Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ebook Publishing Gets More Difficult from Here - Here's How to Succeed

First the good news. 

For indie (self-published) authors, there’s never been a better time to publish an ebook.  Thanks to an ever-growing global market for your ebooks, your books are a couple clicks away from over one billion potential readers on smart phones, tablets and e-readers.

As a Smashwords author, you have access to tools, distribution and best practices knowledge to publish ebooks faster, smarter and less expensively than the large publishers can.  In the world of ebooks, the playing field is tilted to the indie author’s advantage.

Now the bad news. 

Everything gets more difficult from here. You face an uphill battle. With a couple exceptions – namely Scribd and Oyster – most major ebook retailers have suffered anemic or declining sales over the last 12-18 months. 

The gravy train of exponential sales growth is over.  Indies have hit a brick wall and are scrambling to make sense of it.  In recent weeks, for example, I've heard a number of indie authors report that their sales at Amazon dropped significantly since July when Amazon launched Kindle Unlimited (I might write about Kindle Unlimited in a future blog post).  Some authors are considering quitting.  It’s heartbreaking to hear this, but I’m not surprised either.  When authors hit hard times, sometimes the reasons to quit seem to outnumber the reasons to power on.  Often these voices come from friends and family who admire our authorship but question the financial sensibility of it all.

The writer's life is not an easy one, especially when you're measuring your success in dollars.  If you're relying on your earnings to put food on your family's table, a career as an indie author feels all the more precarious.

At times like this, it’s important for all writers to take a deep breath, find their grounding, remember why they became an author in the first place, and make important decisions about their future.  It’s times like this that test an author.

Don’t fail the test.

Back in December, in my annual publishing predictions for 2014, I speculated that growth in the ebook market would stall out in 2014.  I wrote that after a decade of exponential growth in ebooks with indies partying like it was 1999, growth was slowing.

I wrote that the hazard of fast-growing markets – the hazard of the rapid rise of ebooks – is that rapid growth can mask flaws in business models.  It can cause players to misinterpret the reasons for their success, and the assumptions upon which they build and execute their publishing strategy. Who are these players?  I’m talking about authors, publishers, retailers, distributors and service providers – all of us.  It’s easy to succeed when everything’s growing like gangbusters.  It’s when things slow down that your beliefs and underlying assumptions are tested.

I urged authors to embrace the coming shakeout rather than fear it.  Let it spur you on to become a better, more competitive player in the months and years ahead.  Players who survive shakeouts usually emerge stronger out the other end.

What’s causing the slowdown?

While every individual author’s results will differ from the aggregate, I think there are several drivers shaping the current environment.

1.  There’s a glut of high-quality ebooks
There’s been a lot of hand-wringing by self-publishing naysayers who criticize the indie publishing movement for causing the release of a “tsunami of drek” (actually, they use a more profane word than “drek”) that makes it difficult for readers to find the good books.  Yes, indie publishing is enabling a tsunami of poor-quality books, but critics who fixate on drek are blinded to the bigger picture. Drek quickly becomes invisible because readers ignore or reject it.  The other, more important side of this story is that self-publishing is unleashing a tsunami of high-quality works.  When you view drek in the broader context, you realize that drek is irrelevant.  In fact, drek is yin to quality’s yang.  You must have one to have the other.  Self-publishing platforms like Smashwords have transferred editorial curation from publishers to readers, and in the process has enabled publication of a greater quantity and diversity of high-quality content then ever possible before. 

The biggest threat to every indie or traditionally-published author is the glut of high-quality low-cost works.  The quality and potency of your competition has increased dramatically thanks to self-publishing, and the competition will grow stiffer from this day forward. 

Ten years ago, publishers artificially constrained book supply by publishing a limited number of new titles each year, and by agents and publishers rejecting nearly everything that came in through the slush pile. There was an artificial scarcity of books.  The supply was further constrained by the inability of physical brick and mortar bookstores to stock every title.  Even big box stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders could only stock a small fraction of the titles published by publishers each year, and as such they were forced to return slow-selling books to make room for new releases.

This rapid loss of shelf space for the poor sellers forced many high-quality books out of print before they had a chance to connect with readers.  This then limited the supply of available books, which limited the competition for the authors whose publishers managed to keep their books in print and on store shelves.  
We’ve moved from a world of artificial scarcity to organic abundance.  Readers now enjoy a virtually unlimited selection of low-cost, high quality works, and these books will become ever-more plentiful and ever-more higher-quality in the years ahead thanks to self-publishing.
2.  The rate of growth in the supply of ebooks is outstripping the growth in demand for ebooks
A few things are happening here.  Ebooks are immortal, so they never go out of print.  Like cobwebs constructed of stainless steel, they will forever occupy the virtual shelves of ebook retailers, forever discoverable.  This is both good and bad.  It’s good your book is immortal, because it means you can look forward to harvesting an annuity stream of income for many years to come, especially for great fiction because fiction is timeless.  But it means that every year there will be more and more books for readers to choose from.  Unless the number of readers and the number of books read by readers grows faster than the number of titles released and ever-present, there will be fewer eyeballs split across more books. This means the average number of book sales for each new release will decline over time unless readership dramatically increases, or unless we see an accelerating pace of transition from print reading to screen reading.
3. The rate of transition from print books to ebooks is slowing
The early adopters for ebooks have adopted.  The exponential growth in ebook sales over the last six years was driven by a number of factors, most notably a rapid transition from print reading to ebook reading, and the success of ebook retailers such as Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble.  Today, ebooks probably account for between 30 to 35% of dollar sales for the US book market, with genre ebook fiction a bit higher and romance quite a bit higher.  Since ebooks are priced lower than print, the 30-35% statistic understates the amount of reading that has moved to screens.  Most likely (especially when you include free ebooks), screen reading in the ebook format today probably accounts for around half or more of all book words read.  But the rate of transition from print to ebooks is slowing.  We’ve reached a state that might best be described as a temporary equilibrium.  I think reading will continue to transition to screens, but at a much slower rate of transition than during the last six years.  The slower rate of growth will therefore limit the number of new eyeballs available for the ever-growing supply of ebooks.

How to Succeed in the Future Competitive Landscape

The easy days are behind you, but tremendous opportunities still lie ahead.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, there's never been a better time to be an indie author.  Millions of readers are hungry to discover, purchase and read their next great book.

Here’s how to succeed in the new environment.

1.  Take the long view
You’re running a marathon, not a sprint.  Most bestsellers slogged away in obscurity for years before they broke out.  Every bestselling author you admire faced moments where it seemed more sensible to quit than to power on.  They powered on.

Work today to create the future you want 10 or 20 years from now.  Six years into the ebook revolution, you’re still early in the game.
In any market, whether fast-growing or slow-growing, the early movers have the advantage.  Although it was easier two years ago to grow readership than it is today, today it’s still dramatically easier to grow your readership than it will be two years from now.

Focus now on aggressive platform building.  Build a social media platform - using tools such as Facebook, Twitter, a blog and a private mailing list - that you control. You 'll find platform-building is the most difficult when you're first starting out.  You'll also find as you grow your platform and your following, it gets easier as your readers become your evangelists.  Social media in all its forms rewards those who add value.

Authors who attract and capture the most readers today have the greatest opportunity to convert those fans to lifelong super fans.  Super fans will buy everything you write and will evangelize your work through word of mouth, reviews and social media.


2.  Good isn’t good enough
With the glut of high-quality books, good books aren’t good enough anymore.  Cheap books aren't good enough (Smashwords publishes over 40,000 free ebooks).  The books that reach the most readers are those that bring the reader to emotionally satisfying extremes. This holds true for all genre fiction and all non-fiction.  If your readers aren’t giving you reviews averaging four or five star and using words in their reviews like, “wow,” “incredible” and “amazing,” then you’re probably not taking the reader to an emotionally satisfying extreme.  Extreme joy and pleasure is a required reading experience if you want to turn readers into fans, and turn fans into super fans.  Wow books turn readers into evangelists.  Last year I wrote a post titled, Six Tips to Bring Your Book Back from the Doldrums.  It's a self-assessment checklist that prompts you to take an honest look at your reviews, your cover image, your categorization and targeting. With some simple questions and honest answers, you'll be ready to give your books a makeover.

3.  Write more, publish more and get better
The more you write and publish, the greater your chances of reaching readers.  The more you write, the more opportunity you have to perfect your craft.  What are you writing next?  Get it on preorder now.  Never stop writing.  Never stop growing.

4.  Diversify your distribution
There’s a global market for your English-language books.  Smashwords can help you distribute to iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Scribd, Oyster, Kobo and public libraries.  iBooks, for example, operates stores in 51 different countries and has become the world’s second largest seller of ebooks.  Each of these 51 countries represents its own unique micro-market.  If you’re not there with your entire list of books, then you’ll face long term disadvantage against the majority of Smashwords authors who’ve been building their fan bases for the last few years with uninterrupted global distribution. 
If you don’t have all your books available at every retailer, you’ll undermine your long term potential.
At every writers conference I attend, I’m surprised by the number of indie authors who ask, “How do I decide between Amazon and Smashwords?”  The question belies an unfortunate truth about the state of indie publishing – a scary large number of authors publishing at Amazon think Amazon requires exclusivity.  Not true!  Yes, they'll poke and prod you to go exclusive, but you can say no.  I recently wrote a short post for the IBPA (International Book Publishers Association) on this subject titled, Exclusive is Actually Optional at Amazon.  Do your indie author friends a favor and help them understand the benefits of global distribution.

5. Network with fellow indies
As I wrote in the Indie Author Manifesto, indie does not mean “alone.”  It takes a village to publish a professional-quality book.  Network with your fellow indies at writers conferences and local writers groups.  Share experiences and support one another through the good times and bad.

6. Publish multi-author box set collaborations
When authors publish and promote multi-author box sets, they can amplify their fan-building by cross-marketing to each participating author’s fan base.  Box sets work best when every author pitches in on the promotion. Check out my recent blog post on how to do multi-author box sets.  Partner with authors you love, and who you think your readers will love.  Be a great partner!

7. Leverage professional publishing tools
Over the last couple years at Smashwords, we’ve introduced a number of new tools that give our authors a competitive advantage in the marketplace, such as Smashwords Series Manager for enhanced series discovery, and preorder distribution to iBooks, Barnes and Noble and Kobo.  Yet despite the availability of these tools, they’re not universally adopted.  Even though we’ve proven and communicated that books born as preorders sell more units that other books, only a minority of Smashwords authors release their books as preorders.  Take advantage of these tools.  They give you a competitive advantage!

8. Best practices bring incremental advantage
There’s no single magic bullet that will make your writing career take off.  The secret is that you must do many things right and avoid mistakes that will undermine your career.  The many things you must do fall under the umbrella of best practices.

As I wrote in The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success in my discussion of Viral Catalysts, it's helpful to think of your book as an amorphous blob, and attached to it are dozens of dials, levels and knobs that you can twist, turn and tweak to make your book more available, more discoverable and more desirable. What are these things you can tweak and adjust?  I'm talking about your editing, your cover, your book description, pricing, categorization, etc. Once you get the combination of settings just write, your book will start selling.
Best practices are what separate the indie author professionals from the indie author wannabees.  Be the pro!  Even if you're already a bestseller, challenge yourself to do better.  Find those things you're not doing that you should be doing better.
So here’s some good news for you.  Although the indie author community is more professional and sophisticated than it was five years ago, the fact remains that most indie authors don’t fully exploit the power of best practices.  There's plenty of low-hanging fruit on the best practices tree that they're ignoring.  This means if you fully exploit best practices, you’ll have a significant advantage over the majority of authors who do not.
Here's a quick summary of some of the most commonly underutilized best practices:  1.  Many indies release their books without professional editing and proofreading.  2.  A surprising number of authors end their book with a period and that’s it, and not with enhanced back matter and navigation that drives sales of your other books and drives the growth of your social media platforms.  3.  Although indie authors are releasing books with better quality covers than ever before, a surprising number of authors still release books with low-quality homemade covers.  4.  A lot of series writers haven’t yet experimented with free series starters, even though free series starters are proven to drive more readers into series and yield higher overall series earnings.  5.  Many series writers don't yet link their series books in Smashwords Series Manager, even though this tool increases the discoverability of series books at Smashwords and at Smashwords retailers.  6.  Even though we’ve published strong evidence three years in a row in our Smashwords Surveys (2014, 2013, 2012) that longer ebooks sell better than shorter ebooks, some authors still divide full length books into shorter books that can disappoint readers.  7.  Sloppy descriptions.  You'd be surprised at the number of book descriptions that have typographic errors, or improper casing or punctuation.  Readers pick up on this stuff.  Mistakes like this are like a slap in the face of your prospective reader.
To long time readers of the Smashwords blog, you're probably already familiar with many of the proven best practices I mentioned above.
If you want a refresher on best practices, please take some time to read my free ebook, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success.  Over 30 best practices are described there.  And read the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide for more than 40 free book marketing and author platform-building ideas.  And then take some time to review my prior blogs posts here, or watch my ebook publishing tutorial videos at YouTube
Indie authors pioneered many of these best practices.  I learn from you and your fellow authors, and share what I learn.

9. You’re running a business
Mark’s Unconventional (but proven effective) Rules for Business:  1.  Be a nice person. Treat partners, fellow authors and readers with kindness, respect and integrity. You'll find as you develop your career, the publishing industry will feel smaller and smaller as you get to know everyone, and as everyone gets to know you.  It takes a village to reach readers.  All these people - fellow authors, critique partners, beta readers, editors, publishers, cover designers, publicists, retailers, and distributors - have the power to open doors for you.  2.  Be honest.  Business relationships are built on trust and honesty.  The fastest way to destroy a relationship is to be dishonest.  3.  Be Ethical. Don't cheat. Do unto others as you’d want done unto you.  4.  Be Humble. Yeah, I’ve told you have superawesome potential within you.  But know that you can always be better.  Celebrate those who help you succeed.  Always know that none of us can achieve anything without the support, encouragement and love of those around us.  It takes a village.

10. Pinch your pennies (an American saying that means, "be frugal with your money")
Practice expense control.  Your sales will always be uncertain, but your expenses can be controlled.  Jealously guard your pennies.  If you can’t afford professional editing, for example, find another way to obtain it.  A couple months ago at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers conference, I gave a presentation on best practices.  To underscore my suggestion that writers find another way to get professional editing if they can’t afford it, I pointed out an editor friend in the audience and suggested that if authors couldn’t afford to pay for her services consider offering her something of value in exchange.  Tongue in cheek, I said, “if you’re a professional masseuse, offer massage services.” To my surprise, I learned afterward that two professional masseuses in the audience handed the editor their business cards at the end of the presentation.  You've got skills.  Get creative.  Trade editing with fellow authors.  Trade services in exchange for professional cover design.

11. Time Management
Do you have too many hours in the day?  Of course not.  Organize your time so you’re spending more time writing and imagining, and less time with the menial grunt work.  Smashwords can help on the distribution side.  Consolidate your distribution to reap the time-saving benefits of centralized publishing control and metadata management.
12. Take risks, experiment, and fail often
Success is impossible without failure.  Failure is a gift.  The challenge is to take a lot of little risks and make every failure a teachable moment.

