Clarifying Smashwords File Formats and Distribution Channels

I’ve seen a question and assumption on an author loop several times, and I thought I would post about it here just in case anyone reading my blog is confused.

The issue? Some believe that if they allow Smashwords to create a .mobi file that it automatically distributes to Amazon, and they want to do that themselves. So, they uncheck the option. Or that if they allow Smashwords to create a .epub file that it automatically distributes to Barnes and Noble and they want to do that themselves. So, they uncheck the option.

Uh, no. That is a wrong assumption.

Smashwords File Formats and Distribution Channels

To be clear, the two things mentioned above do not have anything to do with each other. I’ve seen people assume this without verifying by looking through Smashwords documentation or asking them. So, here we go…

File Formats: When you upload your Word document you are given an option on which formats you will allow the Meatgrinder to convert into. This is for ebook formats SOLD ON SMASHWORDS! You do not want to limit what a customer can buy on Smashwords, as you have no idea what format they need for their preferred ereader.

Did you know Amazon tacks on a $2 surcharge to purchases from a large part of the world? That people outside the US cannot buy from Barnes & Noble?

Do not limit what your customers can buy there! They may have a Kindle and need a .mobi, but refuse to buy at Amazon. My earnest suggestion is to allow Smashwords to create all formats possible.

Distribution Channels: Yes, if you are approved for expanded distribution, your ebooks are automatically sent to all of the Smashwords distribution partners. Using the “Channel Manager” option on the left side of the Dashboard you can control which distributors your ebooks are sent to.

If you want to distribute to Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo yourself, then uncheck those specific options. It’s as simple as that. Meanwhile, the file formats will still be available to potential customers on the Smashwords site itself (See note above about File Formats).

NOTE: Even though the “Channel Manager” lists Amazon as a partner, this is not currently true. Smashwords does not distribute to Amazon at this time because of delays on the Amazon end. Honestly, I would be very surprised if Amazon ever opens up to allowing Smashwords to distribute ebooks into their website and catalog.

To summarize, the two issues are different (even though on the technical back end they may be related). You want all file formats to be available to all Smashwords customers. If you don’t want a book distributed to a specific vendor, then use the “Channel Manager” page.

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A Redpoint One RomanceJ.A. Marlow

A Turn of the Pipes

An alien newt leads to… love?

Rachel Henderkito’s job of taking care of Redpoint One’s plumbing problems isn’t easy, especially when citizen pets clog up the pipes. After fishing an alien newt out of the pipes for a third time she takes the creature back to its owner for a stern warning.

Ignacio Manetti is determined to help keep rare alien newts and salamanders off the extinction list. He doesn’t have time for romance, nor for the heart-breaking memories it brings with it.

Add in an alien flying squirrel, preparations for Redpoint One’s annual Exotic Pet Show, and the lovably interfering Naughty Knitter’s Club, how can romance not bloom?

Except Rachel and her bot hate his rare Mandian Ruffled Newt while he unconditionally loves it.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | SmashwordsKobo

“Thank You!” For a Fantastic Writing Community

Today, over at Forward Motion Writers, is a surprise event. A thank-you day from all the users of the site for the person who keeps it going and makes it possible.

And so, we the writers and users at Forward Motion Writers do hereby declare this Monday to be:

Zette Appreciation Day

Forward Motion Writers has a long history. Founded in 1998 by Holly Lisle, it has been the social and support home of any writer wishing to be with other writers who are working towards becoming better at their craft and business/career. It was founded with the Pay Forward principle, which is that, in exchange for the help you get there, you then go out and help others.

Today it is owned and run by Lazette Gifford and she has continued that tradition. The site is home for writers at all stages of their careers from award winning multi-published through traditional writers, to multi-published Indie writers, to beginner writers, and writers at all levels between.

It is a place where writers don’t just talk about writing, but they DO it. They go from thinking about writing a novel or a short story, to writing it, revising it, and then finding markets for them. There are workshops and classes, challenges, dares, marathons, critique boards,  and prompts to help writers get there (some of the links require sign-in, which is free). The site offers forums, live chat, web rings, and other resources to help writers accomplish great things. And it’s great fun doing it!

