Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Knowledge Genie: Package, Publish and Sell your Smarts

For most non-fiction authors, you write a book for the credibility it gives you, and then you monetize your smarts by going on the road 300 days a year doing speaking and consulting gigs.

But what if you could clone yourself and sell your smarts another way? What if you could take the static content of your book, and combine it with various other information, content and links, then make it so your customer can interact with it on the web, almost like a virtual coach?

That's the idea behind Knowledge Genie, a cool new digital publishing startup that launched today (Disclosure: I'm an advisor to the company, and the PR firm I own reps them. So although my enthusiasm for what they're doing is genuine, I encourage you to check them out and form your own opinion).

Ever since I launched Smashwords over a year ago, I've talked about how ebooks would evolve to the point where they serve as both the hub and the spokes of richer online applications. When the founders of Knowledge Genie first contacted me, this is why I was so excited about them.

Let's face it. Most content delivery today is static. Just words on some substrate medium (paper, screens, or even air if you want to want to count skywriters). Knowledge Genie is one of first examples I've seen where we get a hint of how books might contribute to the evolution of more fully formed content experiences.

Like a book, a Knowledge Genie app is what the author makes it, so it'll be fun to what types of creativity will emerge from Knowledge Genie authors and publishers.

Knowledge Genie might also serve as a platform for a new breed of publisher who takes previously published book content and brings it to live as a dynamic online web application.

Start building your first Genie today for free at Knowledge Genie.

David Weir has an excellent analysis of Knowledge Genie's potential over at BNET.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How to Develop an Ebook Strategy: IBPA Publishing University Class Tomorrow

I'm presenting a one-hour online class tomorrow at 2:00pm Eastern, sponsored by the Independent Book Publisher's Association (IBPA) titled, "Making the Move to Ebooks: How to Develop an Ebook Strategy."

The class tomorrow expands upon a class I co-presented with Dan Poynter at the Publishing University conference in New York in May.

From the IBPA web site, here's a partial summary of what I'll cover:

  1. Why ebooks are hot
  2. Latest market sales data
  3. Will ebooks cannibalize or complement print books?
  4. How ebooks fit within overall publishing strategy
  5. What books work best as ebooks
  6. How Ebook formatting is different
  7. Why multi-format is important
  8. Evolving distribution models: The new ebook supply chain
  9. How Amazon is vertically integrating its ebook business: friend or foe to the independent publisher?
  10. To DRM or not DRM?
  11. Ebook pricing models
To learn more, or to register, visit the Publishing University Online registration page. The class is $49.00 for IBPA members and $69.00 for non-members. 100% of the proceeds go to IBPA, a wonderful organization I'm so pleased to support.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Flash Fiction 40 Anthology Published at Smashwords

The Flash Fiction 40 Anthology is now published at Smashwords.

Click here to view or download the Flash Fiction 40 Anthology.

Check out this incredible collection of short fiction under 1,000 words from 40 of the most talented up and coming writers today. It's free.

The Flash Fiction 40 is a product of a free writing competition sponsored by Editor Unleashed and Smashwords.

Special thanks to Maria Schneider of Editor Unleashed for doing such a tremendous job managing and judging the contest. Thanks also to the more than 280 writers around the world who participated in the competition, and the hundreds more in the Editor Unleashed forum community who participated in the judging. Also special thanks to Next Chapter Communications for designed the ebook cover and the Flash Fiction 40 logo and other assorted digital badges associated with the contest.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Interview with Alan Baxter: How to Set Up a Blog Tour and Why Print Books Will Become a Niche Market

Smashwords author and indie publisher Alan Baxter embarks on a worldwide blog tour this coming week to promote his dark fantasy novels, RealmShift and MageSign.

As a result of his blog tour, his books and his name will gain exposure to thousands, possibly tens of thousands of new potential readers. What did this fancy blog tour cost him?

Nothing but his time.

What's a blog tour, you ask? If you never heard of a blog tour, drop everything and read on. Even if you're familiar, read on because you might still learn something new.

