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Smashwords Survey Helps Authors Sell more eBooks (Smashwords tutorial series, #3)
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Smashwords Survey Helps Authors Sell more eBooks (Smashwords tutorial series, #3)


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Writers will learn how to make their books more appealing to readers in this comprehensive (and unconventional) tutorial presented by Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords. Have you ever wondered if …

Writers will learn how to make their books more appealing to readers in this comprehensive (and unconventional) tutorial presented by Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords. Have you ever wondered if readers prefer longer or shorter books? How about pricing? Will you sell more books at a lower price or a higher price? Which price yields you the greatest overall earnings? Which price helps you grow your readership the fastest? How and why might your book sales fluctuate over time? Do books with shorter titles appeal more to readers than long titles? These and many other questions are answered in the annual Smashwords Survey. This video examines the results of the 2013 Smashwords Survey, first published in May 2013. Smashwords analyzed over $12 million in book sales covering over 120,000 books over an 11-month period, and then posed useful (and some not-so-useful) questions at the data, all with the goal of identifying tips and tricks that could help authors make their books more desirable to readers. Some of the results are insightful and other results were just plain silly. Enjoy! View the video of this presentation at

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  • 1. Smashwords Survey Helps Authors Sell More eBooks September, 2013 Mark Coker Founder, Smashwords Twitter: @markcoker
  • 2. Notes for the Slideshare edition of this presentation This is the companion deck to a Smashwords video workshop available on YouTube Here are links to each video in this 5-part series: #1 - An Introduction to Ebook Publishing (a primer and e-publishing checklist) #2 - The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success (best practices secrets for reaching more readers) #3 - Smashwords Survey Helps Authors Sell More Books (pricing strategy and fun metrics) #4 - 10 Trends Driving the Future of Authorship (indie authors are the future of publishing!) #5 - How to Reach More Readers at Apple iBooks (merchandising secrets to grow sales!) The complete video collection is at View more Smashwords presentations on Slideshare at
  • 3. About this Smashwords Survey video • What you’ll learn • • • • • • • Which sells better, shorter or longer books? Do longer or shorter book titles sell more books? What does the sales curve look like for indie ebooks? What are the most common price points for indie ebooks? Which price sells the most copies? Which price earns authors the most gross sales? And MUCH MUCH more! • Who this video is for • All authors, both published and aspiring
  • 4. This is me
  • 5. My Backstory
  • 6. In 2002, we decided to write a satire about the daytime television soap opera industry
  • 7. Publishers Said “No” • Despite great efforts of our agent, every major NY publisher said NO (TWICE!)
  • 8. I Concluded… • The publishing industry was broken. It was failing to serve  Authors  Readers  The future of books • Publishers value books on perceived commercial merit • Publishers unwilling and disinterested to take a chance on every author • • Rejecting most authors! Publishers guess what readers want to buy • Throw spaghetti against the wall
  • 9. The Problem: Publishers Controlled Everything • They controlled the … • printing press • distribution • knowledge to professionally publish
  • 10. I imagined a publishing revolution where writers would rise up and take control
  • 11. Writers needed the tools for revolution.. .. tools that would enable them to professionally publish without publishers
  • 12. My solution: Smashwords • FREE eBook Publishing Platform  Free ebook printing press  Distribution to major ebook retailers and libraries  Best practices knowledge to help writers become professional publishers
  • 13. Ebooks published at Smashwords 250,000+ September 2013 250,000 191,000 200,000 150,000 100,000 50,000 92,000 28,800 140 6,000 0 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
  • 14. How Smashwords Distribution Works • UPLOAD • • Free conversion to 9 ebook formats • • Upload a Microsoft Word file or .epub Ready for immediate sale online DISTRIBUTE • • Distribution to multiple major retailers GET PAID • Author receives 85%+ of net = 60% list from major retailers
  • 15. Smashwords Ebook Distribution Network (partial)
  • 17. The Second Annual Smashwords Survey First released May 2013 at RT Booklovers in Kansas City Read the original blog post: Google ‘smashwords survey’ (without quotes) or visit
  • 18. Last year’s study has been viewed over 85,000 times • Access the prior study at Slideshare
  • 19. In Search of Viral Catalysts
  • 20. What’s a Viral Catalyst? • A viral catalyst is something that makes your book more available, accessible, desirable and enjoyable to readers • Read the Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success (it’s FREE!) to learn how viral catalysts spur word-of-mouth
  • 21. ??? Useful (and not-so-useful) discoveries start with simple questions
  • 22. ??? So we asked questions We looked at 11 months of sales data for over 120,000 titles, aggregated across the Smashwords distribution network, representing over $12 million in global sales
  • 23. Smashwords Distribution Network
  • 24. Q: How many books sell well?
  • 25. How Many Indie Ebooks Sell Well? • Sales distribution is a “power curve” • Key findings: • Most books do not sell well (very important for authors to set realistic expectations, and take long term approach to platform building) • Sales distribution characterized by small minority of titles selling extremely well, thousands of moderate sellers, and then a long tail of poor sellers • Authors should implement best practices (read the Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success for ideas!) to drive their performance to the left of the curve • As books move to the left in sales rank, their actual sales increase quickly, especially in top 1,000
  • 26. Sales Distribution Across Smashwords Network (½ of sales are to the right of #1,000)
