Thursday, July 23, 2020

Smashwords Author Day, Spring 2020 Now Online

The pandemic may have shuttered in-person writers conferences in 2020, but it didn't negate the need for ongoing author education.

Back in April, Smashwords marketing director Jim Azevedo presented a live, power-packed webinar featuring four workshop presentations covering the most important indie publishing topics for indie ebook publishing. 

Jim shared actionable advice on how authors can make their books more visible, desirable and enjoyable readers.  Learn state-of-the-art strategies for building a marketing platform you control.



These presentations are now available for viewing at the Author Day event page and on the Smashwords YouTube channel.

Or, watch any of the individual segments below:

0.  Introduction and start

Watch the full 5+ hours here:





1.  Ten Trends Driving the Future of Publishing (beginner to expert)

   


2.  Introduction to eBook Publishing (beginner to intermediate)

   


3.  The Sixteen Secrets of Ebook Publishing Success (beginner to expert)

   


4.  Book Launch Strategy:  Preorders and Presales (beginner to expert)

   



Please share with a friend!

We're considering doing another live Author Day in the September-October timeframe, so stay tuned for that.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Post-Pandemic Publishing for Indie Authors


The COVID-19 pandemic will have far-reaching consequences for the business of publishing. 

In this post, I’ll brush off my imaginary crystal ball – usually reserved for my annual end-of-year predictions – and speculate on the impact COVID-19 will have on the post-pandemic publishing prospects for indie authors in the months and years ahead. 

As of this writing (June 17, 2020), the immediate health and economic devastation wrought by COVID-19 has been nothing short of cataclysmic. 

As we'll learn, indie authors are well-positioned for the unfortunate circumstances we all face.

Let’s review where the globe is at now, and then I’ll jump into predictions and advice on how indie authors can overcome the challenges ahead.

Health Impacts

According to data tracked by Johns Hopkins, 8.2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported as of today.  We’re approaching 500,000 global fatalities, though other reputable analysis – such as measures of average annual death rates in different countries – indicate the toll is likely much much higher than currently reported. 

The US has led the way in total number of infections and deaths, followed by Brazil, Russia and the U.K.   With most countries reopening for business, and mandatory lockdowns ending, infection rates are surging again in many areas.  Globally, new infection case counts are rising, with Brazil, India, Mexico and several US states currently leading the way, and with the virus gaining new footholds in countries and rural communities that missed the early waves.  

Economic Impacts

To prevent the spread of the virus, many countries instituted various forms of strict lockdowns.  They issued stay-at-home orders to limit the movement of people, and temporarily shuttered or limited business operations.  These lockdowns thrust most of the global economy into instant recession in March.  There’s now growing concern for regional if not global depressions.  Whereas recessions are typically characterized as short term economic slowdowns, depressions are marked by protracted economic downturns spanning three or more years, and characterized by high sustained unemployment and severe declines in GDP.

Not all countries will face the same economic dislocation.  Much will be determined by the competency of a country’s government, and by the trust the people have in following their government’s recommendations.  People who believe the advice of incompetent government officials or disbelieve the advice of competent officials will suffer the most.  Not all governments are issuing wise advice to their citizens.

All countries are struggling to strike the appropriate balance between the health of their citizens and the health of their economies.  The two are closely interrelated and interdependent. 

Here in the US, the world’s largest English-language book market, the lack of a competent and coordinated nationwide response to COVID-19 shows in the numbers.  Whereas many other countries have managed to crush their new infection rates dramatically, the US continues to flounder and suffer persistently high infection rates.   

Given the global nature of the world economy, and the rapid cross-border human-to-human transmission enabled by air, train and automobile travel, a single hotspot in any country – no matter how remote – poses a threat to the entire global community days or weeks later.

In my 2020 publishing predictions post, I predicted a recession was increasingly likely for 2020 in light of an unprecedented continuous global economic expansion following the last global recession in 2008.  As I mentioned in prior posts, recessions are beneficial to the long term health of an economy, much as a small forest fire helps clears away dead brush  Yet I give myself no credit for predicting this recession.  No one could have predicted the sudden and severe global recession we find ourselves in thanks to COVID-19, and no one with half a brain would ever suggest that COVID-19 is good for the long term health or economic vitality of the global economy.  The hell wrought by COVID-19 is likely to leave a sting for years to come.

COVID-19 is a black swan event.  Let’s hope we or future generations are better prepared the next time a global plague makes its entrance.

Economies of the largest English-Language Book Markets

An individual consumer’s economic realities impact how, where and on what they spend their money.

Let's look at unemployment levels in some of the largest English-language book markets, ranked roughly by the size of the market.  Note that all of these numbers will be out of date within days of me publishing this post, but they serve as an approximate snapshot of where we stand today.

US - Unemployment in the US, the world’s largest single market for English-language indie authors, is approximately 13%.  These levels have not been seen since the Great Depression in the 1920s.   

UK - Unemployment in the UK, the second largest market for indie authors, has increased dramatically since the pre-pandemic lows of 3.9%, though the true rate is somewhat obscured by a government-subsided furlough program (which I won’t claim to understand) scheduled to end in October.   

