Mar 29th, 2021
What is in store for indie authors in 2021?
Join Autumn and special guest, Mark Coker, the CEO and founder of Smashwords as they discuss his predictions for 2021. There are some highs and some trends to be cautious of, as well as some new tools that might help you find your readers.
Check out the blog of Mark's predictions at https://blog.smashwords.com/2020/12/publishing2021.html and visit Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/.
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Read the full transcript below. (Please note that it's automatically generated and while the AI is super cool, it isn't perfect. There may be misspellings or incorrect words on occasion).
You're listening to The Am Writing Fantasy Podcast in today's Publishing landscape, you can reach fans all over the world. Query letters are a thing of the past. You don't even need a literary agent. There is nothing standing in the way of making a living from writing. Join two best selling authors who have self published more than 20 books between them now on to the show with your hosts, Autumn Birt and Jesper Schmidt.
Hello. Well, I am Autumn and today. Yes, Jesper is on a bit of a vacation. And instead I have a very special guest with me, Mark Coker, the CEO and founder of Smashwords a high Mark. Thank you so much for joining me here today to be here. Oh, I really, really appreciate it. I'll let you introduce me to be more of your background than I could have scraped off the web, if you would be so kind
As to how much do you want?
Well, we have 45 minutes, but I think guests, you know, they might want us to get into, we're going to talk about your 20, 21 Publishing Predictions. So Hey, you know,
Mark (1m 9s):
Well, make it really quick. Okay. So the story of Smashwords. So I founded Smashwords about 13 years ago, it was born out of necessity. My wife and I had written a book together, my wife as a former reporter for soap opera, weekly magazine. So we wrote a Romana clef about the soap opera industry wrote it in a cabin in the woods in Vermont.
Autumn (1m 30s):
Oh no, no. We just felt it from a connection. Yeah.
Mark (1m 35s):
We were lucky enough to get represented by distal and got a rich in New York. So one of the top agency's they shopped around to all of the major publishers of commercial women's fiction twice for two years. And it just got nothing but rejection. And the, the only feedback that we got from the publisher's that, that you know, that they never tell you that your book's sucks or that your writing sucks. They just say, its it's not right for us. Or we don't know how to place it or whatever. The only feedback that we got was that previous novels that the targeted soap opera fans hadn't performed well. So they were, they weren't willing to take a chance on our work. And it was really disappointing to have the, the door shut in our faces.
Mark (2m 17s):
And I started thinking about the challenges that we were facing. We knew that, you know, we had already shown our Book to fans of soap operas, and we knew that fans of soap operas enjoyed our books, our book. So I started imagining, you know, there are probably a hundreds of thousands, millions of other writers, just like us who were unable to get a book deal simply because the publishers didn't see the commercial potential and their work. And I also started thinking, you know, commercial potential is the wrong way to value literature. It, you know, books are worth so much more than money. You can't measure them by money alone. And if we're only going to measure the value of a worth based on how many of the value of a book based on how many copies it can sell them.
Mark (2m 59s):
And then eventually we're just going to have nothing but celebrity books. And, and we don't want that. You know, I, I love diversity in Writing diversity in thought and umm, you know, what better way to, you know, to, to celebrate the diversity of humanity than to what anyone published. So I thought, you know, anybody in the world should be able to publish because at the time you could self publish video on YouTube, you know, 13 years ago, 14 years ago, you can self publish on a blog and you know, it, it was still, it was a contentious time. People thought, well how dare someone think they can be a reporter or a journalist on their blog or, or published on YouTube.
Mark (3m 39s):
But you know, those people were reaching massive audiences and, and some of them were commercializing this audience. So why not make it possible for any writer anywhere in the world to publish an e-book for free. And that was the Genesis of Smashwords. That's what we launched in early 2008. We're pretty much the first to market with it. Amazon launched their digital text platform, which is now KTP just a couple of months before us. So we were working on the same thing at the same time, you know, launched it a great time. We launched it at a time when eBooks were less than 1% of the overall book market had no idea that they were about to explode like they did.
Mark (4m 20s):
And so it was just this perfect storm, you know, in those first, early years of 2008, 2013, where the promise of self publishing met the, the, the, the advantages of digital distribution of eBooks because suddenly retailers could stock every single book, every single e-book. They wanted every single e-book from every self published author. And we were there at the beginning, knocking down those doors and opening up these major retailers to self published authors and once self published authors got mainstream distribution at Barnes and noble Sony, you know, Kobo, Apple, Amazon There, sales exploded now.
Mark (5m 5s):
And it completely changed how writers and how the industry views self publishing. Because 13 years ago there was a tremendous stigma around self publishing. Yeah. No one wanted to self publish now, you know, unless you are foolish really, and you really have to believe in yourself, right?
Autumn (5m 27s):
Yeah. Yeah. You're almost considered either a failure or your book was enough quality. All of that was a horrible thing to get over those people today don't even realize, right?
Mark (5m 36s):
No, it was a horrible time and, and writer's were the most vicious to their fellow writers, you know? And well, yeah, somewhat, sometimes, sometimes, but yeah, it was, it, it was a way back 13, 14 years ago. A if you self published, really your only option is to self publish was in print. Yeah. But without a traditional publisher supporting you, you, weren't going to be able to get bookstore distribution. And if you couldn't get into stores where people went to buy books, you are going to fail is a writer. And that's why most self published authors were failing. It wasn't necessarily because they were sucky writers or that they were vain.
