What’s an Indie-Author to do? (with update)

One of the biggest questions that plague an indie-author’s mind is “Where is the best place to publish?” There are so many options, each with their pros and cons, and when you are just starting out everything can sort of swirl together. It’s hard to understand everything from every site. Unless, of course, you already have a business degree. Then you are two steps ahead of the pack. Unfortunately, for me, I got a D in Business class in high school so all the fine print basically just gives me a headache rather than an understanding. Which brings us back to the topic at hand:

How do you know what move is best when it comes to trusting a site to help distribute your work?

If you are like me and starting out on your own, without any background education or experience, and nothing more than Google at your disposal the answer is painfully clear. You don’t. From this point on, you are wading through the sea of unsubstantiated promises, too-good-to-be-true, conflicting reviews, and scary legalese. You have to sort through all options and figure out which low-points you can live with and which are deal-breakers. Are you against exclusivity? Does this distributor honor your copyright? What are the royalties? Are you in control of where your work is placed or how much you charge? What if you want to make a giveaway? Are you allowed to make a copy free for reviewers or editorial services?

When I started out, I did the basic research. I found a, rather helpful, list of self-publishing websites, compared their services, their requirements, their fees/royalty rates (you can find it here but be aware that I used this chart a long time ago and it may or may NOT be up-to-date. Do your homework), and so on. Feeling I was not, quite, ready to do Print On Demand I skipped over that and went to the ePublishing list lower on the page. After reading through the options and checking out the sites that piqued my interest most, I settled with Smashwords.com. With a 4-star breakdown like that how could I pass it up? I published with them and found the actual process of uploading my book and creating my book’s page rather easy and refreshing.

Since its start, I have had 15 sales. For a first-time author this is great. I mean, that’s 15 more people reading my stuff than I had, right? The freedom that Smashwords appears to give the author is unrivaled and the fact that they are non-exclusive is amazing. I mean, who wouldn’t want to allow their work to have as far of a reach as possible?

Of course, there were some small drawbacks. For one, many READERS don’t know anything about Smashwords. Heck, I never heard of them until I was ready to publish. It’s not exactly the best site for someone to randomly come across your book. Also, some of their biggest distributors, that lured me into using their Premium Catalog, turned out to either be more difficult to get into (for Smashwords to send your work to Kindle, for instance, you had to accrue $1000 worth of sales) or disappear completely (Sony, Deisel, ect.). Even opting in to distribute to the Library Direct services didn’t mean they were ACTUALLY sending your book to libraries. Libraries actually had to request your title. Not a big deal if you are outgoing and aggressive with your marketing. Not all of us are.

Still, these could be overlooked in exchange for the freedom Smashwords gives you.

Recently, though, I independently published it on Amazon’s Kindle site. As if waiting to reach the $1000 cap wasn’t enough, apparently some bad blood has happened between Amazon and SW and now it is not even an option to distribute to. In fact, another low point of using Smashwords (just my personal opinion) is how openly Smashwords  seems to harp against Amazon. As a writer, I completely get the David vs Goliath thing but when half of the blogs emailed to me are simply trying to convince authors why Amazon is bad it just seems like poor sportsmanship to me. Sure, Amazon is trying to create a monopoly of the Indie market…. they are a business. It’s what businesses do. It’s unrealistic to expect hundreds or thousands of strangers (authors) to be their top priority. In order to survive as a business, the bottom line will ALWAYS be priority one and I cannot begrudge them that.

Anywho, back to what I was saying.

I debated, momentarily, about whether to go for the full Kindle Select program, which would mean I had to give them exclusive rights to sell my digital format for three months, or to just upload under regular ol’ KDP. Seemingly a no-brainer, I went with the non-exclusive option. The last thing I wanted to do was prevent non-Kindle readers the ability to read my book. Since doing so, I have received more sales on Amazon than twice the time-period on Smashwords. That is to be expected. Amazon is a well-known website and my book has greater chance of simply being stumbled upon by random shoppers.

The longer I thought about it, the more I realized how helpful Select could be. I mean, no one wants to put all their eggs in one basket… but it is only for three months. If I do not want to renew, I don’t have to. I can simply opt out then re-publish on Smashwords once I get a little headway from using the marketing strategies offered for KDP Select users. After all, I haven’t had a sale on SW for over a month… at least. It wouldn’t hurt.

So, as I am still learning how to wade through this rocky river, I made a choice to try something new. If it didn’t help, no harm no foul. If it did then my strategy will have worked. Today, I have pulled my book from Smashwords’ shelves, which means that all of the companies to which they distribute will no longer be selling it. In theory.

Knowing I could not enroll in KDP Select until I was sure my work was not for sale anywhere else, I surfed around looking for blogs and reviews of people who have made similar attempts. I wanted to know how long I would have to wait to enroll in this program. Smashwords’ FAQ says it can take up to 3 weeks to pull from all of their distributors. Yuck. Oh well, at least they are up front about it. Or so I thought.

What I found in the ocean of blogs was a little worrisome. Many people reported months, even YEARS, before their work was pulled from the other shelves. YEARS! If I revoke your right to distribute and sell MY copyrighted work there is no way in Hell you are allowed to continue to make money off of it for so long! I will give you the three weeks because that is what you quote in your own words on the subject… anything beyond that, in my opinion, is theft. Not to mention, I would be unable to place my book in the Select program until the issue is resolved. Not. Fair. You can make money off my book but I can’t? No way, Jose.

If this was only one review of this occurring it would not worry me so. Not everyone can be satisfied. Sometimes people are simply being vindictive. However, the amount of people dealing with this same issue makes me more inclined to believe it.

Not my Smashwords! I’ve been so loyal to you!

At the moment, I am day 1 into unpublishing from their shelves. I have, at least, three weeks until I see where this goes. Hopefully, Smashwords will continue to be as pleasant as they always have been for me because I would love to return to them once my 3-month contract is up. I guess only time can tell.

Update-1/5/15: So, I figured it was only fair to update this blog post when any changes took affect. I must admit, when I poured over dozens of websites where people have posted about their god-awful experiences trying to pull their books from Smashwords and/or their distributors I was terrified that it would be months before I was ever able to try my hand at Kindle Select (one person had been waiting over a year!). Always waiting for the worst to happen, I was pleasantly surprised by my particular outcome.

I decided to take a more pro-active approach after unpublishing with Smashwords. I immediately contacted the biggest offender of everyone else’s experiences, Kobo, and informed them that I was the legal rights holder to the title and had unpublished my title from Smashwords, therefore revoking their permission to sell and distribute it. The very next day, it was off of Kobo. After a couple of days, I noticed that I could still buy my book on Smashwords and emailed them immediately as they had acknowledged its unpublishing by stating (on the book page) that it was unpublished and could no longer receive reviews. I received an email the next day telling me it was, in fact, unpublished and that I needed to log out of my Smashwords account to see how other users would see it. I did and found my title had, in fact, been pulled. Yay! I went ahead and emailed iTunes and Flipkart as well and received rather quick responses from them as well.

So, either because of my pro-active emails (impatience is sometimes valuable) or because they have gotten their stuff together since those other bad experiences, everything came down smoothly, within a week, and I was able to enroll in KDP Select. I think, once my three months is over, I will be returning to Smashwords as they have been very helpful and professional with me.

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