CL281: Self-Publishing Ebooks With Smashwords

Self-Publishing Ebooks With Smashwords

Self-Publishing Ebooks With Smashwords

Mark Coker is the CEO of Smashwords, a free ebook publishing and distribution platform and the world’s largest distributor of indie ebooks. Smashwords makes it fast, free and easy for authors and publishers to distribute ebooks to the world’s largest ebook retailers and library ebook platforms. The Wall Street Journal named Mark as one of the “Eight Stars of Self-Publishing” and it’s my pleasure to welcome him onto the summit today.

James Taylor Interviews Mark Coker and they talked about Self-Publishing Ebooks With Smashwords

In this episode, we cover:

  • Self-Publishing Ebooks With Smashwords
  • Secrets of bestselling authors
  • The essential last three pages of your next book

Resources:

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Artificial Intelligence Generated Transcript

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James Taylor
Hi, I’m James Taylor business creativity and innovation keynote speaker. And this is the Creative Life, a show dedicated to you the creative. If you’re looking for motivation, inspiration and advice, while at home at work or on your daily commute, then this show is for you. Each episode brings you a successful creative, whether that’s an author, musician, entrepreneur, perform a designer, or a thought leader. They’ll share with you their journey, their successes, their failures, their creative process, and much much more. You’ll find Show Notes for this episode as well as free training on creativity over at Jamestaylor.me. Enjoy this episode.

Hi, it’s James Taylor here. Today’s episode was first aired as part of International Authors Summit. This inspiring virtual summit reveals the secrets of making marketing and monetizing a best selling book. If you would like to access the full video version as well as in depth sessions with over 40 Best Selling authors that I’ve got a very special offer for you just go to InternationalAuthorsSummit.com, where you’ll be able to register for a free pass for the summit. Yeah, that’s right. Over 40 New York Times and Amazon best selling authors, book editors, agents and publishers, sharing their insights, strategies and tactics on how to write and market your first or next best sellers. So just go to InternationalAuthorsSummit.com, but not before you listen to today’s episode.

Hey, there’s James Taylor, and I’m delighted today to welcome Mark Coker. Mark is a CEO of Smashwords, a free ebook publishing and distribution platform and the world’s largest distributor of indie ebooks. Smashwords makes it Fast, Free and Easy for authors and publishers to distribute ebooks to the world’s largest ebook retailers and library ebook platforms. The Wall Street Journal named Mark is one of the eight stars of self publishing. And it’s my great pleasure to welcome him on to the summit today. So welcome, Mark.

Mark Coker
Hi, James. Great to be here.

James Taylor
So share with everyone what’s happening in your world just now what are you working on at the moment,

Mark Coker
always too many things at once. Right, right now, as we speak, we’re working on a redesign of the Smashwords homepage. So we’ll be launching that in the next couple of weeks. Going to make the homepage more reader friendly. So this is

James Taylor
I was reading you have a catalogue of near nearly half a million book titles now, as I did with the latest numbers last time I saw it, but take us right back to the very start. How did how did Smashwords begin? Wait, tell us about those first first books that were you could have put out through Smashwords platform?

Mark Coker
Well, in some ways, it was an accident. My wife and I wrote a novel together. Title boob tube about 15 years ago now, my wife is a former reporter for a soap opera magazine here in the States. So we wrote a book about the dark underbelly of Hollywood soap operas and the dark underbelly of celebrity and we shopped it to agents were represented by one of the top agencies in New York City. And for two years, they tried to sell the book and couldn’t sell it. And it was that experience trying to get a traditional publishing deal that really opened my eyes to what I saw what as some really structural fundamental problems in the publishing industry. And I, with my background in Silicon Valley, I thought, you know, this is a problem that could be solved. With technology. There’s an opportunity here to democratize publishing, so that every writer in the world has the freedom to publish a book and have that book judged directly by readers, as opposed to having that book judged by gatekeepers. And so that’s what we did in 2008. We launched Smashwords. And our book, boob tube was the third book at Smashwords. We had a couple other books that beat us to the punch. Yeah, and, you know, today, the rest is history. The business grew very rapidly. In 2009, we began distributing our books to major retailers, we were the first to open up Barnes and Noble and at the time, Sony to self published ebooks. And then later, we struck deals with Apple and other retailers. And then in more recent years, over the last five, six years, we’ve worked really hard to open up major library platforms to self published ebooks. So that’s been really exciting.

