By Claire Youmans
(2014, 2019; American I Publishing)
Her only choice is to run away. But if she can’t return in time, she’ll be an outcast for life!
Japan, 1870. For bird-girl Azuki, being dual-natured is dangerous. With a greedy overlord coveting her beautiful Toki feathers, she attempts to keep her head down. But when he murders her parents in a failed kidnapping, Azuki’s only escape is to spread her wings and take to the skies.
Sparrow-boy Shota has no time to grieve. As his mother dies in his arms, he makes a promise to find his sister and warn her that she must come back. For unless Shota and Azuki make it home by the quarter-day, they’ll lose their chance to return forever.
As he barters his way across the country, the obstacles of ogres, storms, and time stand between two siblings and their hopes of citizenship and happiness.
In a rapidly-modernizing world, can Azuki and Shota return before they’re banished without a place to call home?
Coming Home is the enchanting first novel in the Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy historical fantasy series. If you like mythical creatures, unique folklore, and fast-paced adventure, then you’ll love Claire Youmans’ captivating tale from the Meiji Era.
Buy Coming Home to watch two siblings battle for their rights today!
By Claire Youmans
(2015, 2019; American I Publishing)
A bird-girl may fly between two worlds. But to protect her future, she must reclaim her human rights.
Japan, 1871. Toki-girl Azuki wants to share her talents with Japan’s changing world. But without proper status in her community, she can only watch and worry as war engulfs her beloved homeland. So, when she unearths a priceless treasure, she hopes she’s found the key that could stop the fighting and win her heart’s desire.
Embarking on a treacherous journey to the provincial capital to secure her lord’s approval, Azuki and her sparrow-boy brother join forces with a kindly warrior monk. But with hawk-like demons on the attack and bandits lurking behind every tree, she fears the peaceful land she loves could be lost forever.
Will Azuki defeat the demonic forces to reclaim her rights and her home?
Chasing Dreams is the thrilling second book in The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy historical fantasy series. If you like heroes from folklore, fiendish enemies, and action-packed adventures, you’ll love Claire Youmans’ mythical story, another tale from the Meiji Era.
Buy Chasing Dreams to see a heroine fight for her future today!
By Claire Youmans
(2016, 2019; American I Publishing)
She loves to weave. Her brother dreams of sailing. But can two powerful siblings keep their way of life alive?
Japan, 1872. Dual-natured bird-girl Azuki delights in making her highly desirable woven kimonos. But something about her intricate loom work is making her sick. And even worse, the illness has spread to her majestic Toki plumage.
Sparrow-boy Shota worries that his friendship with the Dragon Princess is waning. With his sister falling desperately ill, he hopes to impress the royal dragon-girl by tracking down the legendary crane-woman who can heal Azuki. And as soon as she’s recovered, he can follow his ambition to become a master mariner and help sail Azuki’s gorgeous fabrics to far-flung destinations.
But with Shota’s perilous journey attracting the attention of foreign invaders and giant sea monsters, his adventure to save his sister and impress his friend could end up at the bottom of the ocean.
Can Shota, Azuki, and their dragon friends join forces to survive the turmoil and protect their dreams?
Together is the third book in the Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy historical fantasy series. If you like classical Japanese folklore, enchanting characters, and heroic journeys, then you’ll love Claire Youmans’ captivating tale from the Meiji Era.
Buy Together today to watch unlikely friends work to save their homeland!
By Claire Youmans
(2017, 2019; American I Publishing)
He was a warrior monk. Now he’s wearing a western business suit. But will he risk his family’s future to fight for what’s right?
Japan, 1873. Yuta struggles to keep up with both his country’s rapid changes and his magical niece and nephew. And though he likes the look of his fancy new western suit, it doesn’t seem to fit with his trusted old-school weapons. But when he travels to a major event in Japan’s history, he’ll need both business and blade to survive.
As Yuta rides on the exciting new train he sees Japan’s industrial advances bearing down on his way of life at breakneck speed. While he tries to embrace the change, watching a textile factory mistreat its indentured workers makes the ex-monk’s blood boil.
Uncle Yuta Has An Adventure is the fourth book in the Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy, historical fantasy series. If you like intriguing conflicts, clashes of culture, and rich Japanese settings, then you’ll love Claire Youmans’ well-crafted novel from the Meiji Era.
Buy Uncle Yuta has An Adventure to watch a monk turned teacher keep his family from drowning in waves of progress!
By Claire Youmans
American I Publishing 2018, 2019
She’s a strong-minded kunoichi, a master of ninjutsu. But can she win the fight to uncover her hidden past?
Japan, 1873-4. Noriko struggles to embrace a new future when she has yet to overcome her shrouded history. Aboard the smoke-blowing iron monster of a train, she anxiously looks ahead to her new life as part of a mythical family. But with her husband’s friends expecting powerful dual-natured babies, Noriko wants to unearth her own heritage…no matter the cost.
Resolved to confront the truth, Noriko sets out to connect with her long-lost relatives. But in the quest to discover who she truly is, a shocking secret will either bring her hope or devastation.
Can Noriko use the lessons of the past to embrace a new destiny in modern Japan?
Noriko’s Journey is the fifth book in the captivating Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy historical fantasy series. If you like complex characters, rich Asian heritage, and mythical creatures based on timeless Japanese folklore, then you’ll love Claire Youmans’ captivating tale from the Meiji Era.
Buy Noriko’s Journey to watch a secret warrior discover her past today!
By Claire Youmans
American I Publishing 2019
Torn between dragon and human, two sisters must embrace friends and family to survive.
Japan, 1875. Dragon-girl Renko faces an uncertain future. As the country around her rapidly changes, she struggles to figure out where she fits in. So when a kind gesture uncovers a sex trafficking scheme, she’s even more conflicted about her ability to take human form.
Otohime fears risking her heart again. Long after the death of her human husband, she’s still unsure if she’s ready for love with a dragon consort. But after exploring Japan’s rocky volcanoes with a handsome new friend, a twist of fate leaves her and Renko trapped and helpless.
Drained of their powerful abilities, Renko and Otohime must put their faith in half- and full-humans to escape with their lives.
Can the two dragons embrace both sides of their nature and give their humanity a second chance?
The Dragon Sistersis the sixth book in the compelling Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy historical fantasy series. If you like fast-paced adventures, engaging characters, and Japanese folklore, then you’ll love Claire Youmans’ intricately woven tale from the Meiji Era.
Buy The Dragon Sisters to embrace a world of mythical possibilities today!
By Claire Youmans
This Sideways Story begins with the truce among humans, the dragons and the Umi-boze. Now, Shota’s sailing across the Sea of Japan to the country of Joseon! It’s not exactly legal, but he’s going offshore to deliver cargo to the foreign port of Pusan! When he’s asked to look up a Japanese sparrow who also crossed the sea, he agrees to accept another mission. But when he arrives, he finds the sparrow he’s looking for gone. Why have the local sparrows fled to the mountains? Can he find the missing Joseon sparrows? Will Shota find the missing birds and be able to help the sparrows of Pusan — and will they all be able to work together to help the sparrows of both Joseon and Japan?
By Mark Coker, Smashwords
At Smashwords, we’re committed to providing our authors and publishers the greatest possible control over their ebook publishing, distribution and marketing.
Today I’m pleased to announce Global Coupons, a new marketing tool that enables authors and publishers to assign a single coupon code to two or more books in their catalog.
Global Coupons are a boon to authors and publishers that want to initiate, track, and manage custom marketing campaigns encompassing multiple titles.
With the addition of Global Coupons, authors and publishers now have another powerful Smashwords-exclusive marketing tool they can use to attract readers and turn fans into superfans.
Authors and publishers can use Global Coupons to drive subscriber acquisition for private newsletters, reward reader loyalty, distribute review copies to reviewers and media, and make their books eligible for discovery with the Smashwords Store’s ever-present “Special Deals” shelves.
How to Create Global Coupons
Here’s a step-by-step checklist for creating Global Coupons:
Click to the Smashwords Dashboard’s Coupon Manager feature
To create a single coupon code spanning multiple titles, either click the “Select all Books for Global Coupon” option, or select books individually
Click “Generate Global Coupon”
Next, select if you want to apply a flat percentage off to all books (i.e. 23%-off), or set a unified price (i.e. if you wanted to price all books at $1.00, or any other price), or you can choose to set unique and individual prices or discount levels for each title
Set an expiration date
Select if you want the Global Coupon public or private (with a public coupon, participating titles will be merchandised as on sale in the Smashwords Store, and available for discovery through the home page’s “Special Deals’ features; with a private coupon, the author or publisher decides where to share their coupon code).
Assign an optional Campaign Label, which allows authors and publishers to more easily track redemptions from their Sales & Payments reports
Click “Create Coupons” and you’re done!
The Global Coupons feature is available now as an exclusive tool for all Smashwords authors and publishers. The coupons work only in the Smashwords Store.
We quietly introduced the feature two weeks ago within the Dashboard’s Coupon Manager. Although we didn’t tell anyone about it, hundreds of authors and publishers have already discovered the feature and used it to attach Global Coupons to over 13,000 books. Two publishers used the feature to assign a Global Coupon to over 800 books each, all with a few simple clicks. Dozens more have used it to generate Global Coupons spanning over 100 books each.
If you’ve got two or more books at Smashwords, give it a try and let us know what you think.
By Mark Coker, Smashwords
Mark your calendars!
The 10th annual Smashwords Read an Ebook Week sale kicks off Sunday March 3 and runs through Saturday March 9.
Thousands of Smashwords authors, publishers and readers will participate in this international ebook celebration featuring thousands of exclusive deals on great books.
Authors and Publishers: Enrollment is now open at https://www.smashwords.com/dashboard/sitewidePromos The sale will be promoted to over one million Smashwords customers. Don’t miss out!
With a few clicks, you can enroll your books into discount categories of 25% off, 50% off, 75% off or FREE.
