Thursday, October 21, 2010

Smashwords Surpasses One Billion Words Published

12 months ago, I outlined a crazy goal called The Billion Word March in which we'd aim to grow the Smashwords catalog from 150 million words published at that time to one billion by the end of 2010.

I knew it was stretch, because it meant we'd need to grow the number of books published by 700 percent in 15 months.

Yesterday, we surpassed our goal nine weeks early.

I know some folks consider word count an odd measure of progress. I admit, it's an unusual metric. If you think about it, though, at an atomic level every word comprises an essential building block for a sentence, a paragraph, a message or a book. It also represents a measure of liberation. I created Smashwords to unleash the creative talent of the world's indie authors. The talent of an author is manifested in their words.

Word count is only one of several yardsticks we use to measure our progress. We also look at number of books published (22,310), authors and publishers represented (we hit 9,700 today[!]), traffic to (growing every month), the quality and quantity of Smashwords retail distribution relationships, and our payouts to authors and publishers. On all these metrics, we continue to grow right along with word count.

As the Smashwords ecosystem of authors, publishers, readers and retailers grows, it opens up exciting opportunities for authors and publishers who participate in the Smashwords network. Every new author or publisher at Smashwords brings new readers, and new readers bring new authors and publishers, which in turn bring more great reading material for our readers. It's a virtuous, self-reinforcing flywheel.

As our catalog grows, and the number of great authors at Smashwords increases, more retailers want to carry our books. In the last 12 months we've become the leading distributor of indie ebooks. We've established relationships with the largest ebook retailers, and in the months ahead you'll see us open up new doors of distribution opportunity for our authors and publishers.

What's next for Smashwords? After two and half years, I feel like we're still getting started. In the next several months, you'll see us add more retailers, new sales and marketing tools, and a steady stream of both incremental and major enhancements to the Smashwords ebook publishing and distribution platform. We have hundreds of enhancements and new features planned on our technical roadmap, and many of these features are a direct result of feedback and suggestions from Smashwords authors, publishers and readers (keep them coming!).

My sincere thanks to the 9,700 authors and publishers now publishing and distributing their books with Smashwords. We look forward to serving you in the months and years ahead.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Seven Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success

This past weekend at the Self Publishing Book Expo in New York, I presented my Seven Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success. I embedded the presentation below for your Powerpointing pleasure.

The presentation builds on a previous presentation (and blog post here) on how the rise of indie ebooks will transform the future the future of publishing.

For this session, I added new material, including the all-new seven secrets plus one bonus secret that covers how authors can maximize the virality of their books.

The Seven Secrets (plus bonus):

  1. Write a great book - Your reader's time is more valuable than their wallet. Readers have unlimited choice for high-quality content, so authors must respect the reader's time by publishing the highest quality book possible. As the publisher, it's your responsibility to do what many traditional publishers do so well, and that's to honor the editing and revision process.

  2. Write another great book - The best-selling authors at Smashwords offer deep backlists. Think of each book as a fish hook in the ocean. When each book cross references the other books with simple hyperlinks (both inside the book and within the retailer's merchandising systems), you create a net. A deep backlist also offers you the opportunity to earn the trust of the reader. Once the reader trusts that you'll respect their time with a great read, they'll be more inclined to sample and purchase your other titles.

  3. Maximize distribution - Availability is the precursor to discoverability. If your book isn't serendipitously discoverable in multiple places via topical or themed search engine queries, or via keyword or categories searches at retailers, it might as well be invisible. Get your books distributed in as many online bookstores as possible. Many readers go to a bookstore with the intention to find a great read, and they're not necessarily looking for a specific title, so if your book isn't there it's not discoverable or purchasable. Some of the same rules of print publishing apply to ebook publishing. The more bookstores that carry your book, the more chances you have to connect with a reader.

  4. Give (some of) your books away for FREE - The highest grossing authors at Smashwords offer at least one book for free. FREE is one of the most misunderstood and underutilized ebook marketing secrets. Free works best if you have a deep backlist.

  5. Trust your readers and partners - Some authors don't publish ebooks due to fear of piracy. That's silly. Piracy cannot be prevented. J.K. Rowling doesn't publish ebooks, yet within hours of each release of her Harry Potter series, her books were available online as pirated ebooks. Don't make it difficult for your fans to purchase legitimate copies of your book. Trust your readers to honor your copyright (and for those readers who won't, there's little you can do about it). If you limit the accessibility of your book by infecting your book with DRM, then you'll limit your ability to connect with readers. Last week during my trip to Brazil, I spoke at an ebook publishing presentation sponsored by Singular Digital alongside Rodrigo Paranhos Velloso, the director of business development for Google Latin America. Rodridgo made an absolutely brilliant observation about DRM. He said, "when you DRM something, you make the non-DRM'd versions more valuable." In other words, when you apply DRM, you encourage piracy.

  6. Have patience - It takes time to build your publishing business. Unlike traditionally published print books that hit store shelves and usually go out of print soon after, ebooks are immortal. When your book lands at a new retailer, think of it as a seedling. With time and proper nourishment, it has the chance to build deep roots (customer reviews, sales rank, SEO). Never remove your book from a retailer's shelves because you're dissatisfied with its sales compared to other retailers (see distribution above).

  7. Marketing starts yesterday - Start building your marketing platform before you finish your book, and then invest time every day to build that platform. Implement a solid social media strategy. Participate in social networks, and more importantly, contribute to your social networks. If you view your Facebook and Twitter followers has people to be sold to, you'll hurt yourself. Instead, add value. Help your fellow authors be successful. When it comes time for you to launch your book, your social network friends will want to return the favor by opening unexpected doors of opportunity.

  8. Architect for virality - In the presentation, I described my concept of "first reader," the person you convince to purchase your book. Every reader is a first reader. If your book resonates with them, they'll promote the book to their friends. If it doesn't resonate, they won't promote it. Since readers will determine the success of your book, you, as the author or publisher, can take steps to facilitate the virality (word-of-mouth) of your book. The presentation outlines those steps, as well as how to avoid what I call Viral Decay and Negative Virality.
As I write this, I'm sitting in a hotel room in Adelaide, Australia. I'll be in Australia for most of the rest of the month, here to speak at a series of if:book Australia's "future of publishing" Next Text seminars in Adelaide (Oct. 6, 7), Brisbane (Oct 10), Byron Bay (Oct. 13) and Perth (October 18, two events). I look forward to meeting Smashwords authors and publishers at these events. Register now at the links above.

On October 29, I'll probably do a half day ebook publishing event in Auckland, New Zealand, hosted by the New Zealand Digital Publishing Forum. More on this later once things are confirmed.

October 6 Update: Read an updated and slightly modified version of this post over at the Huffington Post.