releasing many books with new covers and even new names, sometimes without divulging that fact.

But fear not, as they begin to sweat the new circumstances that are closing in on them, I am grinning as I work on my fortieth story.

I do have a question. Piracy is beginning to be a real threat to the viability of digital books. I saw other day where someone was selling a package of 1200 ebooks for $3.99. Are any of the big boys doing anything to thwart these piranhas?

bowerbird said...

nwrann said:
> the reason for
> crunching these numbers
> and looking at the
> percentages is to determine
> if, at this time in history,
> with a great novel in
> a popular genre is there is

you have one too many "is"
words in that there sentence.

> a better chance at
> spending the time and money
> courting a publisher and
> getting a $5,000 advance
> or is there is a better chance
> at getting into that (less than)
> 1% of self-pubbers making
> "good" money (5,000 copies
> per year?).

are you trying to convince
someone here? or yourself?

because you're not really
coming up with any good
arguments that haven't
already been voiced in
this ongoing discussion
hundreds of times before.
(or thousands? millions?)

i mean, seriously, i could
give you the standard
counterarguments, and
then you could give the
responses to those, and
we could do all the steps
to this tired dance again.

but nobody really cares...

some people will stay with
the legacy publishers and
be quite happy with that...
and if that's you, then fine!

if someone else wants to
go the self-publishing route,
what do you care? and why?

the people who will get
filthy rich from writing
are few and far between,
no matter which path...

there will be lots more
who will eke out a living,
no matter which path...

and a great many will
call it a hobby, and be
glad they get paid at all,
no matter which path...
(most ordinary people
have to pay out money
to support their habits.)

the choice is yours...

but there's no need to
come here and try to
rationalize your choice.
nobody cares what you
do, and nobody cares
what your opinion is
about what _they_ do.

but everyone _is_ tired
of doing the old dance.


JodyKihara said...

Dee, I worked in the music industry for many years, at the time when everything was just shifting to electronic... Napster was active, music was being ripped off and distributed, and iTunes had yet to be created. Well, Napster was shut down but no one can stop people from illegally sharing music... and when iTunes came along we were all asking 'why would anyone buy music when they can get it for free?' Everyone really believed that the music industry was going to die.

Well, even though there is still A LOT of illegal sharing going on, iTunes is booming, and music is going through quite a renaissance - to the benefit of the smaller, indie artists!

My prediction is that the same will happen with book publishing. So, developers can keep modifying the technology to make it harder to steal/distribute books, but someone will ALWAYS find a way around this. The good news is that most people don't want illegal stuff; they're happy to pay for it; and I don't think people will have quite the same interest in ripping books as ripping music.

The biggest thing WE can do to help is to keep reminding people that illegally downloading a book is no different from walking into a bookstore and shoplifting - I've ranted at many of my friends who rip music and have actually stopped a few of them! I have no qualms about absolutely blasting people on this one - and you might be surprised by how many people listen to you! :)

bowerbird said...

bfuniv said:
> I think it's funny that
> comments started with
> a bunch of middle school
> English teachers. They want
> a perfect world that
> never existed to return.
> They are reacting to
> exponential growth
> as we reacted to
> their red pencils.

i made the very first comment,
and did use the word "perfect"
(in a sarcastic way, and only
to mimic a loaded question)...

so i'm wondering if bfuniv
is referring to me? because
that would be the first time
i have ever been accused of
being an "english teacher"...

> Younger generations
> are having their
> grammar and spelling
> shaped by texting,
> FB, and Twitter.

perhaps bfuniv thought
that when i used the word
"formatting", i must be
talking about grammar
and spelling. of course,
that's completely wrong.
(so imagine tons of big
red marks in this section.)

> They care about story,
> not unnecessary rules.

i'm not here to defend any
"unnecessary rules" because
i find them to be unnecessary.
(the joy of a circular argument.)

call me old-fashioned, but
i do believe words should be
spelled correctly in a book...

as for grammar, i regularly
break a whole buncha rules,
necessary and unnecessary,
some i know, most i don't,
so i can't say much about it.

but in terms of _formatting_,
which is what i have been
talking about all along here,
you might get the impression
that "people don't care about"
things like curly-quotes versus
straight-quotes, or indented
versus block paragraphs, just to
mention two issues that were
mentioned here explicitly, but
if you actually give end-users
the ability to _control_ these
variables, you quickly learn that
they _treasure_ that ability to
set preferences as they desire.