Canada - In Canada, unemployment is approximately 13% .

Australia - In Australia, where the government handled COVID-19 more competently than most, unemployment is expected to reach 10% later this month.   

New Zealand - In New Zealand, where the government has been widely praised for their competent handling of the pandemic, the government expects unemployment to peak at just under 10%.

The Hit on Consumers

If a reader loses their job, they'll need to prioritize purchasing food and paying their rent or mortgage before they buy a book.

If your friend or neighbor loses their job and is struggling to pay their rent or mortgage, you too may wonder if it’s time to tighten your financial belt even if your job is secure.  Frugality is contagious.

Books are purchased with disposable income.  In economics, disposable income is your spendable money after you’ve paid necessary taxes.  With high unemployment levels, and reduced employment for many of those who kept their jobs, and increased economic uncertainty, consumers don’t have as much disposable income to spend on discretionary purchases such as books.

In these first few months of the pandemic, many governments extended social safety nets. Here in the US, for example, our government did this with unemployment insurance (not enough to live on), relief checks (free money mailed to taxpayers), the Paycheck Protection Program (forgivable loans to small businesses that maintain employment) and other forms of entitlements to people and corporations.  Other countries instituted various other programs.  Some of these programs will be short-lived, which means once the money runs out, additional economic pain may ensue unless economies bounce back quickly.

New unemployment data released in the US on June 5 surprised many analysts when it showed a drop in unemployment thanks to partial reopenings.  Is the worst behind us, or is this a dead cat bounce as the economy absorbs the initial government stimulus?  It’s too early to tell.

Now that economies are reopening, it remains to be seen if consumers will show up as they did before.  So much of the economy is dependent upon close, human-to-human interaction.

If economies don’t bounce back quickly, consumers will face additional economic hardships that will have ripple effects throughout the global economy.  For example, if homeowners are unable to pay their monthly mortgages, they’ll default on their loans with all the ensuing unpleasant economic ripple effects to their local economy and global banking systems.  Many small businesses that were forced to close will not reopen, and those that do reopen may fail to achieve sustainable business levels if customers are unable or unwilling to return in sufficient numbers.  Restaurant operators, for example, which employ millions of lower-income workers, will find it difficult to stay in business here in the US if they’re required to limit the number of patrons they can serve at any one time.  And what if patrons don't immediately return?  The restaurant business – similar to the publishing business – was already notoriously difficult to run sustained profits in, and that was before the pandemic.

How Quickly will Things Recover?

Most people want to see things to return to “normal” as soon as possible.   

It’s too early to tell if this will be merely a severe recession with a quick snap back to normalcy, or a prolonged recession or depression.  Global stock markets, at for moment at least (this could all change tomorrow), are anticipating a quick recovery. 

A full return to normal isn't possible until after there’s a safe and reliable vaccine, or an efficacious treatment for the disease that can lower the mortality rate to that of the common flu, or, improbably, if suddenly all consumers wake up tomorrow and decide they're rather go on living their normal lives than maintaining lockdowns.   

Until such a vaccine or treatment is available, a significant percentage of the population will remain fearful of flying on airplanes, or congregating with fellow humans in shopping malls, retail stores, live events (writers conferences and book signings) and other places where a large numbers of people come in close contact with one another to share the same air.

Here in the US, our country faces other unique challenges, such as a well-entrenched “anti-vaxxer” movement of individuals across the political spectrum who refuse to accept vaccines for themselves and their families.  According to a recent poll conducted by the Washington Post, nearly 30% of Americans say they will “probably not” or “definitely not” take a COVID-19 vaccine if it was made available to them for free.  If these numbers hold true, it means COVID-19 will continue to spread on ripe hosts for many years to come.

There are over 100 vaccine candidates under development.  Under the most optimistic scenario, limited quantities of vaccines might be available as early as late Fall 2020, or early 2021, though realistically it probably won’t be until later in 2021 that a safe and effective vaccine is globally available to all who want it.

So against the above backdrop, what impacts can indie authors expect in the months and years ahead?

On with the predictions...

Post-Pandemic Publishing Predictions for Indie Authors

Economies are unlikely to bounce back as quickly as hoped – Despite the large amount of fiscal stimulus pumped directly into consumer pocketbooks by government stimulus programs, the global economy is unlikely to return to a pre-pandemic normal until vaccines or effective treatments are widely available.  And even once vaccines or treatments are available, it will take time to rebuild broken economies.  State, local and federal governments will have borne enormous damage to their balance sheets thanks to the pandemic, which could mean lower expenditures or higher taxes down the road, both of which could hamper economic recoveries.

