By Mark Coker, Smashwords
I’m excited to share two big pieces of news with you today. I’ll tackle the headline items in reverse order since one is the preface to the other.
The first news is that Smashwords catalog has grown to over 500,000 books!
Thank you to all Smashwords authors, publishers and readers for helping us achieve this milestone.
When I founded Smashwords ten years ago, the mission was simple: I wanted to democratize publishing. I wanted to make it fast, free and easy for writers to self-publish ebooks like a pro.
We created professional-quality tools that enabled writers to bypass traditional publishing gatekeepers, and we offered a simple storefront so our authors could sell their ebooks directly to readers.
The year after our launch we turned our attention to distribution, where we made it possible for major ebook stores to efficiently procure, stock and sell ebooks from our indie authors and publishers. And then we helped open up the library market to indie ebooks.
True to our mission of democratization, for the last ten years our little Smashwords Store has displayed books in a style that what we affectionately refer to as the “firehose.” Books were displayed as they came in, with new books appearing at the top of the home page mere seconds after upload by the author or publisher.
That deliberate design decision was controversial. No major ebook seller displays every new self-published ebook on their home page – warts and all – as they arrive to the store. I can understand why. It’s not the best way to sell books!
Yet I wanted to give every book and every author their 15 minutes (or more) of fame so they could find their first readers. I’m sure many of our current USA Today and NY Times bestselling authors found some of their very first readers thanks to the firehose.
Although some Smashwords Store customers enjoy inspecting every book as they come in, the firehose method is suboptimal for most readers.
The advantage of the firehose approach was that it created a level playing field for all authors, and that’s why we stuck by it. The downside of the firehose is that with zero home page curation, our home page could look quite ugly at times, and that’s putting it kindly. Often, our home page is downright scary, especially when a string of books with poorly designed covers come in all at once.
In short, my stubborn commitment to democratization meant we haven’t been putting our best foot forward, especially for first time visitors to the Smashwords website. We weren’t adequately showcasing the best of our best from among our over 100,000 authors and publishers.
We’ve always known we could sell more books in our store with curation, yet the prospect of curation butted up against our core mission. We’re not here to judge. We don’t want to gatekeep.
We’ve always believed that readers are the best curators. We also believe in the value of diversity and choice. One reader’s life-changing masterpiece can be another reader’s dreck.
We further rationalized the firehose (both in internal staff debates and external communications with authors) by pointing out the fact that over 90% of our authors’ sales have always come from our distribution to our awesome retail partners such as Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Scribd, as well as to the library outlets we supply.
As I’ve mentioned in prior posts, ebook sales at major retailers in recent years have been anemic at best, and some have experienced declines. Yet over the last couple years, sales in the Smashwords Store have increased, and that’s despite the limitations of our firehose approach on the home page, and despite our primary focus on helping our major retailer partners sell more of our authors’ books.
What is it about our store that caused it to buck this industry-wide trend? I suspect the reason is that despite our store’s rough edges, it offers several unique features that readers love.
Readers love that all our books are DRM-free, which means the reader can enjoy their purchases their way on any device they own now or in the future. Readers also love Smashwords Coupons, our best known and most popular feature, and they tell us they also appreciate our multi-format ebooks, and our myriad flexible search, discovery and sampling features that help readers find their next great read.
Now that we’ve hit 500,000 books, we’ve achieved a critical mass of titles that allows us to do more with our store. We can provide these loyal customers more options for book discovery.
Introducing an Improved Smashwords Store
After many months of planning and design, today we unveiled the most significant change ever to the Smashwords home page.
We think the new design strikes a good balance between democratization and usability. We make it easier than ever for readers to discover the best books at Smashwords, as judged by their fellow readers.
We’re also excited to keep the original “classic” interface as an additional option for readers who want to continue taking advantage of its special powers. And we’re already considering additional experimental interface options we can introduce in the future that will put more readers closer to their next great read.
The new interface unveiled today retains the best elements of the classic design, including the firehose.
Here’s a summary of some of the enhancements you’ll find today on the front page of the Smashwords Store:
Books in Shelves
The firehose, which previously displayed all new books as they arrived, is replaced by nine new “shelves,” offering a more conventional book discovery experience. But since we’re never satisfied with the conventional, if you scratch below the surface you’ll find we’ve added some interesting twists you won’t find anywhere else.
Whereas previously we only displayed 20 books at a time, now we can display up to 45 by leveraging horizontal shelf displays. We’re also emphasizing covers over the prior text-heavy design.
Each shelf is organized around a different book discovery theme. The themes, in order of presentation, include:
Featured New Releases – New releases we think are worthy of reader consideration based on early sales and author track record.
Trending Now – Books that have shown impressive sales strength in recent days.
Bestselling Books – Bestselling indie ebooks.
Top Series Starters – This shelf makes it easier than ever to find your next great series.
Bestselling Box Sets – Looking to immerse yourself in a great single-author or multi-author box set? Look no further.
Featured Special Deals – This shelf leverages our self-serve, automated merchandising feature, Special Deals.
Free Special Deals – Looking for free Special Deals? You’ll find them here.
Recent Purchases at Smashwords – This is a fun one. This shelf displays the most recently purchased “Premium Catalog” books at the Smashwords store. There’s a good chance that a fellow reader just discovered a book you might enjoy too.
Newest Arrivals – This is the new firehose. It was important to me that we maintain this option. This remains a one-of-its-kind opportunity for every author to be featured on the home page, and a great feature for readers who enjoy browsing every new arrival. This is where – if you’re lucky – you’ll be the first to discover a future bestseller.
Multi-Dimensional Book Discovery
It’s now easier than ever for readers to discover incredible books right on the Smashwords home page. At first glance, our shelf design might look similar to the shelves you’d expect at any other major ebook retailer. They’re different.