Mark (6m 18s):
I mean, let's be honest, all Publishing his vein. Okay. That all Publishing this vanity. Yeah. You've got to be like, you, you believe that you've created something you believe that it's valuable to other people there's some vanity in that. So it was just admit it all. And, but yeah, but what we saw is that readers don't care for Book a self-published author. If it comes from a publisher, they just care about the quality of that author of the quality of the writing in the value that they are getting. So yeah, so everything changed, you know, very, very quickly in 2008, 2009, 2010, you know, we were there at a very exciting time and, you know, writers around the world were unleashed upon the world has published authors and you know, many of them didn't sell very much, but a few of them, the same authors that couldn't get a traditional publishing deal at the same authors that couldn't get an agent, you know, it started becoming international bestsellers, you know, in New York times, best sellers USA today, bestseller wall street, journal bestsellers.
Mark (7m 22s):
So it's an exciting, and every time there's a, a, a, a, an indie author who's successful, it really inspires the rest of us. It takes, it shows us that yes, you can self publish with pride, professionalism and commercial success. And so what else matters
Autumn (7m 37s):
Exactly to me, I, EVERY, and a lot of gurus and the advice in writing an industry, and I know you've in Britain read on your blog, you know, you have to define what success is for you. And to me, you know, but at the time this was released will have been released, but I'm actually releasing my 21st book on this coming Sunday. And I'm hearing back from the arch team. And I think these are already fans. So that's why I chose them to be part of my book launch. And to hear those are like, Oh, this is the best you've ever read or written. And, you know, it's a gripping. And you're like, we just love you all are going to have one reader say that to you, to me, that's success. And that is just, you can't get that if it wasn't for platforms like Smashwords, or, you know, Amazon and all the others, but, you know, full disclosure, I suppose I should have a full disclosure.
Autumn (8m 25s):
Right. I joined Smashwords. I did Amazon independently and I uploaded my debut novel, born of water to Smashwords in 2012. I'm almost 10 years old on the platform. So I am very excited. I've been with you, not since your beginning, but since my beginning is an author in my journey. And I think there is a Smashwords. I know that there's a lot of other platforms draft to digital is one that, you know, I think it's a very direct competitor since you act as a distributor. And so it draft to digital, but you know, to me, you offer it more benefits and I've kept all my books on. Smashwords not just because of the loyalty, because I love your message. And I love the feeling that you really care about authors, and you are an author, but I think of how far things are like coupons.
Autumn (9m 9s):
You've just started doing something else. I want to ask you about a pre release pre-sale feature is going to talk about that in a little bit. It's part of a, sort of your Predictions. So you have this really cool things that I don't know, any other platform where I can say, like, you know what, I'm going to give people who join my, read your list of 50% off coupon, or I'm going to give them a special free coupon too. It's just so cool. It's so easy. And I really appreciate the flexibility, the things that you can do on Smashwords that you really do not have control on any other platforms.
Mark (9m 43s):
Well, thanks. You know, I really appreciate that. You know, we've got a lot of, a lot of authors that have been with Smashwords for, you know, for 10 years or longer that still have not been introduced to. So, so many of these tools that we provide, yeah.
Autumn (9m 58s):
I have to admit that you have an on the questionnaire, a section, and I started filling in out, but I ain't never finished it so that
Mark (10m 6s):
You all through interviews
Autumn (10m 7s):
As I started mine. And I don't think I ever finished it and hit publish.
Mark (10m 11s):
Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, that was one of my mini wacky ideas. You know, my background is in public relations. I used to run a PR agency and, you know, in PR our job was to get our fortune 500 clients interviewed and the press that you, you know, you are always looking for a free press coverage. Everybody wants to be interviewed and tell their story. And, you know, authors are the same way. And I thought, well, wouldn't it be cool if we could just create this tool that would allow author's to interview themselves in and share the story behind the author. And so that's been really fun feature. I, I think we've had that feature for six or seven years now. Yeah. That's one of many features.
Mark (10m 51s):
And you mentioned Smashwords coupons. You know, that's something that we did very early on. I think we introduced Smashwords coupons maybe in 2009 and we've since expanded it. I mean, there's so many different coupon options that we offer. Now, nobody in the industry offers the, the breadth and depth and the flexibility. You can create any kind of custom coupon using these tools. And it's, it's fun to see.
Autumn (11m 17s):
Yeah, it is fun to see her. I bet to see them being used and this and that would be needed to be a reason. You have a reader, it talk to you as an author, but to have all of these authors using your platform and making sales and making connections must be amazing.
Mark (11m 34s):
Yeah. You know, I can't, I still can't believe that Smashwords became what it did. Yeah. I can't believe that like a 150,000 authors around the world are using us. I can't believe that we've got like 550,000 books. Yeah. And, and, you know, lots of things have changed. Like you mentioned that we have competitors now. I mean, there are dozens, really hundreds of Smashwords clones out there. Now, there, there are just so many different ways to get your books out. Its pretty confusing for providers, especially new writers because sometimes too much choice is paralyzing.
Autumn (12m 20s):
I totally agree. I was very helpful because it kind of cutting things out really easy to say, Okay know meat. Oh, well that's three options I can too. Right.
Mark (12m 32s):
Yeah. Well, I, I just feel like, you know, when I, I just imagined new writers coming onto the scene now and it must, they must feel like I feel when I go to the grocery store to buy laundry detergent, you know, how do you choose there? There's, there's 30 different brands and different types and they all kind of do the same thing and they all clean clothes. So how do I choose? I mean, often I'll go to buy laundry detergent and I see too much choice and I just don't buy anything. And I said that, I see that happening with a lot of authors that they, they just get so paralyzed by the complexity what's involved in becoming a self published businessperson, you know, often the, It put, it makes them vulnerable to making poor decisions, to falling victim to predators.