People will stay home more – COVID-19 has led many people to develop a general mistrust of fellow humans.  We must trust that our fellow humans aren’t going to murder us if we step outside.  Yet now that there’s this silent and deadly virus, and many of those infected might think the slight sniffle they’re battling is just allergies or the common cold (which never stopped them from going out in public before), or worse, they might be asymptomatic and not realize they’re infected and infectious, or even worse they might believe COVID-19 is a hoax perpetuated by Bill Gates or a tyrannical government (yes, here in the US, such conspiracy theories are quite common; they’ve become stranger than fiction).  This means that every other human you walk near, converse with, or share air with is potentially carrying a deadly weapon that can kill you or your family.  And if they’re not wearing a mask, you might feel even more ill at ease.  In the absence of a vaccine, other people will seem scarier than usual, and this will have significant implications for how we live our lives, and how and where we choose to spend our time and money.

The US economy will likely have a longer, slower recovery than the rest of the world - The world’s largest market for English language books will probably fare worse than other economies.  This means a slower recovery, and slower resumption to prior consumer spending levels.  But a slow and painful recovery ahead in the US will actually be positive for indie ebook sales (read on for reasons why).

Consumers in hard-hit economies will change spending habits – Typically as a result of severe recessions, consumers are forced to change their spending habits.  They become more frugal, tighten their financial belts regarding non-essential discretionary spending, and try to pay down debts while rebuilding their savings.  In this environment, indie ebook purchases, ebook subscriptions and library check-outs will begin to look more appealing than print purchases because of the significant cost differential between affordable indie ebooks and higher-priced print books, and higher priced ebooks from traditional publishers.  But the positive impact of frugality won't be felt by ebooks alone.  Even print books will become more appealing to some consumers given the many hours of home-based entertainment they provide at great value.

More books will be written - With forced unemployment comes more time for authors to write books.  There will also be more workers deciding to retire earlier than planned, which also leads to more time to write more books.  This means the publishing market will see an uptick in self-published titles over the next couple years.

Physical books at bookstores will seem “scary” to touch – One of the joys of physical bookstore browsing is the ability to pick up any book, flip it to the back cover, or rifle through sample pages.  Yet now in the age of COVID, physical objects touched by others are viewed as potentially dangerous.  Bookstores will attempt to address this concern by asking customers to place touched books onto carts that are then quarantined before making their way back on the shelves, yet even this step won’t completely alleviate consumer fear.  If a sick person sneezes in front of a shelf, dozens of books would be instantly contaminated.  Or what if the virus-denying idiot before you was too lazy or feverish to remember to place the book they just touched onto the cart?

Print sales through physical stores will decline – Until there’s a vaccine or a treatment, many consumers will be reluctant to return to physical bookstores.  This means more of these print sales will move online.  But without the bookstore magic of serendipitous physical book discovery – a key joy in browsing a physical bookstore – I’d expect overall print sales to decline as well. 

More print sales will go online, and the benefits will not be equally distributed - The move to online print sales will benefit traditionally published authors more than indie authors.  Traditionally published authors typically have stronger brand awareness than indies, and since consumers aren't browsing at a bookstore more of their print purchases will be without having browsed the book in person.  Also, indie print books are often more expensive than traditionally published print books, owing to the fact that traditional publishers are doing big print runs and most indies are doing print-on-demand which carries higher per-unit production costs.

The move to online print sales will benefit large retailers while harming smaller indie bookshops – Although some indie bookshops operate online stores, those stores are typically not the consumer’s first choice – Amazon is.  Since most indie authors don’t benefit from physical bookstore distribution, the hit to bookshops will impact traditionally published authors more than indie authors.

Many indie bookshops will not reopen – It’ll be really tough for indie bookshops – already operating on razor-thin margins and struggling to survive – to continue to operate their businesses once economies reopen.  For the reasons mentioned above, they’re unlikely to see business-sustaining traffic return until after a vaccine is widely available.  This means many indie bookshops are likely to experience a year or more of below-average sales before things start returning to normal, and that’s assuming the world returns to the previous historically-low pre-pandemic unemployment rates.  Just as with restaurants, it’ll be difficult for these stores to remain in business unless their local customers and communities truly rally to keep them afloat.  Already, several bookstores across the US have launched GoFundMe campaigns to keep their stores in business.  Not all of them will make it.  If consumers truly cared about keeping their local bookstores in business, they wouldn’t be purchasing so many books from Amazon.

Overall ebook sales will increase – With millions of newly budget-conscious readers stuck at home either by choice or by government-mandated stay-at-home orders, or by the reality of unemployment, and with lingering reluctance to visit physical bookstores to touch books pawed by other customers, many readers will gravitate toward digital reading.  We’ve already seen this play out at Smashwords over the last couple months of the pandemic.  The pandemic has caused a surge in sales at the Smashwords Store and some of our retailers, but it remains to be seen how long the surge will last.  As stay-at-home orders lift, and as people’s jobs come back and family finances are rebuilt, I’d expect sales levels to revert back to the prior trend, which was not terribly strong.  Prior to the pandemic, most ebook retailers were experiencing their fifth or sixth year of weak or declining ebook sales levels (for reasons why, see my last two year’s of publishing prediction posts, each of which open with a “State of the Indie Nation” update where I examine sales trends).  Although the initial ebook bump will dissipate, I do expect ebooks to be incrementally more appealing to consumers for the next several years than they would have been were it not for this horrible pandemic.

