Nuggets to Successful EBook Publishing

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop hosted by Northwest Houston RWA, my local Romance Writers of America chapter. The speaker, Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords.

Now this is not the first time I’ve met Mark, nor the first time I’ve listened to him speak. But I couldn’t wait to hear him talk again. He has a very impressionable way with understanding the world of eBook self-publishing.

With his permission, I’m going to relay the notes I took from his talk on the best practices for publishing an eBook.

photo (22)

Mark and Jenn!

1. Write a fantastic book. Honor the reader with a great story and satisfy them by moving them to an emotional extreme. It doesn’t stop there. Make sure you are fanatical about the entire process, including the editing and packaging.

2. Create a great cover. The cover is not only the first impression on the path to discovery, but a promise to the reader. Use a professional cover artist, or, if you plan to do the cover yourself, make sure the cover is comparable to what New York publishers produce. Make sure your cover targets your audience. The cover is merchandised as a thumbnail. It should look great in that size.

3. A no-brainer, but warrants repeating. Write another super awesome book.

4. Give some books away for free. By doing this, you eliminate the financial risk new readers face. Free books builds awareness and trust. This especially works well for books of a series. If you have a series, at least one book should be free, even if for a little while.

5. Patience, it’s a virtue. Retailers force books out of print before they have a chance because new books are kept on the shelves for only a few short weeks. Most don’t have an opportunity to gain an audience, much less a fan base. EBooks are immortal…and changeable.

6. Maximize availability—don’t be exclusive. Play the field, play with everyone. If you are exclusive, you limit discoverability and become dependent on the site of the exclusivity. Oh, and by the way, retailers see no stigma in self-published books.

7. Build a platform. The larger your platform, the more power you have over your career. Connecting with readers becomes a form of currency. There is no single right way to do this. Use all the social media tools you feel comfortable with. Have a newsletter. Some will want to connect using blogs, but it is difficult to gain readership this way. However, once you do, they are yours for life. And here’s a biggie, offer a way for readers to connect with you at the end of your book, aside from your website. It simply makes sense, but is often overlooked.

smashwords style guide

Click on the cover for your FREE copy!

8. Architect for “virality”. “Spread the germ.” Get your fans talking about you. Word-of-mouth is still the most powerful way to discoverability. Book marketing is always going to stem from word-of-mouth. Utilize viral catalysts that makes your books more accessible, discoverable, desirable, and enjoyable—story, cover, title, editing, targeting right audience, book description, pricing, broad distribution, formatting, proper categorization, just to name a few. Eliminate the friction that limits the catalysts (think exclusivity, lacking cover, bad editing, etc.).

9. Unit volume is a lever for success. Every book sale has two benefits: money and a new readers. The latest survey conducted by Smashwords indicated that $1.99 was a black hole, not performing as well as higher priced units, and $3.99 was the current sweet spot for all genres. Proper pricing can maximize money made and the amount of readers. Keep in mind lower priced units will sell more units, and higher priced units will sell fewer, but the lower priced units under-perform as income and higher priced units will get you more readers. Of course, experience may vary and it is encouraged to play around with pricing to find what works best for your book.

10. Don’t worry about piracy. Obscurity is the bigger risk. Those stealing your books weren’t going to buy your book to begin with. Who knows, you may even gain a super reader out of it. Most piracy is accidental—a lending of a book, picking up a book at a garage sale, etc. This type of discoverability is effective and cheap! The best way to combat piracy is to make your book easier to purchase than steal. This goes back to distributing broadly and pricing fairly. And it doesn’t hurt to add a polite license statement in the book. (See Smashwords’ example in their style guide.)

smashwords marketing guide

Click on the cover for your FREE copy!

11. Take advantage of Pre-orders. This will be available soon through all distributors. In short, list your book for sale before it officially hits the virtual shelves. Allow a sample to be downloaded. It is highly suggested books should be completely ready before listing it as a pre-order. Some retailers will credit all the pre-sales on the day the book comes for sale. This will possibly shoot the book onto various best-selling lists. Let me add here SHAZAM! Putting a book up for pre-order sale 4 to 6 weeks prior to release gives you, the author, a chance to market the book generating interest. Capture the reader and get them to buy while they are still fired-up instead of waiting until release day when they most likely have forgotten or are no longer as interested. Check out Smashwords’ blog post on pre-orders.

12. Practice partnerships and positivity. If you discover something that works well, share it with others. This builds friendships and a good reputation. Don’t be a complainer or behave badly. Everyone, including the marketing peeps at retailers, have Goggle Alerts. You will be remembered.

13. Collaborate with fellow authors. Short stories, bundles, or boxed sets are a great way to share, promote, and gain new readers with existing fan bases of your fellow collaborators. Plus the retailers like them and they sell well.

smashwords practices

Click on the cover for your FREE copy!

14. Think globally. All retailers are expanding beyond the US. Aggressively. Over 40% of Apple sales are outside the US and looks to be trending higher. And these books are in English.

15. You are running a business. Business requires a profit. Most books don’t sell well, so control your expenses. Never borrow money to publish a book. Pinch your pennies. Invest in great service. If you can’t afford it, offer to trade services. Once you are profitable, reinvest in your business.

