Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Rachel Van Dyken on Overcoming Fear

The other week I attended the awesome PennedCon conference in St. Louis.  It was headlined by two amazing keynoters, Rachel Van Dyken and Jamie McGuire, both #1 New York Times bestsellers, and both fellow Smashwords authors.

Their talks were raw, deep and personal, at times humorous and gut wrenching. A common thread between the two was how to find the strength to power on.  Jamie focused on finding the courage to believe in yourself when others don't, and Rachel focused on overcoming fear.  Together, they formed two perfect bookends.  I wish you could have been there in person.

Rachel mentioned during her presentation that she had written out her speech beforehand.  She kindly agreed to share it with me for publication here on the Smashwords blog.

If you know anyone who's ever suffered from fear, anxiety or depression, you'll want to share this transcript with them.  It might change their life.


I AM NOT DEFEATED

As Presented by Rachel Van Dyken
September 29, 2017
PennedCon.  St. Louis, Mo

I LOVE public speaking, I really do, when it’s in front of my grandma’s bridge group and I can tell them that I want to be a unicorn and they’ll go, “oh how sweet, you do that” and then hand me a chocolate chip cookie.

In fact, anxiety is washing OVER me right now and I would do anything to be at my grandma’s stuffing my face with cookies, because the simple fact is this:

You guys are my peers.

I’m fully aware that any one of you guys could be up here, that I in no way deserve to be at this podium more than you, so the fact that I get to stand here and address you is such a privilege that I’m having a hard time believing it. 

I honestly think the worst part about saying yes to Rick [Miles, conference co-organizer with Amy Miles] in being the keynote speaker was the fact that I had months of anxiety leading up to it, months of wondering if I was going to totally ruin everything and make everyone boo, or if I was going to stand up here and just pass out.

THE POINT— I’m honored I’m up here, but please be gentle with me, especially since…

Ugh I hate to drop a bomb but—especially since I’m gonna get real with you.

You see the other unfortunate part about having six months to think about this, maybe longer is the fact that I typically push things from my mind until the day before, then just speak on a topic and go on my merry way.

This was different. It was immediately different, especially after seeing a lot of the hate, fear, and insecurity swarming our lovely book community—it didn’t force me into procrastination, it forced me into action. This topic plagued me for months, even after I wrote it down, it had me waking up at night, it had me constantly going back to my speech—guys I wrote this down!  I don’t ever write things down. I knew it was important, and I think because of the heaviness and responsibility of it, I knew that it had to be said, it had to be spoken about.

I couldn’t get this idea out of my head, and while my greatest wish is for you guys to be like YES Rachel van Dyken nailed this, so FUNNY! I’m like uh oh, this may not be funny at all, it may be painful, but at least you’ll get a few truth bombs out of it. 

Here’s the thing. I want you to walk out of here different than the way you walked in, I want you changed from the inside out, I want to alter your perspective about yourself, about the way you think about yourself, the way you think about others, and the way you think about your role in this community. I refuse to let you leave the same way you came in.

IT’S MY ONLY GOAL.

Words are powerful, they hold power over our emotions, over our speech, behavior, over the way we react to those around us. WORDS TRULY DECIDE THE PATH OF OUR LIVES.

Think about it, when someone encourages you, when you get fed the words you so desperately need what does that do to your attitude, your demeanor? It’s life changing. Literally as if you’ve been stumbling all day in search of water only to have someone hold a hose to your face and command you to drink.

WORDS ALSO HAVE THE POWER TO HURT.

And they have power to emotionally harm us.

We live in a world where words have the power to create. I mean that’s what authors do right? We create worlds that you live in, that you can escape to, but what happens when that world ends? What happens when you hit the last page?

When you’re having a bad day and someone puts you down, you don’t remember the good words from your friend a week ago.  All you can focus on is the fact that someone saw you, measured you, and found you wanting.

YOU.
YOU aren’t enough.
You aren’t good enough.
Pretty enough.
Skinny enough.
Serious enough.
Funny enough.
Smart enough.

YOU, there’s something wrong with YOU and no matter how many compliments you get in your lifetime, those negative words WILL ALWAYS feel like they hold more weight when you look at yourself in the mirror and try to decide what kind of person you are, what kind of purpose you have in this world, and what your purpose is in this book world.

SEE -  I told you I was going all dark side on you.

You totally should have picked another keynote, oh good, you’ve got Jamie [McGuire] tomorrow, she’ll be funny I swear. ;)

So here we go, here are the words, here’s the serious, here’s the transparent, buckle up.

Nine years ago I had my first panic attack; it was devastating. I was with one of my clients (I was a PSR [Psychosocial Rehabilitation] worker and counselor at the time), in my car, driving them to the library where I often had them check out books so they could have the escape I KNEW they needed in their own homes, and the world just….shifted beneath my feet. I couldn’t breathe, my chest felt tight like I was having a heart attack and the world felt like it was spinning into chaos. It was like a giant bear was chasing after me and I had to run, I had to escape.

We all know that anxiety is a manifestation of a true physical threat that doesn’t exist.  Your amygdala, the funny little almond shaped part of your brain goes BEAR! BEAR! BEAR! And your eyes search for the bear but since they see no bear and since you’re actually pretty safe, your brain manifests something internal that’s wrong, you start having physical reactions to something that doesn’t actually exist in your external environment.

It’s a very real experience, and a real thing.  No matter what people say, anxiety, depression, they attack relentlessly and the battle all takes place up here, in the head, and it is horrifying. How do you fight back something you can’t see? How do you fight back a feeling? How do you explain to someone that there’s a threat when rationally you don’t see one?

You doubt yourself.
You give into fear.
You give into defeat.
And the process repeats itself.

It’s a vicious cycle, one that I literally could not pull myself out of. I think the worst part was that I was a school counselor at the time so I’m like, "oh awesome, I have around 15 kids from the ages 4 to sixteen all dealing with this and I can’t even get a handle on my own emotions?"

I questioned God.

Why would this happen to me? Why? This makes no sense. I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m helping little kids and I’m literally mentally disabled, this is how I feel. I shut my friends out, I was afraid to be in public, I was afraid people would notice. I wanted to move home. I wanted to hide away from the world that betrayed me.