Ebook Subscription services will gain in popularity – Newly budget-conscious avid readers will gravitate more quickly now to subscription services such as Scribd and Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited.  The impact on indie authors will be mixed.  Whereas Scribd compensates authors based on their list price, thereby preserving value for the author and giving the author a measure of pricing control, Kindle Unlimited devalues books by paying a fraction of a penny per page read.  Kobo is also jumping further into the subscription ebook fray with their Kobo Plus service, which, similar to Kindle Unlimited, will devalue books and ultimately lower author earnings (this is why Smashwords is not supplying Kobo’s Kobo Plus subscription service).  So while authors can expect to see subscription earnings account for a greater proportion of their income, they can also expect to see their incomes drop on a relative basis as their single-copy sales take a hit (the obvious partial exception to this rule, as noted above, is Scribd).

Writers conferences move online in 2020 – For obvious reasons, most writers conferences for 2020 have been, or will be, cancelled, with some of them moving online.  Here at Smashwords, we don’t plan to attend any conferences until a vaccine or treatment is widely available.  It’s simply not safe to fly in airplanes or gather in congregate.  Social distancing at writers conferences is impossible. I’m saddened by this because I do miss the face to face conversations with authors and fellow industry friends.

Indie Publishing Strategies for a Post-COVID world

Aside from the health and economic devastation of COVID-19, indie ebook authors will likely see increased readership and earnings for the next couple years, reversing a trend of the last few years where most indies experienced declining ebook sales. 

Since most indies earn the bulk of their income from digital sales (ebook, audiobook) as opposed to print sales, the intermediate-term outlook is brighter for indies than it is for print-dependent authors.

The latent fear of social gatherings, and the likely multi-year economic recession, will make ebooks and audiobooks appear incrementally more desirable than print books compared to attitudes just a few months ago.

Yet it remains to be seen how long the COVID bump will last.  There are other larger, more entrenched macro trends that paint a challenging picture for all authors, and I’ve addressed these issues in great detail in my end-of-year prediction posts (Here are links to the last three years:  2020, 2019, 2018), chief among them the glut of high-quality, low-cost-ebooks that never go out of print; strong devaluation pressures coming from Amazon and its Kindle Unlimited subscription service; and the knee-capping of the major Amazon ebook retailing competitors - Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo - due to Amazon’s success of denying these retailers critical inventory of millions of indie books that have been locked up in KDP Select exclusivity since the launch of the service in late 2011.

When the pandemic ends and economies recover, I’d expect the environment for ebook sales to revert back to their pre-pandemic normal, barring any governmental interventions here in the US or in Europe seeking to reign in Amazon’s anti-competitive behavior.  Such potential intervention has been simmering on backburners for a few years now.  On June 11, the New York Times reported that the European Union is preparing an anti-trust case against Amazon, alleging that Amazon gives its own products preferential treatment in their store.   

Certainly, if the EU were to take action that caused Amazon to cease KDP Select exclusivity, it would dramatically boost the prospects of all indie authors as well as Amazon’s bookselling competitors, and we’d likely see a long term indie author earnings boom as Amazon’s competitors could finally compete more effectively on a level playing field.  I’m not holding my breath.  As the New York Time’s article points out, the EU’s actions to date have been largely slaps on the wrists and therefore ineffectual at curbing the bad habits of monopolistic megaplatforms. 

Indie Author Action Plan

The road forward remains the same as it has always been.  Focus on building a long term career.  Focus on essential evergreen best practices, and steer clear of ephemeral flash-in-the-pan tricks and “systems” that make promises that can’t be kept.  This means:
1. Commit to digital - If your entire book list isn't yet on ebooks, do that now.  A global ebook distributor such as Smashwords can help make your books more accessible and more available to a global audience of millions of readers.  With ebooks, indie authors have significant advantages over print authors, and thanks to COVID-19, those advantages just became greater.
2.  Distribution - Maintain diversified distribution so your next meal isn’t dependent on the algorithmic whims of a single retailer.

3.  Marketing Platform - Build a marketing platform you control, which means migrating your readership to your private author newsletter so that your relationship with YOUR readers is not mediated by third party retailers and social media platforms  whose business objectives are rarely aligned with your own (Smashwords Presales can help you build your mailing list!).

4.  Craft - Focus more on the craft of great writing rather than the business of publishing.  Far too many authors spend more waking hours trying to learn how to game retailer algorithms and ad platforms rather than honing their craft to write better books.  If your book takes readers to unimaginable heights of ecstatic joy, your book will sell on the wings of reader word-of-mouth, algorithms be damned.

5.  Advertising - Advertise with caution.  Recognize that paying retailers for advertising – especially when tacitly required by a certain retailer to maintain normal visibility – is a tax on your income. Think of it as a backhanded way for them to pay lower royalties.  It can also cause you to trample on your fellow indies, as I wrote for Publishers Weekly in my article titled, Avoiding Platform Theft.