To enroll all your books at once, click the Enroll button immediately below the discount level you desire. This is a huge time saver for authors and publishers who manage dozens, hundreds or even thousands of titles.
Readers: When the promotion goes live on Sunday March 3, visit the Smashwords home page where you’ll find multiple options to explore the participating titles.
Here are two shortcuts:
To browse participating books using our brand new “shelf” interface, go here:
To browse participating books using our “classic” interface , go here:
Be sure to check back daily because thousands of new books will join the sale throughout the week.
How to Join the Celebration
Here’s a quick checklist to help you get the most out of the Read an Ebook Week event:
Authors and publishers: Enroll your books now at https://www.smashwords.com/dashboard/sitewidePromo. You’ll also find a link on the Smashwords home page. If you’re not yet publishing with Smashwords, now’s a great time to join the over 130,000 authors and publishers around the world who publish and distribute ebooks with Smashwords. Visit https://www.smashwords.com/about/how_to_publish_on_smashwords for an overview of our free publishing and distribution services, and then click “Join” to get started.
Authors and publishers: Each day during the week long sale, celebrate your participation across your social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blog, private mailing lists). Include a direct hyperlink to your author or publisher page. Also be sure to complete your Smashwords Interview (also accessible under “Interview Manager” in your Smashwords Dashboard) so prospective readers can learn the story behind your authorship.
Authors and readers: Visit the Smashwords Read an Ebook Week event page at https://www.smashwords.com/ebookweek where you’ll find downloadable buttons, banners and images you can share on social media to promote your participation in the event.
Readers: When you discover a great deal, share it with your friends on social media. Be sure to tag the author (find their Twitter and Facebook addresses on their Smashwords author profile page) so they know you downloaded their book! To promote the sale to your friends, share this hyperlink which places the reader into the heart of the Read an Ebook Week Catalog: https://www.smashwords.com/shelves/promos/1/any/any
The official hashtags for the promotion are #Smashwords and #ebookweek19
This promotion is exclusive to the Smashwords store. It will not impact prices at other retailers. Enjoy!
By Mark Coker, Smashwords
Welcome to my annual publishing predictions.
I’ll start by sharing some thoughts on the state of the indie nation and then I’ll jump into the predictions.
Also be sure to check out today’s companion post, Smashwords Year in Review and 2019 Preview.
The State of the Indie Nation
If you’ve followed my posts here at the Smashwords Blog over the years, you know I don’t sugarcoat. I try to give you the unvarnished truth of what I’m seeing and hearing, and what it all means for the future of indie authors and publishers.
Grab a cup of coffee or your favorite beverage and let’s ponder the past, present and future of indie publishing.
When I met with authors this year, I sensed a growing unease with the direction of the industry. For some, their unease has given way to desperation and despair.
Sure, it’s a tough life as an author – this has always been the case. Yet something different is happening now.
Authors feel like something’s been taken from them, but they can’t quite put their finger on it. Their concerns often reverse and manifest as self-doubt. Are they not as good of a writer as their most ardent fans tell them they are? What are they doing wrong?
A lyric from the band Black Sabbath comes to my mind. It’s the title track from their classic album by the same name, Heaven and Hell:
“The world is full of kings and queens who blind your eyes and steal your dreams.”
~ Black Sabbath
Is someone or something stealing authors’ dreams?
The answer is complicated. I think at the root of the challenge, as I’ve discussed here on the blog for several years now, is that the supply of ebooks is growing faster than the supply of readers.
Since ebooks are digital, and because virtual shelf space is unlimited at ebook retailers, it means these books never go out of print. It’s great that your book will always be available, discoverable, and purchasable, but it also means that every day from this day forward you’re competing against more books.
If the glut was the only concern, most of the indies could deal with it through best practices alone. Most indies don’t take full advantage of best practices, which means those that do make the effort usually enjoy superior discoverability and sales.
But even best practices aren’t enough now. Something else is going on.
Some smart authors are starting to feel as if the system is somehow rigged against them. I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but these authors are on to something.
The answer is in Seattle. The industry’s dominant retailer is taking advantage of this glut to commoditize books and strip indies of their independence. This strategy was set in motion years ago with the launch of KDP Select in 2011, and the waves it unleashed then are now wreaking havoc on author shorelines.
This was a major theme of my predictions post last year. It’s worth a re-read because the same forces I described last year intensified in 2018 (Read it now).
For this post, in the context of my discussion on the state of the indie nation, I’ll examine Amazon’s strategy from a different angle. I’ll look at how Amazon’s strategy is forcing authors to make short term decisions that undermine their long term careers.
Amazon requires its suppliers – i.e. authors and publishers – to make concessions in exchange for greater visibility in the Amazon store. These concessions come in the form of exclusivity, lower royalty percentages, the loss of pricing control, and other hidden tolls and taxes that eat away at your profits. If you want to maximize visibility in Amazon’s store, these are the pounds of flesh you must trade.
Talk to any large traditional publisher and you’ll learn these are the same battles they’ve been fighting and losing with Amazon long before indie authors came on the scene.
All these concessions are presented to indies cloaked in the cheery veneer of “options” you can take advantage of. Those that don’t swallow these options are disadvantaged.