Autumn (13m 21s):
Oh yeah. That is horribly true. Unfortunately there's too many services. I mean working as a writing coach and we offer some courses or the Am Writing Fantasy and we try to be very upfront about what we offer, but the other side of it, that people who are predatory on new authors and basically they they're stealing like author's dreams. Sometimes they make it to the point where the author gives up and I just,
Mark (13m 47s):
Oh totally. Oh yeah. It, yeah. It makes me really mad when I, yeah. When you talk about dreams being stolen, that's exactly what's happening. You know, a writer may spend their entire life dreaming of writing a book and then they finally get to the point where they make the commitment to do it and complete it. And to have someone take advantage of them at that very moment when they're most vulnerable, when they're first learning and, and basically just parasitize the opportunity. It's, it's really sad to see. That's why education is so important.
Mark (14m 27s):
Definitely. And that's why, you know, in the author's need to look out for their fellow Indies.
Autumn (14m 33s):
That's why I think groups in that there are some benefits of social media in some of the platforms as much as it was sometimes. So yeah, but we can support each other and send out tips and warnings a to let you know, you know, don't listen to this water and you know, don't you ask for advice on 'cause otherwise you can end up in definitely the wrong spot and lose a lot of hard work or at least the passion you had because of that can really just suck it away. Now I did. I don't know if you noticed this, but I did think of it at Amazon recently rolled out that authors actually allow you to control your series. You guys that's been on your platform since I think I uploaded my first book in a series, I stopped that and be like, Oh, they're copying you guys.
Autumn (15m 19s):
Mark (15m 20s):
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well, you know, I've used to, I can say I enjoy it. You know, we have invented many things it's Smashwords and then it just gets copied. Many of these innovations just get copied. Umm, you know, it's one of the reasons that, you know, for the first time ever, we filed for a patent for the Smashwords pre-sales tool that you mentioned. Yeah.
Autumn (15m 46s):
That's a good idea. You guys deserve it because I feel like I said, I have stuck around and I think you guys have a lot of integrity and you have a lot of feeling and you truly care about authors, which is fantastic. And part of what you do. So every year, I believe from what looking back, you do these Publishing Predictions and then you do a follow-up post at the end of the year. So this year you did 13 of them. And I know it hit home for me because like looking at 'em how you talked about Facebook, Amazon and Google solidifying their platforms really because of COVID they became, these monster is in 2020. And you looked at that and that really hit home for me, especially cause like I've mentioned that it was organizing this arc team and I had one reader who's been with me for, I think almost the whole time.
Autumn (16m 30s):
And she was like, well, I would love to join the launch team, but you probably want reviews for Amazon. And you know, I, for whatever reason I didn't ask you, you can't do reviews on Amazon. And I'm like, no, you know, the whole point of this is not to put more money in the number one, the, most of the world's most richest man's pocket. I'm like, you can, you can push on good reads, which is technically still owned by Amazon. You can post it on your blog. And so yeah, she is on my, on my launch team because its not all about just Amazon and they thought it was so interesting though. You talked about how these big places became massive in 2020 and that's how you began your Predictions.
Mark (17m 10s):
Yeah. You know, it, it's really interesting to see, you know, I had spent a lot of time last year as everyone else did thinking about the pandemic and you know, I, I like to think about how what's happening today is going to impact the world, you know, one, two, five, 10, 20 years from now. Yeah. And, and it's also fun to stick, to sit back and think about some of the big macro trends that are powering forward in like, like a, like a storm I'm just carrying us in the wind. And, and so, you know, eCommerce is a really big trends that, you know, people are moving online, doing more of their transactions online, more of there, not just socializing online, but they are purchasing And, and entertainment online.
Mark (18m 1s):
So things have been moving to the online space for a long time, but what we saw and, and we've also seen consolidation over the last 10, 15 years around a couple of really big tech platforms, you know, Amazon, Google, Facebook, and what what's really coming to light now in a w is that the pandemic and the lockdowns accelerated the consolidation around these few large companies and each of these large companies mediates the relationship between the writer and the writer's audience.
Mark (18m 43s):
They are the new gatekeepers. They determine which readers can see your book, which readers can consider your book. So if you, if you, if your marketing on Facebook, you got to pay them. You know, even if you have built up your own organic social media platform there, you've got to pay them now to reach your audience. If you're Publishing at Amazon and Amazon is now pay-to-play, they have so much power and the business they determine which books are seen in which art in the books that are seen are either of the exclusive books under KDP select or books published by the Amazon imprints or books where the author is willing to pay.
Mark (19m 27s):
The tax are a tole in the form of Amazon advertising to basically trap all the platforms of other authors. Because that's the, that's the way that, I mean the, the way Amazon advertising is set up, it's very nefarious because basically when you pay to advertise, you are paying to trample and other authors brand. Yeah. Yeah. You're definitely onto their coattails and holding on. Yeah. Like you can go to jail Amazon right now type in your pen name and the first four results are going to be for other authors. Yeah. Yes. That is a huge, yes.
Mark (20m 8s):
That is a huge disservice to your readers because you know, your readers are looking for books by you. All right. All right. But the first results that come up are a sponsored ads from other authors. So your readers are confused and being diverted away from you, even though they're looking for from you. So that's, that's a, that's a pretty toxic caustic, umm, you know, system long term. And we're seeing that it's, it's basically going to suck the profits out of Publishing and make them more pay to play. So you don't have to pay Amazon to publish there. But if you want to be seen, these are the, yeah, these are the toll Gates that Amazon's putting up.