James Taylor
You’ve really been at that whole that curve as it was going up in terms of the world of the ebooks. I mean, there’s no, because you have this blend of coming from the writing side, being an author, and then also but the Silicon Valley side, who were your mentors, as you were building this, this business because you’re you’re in this interesting intersection of publishing and, and technology?

Mark Coker
Well, you know, that’s a big question. I’ve got, you know, over the over the last couple decades that I’ve been involved in the tech industry, I can name multiple mentors that were inspiring to me, prior to falling into this business. I ran a high technology PR firm. So I was privileged to work with the CEOs and VPS of marketing of some of the most interesting innovative Silicon Valley companies. And many of the technologies that we helped promote and Pioneer during those years. Believe it or not, we’re applicable to the E book world. So I was very active. On the PR side, I was the first PR person representing McAfee the big antivirus software company, McAfee was one of the first they were the first shareware company to go public. They gave their software away for free and let people pay for on the honor system. they relied on electronic software distribution to distribute their product to customers rather than putting their product in boxes. And so a lot of those principles from those early McAfee years in the late 90s, were directly applicable to some of the principles that were at the time very revolutionary that I brought to ebook self publishing, because ebooks are software, just like software software, they’re just digital bits and bytes. So too many, too many VPS of marketing and CEOs to name as mentors. When I got started with the business when I first launched Smashwords, the very close mentor of mine was Dan Poynter. Dan, I consider the father of self publishing. He’s the author of the pointers, self publishing manual, that’s been published continuously now for almost 30 years, over 30 years. Unfortunately, Dan passed away a couple of years ago, but he was a real early supporter of us, a mentor of mine, he pulled me aside and was just very supportive opening doors for us, introducing us to conference managers giving us advice. So he was really a dear friend, and mentor

James Taylor
of people that don’t know about the Smashwords platform. They hadn’t used it before describing basically, how does it work? And what are the tools that are in there, that they can help authors and publishers to, to kind of get their books out into the world and to market and sell their books. Sure.

Mark Coker
So as you mentioned in the intro, we make it Fast, Free and Easy for any writer anywhere in the world to publish an E book. So you have two options when you come to Smashwords to publish your book. The first is that you can upload your manuscript as a Microsoft Word document, and then we’ll take that document in our technology will automatically be automatically converted into multiple ebook formats. So it’ll be available for reading on any reading device. And then your second option is to come to us with professionally designed and formatted EPUB file. So e pub is the open industry standard for ebooks that every major retailer except for Amazon uses,

James Taylor
so that you mentioned the the dreaded Amazon word. And I know you’ve been very vocal in terms of their approach, in terms of within, especially with Indies, authors, and indie publishers as well. Which probably explained to you there’s a number of things that can coming up in Amazon that started things like KDP Select, whether we’ve heard of so is, is the world of indies strong? And do you think things are looking good for the Indies when you have obviously space strong, dominant powers in the publishing world, like like, like Amazon,