No other ebook retailer demands these concessions. No other retailer is pushing to commoditize books. No other retailer encourages its customers to pay less when the customer would happily pay more.
Amazon does it because they can, and because their business model is all about commoditizing everything they sell.
Jeff Bezos once stated that Amazon’s business philosophy is, “your margin is my opportunity.” That’s all you really need to remember.
Most indie authors I know live hand to mouth if they’re a full-time author. It’s tough to make a living writing books.
Amazon acts like a twisted modern day Robin Hood who steals from the poor and gives to its customers.
Measuring the Mood of Indies
When I step back and consider how the mood of indies has evolved over the last ten years, I can almost divide the decade into two chapters.
The first chapter started in 2008 and 2009, and was marked by jubilence and unbridled optimism within the budding indie community as ebook retailers opened their virtual shelves to self-published ebooks. This democratized distribution was a game-changer because it allowed readers to discover and purchase indie ebooks right alongside the books of traditional publishers. It was during these first five years that ebooks grew from less than one percent of the overall trade book market to nearly 20 percent.
But not all parties can last forever.
In the second chapter, the most recent five years, the ebook market matured and its unsustainable meteoric growth stalled.
Indies responded by working harder than ever. But for many authors, it felt as if each time they took one step forward, unseen forces pushed them two steps back.
Since indie authors get most of their income from digital sales, the glut of ebooks stings. It makes authors ripe for exploitation by players who promise to improve the author’s discoverability. These player’s interests aren’t always aligned with those of the author.
Enter Amazon. Amazon presented authors with quick fixes such as KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited that offered to raise their visibility overnight. Never mind the long term consequences to the author’s long term future or the damage it causes to rest of the bookselling ecosystem.
I warned authors about these consequences the same day KDP Select was introduced seven years ago (Read Amazon Shows its Predatory Spots with KDP Select).
Authors who put all their eggs in the Amazon basket tell me they now feel trapped. They’re also angry because they feel Amazon’s competitors failed to give them a viable alternative to this fate.
The third chapter of this story will be written by indies. What happens next is up to you, and those who come after you.
Politics and Publishing
The other day I was having an email conversation with my buddy, Michael Larson, who I first met through our mutual friend, the late Dan Poynter. Mike and his wife, Elizabeth, co-founded the amazing San Francisco Writers Conference 16 years ago. To this day it remains one of the best writers conferences in the country. It was one of the first to embrace indie authors as equal members of the publishing community.
We were talking politics and publishing. I lamented to Mike how voters, like the entire publishing industry, can buy into simplistic quick fixes that are inadequate – and even counterproductive – to solving today’s complex challenges.
Wherever you land on the political or publishing spectrum, you probably agree it’s natural for most people to prefer simplicity over complexity. Complexity is scary!
There’s a political component to publishing, but it has nothing to do with conservatism or liberalism.
As an indie publisher, you’re an important member of the publishing community. Every publishing decision you make, like the flap of a butterfly’s wing, is a vote for the winds to blow in one direction or another.
Why is simplistic political pabulum so appealing and so effective? Why are so many traditional publishers and indie authors surrendering their independence and financial futures to temporary quick fixes?
Mike’s four word response floored me:
“Pain seeks simple solutions.”
Now I get why KDP Select is so successful for Amazon, but not so much for authors. Now I understand why my attempts to warn authors for the last seven years have failed.
If I’ve got a throbbing headache and the only painkiller I have handy is Tylenol, I don’t want someone telling me how Tylenol is going to burn a hole in my liver 20 years from now. I need relief now.
I met with talented authors this year who were near tears when they described how they’re working harder than ever, producing their best work ever, yet their sales were dropping year after year.
Out of desperation, they’re trying everything.
They’re giving readers whiplash in the process. KDP Select is brilliantly designed to act this way. The moment you even try it, you’ve undermined the future you might have had. The thing is, you never know.
I see this anguish in the faces of these talented authors and it makes me angry. It doesn’t have to be this way!
Yes, the market is glutted, but why is the largest retailer working single-handedly to diminish the labor of authors and publishers, especially when readers are willing to pay more?
Are $3.99 and $4.99 price points – the sweet spots for most bestselling indies – too much to pay for a great book? No!
The entire publishing community is now living in fear.
Large traditional publishers are worried about making their next quarter’s numbers, and are terrified Amazon will take away their preorder buttons if they so much as look at Amazon cross eyed. Indies are terrified of Amazon’s next price-matching email or KU nastygram, which reminds them that repeated offenses could lead to cancellation of their publishing privileges. Indies are terrified of seeing their legit reviews disappearing without explanation or recourse. Or, like the NY Times bestseller who contacted me this morning, why should an author fear being kicked out of KU because Amazon might notice that a pirated version of her book was just listed for sale at another major retailer?
What kind of life is this, living in fear that your business partner who’s supposed to have your back is browbeating you, and threatening to drop the axe on you at any moment?