These shelves are dynamic in that they allow the reader to customize the all nine shelves’ contents with a single click. When you first visit the home page you’ll see all nine categories of shelves, drawing upon the best of the best at Smashwords as judged by your fellow readers.
But what if you’re a fan of fantasy, and you want to find the best fantasy books? Simply click “Fantasy” in the navigation pane on the left side of the page, and voila, all nine shelves are populated with with fantasy books, where you can browse a great selection from multiple dimensions.
If you prefer longer fantasy books, or books under a certain price, you can drill down further to the best books that will interest you across the nine shelf themes. In short, you retain the most useful of the prior search options but now we’re giving you multi-dimensional results.
With thousands of book categories and subcategories, eleven filters for price and book length and nine shelves, we calculate there are over one million unique search combinations customers can use to drill deep to discover the best of the best from among our 500,000+ books.
The home page shelves are also intelligent in that they know not to recommend books you’ve already purchased at Smashwords, making it easier than ever to discover new books and new authors.
The shelves are controlled by new algorithms that determine which books appear in which shelves, and in which order. These algorithms are fully automated, and powered by real readers who are spending real dollars. As a distributor of ebooks, we have the ability to leverage vast amounts of sales data to identify the best Smashwords books that match reader interests. Take a look at the new Smashwords home page. I trust you’ll agree it looks much improved.
Readers Gain Enhanced Control over Erotica
Erotica has always been a popular category for Smashwords authors and customers. Our catalog of legal erotica is probably one of the broadest collections anywhere. Starting today and for the next visit by all future first-time visitors, we prompt you to select your erotica preferences.
The default setting, if you don’t make a selection, is no erotica. This has been our policy for many years.
But now we give you even greater control.
Our previous book filtering options were unable to accommodate those many readers who wanted mainstream erotica – the erotica carried by all major ebook stores – but didn’t want to view erotica that delved into more taboo subjects. Previously, your only choice was to block it all or see it all.
Now you can choose which types appear on the Smashwords home page and in your search results.
If you want no erotica, only mainstream erotica, or all erotica, those preferences are your choice. You’ll find this option under the “Filtering” button that appears prominently near the top of the page.
Click the (i) next to the filtering option to learn more about the filtering options, or to view definitions of the different erotica types so you can make a more informed decision.
These new erotica preferences are enabled by our initiative starting in September 2017 that required all erotica and erotic romance titles to be properly labeled by their authors and publishers if they contained taboo themes. If you’re curious to learn more about our certification initiative and how it benefits readers and authors alike, check out the announcement here, Smashwords Implements New Classifications for Erotic Fiction.
Adult Fiction Books Gain Increased Visibility
When you walk into your local bookstore, most of the books you see are adult fiction and non-fiction. Adult is not a four-letter word. Adult doesn’t necessarily mean that the book contains steamy sex scenes. Many adult fiction books contain themes or violence that would be inappropriate for minors, even though the books aren’t promising titillation.
Yet due to the blunt nature of our previous preference settings, readers would often block general adult fiction by accident when they really meant to block erotica. Effective immediately, these non-erotic adult books will be visible to all customers of the Smashwords Store regardless of their erotica preferences.
We believe this change will give customers access to more of the books they’d expect to find in any favorite bookstore. It’ll obviously benefit our authors too.
“Highest Rated” Listings Now More Relevant
This is an update we implemented in August but haven’t had an opportunity to announce yet. As mentioned above, we believe readers are the best curators. Readers manifest their curation through their purchases, reviews and word of mouth.
We’ve always allowed readers to search books and filter book results based on which were the highest rated by fellow Smashwords customers. Up until August 16, 2018, we listed our “Highest Rated” books ranked simply by their average average review rating, with the highest averages appearing at the top of the list.
This meant that a book with only one five-star review could be ranked above a book with 49 reviews averaging a still-impressive 4.9 stars out of five. That wasn’t fair to authors or readers, and it also led to a lot of authors attempting to game the review system.
There were even bad authors who’d torpedo other authors’ review ratings with a single four-star review so their book could appear higher. Such bad seeds were banned from Smashwords, yet as you can imagine it becomes a game of whack-a-mole.
The new Highest Rated listings still show the average review score and the number of reviews, but their listing order is now determined by a new multi-faceted algorithm that weights various factors for credibility. I won’t go into the factors for obvious reasons, but just know it’s more difficult to game. And as always, we have a zero tolerance policy on gaming. Gaming represents a grave disservice to fellow readers and authors.
This new algorithm applies to the classic interface, which is where you’ll “Highest Rated” filter resides.
What’s Next for the Smashwords Store?
We still have a long list of improvements we want to make with the store.
In the months ahead you’ll see us continue to add new shelves and other fun enhancements based on reader and author feedback.
Although we’re excited about the improvements, we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible.
Let us know what you want to see next! Click the “?” icon at the top of any Smashwords web page to share your suggestions for our store. I’ll read every suggestion.
Tips for Authors – How to Sell More in the Smashwords Store
I expect some authors and publishers will have questions about what they can do to maximize the visibility and sales of their books under the new home page interface.
I’ll put this in Q&A form.
Q: How can I improve the odds of my book appearing in home page features?
There are several things you can do here, ranging from the obvious to not so obvious.
Publish with Smashwords – If your book isn’t at Smashwords, we can’t sell it in our store!
Real sales matter – Our algorithms are heavily weighted toward actual sales at Smashwords, Smashwords retailer partners and to libraries.
Release your next book as an ebook preorder – Books released as preorders sell significantly more copies than those that are not. Preorders you earn across the Smashwords distribution network will boost your odds of appearing in multiple shelf categories, especially the top shelf, “Featured New Releases.” Listen to Episode 4 of the Smart Author Podcast to learn how to make ebook preorders work for you.