Why do blog tours matter? Because all authors, whether traditionally published or indie, need media coverage if they're going to draw significant readership to their books. The nature of media has evolved in recent years to the point today where the term, "media" encompasses not only traditional media such as print newspapers, magazines and television but also "social media" such as blogs, podcasts, social networks like Twitter and Facebook and YouTube.

Media is anything that can carry your message, and a blog tour is intended to get your message out on many blogs in a short period of time.

In this interview, Alan tells us how to set up a blog book tour to promote your book. I'm particularly impressed by how he makes creative use of Smashwords Coupons as an integrated element of his promotion.

He also makes a bold prediction about the future of print books (one, I'm sure, many of our readers will agree with). Read on!

[Mark Coker]: Alan, you're doing a blog tour for your Smashwords titles, RealmShift and MageSign. For the benefit of other Smashwords authors who are new to blog tours, what's a blog book tour?

[Alan Baxter]: A blog book tour is essentially taking your books out on the virtual road, in much the same way that authors would traditionally tour the country, visiting various bookstores promoting their work. In this case, an author visits a different blog every day where they engage in various activities (interviews, guest posts, reviews and so on) and make themselves and their books known to the audience of that particular blog. There's great cross-promotion as the writer's audience gets exposed to a variety of blogs they might not have discovered otherwise (which is good for the blog owner) and the blog's audience learns about the author.

[Mark Coker]: What are the other benefits of such a tour?

[Alan Baxter]: The benefits, other than the cross traffic I mentioned above, include opening not only your own books but the concept of online book promotion as a whole to a wide variety of people. My books are available in print as well as ebook format and I also have a novella available exclusively through Smashwords, Ghost Of The Black: A 'Verse Full Of Scum. By taking my two novels on the road, I'm opening up my other work, my Smashwords exclusive work and Smashwords itself to a wide audience that may not have ever considered ebooks before, or may not have heard of Smashwords. It also helps to increase exposure to my indie press, Blade Red Press. Building an author platform online is essential for indie authors and a blog book tour like this is a great way to expand that platform.

[Mark Coker]: Describe the promotional tie in with Smashwords.

I really wanted to make an aspect of this tour something special - a special offer for people following along. It's difficult with the print editions through Amazon or anything like that to make any changes in the short term. With Smashwords, however, there's an excellent degree of control for the author/publisher. With any title you have through Smashwords it's possible to generate vouchers to vary the cost of your books however you please. So that means that I've been able to set up a voucher code that will be made available to anyone following the tour, valid only for the duration of the tour. If those people then come to Smashwords to buy RealmShift or MageSign they can enter that code (Enter ZR95S for RealmShift and SF97B for MageSign) and the books will only cost them $1 each. Both books for $2, only through Smashwords.

Anyone not familiar with the tour will still see the normal price of $3.50 each, so my overall sales don't risk taking a hit. But anyone that supports me by following the tour gets rewarded for it.

I've used this function as well to get reviews. If someone is willing to review an ebook copy of RealmShift or MageSign, I direct them to the site and give them a code that gets them the book for nothing. There are two things that really make Smashwords a cut above in my mind - the complete control of pricing and the variety of ebooks formats in the one place. Nothing else compares. That's why I've used Smashwords to exclusively give away my Ghost Of The Black novella too.

[Mark Coker]: How much publicity can an indie author expect to receive on a blog tour?

[Alan Baxter]: How much work can an indie author put in? With anything in this game it's all about how much work you put in. It's also about working smart. If you get involved with a variety of blogs, with a widely varying audience, and you ask those people to promote the tour for you, then a lot of publicity can be generated. You can also make sure that you and those others involved cross-media promote with things like Twitter, Facebook and so on. I'm also involving Smashwords directly with a special offer on my books, which is another avenue of exposure.

[Mark Coker]: How does one go about arranging such a tour?

[Alan Baxter]: Firstly you need a quality product to promote. Then it's a case of contacting the owners of blogs that you think are relevant. For me it was based on blogs that I read a lot or that are owned by other indies I've met. There's also some blogs of friends and one blog that I'm an active contributor to. I contacted them all, asked if they'd get involved and asked what sort of thing they could host for me. I explained how the extra traffic could be a boon for them and then, if they agreed, we worked together to decide what I would do there.