Mark Coker
it’s a complicated story, right now. I believe that there’s never been a time better but never been a better time to be an author. There’s never been a better time to be a self published author. If you compare your opportunities today as a writer to your opportunities 10 years ago, it’s night and day difference. Today, you can start writing a book and with 100% assurance, you can know that your book is going to see the light of day and is going to be published and read by customers. Whether you self publish, or traditionally published 10 years ago, there was really only one option, and that was to traditionally publish that method, over 90% of authors books would never see the light of day. So Amazon launched in late 2007, just a couple months before Smashwords launched. Amazon deserves mad kudos for the innovation that they brought to self publishing the support that they’ve shown self published authors, their ability to grow the E book market as the world’s largest online seller of books. So huge kudos to Amazon for that. But there’s a dark side to what’s been happening. Amazon’s business model is entirely dependent upon commoditizing everything that it sells. And it’s dependent upon controlling the price to the consumer. And the only way to control the price to the consumer is to control what you pay to the provider of the product to the supplier and in This case the supplier is the author. So Amazon’s putting a lot of pressure on authors to lower their prices, and to basically drop their drawers and sell their books for lower costs. That works out great for customers. But it doesn’t work out. Always so great for authors because authors unlike manufacturers of mousetraps can’t outsource their production to China or to India, you are the producer of your product. And so whenever I see any anyone trying to take pricing control away from the author, I push back against that, because I think you as the author as the the producer of this intellectual property, you have a right to determine how where and when your book is sold, and you have a right to set a price for your product. And what we’ve seen with Amazon and with especially with KDP, select you mentioned KDP Select and for for listeners who aren’t familiar with it. Amazon has two ebook self publishing options. The first is the regular KDP. And I recommend that every author is on KDP because it’s the world’s largest marketplace for ebooks. But the second option This is an optional option is called KDP. Select which you mentioned. And with KDP Select Amazon requires you to make your book exclusive to them for at least three months. That means you can’t sell your book on any other website. You can’t even put it on your own personal website. And KDP Select as I warned back in 2011, when it first launched, is toxic to the future of publishing. And it’s toxic to the future of author independence. So now we have a situation where over over 1 million ebooks are exclusive to Amazon, these books cannot be purchased at any other retailer. So readers, millions of readers now have over a million read reasons not to shop at any other retailer. And so what we’re seeing is that the customer base of other competing retailers, like apple, Barnes and Noble Kobo are slowly being pulled away and shifting into the Amazon ecosystem. That means that Amazon’s competitors are getting weaker, they’re they’re more challenged at achieving profitability, which means their very future is in jeopardy. Now, Apple’s never going to go out of business because they have more money than God. But Barnes and Noble, Kobo, two other great ebook retailers that that support the indie author community, both of those retailers are in jeopardy if the current trends continue. And I don’t see anything reversing those trends, because most writers are born desperate to reach readers and Amazon has provides access to the world’s largest collection of readers. And that would be a great thing, if not for the fact that that Amazon’s business model is dependent upon commoditizing your work making your work, undifferentiated and undone differentiate a bowl from another author’s work. Now I know a lot of authors think that, you know, my book is my unique creative product. It can’t be commoditized because there’s no other book like my book. But the fact of the matter is that reading pleasure is commoditized can be commoditized. Because if you look at it in terms of how many hours of reading pleasure, can you get per dollar, or per euro, or per pound, you’re going to get a lot more reading pleasure per unit of currency at Amazon with KDP Select, then you’re going to get it any other retailer because the other retailers don’t have a subscription option. The other retailers pay based on the list price of your book, whereas in KDP Select and Kindle unlimited which is their subscription service which is powered by KDP Select authors are paid out of a pool, they’re paid about one half penny per page that’s read

James Taylor
there’s lots of echoes here from myself, I come from the music industry originally. There’s lots of echoes here of the things like Spotify, which is what well for some some creatives but probably not great for most creatives and I noticed when I saw that the Kindle unlimited thing I didn’t didn’t personally go with that I don’t know subscriber to kindle because I had these horrible feelings of we’re gonna go down the the Spotify route Tiana is is you say it’s becoming very commoditized. In that way.

Mark Coker
It’s a slippery slope. Now there are other subscription models that I’m quite supportive of. For example, script script is probably the second largest provider of subscription ebook services. Script pays authors And publishers based off of the list price. So after a certain percentage of the book is read, it triggers a credit to the author or publisher as a full sale. And I think that’s a much more author publisher friendly model. Because if script gives away too many hours of reading pleasure per dollar, then then they go out of business, because the authors and publishers aren’t paid well enough. So they’re challenged to find that that common intersection between what works for the author publisher what works for the reader, and what works for the subscription service provider, and I think script has found that balance.

