Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Pros and Cons of Smashwords

Although Amazon is still on top, Smashwords has broken out in the last few years as a highly popular platform for ebook publication and distribution. Despite this, many indie authors continue to be a part of KDP Select and remain strictly on Amazon. But how much good does that do? Is it more worth it to go on to Smashwords too or remain only on Amazon? In my experience, the former is best, although there are pros and cons involved. Smashwords is a great distribution and publication tool, but it does come with its own problems. Below I've organized a list of my Smashwords pros and cons. If you're on the fence about going to Smashwords, maybe this will help your decision, and if you're already on it maybe you can discover some new things.


  • Publishing Speed: Even though expanding to their full distribution takes a lot longer, publishing right to Smashwords can be done much faster than with Amazon or KDP. An ebook uploaded to Smashwords will go live on the website after just a matter of minutes. The difference in publishing terms of waiting a few minutes or a few hours like with Amazon might not sound like that big of a deal after spending weeks/months writing and editing a book for publication, but when you come down to a deadline it can mean a lot. With one of my books, I was coming close on a deadline for a marketing promotion on it, but it had to be on more than just Amazon. Smashwords' quick publication speed saved me time and stress, and made it possible for me to get that promotion running fast.

  • Ease of Use: I don't know about you guys, but I like to think I'm pretty technologically savvy. I've been around computers my whole life, as well as the Internet, I'm well versed in all the nonsense. That being said, I still appreciate some easy to follow websites and publication/production steps. Even though KDP is fairly easy to use throughout, I have to say that Smashwords steals the ease of use crown. They lay out guidelines right at the top of their publication page and give you a handy free ebook to help you along with their guidelines of publication. More often than not, KDP leaves you guessing or leaves stricter guidelines in the fine print.

  • Perma-free: Perma-free, the aspect of indie publishing Amazon has been grappling against for years. Their Select free days are great, but trust me, perma-free is better. For someone like me, an indie author without much of a promo budget to work with, perma-free does wonders. You won't push units like you would with a well paid for KDP Select free period, but over time units continue to be downloaded across all channels. Some of my books are perma-free on Amazon thanks to Smashwords distribution, but in terms of downloads Amazon takes a backseat to Smashwords. Perma-free is also very simple on Smashwords. If you want perma-free on Amazon you need to put it on a website they see as valid then email them and email them and email them until it happens. It's unpredictable and overly convoluted. With Smashwords, it's as easy as a click. Then bam, you've got yourself a perma-free book.

  • Wide Distribution: Smashwords sends your ebook out to so many different providers it would be a massive space waste to list them all, but here are a few: Barnes & Noble, Kobo, PDF readers, iBooks, Overdrive. But what do all these extra platforms mean? Well, extra sales of course. Currently, Barnes & Noble is my best distributor in terms of downloads and sales. They blow Amazon and everyone else away, doing nearly more than every other distribution channel combined. I wouldn't be a part of Barnes & Noble's distribution if not for Smashwords. Along with that, I'm no longer getting fan emails asking when my books will be available for them. With KDP Select, you're cutting out a whole market share of readers. People with Nooks were always asking me when they could get my books for their devices. Now I'm reaching them with my work, along with Apple readers, Kobo readers, and everyone who doesn't have any ereader device with Smashwords' PDF ability. Anyone who has a computer who wants to read my books can do it without having the pay extra for a paperback.

  • Waiting for Full Distribution: Not a big problem by any means, but Smashwords' waiting period for full distribution can be unfortunate sometimes. Although they publish to their site quickly, it can take several days or longer in some cases for review of a book to be complete for their full distribution. It's understandable, they have guidelines people don't like to follow and the reach a lot of distributors who have their own guidelines and requirements. Still, the excitement of publishing a book can turn to annoyance when all you see is "Under Review" for nearly a week. And don't get me started on restarting the process over again if you accidentally forgot to do something up to requirement. That's an extra two days of review at least.

  • Odd Payment Schedule: I'm sure there's a written rule about this on Smashwords somewhere, but I can't seem to find it nor am I able to decipher what exactly it is based on the payments I have received from them. I do know that they still go on the outdated Amazon-like system of meeting a certain point before payment. You have to have at least $10 USD in your Smashwords account before any payments get sent to you. That's not a problem for me, but for many new or low-list authors, it could mean extra weeks or months before they see their royalties. Even when your balance is over $10, Smashwords seems to want to pay you when it's ready to. I've looked at some balances for over 2 months before they were finally sent out of the Smashwords balance to me, while others got to me in only a few weeks. Like I said, I'm sure Smashwords has a rule about this somewhere, but it's hard to find and not very apparent from sent payments alone.

