Friday, May 27, 2016

Wattpad Promotion Features 127 Smashwords Mystery & Thriller Authors

Wattpad this week kicked off a big multi-week promotion featuring the works of 127 Smashwords authors in mystery & detective and thriller & suspense.

These Smashwords authors are serializing their novels at Wattpad, the wildly popular online community that attracts over 45 million readers each month.

These Wattpad readers will have the opportunity to discover some of the best indie authors of mysteries, thrillers and suspense.

Wattpad is promoting the participating authors across the Wattpad platform, including prime placement on the Wattpad home page where stories will be frequently surfaced through promotional modules; promotional banners on the official Wattpad Mystery profile, and messages broadcast to the author's followers.  Stories are will also be included in a variety of featured reading lists on both the Wattpad Mystery profile page and the main Wattpad profile.

This is our second major merchandising collaboration with Wattpad. Our first was a romance feature last year which featured 72 authors.  I wrote about that promotion here at the Smashwords blog. The romance promotion was so successful we and Wattpad decided to expand to other genres of interest to Wattpad's readers.

I invited authors from among Smashwords bestsellers over the last year, as well as authors who participated in our Bouchercon thumb drive promotion last year which drew heavily from Boucheron author attendees as well as members of Sisters in Crime.

Below is a full list of participating authors for this Wattpad promotion, divided into sections.  Please join me in celebrating their selection for this exciting promotion.  You can click on the author's name below to visit their WattPad profile page.

https://www.wattpad.com/list/335461127-top-smashwords-mystery-&-detective


Mystery and Detective (click to view active serializations; new titles and chapters from the list below are appearing daily).

The list is alpha-sorted by author first name.

For Sale In Palm Springs by Albert Simon 

Profile of Evil by Alexa Grace 

Pecos Valley Revival by Alice Duncan 

Cliffhanger (The Belinda & Bennett Mysteries, Book One) by Amy Saunders 

Fascinating Rhythm by Anne Louise Bannon 

The Devil's Grin by Annelie Wendeberg 

Sketch of a Murder  by Aya Walksfar  

Dead in a Dumpster: Leah Norwood Mystery #1 by B. L. Blair 

Don't Call Me Baby by Betty Byers 

My Sister's Keeper by Bill Benners 

Played to Death by BV Lawson 

A Shot in the Bark by C. A. Newsome 

Killer Twist (Ghostwriter Mystery 1) by C.A. Larmer 

Armed and Fabulous by Camilla Chafer 

Justified by Carolyn Arnold 

Losing Charley by Casey Peeler 

Tastes Like Murder by Catherine Bruns 

Cypher by Cathy Perkins 

Crime in the Community by Cecilia Peartree 

The Tax Assassin, a Seth and Ava Mystery by Claudia Hall Christian 

Sweet Masterpiece: The First Sweet’s Sweets Bakery Mystery by Connie Shelton 

Look Before You Jump by D.A. Bale 

Eye of the Witch by Dana E. Donovan 

A Bird in the Hand by Dane McCaslin 

A Dangerous Woman by Debra Lee 

The Case of the Bygone Brother by Diane Burton 

Not Without You by Dianne Venetta 

Clearwater Journals by Doc Holiday 

Desperate Acts by Don Gutteridge 

What Doesn't Kill You, The Mystery by Donna Huston Murray 

Birds in Paradise by Dorothy St. James 

Bounty by Elise Sax 

Who P-p-p-plugged Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf 

Hollywood Scandals by Gemma Halliday 

Murder Takes Time by Giacomo Giammatteo 

A Dose of Death by Gin Jones

Dark Places by H A Dawson 

Seniors Sleuth by J.J. Chow 

Dream Doctor by J.J. DiBenedetto 

Pies & Peril by Janel Gradowski

Kindred Crimes by Janet Dawson 

Lost Cause (A Daisy Dunlop Mystery ~ Book 1) by JL Simpson 

Wolves of the Northern Rift by Jon Messenger 

The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks by Josh Lanyon 

A Gift for Murder by Karen McCullough 

Moonlighting In Vermont by Kate George 

Castle Cay by Lee Hanson 

No Accounting for Murder by Leeann Betts 

Not Famous in Hollywood by Leonie Gant 

Merit Badge Murder by Leslie Langtry 

The Bluejay Shaman by Lise McClendon 

Daddy's Little Killer by LS Sygnet 

The Celtic Riddle by Lyn Hamilton 

The Prioress' Tale by Margaret Frazer

Diamonds and Cole by Micheal Maxwell  

Killer Cupcakes by Milda Harris 

Miss Spelled by Morgana Best 

The Case of the Flashing Fashion Queen: A Dix Dodd Mystery by N.L. Wilson 

Genie for Hire by Neil S. Plakcy

The Big Blind by Nicolette Pierce

Hot Tamale by Paisley Ray 

Sign Off by Patricia McLinn

Sounds of Murder by Patricia Rockwell 

Be Careful What You Hear by Paul Pilkington 

Life's A Bitch. So Am I. by R. E. Conary 

Slow Curve on the Coquihalla by R.E. Donald 

Blood Land by R.S. Guthrie 

Loose Screw by Rae Davies 

One Deadly Sister by Rod Hoisington 

BLACK by Russell Blake 

When the Dead Speak by S.D. Tooley

From the Ashes (Ravenwood Mysteries #1) by Sabrina Flynn 

Death by Chocolate by Sally Berneathy

The Atheist by Sarah Ettritch

The Good Knight by Sarah Woodbury

The Collector by Scott Wittenburg 

Chasing Daybreak by Sherry Ficklin, writing as Ranae Glass 

A Grand Murder by Stacy Verdick Case 

Diva Las Vegas by Stephanie Caffrey

Claws by Stephen Booth 

Murder for a Cash Crop by Sue Star

Death by a Dark Horse by Susan Schreyer 

Deadly Secrets by Terry Odell 

Tahoe Deathfall by Todd Borg 

Chorus of the Dead by Tracy L. Ward 

Fatal Mistake by Wil A. Emerson



https://www.wattpad.com/list/335461127-top-smashwords-mystery-&-detective

Thrillers (click to view active serializations; new titles and chapters from the list below are appearing daily)

