Smashwords Reinvented

Charisma, a Christian publishing company, recently made the announcement that they are now offering a new self-publishing service for authors. This new service, called Excel, is completely free.


You heard that right: Free.

Excel reports that they offer authors free high-speed typesetting, custom cover design, and preparation for electronic publication in formats for the Kindle, Nook, iBook, and Kobo. The company states that they have developed a high-speed digital typesetting program based on the open source LaTeX program. They report that this production is fully automated. Excel plans to make its money from book sales.

Sounds a lot like Smashwords doesn’t it?

Basically, Excel is the Christian version of Smashwords—an automated typesetter and ebook seller, just like Smashwords. One difference is that Excel will offer print-on-demand for print titles also.

Another difference is that authors will have less control, both creative and economic, with Excel. The company states on their website that they will choose the retail price of the books they publish. From this, they will pay the author a $1.50 royalty for each copy sold. Authors can also purchase copies of their books for an estimated price of between $.03 and $.04 per page.

So, if you are looking to get a book published and willing to market a cookie-cutter looking book—remember, production is automated and lacks the human touch—Excel might be the service for you.

I expect to see more of these types of self-publishing services appear over the next few years. Self-publishing has been growing by leaps and bounds and it will continue to do so as more and more authors choose to publish their manuscripts this way.

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Adapt or…

The other day, I found a Yellow Pages directory on my front door step. I had thought that print versions of the Yellow Pages had succumbed to the ever-present Internet and had gone the way of the Wooly Mammoth. I guess I was wrong.

Yellow pagesHowever, as I stooped to pick up my copy from my doorstep, I observed my neighbor throwing his in the recycle bin. Ah, our ever-changing world. The Yellow Pages may still be published as print directories (remember their slogan “Let Your Fingers Do the Walking“), but not everyone will use them.

Just as Yellow Pages has had to adapt to the changes being wrought by our increasingly digital world through making their directory available as an online digital directory while still offering print copies, so the publishing industry is also adapting to these changes.

The latest news is that Xulon, one of the leading Christian self-publishing companies (publishing around 3,000 titles each year), has changed their model to adapt to the current trends. Traditionally, Xulon has offered publishing packages that ranged from about $1,700 to $5,000. A mite pricey in today’s publishing climate.

Xulon will begin offering a free book publishing program next month. Yep, you heard that right—free book publishing. Basically, through, Xulon will allow writers to prep their manuscripts for print and ebook publication at no charge. Xulon will make its money from printing copies to order and up-selling their other services such as marketing and promotion.

This new service sounds to me a lot like many other publishing services already available to authors. For example, with CreateSpace, authors can set up a manuscript and design covers for their print books for free. CreateSpace only charges for distribution and when the book is printed. As for ebooks, Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords, and BookBaby (to name a few) all already allow free setup of an ebook title.

I guess it only makes sense for Xulon to change their service strategy to align with others in the industry if they want to remain viable. You can pay money for Xulon’s promotion services, but most self-published authors will tell you, you get the best bang for your marketing dollars when you, the author, take the initiative in promoting your book. If you are unsure how to do this, then educate yourself by reading Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace and taking advantage of the information and resources Christian Small Publishers Association provides for marketing books.

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The Newest DIY eBook Publishing Program

First Amazon launched the Kindle Direct Publishing platform, and then Barnes & Noble launched PubIt! for the Nook. After that, Smashwords took the scene by storm followed by BookBaby. Not to be left out, Apple launched its iBooks Author program, and now, Author Solutions, Inc., has launched BookTango.

Each of these ebook publishing and distribution programs allows authors and publishers to upload and distribute ebooks very cost effectively. Anyone can create, edit, format, publish, promote, and distribute an ebook via these ebook publishing platforms.

BookTango, being the newest player on the field, is trying to grab as many authors as they can during their roll-out phase in order to cement their position amongst their competition. To that end, BookTango is offering the maximum possible royalties from ebook sales for those authors who use BookTango to publish an ebook before July 4, 2012.

BookTango’s current offer means that authors can publish an ebook for free and keep the entire sales price for their ebook (after ebook retailers take their standard fee). In other words, BookTango is not going to take a percentage from sales of books published between now and July 4, 2012, for themselves.

This is a great offer. It is also a great marketing strategy.

So many self-published authors and publishers I talk to hate to give away free books. They talk about how much these books cost them and how they feel they are throwing the money away while other people are benefiting from their handouts.

Remember, it takes money to make money. Companies pay to promote their products. Authors and publishers are not exempt. Author Solutions is paying to offer this program. Nothing is free. BookTango will not receive any monetary remuneration from any ebook published using their service for the next two months.

How much money have you been spending to promote and sell your books lately?

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Smashwords and BookBaby are competitors. These two companies both publish and distribute ebooks by self-published authors and small presses. Smashwords appeared on the scene first and currently has more authors and books in their database than BookBaby.

BookBaby, like any good business, is seeking to gain more of the market share for publishing and distributing ebooks. They are well aware of their competition in this endeavor. Rccently, BookBaby sent out the following headline in their enewsletter:

We won’t ‘Smash’ your words, we’ll ‘Baby’ them.

Ouch. Sounds like a creative direct attack on their competitor. In the article, BookBaby is promoting that they are currently the only ebook distributor that is offering real-time customer service and support for its authors.

What do you think? Is this a good marketing strategy? Or is it too antagonistic with the potential to backfire?

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Bookselling Magic

It seems that almost every week I am running into a new story about an author that has bypassed traditional publishing and is now making big money selling their books as ebooks.

First there was J.A. Konrath, a self-published author of mystery novels. He placed his books for sale on Amazon’s Kindle store and reportedly began making thousands of dollars a month from sales.

Then came Amanda Hocking. A writer of paranormal romance, Amanda could not find a publisher to take on her books. She decided to publish them herself via the Kindle store and ended up making over $1 million before being offered a lucrative contract from a large publishing house.

Next, Elisa Lorello showed up on the scene. Elisa is a teacher in North Carolina. After multiple rejections from publishers, she decided to publish her first novel as an ebook for the Kindle. Elisa sold over 52,000 copies of her novel on Kindle.

Then, Nyree Belleville started having success. Under the pen name Bella Andre, Nyree writes steamy romances. After her publisher dropped her, she began to self-publish her novels for the Kindle on Amazon. In a short time, she was making thousands of dollars a month selling her ebooks.

The list could go on. Authors who are self-publishing start seeing dollar signs when they read these stories. Writers begin thinking, “Why not take the same route with my books?”

Let me share some words of caution with you.

Smashwords, an ebook publishing and distribution platform for ebook authors, publishers and readers, keeps statistics of their book sales. With 16,000 authors and 40,000 titles, Smashwords statistics have a story to tell.

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, says, “The overwhelming number of self-publishing digital authors end up in the same place as their print counterparts: oblivion.”

Harsh words, but the statistics prove them. Less than 50 authors on Smashwords are making more than $50,000 per year. The site has a lot of authors who don’t sell a single book.

eBook sales follow the typical power curve. A very few sell a whole lot and a whole lot sell only a few.

There is nothing magic about ebooks or Kindle. Book selling remains the same whether books are in print or digital form. It takes great writing, good marketing, and the right pricing to sell books.

My advice is to follow your heart, seek God, and allow Him to be your co-publisher.