Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Multiple Smashwords Authors Hit New York Times Bestseller List

We knew this day was coming.  Self-published ebook authors are landing on the New York Times bestseller list in a big way.

Take a look at the August 5 edition of The New York Times Fiction Ebook bestseller list, out yesterday.  Lightning struck multiple times this week.

Congrats to Colleen Hoover (Slammed at #8, Point of Retreat at #18), R.L. Mathewson (Playing for Keeps at #16), Lyla Sinclair (Training Tessa at #17) and Bella Andre (If You Were Mine at #22, Can't Help Falling in Love at #23, and I Only Have Eyes for You at #24).

All the credit for these results go to the authors who wrote the books, the readers who purchased them and the retailers who connected these books with readers.

I'd like to thank each of the authors above for allowing Smashwords to play some role in their distribution strategy.  Some of them use Smashwords to reach most of the major retailers, and some use us to reach only a few.  You can find each of their books at Smashwords by clicking the title above, or find them at your favorite ebook retailer.  Show them your support because they're opening doors for every indie author.

It's a big deal to see a single Smashwords author on the New York Times Bestseller list, let alone four in one week.  A year ago, it was unheard of.  A year from now, it'll be more commonplace.  Tomorrow's global bestsellers are at Smashwords.  Maybe the next bestseller will be the title uploaded to Smashwords two minutes from now, soon to be visible at the top of the Smashwords home page.  Or maybe it'll be one or more of the nearly 9,000 new titles uploaded to Smashwords in the last 30 days.  Or uploaded three years ago.

Or maybe tomorrow's bestseller is languishing on an undiscovered writer's computer, still waiting for a publisher to give it a chance.  Maybe that writer will now realize they don't need the blessing of a publisher to become a published author, or to reach readers.  Maybe they'll realize that that the tools to publish and distribute a book are available at no cost, and the knowledge to professionally publish is available for the taking. It just takes effort.

Give your book a chance.  Get it out now.  If you're exceptionally talented and work your butt off, then lightning might strike for you too. Or, if you're like most authors, you'll find the journey of self-publishing is reward enough, even if you don't make the New York Times bestseller list.   Click here to learn how to publish and distribute with Smashwords.

Author Sylvia Hubbard, Founder of Motown Writers Network, Talks Indie Ebooks

Romance author and Detroit native Sylvia Hubbard has published four paperbacks and over ten ebooks since 2000. She works tirelessly to promote and encourage emerging writers in Michigan through the Motown Writers Network that she created to address the lack of education and networking available for Michigan authors both online and offline. She also co-created The Essence of Motown Literary Jam Conference that is held in Detroit annually.

In addition to romance writing, Hubbard has been featured at various conferences and workshops all over the United States and Canada, where she has taught authors how to sell their books on the Internet. In the upcoming year, she will be featured in several anthologies and is also hard at work on additional ebooks.

David Weir: When did you start writing and did anyone influence you along the way?

Sylvia Hubbard:
I would have to say my mother knew I was a writer before I knew. I used to lie to her ridiculously when I was six and after my “physical” punishment, I was handed a pencil and paper and ordered to write my lies down. I started to realize the lies look so much better on paper and stopped lying (which is probably why I have hardly any friends) and started writing. My pain became my passion. I don’t know if I’m glad about the “physical punishment” my mother gave me, but I’m glad she recognized my talents and helped me nurture them.

DW: When did you write and publish your first novel?

My first complete novel was written in 1999. I had caught the Y2K bug and pushed myself to finish the book before the end of the year. I turned around and independently published that book in 2000 using a vanity service.

DW: Can you tell us how and why you got interested in selling books over the Internet?

It was more out of desperation than anything. I realized buying my books from a vanity publisher costs A LOT! And since I was unable to afford to buy them in order to sell them, I needed to find another way to get them into customers’ hands. I became depressed and stayed up late nights watching infomercials. Finally one of them seemed to talk to me. “Buy my product and get on the Internet to sell it and you can make millions.” I had a product and I could get on the Internet, but back in 2000 not a lot of people believed in buying books off the Internet and getting the information to market and sell the book to people was extremely difficult. By 2002, I learned about digital downloads and started selling the books that way. Still I was ridiculed as the crazy eBook lady in the Yahoo Groups. Yet, I persevered despite the backlash from other authors. I can say I went through a lot of storms in order to enjoy my rainbows now.

DW: Please tell us how you used your early experience and marketing background to create a guide for writers on selling books online?

As I studied how to sell books on the Internet, I started keeping an actual journal with articles, terms and suggestions on how to sell products of all kinds over the Internet. By 2005, people were asking me how I was doing what I did. I complied my notes into a book called the Beginning Internet Marketing for Authors & Businesses. With my degree in Marketing/Management from college, I was already pushing books and applied my knowledge in the book as well to give authors easy-to-understand instructions about getting on the Internet and selling their book.

DW: When did you discover Smashwords and how has it helped you connect with readers and sell your books?

As an Independent author, I religiously followed Dan Poynter (Editor's note:  Read the Smashwords interview with Dan Poynter from three years ago.  The future Dan predicted is happening now). In one of his posts, he spoke about his books being available as eBooks and I even though I had three copies of the book, I still checked out where he was selling his eBooks. The link led me to Smashwords.com and when I tell you I think there were angels singing out the back of my computer, I kid you not. I could not believe the opportunity sitting there in front of me and I knew I had found THE solution of having my books not only in one place, but distributed professionally & properly.

DW: What are some of the specific challenges African-American writers have faced in the traditional publishing industry?

Lack of education and lack of trust in the systems. With so many [African American writers] being disheartened by the predatory paper and eBook [vanity] publishers, AA writers would rather keep their books off the shelf than trying to trust others with their works.

DW: What opportunities do you see for African-American writers with independent ebook publishing?

The opportunities are ENDLESS. African-American writers have the chance to become equal to the competition, which has felt so indomitable in the past.

DW: When it comes down to it, do you think we will we ever reach the day, as a society, when authors and readers alike become totally colorblind?

Call it naivety or just filled with endless hope for the better, but I actually and honestly do feel that way. Often readers of other races have told me by the time they finish a story, the author’s color wasn’t an issue for them because the story was just that good. I think if we all had faith even the size of a mustard seed in the hope of better we would all become just a little colorblind.

DW: Please us about your romance writing

I became interested in the romance genre when I was ten years old. There was this cover at the library of Fabio holding a woman and I just knew I had to have this book. Unfortunately, the librarian was doing her job and refused to let me check out the book. Obsessed, I came back and stole the book (but later returned a newer copy years later). I read that book until the pages fell out the binding and I knew I wanted to write those stories that made the heart soar, the mind dream and the soul stir. I knew I couldn’t write historical and I loved suspense, so I centered my writing toward sensual noir where danger was abound yet love was inevitable. I find my characters by taking two people with faults the other would never stand for and weave a heart stopping page turning story around bringing them together.

DW: To what extent do you use social media and blogging to connect with your readers and fans?

With social media, I give my readers a little of myself – the woman behind the stories. I glimpse into my ordinary, yet unique life when I’m not writing books, and keep them updated with what is coming up next for me in my literary world. For blogging, I do the same as well, but also provide a platform for the readers to really ask me questions, while I write. At least twice a year, I try to do a live story for my readers on my blog where I actually come up with a story off the top of my head and just write on a daily basis until it’s done. Readers are given a chance to become interactive and enjoy the story as I write and even criticize (nicely) what’s going on in the story. I don’t mind them challenging me and letting me know if I’ve done something wrong, because it’s really all about my readers. Giving them a chance to see inside my head has been a wonderful challenge for me to write a good story.

DW: Can you tell us about your upcoming "Live Story" project on your blog?

In August, I will take on the challenge of Camp NaNoWriMo.org. For 30 days, I will write a live story for the third sequel to the Mistaken Identity series. I’m pretty excited about it and can’t wait for August 1st to thrill my readers (and myself), with what I know will be a great time online.

DW: Can you tell us about the Motown Writers Network and other efforts you make to connect writers with one another in Michigan and beyond?

Back in 2000, when I independently published my work, I found there were few opportunities to network with other writers online. I started to build a website (more or less for myself), to keep up with all of the authors and resources around Michigan that writers needed to write, publish and sell their books.

