An Interview With Mark Coker of Smashwords

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An Interview With Mark Coker of Smashwords

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The zenith of my month was interviewing Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords. He said some interesting things, including a lot about how many jobs are being created by the rise of independent publishing.

Coker believes we are still in the early stages of the self-publishing revolution. While the English-language countries are further along the path, he sees a lot of growth potential in other languages.

“It’s important to realize the market is a global market,” he said.

He believes the e-book creation market will become more competitive as service providers are forced to compete against people with the same skills in India and other countries with a lower standard of living.

I was shocked to learn that 97 percent of the books that Smashwords carries in its inventory are sold in the book stores it distributes to, not on Smashwords itself. I don’t know why that surprised me. Smashwords bills itself as an e-book distributor, not a book store, even though Coker’s original vision was to offer a place where independent authors could sell their books.

“For the last 30 years,” he said, “Dan Poynter has promoted print self-publishing best practices, but it wasn’t really until e-books came along that this could be realized on a large scale. If you couldn’t get distribution into bookstores, you weren’t going to sell any books.”

The first book store to allow Smashwords distribution was Barnes & Noble. After that, other book stores followed.

“It’s economically feasible for every retailer to sell every available book. They can stock that book and stock it forever,” Coker said. He said he is proud to be a part of the reason many independently published e-book authors have gone on to commercial success, and some of them are creating better looking books than big New York publishing houses.

“Self-publishers are creating books that are a higher quality than ever before,” he said. “Readers don’t care if a book is published by an author or a publisher.”

What Mark Coker Says About Independent E-book Publishing

e-book publishing successI learned a lot from talking to Coker. Here are a few highlights of our hour-long conversation.

How e-book self-publishing differs from traditional publishing:

Traditional publishers offer all the services an author needs to have a book published. Book covers, the multiple levels of manuscript editing, packaging, sales and marketing, back end functions like accounting and reporting, book distribution, and more. Self-published authors are publishers, which means they either have to perform these functions themselves or farm them out.

On what non-fiction authors should try to achieve:

Why would a reader want to read my book? Who is the target reader? Do they want to gain knowledge or solve a problem? What is that knowledge? How does your book solve that problem?

On creating great book covers:

Create a cover image that makes a promise. Put yourself in the shoes of the reader. What problem are they trying to solve? Visualize an image that conveys those aspirational desires. Think along those lines and make an emotional promise to the reader.

On how to sell more books:

There is no single magic bullet to help you sell more books. There are multiple best practices.

On pre-orders:

Pre-orders is one of the most important tools today. Most authors don’t understand this. We’ve been offering pre-orders for two years. Most authors don’t take advantage of that. Authors who do sell more books.

What genre can non-fiction authors learn the most from:

Look at what successful fiction authors are doing. A lot of the secrets to success are the same. Non-fiction authors should study romance. Romance authors are the most sophisticated. They are genius at understanding how to market within the genre. There’s not a single type of romance author. There are paranormal romances, historical romances, and different sub-genres within the genre. The best selling romance authors understand how to reach the right audience. There are dozens of subcategories.

Romance writers know how to create covers comprised of images that make an honest and accurate emotional promise to the reader. It’s not necessarily about the heat. A good cover speaks to the reader in a way that words cannot.

On the importance of reviews:

A great non-fiction book will change a reader’s life. It will solve a problem or provide insight on something the reader finds interesting. Work on getting 5-star reviews, then you’ll get more sales. An emotional experience will lead to word of mouth and therefore more sales.

The reality of e-book self-publishing:

Book publishing is one of the fastest ways to lose money. It’s difficult to reach readers. It’s important to recognize you don’t get into book publishing to make money but because you have a passion and are committed to it. It can be a fast track to failure. It can be free; it doesn’t need to cost anything. There’s no need to spend thousands of dollars on a publicist when you’re starting out. Most writers, 99.5 percent of self-published authors aren’t qualified to do their own covers.

Recognize that you are running a business. You need to understand that a business works on profitability. Spend less money, sell more books.

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