(and it's _not_ always the way
that the book designers prefer;
some end-users like straight
quotes, and block paragraphs.)

one of the biggest failings with
current viewer-software is that
it doesn't let the human reader
control all of these preferences.


bowerbird said...

jody said:
> The biggest thing
> WE can do to help is to
> keep reminding people that
> illegally downloading a book
> is no different from
> walking into a bookstore
> and shoplifting

it's _quite_ different.

it's no different from walking
into a bookstore and browsing
a book, which might (or might
not) include reading it entirely.

or checking it out from a library.

but people are even more tired
(sick to death) of that dance...

where you and i agree, jody, is
that readers actively _want_ to
support authors, especially the
authors who they enjoy, and
will ensure that those writers
are adequately compensated for
the work which they do, and the
sooner authors realize that fact,
the better off we will all be...


nwrann said...

are you trying to convince
someone here? or yourself?

I'm Not trying to convince, I'm not coming up with arguments, and I'm not rationalizing any choices, I'm simply asking a question: is there a better chance of getting published or a better chance of making similar money self-pubbing?

It's a valid business question considering the subject matter of this blog post. Mark Coker has the info available to answer that question and show us where the curve is in the chart that shows the success of 40,000 titles and 16,000 self-pubbed authors.

bowerbird, I wouldn't expect you to have an answer to that question so I ignored the rest of your poem.

bowerbird said...

nwrann said:
> I'm simply asking a question:
> is there a better chance
> of getting published or
> a better chance of
> making similar money
> self-pubbing?

the odds of "getting published"
(which you seem to have defined
as having your book picked up
by a publishing company and
being paid a $5,000 advance)
are vanishingly small, and will
require a huge investment of
time and energy from a writer.

do you have the stats on _that_?

or do you just want to count
the money coming in, and
totally dismiss the value of
the resources that are needed
to cause that money to flow in?

what about the emotional cost?

> It's a valid business question
> considering the subject matter
> of this blog post.

what you seem to fail to grasp
is that most of the writers who
are publishing via smashwords
don't have money as an agenda,
in the sense that they do not
_expect_ to make much money
from the endeavor. therefore,
your "valid business question"
has little applicability to them...

some of them have attempted
to go to legacy publishers, and
they've been rebuffed, so they
turned now to self-publishing.
amanda hocking was one of
the writers in this situation...
and she seemed to do well...

others didn't even bother to
waste any time or energy in
the chase for a publisher...
and some of those have done
quite well for themselves too.

and still others are refugees
from legacy publishers, who
are taking control of their
destiny into their own hands.
some of these people have
reported that they are now
making more money from
their self-publishing efforts
than they had been making
from their legacy publishers.

> Mark Coker has the info
> available to answer that
> question and show us
> where the curve is
> in the chart that shows
> the success of
> 40,000 titles and
> 16,000 self-pubbed authors.

mark's data cannot give us
the comparison which you
seem to want us to infer,
which is that writers would
be better off going legacy...

and in order to answer _that_,
we'd need to know how many
writers got mired inside the
slushpile at those publishers.

because even the writers who
made $500 (instead of $5000)
from self-publishing are now
better off than those writers
who got mired in the slushpile.

and not just because of money.
but because their work is now
out in the world, and _alive_...

> bowerbird, I wouldn't
> expect you to have an
> answer to that question
> so I ignored
> the rest of your poem.

as william carlos williams said:
> It is difficult
> to get the news from poems
> yet men die miserably
> every day
> for lack of
> what is found there.

i don't expect you to read
this response either, but
that's ok, because others
will read it, and learn from it.


Uncle Sam said...

Hey Jody, Yes, there are definite similarities between the digital music industry and the digital book industry. But it wasn't iTunes that stabilized the situation. The music industry organized and came down hard on the perpetrators. That’s what the Publishing industry is going to have to do.

Getting back to the interview here, the commentary seems reflect that most of you have the opinion that there are two options, traditional publishers or self-publishing. I hate to burst everybody's bubble but there are some poorly written and edited books out there. Amazon, Smashwords, ARe all that accept indie books, so before you decide to self-pub. Make sure you're good enough. I watched a nascent indie author self-destruct her career yesterday on a review blog, because she vehemently argued with the reviewer over a two star rating. Her poor rating was due mostly to poor sentence structure, spelling and grammar.

It costs roughly $250-300 to get a 50000 word manuscript edited. A decent cover costs at least $50. Less than half the ebooks that come out will make that back in a year. Amanda Hocking was a fluke. Her books are in a genre that soared because of the Twilight series and a series of knock-offs. Joe Konrath is an experienced, published author, who doesn't need an editor and probably makes his own covers. In addition, his books will sell so if he wants to spend three-fifty on an editor and a cover, big deal. Not only that Joe spends seven hours promoting for every three hours he writes and I'll bet Amanda does too.