After a while, others started asking me for updates on the site and I made a newsletter to send out to 75 people that year. I called the website Motown Writers Network. In 2004, I took the organization offline and from the money in my pocket every year, I produce The Essence of Motown Literary Jam in Detroit where readers and writers can come to together to celebrate the written word. We have book drives, give away eBook readers and give independent authors a chance to showcase their work. I proudly celebrate twelve years of Motown Writers Network and The Michigan Literary Network strengthening the literary community locally and beyond. We feature Michigan authors on the website and on our Internet radio station; we announce literary events at libraries, with organizations, bookstores and more. We hold book drives and increase illiteracy awareness in Metro Detroit. We hope to have our own social network by the end of this year, and plan to start producing our own video to help even more authors in Metro Detroit publish their own books. Currently, we have over ten thousand subscribers to our newsletter updates and I hope more is to come for us. 

DW: What's your favorite part of being an independent author?

Hearing feedback from readers. Not just the reviews, but the emails and fan tweets I get about how they enjoyed the stories I’ve written.

DW: Can you give us a glimpse of your future plans and dreams as a writer?

Just like any writer, I hope to produce more award-winning bestselling books on a greater magnitude. I’ll be finishing up the Stealing Innocence series hopefully by the end of the year and then bringing the Bellini saga readers have been waiting for to life. Soon, I’ll venture more into video and bring real life depictions of my stories to readers in short episodes on YouTube.  I’m pushing my Sweet Justice video to film fairs and festivals As always, I’ll have more eBooks than paperback books because I keep up with the news and I know electronic books will have an even greater impact in our future. I can’t wait!

DW: Thanks, Sylvia!

Smashwords distributes Sylvia Hubbard to the following retailers:

Apple iBookstore
Barnes and Noble
Diesel eBook Store

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How a Traditional Publisher Could Harm a Writer's Career

Follow the ebook numbers.  Unit numbers, that is.  A close look at the numbers indicates that those authors who continue to publish via traditional publishers might be harming their long term career prospects.

Most ebook market watchers fixate on dollar sales, which, while important, mask the true tectonic shift now underway in book publishing.

In 2012, ebooks in the US will likely approach 30% of trade book sales measured in dollars, up from about 20% in 2011, 8% in 2010, 3% in 2009, 1% in 2008, and 1/2 of 1% in 2007.

These numbers understate the unit market share of what people are downloading and reading, because ebooks are priced lower than print.  At Smashwords, the average unit price (not counting free downloads) of customer purchases is $2.99.

Back in April at the RT Booklovers convention in Chicago, I presented data (click here to access the presentation deck) that examined how price influences unit downloads and overall earnings for indie authors.  It wasn't a surprise that free books generated the most downloads, and lower priced books sold more units than higher priced books.

One surprise, however, was that we found $2.99 books, on average, netted the authors more earnings (profit per unit, multiplied by units sold) than books priced at $6.99 and above.  When we look at the $2.99 price point compared to $9.99, $2.99 earns the author slightly more, yet gains the author about four times as many readers.  $2.99 ebooks earned the authors six times as many readers than books priced over $10.

If an author can earn the same or greater income selling lower cost books, yet reach significantly more readers, then, drum roll please, it means the authors who are selling higher priced books through traditional publishers are at an extreme disadvantage to indie authors in terms of long term platform building. The lower-priced books are building author brand faster.  Never mind that an indie author earns more per $2.99 unit sold ($1.80-$2.10) than a traditionally published author earns at $9.99 ($1.25-$1.75).

The picture painted augurs well for indie ebook authors, but indicates that authors who continue to publish with traditional publishers might actually be damaging their careers.  Look no further than the bestseller lists at Apple, Amazon or Barnes & Noble to see that indie ebook authors are taking eyeballs from the authors of NY publishers.  As I write this, seven of the top 30 bestsellers in the Apple iBookstore are distributed there by Smashwords.

The Apple iBookstore bestseller list is interesting because, near as I can tell, its rankings favor unit sales over dollar volume (unlike the bestseller list at our small Smashwords store, which measures aggregate dollars spent).  Look at the Apple bestseller list and you'll see which authors are building their brands the fastest with readers.

Although a good publisher of high-priced ebooks can benefit authors in other ways, it'll become tougher and tougher for good publishers to do for authors what authors cannot already do for themselves.  The tools and knowledge to professionally publish are becoming ever-more democratized.  Authors need not spend a king's ransom to produce, distribute and sell a professional quality ebook.

Now back to print, and how the decline of print further disadvantages traditional publishers and their authors.  As ebooks as a reading format take share from print, print distribution to brick and mortar bookstores becomes less valuable to authors.  Back in the dark ages of publishing five years ago, if an author wanted to reach readers, they had little choice but to work with a traditional publisher, because not only did the publisher control the printing press, they more importantly controlled access to brick and mortar bookstore distribution.

With ebooks, and ebook publishing and distribution platforms like Smashwords, the printing press and distribution have been opened up to all authors.

As ebooks continue to become more important, and print becomes less important, we'll see more traditionally published authors joining the ranks of indie authors.  I talk about some of these issues in this new Forbes interview out today, conducted by Suw Charman-Anderson.

There are signs that some publishers are beginning to realize they need to implement strategies to bring indie authors back into the traditional fold, as witnessed by Pearson's acquisition last week of Author Solutions, Inc., which will be operated under its Penguin imprint.  I'm still scratching my head over this.

Does Pearson think that Author Solutions represents the future of indie publishing?  Author Solutions is one of the companies that put the "V" in vanity.  Author Solutions earn 2/3 or more of their income selling services and books to authors, not selling authors' books to readers.  Does Pearson think so little of authors that they've decided they can earn more money selling them services than selling their books?  Don't get me wrong, I have no qualm with indies investing in professional editing, proofreading and cover design. I encourage that.  There's just something about this that feels icky.

For months, blogger Emily Suess has been challenging the business practices of Author Solutions, and her posts make for some fascinating if not disturbing reading.  How will Pearson prevent Author Solutions from tarnishing the Penguin brand?  Seems to me Lulu or Blurb would have been a smarter acquisition if Pearson wanted a reputable print self-publishing firm.

Surely, they didn't acquire Author Solutions for their ebook revenues, which accounted for only $1.3 million in 2011 sales, or 1.3% of their nearly $100 million total, according to a story in Publisher's Weekly by Jim Milliot.  Smashwords ebook sales this year will do 10 times that $1.3 million, and with only 16 employees here in California as opposed to 1,600 employees at Author Solutions, 1,200 of whom are in the Philippines.  I'm making an unfair comparison, though, because Author Solutions is in the print business, and we don't touch print.  Compared to ebooks, print production and distribution is more complicated, more expensive and less rewarding for indie authors.
So, will someone please tell me, if print isn't the future, and vanity isn't the future, then why did Pearson pay $116 million for Author Solutions?  Do they think Author Solutions offers authors a more compelling print solution than Amazon's CreateSpace, or Lulu?  Does Penguin think the imprimatur of the Author Solutions brand will help it retain its most precious authors?

The good news is that publishers are beginning to realize that the power in publishing is shifting to authors.  The question remains, however, how they'll keep authors in the traditional stable now that the gates are torn down and greener pastures abound.

Greetings from Anaheim, where I'm at the RWA 2012 conference.  I'm doing a keynote talk Thursday and a workshop on best practices Friday.  If you want to peek at the future of publishing, look no further than the amazing innovation taking place among indie romance authors.  If you're at RWA, stop by and say hi!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Indie Author S.C. Stephens Reveals What Makes Romance Readers Click

S.C. Stephens is an independent author who says she "enjoys spending every free moment she has creating stories that are packed with emotion and heavy on romance." Books of hers, including Thoughtless, Effortless, and Collision Course have attracted a large following on Smashwords and her titles are now hitting the bestseller lists at Smashwords retailers. Thoughless and Effortless have held steady for several weeks in the Apple iBookstore's top 20 store-wide bestseller list (as of this writing, #13 and #15).   Here, she shares with journalist David Weir how she writes and publishes, and some of the secrets to her success.

David Weir: Can you explain the genesis behind your first book, Thoughtless?

S.C. Stephens:
I love music, and I was listening to One Republic’s Dreaming Out Loud CD on a never-ending loop that year. I started seeing the character of Kellan in my head while listening to the songs. I also love angst, so I started seeing Kellan in the middle of a love triangle against another character in my head, Denny. The espresso scene was the first scene I typed out. I had so much fun discovering the how and why behind the events that led up to that scene, that I immediately started dreaming up additional scenes. Thoughtless sprang to life as a novel from answering those questions.

DW: Had you always wanted to be a writer or did this represent a sudden switch in direction for you?

