Narrow Focus

We hired a new employee this week at my Evil Day Job.  She’s moved down from Minnesota, following her husband, who took a job the the university.  I’ve been explaining some of our quirky Southern habits and things, one of which is our habit of taking the brand name of something and applying it to all items of that variety.  Like, all facial tissue is Kleenex here.  All soft drinks are Cokes.

But southerners aren’t the only group who does this.  People all over the country and world think Kindle is synonymous with ebooks and self publishing.  But it’s not the same innocent “Hey, you want a Coke?  Okay, what kind?”  No, in the ebook world, which is exploding with new authors trying to make a start for themselves and old authors putting out their backlist, there are scads of people out there who are e-publishing…ONLY to Kindle.   Because in publishing news all over the place, the name you keep hearing batted about is Amazon.

Everybody’s obsessed with their Amazon ranking.  Their Amazon sales numbers.  All the news is talking about those authors who have joined the Kindle million club or whatever they’re calling it (I’m under caffeinated, deal with it).  It’s like Amazon has become this Goliath and nobody can see around them to…everyone else.

Case in point, my friend Larry Brooks recently released his acclaimed novel Bait and Switch on Kindle for an opening price of 99 cents and posted about it on his blog to let us know.  Great.  It’d like to get right on that.  When are you going to release it FOR MY NOOK?  Or for my friend’s Sony?  Or for all the other e-readers out there that don’t read MOBI or PRC? Because, hate to break it to you people, Amazon, despite being huge, is not the industry standard.  The industry standard EVERYWHERE ELSE is EPUB.

It’s all well and good to have a promo plan that includes Amazon.  They’re a behemoth, so obviously it would be foolish not to.  But it is equally foolish to alienate all the people out there who made a DIFFERENT choice, who bought a different reader for whatever reason.  Or who don’t live in the US, UK, or wherever Amazon DE allegedly covers (Germany?).   Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Sony, Diesel, and Smashwords aren’t as big as Amazon.  They’ve made a lot of mistakes in how they deal with things.  That doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth pursuing.  Will your income be as huge, your exposure as wide on those platforms as Amazon?  Probably not (though there have been some exceptions).  But it is a naive author who does not include them in their self-publishing plan.  Approximately 30% of my overall sales come from these other sources.  Some of my compatriots have closer to 40-50% of their sales via sources OTHER than Amazon.  Those percentages add up people.

And of course you all know that I am a big fan of saying that FORMATTING IS NOT HARD.  It changes, of course.  I’m about due up for a new series of posts on current formatting trends.  They have updated the Smashwords Style Guide regarding their formatting conversion for EPUB.  But that’ll go on the list for AFTER I’ve moved.

20 thoughts on “Narrow Focus

  1. Amen! It took me a long time to finally decide on which eReader I wanted, and when I made my choice, Kindle was not one of them. I debated along time between the Nook and the Sony and in the end, I went with the Sony.

    That said, Sony carries a lot of titles, but it still gets to me when some authors only publish their stuff on Kindle or run sales only on Amazon. I know Sony isn’t one of the big names in eReader, but it’s still there and there are people who use it.

  2. I can’t believe authors limit themselves to one venue. That’s a really bad marketing decision, IMO.

    I have a Kindle, and I love the way it can be read in the bright sunlight. But now I’m thinking about getting a second ereader for when I want color for magazines and such. I can’t decide if I want a Nook or if I should just break down and spend the money for an iPad. :0)

  3. I agree completely. I have a kindle but my sister has a Sony ereader and a friend has a nook. I am constantly recommending books but they are not always available to them. Especially indie authors, which are the best thing about having an ereader in my opinion.

