Tag Archives: smashwords

Smashwords – the big smash-up

Writer Beware!

The complaints are piling up over the unresponsiveness of Mark Coker’s Smashwords publishing company, which touts you’ll get “Your ebook. Your way.” Authors send emails through the proper contact and wait for a reply. And wait. And wait. Sometimes, for weeks, there is no response. This is not how to run a business that is trying to compete with Amazon.

In my own recent experience, I chose to use Smashwords as a means to have my books published to iTunes and other outlets, like Sony and Diesel. The iTunes author interface is cumbersome and difficult for this author to figure out. The SW (Smashwords) meatgrinder is disliked by many authors, but I never had a problem with it, or with getting accepted into the premium SW catalogue that is required before books can be sent out for distribution. I did all that. Passed the meatgrinder. Had my books, there were 3 of them, accepted in the Premium catalogue and checked all the distribution points I wanted.

A month later, after I’d gotten through that acceptance process, I went back to SW to check up on my books through my dashboard and I saw that my second book was not being shipped to Apple. First and third were, but not #2. I had it checked to go, but the message on the dashboard said it hadn’t shipped, but it would. Odd, I thought, and emailed SW through the contact link at the top of the page.

I got an email back within a decent time line. It took a couple of days. This was back in mid October, 2012. I was assured that the problem was fixed. I moved on to other projects. When I checked back some weeks later, in November, I discovered that no, the problem remained. And from there it just got worse. Through the month of November there was much back and forth. Finally, the difficulty was blamed on iTunes. By then, I’d decided to move on and informed them they no longer had to worry about sending my book as I was unpublishing all but one book from Smashwords.

I thought that surely this would be the end of it, but no. In the process of checking my links to all the various retail outlets, I discovered mid December that iTunes had my unpublished book live on their site.

I immediately wrote to Smashwords through their contact form again and told them to take the book down. I know, a Comedy of Errors here. Again, not the kind you want to have when you are trying to compete with Amazon. That was last year, last month about a week before Christmas and I’ve not had a response from them since. Last I checked (today) my second book was still up on iTunes even though it has been unpublished for over a month! Is it selling anything? With the book unpublished, how am I to know?

This is just plain shoddy business practice. I’ve been on Smashwords for quite some time now and had intended to put my entire series there even though I haven’t sold more than a handful on the site. (Compared to Amazon where that figure has moved into the thousands) Mark Coker recently suggested that Amazon was leading authors around by the nose. Well, at least there’s money at the end of that lead line. I think I’ll take a company responsible for helping me pay my mortgage over one that doesn’t respond in a reasonable timeframe to problems. At least Amazon sends out a bot response, and then they do get back to you. I may not always like their answers, but it is an answer instead of the crickets coming from SW.

The same problems are being reported across many platforms and from many authors who need faster response times than a month. For instance, customer service reps from Sony claim to have been issued a new directive with instructions to stop assisting the large number of authors from Smashwords calling in to get problems fixed. Only Smashwords, who acts as publisher, can make changes to books, says Sony, cover changes, new versions and including having the book removed completely. Smashwords is not keeping up their end of the bargain.

As an author in control of my rights and work, I should be able to tell SW to unpublish or change my distribution set up and expect that my instructions will be followed within a reasonable timeframe. A month+ is not reasonable. If there’s a problem with companies like Barnes and Noble, or iTunes following through with those direct requests from SW then Mr. Coker should get those problems ironed out with those companies, instead of using that as an excuse. Authors are left wondering what the status is of their work. If we want to go into Amazon’s exclusive program, Select, we ought to be able to do that, but because these companies keep our books for weeks on end, against the exclusivity agreement with Amazon, it’s like threading the eye of a needle to make a schedule for marketing activities when the unknowns keep getting in the way. Mark Coker doesn’t have the right to hold my book hostage indefinitely by not getting this delayed response from his partners worked out. It’s all electronic! It’s a computer program that says unpublish that book!

Mark Coker needs to get his house in order and soon, or many more authors like me will give up on his grand idea, and seek elsewhere for what we need. So far, Amazon is doing a far better job of filling that need. I’ve only one book left with SW. I’m actively looking for somewhere else to publish.

Are you having problems with Smashwords? (or anywhere else?) Feel free to leave a comment. I’ll pass them along.

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Self-publishing – Things I’ve learned since getting on the publishing merry go round!

I took a substantial break from blogging in October to work on finishing up the rewrite of Myth, the second book of my series, the Guardians of the Word. I rewrote the first book of the series, Chosen, and published it over the course of a year after having finished the entire 7 book series in 2010. Yes, there are 6 more books to come…or maybe 7 more, depending on how they get broken up to work in both ebook and print formats. I like the size of Chosen in print and most people who’ve read it, feel it’s the right length, both story-wise and the physical size of it. Myth was going to be over 120K. That’s a substantially larger book than the first. I didn’t like the feel of it, and when I took a hard look at what I had, decided to cut it about halfway, added some, subtracted some and after a solid month of steady working on it, I have another book to publish. It’s ready. It feels right, and I can’t wait to get it back from my beta readers who are kindly giving it a once over to see if they feel the same way I do.

Publishing Chosen took a full 3 months. Publishing Myth will take about one. Why? It gets easier to pull it off the second time through the process.

The first time publishing on my own, and I mean really on my own, without the advice of anyone other than KDP, Createspace, and Smashwords, the learning curve was much steeper. I made a lot of mistakes, struggling with the cover, getting the cover completely wrong, and then finally settling on the one I have now – except I’m about to change it too if I can ever get the damn program to work. (curse you GIMP, curse you!) I didn’t have any idea what I was doing, what the process was or how much effort it would take. The difference, of course, is now I do. I understand how to format the book for different outlets. I understand how long it takes for Smashwords to upload the document file, the cover, the bio and get my book out into the world! I’ve worked with KDP and Createspace now, so I’m more familiar with their requirements. It has been all around much easier this time to get to this place in time with Book 2. So if you’re on the fence about publishing, my advice? Go for it, but don’t go it alone.

Most importantly, I’ve found since publishing Chosen, the most amazing group of supportive authors in Indie Writers Unite on Facebook. Got a question? About anything? Just ask. Someone there will know and tell you. Generally, several members will have the answer you’re looking for, and several more will chime in with some from of encouragement or other. Just the other day, an Indie author came in feeling a bit down about crappy sales, not sure what to do, feeling blah about the whole experience. Some fifty or sixty posts later, she had a new blurb if she wanted, new mockup covers to choose from and the advice and encouragement of a huge number of people who’d all experienced the same thing at one point or the other.

It is critical to the Indie writer to find such a group. A place to go when feelings of defeat rear up. A place to commiserate how tough it is to do this Indie thing some days. A place where you won’t feel like you are the only person in the world experiencing this wild ride, the ups and downs, completely by yourself. No one knows everything there is to know about this business, from the technical aspects of it to marketing. Having a support group to ask questions of will make the publishing journey much easier, which is the main point. Being Indie doesn’t mean you have to go it alone.

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Before…A word to live by

…along the way to seeing your book published – 

I’ve run into a ‘few’ barriers. First there’s the big one that says you’ll ruin your writing career if you self-publish. The number of Indies out there who can refute that myth easily enough is growing. Another barrier is the learning curve one must surmount or have enough money to pay someone else to surmount regarding how to format and make a cover, pick a company to publish with, createspace, lulu, kindle, smashwords…The indie author who really means to go for it has to find out what all these things mean and what’s involved, and going it alone means there is potential for making a lot of mistakes.

 I’m going to focus on just a few here so as to help the next independent minded soul avoid the same problems. 

#1 biggest mistake to make. Rushing. 

Rushing the book is one thing… Writing fast and furiously when the ideas are flowing is wonderful and exhilarating. Nothing beats that feeling of creating from whole cloth a world, a character and the intriguing things they have to go through. There is nothing wrong with typing out those words as fast as your fingers can race across the keyboard, or with a pen in hand even, the ‘old-fashioned way’. But rushing through the edit? Bad idea. 

