How to Do Box Sets at Smashwords for Audience Building, Charity and Profit
By Mark Coker
If you haven’t yet planned a box set, now is the time to start planning for one. This post will show you how.
The two most common types of box set are single-author and multi-author.
For a single-author box set, an author might combine all the books in a series, or might combine the series starters of multiple series, or might simply combine all their standalone titles into a single collection. Smashwords author Anne Marie Novark, for example, created a single-author First in a Series Box Set featuring four of her full-length romance series starters for the value-price of only $2.99. Smart.
For a multi-author box set, multiple authors, usually in the same genre or category, collaborate to publish multiple full-length books or complete short stories in a value-priced bundle.
Several Smashwords authors have joined together to publish limited-time charity box sets. One recent Smashwords box set, A Sweet Life, was orchestrated by author Brenda Novak and featured fourteen New York Times bestsellers. In one month, the box set earned nearly $30,000 for diabetes research from sales across the Smashwords network, and more from other channels. Amazing.
Another more recent fundraiser example is Star Crossed, orchestrated by author Amy Miles, where thirteen bestselling YA Smashwords fantasy authors – including Amy Miles, Amy A. Bartol, Chanda Hahn, Ella James, Jocelyn Stover, Quinn Loftis, Rebecca Ethington, Shelly Crane, and Wendy Owens – are raising money for a St. Louis-based autism charity. Star Crossed releases August 18 and is available now for preorder at iBooks and will be available soon at Barnes & Noble and Kobo.
Box sets are usually value-priced, meaning the box set costs the reader less than purchasing all the books individually.
The ebook format is uniquely suited to box sets in a way that print is not. The Star Crossed box set of full-length fantasy novels comprises 1.2 million words, a length that in print might span an entire length of a bookshelf. In ebook form, it’s a single convenient and lightweight download.
A Closer Look at Multi-Author Box Sets
Multi-author box sets represent an especially great sales, marketing and audience-building opportunity for authors. For the remainder of this post, I’ll focus on multi-author box sets (many of the tips apply to single-author box sets as well).
The magic of a multi-author box set is that each author promotes the box set to their respective fan base. It’s a great opportunity for fans of one author to discover similarly great authors in the same genre or category. The audience reach is amplified dramatically via the aggregated promotional effort of all participating authors. If each participating author has thousands of readers subscribed to their private mailing lists, and thousands of fans following them on Twitter and Facebook, you can quickly begin to appreciate the power of amplified collaborative marketing.
Here’s how to set up a multi-author box set at Smashwords:
Choose your collaborators and focus – Choose collaborators who write for the same target reader you write for. For example, if you write New Adult romance, collaborate with fellow NA romance authors. If you write YA fantasy, collaborate with your favorite YA fantasy authors. Themes are great too. For example, a multi-author box set of Halloween-themed horror novels is a great idea if you write Halloween-themed fiction (get it on preorder now!). Select your collaborators carefully. You’re going to recommend this box set and your fellow authors to your fans, which means your trusted reputation with your fans is on the line if you partner with authors that won’t satisfy your readers.
Work out your business terms – Decide amongst yourselves who will upload the book, and how you plan to price the book and split the proceeds. Smashwords cannot split the proceeds, so this will be the responsibility of the author or publisher who uploads the box set. Some Smashwords authors doing charity box sets have set up new, standalone Smashwords accounts for the sole purpose of simplifying accounting.
Create your cover image – As instructed in the Smashwords Style Guide, Smashwords cannot accept cover images that are pseudo-3d (the cover image is a digital rendition of a three dimensional physical box). The reason is that iBooks will not accept these because they correctly believe that a small number of customers might think they’re actually purchasing a physical box set, which they are not. All authors should be listed on the ebook cover image. Click here to learn more about Smashwords cover requirements.
