Update on the Smashwords Sneak Peek Option

A couple of weeks ago, I posited that you could use Smashwords to create sneak peeks of your buyable works to have out there for free and that it would produce greater exposure among those people who just like to troll free stuff, who wouldn’t have found you anyway.  Traditional publishers do this all over the place with ebooks (and they don’t always indicate that what you’re getting is a sample in their description).  Why couldn’t we do the same?

So I uploaded the first three chapters of both Forsaken By Shadow and Devil’s Eye.  While I was waiting on approval for premium distribution, I suddenly started actually selling both novellas on Smashwords itself.  Usually I don’t sell anything there directly, so this was nice. If nothing else, I sold 16 copies over February and March so far, and made $7.20 I would not have otherwise made (though admittedly some of these numbers are skewed as I am in the middle of a promo thing).  In the just over 2 weeks that it was live, I had 395 downloads of my Sneak Peeks for each book.  For comparison, in the almost year I’ve had stuff available on Smashwords, I have only had 526 downloads of paid and free samples of both books, which includes all the freebies I’ve given away for reviews–a not insignificant number.  I am content to say that’s proof that my theory is accurate.

I kept waiting and waiting.  Usually my stuff is approved for Premium Distribution within a couple of days.  This was over 2 weeks, so I concluded that the free stuff went to the bottom of that pile to check.

Well, yesterday I finally heard back with this message:

Please unpublish this. Per the Smashwords Terms of Service, we only publish complete, standalone works, not works in progress or short serials. Our research indicates that Smashwords customer want complete, finished works. Once theseries is completed and constitutes a completed story, then please return to your Dashboard and click “upload new version” to upload the complete work. Thanks!

Yes, those typos were theirs.

Well obviously my work is finished and is not serial, and if they’d bothered to actually look further, they’d see that both full length titles are for sale on their site and have been for some time, which is indicated at the end of the Sneak Peek.  For now I’ve unpublished them and written an email asking for an appeal, explaining what I was actually doing.  I’ll keep y’all posted.

Update: Well the appeal was (predictably) declined, but Mark was really polite and clear about the difficulties such a proposition would present for the site (which makes total sense).  Ah well, it was worth a try, and I really appreciate that he took the time to LISTEN (huge perk in customer service) and provide a thoughtful response.

29 thoughts on “Update on the Smashwords Sneak Peek Option

  1. Well you are doing better than I am, Journey of Tara has been downloaded 124 times and sold 43 copies, mostly promo. had to resubmit it once because of a misspelling of the main title (Duh). The Set’la has been downloaded 33 times and I sold 2 copies, resubmitted once because of formatting and link errors. It took about 2 weeks to get approved, maybe because of the cover. But I don’t promote as much as I should. Total take, $1.43.

  2. If I understand correctly, you already have a, say, 20 chapter book for sale on Smashwords and you want to offer ‘sneak peeks’ of the first three. I think that’s what Smashwords is talking about in their message. You really are attempting to only ‘publish’ a portion of your novella, even though it’s already their in it’s entirety as a different book.

    I’m not clear on why you are doing this. There already is a facility within Smashwords to offer a percentage of your book as a ‘freebie’. I’ ve set mine to 51% because that just covers the mid-point context shift, the ‘this changes everything’ point, and if you’ve reached that far and don’t want to read any further, you’re really not in my target audience.

    1. I’m perfectly aware that they offer and I do use the sample feature on the proper listing. The point is that there is a certain segment of the reading market that will troll either ONLY the free stuff, or spends a lot of time looking at the free stuff who would never actually stumble across your book that actually costs money. Having the separate sample in the free bin, so to speak, means that people are downloading it, checking it out and saying “hey I’d like to know what happens” and going and buying it. If you look at the offerings for free on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, you see “sneak peeks” offered by traditional publishers for ebooks that they have for sale in those venues. The whole point is so people will find them and try them. The pool of the free is often smaller and the pool of the whole genre.

  3. The problem is that however you choose to rationalize it, you violated Smashwords’ terms by uploading the first three chapters only. Yes, people do tend to pay more attention to freebies, but what you’re doing just says to me that you’re not willing to take the time to build your readership, but will do whatever you please, regardless of your agreement with Smashwords.

    1. I have done quite a bit to build my readership and am steadily selling 1k copies a month via other venues. And I did, in fact, read the TOS. This does not violate them according to the way it is written because the full product IS available. This particular eventuality is not covered in the TOS. If they decide to uphold their decision I’m not going to argue about it. That’s absolutely their right. I was merely trying an experiment that’s often successful among traditionally published authors.

    2. Kait has put a lot of time and effort into building her readership. In fact, her efforts and success at building an author platform were a huge factor in getting her noticed and approached by an agent, as well as earning her the respect of many fellow indie authors and many, many happy readers.

      I don’t see this as doing “whatever you please,” but rather as a difference in interpretation of the TOS. When asked to remove, she removed immediately, and then politely explained her thinking and intentions to Smashwords in hopes that they would reconsider their position on the subject. I really can’t see anything wrong with that.

    3. “not willing to take the time to build your readership” Really? I understand that you probably don’t know Kait and misinterpreted what she was trying to do. Sometimes Smashwords isn’t easily searchable, although they are doing much better than they used to, I think. So getting into the freebie section was just making the sample more visible. The full book is available there.

    4. Ummm… Kait “not willing to take the time to build up her readership”??? Honestly, you will rarely find a person MORE willing to take the time to build up her readership! She has been investing that time and effort consistently for a very long time.

      I also don’t see how you can say that she “will do whatever she pleases, regardless…” She clearly complied with their request, and is going through the proper channels. It’s a difference of opinion and interpretation. It’s certainly not a deliberate violation.

      You probably didn’t mean it this way, but the way you’ve worded your comment comes across as quite insulting to Kait. And your suggestions about her ethics are certainly unfounded.

    5. Hi Catana. Speaking of building readership, I checked out your web site to see how you build yours, and I couldn’t even find your name. I can only assume you are not a serious author. If you are a serious author, and you want people to know your name and buy your books, I recommend you take some tips from Kait, because she is getting some serious name recognition going across social media. Kristen Lamb’s best-selling book, We Are Not Alone, available through Who Dares Wins Publishing or Amazon, could give you some great advice, as well. Good luck.

  4. Yeah I hate smashwords editor. It wasn’t just your free stuff that takes two weeks, my first novel , “Craving” took three and all they wanted was for me to change spacing. I did it and am still waiting weeks later

    My book is in top ten highest reviewed sic fi on there and still get little traffic of buyers

    1. Obviously some people do really well there, but in general, I think most folks sell more elsewhere. Readers largely aren’t aware of Smashwords and those that are often have the prejudice that everything on there is crap (and, let’s be honest…a lot of it is, and without a ranking system, there’s no real way to separate the wheat from the chaff). The biggest benefit of listing with Smashwords is their extended distribution network.

    1. Well, despite its flaws, I do think Smashwords performs an invaluable service by getting us into additional distributors that we do not have direct access to ourselves. I would not be able to get into Sony, Kobo, or the iBookstore on my own. I think this particular instance was a result of a) them not knowing what I was doing and being too busy to look at what I’d submitted in full such that it was an automatic rejection (since it does look like a violation of the TOS on the surface) and b) nobody actually trying this before (that I’m aware of). They will probably reject my appeal, and if so, ok. I can see why they might not want a bunch of separate samples on the site taking up bandwidth, and I really didn’t care so much about accessing the limited audience who I might snag from here. I mostly wanted the samples available on the extended distributors. We shall see.

  5. I get what you’re doing with the sneak peeks now. Clever idea, but I can see the site’s point. They don’t want partial novellas and that’s exactly what those are no matter how you look at it. They have to draw the line somewhere and make a clear stance on it.

    Maybe what you should do is just upload some free short stories. Do you have anything in one of your novels that you can expand on or maybe some part of your novel you can turn into a free story?

    When I first stumbled on Joseph Robert Lewis’ stuff, he had some short stories for free and so I downloaded those before I paid for Heirs of Mars. The stories were prequels that gave a strong sense of the story and his writing style. Once I read those two short stories, I had to buy the book. Absolutely HAD to.

  6. Thanks for the heads up on this. I’ve been considering doing sequential “episodic” style novellas, trying that format out to see how it does.

    Does this ruling mean that I would need to ensure each episode was a fairly tight story in and of itself? No cliffhanger endings, for example? There’s been a number of traditionally published trilogies and series which use cliffhanger endings, and I think there’s a tendency for the public to not like them because of the long (a year, often) wait until the next installment. But if you could launch them at a rate of a novella a month, I had the feeling that cliffhangers might be more interesting to the reader.