Mark (20m 47s):
So, you know, author's need to be concerned about this. You know, authors are losing their independence, they're losing their ability to control their own destinies. And it's because you've got to have a few very strong, platform's have consolidated their power are consolidated, their market reach and the case of Amazon. Umm, you know, they, they control the world's largest collection of ebook buyers. Yeah.
Autumn (21m 14s):
A very powerful search engine that everyone likes to say is just so good. But like you said, what's the purpose of the best surgeon and you can run wen now it's bringing up only Amazon, you know, ad's that people are paying there. Yeah.
Mark (21m 28s):
Yeah. I think what we've seen with Amazon over the last 13 years is we went from, or they went from really a brilliantly architected search system where books that were selling best and being reviewed the best buy readers would bubble up and become more visible. That, that to me is an example of a good search, good organic discovery. But what they've been doing over the years, you know, every single year or they make little policy tweeks that all have the effect of, of, of putting up barriers, right. Making the search results. When I talked about this in the Predictions going from organic inorganic and no, no one's ever referred to a search algorithms as organic or inorganic or well I guess organic, they have, but in organic, I mean that these are artificial constructs that Amazon has created.
Mark (22m 21s):
So they're not, they're not recommending books to readers because that's the book that the reader will satisfy the reader the most or that the book that the reader is looking for, they are recommending books that benefit Amazon, the most books that cost Amazon less books were Amazon could pay the author of a loyal or a lower royalty or book's where they can pay in an effective Loyall and effectively lower royalty 'cause in order for you to get that 70% you had to pay, you know, a whole bunch of money in an Amazon advertising. So your effective royalty rate is not 70% any more at Amazon. If you are using their tools. You know, if you're in KDP, select the are exclusive, the cost to you is you don't get to distribute anywhere else.
Mark (23m 6s):
And then there's a cost to That. And these are the costs that are difficult to manage it. You said to measure it.
Autumn (23m 13s):
That's one of the things that you talked about with KDP select and even COBA select, which I haven't even thought of, but the subscription services. I mean, what that is, you talk, you talked about how that is really dragging down the royalty for all author's because we are going to start getting used to less and less.
Mark (23m 30s):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It, it concerns me that authors are so quick to take less.
Autumn (23m 37s):
I am. And I had thought of it that way until I read how you had written it. And I'm like, you're right where it's like, we are so desperate for readers that we're willing say here's our book for free or you know, for just pennies pennies for what other people would normally pay to read.
Mark (23m 51s):
Yeah. I, I just wrote a story of the other day. I forgot the name of the company. It just brought in $16 million and venture funding. Oh well They're paying author's 25% list of authors who signed contracts with them, you know, authors. It, it concerns me that so many authors are willing to work for free.
Autumn (24m 21s):
Mark (24m 23s):
You know, I, and, and to work for Les in exchange for readership, I mean, you talked earlier about what it feels like to, to receive those appellations from your readers, because that's really why we write. We wrote, we write to touch people and to change the world. And that's where most writers are coming from a there's a lot, there just a higher purpose. And, and so, you know, Amazon understands that writers write for reasons that are different than traditional publishers publish traditional publishers are publishing because their running a business to make money. It it's not that traditional publishers or bad people, they're all Book lovers to, But the business and the nature of the business itself is there.
Mark (25m 4s):
They are. They have to make money to keep the lights on authors who are working from home, who might have other sources of income or who just love to write because there are artists want to express themselves
Autumn (25m 17s):
Addicted to it as well.
Mark (25m 20s):
Well look, I, I think, I think art is one of the most noble pursuits anyone can pursue. Yep. All right. This is art and it's, it's not the most lucrative job. This is not a job. This is not a career that you follow to make a lot of money. You know, I've, I've been telling people since I first found out Smashwords, if you want to make a lot of money, go get a job at McDonald's you'll make more, most authors will make more working. Full-time at McDonald's than they will as a self published author. You've got to be doing this for reasons other than money. But if you're smart, you can do it for the love of writing, but still make money. And
Autumn (25m 57s):
Mark (25m 59s):
And that that's that's, you know, the advice that I try to give authors, you know, a lot of the advice that we share is focused on, you know, evergreen best practices, things that we'll help you achieve all of your dreams, help you reach reader's help you touch your readers, but also help you earn some income because you deserve it right now. But in order for an author to maximize their opportunity, they need to approach it like a smart business person. And that's where the education comes in because we're not all naturally business people, you know, writers come from all walks, you know, like someone who studied art in college and studied business like I did,
Autumn (26m 43s):
Did the, so I get it. You know, I know if I could rewrite, if I could redo the entire educational system, every a part of high school would be money management and business classes, because almost everyone has a side gig. Aside had a passion that they are developing on the side. They're going to start their own little business at some point, whether it's mowing lawns or writing a book, we all should have those basics, market marketing and business expense ideas. Yeah,
Mark (27m 12s):
Yeah, yeah. That would be, that would be awesome if they would introduce that into like the high school curriculum, financial literacy, because you know, if you don't understand the language, you don't understand the terms or the concepts, then you get victimized by it.
Autumn (27m 31s):
Exactly. Definitely. But you did. So we have, you know, you have these, these trends where, and you even mentioned that there's a lot of platforms and you said we've had some consolidation, but you think even some of these duplicates in all of these there's thousands of places you can sell your books. Do you think some of those might be slowly fading it maybe in 2021?