6.  Author-friendly retailers - Direct your readers to author-friendly retailers.  If a retailer is going out its way to erect tolls, taxes and restrictions that limit your ability to market your book on a level playing field, or that continually institute new policies and programs that serve the purpose of lowering your effective royalty rate, they’re not an author-friendly retailer.  An author-friendly retailer pays 70% list (60% after your distributor takes a commission) gives indie authors the freedom to set their own prices, publish independently, and distribute where they want.

7.  Financial management -  Here in the US, we have a saying called "pinch your pennies."  It means, "be frugal."  As an indie author, you're running a publishing business. While you can't control your sales or the timing of an economic recovery, you can control your publishing expenses.  Given the economic uncertainty, it's more important than ever that you be frugal with your publishing expenses.  Now is not the time to invest large sums of money in speculative marketing campaigns.  And as I caution in the Smart Author Podcast, never finance your publishing with debt, and never invest money in publishing that otherwise needs to go to putting food on the table or paying rent.  Do as much as you can on your own, barter for services where possible, and don't invest money you don't have.
Be safe everyone!

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Considering publishing with Smashwords?  Learn about our free and amazing services here.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Smashwords Launches Initiatives to Help Readers and Authors Cope with Covid-19 Pandemic

Books matter now more than ever.

The world has been thrust into a state of crisis not seen since World War II.

Humanity will overcome this challenge, led by the imagination, innovation, creativity and intellect of thinking people.  These are the same thinking people who turn to fiction and non-fiction for entertainment and inspiration.

Books will help humanity navigate this crisis and emerge stronger than ever.

For the concerned parent who must hold it together for their children in the face of news that gets darker by the day, a book offers a welcome respite, a magical elixir delivering happiness, safe harbor and emotional recharge on demand.  For their children, books offer healthy distraction and diversion at a time when social distancing is necessary to save lives.

Insert your situation, or the situation of your friends, family and community, and you begin to realize how books have an important role to play in helping people cope with this global calamity that is Covid-19.

Authors are the magicians who create books, and it just so happens that Smashwords is honored to work with over 140,000 authors spread across the globe. It shouldn't come as a surprise that many authors are now asking how they can use their books to help others.

Authors Helping Readers

Several of our authors contacted me in recent days, asking if I'd consider running a special sale where they could make their books more accessible and affordable to readers suffering in self-imposed or government-mandated isolation.  These authors wanted to help fellow readers gain strength, comfort or entertainment from the power of their books.

In this context, any book that brings the reader precious moments of joy - whether a romance, a thriller or a non-fiction treatise about boosting your immune system - is critically important to the global recovery effort.

With this heartfelt intention in mind, today we launched our Authors Give Back sale, running now through April 20.  For the next 30 days, thousands of Smashwords authors are going the extra mile to share their books with the readers who need them.

If you're an author or publisher, you can enroll your books now at this enrollment link which you'll also find on the Smashwords home page and in your Dashboard. 

If you're a reader, you can access 30,000 deep-discounted books and over 80,000 free books  with the compliments of indie authors and publishers around the globe.  These authors are your friends and neighbors.

You'll find the sale at the top of the Smashwords home pageHere's a direct link that will take you into the sale catalog.

Please tell a friend!

Smashwords Helping Authors

The desire of our authors to support readers got me thinking about how Smashwords can support our authors during this crisis.

Writers conferences, like most large public gatherings, are getting cancelled left and right.  These conferences provide important educational venues for writers to gain the knowledge and connections they need to build their writing careers.

The need for continuing education doesn't disappear simply because most of us find ourselves trapped at home.  With this in mind, Smashwords this week announced our first-ever Author Education Day, a one-day online educational event where we'll teach veteran authors how to take their ebook publishing to the next level, and we'll teach aspiring authors how to publish ebooks with ease, professionalism and success.

The Smashwords Author Education Day event will be held next month on April 18, and is open to all writers and publishers.  Even if you don't (yet) publish with Smashwords, we invite you to attend at no cost.

Jim Azevedo, our marketing director, will present four live workshops, each followed by an interactive Q&A.

The sessions will be presented in sequential order, with each session building on the knowledge covered in the prior session.  Whether you're a first-time author or an experienced veteran, you'll leave this one day e-publishing intensive inspired with fresh ideas that will help you take your publishing to the next level.

These are the same (but updated) Smashwords workshops we've presented in person at writers conferences around the globe.  You'll learn evergreen best practices to improve the discoverability and desirability of your books, and you'll learn strategies for building a sustainable long term career as a writer and publisher.

The sessions include:

1.  Ten trends driving the future of publishing (novice to expert)
2.  An introduction to ebook publishing (novice to intermediate)
3.  16 secrets to ebook publishing success (novice to expert)
4.  Book launch strategy:  Preorders and presales (novice to expert)

Advance registration is required for this free event.  To view the full event description and to register, visit our Smashwords Author Education Day event page.




Hang in there my friends and fellow book lovers.  The sun will rise again.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

The Bakers and the Pot of Gold


Who doesn't love cookies and the bakers who bake them?

And if you're the baker, you probably appreciate your own fresh-baked cookies all the more.