All too often, succumbing to Amazon’s offers of quick fixes like KDP Select can feel safer, but this decision can also lead to long term pain, bondage and servitude.
As I’ve repeated here on the blog, in my books and at my workshops around the world for the last decade, there’s no single magic bullet that will grow an author’s book sales. There are many secrets, and they’re called best practices. Best practices require hard work, consistency, iteration, and a steady hand over the long term.
Yet we’re drawn to the pill that promises to numb the pain now, not tomorrow. By jumping from one magic elixer to the next, we take our eyes off the ball that really matters.
Here’s what really matters: Do your books cause rapturous delight in the hearts and minds of your readers? Are your publishing partners’ interests aligned with your own? Is your partner trying to elevate you or control you?
Exclusivity is a form of censorship. It says you can express yourself here, but not there.
Algorithms that give preference to exclusive books are a form of censorship too. This struggle for free expression predates Amazon, and will continue long after Amazon is gone.
In fact, the seeds of the indie author movement, and the battle for free expression, can be traced back to the introduction of Gutenberg’s printing press over 500 years ago. Ever since the introduction of the printing press, writers struggled against political, religious and commercial interests that sought to censor or control their free expression (For more on the fascinating historical struggle for free expression, check out episode nine of the Smart Author Podcast titled, The Indie Author Manifesto.
The good news is that Amazon’s practices can’t last. They’re unsustainable for the creators of books. Like all forms of oppression, the people will eventually rise up and take back their independence.
It won’t happen tomorrow, but I can assure you that we’ll continue fighting to put authors in control (To learn what we accomplished for you at Smashwords in 2018, and for hints of what we have planned for 2019, check out my other post today, Smashwords 2018 Year in Review and 2019 Preview).
Now on to my predictions section of this post.
Mark Coker’s Publishing Predictions for 2018
Predictions are a form of speculative fiction. They help us imagine a world that might be if current trends continue, and they give us advance opportunity to encourage or reverse these trends via the collective actions of all participants.
I see silver linings everywhere.
There’s much to be optimistic about.
You are the creator of books.
Books, and readers’ desire to consume them, will never go away. Books will always remain valuable and magical vehicles for revelation, joy and rebirth. In these turbulent times, books are more important than ever.
The world is cyclical, just like the seasons. Winter is upon us here in the northern hemisphere, but it too shall pass. Markets rise, fall, then rise again.
I have faith that at the end of the day, when toxic or unjust forces that limit freedom become too overwhelming, people will band together to tackle these complex problems. The alternative is annihilation, so pick your path.
Even during droughts, beautiful flowers grow in the desert. There are still millions of readers out there right now searching for their next great read, and they’re willing to pay for it. You can reach them.
As an indie publisher, you are powerful. Every decision you make is the flap of a butterfly wing. If indies concentrate their flaps in the right direction, we can shift this industry’s winds in a better direction.
Now I present you eight publishing predictions for 2019.
1. Indies Help Fuel Further Rise of Audiobooks in 2019 – Audiobooks create new time in the reader’s day to enjoy books. As result, audiobooks are now the fastest growing segment of the book market. Some indies are already earning more from audiobooks than they do from ebooks and print books. Just as indies helped propel the ebook market forward, they’ll do the same for audiobooks in 2019, but to a lesser extent, since audiobook production is not an affordable investment for most indies. Although audiobook sales could surpass ebook sales within a few years if current trends continue, there’s no guarantee these trends continue. As we all know, the market for ebooks grew exponentially for first the few years before it matured and flatlined. At the end of the day, print, audio and e- are simply different formats for enjoying books. The audiobook market, like ebooks, is subject to the same over-saturation facing ebooks, though that saturation will play out slower because high production costs act as a gatekeeping force. Amazon is already attempting to commoditize audiobooks too, which will lead to price-cutting and lower earnings. But other forces are working to counter this. Apple Books is now carrying audiobooks from our production partner Findaway. If you can afford the investment, do it sooner rather than later, because it’ll be tougher to earn your investment back in a few years than it is now (be warned, however, there’s no guarantee you’ll earn your investment now). Smashwords authors will find an audiobook production option in their Smashwords Dashboard.
2. Ebook Preorder Adoption Will Continue to Rise – In the 2018 Smashwords Survey that I presented at RT Booklovers this year, we found that 16.7% of new books released at Smashwords during the survey period were released as preorders, up from 12.23% in the 2017 survey. It may not look like much, but it represented a 37% increase from the prior year. In 2019 I think we’ll see the adoption rate increase further. It needs to, because that tiny 16.7% of books accounted for 51% of our top 1,000 bestsellers. Authors who do preorders earn more sales, and those that don’t are squandering their potential! This is an essential best practice that 80% of indie authors haven’t yet implemented. If you’re a long time follower of the blog or have read my books, you know I’ve been advocating preorders as a top best practice since 2013. To learn how to make preorders work for you, listen to episode 8 of the Smart Author Podcast on preorder strategy.