James Taylor
And one of the things that I know that the KDP Select, you also mentioned is that you can’t put it up on your own website, let’s say, you know, during that that period of however many months there, I’m guessing, you know, for a lot of our audience here who are nonfiction in business, they’re reading business books, or nonfiction books of some sort, then that can sometimes be a little bit of a chat challenge. Because you’re one we’re also looking to try and build up pre orders as well. So I know you’ve done a lot of research into the world of pre orders and how pre orders can lead to ongoing success. What have you found when you’ve been doing research into the world of pre orders?

Mark Coker
Sure. So any book pre order is an advanced listing of your book at the major retailers up to 12 months before the book is ready for purchase and reading. So pre orders are one of the most powerful one of the most effective marketing tools and they’re also one of the most underutilized tools in the indie community. We’ve been tracking preorder adoption rates for a few years now, in 2018, this is based on the new Smashwords survey 2018 data, which I haven’t released yet on the blog, but I’ll release probably in the next couple months, we found that about 17% of new books published by indie authors and publishers originated as any book pre order, yet that small percentage of books that originated as pre orders accounted for the vast majority of sales. But we also dug deeper into the preorder adoption rates across different genres and categories. For example, we found that in romance, which is one of the top indie categories, 29% of the books originated as a pre order yet that 29% of books accounted for fully 75% of all book sales for the for that year, for new books released in that category. On the nonfiction side, for example, if we look at nonfiction, biographies, only 15% of new indie titles in that category originated as pre orders yet that 15% of books accounted for 79% of the sales in that category for the year. So what we’re seeing is that ebook, pre orders, books that are released as pre orders are vacuuming up all the sales. And what it means if you step back for indie authors is that if you don’t release your book as an E book pre order, you’re leaving readers and money on the table.

James Taylor
That’s fascinating. Did they have that kind of data that supported data to be able to show that is everyone now is in the back of the house thinking okay, I need to get my preorders strategy stopped by MK Dave, I’m much bigger as well. And I also heard, so I

Mark Coker
know but basically, what I would say on that count is look at your publishing calendar for the next 12 months. Any book that you plan to release in the next 12 months, get it up on pre order. Now, you don’t need a book cover yet, you don’t even need the manuscript yet. It’s Smashwords, we have a feature called asset list pre orders, these are metadata only pre orders. So you can establish the pre order with as little as just the title of the book, a book description category in a price center release date,

James Taylor
and what what and why is it that that those pre orders you mentioned that is such a small number is driving so much the sales? What is going on? Is it the algorithm or what’s happening,

Mark Coker
there’s a number of factors that are driving it, I think the most important factor is that pre orders enable more effective advance book marketing. So most authors are on their blogs, on Facebook, on Instagram, wherever they communicate with their readers, talking about what works in progress. They’ve got going, what’s coming out in the future. And the authors might not even consider what they’re doing marketing, but that’s marketing. And if you have a pre order link, the pre order hyperlink that you can share with your followers, then you’re able to capture that readers interest that you’re able to capture that readers order at the moment you have the greatest interest and attention. So that’s probably the biggest reason. Another big factor is that the merchandising at the major retailers is Very future focused, what’s coming out what’s new. And this is especially true at Apple iBooks, which is the world’s second largest global seller of books. Apple does the very best job of promoting pre orders. And they have a special algorithm at Apple that you won’t find it the other retailers, that Apple, all of those pre orders that you accumulate during the pre order period, credit toward your first days sales rank when your book finally goes on sale. So we’ve had a number of authors on the day of their release, hit number one at the Apple Store, worldwide, we’ve had authors go live with thousands of accumulated pre orders. And when you get that kind of boost to your sales rank that makes your book more visible and more desirable to other readers. Because readers use bestseller lists to identify their next read, readers see bestseller lists as the amalgamation of the the wisdom of the masses, because they’re related to what other readers are buying.

