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BY ROBERT DIGITALE

A lot of unpublished writers probably wish they could have done something like what Mark Coker did when he couldn’t find a traditional publisher for the novel that his wife Lesleyann and he had written.

In response, Coker went out and founded Smashwords, an Indie ebook distributor that is adding to today’s upheaval in the book world.

“We created a monster,” Coker said Sunday at the monthly meeting of Redwood Writers in Santa Rosa.

In the company’s first year, Smashwords helped independent authors and small publishers release 140 ebooks. This year, he said, it’s already has helped distribute 53,000 titles, and it’s on track to reach at least 75,000 by the end of 2011.

In recent years, screen technology has advanced and made book reading a popular pastime on iPads, Kindles, Nooks and smart phones. Amazon last month reported it now sells 105 ebooks for every 100 printed copies.

“Three years ago nobody was taking us seriously,” Coker said afterwards. “Now people are taking us seriously.”

Authors send Smashwords their prepared manuscripts and the company’s software turns the files into ebooks that can be read on all sorts of electronic devices. Moreover, those ebooks can be sold at the Apple iBookstore, Barnes and Noble, the Sony Reader Store, Kobo and the Diesel eBook Store.

When books sell, authors receive 60 percent of the list price. In comparison, he said, an author with a traditional publisher will earn 5 to 17 percent per book.

Coker predicted book sales will continue to shift to the Web, and ebooks will continue to grow in numbers while printed books decline. He foresees a day when the online booksellers will give away e-readers for free, possibly with a $9.95/month subscription plan.

Traditional book stores won’t disappear, but “they’re going to continue their long steady decline.” Similarly, he said afterwards, traditional publishers won’t vanish but those who survive will be providing services that successful authors can’t or don’t want to do for themselves.

Among his tips for authors: Give some of your work away for free. Smashwords’ biggest-selling authors typically have given at least one book away for free, often the first one in a series.

The audience of more than 70 at the Flamingo Hotel cheered when Coker said that “the center of gravity” in the book world is shifting from New York to places like San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Santa Rosa. They expressed similar delight when he said that now the traditional publishers weren’t going to limit who could be an author, but “all of the unwashed masses are going to be doing books.”

“That’s us,” audience members responded.

Given such heady talk, it was good that Coker advised listeners not to quit their day jobs just yet. Most Smashwords books sell few copies. (Even the Cokers eventually decided to give away for free their novel, “Boob Tube.”) His own criticism of his creation is that it may have made book publishing too easy.

Preparing a marketable novel for publication still can involve considerable cost, he said, especially in hiring a good editor. At some point, Smashwords probably will offer a list of possible book editors for authors to contact. But Coker suggested he felt a need for caution because some writers might spend a lot of money getting ready an ebook that would never sell.

“Authors are dreamers,” he said. “They’re prone to be taken advantage of.”

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5 Comments

  1. Julie A. Winrich

    Robert,
    Thanks for this great recap of our meeting. For those who didn’t attend, they’ll wish they had. Good information and exciting for publishing. Julie

    June 13th, 2011 9:21 am

  2. Kate Farrell

    Terrific job of capturing the Smashwords presentation by Mark Coker. I was also struck by the presentation by Glen Weaver and the Sonoma County Free Bookmobile. In many ways they both share a common goal, though their delivery systems are quite different–”converted milk truck” to high speed broad band.
    They both want to go directly to the readers!

    From the unwashed masses,
    Yours truly

    June 13th, 2011 8:34 pm

  3. sunny lockwood

    Mark Coker’s presentation was terrific and your recap here was equally fine. As an author who has gone the traditional route and is now preparing an ebook (Shades of Love, stories from the heart) for Smashwords and other distributors, I found his presentation both informative and inspiring.
    Digital publishing not only opens the world for writers, but also for readers. I love the fact that digital readers can enjoy large type with a touch of the finger (or click of the mouse, if you’re reading on the computer screen).
    A big thank you to Redwood Writers for bringing Mark Coker to town, and thank you for spreading the word.

    June 14th, 2011 6:19 am

  4. Leigh Anne Lindsey

    1. Ebooks now outselling published worldwide. [Like the auto, telephone, tv, cell phone] – ebooks are a game changer. The ereader is a “pleasure delivery device” (got a big laugh out of that) – it makes people happy because they can read thousands of books on 1 device.
    2. Blue Leaf will Scan a book into an ebook
    3. About giving away a free ebook: Mark’s ‘Boob Tube’ free ebook has surpassed 60K downloads – that’s a big audience to sell the sequal! Highest grossing authors offer at least 1 book for free. Up to 140K words.
    4. Said to look at Brian Pratt and Ruth Ann Norton. Huge sellers almost overnight because of free book combined with one for sale. Their other books are selling through the roof.)
    5. Play with the pricing. If your ebook is not selling at a particular price point (typically between .99 cents and $9.99, give a discount coupon. Send coupon via email as well as social media. Perhaps lower the price from $2.99 to $1.50 or .99. Those at the .99 cent price sell really well.
    6. Good idea to put links inside the chapter. Most of all in the TOC.
    7. He wasn’t enthusiastic about making any money off of being an affiliate – a comment which made up my mind not to waste the time!
    8. Share advice on social media, helps increases interest and viralness. ‘Mine’ your Facebook friends, but don’t spam them…NO one likes that
    9. Get people talking about the book. 1 person tells another who tells two more, who each tell two more and so it goes on in the viral world. And don’t let [those efforts of getting that one person to tell another person, etc.] “peter out.” Review other author’s books with links back to your book, blog, etc. (on Smashwords, Goodreads , Scribd, Redroom, etc.) Keep the momentum going!

    –Twitter@MarkCoker
    –MC@smashwords.com
    –Blog.smashwords.com
    –List@smashwords.com to hire graphic artists and formatters.

    SeaStorm Press’ 1st ebook ‘The Flaw in the Fabric, A Travellers Guide for Lost Souls,’ by Jim T. Lindsey (my brother & award winning author) Historical fiction (set in Halifax, Nova Scotia), fantasy (a flaw in the fabric of the way things allows for time travel and a monk that travels between times), romance (poor Raymond is torn between his wife of the present and his wife and daughter of the past, in the 1800s), paranormal (ghosts, or Lost Souls), sea captains, pirates and a demon in the in-between realms make for a fascinating, un-put-down-able book!

    The podiobooks, episodes broadcast weekly, of A Travellers Guide are coming out via Smashwords/Podiobooks @ the end of June 2011, ‘Snapshots of the In Between, A Companion Volume of Verse to A Travellers Guide for Lost Souls (Jim was a runner up to the United States Poetry Award) will be available in July, the Audio book of both ebooks in August. The print books will be coming out later this year from Halifax publisher Arcadia House Publishing – and they will include a book comprised of Jim’s blogs about ‘ROWGA – The Yoga of Rowing’ – meditation advice and insight that is applicable just about anywhere :)

    June 15th, 2011 4:49 pm

  5. Leigh Anne Lindsey

    That post was supposed to have a comment at the beginning that said “Well done, Rob! Thanks for the superb summary!” Along with, here are some of my observations from Mark’s talk….

    June 15th, 2011 4:51 pm

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