  • 27. Slice: Top 500
  • 28. Q: Do authors who change prices frequently sell more books?
  • 29. Impact of Price Changes • Conclusions not clear cut • Might price changes be proxy for author promotion?
  • 30. Impact of Price Changes
  • 31. Q: Should I have a long book title, or a shorter book title?
  • 32. Do Shorter Book Titles Sell Better? Let’s look at character count
  • 33. Let’s look at the number of words in the title. Shorter titles appear to gain slight advantage
  • 34. Q: Should my ebook description be short or long?
  • 35. What’s the right word count for an ebook product description?
  • 36. Q: If ebooks are immortal, how do sales develop over time? Case studies from Apple iBooks store
  • 37. How Sales Develop: Single Retailer, Single Title • This set of data looks at individual titles at the Apple iBooks store • Key findings: • Books develop differently over time • Sales rise and fall, then rise and fall again, based on various factors (randomness, luck, author promotions, new title releases, retailer promos) • Non-stop presence important. Never unpublish! • Unlike print books, which quickly go out of print, ebooks are immortal and can yield income for years
  • 38. The immortal indie ebook keeps on giving • This title has been out over a year. A new release in November caused title to surge anew, followed by subsequent breakouts as new readers discover this great author. As shown, still selling over 50 copies a day on average one year later.
  • 39. The book that keeps giving • Became immediate bestseller. Months later, still selling about 100 copies a day. This book will rise again with new releases by this author as new readers discover her talent.
  • 40. Breakout, followed by breakout, followed by strong daily sales • Wordwide bestseller. Experienced spike in sales with free promo of different book and series. Not captured in the data – experienced another spike in May 2013 with new release.
  • 41. New release sparks new breakout for older book • This book has been out over a year. Still performing well. Spiked in October with release of a different unrelated book.
  • 42. Slow boil, breakout, slow boil, breakout • This title was selling relatively well (5-10 copies a day) then benefited from major national press cover (spike #1) then feature placement in Apple email promo (spike #2). After each spike, sales settled at higher level.
  • 43. Slow boil to breakout • This is the chart for Ruth Ann Nordin (the only author for which I obtained permission to reveal her identity) and her book, An Inconvenient Marriage. This book had already been a bestseller at Kobo 12 months before it suddenly broke out at Apple to become the #1 romance title in the store. The Apple spike was prompted by a new title release, and price changes possibly also a free promotion for a separate title on her list. More discussion in Secrets.
  • 44. Q: What’s the ideal word count for ebooks?
  • 45. (2012) Do Readers Prefer Longer Books? • For the average book, yes
  • 46. (2013) Do Readers Prefer Longer Books? • For the average book, yes
  • 47. (2013) Readers Prefer Longer Books? • When we look at word count bands, the impact is clearer
  • 48. Q: What’s the average word count for the top 60 bestselling Smashwords romance books?
  • 49. A: 112,195 words = average word count of top 60 Smashwords romance
  • 50. Q: What do words cost readers?
  • 51. (2012) ~ 3 cents per 1,000 words • The outlier is a 27,000 word ebook priced at $2.99. Indicates that some authors might have ability to price popular shorter works higher
  • 52. (2013) How many words can a reader buy for a penny?
  • 53. Q: What price moves the most units?
  • 55. FREE • FREE moves ebooks • 91X more downloads on average compared to priced titles (last 12 months) • Powerful platform builder • Powerful sales catalyst for series or deep backlists • Over 35 million free downloads at Apple in 12 months (June 2012-May 2013)
  • 56. Q: What are the most common price points?
  • 57. (2012) How Many Books are Priced at Each Price Point?
  • 58. (2013) Number of titles in each price band
  • 59. Q: What impact does price have on unit sales?
  • 60. Impact of Price on Unit Sales • This set of data examines how price impacts unit sales • 1.0 = normalized reference point. For example, books priced in $3.00-$3.99 price band sell 4.3 times more units than books priced $10.00+ • Key findings: • Low prices sell more units • $1.00-$1.99 price point underperforms • $3.99 the new $2.99? • Many authors underpricing!
  • 61. How Price Impacts Units Sold
  • 62. Q: What prices earn the author the greatest amount of money?
  • 63. What Price Earns the Author the Greatest Yield? • We know low price yields more unit sales, but what price yields the greatest profit for the author? • Key findings: • $.99 to $1.99 underperforms. $1.99 a black hole. • $2.99 to $6.99 sweet spot for max earnings • $3.99 the new $2.99? • Some authors are underpricing • Two benefits of a sale: 1. $$$. 2. Readers. #2 more important for long term. Choose price that balances need to maximize readership
  • 64. What Price Yields the Greatest Author Earnings?
  • 65. Final Thoughts • Data-driven publishing decisions are irrelevant without a great book • Numbers provide hints at reader preferences • Dangerous to make decisions on a single metric alone • • If your story demands 200,000 words, go for it! Your book is immortal • Experiment and iterate until you get viral catalysts just right. Then iterate some more. • Read the Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success for other viral catalysts
  • 66. Free Ebook Publishing Resources • NEW! Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success (best practices of successful authors) • Smashwords Book Marketing Guide (how to market any book at no cost) • Smashwords Style Guide (how to format and
  • 67. Publish and Distribute with Smashwords • Learn to publish like a pro  Join Smashwords –  Learn the best practices of professional indie e-publishing  Download and read my guides (all FREE!)   Smashwords Book Marketing Guide   Smashwords Style Guide Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success Watch the Smashwords videos on Youtube  Upload to Smashwords  Stay connected with your fans  Get to work on your next book!
  • 68. Thank you for watching! Connect: Twitter: @markcoker Facebook: Web: Blog: (subscribe via email) HuffPo: