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My Background. About me. Founder of Smashwords Free ebook publishing and distribution platform for indie authors We distribute ebooks to multiple major retailers (Apple, Sony, B&N, Kobo, etc.) Author of…. Backstory on Smashwords. Co-wrote novel with wife, Lesleyann

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about me
About me
  • Founder of Smashwords
    • Free ebook publishing and distribution platform for indie authors
    • We distribute ebooks to multiple major retailers (Apple, Sony, B&N, Kobo, etc.)
  • Author of…
backstory on smashwords
Backstory on Smashwords
  • Co-wrote novel with wife, Lesleyann
    • Landed top NYC literary agent
  • Rejected by all NY publishers (twice)
    • Decided publishing was broken. Realized:
      • Acquisition decisions based on perceived commercial merit
      • Publishers unable to take risk on every author
      • Readers shut out of process
    • My solution: Smashwords
      • Ebook publishing and distribution platform allows any author to self-publish and distribute an ebook, for FREE
how smashwords works
How Smashwords Works
    • Author/publisher uploads a Microsoft Word file, formatted to our Style Guide
    • We automatically convert to 9 ebook formats
    • Ready for immediate sale online
    • Distribute to major retailers
  • PAY
    • Authors/publishers receive 85% of net
smashwords retailers partial
Smashwords retailers (partial)


Mobile apps

publishers were in control
Publishers were in control
  • Publishers decided:
    • Which authors got published
    • Which books could
      • get distributed to bookstores
      • receive heavy promotion
      • get read by readers
bookselling moves to the web
Bookselling moves to the Web
  • Customer drivers:
    • Price
    • Convenience
    • Selection
  • Self-published books (P- & E-) displayed side by side with traditional books
  • Publishers lose control
    • If brick & mortar disappears, publishers lose key value proposition: exclusive access to distribution and readers
authors become publishers
Authors become publishers
  • Self-publishing platforms allow authors to bypass publishers
    • Equal access to distribution
    • Favorable economics for indies
      • reap 40-100% of retail price, vs. 5-12%
  • More professional authors will go indie
    • Mass exodus imminent?
number of books published indie vs traditional
Number of books published indie vs. traditional



New trad.



ebooks as a percentage of us wholesale trade market
Ebooks as a percentage of US wholesale trade market

Source: Association of American Publishers,

ebooks to overtake print
Ebooks to overtake print


Print books


why ebooks are hot
Why ebooks are hot
  • Screens can offer better reading experience than paper
    • Changeable font size AA AA
    • Portable and compact
  • Ebooks offer better purchasing experience
    • Huge selection
    • Convenient sampling and purchasing
    • Lower cost than print
they re exposed to too much risk
… they’re exposed to too much risk
  • Pay author advances
    • Can’t predict demand
    • many books fail and don’t earn out
  • Amazon is eating publishers for lunch
    • Vertically integrated from authors to readers
  • Broken supply chain
    • 30%+ of printed books returned to publisher unsold
print book supply chain broken for traditional publishers
Print book supply chain broken for traditional publishers


Print Publisher





pass along


Used bookstores

publishers try to mitigate risk
… publishers try to mitigate risk
  • Adopt customer-unfriendly policies
    • Publish fewer books
    • Scarcity tactics to maintain higher prices
    • Limit worldwide distribution
    • DRM
  • Adopt author-unfriendly policies
    • Reluctance to acquire books from unproven authors
    • Require authors to assume more editing, marketing responsibility
when publishers act less like publishers authors start questioning why they need a publisher
When publishers act less like publishers, authors start questioning why they need a publisher
summary of indie author publisher advantages
Summary of Indie Author/Publisher Advantages
  • Internet book buying levels playing field for indies
    • Both print and ebook
  • Smaller indie authors/publishers
    • instant access to global market
    • democratized distribution
    • closer to customers
    • lower expenses
    • never go out of print
    • earn more per book
indie ebook authors earn more per book
Indie ebook authors earn more per book
  • Higher profits than traditional print
    • Price ebooks for less yet still make more per copy than traditionally pubbed print authors
      • $8 indie ebook earns $6.35 at SW, vs <$.40 trad MMP
      • $.99 indie ebook earns more than $8.00 trad MMP
      • Lower price = reach more readers = more sales at higher profits per sale
    • Trad. ebook authors earn 25% net
      • Indie authors/publishers earn 70-85% net