13. Dream big dreams
Be ambitious.  Aim high.  You’re smart and you’re capable.  You must believe this.  Because if you don’t try, you can’t achieve.   Salvador Dali said:  "Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings."
14. Be delusional
At the Pikes Peak writers conference three years ago, I had a fun conversation with uber-agent Donald Maas. Don had just told a room full of writers that self-publishing was a fine option if they didn't want to sell any books.  Later that night, we crossed paths at dinner.  I told him I thought he was underestimating the impact self-published authors would have on the publishing industry.  He told me he thought I was delusional. When someone doubts me, I feel energized. To have vision - to see what doesn't yet exist - that's delusional.  Be delusional. What's your vision?  Know that every NY Times bestseller was absolutely nuts to write a book.  Most books fail, so common sense would advise getting a job at McDonalds instead. Three months ago, three years after my conversation with Mr. Maas, Inc. Magazine named Smashwords to its INC 500 list of America’s fastest-growing companies in recognition of indie authors at Smashwords who sold over $30 million worth of books at retail last year. Who’s delusional now?
15. Embrace your doubters
They know not of what they speak. They’re delusional too. They can't yet see what you see. They can't see what' s in your imagination.  Give ‘em a hug.
16. Celebrate your fellow authors’ success
Your fellow authors' success is your success, and yours theirs. When you achieve success, do everything you can to pause a moment and lift up your fellow authors to join you. A journey shared is more satisfying than a journey alone.
17. Past success is no guarantee of future success
I think about this a lot at Smashwords. The world is cyclical. You’ll have ups and downs. When you’re having a great run, enjoy it, soak it in, bank it, pay off debts and build your savings for a rainy day.  The rainy day will come. And then keep working. Never stop sprinting as fast as you can in the direction of your dreams.

18. Never Quit
Never give up. Quitting guarantees failure.  If you never quit, you’ll never fail.  Stamina and staying power beat the sprint.  Think of the story of the tortoise and the hare. Fight for your right to pursue the best career in the universe.   
19. Own Your Future
In the past, you were dependent upon publishers.  Now it’s all you.  Your success or failure is your own. You’re the writer and the publisher.  You decide how you publish.  You choose your partners.  If you succeed or fail, it’s on you.  Avoid finger pointing and celebrate those who help you succeed. 
20. Know that your writing is important
Books are important to the future of mankind. You are the creator of books.  That makes you special, and it also burdens you with a special responsibility. No one else can create what you have within you. Your writing represents the manifestation of your life, your dreams, your soul and your talent. You’re special. Others might think you’re suffering from delusions of grandiosity but so what?  What do they know?  If you don’t believe in yourself, who will? 
Find success and satisfaction in the journey of publishing.  Know that the measure of your importance and the measure of your contribution to book culture and humanity cannot be measured by your sales alone.  The moment you reach your first reader, you’ve done your part to change the world.  And that’s just the beginning.  


If you publish for the right reasons and you adopt best practices that make your books more available and more desirable to readers, your future is as bright as your imagination.

Thank you for everything you do.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Amazon Hachette Dispute Comes to a Pyrrhic End

As the Epirot Illyrian general
Phyrrus demonstrated, winners
can be losers too. 
Image source: Wikipedia



Amazon and Hachette announced a settlement this week in their long festering contractual dispute.  I'm glad it's over.  As I discussed in a NINC interview last month, the dispute evoked a lot of unnecessary ugliness in certain quarters of the indie author community.

At the heart of the dispute was the Agency pricing model for ebooks, which meant it was a battle was over pricing and margin.  According to most press accounts, Hachette wanted the freedom to set consumer prices and earn 70% list for its ebooks, and Amazon wanted to pay Hachette lower margins so it could fund deeper discounting.  I covered the dispute back in May here at the Smashwords blog.

According to carefully worded statements this week by Amazon and Hachette - neither of which boasted of victory - Hachette will retain Agency pricing control yet conceded to certain unnamed Amazon demands that will incentivize lower pricing from Hachette.

It's not easy to pick winners and losers.  As with most wars, even winners can be losers.

Here's my attempt to examine the winners and losers of this episode, along with speculation on long term implications.

Hachette *mostly* won, but is now boxed into a position where faithful authors will expect higher net royalty rates for ebooks as well as other perceived reforms from publishers.  The Author's Guild has already hinted as much.  In a blog post this week commemorating the agreement, Authors Guild president Roxana Robinson took the opportunity to urge Hachette to raise ebook royalty rates for authors.

Amazon mostly lost, because it appears Agency wasn't dismantled or critically injured.  Amazon will likely seek revenge through other means (see below).

Agency mostly won. It dodged a bullet to the benefit of publishers and indie authors alike, and to the benefit of Amazon's retail competitors.

Amazon mostly lost on the PR front.  Amazon's heavy handed tactics confirmed the industry's worst fears about Amazon.  Word of Amazon's heavy-handedness leaked out into the mainstream media where it probably tarnished Amazon's otherwise pristine image in the minds of consumers who were paying attention.  Amazon dare not replay the same overt tactics again unless it wants to rip the scar off of the bloody putrid mess and invite people to connect dots back to the Amazon/Hachette dispute.

Amazon boxed in.  Just as Hachette is boxed in with expectations of payback from their defenders, so too is Amazon.  If Amazon puts the squeeze on indie authors and their 70% list, their supporters will cry foul ("Hey, I defended you like a loyal pit bull in your dispute with Hachette!")

Author affinity for publishers damaged.  Amazon partisans orchestrated a rage-fest against traditional publishers, further eroding the once divine reputation of traditional publishers. Amazon partisans used this dispute as an opportunity to paint all publishers with the broad brush that publishers don't care about authors, want to exploit authors, want to overcharge customers for ebooks to protect their print businesses, collude on pricing, and who knows what else, strangle puppy dogs?  All good conspiracies are grounded in a small amount of truth.  Yes, no doubt, publishers have much opportunity to bring reforms that benefit authors, though I thought the vitriol was excessive.  I also believe that indie authors are well-served by a thriving and profitable traditional publishing industry because it creates more publishing options for all authors.  When indies go too far to tear down publishing houses, they risk tearing down their own house as well.

Authors attacking authors.  Successful traditionally published authors who stood by publishers were attacked.  This, to me, was one of the most unfortunate outcomes.  When authors are attacking authors, you know the world has gone mad.  It was all the sadder that most of these attacks came from the indie author community.  Indies should be better than this.

Any perceived victory for publishers will likely prove Pyrrhic. The Hachette agreement, which was itself preceded by Simon & Schuster reaching new terms with Amazon, will likely be followed by other publishers striking similar deals now that the goal posts are planted in the ground.  To the extent Amazon feels it was forced to settle, this settlement will dredge up their bitter memories of the time publishers forced Amazon to move to Agency in 2010.  Amazon doesn't like it when others exert power over it.  Can you blame Amazon?  No one appreciates feeling powerless.  Amazon prefers its supplier frenemies divided, conquered and dependent. If it can't crush Agency, it will try to neuter the publishers who use it. It views publishers as fat middlemen to be disintermediated, their fat to be rendered away and conveyed to the bellies of customers. Although Amazon's ability to replay their heavy-handed Hachette playbook is limited, I expect they'll exact a different type of revenge in the form of discoverability and merchandising. Think of it as passive-aggressive. Amazon will redouble efforts to undermine the power of publishers by diverting more reader eyeballs to indie books in KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited, and to Amazon imprints that are exclusive to Amazon.  Amazon has every right to arrange their own shelves. Let's call it the cloak of invisibility that no author or publisher wants to wear.
Like with most battles, all combatants lost a little something in end.  Here's wishing the industry greater peace and prosperity in the future.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

iBooks Launches Worldwide Book Bundles Promotion, Features 41 Smashwords Box Sets and over 200 authors

iBooks today launched a major worldwide merchandising feature that includes 100 box sets, 41 of which are from Smashwords.

For readers looking to discover their new favorite authors, the collections offer a treasure trove of amazing authors.  $99.00 will get you hundreds of books!

The featured Smashwords box sets include the works of over 200 Smashwords authors.  View the merchandising feature at iBooks, or view on your web browser via iTunes by clicking here.

The feature showcases books in the categories of Contemporary Romance, Crime & Thrillers, Historical Romance, Paranormal, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, and Teen & Young Adult. Apple plans to promote the feature globally in the US, Australia, UK, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand.

Last month I blogged about box sets as a significant audience-building tool for indie authors. With box sets, multiple authors collaborate to produce and publish an anthology of books organized around a theme.  Each author then co-promotes the box set to their respective fan bases, which thereby amplifies the overall reach for all participating authors.

