“Why E-books are Hot” — Mark Coker Speaks on the Success of Smashwords

Mark Coker, Founder of Smashwords, Speaking About E-Books at the Writers Guild in Los Angeles

E-book publishing is an exciting new opportunity for writers, including therapist writers. According to Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords (an e-book publisher and distributor), e-books are hot. E-books are profitable, portable, affordable, compact, easy to purchase, and available by the thousands. Sure,  some authors are only making enough for a dinner a month, others are making enough for a car payment, a house payment or their kid’s college tuition. For still others, just getting published for the first time works. It depends on your goal.

Last week Mark Coker spoke two nights in a row to enthusiastic audiences of writers at the Writers Guild (WGA) West in Los Angeles. On the first night he was on a panel, E-Publishing: Self-Help for WGA Members. On the second night he did a solo presentation, How to Produce, Publish and Distribute an E-book, sponsored by Northwestern University Entertainment Alliance (NUEA). “Self-publishing has been a dirty word until five or six years ago,” Coker said. “Now it’s got respect.”

Coker’s Backstory

Coker began his solo presentation with the story of how he got into the e-book publishing business.  Some years ago he and his wife, Lesleyann Coker, a former reporter for Soap Opera Weekly Magazine, wrote a novel called Boob Tube, a behind-the-scenes look at the world of TV soap operas. They had a top literary agent who submitted the book to publishers, “and we got rejected by every publisher twice. I was disappointed that a publisher had that power to slam the door in my face.” He made a study of what’s been going on in the publishing field and concluded that traditional publishing is broken–losing money, still doing business the way they’ve been doing it for 150 years, ignoring the digital revolution (including e-books), publishing only the familiar, and financially unable to take chances on new writers. As a result, “millions of writers are going to their graves unpublished”

Coker’s solution was to start Smashwords. In 2008, their first year, the company published 140 e-books. As of September 2011, they’ve published 73,500 e-books.    “Today, anyone can be published in minutes and start selling world-wide,” he said, “and you need never have someone tell you no again.”  Smashwords charges nothing, but takes a 15% commission on sales.  That doesn’t mean every book is a good book. “We get too many books that aren’t ready for prime time. But now it’s the readers, not the gatekeepers (such as agents) who decide what’s worth buying. Bad books will sink.”

How Smashworks Works

It’s quite simple, Mark Coker said, “You upload, distribute and get paid.” A Word file is uploaded into what Smashwords calls the “meat grinder.” Coker warns, “It’s very important to follow instructions or you get hamburger.”  (He stressed the importance of a professional-looking cover, whether you DIY or hire an artist). Smashwords automatically turns a file  into nine different e-book formats and distributes it to such retailers as Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Sony and Kobo. “We work with everyone except Amazon, but are hoping to do so in the future.” The author keeps all rights and sets the price of the book. Authors are finding they can make more money selling e-books for 99-cents or $1.99 than many traditionally published authors are making on their print books. And because e-book distribution is global, authors are reaching millions of English speaking readers in countries like India, Australia and the UK. “So if you have stuff (you’ve written) gathering mold, you can bring it to life. Screenwriters are taking scripts out of drawers, turning them into novels and putting them online.”

“Obscurity is a bigger risk than piracy”

Coker concluded with tips for authors on how to facilitate e-book success: “Don’t practice paranoia,” he said, especially about piracy. Low prices can discourage piracy, while codes to prevent piracy can be easily cracked. Some authors, he said, are even uploading their books to pirate sites as a marketing tool to broaden distribution! Coker’s other advice includes tips such as: write a good (typo-free) book; write another good book (multiple books sell); set your expectations low (most authors don’t make much money); “pinch your pennies” (don’t spend a lot to get published); “know your self-publishing objective” (platform building, revenue stream, or both?); distribute your book widely; give some books away; earn your readers’ trust (“trust is everything”); “be patient” (let your e-book find its audience); “start your marketing yesterday” (the moment you decide to write a book); join social media “as a participant”; and join writers groups online.

Coker predicts that within two years, the number of e-books sold will exceed the number of print books published, and within four years, e-books will earn more money than print  books.  To contact Smashwords and download two free How-To e-books, http://www.smashwords.com.


4 responses to ““Why E-books are Hot” — Mark Coker Speaks on the Success of Smashwords

  1. oh, many, MANY thanks for this. we are definitely going to explore this option for our book:


    • Hi Liz, Yes, sounds pretty exciting. Coker sure made a good case for Smashwords. Kindle will have to be done separately until Coker is able to partner with them. I’m going to do that myself with my book — Smashwords plus Kindle. Best, Sylvia

  2. so glad you posted this. thank you again.

    btw, i am posting your blog on mine—maybe some of my readers will come your way.


  3. Thanks, again, Liz! I’m enjoying the blogs I’ve checked out so far.

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