3. More Authors Will be Tempted to Quit – For the reasons outlined in my introduction, more veteran indie authors will quit publishing in 2019, to be replaced by new, less-experienced authors who are even more subject to exploitation. If you’re considering quitting, please listen to my podcast episode titled, The Art of Delusion (Link to it). The path out of the darkness starts by staying true to your inner light, and by finding joy in the journey of publishing. Don’t measure your success by dollar sales. The only way to truly fail in publishing is to quit. Stay in the game if you can.
4. Amazon Algorithm Fatigue Sets In – Indies are obsessed with Amazon’s algorithms, and there’s no shortage of experts who will advise you on how to modify your publishing strategy to please Amazon’s algorithms. What few people realize, however, is that the obsession with Amazon’s algorithms is taking indies in the wrong direction. Imagine if all the attention shown to gaming Amazon’s algorithms was instead focused on writing better books? That would be a true benefit to readers, and a benefit to the author’s long term career.
5. Amazon Becomes Pay-to-play – In my 2016 April Fools post, I wrote a satire that imagined a dystopian future in which Amazon launched a new book marketing program. It was called Kindle Power Bucks (read Kindle Power Bucks Solves Marketing Challenge http://blog.smashwords.com/2016/04/kindle-power-bucks-ebooks.html) . Authors would pay Amazon each time a page of their book was read by readers. The larger your marketing budget, the more readers you could buy. This dystopian future came closer to reality in 2018 when Amazon started replacing “also bought” shelves with sponsored ad shelves. Sponsored ads are littered throughout their search results. Let’s be clear. When you have to pay a retailer to be seen, that’s a toll. It’s a tax on your profit margin. It means you’re not really earning 70% list at Amazon (actually, you never did earn 70%, since they charge a download fee based on the size of your book). This is another way for Amazon to pay authors and publishers less for their books. Why would Amazon do this? Is it because this service helps place better reader-pleasing books in front of their customers? Absolutely not. This is another way to extract margin concessions from its suppliers, much like the co-op dollars large publishers must pay to have their print books featured on front tables and shelf talkers at physical stores. Similar to Google Adwords, Amazon Ads pit advertisers against one another as they bid for greater visibility. Over the long term, this erodes your profitability, because the economics of ad bidding holds that you keep investing more dollars until a dollar invested can’t earn back the dollar in royalties.
6. More Authors and Readers Will Abandon Facebook – Facebook is in a world of hurt right now. Users are beginning to realize that Facebook’s business model is all about selling their users’ privacy and attention to the highest bidder. For authors, this means they hold your readers’ attention hostage so they can sell you ads. They’ve shown a callous disregard for the toxic content that spreads like wildfire on their site, possibly because they recognize that fake news spreads faster and is more engaging then real news. Facebook has created an environment that tends to make its users less happy the more time they spend there. Despite my criticism, I’m hopeful Facebook can reform their ways because there’s still much to love about Facebook, and there’s no other viable alternative yet that can match the better aspects of Facebook. If you’re considering quitting Facebook, don’t.
Facebook, Amazon and Google Will Face Increased Anti-trust Scrutiny in 2019 – Last year I predicted Amazon would face increased anti-trust scrutiny, and we saw new rumblings in that regard in 2018. In 2019 those rumblings will intensify, but this time it’ll be around all three of these companies. These three companies have grown so large and powerful that they’re now stifling innovation outside their walls, and decimating fair competition. Each of these companies started with fantastic missions, and each has created tremendous value for their users and shareholders thanks to their innovations. But they’re now so large it’s nearly impossible for new startups to gain a foothold. It’s another of those hairy, complex problems with no simple solution. Much of the challenge has to do with how large platforms and marketplaces operate on the internet. When businesses started moving online thanks to the Internet, it removed geography as a natural regulator on the growth of a business. These large companies also benefit by a concept known as “network effects,” which means that the more people who join their service or participate in their marketplace, the more useful that service becomes for all its users, and thus the more difficult it is for users to leave that platform for another competitor. Once you’re locked in, you’re subject to exploitation and dependence.
7. Blockchain Hype Subsides – I like new technology. In my prior career starting in the ‘90s, I ran a Silicon Valley PR firm. My job was to promote new technology. There’s good hype and bad hype. If a product or technology truly solves real world problems, then yay, shout your message from the highest rooftops. But bad hype is another variety. Bad hype exaggerates the true potential of a product or technology. Bad hype is inherently dishonest and disingenuous by over-stating reality.
Blockchain is one of those technologies with enormous potential for society, and it deserves to be talked about and considered. It’s the technology that underpins Bitcoin. There was a lot of hype about Blockchain in 2018, that it would somehow become the panacea to what ails indie authors. I kicked the tires. I wanted to believe. I read lots of articles, asked questions and listened to others I respect so I could understand why they were so excited. But at the end of the day I still didn’t get it. Maybe I’m not smart enough. I do believe Blockchain has potential applications, but those applications are so far out and so nebulous it strikes me as a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.
It reminds me of Bitcoin, which seems like a great digital currency for cybercriminals, but of questionable value to the rest of us. The value of Bitcoin plummeted 70% in 2018. I think Blockchain for publishing hype will decline 70% in the year ahead as well. But who knows, I could be wrong. New technologies have a way of disrupting things overnight.