Today we see that a great box set also opens the opportunity for merchandising love, as in the case with iBooks today.  The timing of the iBooks promotion is especially great for the participating Smashwords authors. Tomorrow is when Apple will release the new iPhone 6 family of larger-screen smart phones to customers.  But more importantly, yesterday Apple released iOS8, their new mobile operating system for iPhones, iPods and iPads.  For the first time ever, the iBooks app comes preloaded on the home screen of users.  As I blogged back in June, iOS8 is a game changer, and for anyone who doubts Apple's ambition to become the #1 global seller of ebooks, well... they're not paying attention.

iOS8 will drive millions of new readers to the iBooks store, placing readers that much closer to your books.  Yesterday (Wednesday September 17), the first day iOS8 become available to users, Smashwords authors experienced an 84% increase in downloads over the prior day (amazing).  Although one day doesn't make a trend, the surge in downloads is a strong sign that the transition to iOS8 will likely bring many new readers to iBooks and to Smashwords authors.

Most of the Smashwords box sets were created expressly for this Apple promotion. A few weeks ago I invited a number of Smashwords bestsellers to serve as anchor authors to orchestrate new box sets for this promotion.  I challenged them to partner with fellow indies they'd be proud to promote to their own fan bases.  The results were extraordinary.  Over 200 authors contributed.  They created amazing titles, themes and covers.  Many are raising money for charity.  Participating authors comprise New York Times bestsellers, USA Today bestsellers and up-and-coming indies who are likely to become your new favorite authors in the years ahead.

As you might imagine, it was a lot of work for these authors to pull it off in such as short time.  Their accomplishment points to an opportunity for every Smashwords author:  Box sets represent a great opportunity for Smashwords authors to collaborate with their fellow indies to publish and co-promote a value-priced book that will put your work in the hands of more readers.

Congrats Smashwords authors, and thanks so much for your hard work in pulling this together!  And thank you iBooks for creating such an awesome promotion and selecting these titles!

Participating Smashwords Box Sets

Below is a listing of the selected box sets and their participating authors, in no particular order.  Click the link to view or purchase the iBooks page for each box set.

Faery Worlds - Six Complete Novels featuring: Jenna Johnson and Anthea Sharpe

Dangerous Lovers featuring: Becca Vincenza, H. D. Gordon, Cambria Hebert, Janelle Stalder, Jamie Magee, A.M. Hargrove

Sassy Seven: Sexy, Stylish, Scintillating Novels from Some of Today’s Top-selling Authors featuring Gemma Halliday, Serena Robar, Eileen Cook, Barbara Ferrer, Robyn Harding, Shannon McKelden, Eileen Rendahl

Natural Born Thrillers: 11 Electrifying Thriller Novels from 11 Bestselling Authors featuring Jeremy Robinson, Joseph Nassise, Steven Savile, David Wood, Kane Gilmour, J. Kent Holloway, Sean Ellis, Jon F. Merz, Casey Neumiller, David Sakmyster, Rick Chesler

Intense Anthology - Ten Bestselling Authors, Ten Powerful Alphas, Ten Passionate Novels featuring: Kahlen Aymes, Sandi Lynn, Aleatha Romig, Vi Keeland, Penelope Ward, S. E. Lund, Julie Richman, Penelope Ward, Kailin Gow, Liv Morris, J.L. Mac

From the Ballroom and Beyond, A Limited Edition Nine Book Regency Romance Box Set featuring: Rose Gordon, Ava Stone, Julie Johnstone, Catherine Gayle, Deb Marlowe, Jane Charles, Christi Caldwell, Claudia Dain, Jerrica Knight-Catania

Epic Apocalypse - Apocalyptic Horror Box Set featuring: Mark Tufo, Shawn Chesser, John O'Brien, James N. Cook, Armand Rosamilia, Heath Stallcup

Dark Roses: Eight Best-Selling Authors of Paranormal Romance featuring: Terah Edun, P.T. Michelle, Anthea Sharp, Trisha Leigh, Cameron Jace,  Lola St.Vil,  Erica Cope, Sarra Cannon

Playing for Passion: A Limited Edition Collection of Bestselling Sports Romances featuring: Carly Phillips, Toni Aleo, Chelle Bliss, V.K. Sykes,  Pamela Aares, Allie K Adams, Jami Davenport, Catherine Gayle, Mindy Klasky, Roz Lee, Dakota Madison, Bianca Sommerland

California Dreamin' Boxed Set (Four mature YA Romances set in California to Benefit "A Chance for Children") featuring: Melissa Pearl and Anna Cruise

Skirts & Swords (Female-Led Epic Fantasy Box Set for Charity) featuring: L.P. Dover, R.K.  Ryals, Melissa Wright

Love Potion No. 11 featuring: Liz Schulte, Melinda VanLone, Myndi Shafer, Olivia Hardin, L.K. Rigel, Tawdra Kandle, JoAnna Grace, L.P. Dover, Melissa Lummis, Autumn Dawn, Stephanie Nelson

When Darkness Falls - Six Paranormal Novels in One Boxed Set featuring: Shalini Boland, Sarah Dalton, Rebecca Hamilton, Laura Howard, Patti Roberts, Suzy Turner

Wings of Fantasy featuring: John H. Carroll, Valerie Douglas, M. R. Mathias, M. A. Nilles, Stephen L. Nowland,E.M. Sinclair

The Fates of Worlds (Science Fiction Writers Supporting Literacy) featuring: J. Daniel Sawyer, Stephen Goldin, T. Jackson King, Paul B. Spence, Anna Erishkigal, Steven J Pemberton, Rachel Cotterill

Waking Snow White: A YA Book Bundle Based on the Classic Fairy Tale featuring: Katherine Pine, Jean Haus,  K. D.  Jones, Cindy C Bennett, Laura  Briggs, K. Sean Jennkrist

Darkly Dreaming: A Five Book Fantasy Romance Anthology featuring: Elizabeth Hunter, Grace Draven, Danielle Monsch, Kristen Painter, Cate Rowan

Doorway to Destiny (A Thirteen-Book Fantasy and Science Fiction Adventure Box Set) featuring: TC Southwell and Vanessa Finaughty

Love's Sweet Surrender featuring: KF Breene, Erica Stevens, Brenda K. Davies

Tall, Dark and Paranormal: 10 Thrilling Tales of Sexy Alpha Bad Boys featuring: Opal Carew, Lori Handeland, Laura Kaye, Caridad Pineiro, Stephanie Julian, Randi Alexander, Terry Spear, Paige Tyler, Sara Humphreys, & Judi Fennell

Destiny Calling Box Set 5 Unknown Fates - Five Authors featuring: Devyn Dawson, Michele G Miller, Tressa Messenger, Brea Essex, Tia Silverthorne Bach

Otherworlds: Twelve Young Adult Fantasy Books to Benefit the Hungry featuring: Eva Pohler, Angela Corbett, Sophie Davis, Desiree DeOrto, Rebecca Ethington, Rose Garcia, Dani Hart, Allie Juliette Mousseau, Alison Pensy, Airicka Phoenix, M. Clarke, RaShelle Workman

From Dark to Light (a romance bundle containing 7 titles from 6 bestselling authors) featuring: Lilliana Anderson, Lili Saint Germain, Callie Hart, T Gephart, Natasha Preston, C.J Duggan

Touched by Love: 4 Mind-blowing Paranormal Tales featuring: Rebecca Ethington, Karen Lynch, Melissa Haag, Dean Murray

Danger and Desire: Ten Full-Length Steamy Romantic Suspense Novels featuring: Amber Lin, Pamela Clare, Katie Reus, Dianna Love, Carolyn Crane, Kaylea Cross, Norah Wilson, Dee J Adams, V.K. Sykes & Misty Evans

Perception: A New Adult Anthology featuring: Nealy Gihan, Scott C. Davis, Linda Davis, Mary Laufer Heather Hildenbrand

