Sunday, November 29, 2009

Interview with Jeff Rivera of Gumbo Writers

I've written previously here about how the risk of publishing will shift from publishers to authors. With publishers under increased pressure amid declining book sales and increased competition from alternative media, they're no longer able to take the same risks they once took on unproven authors.

This means it's up to authors to get out there and prove themselves. Regardless of whether you aspire to earn a big name publishing contract, or you aspire to pursue a successful career as an indie author, it's up to you to build your personal brand and readership.

For this Q&A interview, we're talking with Jeff Rivera of Gumbo Writers. Gumbo Writers is an author services firm that helps authors prepare and promote their books. Some of the freelance pros who work with Jeff previously worked as editors and publicists at major publishing houses like Random House, Harper Collins and Simon & Schuster.

You may already know Jeff as a writer for MediaBistro's GalleyCat blog (Jeff interviewed me last month). Jeff is also a contributor to The Huffington Post, where he's an entertainment reporter.

What you may not know is that in 2004 Jeff self-published his novel, Forever My Lady, and then after doing his own marketing managed to sell the novel to Grand Central in 2005.

Please join me in welcoming Jeff Rivera as our guest today.

[Mark Coker] - What led you to start Gumbo Writers?

[Jeff Rivera] - Having gone through the challenges of self-publishing and experiencing the journey of traditional publishing I saw cracks in both systems. I knew something had to be done, so I decided to match capable, legitimate editors, publicists and marketing managers who were recently laid off from the major houses with aspiring authors, both self-published and traditionally published who needed their help.

[Mark Coker] - What are the three most important things every author should do on their own to market their book?

[Jeff Rivera] - 1) Identify your market. Key in on exactly who you're appealing to. Appealing to everyone is appealing to no one.

2) Do a Google, Twitter, Facebook, message board search on platforms that cater to your target market and start becoming actively involved in those communities, creating authentic relationships without ever pushing your book to them. Join only forums that have at least 1,000 members on them and ones that allow you to have a signature when you post. The signature is the special sauce. After that, just engage with everyone and don't talk about your book at all unless they ask you about it.

3) Search groups such as associations, churches and schools that you can speak to even if you do not get paid. In my experience, at least 50% of those listening to you will buy your book after you speak.

[Mark Coker] - For authors considering hiring an outsourced service provider such as Gumbo Writers, what expectations should they have up front for results and cost?

[Jeff Rivera] - Authors cannot expect their book to be an overnight bestseller. It takes at least 90 days to begin a solid publicity or online marketing campaign that will start to bring results. The more the author is willing to work as a partner in the campaign, rather than tossing the keys over to someone else to drive, the more effective the campaign.

[Mark Coker] - How difficult is it for an author to earn a good return on their investment, and are such services right for every author?

[Jeff Rivera] - If the author is thinking long term, they'll definitely see a return on their investment. Your first book's campaign should be about exposure and nothing else so that the next book you don't have to work so hard in letting your target market know who you are. If an author is willing to roll up their sleeves, then with the right coaching, they may be better suited to do the work themselves. Otherwise, if it is too complicated or they feel they don't have the enough time, hiring the right coach or company to take on the campaign would be best.

[Mark Coker] - A couple weeks ago, you wrote a column for GalleyCat that some interpreted as you questioning the value of literary agents. In a guest post at the Dystel & Goderich blog, you clarified your position. Do agents become more important within the publishing ecosystem of the next three to five years?

[Jeff Rivera] - Absolutely, but an agent is not for everyone. With the floodgates now open for anyone to become published, independently published authors truly have a chance to go head-to-head with major publishers on an even playing field, at least within the eBook world. Gatekeepers will become more necessary as people will seek out someone they trust to tell them what they should read. A legitimate agent's stamp of approval, a prominent blogger, a major house's "published by" label, even your best friend's endorsement of a book could be such an outlet. In order to stay relevant in the next 3-5 years, I see lit agents taking on more of a role as a manager of an author's entire career not just selling their publishing and ancillary rights (but rather including film, TV rights, public speaking, new media, sponsorship & merchandising deals, etc. ). This is similar to what lit managers such as, Rob Weisbach are doing. That's going to mean they'll need to represent fewer quality authors rather than a roster of hundreds.