Distribute your books with Smashwords – Your sales at Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, OverDrive and others will improve your placement in each shelf. If you’re not distributing with Smashwords, we can’t give you credit for your sales.
Adopt and continuously refine your best practices – This is where professional bestselling indies are separated from the rest. If you think you’ve adopted all the best practices and you’re done, think again. Here are two free resources that will increase your sales at every retailer:
A. The Smart Author Podcast – Start with the first episode and then listen to the rest in sequential order. The Smart Author Podcast represents a free masterclass in ebook publishing and marketing. It guides you step-by-step from the very basics of ebook publishing to more advanced topics. Listen for free at Apple Podcasts or any other major podcast directory. For direct links to the most popular podcast sources – or to listen right now over your web browser or read full edited transcripts of each episode – visit https://smashwords.com/podcast
B. Smashwords Book Marketing Guide – The new 2018 edition of the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide identifies 65 free marketing ideas that will help you make your books more discoverable and desirable to readers. If you’d rather listen that read, the entire book is serialized on the Smart Author Podcast starting with Episode 10.
Run promotions using Smashwords Special Deals. It’s super simple to launch a Special Deal. Click to your Dashboard’s Coupon Manager, create a coupon, and mark it as a public coupon. Two of the nine shelves feature books that are drawn from the Special Deals catalog.
Promote your book at all stores – On your website, blog and in other social media promotions, provide a direct hyperlink to your books at all retailers served by Smashwords, including the Smashwords Store. Each book you sell at Apple Books, Barnes & Noble and Kobo and other Smashwords distribution partners will also help you sell more in the Smashwords Store, because sales there will raise your visibility in the Smashwords Store. And each sale you earn at Smashwords can get you listed on the Smashwords home page in the “Recent Purchases at Smashwords” shelf.
Q: Can I contact the merchandising team at Smashwords to get placed on a shelf?
No. Each book’s placement in the shelf is determined by actual customer sales, and by the reader’s search preferences. See the prior question on how to maximize your odds. By basing placement on merit, as measured by sales and our other secret sauce factors, it creates a level playing field for all authors. Your selection isn’t based on whether someone at Smashwords thinks your books are worthy, or is a personal fan of yours.
Q: Can I pay to have my book featured on the Smashwords home page, or advertised there?
No. We don’t want to sell you advertising. We want to sell your books.
Q: I’m friends with someone who works at Smashwords. Can they help me get featured on the Smashwords home page?
No, sorry, no friends and family shortcuts. Please refer to the tips above.
Q: Can you tell me more about the algorithms that drive each of the shelves above?
I’ve shared quite a bit above already. We want to discourage attempts at gaming the algorithms so we’re keeping the exact ingredients of our secret sauce secret. We plan to continually adjust the algorithms as we work to do an ever-better job at surfacing books that will thrill customers who shop at the Smashwords Store. We also don’t want to encourage writers to waste their precious time obsessing over how to please algorithms. Instead, focus your energy on pleasing readers and all else will follow.
Q: How much can I expect to sell in the Smashwords Store?
Keep your expectations low. Although hundreds of thousands of readers pass through our store’s virtual doors each month, our store is still relatively small. At present, on average, sales in the Smashwords store typically range between what our authors sell at Scribd and Kobo, and about half of what they sell at Barnes & Noble. Every author’s mileage will vary. Bottom line, our store is a small retailer but one you shouldn’t miss. You’re likely to pick up new readers who wouldn’t find you anywhere else.
Q: I work at a large publisher with thousands of high-quality titles. Can I deliver my books to Smashwords in bulk via ONIX?
At present, no, but please drop us a line (next item below has contact info) if you have a proposal for our consideration. In the meantime, please upload books one at a time per normal.
Q: Where can I provide feedback or suggestions for the Smashwords home page, or for new shelf categories and themes?
We want to hear from you! We’re excited about the improved discovery experience for the Smashwords home page, and we look forward to enhancing it further in the future. Please click the “?” icon at top of any Smashwords page to send us your comments and suggestions. We always appreciate your feedback, positive or negative.
By Mark Coker, Smashwords
Smashwords has partnered with Romance Daily News, a new online magazine for romance readers that launches this week at the annual Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference in Denver.
Romance Daily News (RDN) represents an exciting new book marketing opportunity for all romance authors and publishers, and a great opportunity for readers to discover the very best in indie romance.
This is a multi-faceted, multi-year partnership, leveraging many of the unique capabilities and features of the Smashwords ebook distribution platform.
Smashwords will provide daily romance bestseller lists and will manage nominations and fulfillment for the magazine’s free Book of the Day giveaway. Let’s look at these items one at a time:
RDN/Smashwords Book of the Day
Each day of the year, RDN will offer its subscribers a free romance ebook from a top-selling author. All featured titles normally carry a price, making this an exclusive deal for RDN subscribers. For series titles where the first book in the series is already free, featured books will offer book #2 in the series for free and both titles will be promoted.
If you’re a romance reader, you’ll want to subscribe to RDN. It’s carries an introductory price of only $9.99 per year, though the price will increase in the future.
The first 90 daily featured slots have already been filled, many of which are New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors. Some of the authors scheduled for Book of the Day features in the first 90 days include R.L. Mathewson, Quinn Loftis, Katie Ashley, Amy Miles, Opal Carew, Sam Crescent, Karen Lynch, Leeanna Morgan, Natasha Preston, Nicky Charles, Cynthia Sax, Kym Grosso, Elizabeth Reyes, Emma Hart, Brenda K. Davies and many other international bestsellers. The first featured author is Cecilia Tan.
The Book of the Day feature will utilize the Smashwords Coupon feature which will allow RDN subscribers to download the book for free, and will allow authors to track redemptions.
Each featured Book of the Day will be accompanied by an author Q&A interview, powered by Smashwords Interviews, and edited by Lori Perkins, the publisher of Romance Daily News.
