16 Secrets of the Bestselling Ebook
Ebook Publishing Best Practices
January 31, 2015
Mark Coker
Founder, Smashwords
Twitter: @markcoker
• What we’ll cover
• 16 best practices of the bestselling indie
• Learn to:
e-publish with greater pride and professionalism
Reach more readers and sell more books
• Who this presentation is for
• Aspiring authors, published authors,
• No technical experience required!
My Backstory
My wife is a former soap opera reporter. Together we wrote a
novel about the soap opera industry.
We were repped by a top NY literacy agency.
We had a great
2004-2005: Publishers Said “No”
• Despite great effort from our
agent, every major NY
publisher said NO (TWICE!)
• Previous soap-opera themed
novels had performed poorly
My Epiphany
• Big publishers unable, unwilling and
disinterested to take a risk on every
• Publishing industry was failing to serve
 Authors
 Readers
 The future of books
Judging books based on perceived
commercial merit
Publishers guess what readers want to buy
Spaghetti against the wall
I evaluated our options
1. The rational option
 Admit we sucked, accept fate as
failed authors
2. The irrational option
 Believe in ourselves
 Try to fix the problem
I Realized Publishers Provided Three
Important and Essential Services
I asked myself: what if I could provide this as a free service, what if I
could give every writer a chance?
-3Expertise - Best
practices knowledge
My solution: Smashwords
• FREE eBook Publishing Platform
 Free ebook printing press
 Opened distribution to major ebook
retailers and libraries
 Free educational resources – best practices
knowledge - to help writers publish like
How Smashwords Works
• Upload an .epub or Microsoft Word file,
formatted to our Smashwords Style Guide
• Ready for immediate sale online
• Earn 85% net (about 80% list)
• Distribution to major retailers
• Earn 60% list
Smashwords Distribution Network
Upload/Update Once, Distribute Globally
Ebooks published at Smashwords
140 6,000
2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Let’s talk best practices
Platforms like Smashwords make
ePublishing and eDistribution Easy…
Reaching Readers is Difficult
most books don’t sell well
The Secret to Reaching Readers:
The Power Curve: Most books
don’t sell well
Goal: Every best practice you implement well causes your book’s
performance to shift to the left (increases sales rank), leading to an
exponential increase in earnings.
Author earnings and/or sales rank
Let’s review the best practices of
the best-selling indie authors
Secret One
#1 Your best marketing is a
great book
• With the power to publish comes the
responsibility to act like a great
• Honor your reader with a great book
Move reader to an emotionally satisfying extreme
Wow them. Turn readers into evangelists
• Be fanatical about quality
Edit, revise, edit, revise, repeat, proof
Leverage beta readers
• Readers prefer
Longer Books Sell Better!
Visualize the power curve overlaid on this chart. Books ranked in the
top 10, 50 or 100 will sell exponentially more units than books ranked
1,000 or worse
Secret Two
#2 Create a Great Cover Image
• Invest in a quality cover image
• Your first impression on path to discovery
• Look professional
• Should arrest reader with thumb nail
• Must resonate with target audience
Know your target with precision
• Makes an honest promise to the target
What’s this book about?
Don’t be sloppy
Don’t do this either
Great covers make a promise
Horror fans want to be scared. This cover promises to scare you, so it’s
a great cover.
Great covers make a promise
This is a scary post-apocalyptic novel. Note the bloody hands as two
friends walk down the road.
Great covers make a promise
Target reader: Teens and new adults looking to experience sweet
Great covers make a promise
Fiction is about fantasy. Target reader: Will appeal to adults looking for a
hot and sexy interracial romance story featuring a powerful billionaire
(and probably an equally powerful woman). Great cover.
Great covers make a promise
Target reader: Hankering for a fantasy involving a hunky shipwrecked
bad boy pirate (comes with a chest full of loot!). Another great cover.