When you self publish you're on your own, sink or swim. That's why you might want to start with one of the dozens of existing epublishers. Be careful though, from my experience, some don't edit for beans. I'll be happy to share what I know with anyone interested.

Indie Author Downunder said...

well well well - who knew? My brother in Ozzie sent me this blog in NZ. I opened an account on Smashwords, created a cover and uploaded a free short story all in a few hours. One hour later and 12 people have read it. That's 12 more than ever before! Imagine this time next week? I am not really about the money it is just a thrill to finally be 'published' and 'read'. Thanks from downunder T L Apa

Norah Wilson said...

Great interview, Joe/Mark!

I'm a very happy Smashwords author, as I'm one of those oddballs earning more from Smashwords and its distributors than I am at Amazon. Significantly more. Though I haven't exactly caught fire with all the distributors (I'm hearing crickets at Diesel), I'm extremely pleased with what Mark and the team have made possible.

I won't be going direct to anyone, apart from Amazon. Which is just as well. If I were checking my B&N numbers as often as I check my Amazon numbers, I'd never get any work done!

BillSmithBooks said...

Smashwprds is a wonderful site and I believe it is going to become one of the dominant ebook sites, because it is good for authors (great royalties) and good for READERs (no DRM, no geographic restrictions).

I truly wish them the best of luck.

A quick personal observation on Mark & his company's dedication to personal service: I run a fairly obscure version of Linux as my operating system and when visiting Smashwords, could find no search option. I contacted Smashwords about this and received a personal response from Mark within a couple of days and the issue was quickly corrected -- it was a quirk of the Seamonkey browser bundled into Puppy Linux, so it was an error that was very unusual and affected only a tiny, tiny percentage of possible Smashwords visitors...and yet they adjusted the site code to make the experience work. Awesome!

The one thing that I feel is lacking in Smashwords is discoverability -- it is difficult to find some types of books unless you know exactly what you are looking for. The wonder of book browsing in a physical store is the serendipity of just stumbling across something interesting.

I believe adding a good "community" section to the site -- forums, featured works reviews, etc., not unlike and some of the Kindle boards -- would go a long way towards making Smashwords a destination site for people who want to chat about and discover new books. That functionality will keep people coming back to the site over and over again. Enabling readers and writers to find each other more easily is going to be an important part of the rapidly evolving ebook scene.

I would also love to see Smashwords add HTML as a downloadable format -- HTML works with EVERYTHING.

Bill Smith

JA Marlow said...

I know you are a busy man, Mr. Coker, so thank you for sticking around and answering questions to this thread. It helped answer some questions I've had about Smashwords after using it several times. As like so many of Joe's blogs, the comments can be the best part of the post!

I'm glad to hear you will be revamping the back-end reporting. That will help a lot when it comes to accounting time. I work in spreadsheets a lot, and right now have to struggle to lay them out in a way that works for my financial records.

And while quarterly payments is nicer than 6 months (which is closer to traditional publishing time-frames) monthly would be nicer. Hopefully you can tweak and automate your system to allow it someday.

One thing that does bug me a little is that I have my own ISBN numbers, which I set up at Smashwords. However, in the expanded distribution many listings show Smashwords as the publisher. I do not like that, as I would like readers to be able to search on my company name, not just my author name or book title. Is this going to change in the future?

Count me as one of the authors that is currently selling better at Smashwords than at Amazon or B&N. At least, so far. I've had two people from overseas tell they buy a lot from Smashwords, including my books, because it's easier for them.

I took part in the last day of Ebook Reading Week at the beginning of March. That was a lot of fun, and I thank Smashwords for the way they did it, as it did not affect my listings at Amazon or B&N with their automated price-matching robots. Very nice!

I also appreciate the sampling system, offering multiple formats to view the sample in. As an author, I like that I can adjust how big of a sample it can be from the Dashboard.

And I see Joe changed the commenting system. Rats, now I have to double-check what gmail account I'm in.

J.A. Marlow
Night of the Aurora: A planet-wide conspiracy waits at Grandmother's house...

Dovetail Public Relations said...

@Dee - Hi Dee. I don't think piracy is the boogeyman some make it out to be. I added some comments on this the other week in my They Stole My Book that allows authors to announce their stolen books. A few months ago I attended a conference presentation by Kevin Kelly, the author, futurist and founder of Wired Magazine. He told the audience he views piracy as a tax on success, a tax he will gladly pay. So there you have it.