And I tried. I tried to do all those things. I wanted to quit my job, move to my parents house at twenty-two, and just…hide.

I remember the day my mom looked at me after countless interviews in my hometown and said, you need to go back.

And I was like NOOOO you don’t understand, YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND. Loneliness, fear, so debilitating. I couldn’t understand how this person who loved me so much would tell me that I wasn’t welcome. I felt betrayed. Rejected.

And a bit ashamed. Because I knew she was right.

I was going backwards, I was reverting to what was safe, because I was afraid.

Fear has a way of latching onto us, it tells us that we can’t do things, it makes us believe lies about our sense of worth, where we are in life, and what our purpose is.

Fear kicks us off the path we were born to walk.
And it’s so ridiculously sneaky about it.

Fear comes in like your friend, it offers comfort, tells you, hey this is how you’re going to be safe.
Shut the world out, go into your little corner, I’ll hold your hand. That path you were on? Too scary. Too lonely. NO, no, do this, this is what’s going to make it better. That big book convention? Nope, no thank you. I mean I know I paid for it, but wow there’s so many people, eh why don’t you just stay in your room where its warm and safe? Why not just write? I mean you are on deadline….it would be so much easier to just, isolate.

So you believe the voice.
You believe the lie that you can’t do it, and you start digging.
You dig a safe little hold to live your life in.
You decorate it.
You buy a TV.

You hang out in your hole and keep digging as fear keeps encouraging you that you need to go deeper, people can see you, don’t let them see, don’t let them in, just put your head in the sand and close your eyes, everything’s going to be okay.

Fear has its arm wrapped around your body while its talons dig into your arm keeping you immobile.

Fear is not friend. It’s foe.

But we embrace it because for a few brief seconds it makes us feel safe.

But the thing about feelings - they don’t and CAN’T define our current state. Feelings are feelings, just because you FEEL afraid doesn’t mean you have a reason to be. Just because you feel alone doesn’t mean you are. But we put so much WORTH in feelings that we believe them as truth when they’re just natural reactions to our terrifying environment.

I moved back to Idaho that year.

I burst into tears on the first day of school in front of my boss.  I’m sure she was absolutely thrilled that I was getting put in charge of eight hundred kids haha.

Nate and I were dating. He was working a scary job that did nearly kill him numerous times. And I was like this can’t be it, this can’t be my life, where I wrap fear around my body and hold on tight and close my eyes waiting for it to lessen, to get better.

I did the only thing I knew how, to pull myself out of the cycle.
I started to inform myself.
I started to read.

I read book after book about anxiety about how to fight it, I went to my old college professor and asked her to teach me how to do desensitization therapy for my kiddos. I did it to myself.

I went through countless hours studying relaxation therapy. I studied tapping, and nutrition, and different stretches that released happy chemicals into your body, I studied hypnotism.

And I read.
And something happened.

Through those books, I found an escape, this beautiful escape that told me that I wasn’t alone, even if I really as all by myself in my house, I had friends, even if they weren’t real, they were real in my head, real to me. I poured myself into Julia Quinn books, and Eloisa James and for a few brief hours I had this…peace.

And one day, after having a few girls come into my office crying over the fact that the boys called them ugly.

I wrote The Ugly Duckling Debutante.
And it clicked.
After the first chapter, I sat back in my chair.
It was horrible but it was mine.

It’s still the worst reviewed book I’ve ever written (back in 2011), and to this day whenever I talk about it I’m like nooo don’t go buy it, don’t do it! But the point is, I wrote it, it wasn’t pretty, it was damaged, it was my damage, it was my words, my insecurities, their insecurities…it was an ugly masterpiece.

I always think back on that moment, because doing that was terrifying for me, moving back was crippling, but had I stayed in my fake safe spot, in my fear hole, I would not be where I am today.

Every single road that life takes you on has a purpose, no matter how rocky, how scary, how treacherous, THERE IS A PURPOSE.

I know without a shadow of a doubt that my mom is the reason that I am an author today, her tough love, sending me back into the pit of chaos, is what saved my life, and gave me this amazing career.
Because here’s the thing about your path. It’s normal to get thrown off of it, or even step off of it by accident, but the point is this, those accidents should propel you onward towards your main goal, they shouldn’t deter you and cause you to stop walking altogether.

Guys, FEAR HAS ONE GOAL FOR YOUR LIFE: TO PARALYZE YOU, TO KEEP YOU IN THE SAME STATE YOU WERE IN FIVE YEARS AGO. IT WANTS YOU STUCK. AFRAID. ISOLATED.

WHEN YOU ARE PARALYZED you are IMMOBILE. You are living a life of stillness, when you were meant to live a life of action.

No longer are you doing what you were created to do, what you were BORN to do in this life, because you’re still, motionless.

IF YOU TAKE AWAY NOTHING ELSE FROM THIS CONFERENCE, TAKE AWAY THIS— Here’s the thing about stillness, you end up turning into an observer of life, rather than a participant…

I’M GOING TO REPEAT THIS—Get this guys, YOU WERE NOT BORN TO BE AN OBSERVER OF LIFE. YOU WEREN'T! We were NOT BORN to look at other people’s Instagram and obsess over braids! *raises hand* I was NOT CREATED TO STALK KIM KARDASHIAN and THEN WONDER WHY ITS BEEN FIVE DAYS SINCE I’VE WASHED MY HAIR!

It’s so easy to get on social media and judge, throw shade—to rant, to type hurtful words out. But how often does that make you feel better? Maybe for a second? A minute? When someone agrees with you? So thirty people agree and another four thousand are watching the train wreck going uhhh…  You aren’t changing the world by your words when you use your own fear to bring others down. Guys, the reason you see authors posting about craziness, and book sales, and negativity—it’s not because they’re suddenly bad people, or they’ve lost their minds, or they’re angry at Amazon, or angry at readers—It’s because they are petrified it’s all going to go away.

Fear leads us to anger, it causes us to lash out, it causes us to jump off our path, and live a life of observing others, and running our mouths, when we should be marching towards the purpose God has for us.