Mark (27m 54s):
Yeah. I, I think we are going to see continued consolidation in Publishing and, And from multiple areas. So we've already got the, the pending acquisition of Simon and Schuster by penguin, random house, assuming that it goes through it, it may not go through if the government takes a close look at that because too much consolidation and the publishing industry starts creating an anti-competitive environment. That's not good for other publishers and not good for consumers. So we'll see if that goes through, but there's definitely a strong, a momentum towards further consolidation in Publishing among publishers' to reach, you know what?
Mark (28m 36s):
This is, it's in a, in a Publishing, it's a slow growth business and that's been generous calling Publishing a growth business. It, it, it, it, it's probably a flat to down business overall for publishing, especially if you account for inflation over the last 15 years, a the growth has been really minimal. So it, it's not a high-growth business, all of Publishing. So there, there, there will be more consolidation pressure among the publishers is going to be tougher for a smaller, independent publishers, two stay in business because there's just so much competition now.
Mark (29m 17s):
And, and, you know, the eBooks changed the dynamics of the competition as well in the old world of print publishers where maybe putting out 300,000 books a year and bookstores, you know, even in a large bookstore might only be able to hold 50,000 titles and inventory. So books were constantly being pushed out of print. There was always a limited supply of books controlled by the publishers, but now there's an unlimited supply of books, thanks to eBooks. Excuse me. And these books never go out of print. Yes. So they, they, you know, I've referred many times in the past to them as like cobwebs have stainless steel, they're going to be on the shelves forever. The retailer wants to carry your Book. Even if you don't sell a single copy in a year, they want to carry your Book.
Mark (29m 59s):
They want it on a shelf because they know that they recognize that there are readers value diversity and the discoverability have as many different titles as possible, but that, that creates pressures for the authors pressures for the publishers. And then when you look at the retailing space, I mean, it, we've already seen, you know, Barnes and noble, Apple Kobo. They are, those retailers have suffered over the last five years.
Autumn (30m 28s):
So even though, even though the books are becoming more popular, you think the publisher, they are not making enough money off of them, or why are they suffering?
Mark (30m 37s):
Because the, the store, I think the story is probably a little bit unique for each of them, but at Barnes and noble, which was an early pioneer in e-books would the nook. And for a while, there was one of the largest sellers of any books after Amazon, they've been in a long term decline, they are losing customers to Amazon and self publishing. And then the authors have had a big hand in that, you know, every time an author decides to make their ebook exclusive to Amazon for a period of three months, that's a vote to put all the other retailers out of business.
Mark (31m 17s):
So there are millions of readers every single year that can't buy the books they want to buy at Barnes and noble or Apple or Cobo or Smashwords. And they are forced to go to the Amazon if they want that Book. And so eventually, you know, all of these different retailers start losing their customers. It makes it more difficult for them too, to, to, to the great things they do for authors. It makes it difficult for them to operate their businesses. That makes it difficult for them to continue to invest in an effort to invest in innovation. And, and so it becomes death by a thousand cuts. And so I started talking about this back in 2011, when they first announced KDP select, and this would be the long term implication is that you're going to slowly starved these retailers, have their customers reduce the ability to compete.
Mark (32m 10s):
What happened, Sony, an early pioneer and the Book retailing left that market Barnes and noble, his, his, you know, a shadow of their former self Cobos, not as significant as they were in the past. And they're still a significant player. You know, Apple is not as significant as they were in the past. I hate to say, and I love Apple. I mean, I love all of these retailers. I even love Amazon. I mean, every single retailer has the opportunity to do good in the world, by introducing they're customers to your book's, that's the way the world should be is the more retailers out there. The more Book is waking up every morning, it spending their sour time thinking about how can I introduce more readers, two more books that I love that that creates and, and an amazing opportunities for authors publishers for Book culture, you know, the more booksellers out there in the world, the better, but as it is right now, if you want to start an ebook startup, you really don't have a snowball's chance in hell.
Mark (33m 18s):
No, you know, you can't well, if it it's really difficult, unless you're able to get, you know, $15 million in venture capital money and you're willing to lose millions of dollars to get started. And even then it's no guaranteed because when you look at what's important to readers, readers, value, selection, and price, selection, and price, they're like to have the biggest or most important factors in convenience too. But every one of the offers, good convenience, thanks to KDP. Select Amazon is always going to have, you know, somewhere between 1 million in however many books that they have exclusive that Amazon, I don't know what it is.
Mark (34m 4s):
It might be 3 million books are exclusive at Amazon. Now, I don't know. So that's 3 million reasons that you can't shop anywhere else if you want to buy these books. So, you know, that, that that's, that's some of what's happening is these are the things that don't happen overnight. They happen slowly over time, drip, drip, drip, the, the lifeblood of these retailers is slowly being pulled away. So like, let's say you want to, let's, let's say you love Fantasy, and you want to launch an ebook store that specializes in Fantasy, and you're going to do the best job of curating FANTASY and offer the best possible selection and great prices. You're going to serve your Fantasy customers better than anyone else, but you can't get the inventory to serve your customers because it's locked up at Amazon exclusively.
Mark (34m 52s):
So you don't have a snowball's chance in hell of building a successful business. And if you do your just barely going to scrape by the, the, the, the, the playing field right now is not level for, you know, entrepreneur entrepreneurs. And, and that's not a good thing, because we want that innovation and Publishing. You want to see dozens of new Publishing startups starting every single year, bringing new ideas to market. But, but as it is right now, I mean, most venture capitalists don't even wanna talk to people that, that wanna launch a business that is going to compete against Amazon or launch a business that Amazon might enter overnight.
Mark (35m 34s):
Maybe they've already seen at Amazon announced that they're gonna enter a market and all of the other companies and that market plunge.