The Butler Didn't Do It featuring: Claudia Hall Christian, Jean Sweeney & Christopher Geoffrey McPherson

Holding Out for the Superhero featuring: Nana Malone, V. J. Chambers, June Gray, & Joni Hahn

Owned By Him featuring: Kendall Ryan, Emma Hart, Claire James

Mastered: Ten Tales of Sensual Surrender featuring: Opal Carew,  Portia Da Costa,  Madelynne Ellis, Marie Harte, T.J. Michaels, Kate Pearce, Sasha White, Emily Ryan-Davis, & Jennifer Leeland

A Fatal Four-Pack: Four Complete Mystery Novels featuring: Rae Davies, P.B. Ryan, L.L. Bartlett, & Deb Baker

What Lurks in the Dark featuring: Kody Boye, Gabrielle Faust, Rhiannon Frater, Emily Goodwin, Erin Hayes, Liz Long, M.R. Merrick, & Alexia Purdy

Legendary: 10 Otherworldly YA Romance Novels (Box Set) featuring: Kira Saito, Nikki Jefford, & S.M. Boyce

Fantasy 101 featuring: Jeffrey Poole, Lindsay Buroker, B Throwsnaill, Steve Thomas

Captured: 9 Alpha Bad-Boys Who Will Capture Your Heart featuring: Opal Carew, Sharon Page, Teresa Morgan, Mandy Rosko, Eve Langlais, S. E. Smith, Cathryn Fox, T.J. Michaels, & Pepper Winters

Girls On Fire: 10 YA Novels in a Multi-Author boxed set featuring: Elana Johnson, Amber Argyle, Angela Corbett, Christy Dorrity, Tamara Hart Heiner, Cindy M. Hogan, Laura Howard, Elana Johnson, Rachel Morgan, Lee Strauss, & Lani Woodland

Courage: A Collection of 10 Full Length Bestselling Novels featuring:  J.L. Berg, L.A. Casey, Kirsty Moseley, Erin Noelle, Tess Oliver, Kate Perry, Julie Richman, Aurora Rose Reynolds, Hilary Storm, & Pepper Winters

Three Realms (3-Book Special Edition Box Set) featuring: Michael Dadich, Ciara Ballintyne, & Dionne Lister

After Twilight featuring: Julia Crane, Sophie Davis, Lizzy Ford, Ella James, Morgan Wylie, Tara West

Three Cold Steps featuring: Sophie Davis, Airicka Phoenix, Mercy Amare
Second Chances—7 Sweet & Sexy Romances in 1 Book  featuring Diana Fraser, Tracey Alvarez, Janet Elizabeth Henderson, Joanne Hill, Kris Pearson, Shirley Wine, & Serenity Woods

Buy them all!



Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Inc. Magazine Names Smashwords to Inc. 5000 List of America's Fastest Growing Companies

Inc. Magazine today named Smashwords to its 2014 list of America's Fastest-Growing Privately-Held Companies.

Smashwords landed at #122 in a field of 5,000 companies within the Inc. 5000, and was named the #1 fastest-growing media company and the #3 fastest-growing San Jose Metro area company.

Inc. Magazine bases its ratings on three-year revenue growth.  With audited revenue of $706,000 in 2010 and $22 million in 2013, Smashwords showed 3,019% growth.

Credit for this achievement goes first and foremost to Smashwords authors and publishers.  Nearly 100,000 indie authors and small independent presses today utilize Smashwords as their ebook publishing and distribution platform.  We provide you to tools, and you publish amazing books that bring reading pleasure to millions of readers.  It's because you entrusted your books to Smashwords that we've been able to share in a small piece of your success.

The rise of Smashwords is the story of the rise of self publishing.  Self published authors now have the freedom and capability to publish with complete pride and professionalism.  The stigma that once haunted self-published authors is quickly melting away as Smashwords authors and publishers set the standard for ebook publishing best practices.  You are the pioneers who will lead book publishing to a better, more democratic future.  You are the future of publishing.

I've been singing the same tune for six and half years.  It's great to see authors embracing their new-found freedom, believing in themselves and serving readers with high-quality, low-cost ebooks.  It's great to see how the rise of indie ebooks has fulfilled the dreams and changed the lives of so many Smashwords authors.

This milestone also wouldn't have been possible without the hard work of my team at Smashwords.  From vetting to service to finance and engineering and marketing, every Smashwords team member comes to work with the single-minded purpose to serve writers.  We're here to provide you a competitive advantage in the marketplace. We exist for you.

We realize that every Smashwords author works with us by choice.  We're thankful you choose to do business with us. We strive to reciprocate by giving you full access to our ever-growing and ever-improving suite of tools that connect you with readers.  We offer these tools without cost and without exclusivity. 

When you choose to fully distribute with Smashwords, you're directly supporting our ability to invest in the development of new tools, new distribution and new capabilities to help you reach more readers.  As long as you work with us, we're here to work with you.

The Smashwords business has been profitable for over three years, and we've managed to maintain this profitability while reinvesting in the business to give you competitive advantage. This is a low margin business, which means we must make difficult decisions every day to prioritize our resources.  It means we cannot and should not try to be all things to all people.  We're focused on the logistics of connecting ebooks with readers.  When prioritizing resources, we ask, "what will give our authors the greatest aggregate benefit?"

How We Got Here

I'm often asked how we got here, wherever here is.  I suppose here today is the milestone we're celebrating.  Smashwords is an Inc. 500 company.

As most Smashwords authors know, I was inspired to start Smashwords after my wife and I wrote a novel together.  Despite representation from a top tier literary agency, publishers were unwilling to take a chance on it.  The experience led me to realize that publishers held too much power, because they alone decided which writers graduated to become published authors.  They decided which manuscripts became books, and they decided what readers could read.  My vision for Smashwords was to turn everything upside down and give all the power to writers and readers.  Give writers the freedom to publish what they want, and give readers the freedom to read what they want.

Although only in my wildest dreams did I dream Smashwords would reach such a milestone, I never expected it.  In fact, I knew the odds were stacked against us.  I thought the business would most likely fail.  In the darkest days early on - those days when on a good day we were earning only $1.00 a day in commission - the thing that kept me going was my belief that the world needed a Smashwords.  I had faith that if I could give all writers a chance, and few of them would break out and change everything for all writers.

We've traveled a lot of ground in six and half years.  We've overcome numerous roadblocks, experienced our fair share of growing pains, made our fair share of mistakes and took a lot of bullets.  We've also received a lot of love, and that sustains us more than anything.  We've had the good fortune to work with amazing authors and amazing retailer business partners.

The business has been entirely self-funded without the assistance or interference of venture capitalists or outside investors.  This has given us the freedom to build a business around some very simple if not unconventional principles which guide how we manage the business.  I'll share them now for the first time.

Smashwords Business Principles 


  1. Every writer is special, and holds the potential to contribute something worthwhile to the culture of books.
     
  2. Every writer should have the freedom to publish at no cost. 
     
  3. The worth of a writer's book cannot be measured by sales alone.
     
  4. The money should flow from reader to author.  We only earn commission if we help authors sell books.  We believe this aligns every fiber of our business - every motivation, every decision and every action - with the best interests of our authors and publishers.
     
  5. We serve our authors and publishers by working to enable a diverse and vibrant global ecosystem of multiple ebook retailing channels.
     
  6. We believe it's in every author's best long term interest that we promote broad and diversified distribution.
     
  7. We believe in the value of a great distributor. We believe distributors will become more important in the future, not less so.  A good distributor provides efficient digital logistics for the benefit of authors, publishers, retailers and readers alike.
     
  8. We constantly strive to become a better distributor.
     
  9. We believe that authors who leverage the full benefits of a distributor will be more successful over the long term than those who do not.  Distributors help authors spend more time writing and less time on distribution.  It's about time management.  Time is every writer's most precious asset.
     
  10. We believe past success is no guarantee of future success.  Success must be earned.  The moment we stop innovating and adding value to the publishing and distribution experience of our authors and readers, we lose our right to exist.
     
