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Monday, February 16, 2015

Welcome Jim Azevedo from Smashwords

We have a special treat today. Jim Azevedo from Smashwords, has agreed to join us and tell us a little about what they are all about. The wave of Indie Publishing has not only caught the public, but is in the forefront of the publishing industry, sweeping everyone in its wake. One of the first platforms for uploading books was Smashwords, a staunch supporter of all authors everywhere, and all publishing formats. I think you'll find this article a must-read, as he's given us some real jewels to use.

1. Smashwords is a platform that allows authors to distribute their books to retailer and library sales channels, just by using your portal. Why was this devised and what is the overall goal at Smashwords?

Correct, Smashwords is an ebook distributor.  Our job is to quickly and efficiently help our authors get their books listed for sale at multiple retailers and library platforms.  

The spark for Smashwords came after our founder, Mark Coker, tried to get a traditional publishing contract for a novel he co-authored with his wife. Despite representation from one of New York's top literary agencies, their book was rejected by every major publisher. The experience taught Mark that publishers are unable to take a risk on every book.  They’re looking to acquire books they think have the greatest commercial potential. However, despite all the talent the large publishers possess, they don’t know which titles will become the next bestsellers. Most of their titles flop, and in the meantime they’re rejecting thousands of great authors who’ve written worthy books.  

As an entrepreneur with his roots deeply embedded in Silicon Valley soil, Mark felt that traditional publishing's business model was broken, and he felt technology was the solution. Mark realized  that if he could create a free ebook publishing platform, it would make it possible for any author, anywhere in the world, to self-publish an ebook on his platform.  Mark realized if he could pull this off, it would enable Smashwords to say YES to every author. The overall goal of Smashwords is to help every writer realize their dream of becoming a published author.  We provide authors free professional-quality tools that help them publish, distribute and sell their books.

2. How many books a month are being uploaded in eformat?

Smashwords works with over 100,000 authors around the globe who collectively publish about 340,000 titles at Smashwords.  We’re adding thousands of new authors and titles each month.

The high volume of indie ebooks entering the market is having an impact on discoverability. The other month Mark published a detailed analysis on this situation on the Smashwords blog in a post titled, Ebook Publishing Gets More Difficult from Here – Here’s How to Succeed (link to 

As Mark mentioned in his post, the rise of ebook self-publishing - combined with the fact that ebooks don’t go out of print – means that there’s a glut of low-cost, high-quality books out there. This means the competition is increasing dramatically.  It’s possible that the supply of ebooks is growing faster than the readership of ebooks, which leads to fewer readers split across more books.

Despite the increased competition for readers, we believe there’s still never been a better time for writers to self-publish.  There’s a global market of millions of readers looking for their next great read.  Every writer has a chance.  The secret is to write a super-awesome “WOW” book that turns readers into evangelical super-fans.  A superfan will promote your book to their friends, family and online community.  A superfan will be the first to buy everything you write.  To create a superfan, you must write super-awesome books that bring readers to emotionally satisfying extremes.  It’s a process of trust-building.  Once the reader trusts you to wow them, they’ll support you as long as you continue to earn and deserve that trust.

Despite the deluge of self-published books, our data shows that prices are holding steady.  We’re not seeing prices plummet toward free.  Instead, we’re seeing the bestselling indie authors holding the line and pricing at $2.99 and $3.99, and we’re seeing some indies raising their prices as they build loyal readership.

Indie authors have significant advantage over their traditionally published counterparts when it comes to pricing. Indies have the freedom to price their ebooks much lower, yet still earn more per book sold because indie ebook authors can earn royalties between 60-80% of their ebook's list price. Traditionally published ebook authors earn only 12-17% of the list price as their ebook royalty. 

Based on our research in 2013 and 2014 ( where we looked at the sales of more than 250,000 ebooks sold across our global retail network, we learned that ebooks priced at $.99, $2.99 and $3.99 sell about 4x more units than ebooks priced at $7.99 and above.

3. With the market in the current climate, is it more or less important to be "exclusive" and get extra promo from a retailer, or should an author seek to be available on all retail platforms and why?

Amazon is the only retailer that pushes exclusivity, and we believe they’re doing it to the long term detriment of authors and readers.

Back in the old days of traditional print publishing, your book’s success could be made or broken based on your distribution.  If stores stopped stocking your books, your books become less discoverable and less desirable to readers, and your sales dropped and your books were forced out of print.

Distribution has always been key to an author’s success.

Today, thanks to ebook retailing, every major retailer wants to carry self-published books.  There are tens of millions of readers at Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Scribd, the Smashwords Store and public libraries that you simply cannot reach if you make your books exclusive to Amazon.

As an indie author, your two biggest hurdles are to write super awesome books and to make your books as discoverable as possible. The simplest way to make your books discoverable is to have your books available at all the places where readers go to find books, including retailers and public libraries. If you decide to go exclusive at one retailer, even for a limited time, you're missing out on all the millions of consumers who prefer to shop at other stores (e.g. In January, an Apple executive disclosed that iBooks is adding a million customers a week). To those readers, you're invisible. For the readers who do know you exist, but can't find your book at their favorite ebook store, they'll be annoyed.