@BillSmith - glad we could help you. Our CTO, Bill Kendrick, is a Linux geek, so I'm sure that helped us diagnose and fix that quirk. Agreed on discoverability. We'll be revamping that in a series of stages over the next few weeks. The first fix update will be to our category trees, plus maybe another alternative discovery method I've been noodling on for a couple years. Re: Forums, we want one. We do have a new official page over at Facebook - and it's been growing by leaps and bounds the last few weeks thanks to the amazing volunteer efforts of Smashwords author/publisher John Low (thank you John!). Lots of Smashwords authors are connecting with Smashwords readers there. Maybe if we can find a few more John Lows, we can finally launch a message board forum too.

@JA Marlow - If you work with spreadsheets alot, email me your utopian wish-list of your ideal sales reporting spreadsheet, all the way down to what columns and rows you want to see, and we'll try to integrate your suggestions into the rev our reports (this offer is open to anyone!). Re: getting publisher credit, one tip is to simply email us and request that you get credit at the specific retailer who's not giving you the credit you want. Every retailer's systems are different, and virtually none of them are built to understand the difference between a publisher and a distributor, so as a result we fit into their systems as a "publisher" even though we're not a publisher.

Linda Pendleton said...

I love the opportunity Mark and Smashwords has given me to expand my ebook publication of my works, my late husband Don Pendleton's works, and our works. Presently 23books with more to come soon.

Mark's Smashwords Guide has made formatting easy. Much appreciated, Mark. And I love being part of this publishing change.

Anna Elliott said...

I would just like to add that as far as I know, Smashwords is the only option for getting a free book up on B&N. If you want exposure, that is a good thing.

Mark has been great about answering my questions in the past, and I love that Smashwords offers such easy ways to read. Open a browser and start reading from an computer or device. No need to install a reader or deal with any DRM junk or platform lock-in.

Thriller said...

Thanks so much for creating a service that helps indie writers. I have read a few books on Smashwords so far and know that if one follows the directions for formatting their book, it is all good. I will also use Smashwords to publish my own books.

Jacklyn Cornwell said...

Anne, you can now publish directly to Barnes & Noble for free with Not to take anything away from Smashwords (I use them for my books), but there is another option for direct to B&N.

J. Daniel Sawyer said...

As someone who smashed his head on the Meatgrinder a few dozen times, as a result of using OpenOffice (some of the finer points in the style guide don't translate well in terms of where things are in the interface), I've gotta say the trouble was worth it.

However, to save others here the trouble, I've posted the template that I developed (that reliably passes Autovetter and Premium Distribution muster) for everyone at my blog, here:

Share and enjoy!

And Mark--thanks for all of it. Feel free to mirror the file at Smashwords if you think it would help other folks.
-Dan Sawyer
Author of The Clarke Lantham Mysteries

Anonymous said...

I know I'm coming in late, but I just want to say that I appreciate all Mark's done for authors. It's opened up doors that would have been closed otherwise.

Personally, I think uploading through Smashwords to get to B&N is worth it, but I'm the kind of person who likes to keep it as simple as possible. Going between Smashwords and Amazon is more than enough for me.

I hope Mark can get a good profit going. It's because of Smashwords that I'll be making a living off my writing this year. Amazon is a nice piece of the pie, but Smashwords completes it. My advice to anyone who isn't on Smashwords is to get on board. It never hurts to have more exposure.

Anna Elliott said...


you can now publish directly to Barnes & Noble for free with

I am unclear on what that meant. Do you mean PubIt no longer has a minimum price of 0.99 or are you just saying that it is free to the author?
Smashwords allows you to set the price to zero on BN. Maybe PubIt does too now, but at first it did not.

Shelby Cross said...

I am also an indie author who has her work out on Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords. The vast majority of my sales are coming from B&N, then Amazon; Smashwords is barely selling. I have no idea why not, or what I'm doing wrong.

A few things about Smashwords:

1. The formatting is a pain. Mark, you write "we strongly recommend that our authors label the book somewhere as either Smashwords Edition or they add a notation that the book was published by the author at Smashwords." But this is not altogether true: Smashwords REQUIRES you to do this, or you cannot get the book into the premium catalog.

2.The cover has to pass muster. I have four titles out right now, each one part of a collection. The borders are different colors, but the images are the same. Smashwords decided my covers aren't "distinctive" enough.

3. I also emailed them in the beginning when I had some questions, and never got a response.

I finally got one of my titles into the premium catalog, and now have to wait for it to be distributed. Maybe then my numbers will go up. I certainly hope so!

Jacklyn Cornwell said...

Anne, no, Pubit! is free to the author. I never considered giving my books away for free, so whether or not there was a minimum cost wasn't an issue.

Shelby, this is my first time doing Smashwords, and it took me a while to figure out all the things I *had* to do, but was worth it and I had no trouble getting in the premium catalog. Then again, the book I have up will be using a recurring frame, so that might cause an issue. I doubt it since what's inside the frame will be very different and the frame just ties the two books together.