Why am I talking about cookies on a blog for indie authors?

The other day, I received an email from Canadian author Nicky Charles.  She had just read my 2020 Publishing Predictions: House of Indie on Fire post and felt inspired to write an allegory featuring cookie bakers and pots of gold.

I was floored by her story.  It struck me as a must-read for anyone who loves books and the writers who write them. 

There's depth, insight and subtle nuance.  It cuts deep for the perceptive reader, as one would expect from a writer of Nicky's caliber.  I'm humbled that my annual predictions post could inspire this work of genius.

I asked Nicky if I could share her allegory with readers of the Smashwords Blog, and she kindly agreed.

I encourage you to read it and feel it.  If it touches a nerve, as I expect it might, share it with fellow authors, publishers and readers you think should read it too.

To learn more about Nicky Charles, check out her Nicky Charles profile page at Smashwords, visit the official Nicky Charles website, or read this interview we did with her all the way back in 2012.

Nicky asked me to make clear that for this allegory, she employed hyperbole.  She in no way wants to infer that any of the bakers featured in this story make bad cookies.

Without further adieu, I bring you Nicky's story...


The Bakers and the Pot of Gold



Once upon a time there was a land dotted with quaint little cafés.  The cafés were renowned for serving wonderful fresh-baked cookies to the customers who lined up outside in anticipation of the treat.

Photo credit: Evan Amos
The cookies were produced by the bakers of the land who used only the finest and freshest ingredients.  Each batch was tenderly measured and mixed, then sampled with care before being baked to perfection.  It was a long process, but the bakers didn’t mind.  Their goal was to ensure each cookie was a worthy treat for their customers.

Because the bakers worked so hard to produce delicious products, they couldn’t deliver to the cafés every day.  Good cookies took time, after all, and so they rotated who baked each day.  This gave the customers a nice variety of cookies as well as giving the bakers time to clean their kitchens, care for their ovens and shop for ingredients.

The customers at the cafés understood this and saved their money, while waiting excitedly for when their favourite baker would make a new batch of cookies.  On delivery days, the people would rush to the cafés to buy the fresh batch and enjoy the special treat, savouring each mouthful and murmuring about the skill of the baker.

Everyone in the land was happy with the arrangement.  The bakers delivered amazing cookies for the customers. The customers had delicious treats to eat and the cafés made a nice profit, which they shared with the bakers.

One spring day, however, a new café opened. It was big and shiny and sold a vast array of products.  Everyone who visited it stared in wonder.

“Do you sell cookies?”  The people asked hopefully.

“Not yet,” the new café owner said. “But soon we will.”

And sure enough, the very next day the new café owner went in search of bakers.

“I would like to sell your cookies,” the new café owner said to the bakers.  “Lots of people visit my café every day, even people from Far-Away-Places.  I promise you will make lots of gold if you let me sell your cookies.”

The bakers thought about it and began to take some of their cookies to the new café.  Just as promised, many cookies were sold, especially to the people from Far-Away-Places who had never tasted such wonderful baked goods before.  With their pockets filled with gold, the bakers rejoiced that the new café had come to town.

When the people of the land saw this, some began to think they’d like to be bakers as well.

“Baking looks like such fun,” one person said.

“We can sell our cookies to people from Far-Away-Places if we bake for the new café,” another declared.

“We will make lots of money just like the other bakers!”  A third cried in delight.

And so new bakers began to emerge.  Some baked wonderful cookies right away while others learned over time how to mix the ingredients perfectly.  A few decided baking was too hard and quit, but others loved their new occupation and sold so many cookies they even gave up their old jobs to become full time bakers.

The people of the land greatly enjoyed having so many new bakers to choose from and there were now cookies every day at the cafés.

“This is wonderful,” everyone said.

But then, the new café owner made an announcement.  “I have a large pot of gold and I will share it with any baker who sells cookies at my café.”

“A large pot of gold?”  The bakers began to get excited.

“Oh yes,” said the new café owner.  “It is a very large pot of gold. But you can only have the gold if you deliver all your cookies to me.”

“But what about the other cafés?” Some of the bakers frowned in concern.  “And what about the people who eat our cookies there?”

“The people who like your cookies can buy them here,” the new café owner explained.  “I will even serve them on a special plate.”

“That sounds great,” said some of the bakers.

A few bakers, however, thought the pot of gold seemed too good to be true, and some wanted to keep selling their cookies at all the cafés.

Seeing them hesitate, the new café owner agreed they could sell their cookies in the other establishments, but they wouldn’t get actual pieces of gold, just the gold dust from the bottom of the pot.

“All right,” these other bakers agreed, not sure it was completely fair but still wanting people from Far-Away-Places to sample their cookies.  They knew if it didn’t work out, they’d still earn money by selling cookies at the old cafés.

So many of the bakers began to deliver their cookies only to the new café and, just as predicted, the people who favoured their cookies followed.  The bakers liked all the gold they were earning and the customers liked their new shiny plates.  More and more of the bakers began to agree to the new café’s terms, lured by the promise of lots of gold.  Everyone was very happy…almost.

The other café owners watched what was happening.  There were still bakers bringing them cookies to sell and customers lining up to buy them but not as many as before.

“It’s just healthy competition,” one said with a slight frown.

“The new café won’t take away all our customers,” another reassured.

“Maybe we should give out our own special cookie plates,” suggested a third.

And so the other cafes gave out special plates and even ran sales but the new café kept luring more and more bakers away with the promise of gold.

“Sell me all your cookies and I will share my pot of gold with you.”  The new café owner made the announcement in a loud, booming voice.  “Every month the pot of gold will get bigger and bigger!”

“Is it true?” The bakers asked of those who only sold cookies to the new café.

“Oh yes,” they said.  “The new café is wonderful.  You must come and join us.”

Lured by the pot of gold, more bakers stopped bringing cookies to the old cafés and exclusively gave them to the new one.

At the same time, the new café owner began to tell the customers they could have all the cookies they wanted.

“Why are you paying for just one cookie at the old cafés?  If you come here, you only pay one piece of gold at the door and then you can fill your plate with as many cookies as you want,” the new café owner boasted.

With fewer cookies to choose from at the old cafés and the promise of unlimited ones at the new café, the customers stopped visiting their former haunts.

“We’re sorry,” they told the café owners, “but we want lots of cookies and we don’t want to have to pay for each one.”

“But we need to pay the bakers,” the old café owners said.

“Not our problem.” one customer said.

“We want cookies, lots of cookies!” another one added.

“And we want them for a lower price, too.” A third declared leading a march towards the door.

As the customers walked away, the old café owners shook their heads.  “Soon we won’t have any cookies or customers left.”

And sure enough, ‘out of business’ signs began to appear in the café windows forcing the remaining bakers and customers to switch to the new café.

Meanwhile, more and more customers filled the new café, awed by the trays of cookies they saw.  From floor to ceiling and wall to wall, every surface was covered in baked goods.

“Can we really have as many as we want?”  They asked in wonder.

“Oh yes,” said the new café owner, smiling benevolently. “For one piece of gold you may help yourself to whatever you want.  There is no limit.”

And that is what the people did.  They stacked their plates high with cookies, they stuffed their mouths with cookies, and some even filled their pockets.

“I can’t believe we used to pay for just a single cookie,” one said.

“This is truly an amazing café,” another added.

“I just can’t stop eating,” declared a third, wiping crumbs from his fingers before reaching for more.

However, in the corner, one customer was frowning.  “This sounds too good to be true.  How can the new café afford to pay the bakers if we only pay one piece of gold?”

The owner of the new café overheard this and said, “Don’t worry, I have an enormous pot of gold from all the other items I sell.  Besides, the bakers love to make cookies; they don’t care what they get paid.”

“And what about the old cafés?”  The customer persisted.

“This is how business works,” the new café owner brushed the customer’s concerns aside.  “Competition is healthy.”  And with that, the café owner began to lead the others in a chant.  “Cookies, cookies, cookies!  We want more cookies!”

“Yes, yes!” The other customers agreed.  “Cookies, cookies, cookies!  We want more cookies!” The chanting was so loud it drowned out the customer who had been asking questions.

From the rear of the building, the bakers huddled together grinning.

“This is so exciting,” one said.

“The people love our cookies,” another exclaimed.

“Did you see how much gold there is?”  A third pointed at the pot in wonder.

Yes, the pot of gold was very big but, with so many bakers now delivering cookies to the new café, and the customers only paying one piece of gold, the share each received was less than before.

“I hope I have enough to pay for my ingredients,” one said looking at the small pouch of gold he’d been given at the end of the week.

“We just need to sell more cookies,” a second one stated.

“If we bake faster, it will be okay,” a third declared.  “The people will buy as many as we make.  There’s no need to worry.”

“I’m not sure this is a good idea.”  A quiet baker spoke from the corner.  “If we bake faster, will our cookies still be as good?  Maybe we should go back to the old cafés.”

The others didn’t listen though.  They were determined to earn more gold at the new café.

So the bakers started to produce more cookies.  Some still made amazing cookies but others, because they were working faster, began to make mistakes.  Sometimes there was too much salt or not enough sugar.  Some cookies were undercooked and others were burnt.

“My cookies used to taste better,” one baker said with a frown.

“I used to have time to decorate mine,” another murmured.

“They’re fine,” said a third.  “The people are eating the cookies so fast they don’t even notice.”

And indeed, the café was very crowded with people voraciously eating cookies and then clamouring for more.

“Faster,” the café owner prompted the bakers. “We need more cookies!”

So the bakers ran back home to make cookies all day and late into the night.

But when they brought their cookies in the next day, the new café owner had something to tell them.

“I’ve decided you will still get paid from the pot of gold, but now it will be based on each bite of cookie.  People are putting cookies on their plate but only nibbling on them.  If people eat only one bite of your cookie, you will get less than if they eat the whole cookie.”

“Oh,” said the bakers.  At the old cafes, they’d been paid for each cookie.  Being paid for each bite was a very new idea.