James Taylor
It is a bit of an advantage. And the indie authors have over pup of a traditional published authors and because they they can have they can they they they have more control over their timelines, let’s say

Mark Coker
yes and no. You know, the, I think the first thing to understand is that the preorder adoption rate among indie authors is abysmally low. I mean, it’s just horrible that more than 80% of indie authors aren’t releasing their books as pre orders. Yet, if you look at traditional publishers, pre orders have been a recognized best practice for years. So almost every major publisher, major traditional publisher is releasing their books as as a book pre orders. So this is this is an example where the indie authors are a little bit behind the curve. But indie authors with pre orders do have some advantages that the traditional publishers don’t have. The best many of the bestsellers that we see at Smashwords are series. And one of the one of the tricks that that indie authors use is to price their first their first book in the series at free.

James Taylor
And then use that to hook the reader get the reader invested in the series. And then the reader goes on to purchase all the other books. So if you can combine a free series starter on a series with a series that has a pre order out at the very end, either as Book Two, Book Three, book four, book five, or whatever, then you can drive a lot more readers into your series. And I have been one of those buyers, I have been got hooked on that that first one to free. And it’s totally brought me and then bought the second third in the book. So I think that’s a and this is kind of goes back to this idea of I guess, being quite strategic in your in your planning and your thinking as an indie as an indie author. I know, we had Joanna pen was interviewed as part of the summit and Joanna said we you know, we need to move from thinking of ourselves as self published authors to independently published authors and have a bit of that, you know, just because you’re an indie doesn’t mean you have, you can have, you know, really well thought out plans. And really well, you know, well executed plans as well. So that’s great. So I love that you’re providing all this data available so they can start to you and one of the you have a great podcast, one of the the episodes you did that was the 16 secrets of best selling authors. And, and it was a whole bunch of I liked number one process, which is basically write a good book, which is, is obviously the main one, but actually one of the other ones was the build a platform that you control. And I think that’s incredibly important.

Mark Coker
Yes, you know, I we’ve, a lot of authors have learned this lesson the hard way. So just look at Facebook, for example, authors spent thousands of dollars millions of dollars collectively, building up their platforms at Facebook, only to have Facebook, pull the rug out from underneath their feet and start charging authors for access to people who are following them. So a lot of authors saw that as a bait and switch. And so the the people who are following you on Facebook, or who are following you on Twitter or Instagram, you don’t actually control access to those people. Those people who want to see every single one of your tweets and posts, they’re not going to see your tweets and posts unless you pay money to access them. So I’m a big believer in authors building a platform they control. That means building your own private mailing list, doing everything you can to drive readers into your private mailing list because you control that and then you can control your communications With your readers very important. Great advice there.

James Taylor
What about if, when you’re working with, with authors, is there any tools that you would recommend any online tools or apps you find particularly useful for writers, especially nonfiction writers,

Mark Coker
I don’t have any recommendations for apps or tools on the writing side. Most of the most of the books that we see written are written in in a word processor or Microsoft Word. I would say use what works best for you. There are a lot of different writing tools. And you know, they’re fine too, if they work for you. But it really depends on your writing style. Are you a plotter or a pantser? And if you’re, if you are a meticulous plotter, then I think a lot of these software programs have a lot more value to you.

James Taylor
And what about if you were to recommend one book, actually, we spoke, you know that those 16 secrets of best selling authors, and the first one was really about the craft, it’d be of really writing a good book, if there’s one book you would recommend, specifically on the craft of writing and being a good author being a great author, hopefully, what would that book be?

Mark Coker
You know, I’m a big fan of Stephen King’s book on writing. I think that’s a great introductory book for anyone who’s just getting started considering writing a book, fantastic,

James Taylor
wonderful book. And, and I’d like you to kind of put your mind to it, I’m going to put a straight, it’s like an unusual question to you, I want you to imagine that tomorrow morning, you have to start from scratch, I’m gonna have you put your author hat on at this stage. So you have no one knows you, you know, no one. But you do have the skills you’ve acquired as an author of the year. So you’re gonna have to completely restart your career as an author, what would you do? How would you restart things,