Zette has had a hard few years, but she’s kept Forward Motion going despite it all. Along with the site she also owns and is the primary editor of the free emagazine “Vision: A Resource for Writers” for over ten years. In the past and starting again this coming January, she will conduct the free “2 Year Novel Course” at Forward Motion. Oh, and then there is the free guide she wrote many years called, “Nano for the New and the Insane” which she continues to give out free to anyone participating in the crazy but fun event in November to write 50,000 words in 30 days called “National Novel Writing Month.”

In other words, she loves to help other writers and continues to do so all these years later despite how life crashed in on her.

So, Zette, today I want to say thank you for keeping such a wonderful free, beneficial, supportive, positive, helpful, thriving writing community open to all writers. To keep it going when it might have been easier for you to shut it all down and concentrate on your own life. Forward Motion is a special place, and THANK YOU for continuing to make it available.

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J.A. Marlow

"Thank You!" For a Fantastic Writing Community

The String Weavers (The String Weavers – Book 1)

Kelsey Hale thinks she’s just a typical mixed-up teenager. Everyone feels that way, her teachers assure her. Yet, strange things happen to her, like food disappearing before she can eat it and hearing music no one else hears.

Then a giant flaming bird drops an alien at her feet. Well, good grief, how can you ignore something like that?

Abducted from Earth, the only planet she’s ever known, Kelsey finds herself thrust into the middle of a deadly conflict among alien worlds and parallel universe. She must not only survive herself, but also find a way to rescue her father from a dangerous group with unknown motives.

In the process, she’s confronted by a hidden secret about herself which will shake the very foundation of who and what she thought she was.

And connecting it all are the mysterious Weavers.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | Kobo

Creating A New Pen Name for Already-Published Work

This post is inspired by a comment I made to Dean Wesley Smith’s reprinting of his “The New World of Publishing: Pen Names” blog article. In the comments someone asked if they should rebrand work to a new pen name that they have already published. That’s a hard question to answer.

First, decide why you would want a different pen name for the works in question. Go read Dean’s post on the subject and then think it over. Make the decision based on business reasons, not emotion.

My suggestion is to make the decision now and not put it off to later. Then stick with that decision, whichever way you choose to go.

Okay, you’ve done that and you are now sure these stories need a new pen name?

This was me this spring. I’d already published 3 stories in the “Gateway Roadhouse” series by the time I made this decision. Yes, three stories already out in the wilds selling.

The problem was compounded by a fourth story waited in the wings, just about ready to come back from the editor. Then I started getting other ideas that sorta fit with the series, with some of them branching off into a completely different genre that are even further from the works I write and release under the “J.A. Marlow” pen name. The more the ideas came, the more uncomfortable I grew about having everything under one name.

Okay, decision made. Time for a plan.

Now, my sales are not huge, as in not hundreds per month, but they do chug along at a consistent rate. Still, I worried about putting off any readers I did have. I also took this opportunity as a chance to look over absolutely everything about the books. Here is what I ended up doing:

  1. Researched the types of author names in the subgenre. Then started looking for a short name (to make it easier to fit on a cover) that I could brand for this specific genre and subgenre. I also checked to see if the domain name was available and once the decision on the name was finalized I grabbed it.
  2. Covers: Used what I have learned over the past year+ to create stronger and more professional covers. I also branded them to a specific design to make them stand out as their own and not look like anything under my main penname.
  3. Revisited the series name. “Gateway Roadhouse” still worked as it’s the location that is common to all the stories, but characters are not. Neither is it a ‘series’ in that the stories can be read in almost any order (barring perhaps the first two). After more research and talking to other writers, the “Gateway Roadhouse Series” was changed to “Tales from the Gateway Roadhouse Chronicles”.
  4. Rechecked the book descriptions and ended up rewriting all of them. Again, this is because I’ve grown stronger and learned a lot about writing book descriptions. I might as well apply it!
  5. Redid the back-matter of all the ebooks and started promoting the series within itself with the listings of “Other Books From This Author” portion.
  6. With all the ebook files now changed, it was time to go to all the retailers to update the product listings. This mean changing the descriptions, the penname, files, and covers (Plus I rechecked the categories the ebooks were listed in). This was painless to do other than taking time.
  7. Contacted Amazon to help me create a new penname author page and on request, they were kind enough to move the book listings from my old pen name to the new one (as far as I can tell there isn’t a way for an author to do this transfer themselves).
  8. Posted to my blog about the rebranding as it’s an open penname.
  9. Other possible step: With Amazon it’s possible to contact KDP customer service and ask them to push a new version of the ebooks out to previous customers. As far as I know, this is not possible with the other retailers, although the new versions are immediately available for new download at Smashwords and DriveThruFiction if the customer notices.
  10. Other possible step: Set up any social media accounts for the new name. For those who do not participate actively in social media, this step can be skipped (But do consider creating a static webpage for the new domain).

