Friday, July 26, 2013

Brutal Honesty from a Newbie Indie Author: Ebook Questions & Answers

I got a question via email regarding my thoughts on ebooks. Specifically, "Where did you publish your book, in what formats, and where is it available? What has your experience been so far?"

It was my original intention to publish my book only as an ebook. I had bookmarked Smashwords a couple of years ago and was very impressed with three books by Mark Coker, Smashwords founder. Those books were Smashwords Style Guide (most important for formatting your book for ebook publication), Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, and The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success. Note that all of these books are free and I highly recommend them even if you have no plan to publish with Smashwords. 

I had a last minute change of heart and ended up publishing my book via CreateSpace as print-on-demand, as well. I'm glad I did, as I've had greater success with print copies than with ebooks at this point. However, as I admitted in a previous post, I did not have any type of marketing plan going into this. My entire focus was on getting the first book published. I've not given up on ebook sales and I like the idea that an ebook has a very long potential shelf life.

Anyway, what I like about Smashwords and why I will likely publish any future ebooks through them first:

  • I truly like their business model. I love that they aren't catering to one big box or electronic store and that they provide the tool to distribute your book via many outlets without preference.
  • Smashwords instructions (via the above mentioned books and website) are superior to just about any other publishing site I have reviewed.
  • There were no surprises. Smashwords allowed me to turn my Word document into nine different ebook formats in one simple submission. This meant my book was available in formats that worked on everything from Apple iPads to Nook and Kobo. Readers who purchase via Smashwords can select any format they desire.
Having said that, if you go to Smashwords right now and look up my name, you will notice that I have no ebook published there. Here is what happened.

I was blissfully content with my ebook on Smashwords. The first evening I published my book, I spent the rest of the night checking the stats and watching the numbers climb as people checked out my story. I could see how many samples of my story had been downloaded. Within a couple of days it started showing up at other outlets. I could find it via Kobo, the indie bookstore ereader. It showed up at Barnes and Noble. Someone purchased it via an Apple store. I kept waiting for it to show up at Amazon, however. I waited a couple of weeks. Then a couple more passed. I finally started reading and researching a little deeper and discovered that, though Smashwords has made a deal with Amazon to distribute Kindle format ebooks, the reality is that only the top selling books on Smashwords make the cut. Amazon apparently limits the number of books it will take per week from a distributor like Smashwords.

In other words, Amazon prefers you play only with them. 

I had initially rejected publishing my ebook with Amazon for precisely this reason. I reviewed the information regarding the Kindle Select program and walked away with the belief that if you published an ebook with Amazon, you could only publish your ebook with Amazon. This is, in fact, true of the Kindle Select program, but it is okay to publish to Kindle at Amazon and not enter the Select program and you are just fine to distribute other versions of your ebook, as well. (This is what I know to be true as of June/July 2013. This is all changing very quickly, so if you are reading much after this, please confirm that this is still the case before relying on my word.)

Once I understood that my ebook was likely not going to make it to Amazon via Smashwords, I uploaded it to Amazon myself. The basic formatting required for getting started with Smashwords is exactly the same. I just changed some of the wording at the front to reflect that it was a Kindle Edition rather than a Smashwords edition of my ebook.

NOTE: If you have published your print-ready book via CreateSpace, there is an option to make that book an ebook with Kindle, as well. I provided my book to CreateSpace via PDF format (which I recommend because you have formatted the book exactly as you wish it to appear and should have no problems with the resulting print edition.) Please understand, however, that a PDF does not make proper starter material for an ebook. CreateSpace allows you to turn your submitted PDF into an ebook, but that doesn't mean you should do it that way. If you have supplied CreateSpace with a Word document you will probably have fewer issues, but I personally don't recommend using the same starter document for both print and ebook. You want your print book to appear exactly as you envision it. An ebook should flow since you have no power over how people are going to read it. There are dozens of ereader devices and you don't know what size font they are going to prefer or if they are going to read white text on a black screen or black text on a white screen. If you limit the choices for a ebook, readers are not going to be happy with you. If you leave the choices fluid for a print book, you are likely not going to be happy with the end product. 

...but back to my ebook. Once I had the Kindle edition available on Amazon (and other formats everywhere else via Smashwords) I spent several days reviewing the Amazon Select program and reading what other authors thought about it. I eventually decided it wouldn't hurt to try. I removed my ebook from Smashwords and once it disappeared from stores, I opted to enroll in the Kindle Select program for 90 days.

Am I happy with the decision? Only in as much as I now understand a lot more about the program, and quite a bit more about ebooks in general. I think my next post will have to be specifically about my experiences in the Kindle Select program and my thoughts on ebook pricing and book give-aways (consider this my note to self).

Again, I share these details with the caveat that my marketing plan has been created on the fly and I do believe that with proper planning and a method of marketing in place, there is much greater opportunity for success with ebooks than I have experienced.

To recap:
  • Smashwords would be my first stop for an author considering publication of an ebook.
  • Upload to Amazon separately, but it is fine to do all other distribution, in my opinion, via Smashwords.
  • At this point, I would skip the Kindle Select experience, but I reconsider that thought frequently. Make a plan for distributing and marketing via Kindle and you might come up with entirely different results.


Tracy Million Simmons is the author of Tiger Hunting, available for purchase from this website, on AmazonBarnes & Noble and at your local bookstore (it can be ordered it if they do not carry it!) You are invited to share a link to this post on Facebook or your personal website, as long as full attribution to the author remains. Use the options at right to follow this blog, sign up for posts via email, or like my author page on Facebook.
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Brutal Honesty from a Newbie Indie Author by Tracy Million Simmons is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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1 comment:

  1. I'm taking notes on all of this! I've heard great things about Smashwords and mixed things about Kindle Select. I would be hesitant to try Kindle Select because it seems like Amazon is trying to take over the world as far as book selling goes. That's a bit scary to me...


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