Autumn (35m 42s):
That's true. Okay. Well, I think that's a, do you have some really good predictions that are helpful? And I also wanna talk about the things that authors can do. So you'd said reading because of the COVID because of the lockdown, because the cancellation of the Trump's show or a reading is still going to be popular in 2021. And I think that's, that's important Book sale Book, whether its sales or giveaways or whatever we're doing, people are still hungry for books, but what we as authors to do, what can we do? So you don't, I think a lot of authors don't realize that AMS ads running these ads are also cutting into our royalty. There are a bottom line, what are things we can do that we can help reverse these trends?
Autumn (36m 24s):
Obviously don't go hit KDB, select publish wide is definitely one of them, but what else can authors do to try to reach readers' and support a healthy market place where discoverability and a passion for reading is the most important thing, right?
Mark (36m 41s):
Yeah. Well, okay. So it, it starts with resisting this siren call of going to exclusive at Amazon, right? And I realized that is difficult for a lot of authors, but that's the first step. So just SUPPORT as many different retailers as possible with your books. So get your books at all the different retailers on your website, in your blog. And when you promote your books, list links to the different retailers, let the reader decide which retailer they want to shop out. Give them the options that is really important. You earlier, we talked about, you know, the, the, the consolidation and the dark side of that. Well, there is a solution to that.
Mark (37m 21s):
There is a hopeful solution to that, and it's in the hands of authors. It's more important than ever for authors to build a platform that they control so that their relationship with readers is no longer mediated by some third party, by some retailer, by some marketing platform. So the author mailing list, the private mailing list, I think that his, you know, I've, I've been beating this drum for a long time, but I think that should be every author. His biggest priority for the year ahead is every single reader you have out there, your thousands of readers, you want every single one of them signed up for your mailing list. It's not enough for them to be following you on Twitter and Facebook, because they're not seeing most of what you're putting out there on Twitter.
Mark (38m 5s):
And Facebook is only going to see a small fraction of it. But if, if you can get them on your mailing list, you control the message. You deliver the message to them when you want, and your readers will never miss another release of yours. So that, that, that's just really important in the, you know, that it fits in with what we're doing with Smashwords presales.
Autumn (38m 27s):
Let's talk about it. So you've just launched. This I've even tried it out, but I did, I did get the email now that my book is like a week away saying, Hey, we want to try it out the pre-sale, but I actually do presales on my own website with the sort of what you're suggesting, but this is something that other authors who aren't set up to celebrate off their own website. This is a whole new feature. And it's really exciting. Yeah.
Mark (38m 48s):
Yeah. And even if you are already selling off of your own website, you might still want to consider using this tool. So let's talk about what this tool is. You know, a lot of people don't even know what pre-orders are. Right. You know, when we talk about, when we talk about best practices, you know, we've been talking about preorders. This is one of the most important best practices for the last eight or nine years. Yeah. About 85% of self published authors. Don't do pre-orders. Even though, even though authors who do pre-orders sell a lot more books than author's who don't like, pre-orders are still one of the biggest secrets to selling more books.
Mark (39m 33s):
And it, it boggles my mind that most authors it's, every single author, you know, like listeners today, if you only take one thing away from this, do a preorder, look at your Publishing calender for the next 12 months, get everything up on preorder. Now you don't even need a cover. You don't even need a final manuscript. You can get that preorder listing up that all the major retailers. So you can start collecting orders. Now it gives you more shelf space for longer. So do a pre order. So with a pre-order for authors who are familiar with them since most aren't a pre-order allows your customer to basically place an order reservation for your book when it comes out in the future.
Mark (40m 17s):
So your book has a future release state, the customer place's the reservation with a preorder. And then when the book releases on its public release state, that book automatically appears in their library at the retailer on their device. And the credit card is charged. So that's a pre-order customers love pre-orders. The presale is different. Yes. So a pre-sale where the pre-order, you've got a single public announcement that a public release date across all the different retailers with a presale, you're doing an early exclusive, early release. So you're just, you're deciding to let certain customers have early access to your book.
Mark (40m 57s):
The power of a presale for an indie author is that customers value timeliness, especially your biggest fans. If they can read your book even a week or even a day before every one else, they're going to lose their minds in a good way.
Autumn (41m 20s):
Yes. They're so excited that you want. Yeah,
Mark (41m 22s):
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean, your job is to please your readers and the readers who will be most pleased by a presale are going to be your super fans. You're the most important readers, because it's a way for you to, Hey, super fans. I'm going to let you read my book early and it's going to make them enjoy the book more. It's going to make them wanna talk about your book more to their friends. It's all good. And so we built a system it's Smashwords and this is it's called Smashwords presales and it, his patent pending. So we file the patent for it. It was just fantastic that that allows any author. Who's doing a pre-order at Smashwords to also do a presale, and you can do a, either a public presale. So it's merchandised in this Smashwords store where you can do a private pre-sale, where are you might decide, okay.
Mark (42m 8s):
I am going to control who has an early access to my book. And I want to say, for example, I only want to offer access to subscribers, to my private newsletter and as a perk, as my thank you to all of these readers who signed up for my private mailing lists, I'm going to give them exclusive early access to my new release. You know, I'm gonna let them buy it at two days early or one day early or a week early. It doesn't matter. It's going to be early and the readers are going to lose their mind. So that's what you can do. And then it, and so this is a, this is a chance for authors, I think, to retake their platform.