MMP=Mass market paperback, aka “pocket book” in some countries

planning your move to ebooks
Planning your move to ebooks
  • Forget (some of) what you know
    • Don’t try to make e- look like p-
      • Ebooks consumed differently that print
      • Less = more with ebooks
      • Liberate text from complex formatting and layout
      • Ebooks are shape shifting creatures (see next slide)
ebook devices and customers shape shift text
Ebook devices (and customers) shape shift text
  • Example of Smashwords novel, All Good Things Die in L.A. by Anhoni Patel
    • iPhone, using the Stanza reader. User-selected options: Font: Verdana; Background pattern: Stone carving; text color: Dark Violet; Font size: larger than normal
multi format important
Multi-format important
  • Multiple ebook formats
  • PDF does not = ebook anymore
  • Multi-format lets customer enjoy your book their way
    • Expands your selling & distribution options
how to create an ebook
How to Create an Ebook
  • Preparation
    • Most print books originate in Word, InDesign and Quark
    • Anticipate the shape shift
    • Simplify formatting and layout, see Smashwords Style Guide at
  • Conversion Options
    • Automated (e.g. Amazon, Smashwords)
    • Direct from book layout software (e.g. save as PDF, EPUB)
    • Conversion tools (Google ‘ebook conversion tools’)
    • Complex books (hire ebook formatter/coder)
1 write a great book
#1 Write a Great Book
  • With the power to publish comes the responsibility to be a great publisher
  • Honor your reader with a great book
    • Be fanatical about quality
      • Edit, revise, edit, revise, repeat
      • Leverage beta readers
    • Invest in a great cover image
2 write another great book
#2 Write Another Great Book
  • Build a backlist
    • Each new book offers the opportunity to market your backlist
  • The best-selling authors on Smashwords have deep backlists
  • Build trust with your reader
3 maximize distribution
#3 Maximize Distribution
  • If your book is not available, it’s not discoverable
  • Retailers invest millions of dollars to attract readers to your book
  • Consider using a distributor to get your book sold in as many ebook stores as possible *
    • spend your time writing

* Smashwords is a distributor, so of course I believe this

4 give some of your books away for free
#4 Give (Some of) Your Books away for Free
  • The most misunderstood, most underutilized market development tool
  • If you have a deep backlist, offer at least one book for free
    • Eliminates financial risk for first-time readers
  • The highest grossing authors/publishers at Smashwords offer at least one free book

Additional resource: Read FREE, by Chris Anderson

5 trust your readers and partners
#5 Trust Your Readers and Partners
  • If you practice paranoia, you and your books might as well live in a cave
  • Trust your readers
    • DRM is counterproductive
      • If you don’t trust your readers to honor your copyright, you’ll reach fewer paid readers
  • Trust your supply chain partners
    • If you limit distribution due to lack of trust, you shoot yourself in the foot
6 have patience
#6 Have Patience
  • Rome wasn’t build in a day, and neither will be your publishing empire
  • Ebooks can develop differently
    • Trad. print books – big sell-in, then yanked from shelves, then sales go to near zero
    • Ebooks – can start small and grow slowly before breakout
  • Ebooks are immortal
    • Never go out of print
  • Think of each book as an asset that will yield income over the long term
7 marketing starts yesterday
#7 Marketing Starts Yesterday
  • Marketing starts before you write your book
  • Build your social network
    • Contribute, share ideas, support your fellow writers
    • Don’t spam your network
    • Your social network will help you reach first readers
  • Your readers are your sales force
    • Give them tools to market your books for you
  • Network your books with hyperlinks

Resource: Smashwords Book Marketing Guide

secret 8 architect for virality
Secret #8 Architect for Virality
  • Secrets #1 - #7 help maximize virality
  • Books have always been a word of mouth business
    • Your readers determine your success
    • Facilitate frictionless word of mouth
  • Understand the concept of “first reader”
the viral dream
The Viral Dream

First reader


viral decay the reality
Viral Decay, The Reality

First reader


negative virality
Negative Virality

This book


First reader

Last reader

how to architect for virality
How to Architect for Virality
  • Implement the Seven Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success
  • Eliminate friction that limits
    • availability
    • sampling
    • purchasing
    • enjoyment

Additional resource: Read The Viral Loop by Adam Penenberg

the 7 8 secrets to ebook publishing success
The 7 8 Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success
  • Write a great book
  • Write another great book
  • Maximize distribution
  • Give (some of) your books away for FREE
  • Trust your readers and partners
  • Have patience
  • Marketing starts yesterday
  • Architect for virality

Visit the Smashwords Blog, 9/16/2010 for the 7 Secrets to Failure:

thank you for listening q a
Thank you for listening!Q&A

Where to find Mark Coker:




Twitter: @markcoker