Mark Coker
tapping into my experience in publishing, I would know that good books aren’t good enough anymore. And so I would focus relentlessly. You know, after that first draft is written, multiple revisions, more revisions, beta readers, professional editing, there’s just no substitute for that. If you’re an indie author, and you’re preparing to release your first book, and you’ve got a couple thousand dollars burning a hole in your pocket, and you’re wondering if you should spend that on editing or marketing, spend it on editing, because your book, the quality of your book, is the best marketing that you’ll ever receive. Because books sell based on the the wings of reader word of mouth, it’s all about word of mouth. So I would start with a super fabulous book, I would, I would orient my publishing strategy primarily around ebooks. With one exception, if I’m writing nonfiction, I’m a professional speaker. And I have the ability to sell books in the back of the room, that I definitely want to have print books as part of my marketing mix, because I want to sell print books in the back of the room. The next thing on the book side, if I’m just getting started, my author platform hasn’t been established, I’m going to price my first books at free. I’ll probably look to write series. So I’m going to play I’m going to price the first book in the series at free. And I’m going to get the second book up on pre order. And if there’s a third book coming in the next 12 months, I’m gonna get that up on pre order as well. So you use the free book to drive as many readers as possible into the series. And then you start building your platform with with books one, two, and three, as you drive people into the series. Another really important tip, and you saw this on you probably heard this on the smart author podcast on that 16 bestseller secrets episode. A lot of authors make the mistake of ending their book with a period and then nothing after that. When the reader finishes your book, put your put yourself in the readers shoes, they just discovered their new favorite author, they just discovered you they’ve never read you before they loved your book. They want to read more from you. They want to know more about you they want to connect with you. So add these three sections to the back matter of your book at a section titled connect with the author, put all your social media coordinates there with live hyperlinks, so they can with a click directly start following you directly start subscribing to your private mailing list. The second section about the author. So a short bio to humanize the author doesn’t need to be a long CV, just something short, tell the reader something about the author. And then the third section and these sections can appear in any order in the back matter would be other books by this author. So that’s a great opportunity to make it really easy for readers to start reading and discovering your other books. If you write series and the reader just finished book one, let them know what Book Two in this series is give them a free sample right directly within the book so you can get them hooked and directly involved into the new series. The next big tip next to the quality of your book, Nothing’s more important than the cover. Readers do judge books by the cover. Now, images are a form of communication, but they’re a much denser form of communication, you can communicate much more information with images, then you can communicate with words. So again, put yourself in your target readers shoes, understand who your target reader is, who’s that target reader who will enjoy your book more than any other reader in the world, that’s your target reader. So if you’re writing nonfiction about real estate, you’re not targeting all real estate investors, you might be targeting a certain subset of real estate investors. So target that subset, and then develop a cover that promises through imagery that your book will satisfy the readers aspirations now that you understand who that reader is, and what they aspire to, from there, what they aspire for in their next reading experience. So those are a few tips to get you started. Fantastic,

James Taylor
great list of tips there. So Mark, thank you so much for sharing those. And we’re going to have a link here to the smart author podcast because it’s a great series of, of podcast these, I think I just started on, there was one you were doing all that pre orders, you’ve got one just about talking about pre orders as well. So we’ll have that link to the smart author podcast. We’re also going to have a link here to Smashwords itself so people can go in there, get your account set up and start with start working on that as well. And if people want to reach out directly to you mark up or to follow you and learn more about the other things that you’re involved in, where’s the best place to go and do that?

Mark Coker
Well, you can follow me on Twitter, at Mark Coker, Ma, rk c Okay, er, you can follow me on Facebook, also mark Coker, or you can send me an email. My email is [email protected] I look forward to hearing from people.

James Taylor
Well, Mark, thank you so much for your time today and sharing some absolute brilliant bits of knowledge and insights all backed backed up by data and surveys. I know you’ve been doing as well. And I wish you all the best when we as as Smashwords goes from strength to strength. So thanks so much for coming on today.

Mark Coker
Thank you, James. My pleasure.

James Taylor
If you’re interested in living a more creative life, then I’d love to invite you to join me as I share some of the most successful strategies and techniques that high performing creatives use. I put them all together in a free downloadable ebook that you can get by going to jamestaylor.me. That’s jamestaylor.me. To get your free downloadable ebook on creativity.

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