Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Have YOU Smashed Your Words Yet? -- c.anne.gardner

All true self-published authors understand that being self-published means making a lot of business decisions. Those business decisions generally fall into two catgorical extremes: astronomically expensive with little to no return on investment or fiscally sound with incremental returns over the long-term. Let’s not kid ourselves here, we all know what falls into which category, but when you come right down to it, the key to any profitable self-publishing venture is exposure, and the biggest piece of the “exposure” paradigm is Distribution. Getting books into stores for most self-published authors is still an exercise in futility, but let’s face it, with ecommerce and the technology we have today, I don’t see a bright future for physical books stores. Hell, I don’t even like walking around most book stores now. Where the fuck are the books???? We have cafes, we have all sorts of gift items: wrapping paper, toys, and all manner of merchandising crap, but the book shelf space seems to be getting smaller and smaller. Now with the advent of look-inside programs like at Amazon, we can browse books from the comfort of our PC. I don’t have to waste gas to drive to a store and then be annoyed when I can’t find books to read other than the latest marketing blockbuster. I have been an Amazon customer since its inception, and I have no trouble finding the books that I want to read, specifically, foreign translations. I also like to read on-screen. Yup, I do.

Since I started reviewing books for the Podpeople, I have found that my eBook reading time has increased. I like reading eBooks for review because I can make notes and type the review in situ, if you will.

And that brings me to the viability of eBooks and what the eBook revolution means for the fiscally savvy self-published author. Shit, we all know what it means: distribution and to hell with brick and mortar book stores. Yea, I would love to see my book on the shelf at my local haunt, but realistically, the odds are against it. Physical Books are expensive on the front end and equally so on the back end. So why bother worrying about physical distribution unless you are a best selling author.

Admittedly, I am not an early adopter. I don’t jump on bandwagons, and I take a wait and see approach. When I began to contemplate eBook sites, my main concern was that the site needed to have an established customer base and more than one distribution channel. It just makes sense. A stand-alone ecommerce site is no good to me, and who wants to spend all their time loading their books to thousands of sites, time that would be better spent writing or marketing. That’s just ridiculous. You want your book where it will get the maximum distribution exposure and a royalty split that doesn’t leave you the odd man out. In the beginning, when I left Lulu, I chose Amazon. Sure, I could have gone directly to LSI, but their set up costs were prohibitive for a novella and I would still have to split the royalty with them and the end reseller, thus increasing the retail cost of the book. Now Createspace functions the same as LSI with limited distribution exclusive to Amazon, but there are no set-up fees and no reseller percentages on the back-end. Plus, they have branding, a long established customer base, and offer distribution in print and eBook with the Kindle. That’s great. I don't spend a nickle but for a proof copy and the cost of my own ISBN, which I purchase in blocks, so we're off to a good start. But one site is not enough: Enter Smashwords.

Smashwords has been in the news a lot lately as they announced their partnerships with Barnes and Noble, Sony, and most recently, Shortcovers. This is a huge step in the right direction, and this step is what convinced me to finally load up my books with them. Yes, I waited. That’s what I do. I don’t make business decisions on a whim, and in the beginning, Smashwords was just another stand-alone ecommerce start-up site. But now, Kindle isn’t the top dog anymore as far as eBook distribution since the advent of the new Sony eReaders and the B&N Nook. Makes sense that Kindle shouldn’t be your only eBook portal. Yes, you should still Kindle your book. Amazon’s customer base is something not to be ignored, but you need more distribution than that. Scribd is an option, but they only offer PDFs, so even if their relationship with Simon and Schuster increased their customer base, its still not enough exposure. So what I’m saying here is: Get your books on Smashwords. With distribution to Sony and B&N you will have all the major eReaders covered in a variety of formats, not to mention Sony and B&N already have large established customer bases and branding.