“Lots of bites add up,” the café owner assured them.  “Just keep making cookies.”

The bakers went back to their kitchens to continue baking, however a few weren’t happy and began to plot ways to work around the new rule.  Some began buying cookies from the store as it was faster than making fresh cookies.  Others made their cookies smaller so it appeared more were eaten.  A few hired their neighbours to bake for them or even stole cookies from their fellow bakers’ ovens!

The honest bakers watched in dismay as these others began to earn more and more gold while doing less and less work.  But, when they told the owner of the new café what was happening, nothing was done about it.  Instead, the owner posted a new sign on the door.

“Dear Bakers, I’ve made a new rule.  From now on, you will get less gold for the cookies the people eat.”

“That’s not fair,” one baker said in dismay.

“There are lots of customers buying cookies,” another pointed out.

“What about the big pot of gold?” a third asked.

But the owner of the new café wouldn’t talk to them.

Not knowing what else to do, the bakers went back to their kitchens.  All day and all night they baked and baked and baked but, when they went to the café the next day, there was yet another message awaiting them.

“Dear Bakers, I know you are worried about selling your cookies so I will let you place advertisements in the store.  If you advertise enough, people will eat more of your cookies and you will earn more gold.”

“This is a good idea,” the bakers agreed…until they read the rest of the note.

“You must pay lots of gold to advertise in the store and, those that pay the most, can place their cookies at the front.  The rest will be at the back on the hard to reach shelves.”

The bakers checked their pockets to see how much money they had.  It wasn’t a lot as the dishonest bakers had been earning most of the gold.

“If I spend my money on advertising, I won’t be able to buy ingredients,” one said.

“If you don’t advertise, you won’t sell your cookies,” another pointed out.

“I’m going to buy a giant advertisement,” a third declared, “and hope people notice my cookies.  Surely that will work.”

From the back of the room, the quiet baker piped up.  “Shouldn’t people choose their cookies based on how good they taste and the recommendations of other customers, rather than how much advertising the baker can afford?  That’s how it worked at the old cafés.”

Unfortunately, no one listened.  They were too busy trying to please the owner of the new café.

The bakers began to design and buy advertisements so their cookies would be on the best shelves.  This, however, used up what little gold they earned and, when they had no money left to advertise, their cookies were pushed to the back of the store.

“We’re losing money,” most of the bakers moaned.  “When there were lots of little cafés, we earned more.”

“That’s what I was telling you,” the quiet baker reminded them.

A few bakers took off their aprons and threw them on the ground.  “We quit.  We aren’t even making enough to pay for our ingredients.”

Others sighed sadly and walked slowly back to their kitchens to continue baking all day and all night.  They loved their job but didn’t know how much longer they could continue.

Meanwhile, inside the store, the customers were starting to comment.

“This cookie tastes just like all the others,” one said.

“There’s a hair in mine,” another declared.

“This one is good,” said a third. “But it was buried way at the back.  I’m surprised I even found it.”

“What’s wrong with these bakers and this café owner?”  Many grumbled.  “We should go back to buying our cookies at the old cafes!”

“You can if you want to,” said the new café owner.  “I’m not forcing you to buy your cookies here.”

But when the customers went outside, they discovered all the other cafés were closed.  If they wanted cookies, they had to get them from the new café.  Turning to go back inside, they saw a sign had been taped to the door.

“Dear customers, you now have to pay ten pieces of gold for each cookie.”

“Ten?  We used to get as many as we wanted for only one!”

“That’s outrageous.  I won’t do it!”

“But where else can we go? The bakers only sell cookies here.”

The customers looked at each other in shock, realizing they were now trapped.  How could this have happened?  Surely it was someone’s fault, but whose?

As winter fell upon the land, questions continued to abound.  What were the customers going to do?

And what would the bakers do?

Would the dishonest bakers ever be stopped?

And, most importantly, did the owner of the new café even care?

(Not really.  He owned the only café in the land and earned lots of gold every day from people who wanted cookies.  The real question was, what industry would he conquer next?)

### 

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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Book Launch: eBook Preorder and Presale Strategies to Grow Readership

I'm a huge fan of ebook preorders and ebook presales.

They both play different but essential roles in helping you build a successful publishing business.

Two weeks ago at the San Francisco Writers Conference, I presented a workshop about ebook preorders and presales.

You can download the full PDF of the presentation here.  Feel free to share it with your author friends!

What you'll learn:
  • How book launch timelines have evolved for indie authors over the last decade 
  • Why ebook preorders and presales are essential best practices for book launches
  • How to improve reader targeting by turning a single book launch into multiple book launches
  • How ebook presales increase the perceived desirability of your upcoming book
  • Why its dangerous to allow social media platforms and retailers to fully mediate (control) your relationships with - and access to - your readers
  • How to use the promise of presales to grow your mailing list 365 days a year
  • How to run an ebook presale
  • Presale marketing tips

This was my first public presentation discussing the new patent-pending Smashwords Presales feature we announced in December.

You can check out the full presentation here:


Enjoy, and please share with your author friends!