Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Smashwords Introduces Assetless Preorders (aka "Metadata Only" preorders)

Ebook preorders are the single most important new tool for indie authors who want to improve the visibility, desirability and sales of their new releases.

Over the last 12 months, ebooks born as preorders at Smashwords earned more than triple the earnings of books that were simply uploaded the day of release.

Ever since we announced preorder distribution two years ago for iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, I've been advocating preorders as an essential best practice for all indies.

Yet despite the amazing power of preorders, and despite the copious evidence that preorders can work miracles, most indie authors don't use them today.  Fewer than 10 percent of books released at Smashwords over the last 12 months were released as preorders.

Despite the poor adoption, over the last 12 months Smashwords books born as preorders accounted for 7 of our top 10 bestsellers and 67% of our top 200 bestsellers.  When you consider how such a small fraction of books accounted for an outsize percentage of bestsellers, you begin to realize something special is happening here.

Why the dismal adoption of ebook preorders, a best practice that large traditional book publishers have embraced as a no-brainer for years?  Aside from the normal education that's necessary (preorders, after all, are still a relatively new concept and option for indies), I think the primary reason for the poor adoption has been that until now, Smashwords required authors to upload their full and final manuscript before they could establish a preorder.

This requirement created a dilemma for our authors.  If the book's ready for release today, why should an author hold back the release for three or six months to gain the full advantage of a preorder?  You can't blame these authors for deciding to release their book immediately, the day it's ready for readers.

With today's announcement, our 100,000 authors and publishers can have their cake and eat it too.

Introducing Assetless Preorders at Smashwords

An assetless preorder allows the author or publisher to get their preorder listing up at the major retailers up to 12 months in advance of the official on sale date.  This gives you up to 12 months to market your book in advance, and up to 12 months to accumulate orders.

Starting today, all 100,000 authors and small independent presses at Smashwords have the ability to upload assetless preorders to Smashwords.  No book or cover yet?  No problem.

In my companion post today, How to Reach More Readers with Ebook Preorders, I provided an in- depth analysis of the benefits of ebook preorders, along with strategy tips for preorder best practices.  These same tips have helped multiple Smashwords authors scale retailer and national bestsellers lists.  I encourage you to read it now.  Below, I'll just summarize two of the many benefits of ebook preorders:

1.  Preorders enable more effective advance marketing - Most authors are communicating directly with their readers over social media as they write their next book.  An ebook preorder allows the author to capture the reader's order at the moment they have the reader's greatest attention and interest.

2.  Fast track to the bestseller lists - At iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, all orders you accumulate during the preorder period credit toward your first day's sales rank.  In other words, you have the ability to concentrate up to 12 months of book sales into a single day for maximum charting potential.  Every author wants a high sales rank on their release day, because the higher rank increases the visibility, discoverability and desirability of the book, which then leads to more sales.   [A note about Amazon:  As I mention in the other post, Amazon treats preorders differently.  They limit preoders to a three-month runway, and they don't credit accumulated sales toward the first day's sales rank.  The lack of day one credit means preorders will actually cannibalize your sales rank at Amazon.  There's more to it than that, so check out the other post for more details].

Length of Runway Matters

A key contributing factor to the two benefits above is the length of preorder runway.  The longer your book is available for preorder, the more time you have to market the book in advance and accumulate orders.  THIS is why assetless preorders are so critical to a successful book launch.  Assetless preorders enable a longer preorder runway because the author or publisher can establish the preorder earlier.

How to Set Up an Assetless Preorder at Smashwords

Setting up an assetless preorder is easy.  All you need is a book title, a description, a price, a release date and the category of book.  No draft necessary. No cover necessary.   If any of these details change prior to publication, no problem.  You can change them anytime.  To set up a preorder an assetless preorder at Smashwords, simply click to the Smashword Publish page and follow the instructions.

Here's a detailed step-by-step to get you started:

1.  Look at your publishing schedule for the next 12 months.  Plan to get all firm projects up as an assetless preorder ASAP.

2.  Exercise discipline when setting release dates.  Some authors meet all their deadlines with the precision and reliability of a Swiss watch.  Other authors might require more flexibility on scheduling.  Be honest with yourself about which author you are.  Either way, you know you want to maximize your runway.  Understand that when you establish a preorder, you're making a commitment to your readers, to Smashwords and our retailers that you will deliver the book on time.  For this reason, if you're not entirely certain if the book will be ready by your target release date, give yourself a buffer.  For example, if you think your book will be ready in six months but you're not entirely confident, set a release date that's eight or nine months out.  In other words, add cushion to your release date so you have some extra flexibility.  If you finish early, great!  You can change the release date of your book from the Smashwords Dashboard and release earlier.  Readers will never complain if you decide to release your book early, but they may complain (because they love you so much) if you delay the release.  If you need to delay the release of your book, no problem.  We make it easy for you to adjust your release date.  Unlike a certain retailer who shall go unnamed, if you miss your 10-day deadline, we will not rain fire and brimstone upon your head, nor will we banish you from future preorder eligibility.  Instead, we'll send you polite email reminders that you should deliver your book before it's too late.  And if you ignore our multiple helpful reminders, we will automatically adjust the release date of your book because we don't want your preorder to blow up.  A blown preorder is a cancelled preorder, which would result not only in lost sales but also disappointed readers.

3.  All great missions start with a plan.  Read my companion blog post, How to Reach More Readers with Ebook Preorders to learn preorder best practices.  The post will help you develop your preorder strategy.  The tips I share there are proven and effective, and have helped numerous Smashwords authors use preorders for maximum effect.

4.  Once you have your release schedule planned, click to the Publish page at Smashwords. In Step 1 of the publish process, simply click "Make it a preorder."   If your final manuscript is ready for upload, upload it as usual.  If your book’s not finished yet, or even if you haven't started it yet, no problem.  Simply select the "I will upload my final formatted manuscript later" option to utilize our new assetless preorder feature. If you're concerned the title, description or categorization of the book might change later once you finish the book, no problem!  You can change it later without harming your preorder listing.  You can choose a release date up to 12 months out.  iBooks supports preorders up to 12 months, and B&N and Kobo go a little shorter.

5.  You can establish the preorder with or without a cover.  Although a preorder with a cover will attract more orders, some Smashwords authors prefer to establish their assetless preroder without a cover at first so they can maximize the runway, and then they'll do the cover reveal later as a marketing event.  Once your assetless preorder is established, you can upload the cover later by clicking to Settings in your Dashboard.  I don't recommend temporary covers, especially ones that have "Temporary cover" slapped on them.  It's better to have no cover at all than to show readers a shoddy temporary cover. 

6.  Once the preorder is up, attach the ISBN with your Dashboard's ISBN Manager tool.  If the book is part of a series, even if it's book one in a new series, attach it to a series with your Dashboard's Series Manager tool.  Series Manager improves the discoverability of series books at retailers.

7.  Your preorder is up at Smashwords, congrats!  Once it's up at Smashwords, our vetting team will review it and approve it for distribution.  Preorders receive priority review and distribution.  Preorders often appear same-day at iBooks, and within a couple days at B&N and Kobo.

8.  Start your marketing (oh wait, no, get to work writing and editing!) as soon as the listings appear. Again, check out How to Reach More Readers with Ebook Preorders for a bunch of ideas, all free to implement, that will help you make your preorder-enabled release more successful.  I  share some super-simple ideas (like updating the backmatter of your other books to promote the preorder) that don't take much time but will reap many rewards.  Okay, now get back to writing!