  •  Available Promotions: Unlike KDP Select authors, Smashwords publishers aren't able to access promotions like countdown deals, free book days (although see Perma-free above), or paid website promotion. The main things that Smashwords has for sales/promotion on the author's end is a coupon producer. This produces a code you can send via Facebook feeds or a mailing list to give your readers a discounted price on your books. Of course, that means if you want success with it you need a wide Facebook or social media reach or a big mailing list to send out to (and many on your mailing list might have already bought the book in question). In terms of on-site promotional opportunities, Smashwords is unfortunately lacking.

There you have it! My pros and cons of using Smashwords. Some of you may be on it already and love it, or hate it. To those who haven't used it yet, hopefully this list can give you some guidance in the right direction of publication for you.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Consequences of the 'Write Everyday!' Mentality

We've all heard the advice: write everyday. It's a basic pointer even new writers have heard multiple times. For many people, it's an achievable goal. It doesn't tell you to write 1,000 words or 2,000 words, it just tells you to write something everyday. By itself, the advice of writing everyday isn't all that problematic, but overtime a certain mentality blooms, one seen in a majority of writers today: the mentality of self-failure.

A sense of failure is something that writers deal with constantly, some deal with fighting off that feeling daily. We have ways of getting through it (motivational posters, "YOU ONLY FAIL IF YOU QUIT!" kinda things) but no one really takes a look at the possible reasons that this mentality exists and why it's so widespread in modern writers. Maybe the fault lies in the social media-based society, where you can hop on the internet and see how successful all your other writer friends are as they post about their new USA Today bestseller, signing some cool contract, or writing x words day after day. Or maybe it can bud from a constant stream of rejection letters one might get in the pursuit of a traditional publishing contract. In truth, both of these seem like probable causes for this failure and shame-filled mentality (and I may blog about them later) but right now I'm focusing on something off from the usual suspects: the advice of writing everyday.

As of right now, I don't write everyday. I'm in college and I work, it just can't be done. Would I like to be able to do it? Of course! But, what happens when I go two or three days without writing anything? That's when the shame and failure mentality sets in, and this isn't something relegated to my mind. Every writer I've spoken to has these issues. Sometimes, they feel bad for not writing in a week, other people feel bad after a single day of not writing. And this isn't just feeling generally down for not achieving your daily goals, for many it is a sense of losing sight of writing and a greater life goal. How many other life goals require daily work and input rather than say, input monthly, weekly, or bi-weekly? Not many.

Even if a writer manages only a few hundred words a day, if they write everyday and miss a day for any reason, they'll feel bad about it. What does this mean for the creative process though? Working on something everyday is fine, but once you begin to write everyday simply because you know that you NEED to write otherwise you'll feel bad, then you're forcing out something that require finesse. In the end, that'll produce sub-par work that the writer knows is sub-par, which will lead right back to the failure and shame mentality.

Although the above scenario seems like some kind of worst case, I've heard writers talk about it before quite often. We live in a vicious cycle leading to the outcome of feeling bad about our writing and our work ethic for not following the write everyday advice perfectly. Writers are perfectionists, it's in our nature, it's why we can look at our 19th draft and still see a million things wrong with it. Why should we add yet another aspect of writing to do perfectly?

If you want to write everyday, that's awesome, do it. But, if you miss a day, should you feel bad or ashamed for it? No, this is a creative process, and you can't force yourself to do it. If you don't have time or the right mentality to do it one day, don't beat yourself down for that. That'll only lead to a worse, less motivated mentality in the end. If you want to write a few times a week (like me), do it, but don't beat yourself up because you haven't written in two days, find more constructive ways of dealing with it. 

The advice of writing everyday didn't create the writer's self-loathing mentality, but it certainly adds a lot to it. In the end, it should be about writing when it comes naturally to you or at least not feeling bad when motivation doesn't hit you one day or a few days in a row. Find a way to make yourself happy than focus on the missed writing time. Didn't write yesterday? Don't focus on that damn "Write Everyday!" idea, go fly a kite or drink tea or something. Writers are bombarded with self-doubt everyday, why contribute to that problem with all these rules about when we should write. Write when you're motivated, and if you're not motivated, find things that motivate you and make you happy. In the end, it's just that simple.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

"I've got a book idea to run by you!"

A sentence many writers have heard, and many look at with contempt. That's where the majority of writers and I differ. While most scribes loathe having people tell them what to write or let them know their great idea, I choose a different route. I embrace the suggestions, no matter how absurd or out of my wheelhouse they are. Will I write them? Probably not. Will all these ideas conglomerate in my mind to produce a story I actually consider writing? Perhaps.