I’ve always had the desire to write, but no real story to tell. I’ve written scenes here and there, only to hate them and throw them away. I almost tossed Thoughtless a half-dozen times, but I liked it so much, I couldn’t throw it out. Something kept driving me to keep going with it, to finish it. Besides completing the story, the biggest switch for me was talking about it. I’m a pretty private person, so deciding to tell people that I wrote a story, and a love story at that, was difficult for me. It’s been a gradual process that I’m only now starting to get comfortable with. Sort of.

DW: Can you share with us how you gathered feedback online as you were writing Thoughtless? And the impact that feedback had on the book?

I wasn’t going to share Thoughtless at all, but pure curiosity drove me to post it. I wanted to know if it was any good, if I had any talent whatsoever at telling a story. I decided to post it on FictionPress.com, mainly because I could post it anonymously under a pen name. I posted it a chapter at a time and immediately fell in love with the instant feedback. And, much to my surprise, most of the feedback was very, very positive! Until the end, that is. The original ending was a lot different than the ending it has now. The reaction from the fans, along with some very well written reviews, made me consider changing the ending. Since I had a love/hate relationship with the original ending, I started reworking it, and I’m very happy that I did. I completely love it now.

DW: At first you gave your books away for free; when did that change and what did you do to start selling them?

I had multiple requests from fans for paperback copies of my books to put on their shelves. I wanted them on my shelf, too, so I started looking into self-publishing. There are several different websites available, but I decided to use Createspace.com, since they are linked with Amazon.com. Once the paperback version of Thoughtless was available, people started asking if they could purchase the ebook. It was a hard decision for me, but after a tremendous amount of encouragement, I decided to treat writing more as a career and less as a hobby, and start charging for my material.

DW: Tell us about the various distribution channels you've used and how they've helped you reach different audiences?

Nicky Charles (Editor's note:  Read the Smashwords interview with Nicky Charles here) has been my self-publishing mentor since the beginning. She followed me on FictionPress.com and encouraged me to use FeedBooks.com, which converts stories into free ebooks. I loved the way they looked as professional novels, so I quickly converted every single one of my stories. The books spread like wildfire over the Internet once they were converted into ebooks, and my fan base grew leaps and bounds. When I decided to charge for them, Nicky suggested Smashwords.com. I loved the fact that Smashwords is linked with Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Apple, and thought it was the perfect place to start selling my books. After Smashwords, I decided to publish with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, so that Kindle fans would be able to get a copy as well. The popularity of Thoughtless and its sequel, Effortless, has been greater than I ever thought it would be. 

S.C. Stephens' Thoughtless and Effortless have
occupied Apple's site-wide bestseller list for
weeks.  Smashwords distributes her to Apple.
(Screen shot taken 7/21/12)

DW: It looks as if over the past few months, the sales of your books are really taking off. What happened?

I’m not entirely sure. Once I put Thoughtless up for sale on Amazon as a Kindle ebook, sales really started taking off. I released the sequel a few months later, which helped, I think, since many people enjoy a series. In large part though, it has been the fans and bloggers. They are my advertisers, and they do an amazing job of spreading the word. I’m very blessed with a very loyal following. I’m awed and amazed on a daily basis.

DW: How do you stay in touch with your many fans and followers?

Currently, my main way to stay in touch is my fan page on Facebook. I post songs and pictures that inspired me, as well as updates on what I’m working on, and teasers for upcoming novels. I also have my email address listed in my books, and I receive a lot of wonderful comments and questions that way. I’ve just started the process of creating a website. I hope to have that up and running by the end of the summer.

DW: Do you work with an editor, and if so, how did you find her?

I do. I send all of my manuscripts to a woman named Debra Stang. She does an excellent job for a reasonable amount. I actually found her in the online yellow pages, and contacted her through her website. A friend of mine also helped me with Effortless and Collision Course. She read through them for me and fixed a lot of word flow problems.

DW: What is your writing routine and how long does it take you, roughly, to complete a book?

I try to write every day, preferably early in the morning before my children get up. When I first started, it took me between 3-4 months to finish a story. I seem to be a lot busier now, so it takes me a bit longer. I’ve also been writing sequels lately, which takes longer than a fresh story, since there are so many aspects of the previous novels that I need to remember. In some ways, writing new stories is a lot easier.

DW: Do you like to reread your books, or particular scenes from them, after they're published? If so, do you find they affect you differently over time?

During the editing process, I read the story so many times that I get to the point where I never want to read it again! But when that feeling passes, and I pick up the book again, I enjoy the scenes just as much as I did the first time. I still laugh, I still cry, I still fall in love.

DW: Contemporary romance is such a large and popular genre of writing; what do you think are the keys to connecting with an audience for this type of story-telling?

From the feedback I’ve received from fans, it’s the emotion that they connect with. They’re pulled into the story and feel for the characters—sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. The realism of the story touches people too. I’ve had several fans tell me that reading Thoughtless was like reading a story about their life. I’ve had others tell me that reading it made them reevaluate their relationship. It’s very surreal to me that something I wrote could have such an effect on someone.

DW: What is your favorite part of being an independent author?

I’ve only ever been an independent author, so I don’t know that I can compare it to being a traditionally published author. I love that I have complete control over what I write. I love that I get to share all of my stories with my fans, and not just the ones that a third party considers worthy of being published. Not every book I’ve written is a hit, but every one of them has received positive feedback from someone, somewhere. If they just sat on my computer forever, and no one was able to read them, it wouldn’t be as much fun for me.

DW: I know your tenth book is underway now -- can you give us a preview of it?

The book I’m working on now is the third novel in the Thoughtless series. It picks up right after the end of Effortless, and answers several questions that weren’t quite wrapped up in the second book. Since it’s the third in the series, I don’t know if there is anything else I can say that won’t spoil things for people who haven’t read the first two yet.

DW: Do your books still start as individual scenes in your head, or do you now conceive of them more or less in their entirety?

It still usually starts with an image, or sometimes, just a conversation. Plots and storylines will stem from that initial exchange or idea. With Collision Course, it was me driving home through a downpour and hoping nothing happened. With It’s All Relative, I was watching a hospital show on TV, and imagined two people who never thought they’d see each other again, meeting up to visit the same person. With Not a Chance, I was at a bank, listening to a girl on her cell phone tell a friend that her wallet was stolen. With Conversion, I was watching a movie that had nothing to do with vampires…but somehow I started thinking about a late-night discussion between a regular woman and a person who was a “little bit” vampire. Whenever I see or hear something that sparks an idea, I jot it down and tuck it into an “ideas” folder. I have a lot more stories in my head than I have time to write!

DW: Do you know how the story will end before you start writing it or do you discover that along the way?

While I usually know the “climax” of the story before I really begin to dive into it, I don’t always have an ending in mind when I start the story. Other times I have a definite ending in mind. Sometimes I’ll have two or three in mind, and I’ll know when the time comes which ending is the right one. And sometimes I don’t know exactly how it will end until I get there.

DW: There will be people reading this interview who have ideas for books but have not yet taken the steps necessary to get them published. Do you have any advice for them?

My main advice would be to keep plugging away at it, and to put it out there even if you don’t think it’s perfect. It will never be perfect. Sites like FictionPress are a great way for a writer who is just starting out to share their stories. You can learn a lot from the chapter by chapter feedback, and the encouragement is very rewarding. It’s also a great way to develop a fan base, so when you do publish, you’ve already got people interested in your stories. If you’re getting strong feedback and your fans are itching for more, then I highly recommend self-publishing!

DW: Thank you for speaking with us!

Smashwords distributes S.C. Stephens to the following ebook retailers:

Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Apple iBookstore Names R.L. Mathewson a Break Out Author

R.L. Mathewson's promotional banner
in Romance section of Apple iBookstore.

Our friends at the Apple iBookstore today named R.L. Mathewson a break out author, and launched an exciting week-long promotional program to merchandize her romance books within the store.

For the last few weeks, R.L.'s books have been rising in Apple's store-wide bestseller lists.  As I write this, she holds three of the top 20 slots in their store-wide bestseller list.

We interviewed R.L. Mathewson July 7 here in the Smashwords blog.  Her books had been in the iBookstore for several months, and they were selling a respectable five or so copies a day, and then starting in early June sales suddenly took off. 

In the interview, R.L. credited updated covers as the initial spark for the breakout.  It's likely her improved covers caused more readers to take a chance on her, and then things snowballed, driven by strong reader word-of-mouth and fantastic customer reviews at Apple.  Each of her eight books at Apple average 4.5 stars or greater out of five.

R.L. Mathewson's promotional "brick"
on main Apple "Featured" page
Here first title to break out was Playing for Keeps, which remains today the #8 bestseller in the U.S. Apple iBookstore.  Following the breakout of Playing for Keeps, R.L.'s other titles began rising in the charts as well.

Now that our friends at Apple are putting promotional weight behind R.L.'s titles, she's likely to reach an even broader audience.

The Apple promotion has a few elements to it.  On Apple's Romance page, they created a large banner that is one of several rotating banners. 

On the right side of the banner is a list of rotating "bricks," which are small author-specific promotional images that rotate. Apple create a promotional brick for R.L. that links to a listing of all eight of her books.  Readers who visit  this page for even a few seconds will have multiple chances to discover R.L.'s books.

Apple also placed the brick on their main "Featured" page, which will provide R.L. even greater exposure to Apple's customers.

Congratulations to R.L. Mathewson, and our thanks to Apple for their strong support of Smashwords authors.

Click here to browse, sample or purchase R.L. Mathewson's books at the Apple iBookstore.  


Stay tuned for our next author interview here at the Smashwords blog.  We've got an interview with S.C. Stephens, who has also achieved incredible success at Apple and elsewhere.  Her title, Thoughtless, is currently #18 in Apple's store-wide bestseller list, and Effortless is at #24.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Jonathan Maberry On The Convergence of Indie and Traditional Publishing

JONATHAN MABERRY is a New York Times best-selling and multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning horror and thriller author, comic book writer, magazine feature writer, playwright, content creator and writing teacher/lecturer. His books have been sold to more than a dozen countries.

Besides writing fiction in multiple genres, he's also written many non-fiction books as well. He's always ready to explore new methods of reaching readers. In the interview that follows, Jonathan sits down with David Weir to discuss the secrets to his success.

David Weir: You've had an unusually diverse background as a writer of both fiction and non-fiction. What are, for you, the key differences between writing non-fiction and writing fiction?

JM: I’d like to say that in fiction you get to lie and in nonfiction you always have to tell the truth, but that’s not true. I’ve read too many memoirs by celebrities, CEOs and politicians. No, for me the key difference between fiction and nonfiction is freedom. I wrote a slew of nonfiction books and over twelve-hundred feature articles on subjects ranging from martial arts to bartending to jazz drumming. Although articles can be smooth, and easy, with a conversational style and even a bit of allegory or a motif sewn in, at the end of the day you are arranging facts in a way that will inform and entertain.

With fiction, you create worlds. You can twist truths, create realities out of whole-cloth, and slant a viewpoint six ways from Sunday. Before, when researching a topic for a feature article I would build my article to support my premise, but some part of me was always wondering ‘what if?’ For example, I did an article on genetics years ago, back when the Human Genome project was just getting started. The piece was a basic explanation of that project, with some informed opinions by experts on how the resulting information might be used. Like finding the gene for hemophilia and eliminating it from our DNA. Cool stuff. But another part of my mind was wondering how the military might use that information. Or a corrupt pharmaceutical company. Or a terrorist organization. How could well-intentioned science be used for profit, destruction or to further an extreme ideology?

In fiction I can explore that. My first two thrillers, PATIENT ZERO (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2009) and THE DRAGON FACTORY (2010) were explorations of those ‘what ifs’. In PATIENT ZERO, I had a pharmaceutical magnate who was creating terrible pathogens and having terrorists release them so he could profit from the resulting boon as nations scramble to develop, stockpile and distribute viable treatments. In THE DRAGON FACTORY, transgenic science is variously used to clone Neanderthals as a slave race and to create communicable versions of genetic diseases such as Tay-Sachs and sickle-cell anemia as weapons of ethnic cleansing.

Do I think things like this might happen? Sure, there are very rich, very corrupt nutjobs out there and a great many scientific advancements for the betterment of mankind are funded by private multinational corporations and the defense departments of various countries. If I wrote that in the form of magazine articles, there’s a good chance that I’d either be labeled a fruitcake, or not sell them, or sell them to small markets that cater to alarmist readerships. Write them as novels and they’re cautionary tales lauded for making bold statements.

It’s a crazy ol’ world. As a novelist, I essentially lie for a living, which allows me to tell odd little bits of the truth.

DW: How did your training as a journalist affect your transition to a fiction writer?

I count myself fortunate in that I studied journalism rather than creative writing. Journalists learn good writing habits. Journalists don’t mythologize the process of writing. They research, they write, they revise, they submit, and they move on to the next thing. One of the first things I learned in journalism class is that writer’s block is largely a myth. It’s the end result of have no practical writing process.

When it comes to writing, I am a very disciplined person. Sure, there is a major artistic component and often art cannot easily be contained, categorized or structured. Fine. But the finished product –be it a short story, a novel, a memoir or a poem—certainly can be. You can write with lyrical beauty, passion, insight, and still hit a deadline.

DW: How important have editors been in your work with traditional publishers?

The participation of a professional editor definitely matters. It influences the quality of the finished product. I know for a fact that my novels have become better books –both in terms of literary quality and marketability—because of notes received from editors. For example, my editor at St. Martin’s Press, Michael Homler, always gives good notes. He doesn’t tell me what to write, but he advises me on what he believes the story needs in order to reach its full potential. In my first novel for him, PATIENT ZERO (2009), I had a villain who spent a lot of time in his own head. So much so that his thoughts tended to be a kind of expository info dump. Homler suggested I give the villain a ‘Watson’, a person to confide in and talk to. Now, that was the extent of his advice on that point; Homler didn’t try to take over and write the story his way. He observed an element that could make the story better and then left it for me to handle. I created a sarcastic valet/bodyguard named Toys, and rewrote the scenes with the villain (Gault) so that they discussed things rather than have Gault mull them over. As a result, those scenes came alive. Toys became central to the story, which inspired a rewrite of some chapters to give him more to do. He also became a major fan favorite, and the fan reaction inspired me to bring Toys back for two other books in the series.

That’s the kind of end-result you can get with a good editor.

That said, not all editors at the big houses are good. Some give minimal notes, some give none. This has a couple of different possible outcomes. The writer can choose to let the story stand (or fall) as written. That choice is seldom the right one. The writer can workshop the book in a writers group, which is nice but often hit or miss in terms of real value to the finished product. Or the writer can hire a freelance developmental editor, of which there are many, and a lot of them were once employed by the big houses but lost their jobs during the economic crunch. This is often a good choice. And, no matter what choice the author takes, he should also do everything he can to improve his own writing craft.

DW: When it comes to independent and self-publishing, what are the main lessons you've learned to achieving success?

One of the key things to understand is that publishing is constantly evolving, and that’s never been more evident than during the recent e-pub boom. The old paradigms are cracked and they’re leaking good writers and good money.

My first flings with self-publishing was via workshop packets. I taught self-defense to a variety of special needs groups (women, children, the physically challenged, etc.). I would prepare informational and study materials for each program and self-publish them as pamphlets, booklets, workbooks, training manuals and textbooks, depending on need. Depending on the size and scope of the program, sometimes this was done at Staples, sometimes I took it to a small press, and sometimes I did it myself via a good quality local printer. Because the materials were well organized, nicely printed and handsomely bound, they were taken more seriously by the participants. Presentation matters.

Also, the quality of these materials appealed to various organizations and groups. Sometimes they would result in an offer to teach classes/workshops; and sometimes a request to purchase copies of the materials. In either case, I made sure that I had the materials professionally edited and laid-out, and printed by a pro shop. I wound up selling rather a lot of those materials. This was before the rise of digital printing.

In 2004 I was hired to run a not-for-profit writers center in Doylestown, Pennsylvania –the Writers Room of Bucks County. Aside from classes (where our emphasis was strongly toward the professional mainstream markets), we created a small press. Some of our participants had projects that would not have a mainstream appeal but they still wanted their work edited, laid-out, printed and bound with care and quality. I contracted freelancers to handle each of those steps, and we created a variety of books that anyone can be proud of. We used software for layout and took the work to good quality printers. Some of our own staff even published works through our press.

That kind of micro/indie press could very easily have turned out shoddy or second-rate work –and a lot of people would be so happy to see their names in print that they wouldn’t care. We, however, did care. The freelancers we hired were top of the line. The covers could stand muster with anything coming out of New York. The interior, from endpaper to endpaper was fine. Why? Because we wanted to reinforce a sense of value, to say that: just because it’s self-published doesn’t mean that it has to be flawed.

I know for a fact that our little press was a significant influence on other small indie presses throughout Pennsylvania.

Quality matters. It shows respect for the material, for the writer, for the reader, and for the spirit of publishing. If there is quality at every step, it doesn’t matter whether that book is published by the big six or by you.