Great covers make a promise
Target reader: One look and you instantly know this is science fiction
with lots of action. Images speak to us faster and easier than words.
Great covers make a promise
Target reader: Will instantly appeal to readers who enjoy Westerns.
Great covers make a promise
Target reader: Fantasy readers with strong female protagonist and
werecreatures. Although fantasy is mostly read by women, this author
enjoys strong female readership because he features strong women.
Know your target audience.
And now a case study…
The evolution of one cover
A great aspect of indie ebook publishing is that your book (and cover)
can evolve over time. This romance author decided this cover wasn’t
making an appropriate promise to her target reader, so she upgraded it
to this cover
This cover is better, but it still did a poor job of making a promise to her
target reader. You wouldn’t know this was a romance. Despite the poor
cover, the author was selling books every day and getting great reader
reviews (because she’s an awesome writer). She decided to upgrade her
cover to the following….
… to this cover…
This cover makes a great promise. Although the cover is unconventional
(when this is thumbnail size, the title and author name are invisible), the
author stumbled upon a brilliant discovery about the importance of the
the cover making an appropriate promise. Look what happened when
Smashwords delivered the new title to Apple iBooks ….
The cover sparked a breakout at
Daily unit sales at Apple. A simple cover change sparked a breakout.
We now know the prior cover was creating unnecessary friction. It was
scaring away readers. And look what happened next (for a book that had
been on the market for five months already!)…
The cover sparked a breakout and two
weeks later the book landed on the NY
Times Bestseller List
She has since continued to evolve her
cover to make it better and better.
Secret Three
#3 Publish Another Great Book
• The best-selling authors on
Smashwords offer deep backlists
• Each new ebook offers
opportunity to
• cross-promote other titles
• build trust with your reader
• build your brand
Bestselling Authors Publish More
Secret Four
#4 Give (some of) Your Books
away for Free
• If you have a deep backlist, offer at
least one full-length book for free
• Makes it easier for readers to take a
chance on an unknown, untrusted author
• ~39X more downloads
• Turbocharges a series
• Free works for standalone promos too
• The highest grossing authors at
Smashwords offer at least one free
FREE Series Starters
Turbocharge a Series
Secret Five
#5 Patience is a Virtue
Ebooks develop differently
Traditional print books – big sell-in, then yanked
from shelves, then sales go to zero
Ebooks – can start small and grow slowly before
Ebooks are immortal
Never unpublish (remove) your book
Never go out of print
When your book lands at retailer, it’s a seedling,
nourish it
Let’s look at some examples…
Slow boil, breakout, slow boil,
bigger breakout
Slow boil, breakout, slow boil,
smaller breakouts
Slow boil to breakout
Ruth Ann Nordin’s An Inconvenient Marriage
Secret Six
Maximize Availability, Avoid
Ebook retailing is not like sports or politics
If your book is not available at every retailer,
it’s not discoverable or purchasable
• Avoid Amazon KDP Select Exclusivity
• angers fans
• limits audience
• limits merchandising opportunities
• increases your dependence upon a single
sales outlet
Smashwords Distribution Network
With exclusivity, you’ll miss out on all these
Secret Seven
#7 Build a Platform You Control
Platform is your ability to reach and cultivate
Platform gives you control, leverage
Let fans decide how to connect
Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn
Blog and/or website
Mailing list subscription
Add “Connect with the author” links to your
backmatter (more on this later!)
Secret Eight
Secret #8 Use Viral Catalysts to
Drive Word of Mouth
• Books have always been a word of
mouth business
• Your readers determine your success
• “Wow” books convert readers into
superfans, spark word of mouth evangelism
• Viral catalysts are the triggers that
drive word of mouth
What’s a Viral Catalyst?
