Tag Archives: Smashwords

On Prodigal Bridge Trolls & Homecoming Dances

When I first published Equivocal Destines, I enrolled it in Amazon’s Kindle Select program. They “recommended” it and after some quick research, it seemed like a good idea. I wasn’t happy about it’s conditions, but it worked out OK. In brief:

You enroll your book(s) in KDP-S and you get fancy benefits:
  • You can set the price of your book to free for 5 days out of every 90 day enrollment – which is actually highly restrictive as most other sales channels will let you set your book to any price you want, including free, for as long as you want. It’s the only “free” option on Amazon though, so – in theory – good for marketing. I used this enrollment period to do a bit of free advertising (free book, not free service) and it all came to naught, so this isn’t worth squat in reality.
  • You can lend your book to Amazon Prime and Amazon Unlimited customers. You still get about $2 for each copy lent. Now this was something I could really get behind. It was another way to make my book available to lots of people, for a better price, and I still get my $2. Awesome! In reality, I lent a whole bunch of copies and haven’t seen a cent from Amazon for all of it, but it’s a good, ethical theory. Amazon’s now changed the pricing policy, but that’s a topic for another time.
  • You get prioritised advertising space – for whatever that’s worth for my completely unknown book. Not incidentally, that’ll probably be the topic of my next blog spew, so stay tuned.
There was also a single, massive downside. You have to make the book exclusive to Amazon for the 90-day enrollment. Now this is something that I find highly unethical and abusive. It was because of this rule that I removed my book from KDP-S and published it elsewhere.
Now, it feels good to have your book available in all of the stores, and it’s also a lot nicer and more ethical to have full rights to your work, instead of ceding some of those rights to Amazon or anyone else. The problem is, all of the other stores are completely ineffective. I’m going back to Kindle Select now.

Back into the fold

I was with KDP-S for 1 iteration of the standard 90-day enrollment period, then I didn’t renew it and published at Kobo and Smashwords, which in turn published my book pretty much everywhere else. In that 5.5 months, I’ve sold a measly 5 copies in stores that aren’t Amazon. I used to rent a lot more copies than that each month on Amazon, and that was only days after releasing my book and having done absolutely no advertising.
I recently read Mark Coker’s recent diatribe (from Smashwords) about KDP-S, and I agree with pretty much everything he says, from a ethical perspective, an industry perspective and a financial perspective. He’s absolutely right that KDP’s exclusivity clause is unethical (my words, not his) and needs to go. Like he admits though, I have prioritise the rent that I have to pay. More than that though, I have some serious misgivings about all of the other storefronts/sales channels.
  1. Only Amazon actually makes a serious attempt to put unknown books in front of potential buyers. I’ve looked into the advertising options at Apple, Kobo, etc and found Amazon to be far superior, even in their evilness. Basically, Amazon’s better at making money for themselves, by (accidentally) making money for me.
  2. It’s not even possible/easy to advertise outside of Amazon myself. I’ve used KBoards, ENT, BookBlow and BookGorilla and they all just want a direct link to your book on Amazon US. I don’t know how to advertise my book outside of Amazon, or outside of the USA. I have a proportionally much higher number of fans in the UK but I can’t even find an advertising service to reach more of them. All of the big services are USA-centric and Amazon-centric, so why should I care if my book’s on other sales sites if the advertisers don’t?
  3. No matter what you may like or dislike about Amazon, they’re still the place to be. Sorry, but it’s true. I wish the other sites would put as much effort into the whole process as Amazon does, but they don’t, so Amazon it is for me, and if it’s going to be Amazon, and Amazon is willing to give me more for free by rejoining KDP-S, then so be it.

I’ve done a bunch of rounds of advertising but my book’s still languishing in obscurity. This isn’t the place to speculate at length about why (dark cover art, unadvertisable genre…), but it does provide an opportunity to really test the pre-KDP-S vs. post-KDP-S landscape. I’m going to re-enroll and just leave it for a few weeks to see if my sales (and rentals) magically increase. If they do, with no further input from me, then we’ll all know that Amazon’s background magic actually does alter your book’s placement by being in KDP-S. A lack of movement might just mean my book’s not appealing, but time will tell.

Catapulting Bridge Trolls onto Foreign Soils: Destination Kobo

My first novel, Equivocal Destines, has been available on Amazon for 4 months. I originally signed up to the Kindle Select program which gave Amazon exclusivity for 90 days. As this exclusive period has now ended, I’m belatedly adding my book to the other main sales channels. The first one of these, Kobo, has turned out to be a very different process to Amazon, which has made me think about writing a blog post on my experience with each sales channel.