Stillness—is the devil. It really is. It gets you caught, it causes idle hands, self doubt. It causes us to look at ONLY ourselves, and not at the bigger picture. It’s kind of like the whole social media thing where you’re like ugh she would be in Bermuda right now while I’m sitting here SUFFERING in this stupid office! Meanwhile, she’s in Bermuda because it’s her last trip because she just found out she has cancer….WHAT? It’s so easy to judge, it’s so easy to isolate and only look at what we can see.

Each of you has a purpose. A calling. Something that’s bursting inside of you to get free. You know you have it because about half of you started squirming and getting that sick feeling in your chest where you’re afraid to get called out, palms sweaty, and are afraid I’m going to suddenly call for volunteers. Your sitting there trying to suck the tears back in as you pray nobody watches you sink into your chair as you go, that’s me, she’s talking about me. 

You’re right, I am.

Ready for another truth bomb—Only you can accomplish what you were born to do. Because there is only ONE you, in the world.  If you don’t do it. WHO will?

The answer? Nobody. Because nobody has what you HAVE been given. Nobody.

When we live in a constant state of defeat, we allow fear to be our guide, but fear never really takes us anywhere, does it?

Fear makes you comfortable when you’re supposed to be living a life of...

Adventure.
Excitement.
A life of terror.

We are BORN BRAVE!

IT IS SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN that FEAR IS LEARNED! You are BORN with exactly TWO fears, loud noises, and the fear of falling. That’s it.

By the time a child reaches the age of 3, they have so many fears that when I last looked it up for one of my weird psycho studies it was in the thousands.

According to Anxioustoddlers.com it shows that, [my son] Thor at this point is fearing ALL of these things, natural, learned fears, and a lot of times I know I’m the one to blame!

Guys, I’m not even allowed on Web MD. Because of my anxious over informed personality, I’ll decide that after a paper cut I only have twenty four hours to live! I wish I was exaggerating. I’m like oh, that’s blood poisoning, oh that’s MRSA!

I actually texted my doctor friend (cover model Brian Byrne) and asked him if Thor was going to be okay because he swallowed toothpaste.  No joke he was like... "well he’s going to have really minty breath?"

A lot of fears are ingrained into us because of our surroundings or the people around us, here’s a list of some of the fears Thor has right now, but I guarantee you have some too, feel free to raise your hand:

  • Worried it will hurt to poop—guys it’s totally natural to be afraid of this, just let it go. Like Frozen.
  • Worried they will fall into the potty. Understandable, potty’s are big!
  • Worried about the sound of the toilet flushing, again with the loud noises.
  • Worried about bugs coming out of toilet. Time out, I had a reader post about a huntsman spider being under the toilet seat and to this day I still flip up that sucker every time I go to a rest stop just to be safe. Worried about getting poop on their hands, as a toddler parent. I worry about this, because it happens.
  • Fear of the dark
  • Fear of closets
  • Fear of sleeping alone
  • Fear of thunder
  • Fear of shadows
  • Fear of loud noises (vacuum, garbage disposal, garbage truck, fireworks etc.)
  • Fear of sudden, loud noises
  • Fear of being separated from a parent
  • Fear of slides, bounce houses, and rope ladders
  • Fear of people in costumes or wearing masks
  • Fear of bugs, dogs, birds and other animals
  • Fear of strangers
  • Fear of TV shows – even kid’s TV shows with scary themes
  • Fear of escalators
  • Fear of getting lost
  • Fear of water, the bath and/or pools
Ahem, I am afraid of at least 12 of those exact same things, that I KNOW if I was like OOOO a vacuum, he’d go OOOH a vacuum RUN!

My point? Natural fear is learned.

Look at a little kid and tell me how terrified they are of jumping off that couch, no they just stupidly trust the universe is somehow going to catch them before they break an arm!

There is no fear.

It’s astonishing that children, mere children, have more bravery then most adults.

Because they haven’t bought into the lie yet.
They haven’t heard fear’s whispers.

Nate’s always getting after me for screaming when I see a bee.
Thor used to pick them up.

And this is me, “baby you’re going to get stung.”
The next day he screamed and ran.
I did that to him.
I taught him to fear a fuzzy bee.

Why? Because I was afraid. And I wanted him to be afraid too. Why? Why would I do that?

We project our own insecurities on others, our own fears, and it just adds to the already sickening baggage we carry. It’s been so hard to retrain myself not to panic when he tries to pick up a spider and kiss it. Guys, for real, we have wolf spiders at my house and he’s like ohhhh spider, pretty! And I’m like die spider die ready to torch my house down meanwhile he’s having the time of his life—why would I ruin his fun? Why?

A few years ago I wrote a book for my uncle, called Ruin. I knew his cancer was terminal, I knew he was dying, but I wanted to give him hope. I wanted to give my family hope. And as I was mourning the loss of this beautiful man, watching him waste away, I knew that the only power I had, the only thing I could do…

Was give him my words.
Not just any words.
Words that held power.
Not fear.
Real. Power.

I wrote the book in two weeks, a complete crying mess, and the main theme is “Do it afraid.”

Do. It. Afraid.

Don’t let fear define your actions, being afraid is one thing, letting it paralyze you is completely different.

We weren’t made to be lazy humans of inaction.

We were created to be brilliant.

Masterpieces.

Adventurous.

We were created for greatness, not defeat.

I want you to walk out of here with your head high, I want you to walk out of here knowing that before you even walked in that door, I was praying for you, thinking of you, thinking about every seat that would be filled, and all the potential in this room.

Guys get this in your heads, what if every single one of you walked out of here, not with defeat, but with victory? You want to change the world? You hold the power. You were born to be world changers. You were born to make a difference, and you cannot, and will not do that, holing up in your room, or playing it safe.

You are here because you need to hear this message.

You’re here because you need to break that trap of fear and anxiety.

The world is a scary place, I’m not going to lie to you, but you don’t have to let it force you into inaction just because you’re afraid of what will happen if you take a leap of faith.

You have to jump. 

Writing a book is scary, revising a book is scary, starting a new business is scary, going to a conference is scary.