  4. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve been griping about this for a while, but I doubt anyone listens. I just published my first book — on Smashwords. And only on Smashwords. If buyers want to read it on their Kindles, they still can. All they have to do is choose the mobi download. My books will never be bestsellers, and I’m not out to get rich. I buy from Amazon because it’s the best one-stop shopping on the web, but I won’t give them a share of my hard work. If they ever open the Kindle up to ePub, I might consider it, but until then…

  5. It’s a business decision. The first place you have to have your book – is on Amazon. It’s #1 by a long mile and not just with hardware Kindles. Many people read Kindle content now on non-dedicated devices like iPad, Android Tablets and laptops. Plus Amazon makes their inventory much, much more easy to find via Google & on Also because books will show up when people shop for other things – it increases your chances of impulse purchases.

    Neither of which is going to happen with B&N or Smashwords.

    After that I agree – you should get it on B&N.

    But I’m not sure if there is really any benefit to being on Smashwords. You might get a few sales – but I just don’t know if it’s worth the trouble. I’d need to see hard-data showing actual sales figures – this isn’t a hobby – we’re trying to make some $ here. So unless there’s cash – the location isn’t viable.

    Finally – if you only list your Kindle content on Smashwords – you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face. You might get a few sales – but the average Kindle reader isn’t technical enough to even know what MOBI is. If they heard MOBI they probably think it’s a bad their kids are into. And many people just are hesitant to buy content for Kindle anywhere but Amazon. We know Smashwords is trusthworthy but 99.999% of the public doesn’t even know about it.

    If you want to make actual sales with your Kindle, you need to list it on Amazon.

    Best Regards,

    Mark W.

    1. This isn’t an either or proposition. It’s just smart business to get your books into as many venues and as many formats as possible. Smashwords is a smart decision because it gets you easily into Apple, Diesel, Kobo, Sony, and now apparently some kind of app in the iTunes store that I haven’t looked too far into. Those are all additional potential sales. Nobody’s saying you make a ton of money on Smashwords proper because, you’re right, most of the public doesn’t know about it. The money is in expanded distribution. I make almost as much on Sony as I do on Barnes and Noble through Pubit. They aren’t as much as Amazon, but it’s still nothing to sneeze at and absolutely worth the extra half hour of effort to use it.

      And I have to say I’m tired of hearing people justify a Kindle only release by saying there are apps out there for your computer or smart phone. I don’t CARE (and I promise you, neither does any other ebook reader owner). We HAVE ereaders. We don’t WANT to read on our computer or smartphone. We want to read on our ereader of choice. I own a Nook. I like the Nook better than the Kindle (my deciding reason being that the Nook works with the library ebooks and Kindle doesn’t), ergo that is what I bought, and all books should be available for Nook (and Sony and Kobo and the oodles of other readers half the world’s never heard of) just the same as for Kindle. NOT making them available in those formats is, as far as I’m concerned, just lazy and uninformed, NOT a true business decision.

  6. Mark, if you publish on Smashwords and go the few extra steps it takes to get in their premium catalogue, your book will go to several distributors including Apple, Sony, and B &N. All without your having to jump through all their individual publishing hoops. I’ve seen a few statements by people who were getting more sales through Smashwords than from Amazon. That may be a fluke, or maybe it’s just underreported, but apparently the sales are there. As far as people’s ignorance about mobi, Smashwords clearly describes each format, so all you have to do is choose the version for your reader. You don’t have to know a darn thing about mobi. This is really no different from choosing a format when you’re buying an ebook from an independent publisher. In fact, Smashwords makes it easier.

    I sold ten copies of my novel in the first five days on Smashwords, and the book hasn’t been approved for the premium catalog yet. The benefits of that won’t show up for several more weeks. I have no idea what formats the buyers downloaded, but what’s important is that they have a choice. Smashwords isn’t as well known as Amazon, but the word is spreading, and there is a growing list of authors who are earning a substantial income from Smashwords. Nothing stays static in the publishing world, and Smashwords is working hard to be a leader.

  7. I have a Nook, and I love it. There are many ebooks I see tweeted that I’d like to read, only to find out they’re just on Kindle. As you guys have said, Amazon is obviously important, but if you want your book read by as many people as possible, it only makes sense to publish on all forms.