The War Planners by Andrew Watts 

Killing Me Softly by Bianca Sloane 

LZR-1143: Infection by Bryan James 

Anonymous by Christine Benedict 

Watched by Cindy M Hogan 

Thin Luck by Cori Lynn Arnold 

A Killing Truth by D.V. Berkom 

The Planck Factor by Debbi Mack 

Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer by Demelza Carlton 

Get Charlie Noah by Drew Lindsay 

The Survivor Chronicles: Book 1, The Upheaval by Erica Stevens  

The Saudi Strategy by Ethan Jones

The Purgatorium by Eva Pohler 

Marker of Faith by Foinah Jameson

Tortured Dreams by Hadena James

Murder! Too Close To Home by J.T. Lewis

Dracula Rising by Jackson Stein

The Puppet Master by Jan Coffey 

The Adjal of Jimmy Temple by Jaron Summers & HaroldLivingston

America's Fool by Jay Amberg

World of Mirrors  by Judith Copek

All Fall Down by Julie Coulter Bellon 

Chastity Flame by KA Laity 

Dying by the Hour by Kory M. Shrum 

Through Many Fires by Kyle Pratt 

Murder On The Mind by L.L. Bartlett

The Good Die Twice by Lee Driver 
Seven Sons by Lili St. Germain

Trail of Destruction by Linda Johnson

Codename: Moneyman by Mark Arundel

Irreparable Harm by Melissa F. Miller

I Know Lucy by Melissa Pearl

The Mystery at Sag Bridge by Pat Camalliere

RUN by Patti Larsen

Hostile Witness by Rebecca Forster

Jesusita by Ronald L Ruiz

Ethan Justice: Origins by Simon Jenner

The Perfect Game by Stephen Paul 
Winter Prey by T.M. Simmons

Enjoy!   Thanks to our friends at Wattpad for their awesome support of our awesome authors!

Monday, April 25, 2016

BookExpo America Embraces Self Publishing


BookExpo America, the country's largest publishing industry conference, is stepping up its commitment to self-published authors this May 11-13 at the McCormick West Convention Center in Chicago.

For the last five or six years, BEA held uPublishU, their awesome indie-author themed conference, as a sister event the day after the main BEA conference ended.

This year in Chicago, BEA is integrating uPublishU programs and exhibitors directly into the main floor of the conference.  Now that uPublishU is fully integrated, attending authors can enjoy the full range of main conference's sessions and networking opportunities as part of their conference registration.

Smashwords will attend BEA this year as an exhibitor in the uPublishU pavilion.  I'll be there with our marketing director Jim Azevedo.

I'll also present three conference sessions, two of which will be short talks from the uPublishU stage and one of which will be part of the general conference.  If you're attending, please stop by and say hello!

Here's my speaking schedule:

1.  Thursday, May 12    1:30-1:50pm
Apple iBooks Merchandising: How to Sell More Books at the World's Second Largest Ebook Retailer 
Location: uPublishU Stage

Description: Operating in 51 countries, iBooks is the world's second largest ebook retailer behind Amazon. In this short session you'll learn how increase the visibility of your ebooks at iBooks, capturing the attention of both readers and merchandising managers alike.

2.  Friday, May 13   11-11:50am

Top Ten Trends Shaping the Future of Publishing
Location:  Room W181ab

Description: In this 50-minute session I'll reveal 10 trends that are transforming the future of publishing. Learn how and why the playing field in ebooks is tilted to the indie author's advantage.  Learn why the former stigma of self-publishing is disappearing as indie authors publish with growing pride, professionalism and success.  Learn about the dark clouds looming on the horizon that threaten to devalue books and undermine author independence.  Learn what you can do to realize a more successful publishing future.

3.  Friday, May 13   2:30-2:50pm

How to Use Ebook Preorders to Make Your Next Book Launch More Successful
Location:  uPublishU Stage

Description:  As we revealed for the second year running in our 2016 Smashwords Survey, we found that ebooks released as preorders earn more readers than books simply uploaded the day of release.  In this short 20 minute session I'll provide a quick introduction to ebook preorders and share proven strategies for preorder success. 

Register Now for BEA!

Smashwords authors and publishers who plan to attend will find registration information at http://www.bookexpoamerica.com/Show-Info/Interested-in-Attending/  or click here for the direct registration link. If you're considering attending, you'll want to register before end of day April 26 to receive the special early bird pricing of $374, which saves authors and publishers $100 off of the full registration fee.  Booksellers, retailers, librarians, bloggers, educators and employees of non-profits are eligible for additional discounts.