DW: How did you discover Smashwords, and how do you foresee it assisting your publishing strategy both today and in the future?

JM: I first heard about Smashwords in late 2008 through Don Lafferty, a fellow member of the Liars Club and a nationally-known social media consultant. It was in a transcript of a social media online discussion conducted by Chris Brogan in which Mark Coker participated. I thing they had about 120 titles on Smashwords at the time. At the time I didn’t think much of it because I had only recently (in 2005) become fully invested in mainstream publishing through two multi-book deals with Kensington (three novels to Pinnacle, five nonfics to their Citadel imprint), and had just landed a three book deal with St. Martin’s Griffin. Also, I was just starting to write short fiction and those pieces were in response to invitations for specific anthologies.

It wasn’t until more than a year later, when I kept hearing about Smashwords and how fast it was growing that I decided to take a closer look. I was very impressed, and I made the decision then that as soon as the rights to my first few short stories returned to me, I’d republish them via Smashwords. Which I did.

So far I haven’t used Smashwords for my novels because they’re all still in print with major houses, and they’re all doing very well there. However I’ve been looking at my old out-of-print nonfiction books and I’m very likely going to put them up on Smashwords. I like the control that Smashwords offers, and I like the sales percentages. And these are books that have already had their heyday, so a major house might not want them because they couldn’t move enough units of them. That doesn’t matter on Smashwords. Though…I suspect those books will, in fact, do pretty well there. The trend is going that way.

DW: Many commercially successful authors such as yourself are wading into the indie ebook publishing waters. How do you see this trend progressing in the next couple years?

In 2009, when the economic tsunami really hit publishing, a lot of author colleagues lost their deals. Books were starting to go out of print left, right and center. Superb authors were stranded. But then rumor started spreading of some of these authors moving over to the world of self-publishing. Prior to the economic crash and the accompanying rise of quality digital publishing, this would have been unheard of, or it would have been viewed as career suicide. But then we started hearing about guys like J. A. Konrath, Scott Nicholson, Barry Eisler and others –top quality authors with significant mainstream track records—who were self-pubbing on the Net.

So, on one hand you have many doors closing in mainstream publishing because the economy went into the toilet; and on the other hand you see top writers making serious money by going totally independent. The writing was on the digital wall for everyone to see. And this wasn’t just an answer to the prayers of some guys who were sinking when they lost their deals…no, this was an example of entrepreneurial courage and determination in a winning model. This was the beginning of a new era in publishing.

We don’t know exactly what publishing will look like ten years from now, five years from now, or even next year. One thing we can absolutely bet on, though, is that e-publishing in all of is forms will be a major part of it. That’s not going to go away.

DW: Will we reach an equilibrium point where most big authors are straddling both worlds, or do you see this as the start of a slow bleed where authors shift more of their publishing to the indie realm?

Smashwords accomplished something that a lot of people thought was impossible: it legitimized self-publishing in a way that not only made it easier to do, but it made top quality self-publishing easier. And, equally as important, it created a model for publishing that makes a pretty powerful statement: no work ever needs to go out of print. This is HUGE for authors with complex and/or long careers, because eventually some of our older works go out of print, or the rights contractually return to us. That leaves us with works that are no longer earning profits or royalties. That’s dead weight, and until Smashwords, every writer I knew had some of that dead weight. Now Smashwords has allowed us to breathe new life into those works. It puts them back onto the market in a way that makes it easy for anyone to purchase. They’re much easier to publicize (a Twitter post with a URL will do it), and it uses smooth e-commerce payment methods like Paypal. So, instead of sitting idle, these older works can reach the readers.

Now, here’s a couple of interesting side-effects with that –and these are the reasons so many name authors are choosing this method of self-pubbing. First, by keeping all of your older works on the market, you have more products to feed an established readership. You don’t lose readers between new projects because there’s something to lure then back to your brand.

News about repubbed out-of-print works is also buzzworthy, so it gives you good content for social media.

It’s also a wonderful place to put those projects that wouldn’t otherwise have a home. A lot of authors have books or stories they couldn’t see because the current market wasn’t right for them. Trends change and bean-counters heavily influence what the big houses buy. So you might have a book that wouldn’t have big market appeal, but which you still feel is well written. With Smashwords, you can put that piece up, buzz it all over the place, and establish a unique readership for that piece. Since the mainstream market didn’t want it at the moment, then it’s not a competing product with your conventionally pubbed works. And, it works as brand reinforcement which will often drive readers TO your conventionally pubbed works.

And the other reason Smashwords works so well is that it was created as a class act. It looks as professional as it is, so it gives that pro look to self-pubbed works. That opens the door for writers to be read who might otherwise never be on the public radar. It reinvigorates stalled careers. And it supports the careers of top pros.

It’s all up-side. 

DW: Do you work with editors in your indie writings or do you self-edit?

Even though I know my craft well enough to be a successful full-time author, I know that my writing has some weak spots. I dangle participles, split infinitives and I’m still not certain I reliably know the difference between further and farther. So, yeah, if I’m putting something up via any kind of self-publishing, I’m going to want an editor to take a look at it. I typically look for freelancers who have worked in traditional publishing and have taken a work all the way from purchase to print. I’m not really looking for a talented amateur. I’ll pay professional rates to get professional quality. It’s always worth it.

DW: You've said "writing is an art, publishing is a business." What are the main implications in that for self-published authors?

There is a tremendous amount of propaganda about what it means to be a writer. If we come at it from a creative writing direction, there’s even more propaganda. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard writers tell me that creative people simply aren’t any good at business. People say it like that’s a given, and I believed it myself for a while. At the same time, there is the snobbish viewpoint that commercial success is only possible at the expense of artistic quality. That’s nonsense. Look at authors like James Lee Burke, Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison, Elmore Leonard –they’re masters of their craft and their books are brilliant, insightful, superbly structured, and highly successful. There’s not a whiff of artistic compromise and yet they’re bestsellers.

Some years ago I got burned pretty badly in a publishing venture. A friend started a small press and asked me to write a couple of nonfiction books to help launch it. Everything was done with handshakes. He was a businessman, I was a writer. We did the books, he published them. As it turned out, he didn’t know enough about publishing to make his new venture work, and I knew even less. I was a magazine guy and knew virtually nothing about book publishing. As a result the books tanked, our friendship floundered and nobody made any money.

I began to realize that a lot of the mistakes could have been avoided if I knew how the business worked. I had to break through the propaganda wall and believe that I, as a writer, could understand the workings of the business. I read everything, took business classes, talked to writers of every stripe, talked to booksellers, read interviews with agents and editors. In short I taught myself how it all worked.

The core of the discovery was the realization that publishing is an industry that exists to sell units of products. It is not an art-appreciation society. Sure, individual members of the publishing world may love books –some may even have been drawn to publishing out of a love of books—but the industry itself is all about sales. Writers too often try to enchant agents and editors with the magic of their work, and that’s selling to the wrong audience. The content –the magic, the insights, the beauty, the craft, the absolute love of words—is part of a dialogue between author and reader. The dialogue between author and publisher is based on how likely it is that this book will sell a large number of copies to an established demographic who has a measurable interest in similar books. In that regard it’s no different than selling cars, bottles of ketchup or sneakers.

Based on what was for me a revelation of epic proportion, I rewrote my query letter so that it resembled a business letter instead of an appeal to the artistic sensibilities of New York’s top agents. The result? My manuscript got read, I got representation, and I got sold.

The artist effect is that because I have achieved commercial success, I have more time to hone my craft and write books that allow me to bring my insight, my artistry, my skills and my excitement to a large number of readers. By working within the structure of the industry I’ve established the dialogue with the readers.

DW: You speak at many conferences and are active in various organizations -- how do these help to build and extend your brand as a writer?

When I was a young teenager I was fortunate enough to meet and get to know the late Ray Bradbury. He gave me a lot of very good advice on craft and the business of publishing, but one of the things that stuck out in my mind was this –he said, “Writers should always help other writers ---because you can bet every penny in your pocket that no one else will do it.”

Writers should always help other writers. That’s become my manifesto. Particularly because I’ve come to the opinion that there are two separate camps within all of publishing –and I’m including everyone from the folks in your adult ed writing class to the captains of the publishing industry. One camp is fear-based. They seem to believe that if they help another writer, then that other guy is going to get the opening/job/spot/opportunity that should have been theirs. Better to not help and look out for number one. That seems to be a very close-minded and dreary approach.