8. Ebook Sales Will Rise in 2019 if Major Countries Enter a Recession – Recessions are horrible affairs. People lose jobs. Businesses close. Livelihoods are lost. But recessions are necessary to the long-term health of any economy, because they help deflate bubbles and rein in excesses.
The US is now teetering on the verge of entering its first economic recession in nearly a decade. Recessions tend to be global affairs, since our economy is so inextricably linked to others. Trouble in one country can tip others over the edge. The effect of a recession, or even the mere fear of a recession, is that consumers become more frugal. Books have always represented a low-cost spend for entertainment and knowledge, and ebooks even more so. A trip to a movie theater might cost you $15 for 1 ½ hours of entertainment. A $15 book can give you 15 hours of entertainment. It’s like ten movies for the price of one. If a recession hits, I expect all book sales to increase, and more readers will turn to ebooks, since ebooks are priced at a fraction of print books. Indie ebook authors will be the beneficiaries, since indies price their ebooks significantly lower than traditional publishers.
Summary of Prior Publishing Prediction Posts by Mark Coker
2018 Publishing Predictions (Published December 31, 2017
2017 Publishing Predictions (Published December 31, 2016)
2016 Publishing Predictions (Published December 31, 2015)
2015 Publishing Predictions (Published December 31, 2014)
2014 Publishing Predictions (Published December 30, 2013) and Huffington Post (Published January 7, 2014)
2013 Publishing Predictions (Published Dec 21, 2012)
2011 Predictions at GalleyCat (published Dec 28, 2010)
10-Year Predictions at GalleyCat (published Jan 4, 2010)
Smashwords 2018 Year in Review and 2019 Preview
Posted: 31 Dec 2018 05:59 PM PST
Welcome to my annual Smashwords year in review for 2018 and preview for 2019.
2018 was another productive year for Smashwords.
We achieved several important milestones, delivered on all the development initiatives I outlined in our 2017 year in review, and continued building the foundation for what comes next.
Let’s jump in, starting with milestones:
Smashwords Milestones 2018
Books published – We now publish 507,500 books; up 7.5% from 472,100 at the end of last year.
Words published – We now publish 18 billion words; up 1.2 billion or 7.1% from 16.8 billion a year ago.
Authors/pen names served – We’re now serving 142,200 authors; up 5.1% from 135,175 a year ago.
Smashwords Celebrates 10-year anniversary – Wow, these ten years went fast. Thank you for joining us on this amazing journey. Read our 10-year anniversary post here.
Smashwords Store Facelift + Multi-dimensional Discovery – In November, the Smashwords home page received its most significant refresh in 10 years when we introduced our new multi-dimensional book discovery interface. With a single click on a book category, or on a price or word count filter, readers can surface a great selection of books across multiple themed shelves. In December we added additional shelves to further broaden discoverability. The shelves are powered by new algorithms designed to automatically curate book recommendations based on how other readers are responding to these books in the Smashwords Store and across the Smashwords distribution network. Early results have been positive. In the first 30 days following the launch of the new home page, sales increased 25% over the prior 30 days.
Annual Smashwords Sales Meet Multi-dimensional Book Discovery – On Christmas Day we launched our second annual Smashwords End of Year Sale. This is the first time one of our sales has taken advantage of our new multi-dimensional search. Readers are responding with increased downloads and purchases. The sale ends tomorrow, January 1st, at 11:59pm Pacific time.
Enhancements to our “Classic” Interface – From the start of our development for the new Smashwords home page, we knew we wanted to keep our classic interface as another option for readers. Throughout the year we made a number of enhancements to the classic interface. We introduced new options to search for Special Deals expiring soon, box sets and books in series. We revamped our algorithm for “Highest Rated” to reduce unfair gaming so we could present readers more relevant recommendations.
Improvements to Coupon Manager – We updated the interface of Coupon Manager to make it easier for authors and publishers with a lot of books to manage their coupons.
Bulk enrollment for Smashwords Site-wide sales – We added and option to enable authors and publishers with large catelogs to enroll all their books in our special site-wide sales, including Read an Ebook Week, The Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale, and our Smashwords End of Year Sale. This new feature led to more books in each of these sales, more earnings for authors and more reader happiness.
Updates to Book Pages – We updated book listing pages with larger cover images. We made it easier for readers to view all the books in a series (previously, series books were simply mixed in to the author’s catalog of books). We made it easier to jump to the profile pages of co-authors.
New Erotica Filters – We introduced new preference settings that give readers more control over the types of erotica that appear in their book searches. With a click of the “Filtering” button, readers can now choose to omit erotica, show only mainstream erotica, or show all books including both mainstream and taboo erotica.
Improved Point-of-sale Merchandising in the Smashwords Shopping Cart – We made a number of updates to the Smashwords shopping cart to encourage customers to add more books by the same author. For example, if a customer purchases a book in a series, we make it easy for them to add additional titles in the same series.