It's important to have variety. If you just go to a different blog every day and say, "Check out my book!" you're going to bore people pretty quickly. It was essential in my mind to create something that people would want to follow every day, to see something new each time. The best explanation is to show the itinerary of the tour we've arranged. I've ended up with a ten day tour that looks like this:

Day one: Guest post: Dark Fantasy – What is it exactly? - Monday 20th July at The Creative Penn. This is a blog all about indie authorship, but Jo is hosting a blog from me about the genre of my writing. It's something new for her readers and hopefully interesting for everyone.

Day Two: Interviewed by Leticia Supple - Tues 21st July at Brascoe Books Blog Brascoe Books is an small press in South Australia, so Leticia is interviewing me about the nature of going it alone, the process of editing and so on.

Day Three: Guest post: Writing a good fight scene - Wed 22nd July at David Wood Online
David is another indie author - he writes action adventure novels. As I'm often complimented on writing convincing fight scenes (my "day job" is as a kung fu instructor) he asked me to write about writing fight scenes.

Day Four: Interviewed by April Hamiltion - Thurs 23rd July at Publetariat Publetariat is a hub site for indie authors, telling them all they need to know about self-publishing and indie publishing, from print to ebooks to just about everything. This is the site I'm a contributor too already, so April is interviewing me about my experiences.

Day Five: Guest post: Demons and where to find them - Friday 24th July at Joan De La Haye’s blog Joan writes in a similar genre to me and has a fascination with demons. She always has a Demon Friday post where she writes about a different demon every week. In this case, she's given the Friday over to me and I'm writing about demons in general. Again, this is something different for her readers as well as being something interesting for those following the tour.

Day Six: Wily Writers publishing my short story “Stand Off” (featuring Isiah, the protagonist from RealmShift and MageSign) as both text and podcast - Sat 25th July.

Day Seven: Ruthie reviews MageSign - Sun 26th at Ruthie’s Book Reviews This one is a bit of a risk. Ruthie agreed to review the second book, MageSign, and post the review to coincide with her day of the tour. So I really hope she liked it. She gave RealmShift 4/5, so fingers crossed.

Day Eight: Pat Bertram interviews Isiah, the protagonist from RealmShift and MageSign - Mon 27th July at Pat Bertram Introduces Pat often hosts interviews with the characters from books, which is a great idea. This was a fun one to do.

Day Nine: Guest post: Indie authors and the future – Tues 28th July at Musings Of An Aussie Writer Brenton is another Aussie author and he asked me to talk about the nature of indie publishing and how I see things progressing as time passes.

Day Ten: Guest post: The inspiration for RealmShift and MageSign, what they’re about and what’s next – Wed 29th July at The Furnace The last day here is me talking directly about the books, which is the first time on the tour that I've done that, and also talking about my future projects.

As you can see, I tried to build an interesting and varied experience for everyone involved to enjoy. Hopefully plenty of people will follow the tour, comment on those blog posts and generate some discussion and interaction.

[Mark Coker]: In addition to writing the three books above, you're also the founder of Blade Red Press. Does Blade Red Press only publish titles from Alan Baxter, or are you signing other authors, and if so, what publishing services do you offer?

[Alan Baxter]: At the moment we have one other book available through the press, by another Aussie author called Michael Fridman. His book is available at Smashwords for free, incidentally! As time allows I intend to offer the press to other authors as well. The criteria are that I will only publish good quality, dark speculative fiction. That makes us a genre specific press, which will help to establish our profile. While I will vet the work I accept, I won't be offering any deals or contracts. I'll simply be offering the opportunity for those authors to have their work made available under the Blade Red Press banner which means POD sold through Amazon, etc. at a much cheaper cover price than, say, Lulu, or other author service companies like that, and they will also have their work listed here at Smashwords under the Blade Red Press banner. They will essentially be self-publishing just like myself and Michael, but they'll have earned the Blade Red stamp of approval. That means quality writing, quality editing and professional production. Then it's up to them to make it work!