The other camp –the one to which I happily belong—believes that if writers help other writers, then more good works will get published, more people will want to read these works, and all of publishing will thrive. Indie, mainstream and solo press.

During the economic slump, that first camp has come to view the future of publishing as a glass half-empty and full of bacteria; which my camp views it as a glass half-filled and the waiter’s coming with a fresh pitcher.

When I am invited in as a keynote speaker, guest of honor or panelist at a writers event, that’s my message. I’ll shout it to anyone…and I’ve found that it’s the kind of message people really are waiting to hear.

DW: Among the many genres you've explored -- young adult fiction, action thrillers, horror, comic books, vampire books, and more -- do you have a favorite, and if so, why?

I’m fickle. My favorite genre is whatever I’m working on today. For example, last week I finished issue #1 of an Avengers miniseries I’m writing for Marvel Comics, so I was Mr. Comic Book and that was my world. Today I’m back to writing FIRE & ASH, the fourth in my post-apocalyptic zombie series for teens, and that’s my favorite genre. After that’s delivered on August 1, I have to write a Steampunk Western short story –so that’s where my heart will be. I’m fickle, but I’m passionate.

DW: Do you have a separate approach to each genre as a writer, or is every project essentially the same, from a methodological point-of-view?

My approach to writing is the same no matter which genre I’m writing in. I always start with concept notes, a rough outline, and then a lot of research. I’m a research junkie, and I like packing a lot of interesting little details into my fiction. I also tend to read heavily in whatever genre I’m about to write (but never while I’m writing in it). So, right now I’m writing about zombies but I’m reading Steampunk and westerns because that’s what’s next.

DW: Is there an advantage to being so versatile as opposed to staying in one "vertical" as a writer?

In this economy it can be career suicide to be a one-trick pony. Unless you hit homeruns with every book, you stand the risk of having a genre go cold, or your own sales flag, or a publisher not support you enough to generate sustainable sales. When I was a magazine feature writer I was all over the place, writing the pieces that fascinated me –martial arts, business, music, sports, psychology, pop culture, you name it. I wanted to have that same freedom as a fiction writer, and when I was shopping for an agent I made it clear from the jump that I was not going to be locked into a single genre.

As a result, part of my brand is that I’ll try damn near anything –as long as I think I can bring my A-game and also have some fun. When that’s the vibe you’re putting out, people do respond. I’ve been asked to contribute short stories to all sorts of magazines and anthologies, ranging from military science fiction, to folklore-inspired mysteries, to comedy, to psychological thrillers to classic ghost stories. Editors know that I’m game for anything. Right now I’ve got stories due for an Oz anthology, a Steampunk western antho, a Cthulhu Mythos antho, an antho of Auguste Dupin stories (the detective from Poe’s stories), and an urban fantasy antho.

In fiction, the willingness to write in more than one genre has actually given my agent the opportunity to make multiple book deals with different houses. For example, I’m writing YA novels for Simon & Schuster, adult science thrillers for St. Martin’s Griffin, editing a horror anthology for IDW, and writing comics for Marvel. Since these are in different genres, the release of so many books doesn’t cut into my sales in any one area, and often cultivates strong crossover sales.

Plus, hell, shifting around a lot is a wonderful way to prevent even the possibility of career boredom. Even I don’t know what I’ll be doing next.

DW: The world of traditional publishing is changing so rapidly -- what are the major trends from your perspective, and how will they affect indie authors?

The biggest trend in modern publishing is that the author has a voice. One that’s being listened to by everyone. This matters, however, only if the author uses his voice.

I used to believe that the writer worked for the editor/publisher and was happy with anything –work, money, etc.—that came his way. I used to believe that you didn’t dare rock the boat because mainstream publishing would chuck you overboard if you did, and that the waters of indie or self-publishing were full of piranha.

I don’t believe that anymore. My perspective shift gained a lot of traction during the rise of social media. That’s when I realized that the writer is the brand (not any given work by that writer), and that brand management is being largely left to the writer.

It’s a bit of a logic puzzle, though. Since publishers channel little or no money into most of their authors, the burden is on the authors to buzz themselves and their works; however, as social media became more effective and widespread, authors had access to marketing methods that got their name out there to a wide and diverse audience for little to no money; as a result, publishers felt that they could put even less money into promotion since writers were doing more and more of the heavy lifting; which meant that the writers had to do more to stay on the public radar; which allowed the publishers to withdraw even more marketing support. And so on.

Depending on how you look at that, it’s either a self-tightening knot or a golden opportunity. For anyone who doesn’t embrace social media and the new opportunities offered through indie press and self-publishing, this is a career death spiral. To those of us who see it as a series of wide-open doors, it’s career gold. The trend is to embrace the fun of social media, working it like a video game, shifting and changing with it, paying attention to the analytics, making adjustments on the fly, staying savvy…and having lots of fun. Writers who do that are going to rise to the top of the game.

DW: How do you recommend indie authors best use social media, blogs, and so forth to promote their work and their brand?

The best first step is to decide what the tone of the brand is. Negativity does not sell, but a lot of writers seem to using it as a way of getting heard. Sure, you’re heard…and then ignored. Let’s take ‘Twilight’ as an example. Folks love to take swings at Twilight. They tear apart the writing, they make endless jokes about the whole ‘sparkly’ thing. Some of those jokes are even insightful and funny, but when I see those comments in posts by people who I KNOW are pitching novels to the modern horror market, or trying to promote their own self-pubbed works, I cringe.

I mean, take a step back and look at it from a business perspective –this is the brand frequency being transmitted by someone who wants to get into the business or get deeper. How is that person going to gain useful traction with agents, editors, booksellers, reviewers, or readers (particular of the genre) by throwing stones at a product line that has—between books, comics, toys, movies, licensing, etc—brought billions into the industry? Where is the logic in that? How is that even good business sense? It comes off as whining jealousy, and believe me when I say that these are not pathways to publishing success. The lack of common sense is appalling. Do these posters think that publishers, marketing suits, editors, agents and their legions of staff pay NO ATTENTION AT ALL to what’s being posted and by whom? Seriously?

It’s not that I’m saying you have to use social media branding to insist that you’re on Team Edward, but there are times when it’s better to say nothing on a subject then to post snarky attacks. If you want to vent, do it over beers at the next Stoker banquet. We’ll all listen. But don’t put it online.

So, what do you put out there? Think about a party. If there’s someone who is bitching and moaning and someone else who’s getting folks to laugh and loosen up, which way do you drift? If a kid in a playground is constantly bitching about the quality of the toys, and another kid has turned a cardboard box into a sideshow funhouse, who’s getting more attention? Who’s going to be remembered in a positive way?

And, even if you are a naturally cranky, snarky, sour-tempered pain in the ass, for god’s sake share that with your therapist or priest. When you go online to promote yourself and therefore your products, try not to actually scare people off your lawn.

DW: I've noticed that all of your work is available in audio versions, can you tell us how you accomplish that?

The audio versions of my novels were all arranged by the publisher. At the moment all of my novels are still in print by traditional publishers (Simon & Schuster, Tor, St. Martin’s Griffin, and Pinnacle). However the short stories were sold for audio differently. The first collection of audio shorts was JOE LEDGER: THE MISSING FILES, and I asked my agent to approach the audio publisher the Joe Ledger novels to see if they’d be willing to do the shorter works. She negotiated a deal and the stories were made available as a full collection and as individual downloads. The sweetener in the deal was that I would write one original story that would be an audio-exclusive for three years. I was fine with that.

More recently I asked my agent to try and sell some of my other short stories. I suggested two collections: HUNGRY TALES (zombie stories) and TALES FROM THE FIRE ZONE (a mix of mystery and thriller and weird stories). Again I offered to write one original exclusive story for each collection. The deal was closed the other day and the collections will be out in the fall.

Yesterday I asked my agent to approach the same audio publisher (Blackstone Audio) to do an audio version of an anthology that had been self-published by my group The Liars Club. We’d done the print/e-book version of the book partly as a fundraiser for literacy programs, and it did nicely. I thought it would work well in audio, and these days audiobooks are on the upswing, since downloading makes them less expensive to produce and more affordable to purchase. We’ll see how that deal works out. The sweetener here is that I would replace my story in the antho (which is actually a reprint), with a new story, and there would be new, original tales by the two newest members of the Liars Club –Chuck Wendig and Stephen Susco. The book has a wonderful introduction by Sandra Brown.

DW: The rights to some your books have been purchased by various Hollywood entities; what has that been like for you as the content creator?

Everyone should have at least one Hollywood experience as a way of learning some crucial life lessons, namely: Don’t get your hopes up; don’t hold your breath; don’t expect the quick fix; and also don’t give up.