4. Why should an author use Smashwords when they can load to different sites themselves?

 I think the primary reason the vast majority of our authors choose to distribute with Smashwords is that we make it faster, easier and more convenient to reach multiple retailers, and we provide time-saving tools to help manage the digital logistics for these books.  We help authors spend more time writing and less time fussing with the upload, monitoring and maintenance of multiple platforms.  

The advantage of using Smashwords becomes especially pronounced once you’re publishing multiple books.  Imagine you’ve got ten books and you want to run a price promotion on all of them.  It takes about 60 seconds to change the price of ten books at Smashwords, and then we automatically transmit those price updates to all our retailers.  In contrast, it would probably take over an hour for the author to log into four different platforms and effect the same change.  If you want to upload a new version of your book or cover, or update your book description, you do it once in the Smashwords Dashboard and those changes ripple out everywhere.  

Smashwords provides authors access to exclusive tools and distribution channels that can’t be found anywhere else.  We’re committed to developing tools and capabilities that help Smashwords authors gain a competitive advantage over other authors.  We’ll never stop pushing the envelope to serve our authors.

5. What's the future of Indie Publishing? Any trends you can see on the horizon?

When Mark founded Smashwords in 2008, people told him he was nuts for two primary reasons. First, they told him there was no ebook market. In 2008, ebooks only accounted for about one half of 1% of total US consumer book sales. Second, 99.9% of authors (our best guesstimate) aspired to be traditionally published. Self-publishing at the time carried a nasty stigma, which was if you chose to self-publish, then your work must not be good enough for a traditional publisher. You were considered a "failed author" back then if you self-published.

Fast forward to today. The biggest trend we're seeing is that the stigma of self-publishing is quickly evaporating. Self-publishing, once the option of last resort, is now the option of first choice for many authors, including traditionally published authors who are transitioning to indie. Due to the increase of indie authors, combined with the rise in professionalism, indie authors will continue to take market share away from traditional publishers.  

On any day of the week you can look at the top 10 bestsellers at any retailer and you’ll  see self-published titles on the lists.  Indie authors are hitting the USA Today bestseller list every week, and the NY Times list almost every week.  A few years ago this was unheard of.  Now it’s becoming commonplace.  As writers learn they can self-publish with pride and professionalism, and as they realize the significant economic advantages of self-publishing, we’ll see more authors aspire to become indie authors.

Much of the success of indie authors has been in romance Romance writers are the smartest people in the business of publishing, and they’re predominantly women.  At Smashwords, we love romance, and we see the success of romance as sweet revenge against an industry that for decades treated romance writers and readers like second class citizens.  Romance writers are the most innovative when it comes to cover design, series and aggressive pricing.  They’re among the most prolific writers.  They were among the first traditionally published authors to republish their out of print books as indie ebooks.  They were among the first indie authors to achieve great success, and their titles dominate the bestseller lists to this day.  As Publisher’s Weekly reported a couple weeks ago, romance accounted for 16 of our top 25 bestsellers for 2014.  Romance readers are the most amazing supporters of self publishing.

Indies shouldn't expect traditional publishers to roll over. We're already seeing traditional publishers compete more aggressively on price. Where it was once uncommon to see a traditionally published ebook priced under $4.99, we think traditional publishers will be forced to drop prices to remain competitive with indie authors.

For a more complete list of trends on the horizon, check out Mark Coker's 2015 publishing industry predictions here:

6. Share with us some success stories.

Let's see now. Smashwords has had the privilege to publish and distribute a number of talented indie authors that have achieved enormous success with self publishing.  There's the story of Kristen Ashley, who believed so much in her work that she quit her executive-level day job and dove headfirst into indie ebook publishing. She's now a New York Times bestseller. There's also Colleen Hoover, a prolific writer who started indie, made the New York Times bestseller list, and is now a hybrid author. How about Shayne Parkinson? Shayne is based in New Zealand and writes historical fiction. She was turned down by regional publishers who said nobody outside of New Zealand would care about stories based in New Zealand. Shayne's one of our all-time bestsellers. Then there's Chanda Hahn, a former children's librarian who found it difficult to recommend great new books for kids so she decided to write her own. She hit the New York Times bestseller list for the first time in 2014.  Amanda Hocking, Jamie McGuire and Abbi Glines are other fantastic writers who have been working with Smashwords for years.  We’re so proud of these amazing writers, and we’re honored that they continue to entrust much of their indie distribution to Smashwords.

7. What are you working on now? 

We're always working on expanding our retail distribution network so we can bring new sales channels to our authors. Coinciding with an expanded retail network, in 2015 our authors can expect to see new distribution and merchandising tools as well. Our authors will be pleased to hear that we're working to streamline our flagship ebook conversion engine, Meatgrinder, to improve its capabilities and make it even easier to use. 