[Mark Coker] - Thanks Jeff!

To learn more about Jeff Rivera and the author services of Gumbo Writers, visit

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Reunion

Imagine a story of a father and daughter separated for 25 years. A true story.

With their permission, I'm sharing their story of Thanksgiving with you today.

Rewind to ten days ago.

The daughter, now 66 and living in Southern California, searched for her father for 25 years. Nothing but dead ends. She feared the worst - the father she always loved and admired and wanted to forgive was surely dead by now. She had given up.

Yet the father wasn't dead. He's 87 and living in Arizona. He missed his daughter, but was too afraid to reach out. He was certain she hated him for disappearing without a trace so many years before. He lived his days haunted by regret of how he should have and could have been a better father.

So life went on for 25 years. Two people, longing for reunion, unable to connect for different reasons.

Last Sunday, November 15, Sally Reese Humphrey of San Diego awoke with a start. For the first time in several years, she had a dream about her father.

She fired up her computer. His name was William Reese. Maybe he had changed his name? She entered 'William von Reese,' thinking he might have merged his middle name with his last. Bingo. A website popped up with his picture.

That site was Smashwords. William is a Smashwords author.

Sally excitedly clicked the customer support link and sent a short message asking how to contact the author. She didn't mention the reason.

She didn't expect a response, she later told me, because she figured we receive emails from crackpots all the time. We responded to her, informing her that due to our strict privacy policy, we couldn't reveal the contact information for our authors but if she wanted us to pass along her contact information, we'd be happy to do so. Her response:

I'm his daughter Sally that has tried to find him for the past 25 years. When I saw him and his profile on your website I couldn't believe my eyes. I live in San Diego, CA and my phone # is XXX-XXX-XXXX. If you can help me get to him with this message I would be so grateful!!

Sally Reese Humphrey
Here's the response we received from her father:

Thanks, Mark. As you might infer, I have been a somewhat neglectful father. I thought she was mad at me. Bill

They immediately spoke on the phone. Three days later, Sally drove to Arizona for their reunion.

Two days ago, William emailed me with a report. With his permission and encouragement, I'm reprinting the email here:

Dear Mark,

Sally drove eight hours eastward on I-8 through desolate desert to see me. On her arrival we celebrated with a glass of champagne (domestic) and a home-cooked dinner of filet mignon. Our delight in being reunited is patent in the photos. We did little else but talk and touch the following three days.

Back-story: Back in '88 Sally was mad to marry (2nd time). She introduced me to an older guy working at the Red Sails Inn in San Diego. He was a bartender with aspirations of becoming a masseur. I hated the man right off the bat, but I suppressed my disapproval. I didn't want to spoil my daughter's happiness. So my wife and I disappeared into the wilds of Texas, careful to leave no breadcrumbs behind. We couldn't face dealing with the husband, though we had other motives for moving as well.

Now I find that Sally later divorced the man after a miserable marriage. He died a few years later. So I should have been honest with her up front, right? Is a puzzlement, what to do.

Story short. I applaud your deft handling of a tricky situation involving privacy issues. Thank you for thinking it through and doing exactly the right thing. With Sally you have attained the status of Godfather. You rate very high with me, too.


As Bill says, I think the pictures tell the story.

I would like to thank Sally and Bill for allowing me to share their story of love, forgiveness and redemption.

This isn't the first time Smashwords has helped reunite loved ones. When you put yourself out there, when you publish yourself online, you never know what might happen.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Smashwords to Supply Ebooks to Amazon Kindle Store

Smashwords today announced a distribution agreement to supply ebooks to the Amazon Kindle Store.