My first brush with Hollywood was with Disney. I co-created a horror entertainment news shows called ON THE SLAB. You will not have heard of it. Disney bought it, paid us to write the show bible, a sample script and the whole shebang. Their check cleared…and then there was a change in management resulting in the project being shelved until (apparently) the end of time.

Then my novel, PATIENT ZERO was optioned by producer Michael DeLuca on behalf of SONY. They took it to ABC, who hired Emmy-winning screenwriter Javier Grillo-Marxuach to write the pilot. He wrote a brilliant pilot. It got all the way down to a split decision with the network president –between DEPARTMENT ZERO (the name they chose for the show) and the remake of CHARLIE’S ANGELS. They went with the Angels, which lasted three episodes before being cancelled. The option expired and we’re shopping it elsewhere.

More recently I sold the option on one of my series of books, but details of that are under wraps pending a formal announcement. And I’m in discussions with some studio heads to possible write an original script.

I have friends who are successful screenwriters—like Stephen Susco (The Grudge, Possession), Eric Red (Hitcher, Near Dark), and Tony Peckham (Invictus, Sherlock Holmes). However I also have a lot of writer friends whose work was optioned, or even been in development. Few of those books ever made it to the screen.

I am not, however, either cynical or bitter. I knew this about Hollywood going in, so I’m looking at this like a video game, too.

DW: So what's in the pipeline going forward, and are there any new genres you're considering exploring?

I’m about to pitch a YA novel that has no monsters, no science fiction, nothing that blows up, and no flesh-eating ghouls. That will be a real lane-change. But I’m also prepping pitches for a mainstream police procedural, a folklore-inspired epic fantasy, and also a video game. I’ll go in any direction where a good story pulls me.

DW: Finally, to all of those less-experienced authors out there, what words of encouragement can you offer to help them keep going?

It’s so critical that all writers understand that publishing is a business –indie, mainstream or self-pub—and that the more they understand about that business, and the more businesslike they act, the more successful they’ll be.

Second, learn the craft. Learn it well and never stop learning it. Never assume that you can’t improve your craft. You always can, and it’s always worth it.

And, have fun. If it’s not fun, you’re doing it wrong. Success shouldn’t be the yardstick.

DW: Thank you, Jonathan!

Visit Jonathan Maberry's Smashwords author page at http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/JonathanMaberry where you'll find six short stories.

Smashwords distributes select titles from Jonathan Maberry to the following ebook retailers:

Apple iBookstore
Barnes & Noble
Diesel eBook Store

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Smashwords Publishes 5 Billion Words

Smashwords today released its 5 billionth word.

From your fingertips to reader's eyes.

The number is difficult to grasp.  These words form 138,071 books.

If you typed at 25 words a minute without pause, it would take 200 million minutes to write 5 billion words.  3.3 million hours.  If you typed 8 hours a day, it would take 416,600 days, or 1,141 years.  Imagine the lifetimes of creative output now captured, packaged, immortalized and available for discovery at the click of a button or mouse.

Imagine a world without gatekeepers, where you the writer decide when you graduate to become a published author. Imagine a world where readers are the curators.  Now imagine that day has arrived, because it's here already.

I try to imagine the cacophony of clicking keyboards as our 46,931 authors around the globe clicked away, their minds occupying wonderous far-flung places both real and imaginary, birthing their glorious words and shaping them into these sentences, chapters and books.  I imagine, and honor, the immense personal sacrifice required to write these books.

Your books are are touching people.  In the last four weeks at the Apple iBookstore and Barnes & Noble alone, Smashwords books were downloaded over 6 million times.   The day may yet come when Smashwords authors reach more readers than the authors of all the Big 6 publishers combined.

Our books are selling, too.  Smashwords retailers will sell $18 to $20 million worth of your ebooks this year.  The majority of those sales dollars will flow into our authors' and publishers' pockets.

As I write this, five of the Apple's iBookstore's top 20 bestsellers are from Smashwords authors R.L. Mathewson (read our interview with R.L. Mathewson here), S.C. Stephens (we'll publish an interview with S.C. very soon at the Smashwords blog) and Jamie McGuire (Jamie just sold rights to a traditional publisher).  That's one in four.  12 months ago, those five slots were occupied by the books from traditional publishers. 12 months from now, how many more slots will be occupied by an indie author?  That's up to you.

Indie authors such as you are now producing books that are as good or better than what's released by New York publishers.  The practice of self-publishing is becoming smarter and more professional each year.  Indies are bypassing the slush pile to publish directly to readers.  Indies are enjoying greater creative freedom, faster time to market, and higher royalty rates.

You, my dear Smashwords author, are the future of book publishing.  The trend is obvious to anyone who cares to take note. 

Thank you for allowing us to accompany you on this exciting journey as we remake book publishing for the benefit of authors, publishers and readers.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Author R. L. Mathewson On the Secrets to Her Success

Update July 30, 2012:  R.L. Mathewson landed on the August 5 New York Times Bestseller List, which came out July 30.  Please join us in congratulating R.L. on her amazing success!

R.L. Mathewson is the author of eight novels in the paranormal romance and contemporary romance genres. She lives in New England with her two children. Her books feature down-to-earth characters dealing with vampires, werewolves and demons, and are characterized by a distinctive sense of humor. Over the past year, sales have grown impressively.  In the last few weeks, her books have broken out at Apple, and in the last week, two of her titles have held steady among Apple's store-wide top-ten bestseller list. In our interview, she discusses some of the secrets behind her success.

David Weir: When did you start writing and did you ever try selling your books through the traditional publishing industry?

R.L. Mathewson: I started to write in 2008 after my love for reading was rekindled during a rough time in my life. I was pretty much bedridden for a year with a ruptured disc in my back that was pressing directly on a nerve. It was a very painful experience, one I hope to never experience again. I used books to distract myself from the pain and boredom. I could only lay in a bed or sit prompted up during the day to watch my two young children at the time, so I had a lot of time on my hands. I probably read a book a day. Some of the books were really good, but others were just horrible. The worst thing was a poorly written book with a great concept. It was aggravating more than anything. I started to think about how I would change the story and one thing led to another until one day I grabbed my ice pack and made my way over to my desk and started writing.

I looked into publishing traditionally at first. I did some research and made a few contacts, but what I found wasn't very encouraging. By the time I had two books finished I pretty much gave up hope of publishing because the hassle to go the traditional route just didn't seem worth it.

DW: How did you discover Smashwords, and how has it assisted your publishing and distribution strategy?

: I discovered Smashwords by accident. At the time I was trying to get my ebooks sold through Borders.com. I couldn't find a way to self-publish through the site, so I contacted customer service and was directed to Smashwords. Publishing through Smashwords has made the process of publishing really quite easy. I still self-publish through Amazon.com and B&N through my own accounts for the older books, but for iBooks, Kobo, etc. I find it easier to go through Smashwords. It saves me a great deal of time and if I have a problem, I found that Smashwords customer service is really helpful. That's a huge plus for someone who publishes on her own. With the new improvements that they've made, I've decided to distribute all future books solely through Smashwords for distribution to Amazon.com and B&N to further simplify the process.

DW: Did anyone encourage you to write along the way; or alternatively discourage you from trying?

: My mother encouraged me to do it as something I enjoyed as a hobby, but I think she was nervous about me relying on writing to support two young children. To be honest, I was too, but at the time I didn't have much choice in the matter. When I started writing it was an escape from the pain as well from a horrible marriage. With back problems, two children and zero help, I was in a bad situation. I basically put all my hopes and prayers into my writing, pretty much pushing myself to the point of exhaustion every day, hoping that it would work out for us. I would have to say that my children, Kayley and Shane are all the encouragement that I needed to keep going, but the encouragement that I received from readers helped out a great deal as well.

DW: When and where did you publish your first two ebooks? And how soon after that did you make your first sale?

: I published my first two books, Tall, Dark & Lonely: A Pyte/Sentinel Novel and A Humble Heart: A Hollywood Hearts Novel in December of 2010 at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. It was a nerve wracking experience and I wasn't even sure that I did it right. For the first couple of days I kept checking my accounts to see if I sold a book, but after a few days of no sales I sort of gave up and stopped checking. I didn't have an advertisement, no followers and basically no one really knew about the books. I realized that I had to figure out a few things in order to make a sale so I focused my attention back to writing while trying to figure out how to do just that. A few months later on a whim I checked my accounts and I saw that I made my first sale on Christmas Eve at Amazon.com. By that point I'd sold a grand total of maybe five books, but I didn't care. I was so excited. I remember getting my children out of bed, because I just had to share the news with the two most important people in my life. They were so excited. We danced around singing "We sold books, baby!" for probably a good hour or two before I managed to get them calmed down enough to go back to bed. It was a really great night for us.

DW: Do you remember when your first fan contacted you, and how that felt?

: The first email that came from a reader was definitely a surprise. It was a really nice surprise and made my day. Apparently, she had to hunt down my email, because my website at the time, the one I created and may have messed up, hid the email link, which apparently wasn't working anyway, lol. So, she searched the web for a few days and when she found it, she explained that she enjoyed my book, which surprised her because she hadn't expected much based on the plain cover. At the time I designed my own book covers, which consisted of a solid color, the title and my name. That was it. It was really horrible. Even I can't help but cringe when I think back to the early covers.

DW: How did you use social media to gain more exposure for your first two books, and what was your first real breakthrough?

: My first breakthrough without question came from Rhonda Valverde, owner of Vampireromancebooks.com. I found the website by accident one night when I was searching for places to post an excerpt about my book. I found the website and took a chance, not knowing whether or not my post was going to be deleted or if anyone would even read it. Within the first day I received a lot of positive feedback. Within a few weeks Rhonda left a reply asking if I'd be interested in a review. I was nervous, but I figured that it couldn't hurt. Up until that point no one had read the book so I was desperate for someone's opinion. A couple agonizing weeks later she sent me an email telling me that she enjoyed the book. She posted a positive review and Tall, Dark & Lonely started to sell.

I use social media, but I use it to get to know my readers. They're wonderful people and I really enjoy our daily interactions at Facebook and Twitter. We set it up as a casual online place to meet up, chat about books or nothing at all. I also use it to post updates about my books or share any news that comes my way, but it's mostly used just to relax.

DW: How have you changed the way you price your books and what have you learned in the process?

: When I first published my books, I was more concerned about being taken seriously. I didn't think a low price would accomplish that. So, I priced my books as high as the traditional published authors at the time, $6.99. I eventually brought it down to $2.99, because I felt the high price was just too much. This past Christmas I dropped the price to $0.99 as a Christmas gift to my readers. I didn't like the idea of people spending a small fortune to read my books. I also gave one of them away for a while, Playing for Keeps: A Neighbor from Hell novel. When the time came to raise the prices back, I just couldn't do it. I'd received too many emails from readers thanking me for keeping my prices low, sharing stories of tough times and how thankful they were that my prices were low enough for them so that they could read my work. After that I decided that as long as I could manage the costs that came along with publishing, that I would keep them at $0.99. I enjoy writing and I would rather someone have the opportunity to enjoy my stories than to get rich.

DW: How did you connect with your two editors and how have they helped you improve your writing?

: I have two wonderful editors, Lieve Van den Heuvel and Maura O'Beirne-Stanko. I met Lieve through Vampireromancebooks.com after she read one of my books and left a post for me at the forum. For a while we simply left each other posts, chatted once or twice on a message board until she decided that she was going to get me addicted to Belgium chocolate, lol. After that we somehow moved onto the topics of my books and she'd help me out by pointing out editing mistakes.

Maura came into the picture after she sent me emails, telling me how much she enjoyed the stories, but the editing was horrible. We exchanged emails for a little while and soon I was asking for her opinion as well. The last book, Tall, Dark & Heartless, was our first editing collaboration. The three of us worked for three weeks making that book perfect. It took several tries, but I think we did a decent job with it. We're constantly going back to the earlier books and trying to fix those as well.

They've helped me more than I can say. They're both wonderful, kind women and I am very fortunate to have them on my side.

DW: In the past few months, sales of your books have really taken off, and within the last few weeks, your sales exploded at Apple's iBookstore – what changed?

: In the past eight months I've made a lot of changes. The books have gone through an additional editing. The price dropped as well, making them more affordable. Word of mouth has gone a long way to help, but I think it was the change in covers. The last ones were plain, two shaded covers that looked more like pamphlets than anything. Some people liked them because it created mystery while others admitted that the covers were really confusing. After some thought and advice from Maura, Lieve and Christi, from BookRhythm.com, I decided that perhaps we should look into new covers.

After four months of modest but respectable sales, a cover image update,
combined with great reader reviews, sparked an explosive climb
to the top of Apple's store-wide bestseller list.

The only problem was the prices. Since buying custom designed covers would have been expensive and forced me to raise the prices of the books, I decided to see what I could do on my own. I bought a few photos, played around with some photo editing software and eventually came up with some covers that I liked.

DW: You’ve labeled the genres of your first eight books paranormal romance and contemporary romance – what are the key elements that help these books succeed?

: From what I've heard from readers, my characters are flawed, down to earth and likeable. Basically, they're human. I take my time building my characters from scratch and give the reader a reason to root for them. I also take my time to build the romance and to show them falling in love. I don't take short cuts in my story line or character buildup. I also try to keep my story lines unpredictable and interesting. I might play around with an overdone plot, but I refuse to follow the rules.

DW: Are you considering trying writing in any other genres in the future?

RLM: Yes, I am currently writing a historical Neighbor From Hell. I didn't plan to, but I was too curious to see how the Bradford men would drive a woman crazy in the nineteenth century.

DW: Romance is a huge category at Smashwords, accounting for 30% of our sales. Why do you think romance ebooks are so much more popular than their print counterparts?

: Ninety-nine percent of my sales are ebooks, but that's because I don't push the paperbacks and the ebooks are not only more convenient but also cheaper. I believe the reason is very simple, it's convenient. When I want to relax with a good romance book I don't want to have to go online, order a paperback and wait a week for it to be delivered. The same could be said for a ride to the mall. Thanks to devices such as iPads, Nooks, and Kindles, I can avoid traffic, lines at the mall, and kids screaming and running around. I can do a quick search, find a story that calls to me and buy it and within seconds I'm relaxing with a new book.

DW: For your fellow romance authors, what do you think are the essential secrets to writing a great romance that resonates with readers?

One of the most important things that I've found that can make or break a romance novel is whether or not the connection between the characters is believable. To me, there's nothing worse than reading a book only to have the author just flat out tell the reader that the characters are in love with absolutely no evidence to back it up. Readers want to watch the characters fall in love and have a reason to hope for the best. When the author doesn't put the work in to give the romance credibility, it takes away from the story.

Another issue is using plots or formulas to write a romance book. Personally, I love a good plot, even if it's been done to death, but that doesn't mean that I want to read the same exact plot. I want to see new twists, be surprised and enjoy the new take on an old favorite so much that I can't put the book down. There are several romance novel formulas out there [that] unfortunately for anyone who's read a decent amount of romance novels, ruins the story because it makes the entire plot too predictable. Don't plan the first kiss.  Tease the reader.  You're trying to build up the suspense because if it's not done right, it can actually annoy the reader.

What I like to do is to let my characters develop while the romance blossoms. I work hard to make the my stories unpredictable and have fun while doing it. That's the most important thing, have fun. Write a romance that you're going to enjoy so your readers will enjoy it as well.

DW: What will be your next book and when can we expect to see it?

: The next book is Checkmate, the third installment of the Neighbor from Hell series. I am hoping to have that out by fall. I also have another book that is close to being done, a stand alone, for now, paranormal romance. That one will probably be published shortly after Checkmate.

DW: Please tell us about the special charitable campaign you plan for its launch and how you came up with that idea?

: I came up with the idea from my readers and from all the people that have helped myself and my two children get a second chance at life over the past few months. I wanted to give something back and when I started to receive emails asking for the third Neighbor from Hell book I decided that maybe that was the way to go. So, I decided that once the book was finished that I was going to delay publishing it. For twenty days I will barter the book for a good deed.

For twenty days, I'm giving readers a chance to do a good deed, giving blood, donating food, clothes, helping someone in need. It doesn't matter what it is, as long as they help someone out. There will be a special printable sign that needs to be in a picture of the act. Once I receive the picture, one per person, I will send them a link to the book for download. I'm hoping to give away a lot of copies of this book.

DW: What advice do you have for other indie authors who have not yet gotten up the nerve to try self-publishing?

RLM: It can be a lot of hard work, but it's worth it. If you enjoy writing and want to share your work, take a chance. Research, edit and just have fun. It can be stressful, but it should also be an enjoyable process.

DW: Thank you, R.L.!

Smashwords distributes R.L. Mathewson to the following ebook retailers:
Apple iBookstore
Barnes & Noble
Diesel eBook Store