  11. Innovation is messy. We promise we will blaze new trails and take prudent risks.
     
  12. We will always strive to work in the best interest of our writers. 
     
  13. We will make mistakes and we will learn from our mistakes.
     
  14. We will help and encourage our retailer partners to improve their businesses for the benefit of our authors, publishers and their readers.  We also appreciate when our retail partners do the same of us.
     
  15. Our development will be guided by our authors, publishers and retailers.
     
  16. If we add more value than we earn in commissions, we have a future that is without limit, because the talent, creativity and capability of our authors is without limit.
     
  17. Our authors and publishers are not our customers.  They are our partners, our clients.  We do not sell them anything, we service them. We will not accept money from them. We will not employ salespeople and we will not sell publishing packages.
     
  18. We believe the future of publishing is bright because books are important to the future of mankind. As long as writers have a chance to publish, readers will want to read.
     
  19. We are in a relationship with you, the author, publisher, reader and retailer.  We will be honest in all our dealings with you.  The ebook business is entirely dependent upon trust.  When trust is deserved and reciprocated, great things can happen.
     
  20. We will never forget that we serve at the pleasure of our authors, publishers and retailers.

Where to From Here

Smashwords and the indie community we serve are in the same boat. We've built a great business, but I don't expect the torrid growth to continue.  As I predicted in my 2014 projections, the ebook market has slowed and sales are likely to be lower this year than last.

Prior to starting Smashwords in 2008, I spent almost 20 years doing PR  and strategic communications consulting for venture-backed Silicon Valley tech companies. Working in tech, you come to expect cyclical swings of boom and bust followed by boom again.  The survivors of the shakeouts emerge stronger and more vibrant than ever.  A shakeout is coming, not just for the ebook industry but for authors as well.  Things will get tougher from here.

Ebooks never go out of print. There's a glut of high-quality reading material out there.  The growth of in the number of ebooks published and forever immortal on digital shelves will probably outpace the growth in reader eyeballs, and therefore the capacity of readers to consume this content.  In other words, every one of us will face more competition in the future.  The average book in the future will sell fewer copies, not more.  The easy days are behind all of us.

Yet more books will be read than ever before.  The opportunity is there for all of us.

I thrive on challenge.  The new business realities don't change how we run the business.  It's an environment where author production (the number of titles published each year) and author quality will be the key determinants of success.  If you're an author, it's about time management.  How will you increase your production, quality, discoverability and desirability?  How will you increase your capacity to serve your readers?

For Smashwords, it's about innovation.  We will continue focusing on innovation.  We'll build new tools and capabilities that give our authors an advantage in the marketplace.  It's not only a business strategy, it's a Darwinian necessity.  Every one of us, whether we're a retailer, a distributor, a publisher or an author, must add value to the reader's experience otherwise we fail to live our dream.  The spoils will go to those who innovate, adopt and pioneer best practices, and who persevere through the darkest days.  If you're an author - even a New York Times bestselling author - you've had those dark days where you wondered if you had the will to carry on.

Think back to our early days at Smashwords when were were taking in only $1.00 a day yet losing thousands of dollars a month.  We kept going because we had this crazy idea that the world needed a Smashwords.  Well, your readers need you.  Serve them.  Your best work is ahead of you if you persevere.  I hope you invite Smashwords to join you for the ride!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

How to Do Box Sets at Smashwords for Audience Building, Charity and Profit

If you haven't yet planned a box set, now is the time to start planning for one.  This post will show you how.

The two most common types of box set are single-author and multi-author.

For a single-author box set, an author might combine all the books in a series, or might combine the series starters of multiple series, or might simply combine all their standalone titles into a single collection.  Smashwords author Anne Marie Novark, for example, created a single-author First in a Series Box Set featuring four of her full-length romance series starters for the value-price of only $2.99.  Smart.

For a multi-author box set, multiple authors, usually in the same genre or category, collaborate to publish multiple full-length books or complete short stories in a value-priced bundle.

Several Smashwords authors have joined together to publish limited-time charity box sets.  One recent Smashwords box set, A Sweet Life, was orchestrated by author Brenda Novak and featured fourteen New York Times bestsellers.  In one month, the box set earned nearly $30,000 for diabetes research from sales across the Smashwords network, and more from other channels.  Amazing.

Another more recent fundraiser example is Star Crossed, orchestrated by author Amy Miles, where thirteen bestselling YA Smashwords fantasy authors - including Amy Miles, Amy A. Bartol, Chanda Hahn, Ella James, Jocelyn Stover, Quinn Loftis, Rebecca Ethington, Shelly Crane, and Wendy Owens - are raising money for a St. Louis-based autism charity. Star Crossed releases August 18 and is available now for preorder at iBooks and will be available soon at Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

Box sets are usually value-priced, meaning the box set costs the reader less than purchasing all the books individually.

The ebook format is uniquely suited to box sets in a way that print is not.  The Star Crossed box set of full-length fantasy novels comprises 1.2 million words, a length that in print might span an entire length of a bookshelf.  In ebook form, it's a single convenient and lightweight download.

A Closer Look at Multi-Author Box Sets

Multi-author box sets represent an especially great sales, marketing and audience-building opportunity for authors.  For the remainder of this post, I'll focus on multi-author box sets (many of the tips apply to single-author box sets as well).

The magic of a multi-author box set is that each author promotes the box set to their respective fan base.  It's a great opportunity for fans of one author to discover similarly great authors in the same genre or category.  The audience reach is amplified dramatically via the aggregated promotional effort of all participating authors.  If each participating author has thousands of readers subscribed to their private mailing lists, and thousands of fans following them on Twitter and Facebook, you can quickly begin to appreciate the power of amplified collaborative marketing.

Here's how to set up a multi-author box set at Smashwords:

  1. Choose your collaborators and focus - Choose collaborators who write for the same target reader you write for.  For example, if you write New Adult romance, collaborate with fellow NA romance authors.  If you write YA fantasy, collaborate with your favorite YA fantasy authors.  Themes are great too.  For example, a multi-author box set of Halloween-themed horror novels is a great idea if you write Halloween-themed fiction (get it on preorder now!). Select your collaborators carefully.  You're going to recommend this box set and your fellow authors to your fans, which means your trusted reputation with your fans is on the line if you partner with authors that won't satisfy your readers.
     
  2. Work out your business terms - Decide amongst yourselves who will upload the book, and how you plan to price the book and split the proceeds. Smashwords cannot split the proceeds, so this will be the responsibility of the author or publisher who uploads the box set.  Some Smashwords authors doing charity box sets have set up new, standalone Smashwords accounts for the sole purpose of simplifying accounting.
     
  3. Create your cover image - As instructed in the Smashwords Style Guide, Smashwords cannot accept cover images that are pseudo-3d (the cover image is a digital rendition of a three dimensional physical box).  The reason is that iBooks will not accept these because they correctly believe that a small number of customers might think they're actually purchasing a physical box set, which they are not.  All authors should be listed on the ebook cover image. Click here to learn more about Smashwords cover requirements.
     
  4. Format with a linked Table of Contents - You'll combine the multiple books into a single ebook file.  Although not a requirement, I recommend that you create a linked Table of Contents for the box set.  This way, each author's book can be listed in the table of contents and easily visible in the ebook file's NCX navigation (the NCX is what generates the "Table of Contents" items you see on your iPad, iPhone, Kindle, Nook or other device or e-reading app).  It's a good idea to list the books in the ToC as "Book Title by Author Name" without the "quotes" and then underneath each title listing create another link to a section below each author's book labeled "About Author Name" in which you provide a short bio following each author's book.  You can also list and link to other author-specific sections, such as "Other books by Author Name" or "Connect with Author Name." To learn how to add navigation to a Smashwords ebook, see Step 20 in the Style Guide, and don't miss my blog post and video, How to Add Navigation to a Smashwords Ebook.  You'll find some additional tips in the blog post on box set navigation.  If you watch the video you'll learn how incredibly easy it is to upgrade all your Smashwords books with enhanced navigation.
     