    Might have to shoot out an email to Mark Coker to get clarification.

    1. If each “installment” as it were was listed and marketed as a complete story unto itself, simply as part of a series of novellas or short stories (where it didn’t look like a serialization or chapters of a longer work), I think you’d be fine. Each one would have a different title and something like “Book # in the X Series”.

  7. Two points here Kait:

    1) horrible, horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach this morning when I saw a there/their error in my first post. Note to self: midnight posts after a couple of scotch require a fourth check…

    2) Agree completely with your “The biggest benefit of listing with Smashwords is their extended distribution network” statement. *They’re* fantastic with that (save Amazon, and I did that one on my own).

  8. I did the same thing with “The Board Game of Death” story. They told me the same thing. So I unpublished it on the Smashwords site for the time being. Instead I have posted the file as a PDF download on my own website.
    I don’t understand why they frown on putting partial works on the site, when they did it for the NaNo Wri.

  9. That would have been a nice feature. You got me quite excited with the possibility. On the other hand, I do see how it violates their terms of agreements. I can also see a reason for not offering a sneak peak feature. A bunch of partial works in the free bin can lead to a cluttered fill. I’d certainly hate to have shift through it to reach a complete work. And I definitely would be disappointed to get to the end and find it’s only a partial piece. Then again, TOS can change at any time. So maybe one day he’ll add a sneak peak section. 🙂

    There was another author who posted her serial (not that Forsaken by Shadows is a serial) on Smashwords and it’s now gone. So it’s nice to see they’re trying to be consistent across the board.

    One thing to keep in mind, even though the answer wasn’t what you wanted, like you said, Mark was polite. I’ve always found him to provide wonderful customer service. He’s prompt, courteous, and informative. It’s refreshing to know that some companies still care about the customers.

    Thanks for giving it a try, Kait. Sometimes all it takes is one person to put an idea out for others to start thinking on ways to implement it.

  10. I’ve been thinking about doing something similar myself, though with a 99 cent ebook with PubIt (Barnes and Noble’s self publisher). I’ve been combing through their Terms, but I haven’t found anything explicit like Smashwords’ “complete work” thing. Judging by what their head honcho Len Riggio said last week in a speech, it seems likely such a thing would be allowed, since he encouraged traditional publishers to serialize releases, such as selling chapters at a time. This has already been happening with a James Grippando book.

    1. I know that as a consumer, that’s not something that would appeal to me. I think you’d have to be very VERY careful to make it EXPLICIT that what they’re buying is not a complete work…and even then you’re going to get people who just don’t pay attention and get really really angry. I have not heard of ANY serialization efforts where the work is not free.

      1. Very true and I would make it free if B&N would allow it, since I really only wanted to do it as a test.

        And the god’s honest truth is that I’m going into this work treating it more as a TV serialization than a book series serialization anyway. It seems to me that the vast majority of series books are published with a healthy degree of story isolation in each book, with good reason, of course. Authors and publishers don’t want readers to be shut out of a series just because they accidentally started on book four. But after spending so many years reading comics and watching TV, I love the idea of long story arches being told over a series of shorter storylines–episodes, if you will.

        That’s one of the things I love about e-publishing. It allows for this kind of serialization, instead of forcing a chunk of chapters to be bound between two covers. As you mentioned though, it all comes down to whether or not the audience allows it. A hundred and fifty years ago, that’s how most novels were published–in serial installments in magazines. Personally, I wouldn’t mind reading a story one part at a time. This happens all the time with amateur fiction on tons of writing sites.

        1. Absolutely true, but I really don’t think it would fly in a paid medium. Since we’re prevented from being able to distribute stuff for free on Amazon and Barnes and Noble (well ok, indirectly we can through the latter via Smashwords as long as it is a complete something), I don’t know of a good way to pursue this other than from one’s own site or some of those amateur fiction sites like Fictionpress or Wattpad.

  11. Laura Stamps self-published and serialized A Vampire’s Kiss last year (ranging from $0.99-1.99 per volume). Her volumes are not self-contained stories (a few chapters each), and she likes to end chapters in interesting places. So if you read volume one, you definitely won’t get the complete story.

    She’s been quite friendly and open in the conversations I’ve had with her. Perhaps she’s willing to share with you the ups and downs of serializing a novel.

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