On May 14, BEA will host their annual BookCon event for readers.  The event features panels and Q&A with authors, and readers will gain access to the show floor where they can meet with exhibitors such as Smashwords.  Register for Bookcon at http://www.thebookcon.com/Tickets/

Jim and I look forward to meeting Smashwords authors, publishers and readers in Chicago!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

2016 Smashwords Survey Reveals Insight into the Habits of Bestselling Authors

Welcome to the fifth annual 2016 Smashwords Survey!

This is hot off the presses.  Last Thursday I revealed the Survey results at the RT Booklovers Convention in Las Vegas.

My goal with the Survey is to help Smashwords authors and publishers identify opportunities to reach more readers.

The Smashwords Survey takes a data-driven approach to identify potential best practices that can give you an incremental advantage.

The Survey also helps us identify habits of the most successful authors.

As smart indies understand, there's no single magic bullet to bestsellerdom.  The secret to selling more books is to adopt dozens of best practices while avoiding fatal mistakes that can undermine your success.

We can't use data to determine the quality of a book's writing or the brilliance of a cover image.  However, the quantitative metrics we examine do provide indirect indications of such quality, as well as myriad other indirect clues that help authors view publishing in a completely new light.

Each year I add a few new goodies while maintaining most of the prior categories of analysis.  This year, thanks to new enhanced metadata capabilities we introduced in recent years, we take a closer than ever look at preorders, box sets and series. 

The full presentation is embedded below. 

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Key findings are summarized below the presentation.

 

Key Findings for 2016 Survey

We looked at actual retail sales over the 12 month period between March 2015 through February 2016.  Here are the key findings:

  1. Fiction dominates - 89.5% of our sales were fiction titles.  Despite fiction's dominance, a number of non-fiction titles were among our top performers of the year. 
     
  2. Bestsellers have a greater social media presence - It's not a huge surprise, but better-selling authors are much more likely to have a social media presence in the form of author web sites, blogs and Facebook and Twitter presence.
     
  3. Romance dominates - Romance continues to dominate sales for Smashwords authors and publishers.  Romance accounted for 50% of our sales during the survey period.  Writers in other genres and categories can gain much inspiration from romance writers.  Romance writers are typically ahead of the curve when it comes to adopting new best practices, and certainly this is underscored by their early adoption of series writing, free series starters and preorder usage.
     
  4. New adult romance had the highest average earnings per romance title, but that's only part of the story - For the first time ever we looked at the relative performance of different subcategories of romance.  While New Adult, YA and contemporary had the highest average earnings per title within romance, when we examined median performance we found that subcategories of Sci-fi romance, fantasy and erotic romance earned the highest median yields per title.  If folks find this analysis useful, maybe I'll do similar analyses of other popular genres.
     
  5. Box set benefits - We found that although most box sets under-perform the sales of other titles, they appear to provide authors other worthwhile indirect benefits.  In fact, measuring box set success by sales performance alone is probably the wrong metric of success.  Only four of our top 100 bestselling titles at Smashwords were box sets, but a closer look at the top performers should give authors insight into potential opportunity.  The top performing box set during the Survey period was from multi-New York Times bestseller Kristen Ashley, whose box set, The 'Burg Series, performed well.  It was priced at $17.95 and sports 1.2 million words.  The other top-100 performer was R.L. Mathewson's Honeymoon from Hell Box Set priced at $4.99 which bundled six short novellas with a combined word count of 140,000.  The other two top-performing box sets were limited-time charity box sets organized by Brenda Novak and her annual diabetes fundraising drive.  

    There are typically three reasons authors do box sets:  1.  Single-author value-priced bundles, such as bundle of a full series.  The goal here is to drive sales while giving readers an incentive to commit to a full series or collection of books as opposed to buying books one at a time.  2.  Multi-author box sets.  Here, multiple authors collaborate to cross-promote other authors to their respective fan bases.  The best-performing multi-author bundles are usually FREE or priced at $.99, and the objective is to build author awareness among new readers and drive readers into their new favorite authors' books as opposed to earning direct profits from the box set.  3.  Charity box sets - These are often value-priced.
     
  6. Free remains a powerful catalyst to drive discovery - Each year, we analyze the effectiveness of free ebooks at generating readership.  To keep the numbers apples to apples, we gather the data each year from the same retailer - Apple iBooks, and then compare average downloads per title for free books against the average purchases per title of paid books.  This year, the multiplier was 41X, the same result we found in last year's Survey.  This means that on average, free books get about 41 times more downloads than books at any price.  To learn how to make free work for you, read my recent article at Publishers Weekly, The Power of Free: How to Sell More Books.
     
  7. Pricing sweet spots - For the last few years, $3.99 was the sweet spot for most indie fiction ebooks.  It was the price that maximized both unit downloads and earnings.  For the 2016 Survey, $2.99 barely edged out $3.99 for the greatest average unit downloads.  However, we observed some shifting on the earnings front.  $3.99 retained the mantle for the average price that generates the highest earnings, and $4.99 came in as the second best price, beating out $2.99.  I think this speaks to a growing number of professional indie authors finding success migrating to slightly higher prices.  In general, most indie authors of full length fiction are probably best served at $3.99 to maximize earnings and unit sales.  You'll also see that some strong performing non-fiction titles skewed the earnings data for the higher price ranges.
     
  8. Box set pricing - For the first time ever, we took a look at how box sets perform at different price points for both unit sales and earnings.  The data was a surprise!  For unit sales, $.99 blew away the other price points.  But for the price point that earned authors the most earnings, $9.99 won out.  Please remember this data is based on averages and your book may not conform to the average.
     