  5. List the box set as a preorder - A preorder allows the collaborating authors to promote the box set to their respective fan bases for weeks or months in advance of release of the book.  Smashwords distributes preorders to iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, and each retailer credits all accumulated preoders toward the book's first-day unit sales, which causes the book to spike in the bestseller lists, which causes the book to become more visible and more desirable to readers.  More visibility + more desire = more sales!  Click here to learn about Smashwords preorders.
     
  6. Upload - Once the book is formatted to the Smashwords Style Guide, upload it as you normally would from the Smashwords "Publish" page, and then download the .epub file to confirm the formatting looks great and the navigation works as expected.  If you need to make any corrections or updates, click to Dashboard: Upload New Version to upload the new file.  The person who updates the book will be the controlling user.
     
  7. Special tip for the book title - I think it's a good idea to mention the word "box set" in the book's title, and also the number of contributing authors, and if it's a charity box set mention that as well. Such a title quickly communicates to the browsing reader it's a box set, the theme and why they should care. For example, in the metadata, the title for Star Crossed is listed as Star Crossed (Thirteen-Book Charity Box Set for Autism).  The title metadata for A Sweet Life was A Sweet Life Boxed Set (Fourteen Contemporary Romances by Bestselling Authors to Benefit Diabetes Research).
     
  8. Special tips for the book description - It's a good idea to list all the books and authors in the book description.  This will improve discoverability at retailers, and will also help make the book more desirable to readers.  Do not mention price in the description.  It's okay to mention the bundle is "value-priced," but don't write something like, "A $79.00 value, yours for just $.99!"  Prices are never allowed in book descriptions because Smashwords books are distributed to global retailers and sold in multiple currencies.  For a customer who purchases in Euros or Yen or Pounds, a USD price is confusing and inaccurate.  Anytime you confuse a prospective reader, you create friction, and friction causes them to click away and you lose them.  If the box set is raising money for charity, avoid writing in the description, "All proceeds go to charity," because that's not exactly accurate since the retailer is not donating their proceeds.  It's more accurate to write, "The authors will donate their proceeds from the sale of this box set to XYZ charity."
     
  9. Giving multiple authors credit in the "written by" metadata - Upon upload, the only author credited in the "written by" metadata in the book listing will be the author who uploaded the book. That's not good, because you want all the authors credited in the metadata, and retailers want to see all the authors credited on the cover image should also be credited in the metadata as well.  To give all authors credit in the metadata, click the "support" link at the bottom of any Smashwords web page to contact our support team.  Provide us a direct hyperlink to the author profile page of each contributing author and we'll link them up with the book.  If the author doesn't yet have a Smashwords account, please ask them to create one.  It's free!  Another option:  If you've upgraded your account to Publisher status, you can create "ghost" accounts for each contributing author.  This option is only recommended for publishers because once you upgrade your account to publisher status, it's a permanent change.  Note that we'll link all the authors at Smashwords but our retailers may not be able to link all the names.  This is why it's important to place the author names in the book description as well.
Good luck, and have fun!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Is Kindle Unlimited Bad for Authors?

Amazon today unveiled Kindle Unlimited, following in the footsteps of Smashwords partners Scribd and Oyster.

When I first heard of Kindle Unlimited, I was pleased.  After learning more, however, I think indies should steer clear of it.

As long-time readers of this blog know, I was initially skeptical of the prospects for a "Netflix of ebooks," but I began to see the light as I examined the emerging business models of the subscription services.

Now, several months into our relationships with Scribd and Oyster, I'm pleased to report these two ebook subscription services are the fastest growing retail channels at Smashwords at a time when industry-wide ebook sales are looking anemic.

These services will bring more readers to ebooks and possibly even more readers to conventional ebook retailers (especially if more retailers offer subscription services too).

I think Scribd and Oyster hit the nail on the head by creating services that balance the intersecting interests of readers, authors, the subscription service itself and the publishing industry in which we all operate. 

The same cannot be said for Kindle Unlimited.  Indies would do well to avoid Kindle Unlimited for one simple reason:  it requires KDP Select exclusivity.

I've been speaking out against KDP Select ever since they launched it in 2011 when I wrote my post, Amazon Shows its Predatory Stripes with KDP Select.  Amazon partisans have accused me of being an Amazon hater for my criticism of KDP Select, but that's simply not true. I admire Amazon.  Jeff Bezos and team are freaking brilliant. They deserve massive kudos for catalyzing the rise of ebooks, and for changing the lives of indie authors.

But for all of Amazon's good deeds, it does not mean we indies should kiss their feet unconditionally. Their business methods are not beyond reproach.  We should encourage a healthy debate about Amazon's practices and how they can do better for authors and readers.  I can admire Amazon yet still oppose exclusivity.  We should also recognize when Amazon's business interests don't align with author interests.

KDP Select is a good example where the business interests of Amazon and authors diverge.

Exclusivity is great for Amazon, but it's not necessarily great for authors and readers.  Exclusivity starves competing retailers of books readers want to read, which motivates readers to move their reading to the Kindle platform. This is why Amazon has made exclusivity central to their ebook strategy. They're playing a long term game of attrition.

Most indie authors recognize the value in fostering a diverse ecosystem of multiple competing retailing options.  Yet every book enrolled in KDP Select is a vote to put Amazon's competitors out of business. You know this to be true if you believe, as I believe, that indies are the future of publishing.

Authors must weigh the benefits of KDP Select's many enticing features against the alternative benefits of broad and diversified distribution.  How do you measure what you'll lose from either decision when missed opportunities are immeasurable?  And is it the indie author's responsibility to support Amazon's competitors?  Should an indie author feel guilty for giving KDP Select a try?  I don't envy authors who must make these decisions.  Amazon forces these difficult decisions upon authors.

It can take years to build readership at a retailer.  Authors who cycle their books in and out of KDP Select will have a more difficult time building readership at Amazon's competitors. Millions of readers prefer shopping at retailers other than Amazon. These other retailers operate in multiple countries (iBooks, for example, operates in 51 countries).  These country-specific stores represent unique micro-markets of captive audiences not reachable via Amazon.

Any time an author goes exclusive, they risk alienating fans who prefer shopping at other retailers, and they miss the opportunity for serendipitous discovery by new readers at other stores.  They risk missing those times where lightning strikes and their books break out at different retailers at different times, often for reasons that can't be identified.

Authors who go exclusive at Amazon become more dependent (the opposite of independent) upon Amazon.  Just as any financial adviser will advise you to avoid placing your retirement nest egg in a single basket, indies should think twice before locking their books into these three-month, automatically-renewing KDP Select contracts.

With KDP Select, Amazon rewards authors who go exclusive and disadvantages authors who do not.  That's right, they're punishing regular KDP authors who don't go exclusive by denying them access to special sales and discovery tools like free promotional pricing, Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners Lending Library.  These are great tools so it's a shame Amazon doesn't make them available to all authors without restriction.

Amazon is creating a caste system within the Amazon store. Also worthy of note, as revealed by Publishers Lunch, it appears as if Amazon is paying traditionally published authors more for their participation in Kindle Unlimited than they're paying indie authors.

No other retailer creates such artificial restrictions for indie authors.  Smashwords-distributed authors, by contrast, enjoy unlimited free pricing, greater pricing control, ebook preorders, broader global distribution and all without the handcuffs of exclusivity.

It's unfortunate Amazon is restricting access to Kindle Unlimited.  It's unfortunate they're denying their customers access to the books of all indie authors who would otherwise participate if not for the exclusivity requirement.  It's unfortunate that Amazon forces indies to make such a choice.

For indie authors who feel trapped in KDP Select, today's announcement offers you a silver lining:  you now have an out.  Because Amazon automatically opted all KDP Select authors into Kindle Unlimited, they're giving KDP Select authors the ability to immediately withdraw from KDP Select without waiting for their current three-month term to expire.  The instructions, which are listed at https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=AA9BSAGNO1YJH&ref_=pe_446610_120662130 , advise authors to contact their support team to leave KDP Select.

