Thursday, July 22, 2010

My Smashwords Experience

After two months spent revising my first Jack Austin novel, CUT SHOT (2001), a week spent in front of the computer converting the published PDF versions of my other novels to Word documents, and a half day writing 400-character descriptions for each book, four of my five novels are now up on Smashwords.com. And I have lived to tell the tale.

The back-story is that my agent, Bob Mecoy, found a loophole in my contracts with the University Press of New England that gave my full rights to any/all electronic versions of my Jack Austin PGA Tour mystery series. I had been following J.A. Konrath’s blogs and comments about e-books. Then I got an iPad for my 40th birthday, and I knew I had seen the future of publishing, so I decided to take advantage of Mecoy’s gift.

Writers often revisit their first novel with the loving eyes of a conflicted parent. At once, the author has unconditional love for their offspring, yet he is not blind to the imperfections of his or her first effort. I wrote the first drafts of CUT SHOT when I was in my early twenties; it was published four or five years later. As the Jack Austin series progressed, so too did my proficiency. I later thought of that first novel in terms of what it could have been, thinking the concept exceeded its execution. When the book went out of print in 2006, I thought the novel had met its final resting place. However, the electronic format offered both the book and its author a second chance. I didn’t do a complete overhaul; the plot remains intact—as per advice from many including my kindly Type M for Murder colleagues. But I did clean the book, tighten it, and add suspense. It was enjoyable work.

I thought the easy part would be uploading my saved versions of the other five Jack Austin novels, SNAP HOOK (2004), CENTER CUT (2004), BAD LIE (2005), and OUT OF BOUNDS (2006). After all, these had earned good (even starred) reviews, so no revision was necessary. Then I realized I didn’t possess the “final” draft of any of the books. Those were on file somewhere in the innards of the University Press of New England, and I had to ask for them. Guess what they said. You betcha’. They wanted $$. The upshot is that between paying for the PDF files and the new cover design for CUT SHOT, I have $400 into the e-books. I have some titles listed for $0.99, $1.99, and $2.99, so I have to sell about 150 to break even.

However, there are many positives. The author controls the list price (ever thought you’d hear a writer say that?), and the distribution through Smashwords is good: within two months, all five novels will be available at every online major retail outlet including the big three, BN.com, Amazon,com, Borders. The process is as follows: the author uploads a stripped-down Microsoft Word version of the text to Smashwords, and it is re-formatted to HTML, JavaScript, MOBI (Kindle), Epub, PDF (ironically), RTF, LRF (Sony), Palm Doc (for palm devices), plain text version download, and plain text view for distribution. The economics also makes sense for the writer. You keep 85% of profits generated on the Smashwords site and 70% generated from subsidiary outlets such as Amazon.

What impressed me most was the “customer service” aspect. I emailed Smashwords with several questions--sometimes three a day--and got e-mail replies (one coming at 3 a.m.) from Smashwords creator, Mark Coker himself.

In the end, the downside is that I didn’t write fiction while I was trying to teach myself to be formatting proficient. The upside, though, is that for maybe the only time in my writing life, I have 100% full control over my work, from pricing to cover design. I’ll be crossing my fingers for 150 sales.

6 comments:

Mary said...

My humble guess is that you'll surpass the 150 goal. You have a fan base and new readers will be willing to try you now.
Wish you the very best with your new venture.
Giggles and Guns

peter_may said...

Bravely done, John! I am sure you will recoup your outgoings, plus!! Best of luck.

John said...

Don't bother with self-publishing or smashwording or crowdfunding - St Martins has a vacancy for an author :-)
YORK (AP) - Here's a publishing plot twist: One of the book world's top moneymakers, Janet Evanovich, has switched literary homes.

The author of the multimillion-selling "Stephanie Plum" series and other popular mystery novels has left her longtime publisher, St. Martin's Press, and joined the Random House Publishing Group.

Random House announced Monday that Evanovich has agreed to write four new novels, including two Stephanie Plum releases. She will publish through the Random House imprint Ballantine Bantam Dell.

"I started my career as a Bantam author, and I'm very excited to be returning," Evanovich, 67, said in a statement. "Their sales, distribution, and marketing make them the perfect partner for me and my work. Load up the U-Haul; break out the pizza and the beer - it's moving day."

St. Martin's publisher Matthew Shear said in a statement: "We've had a good relationship and I truly am sorry that we're unable to come to terms. But it's a negotiation like anything else and it didn't work. And I hope it works well for her elsewhere."

Financial terms were not disclosed, although Evanovich's book deal is likely worth tens of millions of dollars.

Evanovich's books have sold more than 75 million copies worldwide.

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