Now I won’t lie to you. eBook formatting is a purgatory that rivals the likes of Dante’s inferno, but Smashwords handy dandy formatting guide makes it easy for you to get your “straight text” manuscript up to spec. I found that a Smashwords spec’d out manuscript in Microsoft Word actually loads much better to the Kindle platform than the recommended html. Bonus for me, because I only have to make minor tweaks to the same word doc, and apparently, I must have formatted them properly because they were approved for premium distribution within 6 hours of my submitting them. I guess I didn't screw it up. On a side note: If you have pictures, graphs, and/or other such complications in your manuscript, then you will need additional formatting expertise outside of the Smashwords style guide. Don’t skimp on the formatting here, or your eBook will look like crap.

In summary: Distribution is what you want. Let's face it, Christmas is coming, and eBook readers are gonna be a hot gift: The B&N Nook is already sold out. I am debating buying a Nook for myself after the initial rush. So, get your words Smashed and do it now. I did, at least for three of my books, and all I can say is that my Smashwords experience thus far has been stellar and has far exceeded my expectations. Much thanks to Smashwords for continuing to think outside the box. The only improvement I would recommend is that Smashwords increase the word count on their book descriptions. 400 words is not enough in most cases. Even on my slimmest novella, I had to cut my cover copy. I didn’t have to do that with Amazon.

Edited to Add news Alert: Smashwords to Supply eBooks to Amazon

While I think this news announcement is fantastic, I'll be keeping my own account with Kindle as it is under my imprint name. When Smashwords distributes your books, they have Smashwords listed as the publisher of record on the e-commerce site. It's a fiddly thing really, but I own my own imprint. I paid for the business license and the ISBNs. I am the publisher of record according to Bowkers, so I think I'll keep my own Kindle account. I don't have that option with Sony or B&N, so Smashwords will be listed as the publisher, but what can you do. Distribution is distribution.

Cheryl Anne Gardner


Anonymous said...

Of the few ebook publishers/distributors I've worked with SMASHWORDS is the most user friendly.

They are proactive in the sense that they put out a free style guide that makes uploading a breeze compared with KINDLE.

What little information KINDLE provides is apparently wrong. I re-uploaded all of my KINDLE content using the SMASHWORDS style guide and my sales spiked.

SMASHWORDS actually has a KINDLE portal. I if had it to do over I would have put all my content on KINDLE through SMASHWORDS.

I have the sense of actually working with humans there.

Nice review.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Thanks. I reloaded all my existing Kindle files using the word doc I formatted for Smashwords and it worked out much better. Kindle is a mess as far as finding formatting information.

I saw that news alert this morning that Smashwords has partnered with Amazon. But the only thing I don't like are that the books have Smashwords listed as the publisher. I have my own imprint: I am the publisher of record, according to Bowkers, so I'll keep my Kindle account.

Kristine said...

I started using Smashwords just about a month ago, because I wanted a source that would provide multi-formats and completely DRM free versions - and Smashwords is just what I was looking for in that respect. Since putting a couple of my novels there, I've had more downloads/sales than ever before.

And it's so easy, and user friendly. I just followed their very simple instructions for stripping all formating issues away, uploaded the document and my cover art, and "poof", done.

One thing I really appreciate with Smashwords is the ability to set my own free sample percentage. The default is to allow a reader to see 50% of your novel free before buying, but you can change that to whatever you like.

I've only just found out this morning that our Smashwords eBooks will now be available thru Amazon - haven't had a chance to process that yet - but they've been available in Kindle format since day 1.

Anonymous said...

I've been holding off on e-book distribution for some time now, and have been following your own experiences in this regard. I knew pretty early on I didn't want to use Lulu for this, so sometime in '10 I'll be setting up an account with Smash to see what it's like.

Floyd M. Orr said...

Cheryl, as you know, I have been a promoter of Smashwords for a while now. Some of your readers may want to go back and read my article entitled Smashing the Kindle at PODBRAM for more information. Thank you.


L.K. Campbell said...

Smashwords has been very good to me. The hits to my books number in the 1000s. One of my free reads is on their Top 100 downloads list and one of my novels is in the Top 25 bestsellers. I think Smashwords has opened up my work to a whole new audience.