9.  Preorder sales tracking.  In your Dashboard's Daily Sales report, you'll find next-day reports of your preorder accumulation at iBooks.  Currently, iBooks is the only Smashwords retailer that reports preorder accumulation numbers in advance of the book's release.  Nevertheless, the iBooks numbers will give you a good sense of how you're doing.

10.  Deadlines deadlines.  Your final formatted manuscript will be due to Smashwords at least ten days in advance of your on sale date.  Earlier is always better.  If you need to delay the release of your book, no problem.  Click to your Dashboard, then click to Settings and move the date out.  If you do change the date, do it at least 10 days in advance of the currently scheduled release date.  By the same token, if you want to release earlier, we recommend you upload your final formatted manuscript at least 10 days in advance of your new release date.

11.  Get the next preorder up.   It's always a good idea to have at least one preorder out there working its magic for you as you write the next book.  Before you upload your final manuscript, ask yourself if you're ready to get your next preorder up for the next book.  If so, and if the release date will be within the next 12 months, get the new preorder up now, before you upload the final manuscript of the current project, even if you haven't started the future project yet.  This way, you can start advertising your next preorder in the backmatter of your current new release the moment it lands in your readers' hands. You always want to be thinking of your next release, and using each new book to drive preorders to the next book.

12.  Congratulations!  You finished the book on schedule!  To upload your final manuscript, simply click to the Smashwords Dashboard and click "Upload new version."  As mentioned above, you'll upload your final manuscript to Smashwords at least 10 days in advance of your release date. 

The Story Behind Assetless Preorders

This new assetless preorder capability represents over a year of intense software development here at Smashwords, and over 18 months of private beta testing in which nearly 300 Smashwords authors and publishers tested early versions of the capability.  I'm grateful to these authors and publishers because their immediate success with assetless preorders inspired me and our engineering team to invest the significant time and financial resources necessary to turn this into a capability we can offer to every Smashwords author. It was certainly our most ambitious - and most complex - project since the launch of Smashwords.

Thanks also goes to our retail partners iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo for opening up their systems to allow Smashwords authors and publishers to deliver these preorders.  And a special thanks to iBooks in particular.  We did our first assetless preorder with iBooks almost two years ago, and from that point forward I was bitten and smitten by the bug.

Thanks also to every author and publisher who distributes with Smashwords, because through our small commission on sales (10% of list) you are directly financing our mission to bring professional-grade publishing tools like this to the entire indie author community.

Last but not least, I want to thank the men and women of the Smashwords engineering team.  These awesome software developer magician wizards turn my crazy ideas into reality.  Like everyone at Smashwords, they dedicate their every day to creating exciting new opportunities for our authors, publishers and retailers. This project required a comprehensive revamp to our backend systems, and as a result our systems are more robust and future-ready than ever before.  For us, it's all very exciting because we're not done creating tools that will give our authors and publishers more advantages in the marketplace.  More innovations to come!

Our preorder systems incorporate a number of features designed to prevent the worst case nightmare of our retail partners - the author or publisher failing to deliver the book on time.  Such a failure to deliver would cause the preorder to blow up, resulting in lost sales and disappointed customers.  A blow up creates grief for our retailers and their customers, not to mention our authors.  With automated reminders and other fail safes, our engineers designed systems to protect the mutual interests of our retailers, authors and our authors' readers.

As you might imagine, we're simultaneously excited and terrified to offer this new tool to 100,000 authors and publishers all at once.  Since these systems are still so new, we consider this the next phase of our beta.  We look forward to hearing your feedback and suggestions for how we can make this exciting feature even better in the future!  We also look forward to your bug reports.  If you discover a bug, please report it to our service team by clicking either the "?" at the top of any Smashwords page, or the "Support" link at the bottom of every page.

So without further ado, please grab your calendar now and start planning your release schedule for the next 12 months!

How to Reach More Readers with Ebook Preorders

If you're planning to publish a book in the next 12 months, this post will teach you how to use ebook preorders to reach more readers.  You'll learn why an ebook preorder is an ESSENTIAL component of every successful book launch.

Two years ago Smashwords announced preorder distribution to Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. At the time, I promised that ebook preorders would help our authors sell more books.  This has proven true.

Books born as preorders sell significantly more copies than books that are simply uploaded the day of release.

I recently analyzed 12 months of Smashwords sales data in preparation for the upcoming release of my annual 2015 Smashwords Survey.  Here's a quick sneak peek preview of what we found:
  • 7 of our top 10 bestsellers were born as preorders
  • 67% of our top 200 bestsellers were born as preorders
  • Of our top 200 bestselling preorders, 81% were supplied by romance authors
  • Books born as preorders represented only 9.8% of the books released at Smashwords during this 12-month Survey period
So there you have it.  A small fraction of our titles were released as preorders, yet those titles absolutely dominated the bestseller lists.

The good news is that preorders work like magic.  Preorders are the single most powerful book launch tool today.  The bad news is that most authors aren't doing preorders yet.  Let's fix that starting today.  I'll teach you how to make preorders work for your next book release.

I think the reason most Smashwords authors haven't done preorders in the past is that prior to today (June 17, 2015), we required the author to upload the full and final manuscript to establish the preorder. That put authors in the tough position of having to weigh the benefits of immediate release against the benefits of releasing the book later as a preorder.

Earlier today we announced a solution to this quandary - the assetless preorder.  With today's assetless preorder announcement, authors can establish preorders up to 12 months in advance without the book.  You simply provide us the metadata (title, release date, price, book description and categorization) and then we'll get the listing established at iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

In this post, I’ll explain how preorders work, how indie authors and publishers can integrate preorders into their next book launch, and I'll share proven and effective strategies to maximize the results of your preorder. 

What’s an eBook Preorder?

An ebook preorder is an advance book listing at the ebook retailer.  Preorders allow readers to place an advance reservation for your book.  Their credit card is not charged until the book is released to them when it officially goes on sale.  iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo all list assetless preorders delivered via Smashwords.

The Six Biggest Benefits of Ebook Preorders

Ebook preorders give you incremental advantage in the battle for reader eyeballs.  Here's why incremental advantages are so important:  Ebook sales are characterized by the power curve phenomena, where each incremental increase in sales rank earns the author an exponential increase in sales.  A book ranked #1 in a store might sell triple the number of copies of a book ranked #10, and a book ranked #10 might sell double or triple the number of titles as the #20 bestseller.

The more best practices you implement well, the more your sales rank will shift to the left of the curve (learn the most important best practices in my free ebook, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success).

Most indie authors are already well-versed in the necessary best practices of great writing, great editing, great cover design, great distribution and a fair price.  It's time that every author add ebook preorders to their repertoire of the most important best practices .

Preorders are like the difference between driving in gridlocked traffic or skipping over to the commuter lane.  Preorders are a fast track to greater visibility, discoverability and sales.

Let’s examine the six benefits of ebook preorders:

1.  Preorders enable more effective advance book marketing – Most authors, as they're writing their next book, communicate their progress to fans on their blog, Facebook, Twitter and private mailing lists.  Preorders allow you to capture the reader’s order at the moment you have their greatest attention and interest.  Without a preorder link, a reader who’s ready to purchase today may forget about your book by the time it comes out, or they might lose interest between now and then.  Capture the order!