Life is scary.

Whenever I write a book I want to puke, I put my soul into those books and yes, people rip them apart, they rip me apart, you get threats, you get angry irate readers, you even get peers who whisper behind your back. You will get it all.

But I’m telling you right now—you have a choice whether or not you let it cause victory or defeat in your life. Will it define you? Or will you let it define you?

The world needs you. That’s a fact.

Whether you’re an author, blogger, publicist, reader, reviewer, you need to know that what you do is important, what you do matters. You matter. And you are meant for greatness, whatever that means in your life.

Today we have over five hundred people in attendance.

What if every last one of you, got back on your path, and walked?
Can you imagine?
CAN, YOU, IMAGINE?

Look around you, look at all the faces, the people, the talent, you want to know a secret?
The reason fear keeps us down—is because it’s afraid of itself.

It’s afraid of what will happen when you know the truth, when you get up, when you walk.

That’s how much power you hold with your words, with your life, with what you do.

See, heavy, I never promised it wouldn’t be heavy, but so needed, in the world we live in, in the community we are a part of.  In closing all I have to say is this….

Be THE CHANGE you want to see in the book community—and in our world.

Do it afraid.





###

Thank you Rachel Van Dyken for sharing this with your fellow writers!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Smashwords Implements New Classifications for Erotic Fiction

Smashwords has introduced new classification requirements for erotic fiction.

Starting today, when a new erotic fiction book is uploaded to Smashwords, or when updates are made to an existing erotic fiction book, a short supplemental check box questionnaire will appear.  The questionnaire asks the author or publisher to confirm the absence or presence of certain taboo themes. 

Smashwords will use this information to honor the distribution preferences of our retailers and library partners.  

iBooks, Kobo and Barnes & Noble want to carry most mainstream erotic fiction, yet all disallow erotic fiction containing themes of incest, pseudo-incest, bestiality, rape-for-titillation and sexual slavery.  iBooks and Kobo have prohibited these topics for several years.  Last month, Barnes & Noble, once the most permissive of the major retailers, brought their policies into similar alignment.

The Erotica Classification Challenge

Retailers and libraries face special challenges with erotic fiction.  To a certain extent, these challenges have cast a cloud over all self-published ebooks, including those that aren’t even erotic.

By way of example, witness the WHSmith Kobocalypse that occurred back in October 2013 when the Daily Mail wrote a salacious story about how a search for “daddy” pulled up taboo erotica alongside children’s books at UK retailer WHSmith, powered by Kobo.   The next day, WHSmith removed all ebooks from self-published authors, including all non-erotica books.  To this day, the size of WHSmith's self-published catalogue is a small fraction of all the other major retailers.

Incidents like this jeopardize trust and confidence between retailers and the indie community.  Although some might cast blame upon erotic writers who explore taboo themes, the true culprit in this challenge is a technology one, and it’s the challenge we’re tackling with today’s announcement.

Most retailers utilize standardized classification systems such as BISAC to determine the appropriate virtual shelf for your ebook.  This enables customers who want to read books in any subject to find your book.  For example, a fan of paranormal romance will look on the fiction: romance: paranormal shelf, and a fan of political thrillers might look under fiction: thriller: political.

Whereas a typical physical bookstore might only offer a couple dozen book sections under high level categories, the BISAC classification system defines over 4,400 unique categories.  BISAC is what makes it possible for ebook retailers to create thousands of specialized, micro-targeted virtual ebook shelves, if they choose.  BISAC (or its international equivalent, Thema) makes it easy for customers to find books on their favorite specialized subjects. 

These classification systems also enable retailers to set rules within their store that can keep certain books away from readers who should not see them or who don’t want to see them.  For example, retailers don’t want a violent adult horror novel appearing alongside books for children. 

But with erotic fiction, the BISAC classification system falls short.  BISAC provides only a few categorization options for erotic literature.  All of the options describe mainstream commercial erotica categories such as General Erotic Fiction, BDSM, Erotica Collections & Anthologies, Gay, Lesbian, Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror, and Traditional Victorian.

Our largest retailers want to carry the mainstream erotica.

However, there are no BISAC categories for the more taboo themes mentioned above.  This means that heretofore, authors of these taboo subjects were forced to classify their books in a BISAC category that was inaccurate or inadequate. 

Restoring Confidence and Trust

The lack of support for taboo subjects in BISAC has negative implications for retailers, libraries, authors, publishers and readers alike. 

It makes it difficult for retailers to select which erotic titles they want to carry.  It diminishes the trust retailers and libraries have in self-published erotic content since the books they want are mixed with the books they don't want.

When a retailer (or distributor such as Smashwords, for that matter) must guess about the presence of certain taboo themes based on indirect inputs such as book title, book descriptions, book content and keywords, it creates an untenable, error-prone situation where disallowed books are distributed to retailers that don't want them, and where acceptable books are accidentally removed by retailers.

Our new approach empowers those who know their content best – the author or publisher – to directly categorize and certify the erotic themes of their books.  This will give our sales channels greater confidence to receive the erotica they want while avoiding the titles they don’t want.



The new Smashwords classification system is built on trust.  We trust our authors and publishers to accurately categorize their books, and we trust they recognize it’s in their best interest to do so.  As is our practice, we will continue to monitor all Smashwords titles for compliance with the Smashwords Terms of Service.  Those who jeopardize this trust through deliberate misclassification will face account closure.





Already, Gardners, a Smashwords distribution partner that previously did not accept any erotica, will begin taking erotica certified as mainstream following the launch this erotica classification initiative.  Other Smashwords retailers and library platforms are also taking advantage of our new approach to allow the taboo themes they want while blocking those they don't want.  Most retailers, for example, want to continue receiving dubcon erotica since dubcon is a common theme is mainstream fiction.

Start Certifying Today

The new classification system is in place today, and visible from the Smashwords publish page for all new uploads.

When an author selects any erotic classification (including erotic romance) as a primary or secondary category for their book, we will display a questionnaire to collect supplemental information.  The author or publisher will certify which themes are absent or present.  Authors and publishers with previously uploaded erotic works will also be asked to certify those those works.