  9. Longer books still sell better - For the fifth year in a row, we found strong evidence that on average, readers prefer longer books.  Our top 100 bestsellers averaged 112,000 words, and our top 1,000 bestselling books averaged over 103,000 words.  Note that four of the top 100 bestsellers were box sets, and three of those four had high word counts.
     
  10. Preorder adoption increases - 13.5% of new books released at Smashwords during the Survey period were born as preorders, up from 9.8% in the prior one-year survey period.  This means over 85% of authors are still simply uploading their books the day of release. It also means that as an author or publisher looking for an advantage, I'm handing you preorders on a silver platter.  Five years from now when everyone is doing preorders, you won't enjoy the same advantage you do now.  Based on our data, the authors and publishers that are forgoing preorders are squandering sales opportunities.  Why the low adoption?  I'll hazard two guesses:  1.  I think most authors still don't understand how to leverage preorders to maximum benefit.  2. Contributing to the confusion, many authors who've tried preorders at Amazon have found them counter-productive because a preorder at Amazon will cannibalize the book's first-day sales rank.  I spoke with two authors this week who let their Amazon preorder experience sour their view toward preorders at other retailers.  This is a mistake.  A preorder at iBooks and Kobo (two of the three largest retailers served by Smashwords) allows accumulated orders to credit toward the first sales sales rank.  iBooks is the king of preorders.  See the next item...
     
  11. Books born as preorders earn more money - Median earnings for books born as preorders were 2.8 times higher than books simply uploaded the day of release, while average earnings were an even greater multiple.  This speaks not just to the power of preorders, but it also speaks to the smarts of our bestselling authors, many of whom have now been doing preorders with Smashwords for up to three years. Every preorder gains you incremental benefit in terms of expanded readership, and over the course of years this incremental benefit compounds upon itself like a great investment.  This is because the more readers you gain, the easier it becomes to gain even more readers because fans breed more fans through word of mouth.

    Seven of our top 10 bestselling titles were born as a preorder, as were 55 of our top 100 bestsellers.  The strong presence of books-born-as-preorders in our bestseller lists is especially significant considering that only a small minority of books (13.5%) originated as preorders.  If you're not releasing preorders with Smashwords, you're missing out!  Last June we announced assetless (metadata-only) preorders, which allow you to list your preorder up to 12 months in advance, even before the book is finished and before you have a cover.  As I've been advising now for almost three years, the longer your preorder runway, the more opportunity you have to benefit from preorders.  Check out my preorder strategy article I wrote for Publishers Weekly to learn tips on how to integrate preorders into your next book releases.  Or visit the Ebook Preorder Information page at Smashwords.
     
  12. Series books outsell standalones - We dug deeper than ever this year to examine how series books perform.  Among the top 100 bestselling series with and without free series starters, the series with free series starters continue to earn more sales than series without free series starters.  We also found that in general, series books significantly outsell standalones.  When we compared the average sales of the top 1,000 bestselling series books against the sales of the top 1,000 standalones, the series books had 195% higher earnings and their median earnings increase was an impressive 127%.  As a caveat, keep in mind that our series data is heavily skewed by the popularity of series romance.  However, I think the same factors that drive romance readers to love series apply to the readers of genre fiction readers in other categories.  Even non-fiction authors can take some inspiration here.  Readers love series!  There's more in the Survey.  And if you're already a series authors at Smashwords, make sure all your series books are linked up in your Dashboard's Series Manager screen.  Series Manager increases the discoverability of your series books at our retailers.

Additional background on the Survey

As I caution each year, please remember your book is unique.  Your book and your readers may not conform to the aggregated norm. 

It's simply impossible to use any form of quantitative or qualitative analysis to get inside the minds of readers to understand the multivariate factors that influence their decision to ignore one book but devour another.  Readers are probably not even fully conscious of what motivates them.  But this impossibility shouldn't stop you - and it won't stop us - from searching for the bread crumbs that lead to useful insights.

If you've followed the Survey in prior years, you know the Survey is based upon verified sales data, aggregated from across the Smashwords Distribution Network.  This means we included sales data from Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, the Smashwords Store, Scribd, Oyster (now closed), OverDrive and others.

Since we distribute only about 300 books to Amazon, it also includes a small amount of data from Amazon.  I'd encourage you to consider our data more representative of the book-buying behavior at retailers other than Amazon.

For followers of the Smashwords Survey who wish to dig deeper, it's fun to view the results of 2016 within the larger context of our prior surveys.  View our prior surveys here: Smashwords Survey 2015 | Smashwords Survey 2014 | Smashwords Survey 2013 | Smashwords Survey 2012). 

Support Future Surveys!

If you distribute with Smashwords, thank you!  You are directly contributing not only to our data, but also to our ability to continue bringing you this data. If you don't use Smashwords for distribution, please consider consolidating your distribution with us.  We want your sales data, and we want to help you sell more books.

Thank you Smashwords authors and publishers!  Until next year...

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Smashwords Surpasses 400,000 Books

Smashwords on Wednesday surpassed 400,000 books published.

It took only eight years and two months.

400,000 indie ebooks available for discovery and download.

Most of these books are also distributed to major retailers such as iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, and to library ebook providers OverDrive and Baker & Taylor.

These books are here because you put them here.  You shared your wordy brilliance with the world.

Thank you for inviting Smashwords to join you on your indie authorship journey.

mark


P.S.
Congrats to Goddess Pleasure (@GoddessPleasure) for being the first to spot our milestone!