Mark (42m 49s):
Now, currently, no retailer, if you sell your e-book is going to tell, give you the e-mail address of that customer. All right. Well, that changed with Smashwords. Pre-sales when we launched it a little over a year ago. So now anyone who is purchasing your pre-sale is going to be given the option to subscribe to your private mailing list. And if they subscribe to it, if they give Smashwords permission to share their email address with you, the author, then we will share that e-mail address with you, THE author for that pre-cell. And let's say that it it's more important to you than anything to get as many readers onto your private mailing list.
Mark (43m 36s):
You can even offer as part of this Smashwords pre-sales Toole. You can offer it to a special incentive for the, for the reader to agree, to share their email address with you, like, you know, a discount then all of that can be done within the tool in a lot of the people who are using the pre-sales tool or doing that, they're offering like a dollar off $2 off to really encourage the customer to click the box to say, yeah, you have my permission signed me up for this author's private newsletter.
Autumn (44m 10s):
This is a really brilliant, and one that you are doing it and how it's working. That's really fascinating. And yeah,
Mark (44m 17s):
Got it up. You know, we're, we're, we're big into privacy at Smashwords and, you know, respecting people's email addresses. So we, we set it up so that in order for an author to even use that feature of capturing the email addresses, they have to agree to some very simple, best practices of how they're going to handle this customers email address. Yeah. Yeah. But it's just basic stuff. Like you're not going to sell our rent that email, or you're just going to use it for your own mailing list. So yeah, it's a really, it's a really cool tool that I think is going to help put a lot of the power back into the hands of indie authors, I think.
Mark (44m 57s):
And this is a lot more than that we can say, Oh, I was just gonna say, and then there's a lot more that we'll be doing with it at Smashwords.
Autumn (45m 5s):
Oh, excellent. I guess in between the coupons in the pre-sale, if someone's not sure if they should try it out, Smashwords it's just a, they might have heard rumors about the old meat grinder process and the stuff, but I we'll get into that with some other time. It's not scary. I've been doing this for almost 10 years. It's a fantastic platform. So Grindr is infamous. It is. I have to admit when you started taking any public though, and because I use velum and I haven't, there's a beautiful, it's fine. If it's not a problem. Yeah.
Mark (45m 39s):
We've been taking the time, you know, author produced <inaudible> for eight years. Yep. I still see people online complaining that, you know, Smashwords makes me do Microsoft word. No, no, we don't.
Autumn (45m 53s):
Mark (45m 53s):
Could say it's your ebook your way. So you can upload word. Most authors still do word for word is a great tool because that you upload that single file, that single word file. And we produce it into multiple ebook file types, and word is easy to control, but you know, vellum was great too. So if you use vellum use vellum.
Autumn (46m 15s):
Yeah. It works. And they get out to all the stories, your still my distributor. And I can go into my dashboard and see all my sales across all of the distribution in like daily sales is the one shot deal. It's, it's so convenient that it's crazy not to be trying this with somebody. And I think you guys have the cornerstone in innovation. So I am glad, I'm glad you were still coming up with these new ideas and that you're patenting them so that Amazon and other places will just steal them away from you anymore.
Mark (46m 45s):
Well, you know, we are trying to patent it, so it, it's not easy to get a patent, especially as a patent like this, it it's, you know, because it touches a lot of things. It doesn't just touch eBooks. Right. It touches anything sold online and
Autumn (47m 3s):
That's fine. Yeah. Well,
Mark (47m 5s):
Yeah. So, you know, we, we have been going back and forth with the us patent office and I, I don't know if we are going to get it are not, you know, I'm still got my fingers crossed, but you know, our hope is that once we get the patent, we want to license this broadly. We want everyone using it. We want our competitor's using it. We're going to make it. You know, I, I think it's really going to help level the playing field for indie authors. If more in the author's can start using this and taking the power back because with the pre-sale you decided you, you get to it, you get to basically a harness, the power or the anticipation That of, you know, thousands of readers dying to get your next release.
Mark (47m 52s):
You get to trade that anticipation for something that benefits you the author. And that's the ability for you to build your platform, to sell your book at a higher royalty rate, because, you know, at the Smashwords store pays up to 80% list. You know, a lot of people don't realize that no, it was in 99 cent books often earn 80% list. If there's enough books in the customer's shopping cart, you know, there's really no reason not to do it. So it's, it's exciting to see, you know, the early adopters experimenting with it and doing new things with it.
Autumn (48m 28s):
Well, I think that I still have a few days till my release. Maybe I won't go put this in. I didn't realize that you can get the e-mail list or email address. So I might go give this a go tonight. Yeah.
Mark (48m 40s):
Yeah. So, you know it, if you think about it, I don't know how many people you have following you on Facebook or Twitter, or it might be thousands. Those are soft followers and get them to your opportunity is to convert all of those soft followers into a hard followers on your private mailing list so that you can reach them so that the tool will help them.
Autumn (49m 7s):
No, that's perfect. Well, thank you. I mean, we've almost been two an hour, 50 minutes, so I don't want to take up all of your time. You're CEO of a very well, to me, a very important company.
Mark (49m 17s):
That's a highfalutin title.
Autumn (49m 19s):
Well, that's all, I think it's important that I love what you, I love that what you're doing for in the author's that you have Smashwords, But that there's someone out they're fighting, basically for all of the, you're an author. You need to have our voices heard to take back. Like you said, the power of what other places are trying to claim. I mean, you only make so much money off of a book. I'm happy that over time, you know, in the books have gone for like two 99. So they average price the four 99, five 99, but that's done now how much time for books that can take months and months and months too. Right? So it's nice that there's someone fighting for higher royalties for us to keep control of our careers at the, of what really is the heart of the indie author movement, which has us controlling our fate.