A viral catalyst is anything that makes your
book more available, accessible, desirable
and enjoyable to readers
Read the Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success (it’s
FREE!) to learn how viral catalysts spur word-of-mouth
Viral Catalysts Connect
a Book to Readers
• Every thing you do right increases
Great cover
Great title
Great book
Broad distribution
Fair price
Good categorization
Great book description
Great formatting
Professionally edited
Great marketing
Sampling enabled
Multiple formats
• Fall short anywhere, and you undermine
your true potential
Secret Nine
Secret #9 Pricing Strategy is
Lever for Success
• Pricing strategy impacts unit sales and
• Each sale or download generates a
reader and a $ royalty
• Readers more important in the long run
than short term royalty
• Unit sales X royalty per unit = profit
• Pricing strategy essential to maximize
both readership and earnings
Most Common Fiction Price
Which Price Points for Fiction Get
the Most Downloads (%
over/under average)
Which Price Points Yield Highest
Most Common Non-Fiction Price
Non-Fiction Only: Which Price
Points Yield Highest Earnings
Highest Earning Smashwords
Authors Utilize Low Price Points
Secret Ten
Secret 10: Don’t Let Fear of
Piracy Paralyze Your
Everything you need to know
about piracy
• Obscurity is bigger risk
• Black hat pirates who steal your book
wouldn’t have purchased it anyway
• Most piracy is accidental – it’s an
enthusiastic fan evangelizing your book
to a friend
• Combat piracy by making your book
easier to purchase than steal
• Broad availability at all stores
• Low, fair price
Secret Eleven
Secret #11
Leverage Preorders!
• What’s a preorder?
 Advance book listing at major retailers
 Allows readers to reserve a copy in
advance of release date
Customer credit card not charged until release date
 Fast track to bestseller lists - all
accumulated preorders credit all at once
toward your first day’s sales rank, causing
your book to rise in bestseller lists
 Learn about preorders at
Secret Twelve
Secret #12 Practice Partnership
and Positivity
Your fellow authors and service providers are
your partners
Develop relationships
Their success is your success
Share your secrets
Positivity trumps negativity
Relationships give you upper hand
Avoid all negativity in social media - Internet rants
are permanent, divisive and turn off readers and
potential partners
Google alerts keep no secrets
Secret Thirteen
Secret #13 Collaborate with
Fellow Authors
Identify authors you love and your fans will
Publish collaborations
Box sets of full-length
Short story collections
Joint promos
They have fans you don’t reach, you have fans they
don’t reach
Everyone wins
Learn how to do box sets:
Secret Fourteen
Secret #14 Add three sections to
About Yourname Lastname
Short bio
Other books by Yourname Lastname
Title 1
Title 2
Connect with Yourname Lastname
Web site:
Smashwords author page:
Learn how at http://blog.smashwords.com/2013/11/how-to-add-navigationto-smashwords.html
Secret Fifteen
Secret #15 Think Globally
Apple, B&N, Kobo, Amazon and
others are going global
You Have the Tools to Reach a
Worldwide Market Today
The tools are FREE
The market for your English-language books
outside the US will soon exceed the US
Apple operates iBooks in 51 countries. We
distribute to Apple. In 2014, 45% of
Smashwords Apple iBooks sales were outside
the US
Secret Sixteen
Secret #16 Pinch Your Pennies
• You’re running a business
• Profit = Sales minus Expenses
• Most books don’t sell well (!!!!)
• NEVER borrow money to publish a book
• NEVER spend or invest money you
need for food and shelter
• DIY then reinvest
• I want you to succeed. Approach this
like a long term business
That’s it!
Learn Best Practices
Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success (best practices of
successful authors)
Smashwords Book Marketing Guide (how to market any
Smashwords Style Guide (how to format an ebook)
Learn how to e-publish like a pro with
Smashwords Tutorials at Youtube at
Connect with Mark Coker and Smashwords:
Email: [email protected]
Web: www.smashwords.com
LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/markcoker
Facebook: facebook.com/markcoker
HuffPo: huffingtonpost.com/mark-coker
Twitter: @markcoker

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