The brain that wrote that last intense chapter will not be able to see the typos or the grammar mistakes your fingers made. If you can’t pay someone to at the very least read your book for typos, take two weeks or more away from it, so the words aren’t so fresh. You’ll be less likely to fix the typos in your head as you read instead of on the page where you need to concentrate. Better yet, get yourself a reliable beta reader who’ll give you a line by line. Most of the time they are free and will do this work for nothing more than a thank you. That goes on your acknowledgement page, or front matter. It’s a whole new language I’ve learned in two weeks. 

You have to do the work of making sure your manuscript is in the best shape it can be before you hit the send button to kindle, or smashwords, or anywhere else you intend to publish your story. Now that it’s so easy to do, we indie authors will have to show some restraint. Due diligence is a good phrase to keep in mind. I started three years ago (yes, three!) on the editing trail with beta readers and friends and family reading and correcting mistakes in my manuscript and while I hope there aren’t any, I will bet you good money that there are still a few typos remaining. The little buggers are intentionally difficult to find. 

Rushing through the formatting process once you have your story set is another big mistake. It’s harder than you think to slow down the rolling boulder that takes hold of your spirit and mind once you’ve made the decision to publish. You read up on all the things you’ve got to do (that list is extensive), and after you’ve gotten through about half of it, well then, things start to seem not so necessary, or you forgot you didn’t do h. on said list (you made a list, right?) and accidentally skipped it. The saying goes, make your list and check it twice. I’d say in this case, three is better. 

It was on my list and I did do this one – google your book title. Go on Amazon and search there too. There are quite a few books out now with at least part of the same title as Chosen. You have to make a decision how married you are to the title you picked, what meaning it has for the whole story and if you’re willing to set that title aside if you find fifty of them already out there. I opted to keep mine and added the series title, which made all the difference in the world of search engines.

 You must google your author name too. You must! It feels weird, but just do it. Go on Amazon as well, and search your author name. And you want to do this before you format all your works and make your cover. What happens if you don’t is you may discover, as I did, that there is another J. M. Harrison out there! Who sells books on Amazon! This is such a no brainer I’m a bit annoyed with myself that I didn’t do this simple task. 

My author or pen name is my choice. It doesn’t have to be my real name. Yours either. It can be almost any name you want and it’s not a bad idea to create different pen names if you plan to write in different genres to help keep your readers from getting mixed up with genres they want nothing to do with. Dean Wesley Smith  has several pen names. 

The nome de plume, a pseudonym adopted by an author goes back a few years.  Lewis Carroll, Richard Bachman, George Eliot, O. Henry, Voltaire, Mark Twain are all pen names. There is a fairly large list of famous writers who didn’t use their real names to write under. So it is something you want to put some thought into.

I did not. 

Now to fix this

I’m fortunate that I have a somewhat unique first name that my very common last name won’t need changing. But these are thing you want to think about before, before, before. It isn’t the end of the world either if you have a common last name, Smith, Jones? And want to publish in your own name. If you have a common last name, come up with an uncommon book title. If you’re a complete unknown, first time, never before published person feel free to make up a name that suites you.

 Right now, two weeks after publishing my first book, I’ve decided to change my pen name and I’m in the process of getting all the places my ‘old’ name will crop up shifted over to the new name. That means pulling my book off kindle and republishing with a new corrected cover and interior file. Uploading again to createspace (for the dead tree version) which I thankfully hadn’t gotten too far along in the process there with corrected pdf file and cover. The folks at createspace are extremely helpful when it comes to this sort of thing. Smashwords is the easiest to fix because 1) it’s a .doc file to begin with that’s easily modified on your computer at home, and 2) their instructions are easy to follow.

 Nick, over at Everything Indie, who did all my formatting for me is probably the most valuable resource I’ve found in all this figuring stuff out. He’s fast, his rates are reasonable and he’ll fix anything you feel is an issue. 

It all could have been avoided had I stuck to the list, followed it like a good little writer and let my creative side do what it does best – make stuff up. Apply that to the whole project including your pen name and title and due the proper research. You’ll avoid some after publication hassles and time wasted you’d rather be spending on promotion!

Good luck with your publishing endeavors and may your formatting errors be few.

 

 

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