The news follows other important Smashwords distribution agreements we announced in the last three months with Barnes & Noble, Sony and Shortcovers.

I'm so pleased to call each of these retailers a valued Smashwords partner, and I look forward to working with them to showcase our fast-growing catalog of nearly 5,000 independently published ebooks.

Our Amazon agreement marks an important milestone in the evolution of Smashwords. We launched in May 2008 as an ebook publishing platform for indie authors. In May of this year, we expanded the platform to support small publishers. In the last couple months, we've transitioned to a full-fledged distributor of ebooks capable of serving authors and publishers around the world. We're just getting started.

For most of the last few centuries, if you wanted to reach readers for your book, you worked with a publisher. Publishers controlled the means of production (the printing presses) and the means of distribution (access to book stores and readers).

With the rise of ebooks, we're witnessing the democratization of book production and distribution. In the next few years, I think more authors - including big name authors - will ask the question, "What can a publisher do for me that I can't do myself?"

Smashwords makes it possible for any ebook author or small publisher, anywhere in the world, to gain equal and free access to the virtual shelves of the most important online retailers of ebooks.

Authors will compete not on publisher advantage, but on the merits of their works. Readers, not publishers, will decide which books are worth reading.

Read the press release in the Smashwords Press Room.

Thank you for your support.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Smashwords Acquires BookHabit

Smashwords today announced the acquisition of BookHabit, an ebook self-publishing service based in New Zealand.

BookHabit launched around the same time as Smashwords in early 2008. In this time, they've published over 600 ebooks from over 300 independent authors.

If you're a BookHabit author or customer, you will receive an email from BookHabit with a hyperlink that will instantly activate your account at Smashwords.

Like all Smashwords authors, BookHabit authors retain all rights to your book. If you decide to migrate your book to Smashwords, please carefully follow our formatting requirements outlined in the Smashwords Style Guide. You will need to format your book to our specifications before you upload it.

Another good introductory information page, which includes links to all the most important Smashwords resources, can be found here, at How to Publish on Smashwords.

To read the complete press release, visit the Smashwords Press Room.

On behalf of the entire Smashwords community of authors, publishers and retail partners, I'd like to extend a warm welcome to all BookHabit authors and customers.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Smashwords and Shortcovers Sign Ebook Distribution Agreement

At Smashwords, our mission is to make it free and easy for any author, anywhere in the world, to publish and distribute their ebook.

So I'm excited today to announce a distribution agreement with Shortcovers, a large ebook retailer that operates online ebook stores in 189 countries. This deal follows similar distribution agreements we announced recently with Barnes & Noble and Sony.

If you haven't heard of Shortcovers, they're a hot startup created by Indigo Books, Canada's largest book retailer. They offer a family of free e-reading apps supporting all major smart phone platforms, including the iPhone, Blackberry, Palm Pre and Google Android. They also support several eInk devices.

The mobile channel, Shortcovers' strength, is extremely important to the future success of all authors and publishers. Already, more ebooks are read on cell phones than on dedicated e-reading devices. Over the next few years, billions of ebook-ready smart phones will be in the hands of consumers around the world, dwarfing the number of dedicated e-reading devices.

For Smashwords authors and publishers, this agreement will make your books discoverable and purchaseable by millions of customers.

Before dollar signs start flashing in your mind, remember we make it easy to publish and distribute your book, but bookselling is always difficult. The success or failure of your book in the marketplace will ultimately come down to the quality of your book (does it touch your audience in such a way that they want to tell all their friends about it) and how well you market it (for helpful marketing tips, check out the Smashwords Book Market Guide).

All Smashwords Premium Catalog books will begin shipping to Shortcovers this Wednesday November 18.

If you're not already publishing with Smashwords, learn how at this page, How to Publish on Smashwords.

To learn more about the Shortcovers relationship, check out the joint press release issued today by Smashwords and Shortcovers.