Format with a linked Table of Contents – You’ll combine the multiple books into a single ebook file. Although not a requirement, I recommend that you create a linked Table of Contents for the box set. This way, each author’s book can be listed in the table of contents and easily visible in the ebook file’s NCX navigation (the NCX is what generates the “Table of Contents” items you see on your iPad, iPhone, Kindle, Nook or other device or e-reading app). It’s a good idea to list the books in the ToC as “Book Title by Author Name” without the “quotes” and then underneath each title listing create another link to a section below each author’s book labeled “About Author Name” in which you provide a short bio following each author’s book. You can also list and link to other author-specific sections, such as “Other books by Author Name” or “Connect with Author Name.” To learn how to add navigation to a Smashwords ebook, see Step 20 in the Style Guide, and don’t miss my blog post and video, How to Add Navigation to a Smashwords Ebook. You’ll find some additional tips in the blog post on box set navigation. If you watch the video you’ll learn how incredibly easy it is to upgrade all your Smashwords books with enhanced navigation.
List the box set as a preorder – A preorder allows the collaborating authors to promote the box set to their respective fan bases for weeks or months in advance of release of the book. Smashwords distributes preorders to iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, and each retailer credits all accumulated preoders toward the book’s first-day unit sales, which causes the book to spike in the bestseller lists, which causes the book to become more visible and more desirable to readers. More visibility + more desire = more sales! Click here to learn about Smashwords preorders.
Upload – Once the book is formatted to the Smashwords Style Guide, upload it as you normally would from the Smashwords “Publish” page, and then download the .epub file to confirm the formatting looks great and the navigation works as expected. If you need to make any corrections or updates, click to Dashboard: Upload New Version to upload the new file. The person who updates the book will be the controlling user.
Special tip for the book title – I think it’s a good idea to mention the word “box set” in the book’s title, and also the number of contributing authors, and if it’s a charity box set mention that as well. Such a title quickly communicates to the browsing reader it’s a box set, the theme and why they should care. For example, in the metadata, the title for Star Crossed is listed as Star Crossed (Thirteen-Book Charity Box Set for Autism). The title metadata for A Sweet Life was A Sweet Life Boxed Set (Fourteen Contemporary Romances by Bestselling Authors to Benefit Diabetes Research).
Special tips for the book description – It’s a good idea to list all the books and authors in the book description. This will improve discoverability at retailers, and will also help make the book more desirable to readers. Do not mention price in the description. It’s okay to mention the bundle is “value-priced,” but don’t write something like, “A $79.00 value, yours for just $.99!” Prices are never allowed in book descriptions because Smashwords books are distributed to global retailers and sold in multiple currencies. For a customer who purchases in Euros or Yen or Pounds, a USD price is confusing and inaccurate. Anytime you confuse a prospective reader, you create friction, and friction causes them to click away and you lose them. If the box set is raising money for charity, avoid writing in the description, “All proceeds go to charity,” because that’s not exactly accurate since the retailer is not donating their proceeds. It’s more accurate to write, “The authors will donate their proceeds from the sale of this box set to XYZ charity.”
Giving multiple authors credit in the “written by” metadata – Upon upload, the only author credited in the “written by” metadata in the book listing will be the author who uploaded the book. That’s not good, because you want all the authors credited in the metadata, and retailers want to see all the authors credited on the cover image should also be credited in the metadata as well. To give all authors credit in the metadata, click the “support” link at the bottom of any Smashwords web page to contact our support team. Provide us a direct hyperlink to the author profile page of each contributing author and we’ll link them up with the book. If the author doesn’t yet have a Smashwords account, please ask them to create one. It’s free! Another option: If you’ve upgraded your account to Publisher status, you can create “ghost” accounts for each contributing author. This option is only recommended for publishers because once you upgrade your account to publisher status, it’s a permanent change. Note that we’ll link all the authors at Smashwords but our retailers may not be able to link all the names. This is why it’s important to place the author names in the book description as well.
Good luck, and have fun!