[Mark Coker]: Tell me about the inspiration for RealmShift, MageSign and Ghost Of The Black: A 'Verse Full Of Scum

RealmShift is the story of Isiah, a powerful immortal that has the unenviable task of keeping some kind of balance between all the gods that people believe in. It's Isiah's job to prevent any one god gaining too much power, therefore throwing out the balance of free will in humanity. In this instance he has to track down a nasty blood mage, Samuel Harrigan, that has reneged on a deal with the Devil and caused all kinds of problems. The trouble is, the Devil wants Harrigan too. The inspiration was really born of a desire to explore the nature of faith and belief and wrap it all up in a cracking action thriller.

MageSign is the sequel to RealmShift, where Isiah goes after the guy that taught Samuel Harrigan all his blood magic. Isiah wants to prevent this guy, known only as the Sorcerer, from making any more dangerous mages like Harrigan. Except Isiah quickly discovers that the Sorcerer has more followers than he ever imagined and a truly diabolical plan. Again, it explores what people believe in, why they do so, the power people have and the things they do with that power. And again, it's a cracking good yarn, full of action and intrigure, magic and martial arts.

The third Smashwords title I have is Ghost Of The Black: A 'Verse Full Of Scum. This is the first of my serialised novella following the activities of Ghost, a hardened galactic bounty hunter. This was something a bit removed from my other work, though I still explore similar themes. I originally published this story in weekly episodes throughout 2008 on my website. It's still available to read there, but if you want the whole thing in a one volume ebook (with a very sharp cover!) that's available exclusively here at Smashwords, and it's free!

[Mark Coker]: My sense from this side of the equator is that there's a vibrant publishing community in Australia, and many Australian indie authors including yourself have been at the forefront of indie ebook publishing. For the benefit of the our readers around the world, tell us a bit about the book culture in Australia, and the opportunity you see for authors to leverage ebooks as vehicle to reach a global audience.

[Alan Baxter]: Well, [print] books are expensive in Australia and we only have twenty million people. But Australians love to read. That means that the big publishers don't see us as much of a profitable market (as there's so few of us) and that makes it hard to get published here. So there are a lot of niche indie presses around and a lot of us are grabbing the opportunities that ebooks present. Not only are the overheads zero, but we get to expose our work to a global audience on an equal footing with everyone else. I upload a book to Smashwords and it's available instantly all over the world. For us here on the far side of the planet, that's an unprecedented opportunity. And ebooks are certainly the way of the future. I love having my books in print, they sell in print and there will always be a market for print. But I think that print will slowly become the niche market and ebooks will become the mainstream. Especially as ereaders become cheaper and better, the ebook will continue to rise. Leveraging that kind of swell in public consumption with a site like Smashwords is a chance for authors to gain a huge following all over the world.

[Mark Coker]: Thanks, Alan!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Interview with Writer Laurel Wilczek, Winner of the Flash Fiction 40 Contest

Last week, writer Laurel Wilczek was selected the grand prize winner of the EditorUnleashed/Smashwords Flash Fiction 40 writing contest, beating out a talented field of nearly 279 other entrants.

Laurel's compelling entry, "Fairy Tales", tells a haunting story of a robbery, a beating, a rape and a suicide. Yet in this interview, Laurel tells us the story is actually much more than that.

Please meet Laurel Wilczek, a talented writer I'm sure we'll hear more from in the months and years ahead.

[Mark Coker]: Congratulations on winning the Editor Unleashed/Smashwords Flash Fiction 40 Contest. What was your inspiration for this story?

[Laurel Wilczek]: The idea for my story "Fairy Tales" came to me during a period of time in which I was rereading Grimm's Fairy Tales. I've always been fascinated by this collection of macabre children's stories. The opportunity to reverse the standard structure of a fairy tale, to start at the end instead of the beginning and then to find happiness by returning to the past, was too tempting to resist. Of course, this kind of tale calls for a darker element to be present and I think the robbery and rape by "fairies" under a full moon offers a modern twist on the traditional evil that characterizes a Grimm's story.

[Mark Coker]: What do you think made Fairy Tales stand out from the 279 other entries?