Friday, April 1, 2016

Kindle Power Bucks Solves Book Marketing Challenge (April Fools Satire)

Spoof of ficticious Kindle Power Bucks service
Note to readers: this post is satire.  It was our April Fools post.  Whether it's plausible (or already happening as some might argue) I leave you to decide.

Amazon today announced Kindle Power Bucks, a powerful new ebook marketing program for indie authors.

Kindle Power Bucks solves an age-old problem faced by indie authors – most book marketing doesn't work.

If you're tired of wasting money on advertising, or sick of prostituting yourself on social media, read on.

With Kindle Power Bucks, authors pay only if readers read their books. It’s the most accountable paid marketing tool I’ve ever seen.

Here's how it works:

To enroll your ebooks, go to your KDP dashboard, click on the new KPB bidding tool, register your credit card or direct bank account for auto-billing, and then click to the book you want to promote.

Next, enter the bounty you're willing to pay for each page the reader reads.  Amazon calls this the PPP, which stands for Payment Per Page.  Rates start at one penny per page.  Similar to Google Adwords, the PPP tool will suggest appropriate bids that will get you the best results.  As the final step, enter your daily marketing budget for the campaign.

Now grab a bowl of popcorn, sit back and watch the real-time graphs flicker and unfold before your very eyes as your ebook earns page-reads in real time.

Do angles exist?  Yes, right angles.
Real time Kindle Power Bucks Chart
Readers per Hour

It’s almost too good to be true. The catch is that this is a paid marketing program.  You're paying readers to read your book.  But at least you know you're getting read.  You're building readership.

Based on early indications, readers and indie authors alike are responding with enthusiasm to the new program.

Amazon reports that indie authors enrolled over 250,000 books into the Kindle Power Bucks program in the first few hours.

The first authors to enroll are already seeing incredible results.

As I write this (early morning April 1), 85 of the top 100 best-selling books in the Kindle Store are Kindle Power Bucks books.

The program makes free books look expensive by comparison.

Kindle Power Bucks offers multiple exclusive program benefits that give you an advantage over authors who choose not to enroll, such as sales rank triple credits.  This makes KPB books more discoverable and more desirable to Kindle customers, and earn them more exposure in the also bought recommendations.

Amazon counts each completed book as if it's a full sale to a verified customer, and reports this data to the bestseller lists.  This all but ensures the most popular KBP books will earn spots in next week’s New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists.

In another innovative twist, partial reads accrue credit toward full reads.  For example, let’s say your book is 200 pages and the first 100 readers quit after two pages.  That would equal 200 pages read so you'd earn a full read credit and the triple credit toward sales rank. 

This means you can start supercharging your sales rank within minutes of enrolling your book in KPB, even if readers never finish your book.

To further help drive discovery, Amazon makes it easy for readers to search for the highest-paying books in their favorite genres.

Participating authors are reporting that KPB books are earning better reviews than they did prior to enrollment.  Perhaps this is because paid readers are happier readers.

Bids Topping $1.00 Per Page

Early bidding is heated as authors compete for readers.  Authors in competitive categories are bidding up to $1.00 per page for the highest visibility spots, which means some readers are earning over $300 per book.

It'll be interesting to see how KBP influences reading behavior.  Will readers of drier subject categories demand higher payments?

To prevent program abuse and help authors stretch their marketing budgets, Amazon caps the monthly earnings for each individual reader at $10,000.  I've heard rumblings that some romance readers have complained this cap discriminates against them since romance readers are known to read multiple books per day.

If your book's popularity exhausts your marketing budget to the point your credit card is maxed out or the available cash in your bank account is consumed, no problem.

Write. Publish. Spend!
Amazon has you covered with an innovative new financing option called KDP Mortgage.  Authors can apply online for instant home equity credit lines of up to $500,000.

As with all new changes to the KDP Select program, there will be winners and losers.

“I’m winning,” said Hugh Barnacle, a writer of dystopian fiction.  “For my book launch this morning, I set my marketing budget at $250,000.  Within minutes I topped the charts.  It’s so easy - anyone with enough home equity can become a bestselling author if they’re committed.  If I were a lap-sized poodle, I’d be humping Jeff Bezos’ leg right now.”

Invest more money.  Reach more readers.
Authors with smaller marketing budgets may find their books disadvantaged in the Kindle store as readers modify their reading habits and decide it’s more profitable to read books than to purchase books.

Authors may also decide that reading is more profitable than writing.

“I love the new program as a reader, but I hate it as an author,” said April Sunshine, a writer of New Age fiction.  “First Kindle Unlimited devalued my books by paying only $1.40 per qualified read. Then they devalued my writing further by paying me less than a half penny per page, which means my earnings dropped to $1.00 for full reads in the US and only 25 cents for my books in India.  Then they redefined how they define a page and my earnings dropped again.  And now Amazon wants me to pay my readers to read my books?!?!  Who’s going to feed my children?  I’m quitting writing to become a full-time KPB reader instead. It pays better.  Please tell me this an April Fools joke.”

Yes, it is.  Sorry.

Here are links to my prior April First posts:

2015 - New Amazon Service Eliminates the Need for Authors
2013:  New Smashwords WEED Service Treats Common Author Ailments
2011:  Smashwords Acquires Amazon, New Company Called Smashazon
2009:  JK Rowling Publishes Harry Potter Ebooks at Smashwords

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Call to End the Cuban Book Embargo

The American publishing community joined together today to call on the US Congress and President Obama to end the book embargo against Cuba.

The Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly covered the story earlier today.

On Monday, in an unprecedented show of support, Publishers Weekly will print the petition on the front cover of the magazine.  You can see a preview of what it will look like at left.  Over 45 companies, organizations, associations and individuals signed the Publishers Weekly petition, including the CEOs of three big 5 publishers.

You can view the text of industry petition here.

There's also a new, public petition at Whitehouse.gov.  Add your support now by signing the public petition here

The American writing community is well-represented in the Publishers Weekly petition with backing from Romance Writers of America (RWA), Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), California Writers Club, Sisters in Crime, and the San Francisco Writers Conference.
"Access to books and literature is a fundamental human right.  It's for this reason the California Writers Club, an organization representing over 2,000 writers, is proud to sign this important petition to end the book embargo against Cuba."
- David George
  President, CWC.

Among the publishers and distributors signing are the CEOs of Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster, Sourcebooks, O’Reilly Media, Kensington, Open Road Integrated Media, Smashwords, Independent Book Group (IPG) and Baker & Taylor.
See the end of the blog post for the full petition and the signers.


Americans - Sign the Petition Today!

There are two petitions in this campaign.  The first petition is the industry petition in which CEOs and top executives drawn from multiple sectors of the U.S. publishing community voiced their support for an end to the Cuban book embargo.  This is the petition that will appear on the front of Publishers Weekly next week.

The second petition is a petition for the American public.  This petition, hosted at Whitehouse.gov, calls on President Obama to take immediate steps to eliminate the embargo as it pertains to books and educational materials.

If you live in the US, please sign it now at https://petitions.whitehouse.gov//petition/end-book-embargo-against-cuba

Please sign it and share the link to the petition with everyone you know.  Tweet it, Facebook it, bang pots and pans for it!

If we attract 100,000 signatures, the Obama administration will be obligated to issue a public response at the link above.

The Story Behind the Petition

I conceived of the petition last month while visiting Cuba as part of 40 member publishing industry delegation organized by Publishers Weekly and Combined Book Exhibit.

The delegation was organized by Publishers Weekly and Combined Book Exhibit. You can read about the delegation in the Publishers Weekly stories by Calvin Reid (here and here).

Several days of meetings, held with the support of the Cuban government, represented an historic milestone. The purpose was to build bridges of understanding and explore opportunities for greater cultural and economic collaboration.

The American delegates included authors, publishers, distributors, literary agents, service providers, consultants, and independent booksellers. Cuba was represented by officials from the Cuban Book Institute, the Ministry of Culture and the Cuban Writers Association, as well as Cuban authors, publishers, academics, and students.

While listening to the Cuban authors and publishers, I was struck by how horribly harmful the embargo is to their authors, publishers and readers.

Due to the US embargo, it’s extraordinarily expensive and difficult for Cuban publishers to gain access to even the simplest raw materials of bookmaking, such as paper and ink.  And for self-published authors, even if they had access to self-publishing services or book printers, the set-up fees of such print services would be prohibitively expensive.

Typical Cubans, whether they’re doctors or janitors, earn the equivalent of less than $20 US dollars per month.  This means they don’t have a lot of disposable income to purchase books or publish books.

Yet the Cuban people love books.  I attended the Havana Book Fair where over the course of a few days hundreds of thousands of Cubans attended.  I noticed that the audience skewed toward younger millennials.  These kids and young adults are the future of Cuba.  They’re bright, well-educated, eager to read more books and they're excited about the warming relations with the US.

Cuba has an adult literacy rate that is nearly 100%.  Compare that to the the US where adult literacy is only about 80%.  Cuba has a rich literary heritage.  They value books.

Imagine the amazing stories locked between the minds and fingertips of the Cuban people, just waiting to be revealed to the world.  This is why I created Smashwords.  I want to help these writers and publishers overcome the artificial barriers that prevent their words from reaching reader eyeballs.

Of the approximate 45 publishers in Cuba – all state sponsored and cash-starved – they don’t have access to US markets, or to the services and expertise of the American publishing community.

If you think about it, much of the enabling infrastructure of global publishing flows through the US.  It's where you'll find the major publishers, distributors, literary agents and the myriad other service providers involved in the production, distribution and sale of books and bookmaking technology.

The technology and services of Smashwords, for example, could make it fast, free and easy for any Cuban writer or publisher to produce and distribute an ebook.  We can provide Cuban writers access to the free tools to reach a global Spanish-language audience.  Imagine how transformative even a few dollars in royalties would be to a Cuban writer’s life.

For Cuban readers, I want to make our 60,000 free books available to them along with our 350,000 other low-cost ebooks.  I want to make it possible for Cuban readers to digitally read the books of Cuban and other Spanish-language writers too.

Yet the economic embargo prohibits us from helping writers, readers and publishers in Cuba.  The embargo prevents our retailer and library partners from operating in Cuba.  Financial restrictions prohibit our payment processor – PayPal – from paying authors and publishers in Cuba.  PayPal tells me they want to do business in Cuba but they can’t until the financial transaction restrictions of the embargo are lifted.

During our interactions with our Cuban counterparts, it quickly became clear that both sides of the delegation were eager to work with one another, but we all felt powerless to do so due to the embargo.