The sentence alone is enough to set a writer off or send chills of disgust up their spines. For those unaware, it goes a little something like this:

"I've got an idea for the next bestseller!" 

"You should really write this/that/the other thing!"

"Do you wanna write a book for me??!!??!"

Some people are capable of writing pretty much anything people tell them. Those people sometimes have very nice careers as ghostwriters. Although I don't think I could manage ghostwriting, I do consider myself to be a part of the group that can put almost any idea into book form. Will it be the best thing I've ever written? Hell no. Will it even be good at all? I don't know...maybe...? The point is, I consider myself part of a group many writers aren't a part of. Many authors out there struggle to get a great idea in their head, and struggle even harder to turn that idea into words on a page. Thus brings up the conflict with telling writers what they should write.

I do not by any means speak for all authors or even the majority when I say I welcome people's book suggestions. Please, if you're thinking of telling your writer friend what they should be writing, either smack yourself in the face or send that idea my way, whichever is preferable to you (please, don't everyone smack themselves at once). A lot of people struggle for a long time to be able to write their story, much less put it out there to either agents/publishers or to the reading public. To many, it's akin to telling an accountant what numbers they should punch into their calculator or telling a banker you've got a million dollars in the bank when you've really got closer to $12. In short, IT'S ANNOYING.

Despite everything I've just said, if you've got that idea in you that you're so sure is going to be the next Hunger Games, Harry Potter, etc. then by all means give me an ear full about it. I've gotten ideas from people, be them friends or strangers, so often that my responses have come down to a science. The most likely outcome is that i'll either say "interesting" and log the idea away in the far reaches of my brain, or i'll poke so many holes in the plot that the whole thing falls apart. That being said, every once and a while I come across someone who gives me an idea that lights up my imaginary brain bulb.

What do I do with the stories that actually manage to click something on in my mind? Thus far, I have published exactly zero of them, and only ever written one. But Mitch, why let an idea you like brew in your mind? Why not let it out??? Well, several reasons. For one, I don't feel all that comfortable taking someone else's idea, writing it, and selling it. In most worlds, that's called plagiarism. Secondly, if I publish that book and it becomes a bestseller, guess who's probably gonna come a'knockin with empty pockets and a sad, puppy-dog face. Exactly. Writing someone else's idea for them, then selling it as yours is quite an issue. That's not to say those good ideas will go to waste.

Over time, the good ideas people have fed me have come together in my mind and melded into one big, confused blob labeled "OMG, YOU SHOULD WRITE THIS BOOK!" As time goes on, the ideas blend further together and eventually an plot comes out so widely different than when it went in. Romance stories become paranormal thrillers, crime novels become YA fantasy, self-help books become bloody historical war fiction (don't ask). The idea blob is the whole reason I'm able to write pretty much anything, because I can meld it with past ideas (of which I've had thousands) I've had and turn a so-so idea I got at 3 AM into my next passion project. 

So far, only one manuscript based on a good suggestion has ever come out of the idea blob. It went in as a romance about two gray aliens and came out as an LGBT new adult novel based in a world where nobody sees color. It may end up seeing the world someday. After all, a close friend was the one who made the suggestion, and I'm far more willing to write ideas given to me by friends/family than by strangers, and my cover designer made me an awesome ebook cover for it already.

In short, many writers will cringe and hiss at you like a cornered cat if you tell them what they should write or that million-dollar idea you've got. You can vent those ideas to me and i'll take them in with open ears. There's about a 99.99% chance it won't ever even get written by me, but I'll hear it out. Whether the plot falls apart, it sparks inspiration for a totally different project, or lands in the idea blob, i'll at least listen. Although, your great idea for the next famous spy series will most likely end up as a heartfelt story about a boy and his dog if it falls under my pen. 

If you've got that idea brewing inside you, dying to get out, it'd just be easier to write it yourself. It may come out like complete crap, but at least it's out. From there, rewrite if you don't like it, put it in your own idea blob and let it come out as something new, rewrite again. That's what happened when I let my first novel out in my freshman year of high school. Now I've got 17 published novels and more on the way, with the quality going up with every word I put down.

To the writers out there, my suggestion would be to listen to the people like I do. Feel free to disregard all the ideas afterwards, but you never know what could happen. Don't go out plagiarizing, even if the person claims they want to give the idea to you, but at the same time don't blow them off either. You never know what could happen when you open your ears to the people and let things into your (hopefully existent) idea blob. Will the super spy become the boy and his dog? Will the love-hungry heiress become London's best assassin? If you don't listen, you'll never find out what your mind can do.