[Laurel Wilczek]: I think the magical overtones throughout the story made it appealing to many readers. The use of fairies and fireflies kept this story within context of a fairy tale, while the rape and the burglary made it real. It's a contradiction in this world that children become aware of as they age. As adults, I think we all remember and long for the tales told about worlds that abide by a different set of rules. Rules that allow for a different outcome than what is found here.

[Mark Coker]: How long have you been writing Flash Fiction, and what other writing
do you do?

[Laurel Wilczek]: I've been writing short stories for over a decade. The length of each story varies from 500 to 7,000 words. Just as in "Fairy Tales, many of my stories include a quality of magic that frees the character's universe from the rules governing the "real" world. Some stories contain an element of humor along side of a dark, morbid theme. I enjoy contrasts. I enjoy using fantastical elements, although I don't consider my stories to be completely within the genre of fantasy. I define my work as magic realism. For me, the pleasure of this genre lies in the freedom to explore exotic themes in mythology and see how they stand up in the modern world. I see each of my stories as a sphinx posing a riddle for me to solve.

[Mark Coker]: What are your goals as a writer? Are you holding out for commercial
publication, or are you publishing now as an indie?

[Laurel Wilczek]: I'm interested in commercial publication. My goal is to publish a story collection and write a series of novels. I'm working on a second draft of a first novel rooted in magical realism. It's similar to "Fairy Tales" in that it is created with the mainstream reader in mind, but has some literary undertones.

I believe there's a market for it.

I haven't thought about publishing as an indie, mostly because that's a new option that I have yet to explore. A cursory glance through the options at Smashwords reveals that this is an intriguing possibility for new and established writers. I'll be looking closer at this as I move ahead in my career. At present, I have no plans to self publish.

[Mark Coker]: Do you enter contests often, and if so, why? What do you view as
the key qualities of a good contest?

[Laurel Wilczek]: I like contests. I cut my teeth in local contests then moved up to more difficult competition online. Contests can be a means by which a writer can measure her improvement, but only if the contests are selected with careful deliberation. I prefer contests with reputable names, like Writer's Digest, Byline, Glimmer Train, and Editor Unleashed. In the past, I've won first place in the Byline Literary Short Story Contest along with several honorable mentions. I've also won an honorable mention in the 77th Writer's Digest Competition, placing 62 out of 17,000 manuscripts. A reasonable entry fee is fine if the magazine is well known in the publishing world. The reputation of the contest host should boost your reputation as well. Prize money is attractive, but I won't dismiss a contest if the magazine showcases the work of excellent writers. In the publishing world, you are the company you keep. Money will buy ink for the printer, but reputation will earn you an audience for future stories and the interest of agents.

[Mark Coker]: Where else can readers go to read your writing?

[Laurel Wilczek]: You can read my latest story, "The Pond", in the January issue of T-Zero Literary Magazine at Click on the link to T-Zero Magazine. I also have a blog at where you can read my comments on various aspects of writing.

[Mark Coker]: Tell us more about your background, what makes you tick as a writer, some of the training you've received, and anything personal you'd like to share

[Laurel Wilczek]: When I was four years old, I asked my parents, "Why is the sky blue?" and I heard the standard reply given to every child, "Because." I didn't like it then, I still don't like it. There are some people who understand and accept this world as it is. Others spend their lifetime trying to fix it. I prefer to be one of those holding a screwdriver. If you ask me why the sky is blue, I'll tell you because it's magic.

I'm a graduate of Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I've spent a decade honing my writing skills in classes at the local community college and at East Stroudsburg University. I've also been active at online writing sites and in critiquing forums at Writers Village University, Editor's Unleashed, and A Novel Approach. Recently, I completed a year-long study of the classical and modern short story form in the Writers' Village University MFA Short Story Program. I credit much of my success to my writing groups and to the writers who have worked beside me across the years. I live with my husband, two daughters, three nosy dogs, and a cockatiel named Pipkin in the beautiful Pocono Mountains.

[Mark Coker]: Thanks, Laurel!

