A lot of writers are talking about self-publishing these days. The expanding ebook market combined with the ease and affordability of digital publishing makes it easy to dust off the manuscript and hit a publish button. 

Mark Coker at PPWC

During the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in April, I heard Mark Coker, founder, CEO and Chief Author Advocate at Smashwords speak in a session titled Ebook Publishing Best Practices. He founded Smashwords in 2008 “to change the way books are published, marketed and sold.” His efforts to get the book he co-wrote with his wife Lesleyann, Boob Tube, inspired him to start Smashwords. 

He’s also written The Smashwords Style Guide (how to format an ebook), The Smashwords Book Marketing Guide and The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success. Smashwords only publishes digital books. 

Coker shared tips from The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success at the conference. You can download any of his books in a format for your ereader or you can view them online.

Using Smashwords in his words “is fast, free and easy.”

Some tips he shared at the conference:

  • Your best marketing tool is a great book. Angels were singing (in my head) when he said this. Amen. 
  • Choose a good pen name. He said initials can be bad. For example is it J.F. Cane, JF Cane or J. F. Cane. How’s the search engine going to pick up your name?
  • Create a great cover image — invest in a quality cover, don’t mislead readers with the cover, use simple images due to the thumbnail size. To find inexpensive cover designers and book formatters, email list@smashwords.com. You’ll get an automated reply with a list. 
  • Publish another great book. Readers want more when they’ve earned your trust.
  • Maximize your distributions. He encouraged writes to work with all the ebook retailers.
  • Give some of your books for free. He said Smashwords’ highest grossing authors offer at least one title for free. 
  • Patience is a virtue. Ebooks are immortal, he said. So, as an author, you don’t have to worry about selling out in a set period or having your books removed from the shelf. Books are like a fruit tree. You plant one at each retailer. Get reviews. Copies are sold and the book continues to yield fruit. 
  • Platform building starts yesterday! Platform equals your ability to reach readers. My aha moment when he spoke about platform was his mention of Google Plus — the Facebook like site. Coker said that Google gives preference in its search engines to G+ content. I rarely remember to post my blog on there. I need to do this.
  • Networking — “If you help fellow writers be successful, they may help you.”
  • Pinch your pennies — “Expect not to make money” he said. Coker encouraged writers to never borrow money to publish, because they can’t control the number of sales. 

For my childrens book writing friends, Smashwords limits the uploaded file to 5 MB. I checked with Coker about the options for picture book writers and illustrators. Picture books are not the company’s strength, he wrote in an email. “We do best with straight narrative, or narrative + images.”

He provided this link http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52 from the Smashwords Style Guide to show how to compress the images so you can reduce the file size of photos.

Smashwords has an extensive FAQ section on the digital publishing process. 

I don’t want to get into an argument about the benefits or drawbacks of self-publishing vs. traditional publishing. It drains me when either side goes on the attack. Author Anne R. Allen’s Blog has a post on this topic: Indie or Traditional Publishing? Don’t Take Sides: Take Your Time. She also included a great quote from Coker. 

Where are you in your writing process — ready to publish or are you still in the work-in-progress phase? Have you used Smashwords? What did you think about the process?