So I started wondering what we could do to fix the problem.  Obviously, the answer was to end the embargo.  So the crazy idea I came up with was for members of our delegation to take steps to end the embargo.  Surely, if the multi-billion-dollar US publishing industry could come together and voice their support for ending the embargo, politicians who are otherwise ignoring their citizen constituents would listen to their corporate constituents, right?

I shared my idea with Calvin Reid of Publishers Weekly and Joe Matthews of International Publishers Group.  They thought it had merit.  Soon, word started spreading within the delegation and several people approached me and said they'd support such an effort.  And then, as I was participating on a panel the next day, a member of the Cuban delegation asked if there was anything we could do to end the embargo.  With that soft ball pitch, I said yeah, maybe, we've been batting around this crazy idea...

Following the visit to Cuba, we formed a petition committee of Publishers Weekly (Jim Milliot, Cevin Breyerman, George Slowik, Jr., Calvin Reid) , Combined Book Exhibit (Jon Malinowski and Janet Fritsch) and Jim Azevedo and myself of Smashwords. Publishers Weekly immediately committed to put this on the front of the magazine.  I drafted the original petition and then we collaborated to edit and refine it, and then we worked together to set the strategy for the petition.  What you see to today is the result of an amazing collaborative effort by my fellow organizers and of course the participation of the petition signers, many of whom understand and appreciate the delicate political environment in the US today.

Today, these petition signers made a bold statement that they will stand on the right side of history despite the many voices that seek to perpetuate the past injustices of the economic embargo.

A big thanks to Jeffrey Trachtenberg and his editors at The Wall Street Journal who saw fit to give this story the attention it deserved.  The Wall Street Journal story has elevated our effort to the attention of the broader American public.  The American public now has the opportunity to apply friendly encouragement to their political representatives, challenging our country to stand on the right side of history by lifting the embargo.

The Story Behind the Embargo, and What Comes Next

The US embargo against Cuba has a dark and twisted past.  What we in America refer to today as the embargo (and what Cubans refer to as “the blockade”) grew out of a tangled spaghetti mess of presidential executive orders followed by Congressional actions and statutes, and followed by escalating retaliations and rhetoric on both sides.

Books have been written on the origins and impacts of the embargo.  I'll try to summarize in a few paragraphs.

In a nutshell, much of the mess started in 1960 when President Eisenhower decided to cancel 700,000 tons of sugar imports from Cuba to the U.S.  The Cuban government then responded by nationalizing American oil refineries without compensation (why do some of America’s biggest world blunders always come back to oil?), and then we added an embargo, and then they became dependent upon Russia for oil and military stuff, and then there was the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis in which the world our parents knew almost ended in a puff of radioactive dust, and then the US Bay of Pigs invasion (oops, sorry), etc etc.

Along the way the US has criticized the Castro regime for human rights violations as if this is justification for maintaining the embargo.  I don’t doubt such violations (I met a woman on my flight to Cuba whose brother was shot in the ‘60s for trying to escape Cuba), but really, isn’t this the pot calling the kettle black?

The US government has been no angel in world affairs.  Yeah, we deserve some respect for helping to save humanity from Nazi and Japanese tyranny in World War II.  But before and after that we had our fair share of screw ups along the way, like Americans stealing America from the native American Indians, or the dark stain of slavery, or the Iran/Contra deal, or the CIA overthrow of multiple democratically elected governments, or for more contemporary examples just look at how our government allows its own people to be poisoned by lead in Flint just to save a few bucks, or how we allow big corporations to buy politicians, or how we continue to cozy up to autocrats and dictators in oil-rich countries (there's oil again!) who strip their citizens of basic human rights, or who behead bloggers for offending Allah or whatever.

But I digress.  I love America.  We’re a wonderful country with wonderful people but we can be pretty clueless quite a bit of the time.  In the case of Cuba, we’ve been stupid for about five decades.  Innocent Cubans have suffered.

It’s actually pretty amazing the Cuban people don’t hate Americans.  Yet you meet with them and what you see are a bright and optimistic people who feel incredibly connected to us, and who want to be more connected.  Most Americans who visit Cuba end up feeling the same reciprocal desire to connect.  To be ambassadors for a better aspect of America.

After all, as any world traveler will tell you, we all have more in common than we have apart.  All too often we allow trivial things like politics, religion, race and place of birth to separate us.  Engagement leads to peace, understanding, respect and mutual benefit.

President Obama realized the embargo was failing to achieve anything productive, and decided that if he could help expose the Cuban people to American culture, tourist dollars and information, he could achieve real progress.

No doubt, the relationship to come will be fraught with stumbles, bumbles, squabbles and awkward moments, not terribly dissimilar to teenagers experiencing their first romantic relationship.

The Obama administration has reestablished diplomatic relations with the Cuban government.  They’ve reopened respective embassies and also made strides to relax travel restrictions and permit limited commercial transactions such as in the field of telecommunications so that the Cuban people can gain increased access to outside information via the Internet.

There’s a great exclusive interview with Obama from December at Yahoo News in which reporter Olivier Knox asks Obama to articulate his Cuba strategy.  In the interview, Obama talks about how the executive branch (i.e. the President) can make tweaks and modifications to the embargo despite the gridlock and obstruction of current Congressional leaders.  It starts with a two minute sample and then jumps in to the full interview.  https://www.yahoo.com/politics/obama-really-wants-to-go-to-cuba-but-only-if-the-101913219.html

After listening to the interview, I decided that Obama would really want to lift the book embargo if only someone would suggest it to him.  After all, when you listen to his criteria for the modifications he’s made to date – providing Cubans access to more information via the Internet, more access to American Culture and business practices, doing things that directly benefit the Cuban people, sharing American cultural and humanitarian values – then it’s quite obvious that books could help him achieve his objectives.