2.  Preorders enable advance buzz-building – It’s human nature that things coming in the future are often more interesting that what’s out already.  You can’t get any newer than a book that’s not out yet.  Preorders allow you to build reader anticipation leading up to your official release.  The anticipation will be greatest in the minds of your superfans - those readers who already love your writing.

3.  Fast track to bestseller lists – This is the ultimate magic of preorders.  All major retailer bestseller lists rank books on unit sales.  Their sales rank algorithms weigh sales made in the most recent 12-24 hours more heavily than sales made two days ago or two weeks ago.  At iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, all of your accumulated orders credit to your book's sales rank the day your book officially goes on sale.  This causes your book to spike in the charts.  Since customers use bestseller lists to find their next read, higher-ranked books become more visible and more desirable to readers.  This sparks a virtuous, self-reinforcing cycle of more sales leading to more sales.  Preorders also help maximize your odds of appearing in major national bestseller lists by concentrating a greater number of sales into a shorter period of time.  There’s strong evidence a well-timed preorder will maximize your odds of hitting the NY Times and USA Today lists.  A strong preorder also increases your odds of appearing in the monthly Smashwords/Publishers Weekly Bestseller list because you can concentrate multiple months of accumulated sales into a single sales month.

4.  Same-day availability at multiple retailers – By delivering your book in advance to multiple retailers, your book will go onsale the same day at each retailers.  The reason:  The advance delivery of your ebook to retailers gives them more time to receive, process and load your book.  At or near the stroke of midnight on release day (some retailers release at different times depending on time zone), the book is automatically released to customers.
5.  Better reviews - Since your fans and superfans are the most likely to place preorders (because they already trust that everything you write is super-awesome), they’ll be the first to receive your book when it goes onsale, the first to read it and the first to review it.  You want your superfans to be the first to review your book, because strong reviews out of the gate attract more sales.
6.  Increased merchandising opportunities – If your book is available for preorder, you enjoy more merchandising opportunities. There are two types of merchandising - automated and human-curated.  Automated:  When readers are viewing any of your books, the store will display your preorder alongside your other titles.  If the preorder is part of a series, it’ll appear alongside your other series titles (Smashwords authors: Make sure you’re taking advantage of the Smashwords Series Manager tool because retailers use this information to link your preorder to your other series titles).   Human-curated:  A strong-performing preorder increases the odds that the store’s merchandising team will feature your book because it gives them confidence to know that your book is highly anticipated by readers.  At Smashwords, we actively promote our best-performing preorders to the merchandising managers at our retail partners.

Planning Your Preorder

Think of a runway.  Jet aircraft need long runways so they can build up enough speed to take flight.  Preorders work the same way.  The more time your book is listed as a preorder, the more time you have to accumulate orders for that all-important first-day pop in the charts.

Look at your publishing schedule for the next 12 months and get everything up on preorder today.  The longer the runway the better.  But even if you only have one week of runway, it still gives you an incremental advantage.  Every accumulated order counts!

To understand the critical importance of a long runway, let’s look at how accumulated orders can add up.

If your book is available for preorder for three months (90 days), and you average one order a day at a given retailer you’ll have 90 orders by the time your book goes onsale.  At iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, 90 orders will probably land you in the top 100 bestseller list for your genre or category.  Five orders per day would get you 450 orders, enough to land you in the top 10 for your genre or category at some retailers.  Ten orders a day would get you almost 1,000 accumulated orders, enough to land you in the top 10 store-wide lists at many retailers, and possibly even #1 in some stores.  These numbers aren’t hard and fast.  It really depends on the competition of what else is being released on the same day.  Many of our authors have released with thousands of  accumulated orders on day one. 

Timing Your Preorder

What day of the week is best for a book release?  I can share some considerations to help you make a more informed decision. As you'll see, there are potential pros and cons on different days.

You face more competition on Tuesdays - Most major NY publishers release their books on Tuesdays.  Because most big publishers are using preorders as part of their book launches (another reason you should too!), this means you’re likely to face more competition on Tuesdays for the top spots in the bestseller charts.

Saturday and Sunday are the biggest ebook buying days - Weekends are typically the biggest ebook-buying days at the retailers.  If you time your preorder to release on a Saturday or Sunday, you’ll face less competition from traditional publishers, and you'll chart higher on day when more readers are searching the bestseller lists for their weekend read.

Sit-down holidays can be slow, but post-holidays are great - Avoiding major sit-down family-gathering holidays for release dates.  For example, Thanksgiving and Christmas day, many readers will be occupied with family gatherings.  However, the days after holidays are some of the biggest book-buying days of the year.  December 26 through around January 7 is typically the year's best ebook sales period based on our past experience.  Keep in mind, however, that some ebook stores go into lock-down mode and don’t list new titles during certain holiday days.  At Smashwords, we’ll usually start listing these blackout dates at Smashwords Site Updates around mid November so you can plan accordingly.

Sundays and Mondays are good for NY Times and USA Today Lists - Consider releasing on a Sunday or Monday if you want to maximize your odds of hitting a major list such as New York Times and USA Today.  I’ve heard these two start their sales reporting weeks starting Sunday and Monday.  I'll state up front that it’s tough to find reliable information on how these bestseller lists are compiled, and which retailers report sales to which lists (for example, I know iBooks reports to USA Today and Kobo has stated they report to the New York Times).  You should assume that all retailers report to the major lists, so if your books aren't in every store you might harm your chances of hitting a national list.

For the Smashwords/Publishers Weekly bestseller list, early in the month is better - To maximize your odds of making the monthly Smashwords/Publishers Weekly bestseller list, release the first few days of the new month so you can concentrate the prior weeks' preorders and the following week’s sales into a single month.  When I look at the SW/PW Top 25 bestseller list for the month of April 2015 for example, most of the new releases that made the list started life as a preorder.

Four Tips to Market and Promote Your Preorder

Simply by releasing your book as a preorder, it's no guarantee of success.  To maximize your preorder’s results, it’s important to take steps to drive readers to it!

Here are four marketing and promotion tips:

1.  Plan an aggressive, multi-week, multi-part marketing campaign - If you’re planning a multi-week preorder period, plan a different buzz-building promotion for each week.  Do contests, chapter reveals, giveaways, and blog tours.  Basically, anything you would do for a book launch, start doing it as soon as your preorder is listed.  And thanks to your preorder, you can capture reader orders at the moment each campaign element hits.  Be sure to promote direct hyperlinks to your preorder pages for each retailer in all your promotions.  This makes it easier for fans to click once and then order with another click.  If you distribute through Smashwords, this means you’ll want to link to preorder pages at iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.  Since the preorder listing will go live on different days at each retailer (iBooks is the fastest, often same-day of upload to Smashwords, though B&N and Kobo are pretty quick too), you can make each appearance a cause for celebration and promotion.

2.  Mobilize your fans as your street team – As you think about fun promotion ideas, do things that incentivize your fans to spread the word.  Here are some potential ideas you might consider, and after reading these ideas you can probably think of a dozen more of your own:  1.  Offer a free Smashwords Coupon code to another of your books to any fan who emails you their preorder receipt.  2.  Offer a coupon code to any fan who takes action to spread the word about your upcoming release, such as a Facebook post linking to your preorder, or a Facebook share, or a Twitter tweet, or a blog post.  3.  Create a “Street Team Acknowledgements” section in the backmatter of your book, and let your fans know you’ll include the names of the first 50 or 100 people who take an action (such as sending you a preorder receipt, writing a blog post or Facebook post, etc).  Set a deadline for fans to show and report their support at least two weeks before the onsale date so you have plenty of time to update your backmatter with the Acknowledgements section and upload the update to Smashwords.