If you've got indie author friends who are in KDP Select, now might be a good time for them to cast their vote against exclusivity.  KDP Select would not exist were it not for the ongoing support of indie authors.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

2014 Smashwords Survey Reveals New Opportunities for Indie Authors

Welcome to the 2014 Smashwords Survey, our third annual survey that reveals new opportunities for indie ebook authors to sell more books.

As in prior surveys (view the 2013 Smashwords Survey here and 2012 Smashwords Survey here), we examined aggregated retail and library sales data of Smashwords books and then crunched the numbers based on various quantifiable characteristics of the book.

For this year's survey, we examined over $25 million in customer purchases  aggregated across Smashwords retailers including Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, the Smashwords.com store, Sony (now closed), Diesel (closed), Oyster, Scribd, Kobo, public libraries and others.

This year, we break new ground with more data, including survey questions that explore preorders and series, two categories of inquiry that weren't possible in prior years.  These latter two categories were enabled by Smashwords' introduction of ebook preorder distribution in July, 2013 and our new Smashwords Series Manager feature which allows us to capture, analyze and share the performance of series books.

The goal of the survey is to identify Viral Catalysts.  I first introduced the concept of Viral Catalyst in 2012 with the publication of my free ebook best practices book, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success.  A Viral Catalyst is anything that makes a book more discoverable and more enjoyable to readers.

The underlying premise of my Viral Catalyst concept is that Viral Catalysts help drive reader word of mouth because they increase reader satisfaction.  Although every author would love to learn the single secret fast track magic bullet to bestsellerdom, there is no such single secret.  Ebook bestsellers become bestsellers based on multiple Viral Catalyst factors starting with book quality but also influenced by cover design, breath of distribution, pricing, marketing, luck and myriad other factors.  In the Smashwords Survey, we seek to identify potential Viral Catalysts that are quantifiable and therefore measurable. 

The initial survey results were first revealed at the RT Booklovers convention in New Orleans on May 14, 2014.  The updated Slideshare edition of this presentation includes more data, charts and analysis than was presented in New Orleans.


Key findings in this year's survey:
The ebook sales power curve is extremely steep - This isn't a surprise, but for the first time we share some numbers along the curve (see the slides in the Series section).  A few titles sell fabulously well and most sell poorly.  An incremental increase is sales rank is usually matched by an exponential increase is sales.  Despite the steep sales curve, a lot of Smashwords authors are earning good income from their books.  Your opportunity as a Smashwords author or publisher is to do those things that give you an incremental advantage so you can climb in sales rank.
Readers prefer longer ebooks - We observed this in the prior surveys.  Longer books sell better, and when you view the data through the prism of the power curve, it becomes clear why longer books give authors such a huge sales advantage.

Pricing - The highest earning indie authors are utilizing lower average prices than the authors who earn less, but this doesn't mean that ultra-low prices such as $.99 are the path to riches.  $2.99 and $3.99 are the sweet spots for most of the bestsellers.

FREE still works great, but it's losing some mojo - Free remains one of the most powerful book marketing tools because it makes it easier for readers to take a risk on an author brand that is unknown or untrusted.  Free ebooks, according to our data derived from iBooks downloads, generated 39 times more downloads on average during our survey period than books at any price.  Yet the effectiveness of free is down dramatically compared to our 2013 (91X) and 2012 (100X) survey results.  While there is still much untapped greenfield opportunity for indies to leverage free, I expect the effectiveness of free will continue to decline as more authors learn to take advantage of it.  If you've never utilized free, now's the time to do so before your window of maximum opportunity closes further.

Preorders yield sales advantage - When we launched preorders in 2013, we knew anecdotally from our early alpha tests that preorders gave authors a sales advantage.  The 2014 Survey is the first time we're able to share aggregated results, and the results are strongly suggestive that ebooks borne as preorders sell more copies and earn the author more money than books that don't utilized preorders.  I think preorders today are where free was five years ago.  The first authors to effectively utilize preorders will gain the most advantage, just as the first authors to enter new distribution channels gain the most advantage.  Five years from now once all indies recognize that preorders are a no-brainer essential best practice, the effectiveness of preorders will decline.  Also revealed in the data is the fact that most Smashwords authors (and therefore, most indies) ARE NOT utilizing preorders yet despite our aggressive promotion of this exciting new tool.  The authors who heeded our advice, however, are reaping the rewards.

Series yield sales advantage - For the first time, we examine the performance of series books.  This new analysis is enabled by the fact that in September we launched Smashwords Series Manager which allows us to capture enhanced metadata on series.  The results are interesting!  Series books outsell standalone books.  We also look at the characteristics of series.  I'll want to do more with series in our 2015 survey.
Best-performing series have longer books - Not a surprise, but the implications are significant.  If you imagine the power curve overlaid on the series data we share, you see why authors who write full-length books in their series have an advantage over authors who break books into smaller chunks.  Also interesting, we found series books under 50,000 words are especially disadvantaged.  This is not to say that you can't become a bestseller writing shorter novellas.  Multiple Smashwords authors have had success here.  But what the data does tell me is that successful novella writers might achieve even greater success if they write full-length.  The data appears to suggest that series books under 50,000 words might create friction that makes readers incrementally less willing to buy.
FREE series starters pack a punch - This is a big deal.  I suspected this for a long time based on numerous authors' results going back to Brian S. Pratt who was one of the first Smashwords authors to prove the effectiveness of free series starters, but the aggregated numbers now confirm it.  We found strong evidence that series that have free series starters earn more money for authors than series that do not have free series starters.  For the many Smashwords authors who are reluctant to experiment with free for fear it'll devalue your books, now you've got the kick in the butt you need to give it a try.  All Smashwords retailers support free without restriction.
New (added July 7)  Non-fiction earns more at higher prices -  For the first time we added new data for non-fiction pricing.  We looked at the most common price points for indie non-fiction, the price points that earn the most downloads, and the price points that earn the non-fiction author the most money.  The results are fascinating.  It's not a surprise that non-fiction readers respond differently to price.  The surprise is how differently.  Non-fiction buyers are less price-sensitive.  After crunching the numbers it appears as if most non-fiction authors are under-pricing their works, and they should experiment with higher prices.

How to Interpret the Findings

For many of the slides, I added analysis to help you interpret the findings.  This analysis is my own interpretation.  You may view the findings differently, or see things I don't see.  Or you may strongly disagree with my interpretation.  That's okay.

Be cautious.  Most of the survey results are based on averages.  Your book is not average.  It's unique.  Therefore, your results will vary.  The findings aggregate the results of many dissimilar books, which means the findings are prone to misinterpretation and error.  The findings are also potentially skewed by factors such as genre (romance dominates, which means our data will more closely describe potential outcomes for romance or genre fiction than it will for non-fiction how-to manuals), or by the fact book sales at retailers are heavily skewed to fiction.

As I caution on Slide 25, cause and effect is not always provable.  The forces that determine a book's sales performance are often multi-dimensional, synergistic, opaque, delayed or simply not apparent.  Correlation does not always mean causation.  For example, although we show that the highest-earning books were priced at $3.99, the price alone is not the reason those books were bestsellers, and you should not necessarily jump to change all your prices to $3.99.  Although the bestselling books tend to be over 100,000 words, readers don't purchase by length alone, so don't write longer if the story doesn't demand it.

Consider our findings as possible inputs that influence the outcome.  Do not make publishing decisions solely based on the findings in this survey.  Instead, use these findings as an additional datapoint - as potential clues - that will help you make more informed decisions.  Also note the findings will raise additional questions.  As I was digging through the data for preorders, for example, I found myself wanting to dive deeper to explore such questions as, do sales decay over time, how do new releases impact the sales of existing series books, and how is the sales behavior across different genres different?  Although this survey shares more data than ever before, I found that the more questions I asked, the more I wanted to ask.  There simply wasn't time to build all the queries I wanted, or time to crunch and analyze all the numbers.

I look forward to sharing more in 2015 if not earlier.

If you found the survey results useful, won't you please share with your writer friends?

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