Here’s my little bridge troll on Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/ebook/equivocal-destines

First up, a word about Smashwords

Strangely, to talk about Kobo, I first have to talk about Smashwords. You see, Smashwords appears to be an excellent, trustworthy, online, ebook store with credibility and a great feature that the others lack – if you publish to Smashwords, they’ll distribute your novel to (almost) all of the other sales channels. Excellent, right? IMHO, yes and no. If you’re technophobe, lazy or busy, definitely do this. The problem is, they take a 10% cut of your sales for the privilege. Now, I imagine for most authors this is a price well worth paying, but I’m a little different/weird in that I’m comfortable formatting ebooks and I’m willing to spend the time doing it. This means that I can get 10% more money by publishing my book to all of the other main sales channels separately. I’m still going to make use of Smashwords for their direct sales and the minor channels (which aren’t worth me spending too much time on) but I’ll do the main ones myself. This includes Kobo.

How does the Kobo publishing process compare to Amazon?

Let’s compare Kobo to the 800 pound gorilla in the room, Amazon. Smashwords doesn’t ship to Amazon unless your book becomes very popular  (because Amazon doesn’t supply an automated transfer system, it’s not Smashwords’ fault) so most indie authors are going to want to publish directly to Amazon anyway.

Amazon’s publishing process is very slick and highly automated. You follow the prompts, upload your cover image and your complete document, and Amazon does the rest. I found it to be fast, painless and accurate. The process to look maybe a day, including Amazon’s processing time. It took me a lot longer to format my book according to Amazon’s template document, but that’s expected.

Kobo uses a different system which appears to be based on a different philosophy. They still have a system where you upload your cover image and source text but it then opens in a web-based editor so you can edit the document online. I found the conversion process to be highly inaccurate and the online editor clownish and immature. Please keep in mind that I’ve only tried this with one source file so I can’t realistically speak with any authority, yet. I will say though that my source document uploaded perfectly fine to Amazon and is designed according to Smashwords’ excellent style guide.

I checked out Kobo’s Content Conversion Guidelines (http://download.kobobooks.com/learnmore/writinglife/KWL-Content-Conversion-Guidelines.pdf) and found the document to be a waste of time. Seriously, use Smashwords’ formatting book. It’s infinitely better.

The online editor is also very limited in its options, and if you use it your book will probably end up looking simple and maybe even amateurish. I’m wondering if this is deliberate. Maybe Kobo hardware has limited display options. I don’t know. I highly recommend doing all formatting in Word then simplifying as necessary to get Kobo’s system to accept it. Or, better yet, find a separate .epub creator and upload the finished product, bypassing Kobo’s frustrating system completely. I’ll do this next time. Amazon doesn’t let you do that – they use .mobi files, but you can’t upload those there either.

2 days after publishing to Kobo, I’m still having problems. I found the title of my book seris  – Upheaving Nidola – keeps getting changed to “Up heaving Nidola”, which could be an auto-spellchecking problem which I can’t figure out how to turn off, but the publication year – 2015 – is also changed to “201 5” in 3 places on the copyright page. These types of errors shouldn’t happen. I’ve confirmed my source document is correct and contains no hidden formatting to make this happen, so it’s just a Kobo problem.

I hate Kobo!

Once the book content is uploaded, things change dramatically. My limited experience so far shows that Kobo is more flexible and fair on pricing and distribution. Kobo gives me 70% of the sale price for all books sold in all regions that they sell to. Amazon has more local markets, but this is the Internet where anyone can buy anything from anywhere so I don’t see that as too important.

Most importantly for me, Kobo is much more reasonable on payment. I am Australian but I live in Poland. My only option for payment from Amazon is an expensive cheque sent by mail in US dollars. Amazon applies an $8 processing fee to the cheque and the process seems to be very slow and cumbersome. Kobo, by contrast will send the money directly to my Polish bank account in Euros. Simple and effective.

I already prefer Kobo.

Update 1 – Fri 29th May 2015

I emailed Kobo about my problem with their system. I got this reply:

Hello Raymond,

Thank you for getting in touch with us.

Our instant preview function is relatively new and we are still working out some of the kinks. Currently, it can take a few days for updates to go through to the instant preview, although updates are reflected in the actual file within a few hours of make the changes.

My sincere apologies for the inconvenience.


OK, so, long story short, I was inadvertently using their systems incorrectly because they failed to inform their authors that the Preview function has a delay. I can live with that. I really appreciate the speed and actual usefulness of their email-based customer support. I worked in IT back in Australia so I can assure you of this simple fact – every system will eventually fail / have a problem. What’s most important is the quality of the customer service when this inevitable problem rears its ugly head.

I appreciate Kobo’s customer support now. My simple experience was waaaay more positive than what I naively assume I’d get from Amazon.