If you publish erotic fiction at Smashwords, please click to your Smashwords Dashboard now to certify either the absence or presence of these themes in your work.

For erotica authors and publishers with large backlists, we’ve created a bulk certification tool to expedite the certification process.  The tool lists the questionnaires for up to 50 titles on the page at once.  The tool is linked at the top of the Smashwords Dashboard and visible to all authors and publishers with uncertified erotic content. 

Going forward, certification of erotic content is required for all new and existing erotic fiction titles at Smashwords.  We’ll be in regular contact with our erotic authors and publishers over the next few months to help them complete the certification for all appropriate titles. 

For erotica authors and publishers who neglect to certify their backlist titles, they risk the removal of those titles at the option of the retailer or library partner, even if the works don’t contain taboo themes.  Certification = trust, so please certify your titles today.

Taboo Themes Defined

If you're unsure how Smashwords and its partners define these themes, I've summarized the definitions below.  We developed these definitions in close consultation with our largest retailers to ensure uniform policy enforcement.  
Age play - One or more consenting adult characters role playing, pretending to be babies or children.  Most retailers will take this, but iBooks will not.
Bestiality - Sexual relations between humans and real-world animals (sex with Big Foot, dinosaurs, shape shifters and other imaginary creatures is not bestiality).  Few retailers will take this.

Dubious Consent (dubcon) - A common and popular theme in mainstream fiction.  Dubcon explores the gray area between consent and non-consent.  Not clear if the receiver of the sexual act was fully on board or not at the time of the act.  Most retailers will take this.
Incest or pseudo-incest - Sexual relations between family members, whether biologically or non-biologically related.  Includes stepbrother, stepsister and step-anyone.  Few retailers will take this.
Nonconsensual sexual slavery - Erotic depiction of a person captured or held against their will, such as kidnapping, imprisonment or human trafficking.  Not to be confused with BDSM, which is predicated upon informed consent and negotiation between both parties before the act, and which provides safe words so either partner can end the act if it goes too far.  If the book adheres to BDSM best practices, do not classify it as Nonconsensual sexual slavery.  Few retailers will take nonconsensual sexual slavery.

Rape for titillation - The dominant theme of this book is rape — whether the rape is by one person or a character is raped by a group of people, i.e. a gang rape or nonconsensual "gang bang" — and it targets readers who are titillated by the fantasy of nonconsensual sexual relations.  Few retailers will take this.

Others not mentioned - The above list is not all inclusive.   There are many other taboo themes that have never been allowed at Smashwords or our retailers (underage erotica, snuff, scat and necrophilia, for example).  For a full summary of Smashwords erotica policies, please review Section 9f of the Smashwords Terms of Service.

Who Takes What?

Below is a chart showing delivery preferences for Smashwords retailers and library partners as of September 14, 2017.  Please note Smashwords and all sales outlets always retain the right to refuse any title in any category for any reason.   Current policies at each are subject to modification at any time.

Smashwords Erotica Delivery Policies

✓= allowed    X = disallowed


My thanks to Smashwords retailers and library partners for their advice, counsel and encouragement as we developed this new classification approach.  Thank you to my friend Cecilia Tan for her wise input regarding definitions.

And thanks in advance to Smashwords erotica authors and publishers for their professionalism, cooperation and patience as we work to implement this new system.  I realize this will create extra work for you.  In the long run, however, our work here will help preserve maximum distribution opportunities for all indies.



Image credit:  derived from OpenClipArt.org

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Smashwords Introduces Global Pricing Control – Set Custom Prices in any Country

Smashwords today introduced Global Pricing Control, a new feature that gives authors and publishers control over their ebook pricing in 246 different countries and in 152 local currencies.

Pricing control is now in your hands, where it belongs.

If you're running a BookBub ad where you need your book priced at $.99 in Australia, Canada, and the US, and  ‎£ .99 Pound Sterling in the UK and 99 Rupees in India, you can now lock down these special prices with with a few clicks.

If you want your ebook priced at € 5.99 Euro in Germany and € 2.99 Euro in Spain, Italy and Portugal (where the median per capita income for each of these last three is less than half of Germany's), you now have the freedom to price for a specific market.

The new feature is available now from your Smashwords Dashboard.   Click to Global pricing to set custom prices for any country.

When you enter a custom price, the screen will display the USD equivalent as a reference point.

Click the lock icon to lock the price in.  Once a lock is activated, the lock icon turns green and the custom price is transmitted to retailers.

You'll see a summary of your locked prices in the right hand panel.

Your custom prices will remain locked until you unlock them.

Prior to this new feature, Smashwords set foreign currency pricing automatically by converting the author’s US Dollar price to other currencies based on foreign exchange rates on the date of the author’s upload or most recent update. For authors who choose not to lock in custom global pricing, Smashwords will continue to set global prices based on current exchange rates.

Global pricing control is helpful for authors who have to deal with Amazon's draconian price match emails when Amazon's own pricing gets out of sync with actual exchange rates.

The new feature is also boon for authors who want to sculpt their pricing to appear more appealing to customers in each local market.

Most authors will probably opt to set pricing that ends in .99 increments in the largest markets.

According to psychological pricing theory, a price ending in .99 is more appealing to consumers than a price a couple cents higher.  This is also known as "charm pricing."  The theory holds that 4.99 is significantly more appealing than 5.01 because most consumers will consider a 4.99 ebook within the $4.00 price range and the 5.01 book within the $5.00 range.

For countries where different Smashwords retailers or library sales outlets price in different currencies, you can lock down multiple prices in multiple currencies. For example, Kobo and Gardners both sell ebooks in Australia, but Kobo prices in Australian dollars (AUD) while Gardners prices in British pounds (GBP).  In this instance, you could set custom prices in both currencies for Australia.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Smashwords Introduces “Special Deals”- Automated Merchandising of Onsale Ebooks

Smashwords today announced Special Deals, a new merchandising feature at the Smashwords Store that showcases onsale books. 

Effective immediately, your onsale ebooks will receive automatic merchandising through the Smashwords Store’s myriad book discovery options.