I think it's worth it to mention that, by design, Smashwords doesn't sell any services or publishing packages. We don’t employ sales people.  We're 100% focused on helping our authors sell books, and we think this perfectly aligns our interests with those of our authors. We've been fortunate to maintain profitability for more than four years running, and you can bet that we're pouring those profits right back into our service to make it better, faster and easier. We're never satisfied, nor are we done innovating.

8. What have you learned most since coming to Smashwords?

 The first most important lesson I've learned is to never stop learning. The book publishing industry is evolving before our eyes, and we're all a part of this historical time. Things change so quickly that whether you're the CEO of a fast-growing, ebook publishing startup or you're an indie author, you must stay on top of the key trends and issues. Subscribe to industry newsletters. Follow the blogs of authors and industry people you trust. Go to conferences, ask questions, and learn from the experiences of your fellow authors and industry professionals.

The second most important lesson I've learned is that you can never rest on your laurels.  Smashwords has been extremely fortunate to continue growing. Part of that good fortune is because we refuse to take a break. We never stop working to earn and deserve the trust of our authors.  Back in 2008, when Mark founded Smashwords, people said he was crazy for starting a business selling books written by authors no one wanted to publish, and selling those books in a format (ebooks) that no one was buying, and above all he was crazy for offering the service for free.  Today we've released more than 340,000 titles by over 100,000 authors and independent presses. We're now the world's largest distributor of indie ebooks. INC Magazine named Smashwords to its INC 500 list of America’s Fastest Growing Private Companies last year.  In 2013 and 2014, Forbes Magazine named Smashwords to its list of America’s Most Promising Companies.  Not so many people think Mark is crazy anymore. 

Jim Azevedo is the marketing director at Smashwords, the largest distributor of self-published ebooks serving approximately 100,000 independent authors, publishers and literary agents.  Since 2008, Smashwords has helped authors around the world publish and distribute more than 320,000 titles to retailers such as Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Flipkart, as well as to subscription services Oyster and Scribd, and also to libraries via its partnerships with OverDrive and Baker &  Taylor.  By night, Jim is the drummer for Rivals, a popular San Francisco Bay Area indie rock band.  Jim is also the author of the forthcoming book , How to Get Your Band out of The Garage.

Thank you, Jim. I'm hoping a lot of people will tag this and send it on to their friends in the writing business. Having partners like Smashwords helps us as Indie Authors achieve all our dreams and goals. Thank you, and thank Mark for your tireless hours of work, when the naysayers came up loud and strong, and you guys continued on anyway. It's what we all have to do as successful writers in this market. We all should take a page from Mark's book!!! Literally!!

Sharon Hamilton 
Life is one fool thing after another.
Love is two fool things after each other.


Lynda Bailey said...

GREAT interview!
I've been an indie author since 2012, but never used Smashwords because of the horror stories I heard about the *meatgrinder.* Has the process gotten less scary for those of us who are technically challenged?
Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share the ins and outs of Smashwords.

Cara Marsi said...

Thank you for the great interview. I have my books on Smashwords. I love indie publishing and don't intend to go back to trad publishing. I'm glad to hear you're streamlining the Meatgrinder.

Sandy said...

Great interview. I have my books on Smashwords, and am slowly building my readership. I do not regret going the indie route. I doubt I'll ever consider submitting to a publisher again, thanks to the ease of self-publishing through companies like Smashwords.

Judy Baker said...

Interesting article. I've used Smashwords for my indie books and never had a problem. I like being an indie author.

Clover Autrey said...

Great interview. I love Smashwords and feel very loyal to them since 2011 for everything they've provided.

Paris said...

Thank you for the great interview! It's wonderful that books that might not fit a traditional publisher's idea of marketable viability have another option.

Rose Anderson said...

Very interesting. Thanks for joining us today, Jim.

jean hart stewart said...

Certainly lots to think about! I definitely want to know more!

Melissa Keir said...

Great interview. Smashwords is growing by leaps and bounds as more people find out that it's simple to upload books. The importance is the quality.

How do you see the future with the glut of books that will remain available on the ebook market?

Thank you!

Sharon Hamilton said...

Thank you, Jim, for agreeing to be so open and give s so much information "behind the scenes". Thanks and we hope you'll come back and join us again.

Berengaria Brown said...

Thank you, Jim. That's an awesome, post.

Marianne Stephens said...

Thanks for being here at RB4U. Great information about Smashwords!

Jim Azevedo said...

Hi everyone. Thanks for all your kind comments. It was a pleasure to participate.

@Melissa Keir - You're right, immortal ebooks will continue to enter the market and stay there. While the popular concern still tends to be that indie ebook authors have to compete with a tsunami of "drek," the real issue is that now, and in the future, you'll be competing with a tsunami of higher-quality indie ebooks. Indie authors are realizing that in order for their books to sell, they have to be just as good--if not better--than books coming out of major publishing houses. Poor quality books don't sell and eventually fall off the radar of retail search engines.

S. E. Smith said...

Thank you, Jim for a great blog post. After meeting you and chatting with Mark, I have to agree that Smashword's first priority is the author. Kudos to the Smashword team.

Patrick07604 said...

If you really want to try your hand at formatting, try Calerba first. Meatgrinder will seem easy by comparison.

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