    To get on Nook, you’d upload to B&N, right? Do they have their own software, or do they use Smashwords?

  8. Stacy, you can publish on B&N directly, via their Pubit outlet. Just check the website for instructions and the information about payment, etc. You can also let Smashwords do it all for you. One thing I’m not sure about is whether Smashwords breaks down your sales by distributor so you know where they’re coming from.

    1. They do break it down by distributor, BUT you only get to update your records quarterly, whenever the distributor bothers to notify Smashwords. For anyone used to the ability to check stuff daily, that is likely to be very frustrating.

      @Stacy, while you can go through Smashwords to get into Barnes and Noble, I highly recommend going directly through Pubit. The primary reason is that you retain much more control. If you need to update a version, change the price, tweak your description, or whatever, you can do it and have it go live in a couple of days via Pubit (as you can through Amazon), whereas if you go through Smashwords, you must wait on changes to ship to the distributor and for the distributor to actually update stuff, which often takes weeks.

      1. Thanks for those updates, Kait. I’ve been trying to decide whether to go straight to B&N rather than through Smashwords. I have so much to do that I opted for the lazy way out, but I may go ahead and use Pubit. I can see that one advantage would be that you can tweak your description to improve it or make it more of a hook. I’ve noticed that a lot of books come out with vague descriptions that don’t do anything to make you want *that book — right now*. It’s a big weak link for new authors.

      2. Thanks Catana and Kait. I’m still on the first round of edits, so I’ve got a while before I have to decide what route to go. I have to admit, the self-pubbing thing sounds intimidating to someone who isn’t that tech savvy. But I’m sure I can learn.

        Does it cost to epub? Sorry for the dumb questions.

        1. No. All of the assorted distributors take a percentage of the sale price, but you are not charged up front. The only costs associated with self publishing are for cover art (DO hire a cover artist), editors (if you aren’t friends with other writers who do this well), and formatting (if you fall into the realm of the apparently mostly middle aged men who won’t read or ask for directions on how to do it yourself).

          1. OK, that’s what I was thinking. I’d assume I could figure out the formatting and hopefully will only need a line editor when it’s all said and done. But the cover artist would be a must. I have no clue how to do that sort of thing.

            Thanks for answering my questions!

  9. Depending on the level of DRM in any particular ebook, Calibre is a free application that seems to do a pretty good job of converting between formats. So, if you can get a Kindle format file (.mobi), but your reader doesn’t like it, just use Calibre to change it to .epub and vice versa.



    1. Calibre is an awesome tool for both organizing your library and converting formats. But there is still the issue of DRM and a great many authors who do not understand the importance of putting books out WITHOUT it where possible. This doesn’t always work. For example, many of the distribution channels via Smashwords require it (Kobo springs to mind). But you can still get the DRM free version from Smashwords.

  10. I’ve only run into one book so far that was locked up with DRM. Pissed me off enough to go hunting for an app that would remove it. The one I used is DeDRM. It’s for Mac and Windows, and works like a charm.

  11. Ulgh, agreed on all counts. It irritates me lots when I find an author that I’d like to try—and it’s only on Kindle.

    And then, when I say “I can’t read Kindle format”, I’m told to download Kindle for Mac—which doesn’t work on PowerPC Macs.


    I have some DRM’d e-books, and that DRM annoys me to no end. Yes, give me something more to slow down my old outdated computer, thanks.

  12. I am so happy that you pointed this out. As a reader, I hate it when an author only has Kindle versions or does only Kindle promotions.

    There is one particular ebook that I was thinking of getting. I saw it on Amazon, which is where I do my shopping because B&N search engine is no as good. When I went to purchase through B&N I noticed that the price was cheaper at I didn’t purchase the book.

    I know for a fact that it is one author’s policy to price his ebooks higher at B&N because he gets fewer sales there. But I wonder how many sales he loses because of the price difference. Because I know several people that shop Amazon but buy B&N.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.