Most authors know Smashwords as the world’s largest distributor of indie ebooks to retailers and libraries, and this remains our primary business focus.  But did you also know that thousands of Smashwords authors use our small Smashwords Store as their personal ebook promotion platform with profile pages, widgets, Smashwords Interviews (self-interviews), Smashwords Alerts (automated new release notifications to readers) and coupons?

The new feature is powered by Smashwords Coupons.

Click the box for "Make this a public coupon"
To run a sale, click to your Dashboard’s Coupon Manager screen, click “Generate coupon” or click to reactivate or edit an existing coupon, then follow the simple instructions to make your coupon public.

Of the many book marketing tools provided to Smashwords authors at no cost, Smashwords Coupons have been one of our most popular tools since we first introduced the capability almost ten years ago. 

Each month, thousands of Smashwords authors use Smashwords Coupon codes to run custom ebook promotions.  Authors can create coupon codes to run exclusive private (the most common form of Smashwords Coupon) or public promotions, all the while earning industry-leading royalties up to 80% list.

We’ve continually enhanced the Smashwords Coupon feature since its first introduction.  In the last 12 months alone we added campaign tracking (unique labels attached to each coupon to enable campaign sales tracking), metered coupons (limiting the number of redemptions if you want to create urgency with a first-come first-served get-'em-while-they-last promotion) and most recently in December, public coupons (the option to expose your coupon codes directly on your book pages). 

As with our all Smashwords Coupons, Special Deals will not change your price at retailers (if you want to run a sale at all Smashwords retailers, change the book's price in your Dashboard).

In this screen shot, the customer is filtering for bestsellers
over 100,000 words with Special Deals priced $2.99 or less
For readers, Special Deals makes it easier than ever to discover onsale ebooks at Smashwords.  Most of these deals are exclusive to Smashwords. 

Readers can browse the Special Deals catalog from the Smashwords home page and filter by category, book length, latest releases, bestsellers, after-coupon prices, and highest-rated.  Books with Special Deals are also discoverable in all other online catalogue searches.

Customers can take advantage of Special Deals simply by adding the onsale ebooks to their shopping carts.  No need for readers to enter coupon codes!

Although this new feature increases the visibility of your onsale ebooks, to get the most out of your sale you’ll still want to get out there and actively promote your deal on social media and to your private mailing lists.

If you've got a large readership or social media following, Special Deals is a great way to run short term flash sales.

You can spice up your promotion and make it more compelling by combining other Smashwords Coupon features such as using our metered coupons to make your special deal available to the first [you specify] number of readers who take advantage of it, or by giving your Special Deal a short expiration.

When you promote your Special Deal, be sure to link directly to your book’s book page at Smashwords to maximize your conversion rates from browser to buyer.  If you’re able to drive enough sales from your personal promotion efforts, it can cause your book to rise in the sales rank at Smashwords which then will increase the visibility and desirably of your books to other shoppers who browse our bestseller lists by category, price or book length for their next great read.  Since our store is small, it doesn't take a lot of sales to significantly boost your rank.

Enjoy!

Friday, June 23, 2017

2017 Smashwords Survey Helps Authors Sell More eBooks

Welcome to the sixth annual Smashwords Survey!

Each year for the Smashwords Survey, I analyze ebook sales aggregated across the Smashwords distribution network.

We're looking to identify potential data driven insights that can help authors and publishers make their books more accessible, more desirable and more enjoyable to readers. 

The results are often just as much a surprise to me as they are to you.  When I drill down and analyze difference aspects of the data, I don’t know if I’ll find a lump of coal at end of the trail or a pot-of-gold.  This year I discovered a lot of gold.

As you review the findings, please maintain a healthy dose of skepticism. The data represents the aggregate experience of thousands of authors and millions of dollars in book sales, but your results may vary.  Your book is unique.

The factors that cause a reader to discover, sample, purchase or enjoy a book cannot be fully explained by data.  Nor can data yet determine why one story or writing style is preferable to another.  

For example, if you were to ask a reader why they purchased a given book, you might receive an answer like, “it looked interesting to me.”  But why did it look interesting?  In all likelihood, not even the reader fully understands the conscious and unconscious factors that caused them to click on one book instead of another.  Was it the color combination on the cover image, the price, the author name, the position of the sun, the day of the week, what they ate or was it a convoluted mysterious witch's brew of thousands of simultaneous factors?  I suspect the latter.

It’s also quite possible you glean insights from the data that I and others will miss completely.  If so, that's great.  My goal here, as it is with everything we do at Smashwords, is to create tools and share data that give you competitive advantage in the marketplace.  It up to you to put the tools and knowledge to work.

I first presented the Survey results last month at the RT Booklovers Convention in Atlanta, GA.  Below I have embedded an enhanced Slideshare Edition of the presentation which contains additional information that was conveyed verbally in the live presentation.

Each year I mix things up by examining new aspects of the data.  This year, in an industry-first, I share data on ebook preorder adoption rates among authors across different genres and categories.

And then I go a step further by exploring the percentage of that genre's sales for the Survey period that were accountable to the books released as preorders in that genre or category.  My mind was blown.  It was as if bright light suddenly illuminated a dark corner of the universe.

On the pricing front, I found signs that many indies who are selling well at $2.99 should probably experiment with higher prices.  In previous Surveys, $2.99 and $3.99 were the sweets spots.  It looks like it's time to add $4.99 to that mix.

There's much more I want to share with you.

Inside the 2017 Smashwords Survey

Here are some of the questions we seek to answer:
  • What are the top fiction and non-fiction categories?
  • What romance categories perform the best? 
  • How do box sets perform, and which types of box set perform the best?
  • Do authors who release ebooks as preorders sell more books overall?
  • How do preorder adoption rates differ across genres (New!!) 
  • What percentage of overall sales in each genre for new titles go to books released as preorders (New!)
  • What are the pricing sweet spots for full-length fiction to maximize both readership and author earnings?
  • Do longer books still sell better?
  • Does FREE still work, and what about free series starters?
  • Do series books sell better than standalone books, and if so, by how much?
And here you go, the Smashwords Survey!