Books promote greater cross-cultural understanding and economic development.  Books are the most powerful vehicle for knowledge sharing and free expression.

Next week on March 17, according to Reuters, the Obama administration is expected to announce further easing of restrictions related to commercial and humanitarian assistance.  Their announcement comes on the eve of President Obama’s visit to Cuba March 21-22.

We want President Obama to address the book embargo in his March 17 announcement.  With your help, this might be possible.

In my opinion, the US economic embargo against Cuba is nothing short of a national embarrassment.  It accomplished nothing other than harming the Cuban people.  It’s anachronistic and antagonistic to basic humanitarian and American values.

The American people seem to agree.  According to a Pew poll last year, 72% of Americans now favor an end the US economic embargo against Cuba, including 59% of Republicans.  Gallup has been tracking American sentiment toward Cuba and the embargo for many years, and their findings confirm the Pew finding. Most Cuban-Americans now support an end to the embargo.

Only the US Congress has the power to completely abolish the embargo, and despite growing bipartisan support for the embargo’s end, it’s unlikely we’ll see the embargo lifted until after the next election in November.

Two of the three Republican candidates for President – Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio – have spoken out against the end of the embargo.  Ironically, their parents came from Cuba.  To the young Cubans I spoke to, these two are a national embarrassment.

But Cruz and Rubio come from a different generation, a generation whose parents fled Cuba in the '60s for political reasons.  It’s this influential generation of Cuban-Americas that has made it politically impossible for rapprochement in the past.  Though according to polls, even this older generation is slowly warming to the idea of normalized relations with Cuba.

The more recent waves of Cuban immigrants coming to America since the 1980s have come for economic opportunity.  These younger Cubans are much more in favor of normalized relations with Cuba, and much more in favor of ending the embargo.  It's this new generation of politically influential Cuban-Americans that give American politicians the political cover they need to chart a new course.

According to a December 2015 survey conducted by the research firm Bendixon and Amadi and referenced by the Miami Herald - 77% of Cuban-Americans age 18-49 support normalized relations between Cuba and the United States.  Fully 53% of Cuban-Americans now support an end to the US embargo, and among 18-49 year olds, the percentage is 66%.

Last year, Donald Trump went against his own party by expressing support for Obama’s efforts to normalize relations.  Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are also in favor of ending the embargo.  One of these individuals is likely to become our next president.

So while Congressional action is unlikely in the near term, President Obama has authority under the executive branch to make immediate modifications to the embargo.

We think it’s time to add books to the list.

Please join our campaign by signing the public petition today at Whitehouse.gov.  The link is https://petitions.whitehouse.gov//petition/end-book-embargo-against-cuba


The two petitions follow below

The Industry Petition to appear in Publishers Weekly:

END THE BOOK EMBARGO AGAINST CUBA


In February 2016, a delegation of approximately 40 American publishing industry representatives met with their publishing counterparts in Havana, Cuba. The two days of meetings, held with the support of the Cuban government, represented an historic milestone. Its purpose was to build bridges of understanding and explore opportunities for greater cultural and economic collaboration.

The American delegates included authors, publishers, distributors, literary agents, service providers, consultants, and independent booksellers. Cuba was represented by officials from the Cuban Book Institute, the Ministry of Culture and the Cuban Writers Association, as well as Cuban authors, publishers, academics, and students.

The undersigned companies and individuals - drawn from the American delegation as well as other leading U.S. publishing industry participants - hereby call upon the U.S. Congress and President Obama to lift the economic embargo against Cuba as it pertains to books and educational materials.  This call is consistent with the will of the American people, who, according to a 2015 Gallup and Pew polls, overwhelmingly support the elimination of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

Our position:
  • We ask Congress and the President to lift the US trade embargo against Cuba related to the production, distribution and sale of books and educational materials.
  • The U.S. trade embargo is harmful to book culture and runs counter to American ideals of free expression.
  • Books are catalysts for greater cross-cultural understanding, economic development, free expression, and positive social change.
  • Cuba boasts a rich and proud literary tradition with much to contribute to book culture.
  • Cuba's adult literacy rate-nearly 100%-is among the highest in the world.
  • Exciting commercial opportunities exist for the American and Cuban publishing communities to collaborate for the benefit of readers and writers everywhere.
  • The American book publishing community stands ready to help Cuba's writers and publishers gain access to the global book market, and to help the Cuban people gain greater access to the amazing diversity of books published by American publishers.


The Public Petition at Whitehouse.gov (Click here to sign today!)

End the Book Embargo Against Cuba


  • On the eve of his historic visit to Cuba March 21-22, we call on President Obama to utilize executive powers to immediately lift the economic embargo against Cuba as it pertains to books and educational materials.
  • As a basic human right, readers everywhere deserve greater access to books and literature.
  • Books promote cross-cultural understanding, economic development, free expression and positive social change.
  • The book embargo runs counter to American ideals of free expression.
  • Cuba's adult literacy rate – at nearly 100% - is among the highest in the world.
  • Cuba boasts a rich literary heritage.
  • End the embargo to make the works of American and Cuban writers more accessible to readers in each country.
  • 72% of Americans support an end to the trade embargo against Cuba (Pew, 2015)