Featured authors are selected by the Smashwords merchandising team and Lori Perkins. At present, the nomination process is invitation-only. First round invitations were based on the author’s sales track record at Smashwords, and we expect future rounds will weigh heavily on author track record as well. We’re looking for proven reader-pleasing authors to feature. By focusing on track record, we can eliminate subjectivity (we love all our authors!) and surface proven reader-pleasers as voted upon with real readers’ dollars, downloads and preorders.
Two tips on how to maximize your odds of landing an invitation for future Book of the Day slots:
Release your next book as a preorder, with the longest possible runway. This will help your sales. In the new 2018 Smashwords Survey (I revealed the findings at RT Booklovers a couple months ago but haven’t released them here on the blog yet), we found that 75% of all romance sales for new releases went to the 29% of romance titles that were released as preorders. Books released as preorders are dominating bestseller lists! Learn more about preorders and preorder strategy by listening to Episode 4 of the Smart Author Podcast (run time only 23 minutes).
Distribute with Smashwords. If you’re not distributing your preorders and backlist with Smashwords, we can’t count your aggregated sales across our network, and you can’t create the Smashwords Coupons and Smashwords Interview which are essential components of your Book of Daypromotion. And it should go without saying that if you have books in KDP-Select exclusivity, we can’t feature them, nor can we credit those sales toward your track record.
RDN/Smashwords Bestseller Lists
In what we believe is an industry-first, each day of the week, RDN will run a different bestseller list, supplied by Smashwords, based on aggregated sales results from across the Smashwords distribution network (i.e. Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, the Smashwords Store, OverDrive). These lists are dynamic, in that they’ll refresh each week to reflect the latest sales data.
The daily lists will fall under the following nine categories (we’re likely to add more categories in the future):
Monday – The bestseller list will alternate every other week between bestselling YA and bestselling New Adult.
Tuesday – Will feature top romance preorders releasing in the next two weeks
Wednesday – This list will alternate between most popular series starters and bestselling box sets.
Thursday – Bestselling contemporary romance
Friday – Bestselling paranormal romance
Saturday – Bestselling erotic romance
Sunday – Top 40 indie bestsellers across all fiction and non-fiction categories.
These lists, with buylinks pointing to iBooks, B&N and Kobo for preorders, and to the Smashwords Store for other books, will make it easy for RDN readers to discover, preorder and purchase the best in indie romance.
All authors and publishers that distribute with Smashwords are eligible to earn spots on these lists based on their aggregated sales performance across the Smashwords distribution network. This means the same tips above for landing a Book of the Day feature are the same tips that can help you land in these high-profile bestseller lists.
Subscribe to Romance Daily News at https://www.romancedailynews.com/ or follow them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RomanceDailyNews
By Mark Coker, Smashwords
The biggest sale of the year at Smashwords has begun!
From July 1 through July 31, you’ll find over 40,000 exclusive deals in our 10th annual Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale.
Discount levels are 25%-off, 50%-off, 75%-off and 100%-off (FREE). You’ll also find over 75,000 titles that are regularly priced at free, including free series starters from USA Today and New York Times bestsellers.
Here’s the catalog of participating titles, where you can browse by category, filter by discount level, and more:
Browse books participating in the July Summer/Winter Sale
Be sure to monitor the sale throughout July, because thousands of new titles will join the promotion as the month progresses. Check out the latest enrollments via the Latest Adds to Promo option!
Do you have a favorite author not yet at Smashwords? Drop them a line and encourage them to join the promotion. We’ll be accepting new titles for the promotion up until the moment the sale ends at midnight Pacific time, July 31.
2. Readers: We Want Your Feedback on the Smashwords Store
At Smashwords, we’re always working to improve your shopping experience. Here are a two recent enhancements introduced in the last few weeks:
Easier Series Purchasing
If you purchase a series book, at checkout we’ll now show you other books in the same series that you can add to your cart with a single click.
Catching “Special Deals”
“Special Deals” is an ongoing promotion featuring thousands of books that are exclusively on sale at Smashwords.
We’ve added a new filter so you can now view Special Deals that are about to expire.
We’ve also made books with Special Deals (as well as those participating in a site-wide promotion, like the July Summer/Winter sale) easier to spot throughout the site.
Grab those deals before they disappear!
Participate in our Customer Survey
We’re working on a refresh of the Smashwords home page, all with an eye toward helping you discover your next great read.
We’d like to hear from you. How can we improve your shopping experience at Smashwords? What would be the features or characteristics of your ideal ebook store? How can our authors and publishers serve you better?
Please complete this anonymous survey today and suggest how we can improve Smashwords for you. Your feedback will help guide our future improvements!
3. HELPFUL RESOURCES
Smashwords Store Resources:
Special Deals (daily deals)
Frequently asked questions
Connect with fellow Smashwords readers and authors at Facebook
Learn to Publish Like a Pro:
Smart Author Podcast
Smashwords video workshops
How to Publish ebooks (4-part presentation)
Smashwords blog (subscribe today via the email option!)
Enjoy the big sale. Please tell a friend!
The Smashwords Team
By Mark Coker, Smashwords
At Smashwords, we never stop innovating new features and capabilities designed to help you reach more readers.
Here’s a partial summary of some of the recent enhancements we’ve made since we last Smashwords Author/Publisher Alert in March:
Learn who “favorited” you
For the last ten years, whenever a reader favorited you on your author profile page, it created a link on their personal profile page that promotes you as one of their favorite authors. In the last week few days we added a fun new tool where you can now view a full summary of all the readers who have favorited you, along with their social media links. (You’ll can find links to it on both your own profile page, and in your Dashboard)
Coupon Manager enhancements
Your Dashboard’s Coupon Manager has been reorganized to make it easier to view active and expired coupons, and you can also now sort them by: regular price, after-coupon price, book publication date, category, code, campaign description, coupon creation date, expiration date, and, for metered coupons, the number of remaining redemptions.
Stay tuned for more enhancements to our popular Coupon Manager!
If your book is also available as an audiobook, you may now link to one or more places where it can be purchased. (In case you hadn’t noticed, you’ve been able to do the print editions of your ebooks, all along!)
You can find the audiobook and in-print link managers under the “Settings” pages for your books, via your Dashboard.
(And don’t forget, we recently partnered with Findaway Voices to help you get started producing audiobooks!)
Improved payment summary
Our convenient summary of all of our prior payments to you, accessible from your Account page, now shows you more details about where each payment went.
Global Pricing Control
We’ve had several authors who set special global pricing and then later forgot! The Dashboard and retail pricing pages have been updated so that when you have any active price locks set, the Global Pricing Control button will turn green.
Series Manager update
If you write books in series, our Series Manager is your best friend. Connecting books together improves their discoverability in both the Smashwords Store, and at all our retail partners. For authors and publishers who manage many, many series, you can now sort the list of series, to help you quickly find the one you’re looking for.
Improved series merchandising at checkout
Every time a customer of the Smashwords Store prepares to purchase the items in their shopping cart or redeem coupons, we recommend other books that you’ve written. If the book they’re buying is in a series, any books from that same series are now highlighted separately.
Special Deals updates
“Special Deals” is our automated merchandising program within the Smashwords Store, where we highlight books that authors have put “on sale”.
We’ve made two recent enhancements to Special Deals: – Customers browsing Special Deals now have access to a new filtering option: “Expiring Soon” — a great way to find deals to jump on, before it’s too late. – We’ve also enhanced the visibility of books that are enrolled in Special Deals across the store.
To enroll your book in Special Deals, simply visit your Coupon Manager, create a coupon, and then mark that coupon as “public.”
Improved control over communications preferences
We respect your inbox. We deliberately keep these “Smashwords Author/Publisher Alerts” infrequent. These alerts now come with one-click opt-outs at the bottom so it’s no longer necessary to sign into your account to opt out.
However, we recommend you NEVER opt out of these exclusive Author/Publisher Alerts, because otherwise you’ll miss out on alerts such as this one, and you’ll miss important notifications regarding new distribution outlets.
By Mark Coker, Smashwords
Last month Smashwords celebrated our ten year anniversary. We were founded upon Mark Coker’s radical idea that all writers deserved the opportunity to publish ebooks at no cost. We’ve always believed that you deserve to control how your books are priced, marketed and sold. We think you’re the future of publishing.
The year after we launched, we began opening up distribution to retailers that previously were inaccessible to self-published authors. Once our authors achieved mainstream distribution, they began climbing the charts and turning heads. In ten years, the amazing authors and publishers of Smashwords have sold over $100 million of ebooks at retail.
Thanks to the success of you and your fellow indies, more and more authors are aspiring to go indie first.
Every day we’ve worked to continually innovate new tools that give you an advantage in the marketplace. Every day, we’re working to connect you with more readers.
View Mark’s blog post commemorating our ten year anniversary at the Smashwords blog.
By Mark Coker, Smashwords
Enrollment is now open for our exclusive Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale.
We’ve made enrollment easier than ever, especially for authors and publishers that manage dozens or even thousands of books. For the first time ever, we now allow you to enroll ALL your books at a single discount level with a couple clicks.
This is our biggest sale of the year.
For a full month, thousands of Smashwords authors and publishers will offer readers exclusive deep discounts on tens of thousands of ebooks. Discount levels are 25%-off, 50%-off, 75%-off and 100%-off (FREE).
We’ll promote the sale on the Smashwords home page and on the Smashwords blog. We’ll also promote the sale directly via email to over 1.5 million registered Smashwords customers. During the sale, a special section of Smashwords.com will let readers browse participating books.
Of course, the most impactful promotion comes from you: the participating authors and publishers. At Smashwords, our sales are collaborative. By promoting your great deals to your readers, you’re also helping to promote your fellow indie authors and publishers. And their promotion of their books helps your books be discovered by their readers.
So please enroll your books today and then starting July 1 and throughout the month, promote your participation across all your social media channels and on your private mailing list. Be sure to provide direct hyperlinks to either your Smashwords profile page or to the individual book pages of the books you’re promoting. Discounts will auto-apply without the need for you or your readers to remember coupon codes.
Enroll now via the Manage site-wide promotions section of your Dashboard.
To utilize our new bulk enrollment option, click the “Enroll All” button you’ll find underneath each of the discount levels.
By Mark Coker, Smashwords
This past Sunday marked ten years since the public launch of Smashwords on May 6, 2008.
Wow, what a difference ten years makes.
Ten years ago, the book publishing industry looked quite a bit different than it does today:
Print books controlled 99.5% of the market; ebooks accounted for about ½ of 1%
If a writer wanted to get their book into bookstores where readers discover and purchase books, they needed a traditional publishing deal because publishers controlled access to retail distribution
Few writers wanted to self-publish; it was considered the option of last resort for failed writers
The writer community perpetuated and enforced the stigma of self-publishing by castigating those who self-published, branding them as “vanity” authors
The Roots of Smashwords
The story of Smashwords started back around 2002, when my wife and I completed a novel titled Boob Tube. We landed representation from an awesome agent at one of the most respected literary agencies in New York. They were known for repping NY Times bestsellers.
For two years and across two submission rounds, our agent pitched our novel to all the major publishers of commercial women’s fiction. Our novel, which explores the dark underbelly of Hollywood celebrity, targeted fans of daytime television soap operas. Despite our agent’s great work, he was unable to sell it.
Publishers were reluctant to take a chance on our novel because previous novels targeting soap opera fans had performed poorly.