Sharing is caring!  Above in the presentation pane you see this share link.  If you find the Smashwords Survey useful, please click it to share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter, or embed the full presentation on your blog using Slideshare's neat embed feature.  

Additionally, please also this blog post on social media, the address of which is:  http://blog.smashwords.com/2017/06/smashwords-survey-2017.html

The sales data is aggregated from across the Smashwords distribution network of major retailer and library ebook providers for the period between March 2016 and February 2017, the same period as the 2016 Survey.  Smashwords distributes to multiple retailers and libraries.  The largest Smashwords retailer is iBooks, followed by Barnes & Noble, Kobo, the Smashwords Store, Scribd, Amazon and several smaller outlets including public library aggregators such as OverDrive.  Since we only distribute a small fraction of our titles to Amazon, the results may not fully reflect how books behave at Amazon.  Use your own judgement. 

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 ebook distribution, please consider consolidating your distribution with us.  We want your sales data, and we want to help you sell more books!  Click to learn how to publish with Smashwords and join over 130,000 authors and small publishers around the world who collectively publish over 450,000 titles with us.

Ninth Annual Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale Kicks off July 1 - Enroll Your Books Now!

Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale
It's summer in the Northern Hemisphere and winter in the Southern Hemisphere.  This can mean just one thing:   

It's time for the ninth annual Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale!

Enrollment is now open for our annual indie ebook extravaganza.  The sale kicks off July 1 and ends at 11:59pm Pacific on July 31. 

The sale represents a massive collaborative marketing event for Smashwords authors and publishers.   Each author and publisher - simply by promoting their own books - helps expose those same readers to the thousands of other participating books. 

For one month only, readers can discover tens of thousands of special deals 25%-off, 50%-off, 75%-off and 100%-off (FREE!).  So whether readers are looking for a great beach read or something to keep them cozy on a cold winter's night in front the fireplace, they'll find it here.

When the sale goes live, the catalogue will appear linked on the Smashwords home page. All participating books will have their participation noted on their individual book pages.

We make it easy for readers to slice and dice their searches by discount level, category, price and multiple other factors.  It's a great chance to fill up those shopping carts and show your favorite authors some love!

Check back frequently throughout the month of July for great deals on the world's best indie ebooks because new books are always being added to the sale.

Smashwords authors and publishers:  Enroll Now

Enroll your books today with a couple clicks at https://www.smashwords.com/dashboard/sitewidePromos.

Now would also be a good time to review your publishing calendar for the next 12 months and get everything up on preorder now.  Although preorders are not included in this sale, once these new readers discover your awesomeness, you'll want to visit iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo to reserve your next books on preorder.  Learn more about Smashwords preorders here.

Enjoy!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Fahrenheit 451 Meets April Fools

April 1 is April Fools Day, a raucous day of silliness when otherwise trustworthy people and companies are granted tenuous permission to invent stories that aren't real. 

It's been a semi-consistent tradition here at the Smashwords blog for me to write an annual April Fools post.  These fictitious stories try to strike a balance between believably and absurdity.  My aim is often to satirize an important subject of interest to Smashwords authors, publishers and readers.

This year I was planning to write a satirical post about how Amazon has secretly replaced its customer service representatives in India with ill-tempered auto-responding robots.

Satire is at its best when it provokes honest discussion of facts that make us uncomfortable.  Great satire causes us to face the truth of reality in all its absurdity.

Like many, however, I'm growing increasingly alarmed by the rise of fake news and the mainstreaming of conspiracy theorists masquerading as truth tellers.  They pump out toxic misinformation, often with the aid of automated bots, designed to lure their audience into an alternate reality where black is white, up is down, facts are fiction, and alternative facts trump truth.

What does it portend for civil society and humanity when willful ignorance is celebrated above facts?

As authors and readers, we should care. Books are the best vehicles for deep thinking. We authors have the power - one book at a time - to right this wayward ship.  We readers have a responsibility to demand truth telling.

So on this one day a year where fake news is *almost* socially acceptable, I've decided to shelve my April Fools post.  I don't want to play the trickery game this year.

I invite you to join with me this April 1 to pause, reflect on the importance of facts, and read a good book.

This weekend, do yourself a favor and consider grabbing a copy of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.  It's a cultural treasure that reminds us how books, authors and readers hold the power to save humanity from itself.

I first picked up Fahrenheit 451 in high school but didn't finish it.  I lacked the life experience at the time to appreciate it.  Now I'm thinking it's one of the most important books ever written.  This old story written 67 years ago was written for our times today.  That's the timeless wonder of great books.

I recommend the 60th anniversary edition because it contains a foreword by Neil Gaiman and an appendix of insightful essays by writers including Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale is the next read on my iPhone).

I also recently read Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, another amazing read that like F-451 reminds us of the importance of books.

Unlike the futuristic society portrayed by F-451 where owning books is illegal, in Brave New World society has become so averse to deep thinking that no one wants to read books anymore.  Instead, citizens in Brave New World try to maintain their lives in carefree drug-induced hedonistic bubbles.  Soma holiday anyone?

Orwell's 1984 is another of those prescient books about truth-telling and doublespeak that I didn't fully appreciate in my youth but now view - like Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New World - as timely and essential reading for those of us who want to leave the world a better place than we found it.

If you were looking forward to my April 1 post, please accept my apologies.

I was looking forward to writing about those ill-tempered robots. 

If you think it'd be a fun story to write, I invite you to write it, label it as satire, post it on your blog and then share the link below in the comments.


Here are links to my prior April 1 posts:

2016:  Kindle Power Bucks Solves Book Marketing Challenge
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

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Read an Ebook Week Kicks off Sunday March 5

The 9th annual Smashwords Read an Ebook Week promotion kicks off this Sunday March 5 and runs through end of day March 11.

Thousands of Smashwords authors, publishers and readers participate in this global ebook celebration featuring thousands of FREE and deep-discounted ebooks. 

Authors and Publishers:  Enrollment is now open at https://www.smashwords.com/dashboard/sitewidePromos   With a few clicks, you can enroll your books into coupon categories of 25% off, 50% off, 75% off or FREE.