Mark (50m 4s):
Well, it certainly what we fight For, and we need to see more indie authors fight for it as well. Because, you know, we talked earlier that many of the authors that will willingly surrender their independence to give it up, they'll surrender royalty rates, they'll surrender their ability to price their own books. There are certain they'll surrender their rights, all exchange for the promise of more visibility. And it's M it's a slippery slope. You know, we talked about the valuation. There is massive devaluation pressure out there because there is a glut of high quality books on the market. And, and so it creates a situation where someone like Amazon can take advantage of that glut.
Mark (50m 49s):
And that's exactly what they're doing. They've decided to, you know, create a tiered market. And there are certain authors that play by certain rules that can get the visibility. And those are the authors where Amazon pays less and it's all pretty transparent,
Autumn (51m 11s):
But yeah, I think that's a good way of putting it in. And I like it. I said, I think that is fantastic that you are fighting for the Indy author and try to wake us up when you start, you know, you get tied up lid and try to do sales and try to generate, you know, reading, like you said, trading in for readers are taking the lower royalty to get better exposure to remembering what the bigger picture is and what the whole market is. Like I said, I did an art degree are an English degree, not marketing. So it's important that someone is speaking about the other side.
Mark (51m 42s):
Yeah. And also, you know, I see so much of the conversation when you see what indie authors are talking about, much of the conversation focuses on the wrong thing. You know, it's like, how do I Please Amazon's algorithms? I mean, should we allow our futures to be censored by algorithms? No. And other conversations aren't happening. Like I think a lot of authors are losing sight of the importance of quality. Nothing is more important than craft and your ability to right. A reader pleasing Book. It looks like we might have lost the connection there for a little bit.
Mark (52m 25s):
Autumn (52m 25s):
Yeah. It was just a little bit, hopefully it came back. We'll see how it goes. Okay.
Mark (52m 29s):
Yeah. Yeah. But, you know, I think there's still lots of great opportunity for authors. I think the pandemic kind of reminded readers and former readers about the joys of books. And so I think that's going to stick with us for awhile. I think we're going to see increased reading for the next couple of years, just because of the pandemic.
Autumn (52m 53s):
That's fantastic. I mean, an and readership, eBooks marketing, there are still areas growing. So I think there's still a future to be an author, whether its, you know, how much you're making or what you're in it for it for a success is a different platform. But looking at the whole perspective and maybe what you want, your legacy, what is the in the market? Do you know, what are we trying to sell out our rights again, it's a good question to ponder and think about when you are deciding where to publish right.
Mark (53m 24s):
Focus on the long term, that's really what indie authors should do, you know, ask yourself, how will my decision impact my future five years from now? And if you start thinking that way, then indie authors will start making smart decisions in they'll start reaping better results over the long-term. You know, even when we talk about this being a massive, you know, talking about the, the, the market being flat for a long time for Publishing that the Publishing market is not a lucrative growth market. Well it still a multibillion dollar business. There is still an amazing opportunity for every single author, if they focus on what matters most. So focus on the craft of writing the most reader, pleasing books that you can take your reader's to an emotionally satisfying, extreme, because good books aren't good enough anymore.
Mark (54m 9s):
Your book needs to be super awesome. So if you're going to spend money on anything, spend it on editing, write the most incredible Book you can because the most incredible book is going to be the best marketing for that book and have a great books market themselves. And then, you know, study best practices. You know, I've written books about best practices in all my books are available for free. So the Smashwords book, marketing guide, every author can take advantage of that and you don't even need to be at Smashwords. It's a free ebook. You get 65 free book marketing ideas. It's all focused on best practices. So these are not a femoral flash in the pan tricks.
Mark (54m 49s):
These are the things that are going to work, you know, just as well today as they worked five years ago and five years from now, you know, these are the essential oils. If you get the best practices down, you'll have a much more successful longterm career. And one of those best practices that we talked about of course is pre-orders and pre sales. And pre-sales pre-sales are a new best practice and you know, but let's get more people doing preorders This as well.
Autumn (55m 18s):
Okay. That sounds, I'm going to put that down on our, our market, our list of topics for the podcast, because I did not realize that most authors weren't doing pre-orders. So we'll get that one
Mark (55m 30s):
Startling. If you go back and you look at some of the old Smashwords surveys that I've published at the blog, and you know, you got this very small percentage of authors doing pre-orders and those are the authors that are on the USA today, bestseller list. But those are the authors that are scooping up all the sales for the new books. And there's a camera, it's the pre-order authors, right?
Autumn (55m 51s):
I will, I will go in and scoop up that data. And if I can't find it, I'll email Jim and I'm sure he can find it for me, but thank you so much, Mark, for taking the time and being in here. And I appreciate it. And if anyone has questions, we're going to link up to your 20, 21 Predictions and Smashwords and Have author's go check it out and see everything that you guys offer as well as, you know, you have some good Predictions in some incredible best tips of what we should be doing. So thank you so much for doing that. Every single, not just this year. All right. Well great. Thanks Autumn. Thank you. Good luck.
Autumn (56m 32s):
And so Yes for it, we'll be back next week and we we'll be discussing a one of our humorous ones on some systems. You come back and check it out.
Narrator (56m 42s):
If you like, what you just heard, there's a few things you can do to support The Am Writing Fantasy Podcast. Please tell a fellow author about the show and visit us at Apple podcast and leave a rating and review. You can also join Autumn and Yesper on patrion.com/ Am. Writing Fantasy for as little as a dollar a month, you'll get awesome rewards and keep The Am Writing Fantasy Podcast, going to stay safe out there and see you next Monday.