3.  Offer special pricing on your preorder – Let’s say your next novel will be priced at $3.99.  As a reward for your loyal readers who place a preorder, price the preorder at $2.99, and then promise to return the book to its normal price soon after it’s released.  This gives readers strong incentive to take action now rather than later.  Remember, you want to get as many orders from your most enthusiastic readers concentrated on day one as possible.  A reader who purchases your book two weeks after it goes on sale won't move the needle on sales rank.

4.  Leverage your other books to promote your preorder – If you’ve got other books out, leverage them to drive readers to your preorder. Once your new preorder is listed at iBooks, B&N and Kobo, update the backmatter of all your other titles so they mention the upcoming preorder.  At the end of every book, add a paragraph that tells readers, “{Title Name} is coming {Month Year}.  On preorder now at select retailers. Reserve your copy today!”  Update your book’s navigation so your navigation has a link to section titled, “Upcoming Releases, ”or “Sneak Peek at {Title A}, coming June 2016!” or something similar so your Table of Contents is marketing your preorder.  Here’s a blog post and video on how to add navigation to your Smashwords ebook.  If you have a sample of your preorder book, like the first few chapters, put that in the backmatter of all your other books (or if you're releasing book #3 in a series, place the sample at the end of book #2 as soon as the sample is ready.   Also consider doing some aggressive price promotions of your other books, including FREE promotions.   FREE books get about 40 times more downloads than books with a price, so they’re a great method of driving readers to the preorder, even if the book you're making FREE is a standalone book, unrelated to your next book.  If you're doing a preorder for a new book in a series, definitely consider making the series starter FREE so you can drive readers into the series and into the preorder (when I release the 2015 Smashwords Survey, I'll share surprising numbers that prove that series with free series starters earn more than series without a free series starter).

Uploading Your Preorder 

From a single upload page, Smashwords makes it easy to set up your preorder at iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. It's easier than publishing a book.

Book not finished yet?  No problem!  Select "I will upload my
final formatted manuscript later" to get your preorder up today.
Click to the Smashwords Publish page.  As shown in the screen shot at left, in Step 1 of the publish process, simply click "Make it a preorder."

If your final manuscript is ready for upload now, you'll upload it as usual.

If your book’s not finished yet, no problem.  Simply take advantage of our new feature for assetless preorders (aka "Metadata-only" preorders) by selecting the "I will upload my final formatted manuscript later" option.  Your final manuscript will be due to Smashwords at least ten days in advance of your on sale date.

You'll enter a projected word count for the book and then you'll see several check boxes to mark "I agree." These check box items remind you of delivery obligations.  Next, you'll select the release date from the calendar.

Do Amazon Preorders Make Sense?

Amazon treats preorders differently than other retailers.  Unlike iBooks, B&N and Kobo which credit your accumulated orders toward your first day's sale rank, Amazon does not.  This means that a preorder at Amazon will cannibalize your first day's orders and therefore undermine your first day's sales rank.  For this reason, many indie authors who upload direct to Amazon decide to skip the preorder at Amazon and simply upload to Amazon the day of release.  By uploading the day of release to Amazon, they can concentrate their sales on the first day to achieve a higher sales rank.

Although Amazon doesn't provide accumulated credit on day one for a preorder, an Amazon preorder can still land in the charts if your daily accumulation rates warrant chart placement.  The other retailers also allow preorders to chart based on daily order accumulation rates.  And since preorders anywhere enable more effective advance marketing and buzz-building, Amazon preorders still have this benefit. 

Amazon allows a three-month preorder runway, so not as much as the other retailers, and they require you to upload either a draft or final version of your book.  If you fail to deliver the final manuscript to Amazon by 11 days before your release date, on day 10 they will cancel your preorder and revoke your preorder privileges for one year.  It should go without saying that we don't believe in such draconian punishment at Smashwords - after thousands of preorders we haven't banned a single author when deadlines have been missed.  We understand that unanticipated delays can happen so we've built safety nets to support you, the retailer and your readers.

It's your call if you do a preorder at Amazon.  It's by no means a black and white decision.  If you're a veritable marketing machine, for example, the benefit of marketing your book for three months in advance at Amazon might outweigh the downside of a lesser sales rank on day one.

Final Thoughts on Ebook Preorders

Ebook preorders are the most exciting new book launch tool to come along in the last seven years.  A well-executed preorder strategy will increase the visibility, desirability and sales of your book.

Despite its amazing advantages, the preorder alone is not a panacea.  Behind every successful preorder is a well-planned and well-executed preorder and a passionate author promoting a super-awesome book.

Your objective with each preorder is to make your next book launch more successful than your last.  Platform-building is all about incremental steps, building on each success as you go.  Whether each new preorder helps you grow your readership by five readers or 5,000, each increase in readership is a stepping stone to the next level.  Some of your new readers will become super fans, and super fans will buy everything you publish in the future and will evangelize your literary brilliance to other readers.

To maximize the benefit of preorders, you should always try to have at least one preorder working for you at all times.  Of course, if your next release is further out than 12 months, then wait until it's 12 months out before you establish your preorder.

If you’re a new author, even a small number of preorders will help accelerate your ability to build readership.  Only five accumulated orders on day one could make the difference between debuting at #100 in your category or at #1,000.  Every bit of increased sales rank helps build visibility in the stores.

If you’re an established indie author with multiple books and strong ongoing sales, you’ll have even more flexibility to leverage preorders to the max.

Please share this blog post:  Readers have my permission to share this blog post in its entirety on your blog, website or social media outlets provided it is reproduced in its entirely and a link is provided to this original source.  Let's help our fellow indies take full advantage of preorders!

Links to Supplemental Resources:

Preorders at Smashwords  - https://www.smashwords.com/preorder
Announcement of Assetless Preorders at Smashwords  - http://blog.smashwords.com/2015/06/smashwords-introduces-assetless.html

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Los Gatos High School Freshman Students Publish Second Annual Poetry Anthology, A Cup of Poetea

For the second year in a row, more than 120 freshman poetry students at Los Gatos High School have collaborated on yet another amazing poetry anthology, this one titled A Cup of Poetea.

Read the news here.

This follows last year's debut project, Windows to the Teenage Soul, which I blogged about here.

The projects grew out of a collaboration between Los Gatos High School (thank you amazing teachers Tonya McQuade and Kathleen Wehr!), Smashwords and Henry Bankhead of the Los Gatos Public Library.

If you enjoy poetry, or you want to read mind-blowing literature from young adults, or if you want to learn how as a parent or educator or librarian you too can help promote a culture of authorship in your community, please buy these books and tell a friend.

The books go together well as a pair.  The first book, Windows to the Teenage Soul, contains a comprehensive teacher's guide and guide for librarians.  Tonya McQuade shares her project roadmap and timelines so other educators can build upon her fine organizational work.  The second book published today, A Cup of Poetea, contains additional information on how educators can emulate this project in their classrooms.

Windows to the Teenage Soul
Projects like this are truly revolutionary.  What better way to inspire the next generation of writers and thinkers than to let them experience first hand the joy of writing and the thrill of indie ebook publishing?

Every classroom around the globe from elementary schools to graduate schools can replicate this project for their students.  Leveraging Smashwords, there's no cost to publish.

Imagine the pride these students and their families feel when they can see their work published and for sale at all the major ebook retailers.

The book launch will be held tonight at 6:30pm at the Los Gatos Public Library.  Last year's book launch was standing room only so if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, get there early!

Where to purchase:

iBooks
Barnes & Noble
Kobo
Smashwords
Amazon


Monday, May 11, 2015

Smashwords Introduces New Metadata Option for Box Sets

Smashwords today released an enhanced metadata option for box sets.  The new option will pave the way for us to make box sets more discoverable in the Smashwords store, and longer term (and more importantly), it will enable better merchandising at our retailers. 

But one step at a time. First we need to collect the metadata, and that's where you come in.

Smashwords authors and publishers are already well-versed in metadata.  Metadata is data about your book.  Metadata is comprised of things like book category, book title, author name, book description and price.  Metadata makes it easier for readers to discover your book by screaming, "Look here!  I'm what you're looking for!"

Ebook box sets are a relatively new phenomena, and indie authors are leading the charge.  Until now, metadata for box sets has been lacking.  Most obviously, a box set is treated like an ordinary ebook, when in fact it's a bundle of books either from a single author or multiple authors.  Retailers have shown increased interest in box sets over the last two years, but the process of identifying them is still manual.  Retailers who want to promote them, and customers who want to read them, must perform manual searches on the phrase "box set" and hope the author placed the words in their title or book description.  That's kludgey.  There should be a special designation for box sets so retailers have the option to create custom virtual shelves to promote them, and so customers can easily find them.

We know retailers want to promote box sets.  iBooks, for example, has done many promotions that featured Smashwords box sets.  Last year they ran a major worldwide merchandising feature that included over 40 Smashwords box sets from more than 100 Smashwords authors.  You can read my blog post on that particular iBooks box set promotion here.  We'd like to see more promotions like this from all the retailers, but do assist this endeavor we need to make it easier for us and our retailers to identify box sets in a more automated, programmatic way.

If you've published a box set at Smashwords, you can now click to your Dashboard's Settings page for your box set and classify it as a box set.  Click the option, click Save, and that's it. 

Box set option from the Smashwords Publish page
If you publish a box set in the future, you'll see the categorization option at the bottom of Section 3 of the Smashwords Publish page.

Today's enhancement is a first step.  It's a foundation upon which Smashwords and our retailers can build. It will eventually make box sets more discoverable in the same way the Smashwords Series Manager tool makes series books more discoverable at Smashwords retailers and the Smashwords store.

If you've never done a box set but are curious to learn more, check out my blog post from last year, How do Box Sets for Audience Building, Charity and Profit.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

New Amazon Service Eliminates the Need for Authors (April Fools)

The following April Fools prank is a satire of the post-authorial apocalypse.  It's fiction, at least for now.

The publishing industry is reeling today after news broke this morning about Kindle Author, Amazon's new service that  generates high-quality fiction using complex software algorithms.

It’s like Build-A-Bear for ebooks. The reader tells Kindle Author what they want in a story, and then Kindle Author automatically generates the book .

In this post, I’ll explain how Kindle Author works and I'll share never-before-seen screenshots of the service.  I’ll explain the science that made this breakthrough possible, and then I'll wrap by discussing what this means for Smashwords authors and the future of publishing.

How Kindle Author Works

Kindle Author is a new option for purchasing ebooks in the Kindle store.  It's receiving heavy promotion on the Amazon home page, which tells me Amazon is making the service a strategic priority for their business.

Amazon has modified all book listings pages to discourage
customers from purchasing real books.  Click image to enlarge.
Amazon is also advertising Kindle Author directly on the book listings pages of all books in their store.  A customer visits the listing page for a book written by a real author, and Amazon encourages the reader to create and read a free Kindle Author book instead.

At left I show how Amazon modified the book listing page for Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James.  “Don’t want this book?" asks Amazon front and center on the page.  "Build your own for free with Kindle Author!" 

Amazon's overt move to redirect customers from human-authored books to machine-generated books is unprecedented, but it's not a huge surprise considering how other Amazon-exclusive books already receive preferential merchandising in their store.

When Amazon launched their ebook subscription service Kindle Unlimited, they modified their book listings pages to encourage readers to obtain the book for free as part of a Kindle Unlimited subscription rather than purchasing a regular copy.  If the customer obtains the Kindle Unlimited version of a book, Amazon pays the author a lower royalty. Good for Amazon and its customers, but not so great for authors and publishers.

Once the customer clicks to Kindle Author, they're presented with a simple point and click interface of pull-down menus and radio buttons.  It's quite easy to use.  It's even fun.  It’s like color by numbers, but with words.

Customers select story characteristics from among thousands of different options.  As you can see in my screen shots at left and below, some of the radio button options are a bit quirky, but this is probably deliberate because it makes for better fiction.

A reader can tell Kindle Author, for example, they want to read a medieval epic fantasy of two million words that involves kings, queens, princesses, swordplay, intrigue, castles, a sexy young mother of dragons, and a stainless steel throne made out of spoons and forks.

Look out, George R.R. Martin.  Game of Thrones has met its match.

Kindle Author gives readers the option of having the book written in the style of their favorite authors. That’s right, if you want your paranormal romance written in the style of Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac or Jane Austen, it’s yours with the the click of a button.

You can even choose to have public domain books rewritten in the style of other authors, or in a style that blends multiple authors.

If you want the King James Bible rewritten in the blended styles of the voice of God, Douglas Adams, Richard Dawkins, and Charles Darwin, it's yours for asking.  It’s an absurd combination, but you begin to see how Kindle Author opens up myriad possibilities to create different and unexpected forms of fiction.

With thousands of user-configurable options, it’s unlikely any two readers would ever select the exact same combination of story options.  To prevent this from happening, Amazon built in creative story randomness so that two ordered stories derived from the same characteristics will be different.  No two Kindle Author books will ever be the same.

Once the reader makes final selections, Kindle Author compiles an intricate, well crafted, original full-length novel in an instant.  It takes between ten seconds and two minutes for the story to appear on your Kindle, depending on length and complexity, but who’s counting. It's lightning fast.

The Disruptive Business Model Behind Kindle Author

Kindle Author is free to readers who use it to generate their next read.  Each reader-generated Kindle Author book is automatically published into the Kindle store priced at $.99, and the reader is credited as the author and earns royalties of five cents per download whenever anyone else reads the book. All Kindle Author books remain exclusive to the Kindle store.

I think we're witnessing the future of authorship.

Soon, tens of millions of readers will begin publishing billions of high-quality, low-cost books written in the styles of the greatest authors of all time (and the greatest indie Smashwords authors too!).  The more readers read, the more they’ll publish and earn.  Lazy readers who don’t want to configure their made-to-order custom books can read Kindle Author books produced by other readers for $.99 each, or they can read them free as part of an Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited subscription.

Books generated by Kindle Author are almost pure profit for Amazon.  It costs nothing to produce each ebook, and the five cent per copy royalty to the Kindle Author reader is covered from Amazon Prime and Kindle Unlimited subscription fees, not to mention profits from Amazon’s other diversified lines of business.

After playing with Kindle Author, I’m blown away by the quality of the produced work.  I must admit I really like it, even though it's horrible news for human authors everywhere.

Judging from early customer reaction, I'm not alone in my enthusiasm for Kindle Author. 

It won't be long before we hear talk of Kindle Author millionaires - those readers who configure and create the new bestsellers of tomorrow.  Or today.  It's already happening.  At this very moment, ninety-eight of the top 100 bestselling books at Amazon are Kindle Author books, and the books are earning five star reviews on average.

Here are a couple reviews that caught my eye:

“I ordered a paranormal steampunk thriller featuring alien mongooses, blimps, trains and a Victorian clockmaker.  I was hooked from the first sentence and stayed up all night until I finished the last page.  Thank you Jeff Bezos. I love you!!!”

This next reader’s comments will chill the bones of publishers.

“When I first heard of Kindle Author, I was skeptical.  I thought it was impossible for a machine to reproduce the creative magic of my favorite authors.  Boy, was I wrong.  Now that I’ve read books *I* created with Kindle Author, I’m never going to buy another novel written by a human.  Human novels are so banal and tired compared to the mind-blowing experience of a Kindle Author book.  I don’t know how Amazon did it.  You need to try it to believe it!”

The Publishing Industry Reacts

The publishing industry, as you might imagine, is horrified by Kindle Author.  For authors and publishers alike, Kindle Author is what the post-authorial apocalypse looks like.

Several publishers are considering a class action lawsuit against Amazon.

The US Department of Justice has launched a preliminary investigation into Kindle Author on the grounds it may be anti-competitive, though legal experts expect the DOJ to side with Amazon since Kindle Author essentially pays readers to read books.  If the government can't prove consumers are harmed, they won't have a case.

For many authors and publishers, news of Kindle Author confirms the industry’s worst fear that Amazon is on a mission to commoditize books and turn authors and publishers into tenant farmers tilling Amazon soil.  Now Amazon is cutting out the author - the ultimate middleman - by making the reader the author.

But not all industry participants are so pessimistic.  At least two authors are excited by how Kindle Author will improve publishing.

Author avatar for Hew Howling
Hew Howling, a bestselling author, had this to say on his Howling at the Moon blog:

Critics of Kindle Author should stop their incessant whining.  I celebrate Amazon for this innovation.  Kindle Author drives a stake through the hearts of the tyrannical, gatekeeping, legacy publishing dinosaur blood-suckers in New York.  This is what publishers deserve for over-pricing their ebooks, underpaying authors and for believing publishers - not Amazon - should set ebook prices.  I commend Amazon for bringing customers the highest-quality ebooks at the lowest possible price.  Rather than attacking Amazon, Amazon’s competitors should innovate like Amazon.  If publisher books are so incredible, they can beat Amazon by paying readers to read their books, just like Amazon is doing now.

Joe Dothraki, a popular thriller writer I respect, and an outspoken advocate for self publishing, had this to say on his blog, The Newbies Guide to Amazon:

“Kindle Author is f****** awesome.  It will crimp my earnings in the short run, but business is business and this isn't a game for wimps.  Read the writing on the walls, folks.  First cave painters were replaced by monk scribes, then monk scribes were replaced by publishers, then publishers were replaced by indie authors, and now authors are replaced by readers.  As legacy authors, we need to evolve with the times by repositioning ourselves as readers.  I’m going to start reading more books than ever thanks to Kindle Author.  Kindle Author will increase my publication output to at least 30 titles per month.  That's 360 titles a year I'll be releasing.  For the first time ever, Amazon has made reading more profitable than writing. Thank you, Amazon!”

The Science Behind Kindle Author

Regardless of how you feel about Kindle Author’s impact on the publishing industry, it’s difficult to not feel smitten by the science behind this important advance in artificial creativity.

The story behind how Amazon made this happen is fascinating, and it all starts with the human brain.

Our brains are comprised of about 80 billion neurons, and these neurons transmit electrical impulses. Neurons in the human brain connect via synapses to form a vast neural network.  It’s from the complex interplay of these electrical impulses that humans gain consciousness, memories, desires, creativity, the biological wherewithal to breathe and reproduce, and the desire to read and write great stories.

Amazon, which operates the infrastructure that powers a lot of the Internet already,  realized the human brain is simply a massive computer network made up of these billions of neural nodes and trillions of synaptic connections.  When viewed in this light, it's not such a leap for Amazon to create a computer network that mimics the neurological processes associated with creativity in the human brain.

Jeff Bezos Challenges Amazon Engineers to Reinvent Books

Jeff Bezos gave his researchers an audacious challenge:  If DNA contains the genetic building blocks of information that allow a living organism to function, grow and reproduce, then why can’t we decode the DNA of story-making?  Why can’t we give birth to unique books that are every bit as diverse, interesting and mind-blowing as human beings themselves?  Let's not just equal the quality of human-written books – let's create better and cheaper books.  Let's reinvent books!

With that mandate, and operating the secret project under the code name of Project Elysium, Amazon’s researchers embarked on an ambitious project to deconstruct and map the genome of stories.

Prior to today’s announcement, many scientists believed it was impossible for computers to create aesthetically pleasing literature. Stories require massive complexity and nuance.  But like all complex problems, once you break the problem down into smaller pieces, the challenge becomes solvable.  And this is what Amazon did. 

To create better books, Amazon needed to do better than the human brain.  A single author writes from just a single brain.  What if Amazon could harness the power of many brains?  Amazon’s researchers decided to build a massive parallel computer network comprising 500 trillion virtual nodes.  To put this in perspective, it's the equivalent to the neural connectivity and creative horsepower of a hive mind of 50,000 interconnected human brains.  Amazon is creating the Borg of books.

Their next challenge was to teach the neural network the logic and illogic of human artistic creativity, and how to string words into stories that please readers.

Amazon’s researchers started by deconstructing the book into its essential components.  Leveraging their massive catalog of over five million titles, Amazon applied algorithmic spiders to scan and analyze the words of all the books.

Next Amazon hired thousands of underemployed English majors and MFA graduates who worked from home over the Internet.  These temporary workers were required to sign non-disclosure and non-compete agreements and agreed to not work in any writing field for at least 48 months.  This secrecy explains why rumors of Project Elysium never leaked to the press.  To further ensure secrecy, team members worked solo and only interfaced with their handlers operating out of call centers in India staffed by biomechanical engineers, software programmers, behavioral psychologists, endocrinologists, and mathematicians. Workers were never told the ultimate end-purpose of their work.

Amazon divided the literary workers into multiple groups, each tasked with exploring a different aspect of the book genome.

One group was tasked with mapping the sentence structures of 20,000 bestselling books and 5,000 cultural classics. Using computer-assisted cloud-based tools, the workers diagrammed the structure of each sentence of every book in excruciating detail down to the subjects, predicates, nouns, pronouns, participles, gerunds, infinitives, passive and active verbs, adjectives, interjections and adverbs, compound subjunctives, and reverse triple superlatives.  I'm an author and I don't even know what all these things are.

Another team analyzed the plots and subplots of each book, tagging each sentence's location and role within the overall plot structure.

Yet another team mapped the story’s tension, sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph.

Another team mapped the evolution of each character's relationships with the other characters, and each character's backstory sentence by sentence.

Another team identified the 2,000 most common plots and subplot variations found in popular and literary fiction.

And another team documented and mapped story arcs, and tied key points in each major and minor arc back to the text locations.

Several thousand linguistic experts studied the words, patterns and rules of each book that served as the connective tissue to string words into coherent sentences, and sentences into paragraphs, sections and stories.  A team of mathematicians translated these rules into algorithmic equations that would enable the automated production of original books.

From this complex and multi-layered analysis began to emerge the basic building blocks of what makes a story a story.

But missing from the analysis was an understanding of the mechanics of successful storytelling.  What makes a story a great story from the reader's point of view?  How does a story gain spirit?  Where does reading pleasure come from?  For this, Amazon needed live human subjects, and they had millions of unwitting readers at their disposal in the form of Kindle owners.

Starting in early 2012, and unknown until today, Amazon secretly installed sensors around the edges of all Kindle devices.  These sensors capture the reader's temperature, heart rate, perspiration rates, blood pressure, vasodilation, and neuro-electric signals in real time, and then Amazon used these factors as biomarkers to monitor the reader’s emotional state.  With this data, they could identify when the brain released endorphins, the "feel good" chemical in the brain.  Amazon then mapped these emotional markers to specific page and sentence locations in the book, and then cross-correlated the hormonal responses across the same trigger points in millions of other books.

From this massive store of data, they were able to identify words, sentence structures, patterns, pacing, story lines, plots, and character interplay required to deliver massive endorphin releases to the reader's brain.  If this sounds like Amazon was aiming to create the books that act on the brain like heroin (and are equally addictive), you're right.

Leveraging the predictive patterns they discovered, Amazon created software capable of generating imaginative and original reader-pleasing books featuring fully realized characters and story lines.

It’s quite unbelievable how scientists, mathematicians, programmers, and English lit majors joined together to create better, cheaper, more addictive books.

What’s also interesting to me is every book’s creator – the reader – brings a different background, purchase history, and Kindle Author configuration, and this in turn shapes the characters Kindle Author creates for the book.  These characters aren’t two dimensional stick figures.  Instead, they’re multidimensional and always unique.  It's like they're truly alive.

Just as the stories of our own lives are shaped by the chance and random interpersonal interactions we have with other people we meet, the characters and story lines of Kindle Author books are shaped by the interplay of the story’s unique characters.  Not even the masterminds behind Kindle Author know how the story will end until their algorithms crank out the last word and period.

Traditional authorship feels quaint by comparison.  Will writers ever want to write another book when their works will fall so short of the new perfection?  Or will writers begin using Kindle Author as a tool to amplify their true potential?  Only time will tell.

The final thing I find difficult to believe is that I chose April 1st to share this unbelievable news with you.

April 1st is a day more commonly known as April Fool's Day, a day for pranks.  My apologies to anyone who was fooled by this blog post. This has been a work of fiction, for the time being at least.

Here are my previous April 1st blog posts from prior years.  Enjoy!

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

Do you know a live human writer who's not yet publishing at Smashwords?  Invite them to join with over 100,000 writers and publishers around the globe who publish and distribute ebooks with Smashwords.  Click here to learn how to get started.  It's free!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Read an Ebook Week 2015 Kicks off Today!

The annual Read an Ebook Week celebration kicks off today.  Smashwords is again sponsoring the event for the seventh year running.

The promotion features thousands of free and discounted titles today through Saturday March 7.

Readers, the Smashwords catalog of participating titles can be found on the Smashwords home page, or click here to go directly to the promotional catalog where you can filter by category, bestsellers and coupon codes:  https://www.smashwords.com/books/category/1/newest/1


Readers and Authors:  The official Read an Ebook Week hub page is at Smashwords and offers access to banners, buttons and badges you can post on your web site, blog, Facebook, Pinterest and other social media outlets to celebrate your participation in this event.  I've also added the banners at the bottom of this post.   The hub page features links to promotional or free catalogs to make it easier for readers to find books.  Currently I have links to the Smashwords RAEW catalog, an iBooks catalog of free books, and a link to free books at Barnes & Noble.

Authors:  To enroll your book(s) in the promotion, click to https://www.smashwords.com/dashboard/sitewidePromos or click the "Authors, add your books to the promotion" button on the Smashwords home page. You can enroll in the promotion at any time before it ends.  Books already priced at free are automatically included.

The Story Behind Read an Ebook Week:  Read an Ebook Week was created by Canadian Smashwords author Rita Toews.  If you're interested to learn the story behind her creation of Read an Ebook Week, read my 2010 interview with Rita over at The Huffington Post .  Please note that the prior web address mentioned in the interview, www. ebookweek.com, is now controlled by a squatter and is not associated with this promotion, so please don't link to or promote the old address.  The Smashwords RAEW page at www.smashwords.com/ebookweek is a better option, and has Rita's blessing.

The official Read an Ebook Week Facebook page, operated by Rita, is at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Read-an-E-Book-Week/193882590629749  Show your support for RAEW by "Liking" it on Facebook and sharing it.

Authors:  How to Get the Most out of Your Participation

Read an Ebook Week is a collaborative multi-author multi-publisher event driven almost entirely by indie authors and their readers.  Here's what you can do to maximize the fun:

  1. Enroll all of your books.  Make it enticing for readers to add all your books to their shopping cart.
  2. Promote your involvement across all your social media outlets.  Have fun!  Download your favorite official RAEW buttons, banners and badges, and like stickers, stick 'em everywhere virtual sun shines - Facebook, Twitter, your web site or blog, Tumblr, wherever you connect with your fans.  Link the images to your Smashwords author page (you'll find the link in your web browser by clicking on "Profile" at Smashwords) so it's easy for readers to add your books to their shopping cart.
  3. Invite your writer friends to enroll in the promotion, and encourage them to promote their books to their fans.  Every author has the ability to draw more readers to the promotion, and the more readers the more sales and downloads for all the participating authors.  In other words, the more authors that participate, the greater the benefits for all the participants.
  4. Promote a favorite indie.  If your favorite indie author has books in the promotion, promote their books to your fans as well. If they don't have their books in the promotion, invite them to participate so you can share your love of their books.
Have fun!  Here are the official banners and badges you can use in your promotion.  Thank you Rita for creating these!






Thursday, February 26, 2015

Why Jamie McGuire Returned to Self Publishing


Jamie McGuire photo for Smashwords interview
Writer Jamie McGuire joined Smashwords on July 31, 2011. That same fateful day, she became a published author when she uploaded three novels to Smashwords.

The first two were Providence and Requiem, books one and two in her three-book Providence series of paranormal romance.

She also uploaded a contemporary romance titled Beautiful Disaster. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Beautiful Disaster went on to become a massive worldwide bestseller and is regarded today as one of the most influential books in New Adult romance.

Beautiful Disaster was later acquired by Atria, a division of Simon & Schuster, which republished it along with a follow-on title, Walking Disaster. Both novels landed on The New York Times bestseller list. Throughout this time, her Providence series remained self-published on Smashwords.

Jamie’s contract with Atria ended July 2014. Afterward, she decided to return to her roots as an indie  author. She now has eleven books on Smashwords, which we distribute to iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Scribd, Oyster, OverDrive, and Baker & Taylor.

Last month on January 27, she released and distributed Beautiful Redemption via Smashwords, and it shot to the top of The New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists.

I thought it would be fun to check in with Jamie to learn why she returned to self-publishing.



[Mark Coker] Welcome, Jamie. First off, why don’t you tell us what led you to Smashwords and self-publishing back in 2011? Those were the early days of the indie ebook revolution! Had you previously tried to get a traditional deal prior to publishing at Smashwords?

[Jamie McGuire]: Hi, Mark! I was drowning in query letter hell and received my first round of rejection letters for Providence. I didn’t try to get a publishing deal because I couldn’t get past the real gatekeepers back then—agents. I’m impatient, and waiting for someone else to tell me I was ready to publish just didn’t sit well with me. Author J.R. Rain introduced me to ebooks and self-publishing and told me where to find more information. Internet research led me to Smashwords. The moment I learned about self-publishing, I knew it was the right path for me.