It was our failure to find a publisher that opened my eyes to what I considered a huge problem facing millions of writers:
Publishers were unable and disinterested to take a chance on every author
Publishers acquired or rejected book based on perceived commercial merit; this meant that great books with limited commercial appeal might never see the light of day
The agent-publisher gatekeeping system meant that most writers were blocked from publication
Publishers could only guess what readers wanted to read, yet they were also rejecting books that might have gone on to become bestsellers or cultural classics if only these titles had been given the chance to be judged by readers
Thousands of unpublished writers were taking their manuscripts to the grave each year; I considered the loss of their stories, knowledge and life experiences a cultural travesty and an enormous loss to mankind
Publishers were deciding what readers could read!
The Internet as a Force for Democratization
If we rewind to the mid ’90s, the Internet was on the rise. Everything touched by the Internet was transformed and reconfigured.
The Internet facilitated seamless peer-to-peer communications and efficient commerce. It enabled content creators to digitally publish directly to their audience, thereby bypassing traditional gatekeepers.
Jeff Bezos launched Amazon in 1994. At first, the publishing industry treated the company as a harmless curiosity.
By the early 2000s, blogging was coming on strong. Blogs helped democratize publishing by allowing anyone to self-publish stories and opinions online. Early bloggers were criticized. The general criticism leveled against bloggers went along the lines of, “How dare these amateurs fancy themselves as writers.” Yet great writers were emerging from the blogosphere.
In 2005, YouTube was launched. YouTube allowed anyone to self-publish their videos online. New video producers – ordinary people – began developing massive audiences on YouTube. It was a talent discovery machine.
Despite the early inspiring examples of bloggers and YouTube, by 2008 the traditional publishing industry was relatively untouched by the Internet and the rise of user-generated content.
As I pondered the publishing conundrum faced by my fellow writers, it struck me as odd that publishers weren’t leveraging new publishing approaches enabled by the Internet to say yes to more authors.
In fact, I found that publisher attitudes toward the general population of writers were downright hostile. They didn’t want to say yes to every writer, even if they could. Publishers had this holier-than-thou idea that most writers were unworthy of publication. They viewed – and continue to view – their curation and gatekeeping function as an important value-add to book culture and readers.
They had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. They decided which writers became published authors, and which books were published, marketed and sold. They were artificially constraining the publication of books.
Here’s the thing: I too appreciated their value-add, and I continue to appreciate their value-add to this day. Despite my evangelism of self-publishing over the last ten years, I’ve also taken a lot of arrows for my advocacy for traditional publishers as well. I think self-publishing and traditional publishing are both excellent, mutually synergistic options. The author chooses what’s right for them.
But one can appreciate the great work of publishers while also recognizing the gaping hole that remains in their publishing businesses, and the harm it caused to book culture through benign censorship. It’s a hole Smashwords and Amazon KDP fill.
There’s value in democratization and freedom of choice. There’s value in giving writers the freedom to publish and there’s value in giving readers the freedom to decide for themselves which books they want to read.
One of the great powers of the Internet is to make it possible to efficiently aggregate and reach micro-targeted audiences on a global scale. These niche audiences can’t be reached economically with print books, but digital books are a different story.
In my mind, a book with the potential to change the life of a single reader – even if that single reader is your child or grandchild – is just as important as a New York Times bestseller enjoyed by millions of readers. I believe it’s wrong to value books based on commercial performance alone. Some great books will never sell well.
From Problem to Solution
Against the backdrop of publishing’s culture of NO, I imagined it would be really cool if an enlightened publisher or publishing service could say yes to every writer in the world, and do it at no cost to the writer. And then I wondered, “What if that someone could be me? What if I could take a chance on every writer in the world?”
This was the genesis of Smashwords.
Throughout my career, I’ve always been drawn to “change the world” ventures that carry a higher purpose. I’ve long believed that a life without higher purpose is a life squandered. Every person with a pulse has an opportunity to take small but significant steps today that will leave the world better than we found it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer, entrepreneur, home maker, school teacher, garbage collector, artist, doctor, mechanic, baker or retired. Pick your passion and make a difference.
Writers are some of the most passionate, inspiring world-changers I’ve met.
In late 2004 I set to work on the Smashwords business plan.
I wanted to turn the conventional publishing model upside down. I wanted to give authors full control over their rights, pricing and publishing decisions, and I wanted to flip the compensation model so that 85% of the net proceeds went directly to the author.
It was also important to me that Smashwords’ interests be aligned with the interests of writers. Rather than sell publishing packages or charge upfront for our services, we’d offer our service for free and we’d earn our income on commission. If the author made money, we made money.
Back in 2008, most self-publishing services made money by exploiting authors – they sold authors over-priced publishing services. They focused on selling books to authors rather than selling books to readers.
It’s fair to say that my business idea was unconventional for its time. And maybe a bit crazy too.
I wanted to start a business publishing writers no smart publisher wanted to publish; selling books in a format – ebooks – that readers didn’t want to buy; and I’d sell these books in store called Smashwords.com that no reader had ever heard of. Oh, and I knew little of the publishing industry other than what it was like to write and edit a book, find an agent, and fail to sell it. I didn’t have venture capital backers or angel investors. I didn’t have a lot of money to invest. But I believed the world needed something like this that could give all writers a risk-free shot at achieving their dreams.
In my favor, I understood the Internet, and I already had a 20-year career in technology marketing and entrepreneurship to draw from. In my prior career running a technology PR firm between 1993 and 2007, I worked with dozens of pioneering startups such as McAfee Associates and Rightnow Technologies. I helped bring these companies to market, and I helped them exploit new approaches to software marketing, such as electronic software distribution, freemium, software-as-a-service and subscription business models.
Unbeknownst to me back in the mid 1990s, these new approaches to software marketing would later serve as the foundational building blocks to enable the rise of the Indie Author Movement, which itself was fueled by ebooks and democratized (and digital) production and distribution. Ebooks are software!