Whoa! That’s a lot of information. Absorb it! And to help, check out Smashwords FREE marketing books and style guides.

What do you think about these practices? Have you tried any? What has worked or not worked for you? Do you have other tips to share? Let’s hear from you.

Originally posted on MuseTracks.

27 responses to “Nuggets to Successful EBook Publishing”

  1. Wonderful information, Jenn! Thank you for putting it altogether for us : )
    I haven’t self-published – yet, but I plan to in the next few years.

    • jbrayweber says:

      The Indie world is ever evolving, Heather, and the tools available to us are getting more and more user friendly. I’m glad you found the info useful, and I’ll see you on the other side soon. 😉

  2. It sounds like it was a awesome presentation. Thank you for sharing all that you learned. I’m catching up on a lot, so this will be helpful.

    • jbrayweber says:

      YAY! So glad I could help, Autumn. And equally glad to ‘see’ you here. If you ever get a chance to sit in on one of Marks talk, do so. I learn something new each time I listen to him.

  3. Thanks, Jenn. This is great stuff. Mark is so knowledgeable and full of practical tips. Especially exciting about the pre-order button.

    • jbrayweber says:

      Agreed, Bev. I’m so excited by the pre-order button. It will be a fabulous tool to propel authors into those much talked about lists. In turn, gaining more exposure and discoverability.

  4. Fantastic post, Jenn!!! I got to hear Mark on a PAN panel at National, but I would’ve loved to hear him talk exclusively. Great tips!

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Wasn’t that great? It’s always a hoot to see Mark and Amazon’s Jon Fine appear on a panel together. Though their public relationship appears collegial, the little digs they make at each other as competitors crack me up …

    • jbrayweber says:

      That PAN retreat was something else, Darynda. I felt like I needed to place a bet somewhere. *wink, wink*
      Getting Mark to come talk to us exclusively gave people an opportunity to pick his brain. I was thoroughly pleased having him in a more casual setting. Though his talk would have been the same, the relaxed atmosphere put everyone on a more personal, friendlier level. We got to know him, he got to know us. It was all good.

  5. Tamara Hogan says:

    There’s a lot of common sense here. It’s kind of interesting how attitudes change over time. Related to #10, I no longer worry about piracy. Issuing takedown requests takes precious time away from writing, and as Mark says, obscurity is the bigger risk. #11, Smashwords’ implementation of pre-orders, is a game changer.

    Great post, Jenn!

    • jbrayweber says:

      You are so right, Tamara. So much of his presentation is common sense. And it always amazes me how it’s not so clear for many. I, too, don’t worry with pirating. In the circumstances that are not related to accidental theft, those piracy sites are either simply portals and people actually have to be looking you up to steal your book or the sites are foreign and are roving around the internet, making it difficult to stop. I know I don’t have the time to hunt them down only for them to multiply elsewhere.

      I can’t wait for the pre-orders to begin. It really *is* a game changer for self-publishing authors.

  6. June Love says:

    Very informative post, Jenn. I’m not ready to self-publish…yet. I have a lot more to do before I get to that point. Like write more books. Thank you for sharing your notes with us.

    • jbrayweber says:

      Well, when you are ready, June, the information will be here for you to soak up and use. Now…what are you doing still reading this? Get back to writing!

  7. Fabulous tips, Jenn! I hoped to self-pub something next May, but time is at a premium this fall…still, it’s a goal one of these days. Mainly, so I can offer something free or on sale when I want to, to gain new readers. Off to check out the free books. 😉

    • jbrayweber says:

      I will hopefully be offering a prequel for free this fall. (keeping fingers crossed) But I hear you about time being at a premium. School is starting, which also means extracurricular activities are beginning, too. One would think having the kids back in school would give us more writing time. That’s not always true, is it, Anne Marie.

      Here’s to finding enough time to get something ready to publish next spring.

  8. Gwyn says:

    Thanks, Jenn. I downloaded the book (but since it’s on my computer, will have to print it out—my downloads fall into the blackhole of too many other computer related things to do). I don’t know which path I’ll choose, but having good information will make that choice not only easier but decisive.

  9. Great post, Jenn. I went to Mark’s workshop in Atlanta. He’s a really nice guy!

  10. Elisa Beatty says:

    Fabulous info, Jenn!

    The idea that pre-orders all get counted on the same day makes them seem SOOO valuable!

    And I agree that piracy should mostly be ignored: there are plenty of people out there who’d never use a pirated book, and plenty of piraters who’d never pay for a book. But, as Neil Gaiman said in a recent interview, even when nothing but print books existed, most people read a new author via the library or borrowing from a friend, and the author got no royalties then either. But if the person LOVED the book, they’d become a loyal buyer of that author’s work.

    • jbrayweber says:

      That’s exactly a point, Elisa. And as Mark said, obscurity is a bigger threat to an author than piracy.
      I’m excited about pre-orders. I can’t wait to utilize that little gem to the fullest.

  11. Hey Jenn! Great article! I’m currently reading Mark’s book and I’m learning a lot about self publishing. Still trying to decide if I should looking into converting PDF to EPUB.

  12. appstore says:

    Great work, a lot of really great tips! I appreciate you penning this page and the remainder of your site is amazing!


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