I’m now a couple months in from the change, and the interesting thing is that sales have increased. I’m sure it’s a combination of all the things I did to prepare for the re-branding and not one specific thing, but it’s still a great surprise. And this without having time yet to create and put up the static webpage for the new name!

It’s odd that sometimes once you make a decision and just do it, everything in your mind and body tells you it is either the wrong or right thing to do. For me, this was the right thing to do. I don’t regret it at all.

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A science fiction retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood"J.A. Marlow

A planet-wide conspiracy is waiting at Grandmother’s house…

An invitation to visit Grandmother’s house, nestled among the giant trees filling the planet, gives Kate a welcome respite from Uncle Travis’s attempts to take over her and her mother’s life. But, there is no time for rest. A conspiracy among the forest inhabitants, moving trees, and other mysteries await her at Grandmother’s house.

Kate learns just how little she knew of the forests, much less its animals. To survive she must learn fast, and that includes trust and teamwork.

And just where was Grandma, anyway?

A Science Fiction stand-alone novel retelling of the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood”.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | Kobo

“Amazon Serials” Launch – A Few Thoughts

Along with everything else they are launching this week, Amazon also launched a new service called “Kindle Serials (Great Reads, One Episode at a Time)”. Their description:

“Kindle Serials are stories published in episodes. When you buy a Kindle Serial, you will receive all existing episodes on your Kindle immediately, followed by future episodes as they are published. Enjoy reading as the author creates the story, and discuss episodes with other readers in the Kindle forums.”

Kindle Serial Submission page

Kindle Serial Front Page

First, yes you need to submit to them. You cannot opt into this through KDP.

Web serials, also called webfic and litfic, have a long tradition on the internet. Websites like Tuesday Serial, Web Fiction Guide, EpiGuide, Muse’s Success list such endeavors. Such type of fiction is huge business in countries like China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan with millions of users and stories that go into the millions of words. In the US, we have websites like Wattpad who, by hosting the stories on their site, allow users (readers and writers) to “Connect, collaborate and share interactive stories or stumble across the newest trends in fiction.”

Now Amazon is entering the fray. I do have a few thoughts about what I’ve discovered after poking through the Amazon information:

NOTE 1: The price listed is for ALL updates, not one episode. In other words, you better be pricing the offering as a novel from the start:

“This book is a Kindle Serial. Kindle Serials are stories published in episodes, with future episodes delivered at NO ADDITIONAL COST. This serial currently contains one episode out of an estimated six total episodes, and new episodes will be delivered every month.” (Emphasis mine.)

This is unlike other models in Asia where there is a micropayment per episode, and the episodes tend to be under 1000 words. This encourages long sagas that the readers in those markets lap up. With Amazon, the way the payment structure is set up, it does not encourage the longer works. The size of the episodes brings us to the next note…

NOTE 2: Episode “Chapters” are 10,000 words (in science fiction this is a novelette). Personally I really wish Amazon didn’t have that threshold so high. In webfic the installments are usually under 1000 words with the average between 300-800 words. A better compromise would have been a more typical chapter length, such as between 2500-5000 words. This would have equalled an average webfic monthly output using the averages I mentioned (Oh horrors! Here comes the math! Once a week: 800×4=3200. Three times a week: 500x3x4=6000 words. Five days a week: 300x5x4=6000 words).