We launched Smashwords in 2008.
Our launch was met with equal parts enthusiasm and skepticism from the writing community. I expected enthusiasm from my fellow writers, but I didn’t expect the skepticism.
Back to 2008, my idea that every writer had a right to publish was seen as downright radical if not subversive to the way-things-should-be. It’s still not a universally accepted idea. But neither is free speech. As I discussed in my Smart Author podcast episode about The Indie Author Manifesto, ever since Gutenberg’s printing press there have always been those who seek to control free expression.
Books and authorship are the ultimate form of free expression.
For a historical deep dive into the prevailing views, attitudes, and concerns among writers we faced at the time of our launch, check out this thread at Absolute Write from 2008. It serves as a good example of the public reception we received from the skeptics.
The thread started off with someone falsely accusing Smashwords of spamming the Nanowrimo message boards, and then progressed from there with some heated discussion and attacks pointed my way. I joined the fray and did my best to explain our well-intentioned service.
In 2009, almost exactly one year after our launch, we expanded our publishing platform to support small independent presses. Although I didn’t anticipate this need in 2008, we soon discovered that small independent presses faced many of the same publishing hurdles faced by indie authors.
Also in 2009, we expanded our focus to become an ebook distributor. It was probably the most consequential decision in the evolution of our business. Our authors’ sales took off once we opened up sales channels that were previously inaccessible to them.
In the years since, we’ve continued to innovate a steady stream of new tools, new service enhancements and new distribution opportunities. Ten years in, I still feel like we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible.
Now, on this ten year anniversary of Smashwords, I’m tickled pink when I reflect on what our authors and publishers have accomplished. I’m so proud of them, of you. Indie authors are leading a renaissance in publishing, and we can expect that the power and influence of indies will only increase in the future.
Here’s where your world stands now:
Every writer now has access to the tools, knowledge and freedom to self-publish with pride, professionalism and success
Every major ebook retailer carries self-published ebooks
Most libraries now have the ability to purchase self-published ebooks, including the ebooks of local authors
The rise of ebooks, paired with democratized book production and distribution enabled by the work of Smashwords, Amazon KDP and others, made it possible for previously unpublished writers to reach millions of readers.
Many writers now aspire to self-publish as their option of first choice rather than the option of last resort
Many writers no longer bother pitching their books to agents and publishers; instead, they publish directly to their readers using self-publishing platforms
Hundreds of thousands of writers now enjoy the freedom to reach readers on their own terms.
By most estimates, indie ebook authors have captured between 20 and 30% ebook market share measured by unit volume (and much more in some genres), and this share will continue to grow in the years ahead because indie ebook authors enjoy numerous competitive advantages over traditional publishers
Many of our authors – once shunned by gatekeepers – have gone on to become USA Today and NY Times bestsellers
Many of our authors have gone on to secure lucrative traditional publishing deals yet they return to Smashwords for the indie publishing side of their business
Self-published authors now self-identify as indie authors, and they wear this badge with well-deserved pride
Indie authors have pioneered many of the new best practices for ebook publishing, marketing and promotion; traditional publishers now look to indies for ebook marketing insights and inspiration
I’m pleased Smashwords was able to play a small part in this revolution. It’s been my sincere privilege to join so many of you on your publishing journey.
Whatever we accomplished at Smashwords, we didn’t do it alone.
Credit goes to…
The 130,000+ amazing authors and publishers who work with us for ebook publishing and distribution
The retailers and library platforms that dedicate such enormous effort to supporting our indie authors and small presses; thank you Apple, Barnes & Noble, OverDrive, Kobo and more!
The millions of readers around the world who’ve purchased over $100 million worth of Smashwords ebooks at retail over the last 10 years
The amazing team here at Smashwords: Our development team spends every day dreaming up and developing new tools to give our authors and publishers a competitive advantage; our service and vetting teams dedicate their days to supporting our authors, publishers and sales channels; our merchandising team works to promote our authors at major retailers and library platforms; our marketing team focuses almost 100% of its effort empowering indie authors with best practices knowledge they can use anywhere, even if they don’t publish with Smashwords; our finance team manages the inflow and outflow of money to ensure our authors and publishers are paid on time, every month; and my wife, advisor and confidant, Lesleyann, without whom I would have never co-written a novel about soap operas that started this grand adventure.
Thousands of forward-thinking publishing industry professionals and participants (journalists, bloggers, authors, publishers, literary agents, editors, formatters, cover designers, conference managers, book doctors, publishing consultants, retailers, librarians, educators, readers and more) who went out of their way to open doors for Smashwords and our authors and publishers
Thank you everyone for your trust, confidence and partnership. We’re looking forward to serving you in the years ahead.
What’s coming in the next ten years from Smashwords?
If you look back at our original launch press release, our mission has changed little over the years.
I founded Smashwords to help writers reach readers. Long term, we will always maintain our core focus on helping our indie authors and publishers connect with more readers. We’ll do this by continuing to develop industry-leading tools and relationships. We’ll continue to introduce new opportunities that put more control in the hands of authors and publishers. We’ll continue to fight for your right to publish, and we’ll continue to do our part to support a thriving and vibrant publishing and bookselling ecosystem for the mutual benefit of authors, publishers, retailers, libraries and of course READERS!
By Mark Coker, Smashwords
Does love of reading open doors for readers? The answer is yes! The knowledge, stories and deep-meaning found in books help readers exploit more of life’s great opportunities.
How can we encourage more people to become readers? I think one answer is to teach more people the joys of writing and publishing.
In episode 16 of the Smart Author Podcast, out today, I share the story of a publishing project I helped launch four years ago at Los Gatos High School in collaboration with the Los Gatos Public Library.