[Mark Coker]: Tell me about your initial reaction when sales for Beautiful Disaster started taking off in 2011. I’d imagine it was a life-changing surprise.

shows a butterfly held inside a glass jar
[Jamie McGuire]: Beautiful Disaster sold less than a hundred books the first month it was available. I was a single mom then, and I just told my children they would have to use their backpacks from the previous year because we barely had money to buy school supplies. The second month, it sold more than 30,000 copies. It wasn’t just a life-changing surprise. It was life-changing money. I lost sleep over how much to put into college savings and which bills to pay off because I thought it would never happen again, but my sales only continued to grow. Almost a year later, author Jessica Park called to congratulate me on making The New York Times bestseller list. I hadn’t even known to look at the rankings because I didn’t think it was possible for a self-published author to hit a bestseller list.

[Mark Coker]: Like many successful indies, you became a hybrid author when Atria acquired the rights to Beautiful Disaster and its follow-on, Walking Disaster. What factors did you consider when weighing options?

[Jamie McGuire]: It wasn’t an easy decision, but I was in a good position to negotiate. Beautiful Disaster had been out for over a year at that point. It had already made The New York Times, and I knew its earning potential. I remember weighing what Atria could do for me that I couldn’t do for myself—at the time, that was putting books on shelves—and what value I placed on handing over my most successful manuscript to a publisher forever.

[Mark Coker]: From our prior conversations, I recall your experience with traditional publishing was generally positive. For other successful Smashwords authors considering the potential pros and cons of selling their rights to a large New York publisher, can you comment on your experience with Atria? 

[Jamie McGuire]: The industry is so different [today] from what it was just two years ago. I was lucky that I knew exactly what income Beautiful Disaster was capable of producing, so it was easier to negotiate an advance. Authors are getting picked up by publishers early on, so they might not have that luxury. I’ve done both, and I have no regrets.

I felt like a partner at Atria. I learned a lot more about how publishing and marketing work, about making deadlines, and how to compromise. I gained a broader readership from those who saw my titles on the shelves at stores. I still worked very hard to market my books and help the various departments (US, Canada, and UK print and audio while also pushing the various retailer promotions) market my books. Instead of working for myself, I had an entire company behind me, but they were also relying on me, and that is an incredible motivator. My favorite moments with Atria will always be the indie tours they put together. Atria’s publicity and marketing departments put so much effort into making large signings—sometimes twice a day—run seamlessly, and it showed.

If an author has a chance to sign with a publisher for a fair price, it’s a great learning opportunity. For some, it’s also validation. How else can you know which avenue you prefer? It’s a fair assumption though that successful self-published authors are happily autonomous. Authors facing the question of whether to sign or not sign with a publisher should take a moment to evaluate where on the personality spectrum they fall and if they are truly comfortable with handing over the reins. If you sign up to be a partner and show up behaving like the boss, it won’t be a positive experience for either side.

[Mark Coker]: Congrats on hitting The New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists with your release of Beautiful Redemption last month! Given your track record as an international bestseller, I imagine publishers would have fallen over each other to acquire this.  Yet you decided to self-publish it. Why?

[Jamie McGuire]: Thank you so much! It was really important to me to see this particular title do well. Hitting the USA Today bestseller list with Happenstance, my first self-published work after signing with a publisher, and then again with Beautiful Redemption was an incredible validation.

As with all big decisions, there was no single reason. The deciding factor though was realizing that I had signed foreign book deals for five to seven years on average, and my domestic deals were indefinite.  That made sense before ebooks, but because the overhead for digital books is negligible, publishers can make them available indefinitely. Before, authors might have once been able to see rights returned to find new ways to revive their backlists, but now, signing is permanent. Going forward, I knew I could potentially make more money holding on to my digital rights because ebooks are forever. Writing is an art form. Publishing is a business. Successful authors must be good at both.

Another point I took into consideration was seeing a shift in print sales across the board. Paperbacks weren’t moving like they had before, and I wasn’t seeing my books on shelves, even during a release week. My original reason for signing with a publisher didn't make as much sense anymore, but Atria Books was family. It was one of the toughest decisions I've made thus far.

[MC]: Even though you had a positive experience working with a traditional publisher, you decided to reorient your publishing strategy going forward by returning to self-publishing. What drew you back to self-publishing?

[JM]: Going back to the Smashwords dashboard and changing the description, cover, and prices of my Providence series, I recalled how much I loved having that kind of control. I’d forgotten what it was like to release an excerpt or teaser without needing permission or to have the freedom to choose and change my own price point based on what was fair to my readers, not the booksellers.

Although nothing about self-publishing is easy or simple, I am the captain of my own ship. Whether a title sinks or sails is on me. I am the sole steward of my failures and victories—and there will be both. Not every writer is comfortable with that responsibility. Not every writer prefers it. Writing and then packaging my own manuscript is less stressful for me, and I’ve found my creativity thrives in that environment. 

[MC]: What advice do you have for traditionally published authors considering dipping their feet into the indie waters? Can you arm them with some realistic expectations? Is self publishing easier or more difficult than a traditionally published author might think?

[JM]: I chat often with traditionally published authors about going indie. Self-publishing was once a dirty word, but because we’ve seen so much success and streamlining of the process, making it  easier than ever, being indie is a positive label, and in many cases, it’s preferable. Self-publishing really boils down to independence, and that is exceptionally appealing to an author who knows the ropes and is considering taking a new direction that their publisher might not be excited about.

Most traditionally published authors have this idea that self-publishing is complicated when it’s really very simple, even more so for an established author. It can be as easy as asking a colleague for recommendations for freelancers for editing, formatting, and cover design and creating an account with the main platforms. With a description, genre choice, author bio, you can click publish, and your novel is live. Writing is the hard part—okay, that’s a lie. We all know editing is the worst.

I think the hardest concept about self-publishing is that it might feel permanent. Once traditional authors release a self-published book, they might feel they’re no longer welcome in the world of the Big Five. The beauty about being a hybrid author is, while not every book is right for a publisher, there is a potential audience for everything you’ve written.

[MC]: You’ve got an ambitious publishing schedule planned with five new indie releases for 2015, five in 2016, and four in 2017. Can you talk about your process, discipline and time management to produce at such a level while still balancing a busy family life?

[JM]: After I put my children to bed, I write until it’s time to wake them up for school. I play with the baby for a couple of hours, and then I sleep until the older children get home from school. We talk about their day, and the husband and I catch up on daily items. We have dinner and bath time, and then it starts all over again. My family is patient and very supportive. They know we’re enjoying the fruits of my dream job, and if that means Mom is in her pajamas when a friend pops over after school, that is a small sacrifice to make.

[MC]: Although you have the freedom to upload your books direct to several retailers, you distribute almost everywhere, except for Amazon, via Smashwords. How do you see Smashwords fitting into your publishing strategy?

[JM]:  There are many digital retailers, and although streamlined, uploading to each one is a process. Smashwords saves me valuable time because it manages multiple platforms with a one-time input of the metadata and a single upload. I watch as each format is converted, and then it’s done. Now, there is a preorder option as well. Keeping track of sales from the centralized dashboard is also a huge timesaver.

The most important factor for me turning to Smashwords as opposed to other distribution sites is the personal investment the Smashwords staff has shown me throughout my writing career. As a debut author and now as a hybrid author, Smashwords has been consistently respectful and eager to watch my success grow.

[MC] Thanks, Jamie!


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