Smashwords Partners with Findaway for Audiobook Production and Distribution – Audiobooks are the fastest growing segment of the book industry. In March Smashwords entered the audiobook market in partnership with Findaway Voices. Authors can launch audiobook production directly from their Smashwords Dashboard.
Track “Favorites” and Smashwords Alert Subscriptions – Ever since our launch ten years ago, we’ve offered the ability for readers to “favorite” their favorite authors. When a reader does this, the author shows up on the reader’s personal profile page as one of their favorites. In 2016 we introduced Smashwords Alerts, which allows readers to subscribe to daily email notifications when one of their favorite authors releases a new title. In 2018 we added a feature in the Smashwords Dashboard that allows authors and publishers to track the number of favorites AND the number of Smashwords Alert subscribers. Click the “Who’s Favorited You” option and you can view all the people who favorited you, along with a link to their public profile page, their country, and any social media coordinates they choose to share. Encourage your fans to favorite you and subscribe to your Smashwords Alerts.
Smashwords Authors Enter Walmart via Kobo – 2018 was the year that Kobo opened up Walmart to ebook sales, which means Smashwords ebooks are now available at Walmart as well. Despite all the excitement, ebooks at Walmart are a work in progress. It remains to be seen if Walmart will take the necessary steps to fully embrace the opportunity. For example, per Walmart policy, they don’t allow a price of FREE for ebooks, which means their customers don’t have access to many of the most popular series starters. That glaring blind spot will need to be addressed if they want to become a serious player in ebooks.
Smashwords Partners with Romance Daily News – In July, Smashwords unveiled a partnership with Romance Daily News, a new online magazine targeting romance readers. Each day RDN offers its subscribers access to a free “Book of the Day” ebook that normally carries a price. Smashwords also supplies RDN with daily indie bestseller lists across multiple romance and non-romance categories.
New Smashwords Book Marketing Guide – The updated 2018 Smashwords Book Marketing Guide now offers over 65 book marketing ideas, all free to implement. It includes bonus sections on social media strategy, how to write a press release and how to build your brand by earning free mainstream press coverage.
Smart Author Podcast – We released five new episodes of the Smart Author Podcast, all focused on evergreen best practices that help authors make their books more discoverable and desirable. If you’ve listened to all 16 episodes and have suggestions for additional topics you’d like me to tackle, please suggest in the comments below!
Smashwords Plans for 2019
Before I jump into our plans for 2019, I’d like to talk about our values at Smashwords, and how these values shape our development roadmap.
Smashwords has always operated our business with a higher purpose in mind. Our higher purpose is to advance the interests of our indie authors and publishers. We believe indies are the future of publishing, and we appreciate that you’ve chosen Smashwords as your partner to blaze this new future.
We support indies by creating incredible publishing tools that help you publish and distribute with pride, professionalism and success. We advocate for our authors’ and publishers’ interests. We fight to protect your independence at a time when some in the industry work to strip you of your independence.
There’s a selfish motive to our benevolence. If we help you succeed for the long term, we’ll succeed in the long term too. We think this keeps our interests aligned with your interests.
Our priorities for 2019 reflect these values. I’ll list below what we’re focusing on. For obvious reasons, I’ll need to keep this high level and in broad strokes. Lots of surprises planned.
What to Expect from Smashwords in 2019
Revamped Publishing Page – We’ll deliver a revamped publishing process in 2019 that’s simpler, more intuitive and more feature-rich.
More Reasons to Distribute with Smashwords – We know you have hundreds of potential partners for ebook publishing and distribution. We’ve always been huge believers in distribution, because a great distribution partner helps you spend more time writing and less time fussing with the more mundane aspects of publishing, distribution, metadata management, sales reporting, and tax accounting. For 2019 we’ll give you even more reasons to consolidate your distribution with Smashwords.
Retailer Partnerships – We work with an amazing group of ebook retailers that share our respect for indies. We’ll continue to provide our retailers the support they need to ingest, list, update, merchandise, and sell your books. When our retailers ask us to jump, we ask how high because when our retailers succeed with your books, we all succeed. We’ll continue to evaluate new distribution opportunities and partner with those that can make a positive difference for your personal publishing business.
More Surprises in Store for the Smashwords Store – Many Smashwords authors and publishers use the Smashwords Store as their personal bookstore. We offer free author-friendly marketing tools that can’t be found anywhere else, and because we’re not beholden to any corporate overlord or short-sighted venture capitalist, we have the flexibility to innovate with audacity. Readers love our store for its myriad book search options, amazing authors, great selection, DRM-free ebooks, multi-format ebooks that work on any device, Smashwords Coupons, and friendly customer service performed by real humans in California empowered to do what it takes to put a smile on your face. Expect to see more industry-first tools in 2019, more promotional support for underserved genres and categories, and more opportunities for readers to discover and enjoy some of the best indie ebooks in the world.
Thank you for choosing Smashwords as your publishing and distribution partner.
On behalf of the entire team at Smashwords, we look forward to the privilege of serving you in 2019!
Be sure to check out my other annual end of year post, 2018 Book Industry Predictions: The Butterflies Will Flap Their Wings.