Each year, over 100 freshman honors poetry students write, produce and publish a poetry anthology. The project, led by visionary poetry teacher Tonya McQuade, has helped over 600 students become published authors.
When students are given the opportunity to publish and distribute their work to a global audience, it transforms their relationship with the written word. Publishing makes writing more meaningful, because publishing is how writers share their works with readers.
At the end of their book publishing project, the students hold a book launch to celebrate their accomplishment in front of parents, teachers and fellow students.
In addition to graduating from high school as published authors, these students will enter the first chapter of their lives with a new appreciation for the joy of writing and reading.
Learn How to Launch Similar Classroom Publishing Projects in Your Community
Over the course of the last 15 episodes, Smart Author podcast listeners have learned how to professionally produce, publish, distribute and promote an ebook.
In this new episode, I challenge listeners to use their newfound indie publishing superpowers to start similar classroom publishing projects at schools in their local community. Once indie authors mentor local teachers and help them get started, the teachers can run with the project.
These projects don’t cost the students or the schools anything.
In the first anthology published by Los Gatos High, Windows to the Teenage Soul, teacher Tonya McQuade included a Teacher’s Guide in the appendix of the book so other educators can replicate her project in their schools. I’ve included a link to the book in the show notes for this episode, and also included links to updated teaching resources you and your local educators can use to kickstart similar projects in your community.
By Mark Coker, Smashwords
Smashwords authors and publishers can now create and distribute audiobooks.
This opportunity is enabled by our new partnership with Findaway Voices, a leading independent producer and distributor of audiobooks.
Our partnership gives authors and publishers greater control over audiobook pricing, rights, and distribution, and all without exclusivity or lockups.
Visit https://smashwords.com/audiobook to get started today.
Overview of the Audiobook Market
Audiobooks are the fastest growing segment of the book industry. Sales for 2017 were up about 20% over the prior year.
Audiobooks are exciting because they free up more hours in the day for consumers to enjoy books. Unlike printed words on paper or screens which require the reader’s undivided attention, audiobooks can be enjoyed while the listener performs other tasks, such as driving their car, cooking a meal or taking a walk.
How Audiobook Production Works
Starting today, you’ll notice audiobook creation prompts integrated into multiple stages of the Smashwords publishing workflow.
To turn your current ebooks into audiobooks, visit your Smashwords Dashboard and click “Create Audiobooks”.
Once you review and acknowledge the program details, you can instantly deliver your chosen ebook(s) and metadata into the Findaway Voices platform with a single click, at which point you’ll choose a password for your Findaway Voices account.
The first step in the audiobook production process is selecting a professional narrator.
You’ll answer a short questionnaire at Findaway Voices about your audiobook’s desired emotional tone; the accent, dialect or gender preference for the narrator; the voice style; the heat level of the book; and information about the book’s main characters.
The Findaway Voices casting team will then use this information to recommend a curated list of between six and ten professional voice actors for your consideration.
Recommendations will include audio samples and hourly rates for each narrator. From this list, authors can request audition samples where narrators submit sample readings of the author’s book.
There is no cost or obligation during the audition process.
Production begins after you select your narrator and sign off on the production contract. You will pay production fees directly to Findaway Voices.
To assist with your budgeting, here are some rough guidelines on cost: Each hour of recorded content comprises roughly 9,000 words, which means a 26,000-word novella might run about three hours and a 100,000-word book would run about 11 hours. Narrators typically charge between $150 and $400 per finished hour.
Global Audiobook Distribution
When production completes, you will control all rights to your audiobook. You’ll also have the option to distribute your audiobook to Findaway Voices’ global network of over 20 sales outlets including Apple iTunes, Audible, Scribd, Kobo, OverDrive and Google Play.
If you already have professionally produced audiobooks for some or all of your titles, you can still visit https://smashwords.com/audiobook to transmit each title’s metadata to Findaway Voices, and then afterward you’ll upload the audiobook files to Findaway Voices for distribution.
No Exclusivity or Lockups
There’s no exclusivity or lockup period. You have full control over your choice of distribution outlets.
You can remove your book from Findaway Voices’ distribution network at any time, and you can sell your audiobook anywhere you please.
You set the price. The various outlets operate under different sales models (single-copy sales, subscription listens, pay-per-use, etc.), which means the calculation for royalty rates will differ from one channel to the next.
Visit https://smashwords.com/audiobook to get started today!
By Mark Coker, Smashwords
The new 2018 edition of the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide is now available.
Click to your favorite retailer to download it now for free:
Barnes & Noble
You’ll learn 65 book marketing ideas ideas to make your book more discoverable and desirable to readers. Even if you’ve already implemented some of these ideas, I provide fresh context to make your implementation of these ideas even more effective.
You’ll learn how to:
Spend more time writing and less time on marketing
Build your author brand
Drive greater reader word of mouth
Make your book market itself though autopilot marketing
Use preorders to improve marketing efficiency and reader lock-in so your new book is already marketing your next book
Leverage blogs to market your books
Market your ebooks to libraries
Run creative, reader-pleasing promotions with Smashwords Coupons
Earn mainstream media coverage
Partner with fellow authors on over 10 collaborative marketing opportunities
And there’s so much more.
The Guide features a new introduction, dozens of new and updated marketing tips, and a new “Deep Dives” section that covers social media strategy for authors, how to work with beta readers, and how to earn free press coverage.
This is my first update since 2013. The previous edition was 16,000 words. This new expanded edition is 40,000 words. I think the continued popularity of the older edition speaks to my unique approach to book marketing. I emphasize evergreen book marketing strategies that will work for many years to come.
As readers of this blog may know, before I published this new edition of the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide I first serialized it in audio form on my SMART AUTHOR podcast. I completed that serialization on January 26 and released the ebook on January 31.
Here’s Episode 10 to give you a taste of what this new 2018 edition offers.