By December 2011 in the United States, ebooks will account for 20% or more of overall book sales, up from approximately 10% in 2010, 3% in 2009, 1% in 2008 and only ½ of 1% in 2007. Since ebooks are priced less than their print counterparts, the actual unit consumption of ebooks will reach approximately 1/3 of all book consumption by the end of this year. The revolution is upon us. Within two or three years, more books will be read on screens than on paper.
For authors, the age of ebooks ushers in a true renaissance in publishing. In the old world, big New York publishers controlled the printing presses and access to book store distribution. If you wanted to reach readers with your books, you had no choice but to work with a big publisher.
Today, the printing press has gone virtual and the distribution is democratized. Self-published ebook authors are bypassing the slush pile to publish directly to their readers. At Smashwords (we’re an ebook distributor serving over 14,000 authors), we distribute many of the best-selling indie (self-published) authors to ebook stores such as Sony, the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Diesel eBook Store. These authors are climbing the best-seller lists at major retailers and out-selling traditionally published authors.
Below, I’ll draw upon the collective wisdom and experience of the best-selling indie authors at Smashwords to share five proven secrets to ebook publishing success.
1. Honor your reader with a great book. This may seem trite and obvious, but it’s the single most important thing you, the author, must do. Honor your reader with a great read. When readers love your book, they will encourage their friends and family to read it as well. A great book transforms an ordinary reader into your most passionate sales person.
2. Release another great book. The highest-earning authors at Smashwords, such as Amanda Hocking, Brian S. Pratt, Randolph Lalonde, Rebecca Forster, JA Konrath and Ruth Ann Nordin, write multiple full-length books, and series. Each published ebook offers an opportunity to reach new readers and earn their trust.
3. Maximize your distribution. If your book isn’t available in every major ebook store, then it’s not discoverable or purchasable. Many authors make the mistake of distributing to only one or two retailers. The best-selling indie authors above don’t make that mistake. Most of the major ebook stores are tethered to their own ebook reading devices (Sony Reader, Apple iPad, Kobo Reader, Barnes & Noble nook, Amazon Kindle). For the users of these devices, the shortest, most convenience path to book discovery and purchase is to buy books at the store operated by the device maker.
4. Leverage free and low-cost books. Several of the best-selling authors at Smashwords price at least one full-length book, often a series starter, at free. Fantasy authors Brian S. Pratt and Randolph LaLonde do this with great success. Paranormal romance author Amanda Hocking, arguably the best-selling indie author today, prices her series-starters at $.99. When you price at free or $.99, you make it easier for readers to take a chance on you. Once you earn their trust by honoring them with a great read (see tip #1), they’ll purchase your other books.
5. Have patience. In the old print world, if your book didn’t sell well within the first few weeks of release, it was forced prematurely out of print. That’s sad, because sometimes it can take months or years before a book connects with its audience and goes viral. With ebooks, your book is immortal, virtual shelf space is unlimited and you have more time to find your audience. Many of the best-selling books at Smashwords today took six months or longer to find an audience before they broke out. Brian S. Pratt, for example, earned $7.82 in his first three months at Smashwords in early 2009. While many authors would have given up after such meager results, Brian was undeterred. More than a year later, he earned over $20,000 at Smashwords in the last three months of 2010. You may break out at a single retailer first, and sometimes even at a smaller retailer. Romance author Ruth Ann Nordin was an early breakout success at Kobo 12 months ago with her title, An Inconvenient Marriage, back when few had even heard of the upstart indie retailer. This week, An Inconvenient Marriage suddenly broke out at Apple to become the #1 best-selling romance title, even though the same book has been at Apple for almost a year. It can take months or years before you achieve overnight success. Never give up. While only a small minority of authors will enjoy the success of the authors above, such success is only possible if you work hard and persevere.
Mark Coker is the founder of Smashwords, a leading ebook publishing and distribution platform. The free service helps over 14,000 authors around the world publish and distribute over 35,000 original ebooks. Coker is the author of the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide (how to market any book), the Smashwords Style Guide (how to create an ebook), and Boob Tube, a novel that explores the wild and wacky world of daytime television soap operas.