Readers: When the promotion goes live on Sunday, visit the promotional catalog at https://www.smashwords.com/books/category/1/newest/1 and be sure to check back often because thousands of new books will join the promotion during the week.

The special home page catalog enables readers to browse by coupon discount and filter by category, bestseller status, word count and multiple other factors.  We also note the title's coupon on individual book pages to encourage browsers to become customers. 

The sale is being promoted to over one million Smashwords customers.  Don't miss out!

Please help spread the word to your fellow readers, authors and publishers.

How to Join the Celebration

Here's a quick checklist to help you get the most out of the Read an Ebook Week event:

  1. Authors and publishers:  Enroll your books at https://www.smashwords.com/dashboard/sitewidePromo.   If you're not yet publishing with Smashwords, now's a great time to get started.  Visit https://www.smashwords.com/about/how_to_publish_on_smashwords to learn how.
     
  2. Visit the Smashwords Read an Ebook Week event page at https://www.smashwords.com/ebookweek where you'll find downloadable buttons, banners and images you can share on social media to promote your participation in the event.  You'll also find convenient links to several retailers offering free ebooks.
     
  3. For the story behind Read an Ebook Week, check out my interview with Smashwords author Rita Toews who founded this event 12 years ago - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-coker/the-story-behind-read-an_b_487343.html or visit her official Read an Ebook Week Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Read-an-E-Book-Week-193882590629749
     
  4.  Every day during the week long sale, celebrate on social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, blog, private mailing lists) that you're participating in the event.  Be sure to include a hyperlink to the promotional catalog at https://www.smashwords.com/books/category/1/newest/1
     
  5. Readers:  When you discover a great deal, share it with your friends on social media.  Be sure to tag the author (find their Twitter and Facebook addresses on their Smashwords author profile page) so they know you downloaded their book!
     
  6. Authors and publishers:  If you haven't done so already, complete your Smashwords Interview at https://www.smashwords.com/manageinterview/info  This is a great chance for you to connect with current and prospective readers on an entirely new level by sharing the story behind the author!  Once you complete your interview, share it on social media.
     
  7. The official hashtags for the promotion are #Smashwords and #ebookweek17

This promotion is exclusive to the Smashwords store.  It will not impact prices at other retailers.  Enjoy!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Smashwords to Supply Nearly 300,000 Titles to Bibliotheca CloudLibrary

Smashwords today announced a distribution relationship with bibliotheca, operator of the cloudLibrary™ digital lending platform which serves over 3,000 public libraries in the US, Canada, U.K. and Australia. 

Starting in one week, Smashwords will begin shipping nearly 300,000 titles to bibliotheca.  The Smashwords catalog represents more than 120,000 indie authors and small independent publishers, including many of today's bestselling indies.

Ninety percent of cloudLibrary’s customers are located in the US and Canada with the remaining 10 percent located in Australia and the U.K.  They also reach a small number of academic and K-12 libraries.

Smashwords offers indie authors and small independent presses unparalleled distribution to approximately 30,000 public and academic libraries around the world.  With the addition of bibliotheca, the Smashwords distribution network reaches most major library ebook platforms including OverDrive, Baker & Taylor Axis 360, Gardners UK (Askews & Holts and VLeBooks) and Odilo.

As I mentioned in my annual Smashwords Year in Review post, Smashwords ebook sales to libraries increased in 2016 despite a general industry slowdown at retail.  Although library ebook sales represent a minority of sales for most authors, I expect libraries will continue to represent a promising long term growth opportunity for indie authors.

Bibliotheca has deep reach within the library market.  Its cloudLibrary platform was originally founded by 3M in 2011.  3M is best known for Post-it pads and Scotch tape, though unbeknownst to a lot of people 3M built an extensive library business and was an early pioneer in library self-service checkout systems.  Bibliotheca acquired 3M’s library operations in 2016. 

In addition to the 3,000 libraries that use bibliotheca’s cloudLibrary to acquire and manage their ebooks, bibliotheca works with nearly 30,000 other libraries to provide additional management systems and solutions.

First shipments of Smashwords titles will begin one week from today on February 9.  Given the size of our catalog, we anticipate the complete integration will take between two and three months although the first titles should start appearing in their catalog in the next few weeks.  Similar to our relationships with other library ebook platforms, Smashwords erotica titles are excluded.

The cloudLibrary service is made available to library patrons as an app.  The app supports desktop and mobile devices including PCs, Macs, iOS devices, Android, Chrome and some Kindle devices.

Patrons download the app at yourcloudlibrary.com then select their country, state and local library, after which the patron enters their library PIN code into the app.

Once registered, patrons can view and checkout titles for a time-limited period.  If the book is already checked out, the patron can place the title on hold so they’re in line to read it as soon as the current checkout expires.  This hold data is visible to the library’s collection development managers who can use this information to identify high-demand titles for which they should purchase additional copies.

Libraries will also have the option to expose the complete Smashwords catalog to patrons so patrons browse the full catalog and suggest titles their library should add to their collection.  This is a cool example of what’s known as patron-driven acquisition.  Patron-driven acquisition helps librarians ensure they're purchasing titles their patrons actually want to read.

Once bibliotheca completes their ingestion of Smashwords titles, Smashwords will support bibliotheca’s merchandising efforts by providing regular “Smashwords Hotlists” of top performing preorders and other recommended bestsellers.  The sales and merchandising teams at Bibliotheca can use these buylists to share purchase recommendations with collection development managers at libraries.

All currently published Smashwords Premium Catalog titles - excluding erotica - will receive automatic distribution to cloudLibrary unless the author/publisher has proactively opted out of all new channels from their Dashboard's Channel Manager.   If you don't want distribution to cloudLibrary you can opt out from your Dashboard's Channel Manager screen.

I strongly recommend all authors and publishers to participate, not only to sell ebooks to libraries, but to build their author brand with library patrons who are big buyers of ebooks at retail.

If you’re a librarian and you’d like to learn more about cloudLibrary, click here to visit their website.

If you're an author or publisher and you're not yet working with Smashwords, click here to learn more about Smashwords ebook distribution services.

Please join me in welcoming cloudLibrary to the Smashwords family!