Business name: Smashwords
Website URL: http://www.smashwords.com
Social Media Links:
How did you come to do what you’re doing today?
I met Mark Coker, Smashwords’ founder, 21 years ago at Dovetail Public Relations, a boutique high-tech PR firm he owned and operated in the Silicon Valley. Our mission at Dovetail was to provide strategic communications advice to our clients and to help them gain as much favorable publicity as possible.
I stayed at Dovetail for eight years, but about five years into it Mark launched another company, incubated out of Dovetail, called BestCalls.com. BestCalls was an online directory of earnings conference calls from publicly traded companies that were open to individual investors. The mission of BestCalls was to level the playing field for all investors, which was a radical idea because probably more than 90% of publicly traded companies at that time closed their calls to individual investors. During these earnings conference calls, it was presumed that valuable, market-moving information was being selectively disclosed to large financial investors while individual investors were shut out.
BestCalls and the mission of leveling the investor playing field received so much press coverage that eventually the Securities and Exchange Commission passed a new rule, called Regulation FD (Fair Disclosure), that mandated all publicly traded companies must release material information to all investors simultaneously. After Dovetail and BestCalls, Mark and I remained in contact. I joined Smashwords in August 2011.
Can you describe a typical day in your life?
My day starts at 5:45am with a trip to the gym. It’s a great way to wake up. Well, that and coffee. Before diving in to the day’s activities, I make it a point to scan industry headlines via DBW Daily and PW Daily. Since I work from home, I typically eat at my desk, then try to scoot out for a run, bike ride or dog walk later in the afternoon so I’m not sitting at my desk non-stop for too many hours. I feel like Smashwords is still very much a startup, and as such, a “typical” day for me can involve wearing various hats. I wouldn’t have it any other way!
What do you most enjoy about what you do?
Hands down, my favorite part about what I do is meeting authors. I have the privilege of traveling quite a bit each year to various writers’ conferences and related events. The authors who I meet—and it doesn’t matter if it’s a never-been-published aspiring author or a multi-NYT bestseller—inspire me with their creativity, tenacity, and passion for writing. Many of these authors have such mind-blowing ideas for books that it makes me wish I could read them all.
Are there any people and/or books that have inspired you along your journey?
I’ll go with the first two books that popped into my head when I read this question. The first is The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, and the second is The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau. When I discovered these books I was burned out, stressed out, and convinced that the only way to make a living in my field was to work chained to a desk, in a cubicle, with little time for activities or projects that I truly loved or that had the potential for making a difference in the world. I loved the messages of both books mentioned above, but frankly I was down in the pits and feeling like the ability to work from anywhere while having a flexible schedule was pie-in-the-sky stuff for people who were smarter or more courageous than I was. Then one morning, after a particularly stressful week, I mustered what little courage I had left and told my manager I was resigning. I should note that this was the highest-paying job I ever had, but I knew I had to leave.
A funny thing happened during that resignation meeting. My manager apologized to me! Later, she and the company’s general manager offered me a more lucrative consulting contract with—get this—flexible hours and the ability to work from anywhere. Once I tasted the liberation of consulting, I knew I’d never go back to cubicle land. With my newfound freedom, I reconnected with Mark Coker and asked if he could use any help with Smashwords.
There is a lot of information out there for fiction authors on topics like craft and marketing, but seemingly less for authors of non-fiction. Would you agree with that statement? What’s important for authors to know about the difference between marketing a non-fiction book versus a work of fiction?
I would agree that it seems easier to find information targeted toward fiction authors, sure. I would also suggest that the majority of marketing best practices for fiction authors also apply to authors of nonfiction. As a marketing best practice, we often recommend experimenting with multiple price points—especially if you have a deep backlist or write series—as this is a strategy that has proven very effective for some of our bestselling authors.
Based on our data, however, we’ve found that nonfiction authors may be underpricing their books. Every year, Smashwords releases data from its annual survey to find tidbits of information that could potentially help authors sell more books. In last year’s survey we aggregated sales data of more than 250,000 titles that generated about $25 million in sales across our global retail network. When we looked at the data related to pricing, excluding books priced at free, we found that the most downloaded prices for fiction titles were $.99, $2.99, and $3.99. When we looked at the same data for nonfiction titles, the most downloaded prices were $.99, $2.99, and $9.99. Perhaps even more telling, the sweet spot in terms of author earnings for fiction authors was $3.99. The price point that earned nonfiction authors the greatest amount was $9.99.
Further, based on the data, we found that $2.99 followed by $3.99 are the two most popular price points for fiction authors to price their books. Those same two price points are also the most popular pricing points for nonfiction authors. Based on the data above, there’s strong evidence that nonfiction authors have the opportunity to raise the prices on their books. The data suggests that nonfiction readers are willing to pay for knowledge or a piece of information they need to help them solve a problem.
For more on last year’s survey results, check out the related blog post here: http://blog.smashwords.com/2014/07/2014-smashwords-survey-reveals-new.html. For more on best practices, download a free copy of Mark Coker’s The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success for 30 best practices of indie ebook authors: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/145431
Can you share something that people may be surprised to learn about you?
People who don’t know me very well always seem a little surprised to learn I’m the drummer for a rock band. People usually go from surprised to shocked when they see us play live. I’m a pretty soft-spoken guy, but the band’s a very energetic mix of screamy punk, metal, and classic rock that always takes the stage at full steam. It’s a lot of fun.
What’s next for you?
Personally, I’m finishing my nonfiction book, How to Get Your Band out of The Garage. If my roadmap stays firm, it’ll be released this fall. It’s the book I wish I had 14 years ago when my band first started out. It’s simply a guide to help fledgling bands navigate the ins-and-outs of breaking onto the live music scene while avoiding the pitfalls that tend to trip up so many young artists. As for Smashwords, we feel like we’re still in startup mode. Keep an eye out for expanded distribution reach in the near future, as well as continued improvements to the Smashwords backend that’ll make the service better, stronger, and much faster for our authors.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
It almost goes without saying, but the book publishing industry is changing before our eyes. To achieve success and remain effective, never stop learning. If you rest on your laurels, it’s over. Subscribe to daily industry email newsletters, follow the blogs or social media pages of authors you respect, join a local writers’ club, and try to attend at least one conference a year. Share your experiences, both good and bad, with your fellow nonfiction authors. We’re all in this together. Let’s learn from each other.