Laurel's Grand Prize story will be published at Smashwords in the next few weeks as part of an anthology featuring the other 39 Editor's Choice winners.

In the meantime, you can read Fairly Tales at the Editor Unleashed Forum (may require free registration).

To learn more about Laurel, you can read her interview at Editor Unleashed with Maria Schneider.

InStock Self Publishing Conference This Saturday in San Francisco

If you're in the Bay Area this weekend, come check out the InStock Self Publishing conference taking place this Saturday in San Francisco at the Hotel Monaco with registration open at 9am.

Smashwords is one of the official sponsors, along with Blurb, Outskirts Press and the Bay Area Independent Publisher's Association.

The full day conference is offering a great selection of nine different sessions covering everything an author needs to know about taking their book from concept to publication.

Sessions will cover public relations, book cover design, book production, how to get in bookstores, and how to get your book picked up by a traditional publisher.

I'm speaking on a power-packed panel called "Book 'Em!" where we'll discuss everything involved in getting your book produced as a print book or ebook.

Click here to view the complete schedule of sessions.

Registration is only $145.00

Stop by and say hi!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sourcebooks Publishes with Smashwords

Sourcebooks today became the largest publisher to date to leverage the Smashwords platform as part of their ebook strategy.

I'm thrilled to work with Sourcebooks. I first met Dominque Raccah, Sourcebooks founder and CEO, at the IBPA Publishing University conference in New York in May.

Here's a large publisher with many New York Times best-sellers to their credit who has thrived in the current tough economic climate by focusing on creating great books, brilliantly marketed.

As of today, they've listed 14 romance titles with Smashwords, all DRM-free. Visit the Sourcebooks/Smashwords bookstore, or click here to view the press release they issued today.

I'd write more but I have a plane to catch.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Introducing Smashwords Satellites

At Smashwords, we're always thinking of new methods to improve the discoverability of our books for the benefit of our authors, publishers and customers.

With this in mind, today we launched Smashwords Satellites, a collection of 33 standalone web sites, organized around different themes, featuring slices of Smashwords content. Think of them as digital shelves.

Each of the satellites features experimental, customizable interfaces for book discovery which look quite a bit different than the regular web site.

You can search for your ebook your way, by exposing the information you want or hiding the information you don't want. Many offer instant on-screen sampling of up to 10,000 words on a single web page.

Interested in free erotica ebooks? Then head over to

Interested in only fiction ebooks? Visit

Interested only in short fiction? Try

How about ebooks you can download to your Sony Reader? Try For your Amazon Kindle? Try

And there are about 30 others you'll find at Smashwords Labs, where we list some of our other ongoing experiments and development initiatives.

Over time, if readers enjoy the experimental interfaces, we'll migrate some of the features into the main Smashwords web site. We'll iterate the interfaces based on your feedback.

Some new Satellite features have already found their way to Smashwords, such as the new Smashwords 100 page. We're also excited about the new Smashwords Cover Browser (seen here at, so we'll soon find a home for that on the main site as well.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Smashwords Kicks off July Summer/Winter Blowout Sale

It's that time of year here in the U.S. when folks pack up for vacation, loaded with lots of books for some great summer beach reading.

With this in mind, today we kicked off the Smashwords Summer/Winter sale, running today through July 31, where readers can find great reads for 25%, 50%, and even 100% percent off (yes, that's right, lots of FREE reads too!).

I included "Winter" in the promotion title because Smashwords is bi-hemispherical (not sure if that's a word) and we have many authors, publishers and customers who are enduring cold winters south of the equator. What better way to pass the winter than to to curl up with a warm ereader loaded with dozens of great Smashwords reads?

If you're a Smashwords author or publisher, click here to enroll your books in the promotion.

If you're looking for some great reads from some of the most talented up and coming indie authors, click here to browse the specials. Click back often, because we just started the promotion today and authors are enrolling new titles in the promotion each hour.

P.S. If anyone wants to email me a picture of themselves wearing snow skis and winter gear on the beach, I'll replace the Smashwords logo above in this post with your picture. You can be our unofficial mascot for the month. Oh, and hold an e-reader in your hand too.