NOTE 3: The program is non-exclusive. Which means the stories can appear for sale on other websites. Someone who was contacted months ago by Amazon for this program says they can even set a first episode free to garner interests, as well as release a separate book for sale. Authors set the price. These are very good things.

It has some good and bad points so far, but I don’t think Amazon really thought this all the way through. There are very successful models of this all over the world. A hybrid of what Amazon came out with and the types of setups seen in Asian markets would have been nice to see.

I’m in the planning stages for a webfiction serial for this website (as an experiment), but I think I can do better releasing collections of ‘episodes’ than this. Plus, I can engage with the fans on my own website and hopefully interest them in my other books (and maybe encourage them to sign them up for the newsletter). I like the idea of holding the demographic and subscriber information instead of a third party that won’t share (Amazon does not share this with publishers). Plus, discussion on the Kindle forums? As an author, I shudder in horror as overall, we are not welcome there and the oversight of moderators is notoriously bad (if they ever bother to show up).

Whether Amazon Serials would be worth using would depend on how much push Amazon gives the program and if they can get a handle on their forums. They did well in not requiring an exclusive to the content. As a writer, I’m interested in the concept, but it all comes down to the details of the deal.

Each writer will need to make up their own mind on if this program is for them or not.

____________________

J.A. Marlow

"Amazon Serials" Launch - A Few Thoughts

The String Weavers (The String Weavers – Book 1)

Kelsey Hale thinks she’s just a typical mixed-up teenager. Everyone feels that way, her teachers assure her. Yet, strange things happen to her, like food disappearing before she can eat it and hearing music no one else hears.

Then a giant flaming bird drops an alien at her feet. Well, good grief, how can you ignore something like that?

Abducted from Earth, the only planet she’s ever known, Kelsey finds herself thrust into the middle of a deadly conflict among alien worlds and parallel universe. She must not only survive herself, but also find a way to rescue her father from a dangerous group with unknown motives.

In the process, she’s confronted by a hidden secret about herself which will shake the very foundation of who and what she thought she was.

And connecting it all are the mysterious Weavers.

A 97,100 word, 389 page (approximate), science fiction novel.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

Nano, Wordcounts, and Story Update

The August Nano is now done! Time to do an assessment:

  • Finished book 6 of The String Weavers: CHECK – This happened on August 6th.
  • Finished book 7 of The String Weavers: CHECK – This happened on midnight of August 30th with an entire day to spare! Wow!
  • Total Wordcount for August: 109,679

Yep, nailed it in August despite the allergy attacks and despite the smoke in the air from all the forest fires. It was a real struggle on a lot of days, but THEY BOOKS ARE DONE!

Sorry to yell there, but this is really exciting. With the last book of Nano, “The String Weavers” arc is done! :happysnoopydance:

Of course the down side of this is that I now have 5 first drafts to revise. Ah well, can’t have everything. Hehe.

Other good news is that the July and August Nano’s put me over my yearly goal for new words (see the graph in the right column). The goal for 2012 was 500,000 new words. At the end of August the tally was 545,369 words!

And yes, I’m still writing. I came out of August pumped and the Muse on a high no sugar-high can touch. So, I started writing short stories. One is finished and I’m working on one more. After that, it’s back to revision!

I will admit that it feels good to have the chance to do other stuff without feeling guilty about it. Two Nanos in a row was intense, especially one as successful as July (170,000 words), and they did succeed in helping me write 3 90k+ novels. But now? I’m sleeping in, going for walks, doing publishing stuff, and if I want to stop and do some research for a few hours or read a book, I can! Hah!

So, to everyone else, how did your July and August shape up?

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Novelette science fictionJ.A. Marlow

Where the Purple Grass Grows

The last thing reporter Steve Gortney expects is pirates raiding the strange space-elevator on the backworld of Vorstogen. While he’s thrilled for the exclusive on a pirate raid-in-progress, he soon finds his own life in danger from a secret the pirates are willing to kill to keep hidden. Meanwhile, the space-elevator has a few secrets of its own…

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | Kobo