Oct 7, 2011

To FREE, or not to FREE, that is the question

Today, I'm pleased to feature an article by Mark Souza. A fellow Pacific Northwest writer and a great Twitter pal.

To FREE, or not to FREE, that is the question.
 by Mark Souza

Whether ‘tis nobler..., eh, far enough with that analogy. I, as a writer, reached that point thousands of others have before me, and thousands more will soon. I put my first work up for sale in the ever broadening veldt of ePublishing. I floundered at first, as most will, trying to learn the ins and outs of ePublishing and eBook formatting. I learned much and made mistakes along the way others can learn from.

The initial successes of my relatively short writing career have centered on short stories. During the last two years, I sold over two dozen that have appeared in various anthologies. While I have been toiling away on a novel, the rights to some of these stories have reverted back to me, and I made the decision to market them as singles as a way to introduce myself to readers before my novel releases in 2012. I started with the first short story I ever sold for print, Cupid’s Maze, with another five stories to follow shortly after.

This was good practice to learn a thing or two about eBook formatting and how to work with the major eBook retailers. I figured the experience would benefit my novel. I concentrated my initial efforts on the biggest eBook retailer, Amazon. That was my first mistake. How, you might ask? Though I learned how to create an HTML version that renders fairly well on the Kindle (could never get photos or graphics to render), and learned some of the formatting bugaboos that can kill an eBook, when I was ready to launch, up popped the question about what the price of my book would be. Amazon requires a minimum price of 99 cents, so that’s what I selected. My objective at this point is to get my work into as many hands as possible and win fans.

Over the weeks, I watched sales trickle in - no, trickle is too generous. It implies flow. There was no flow. There were a couple sales right away - droplets. Then nothing. A week later, another. Then nothing. Perhaps casting a broader net was the answer. I next uploaded Cupid’s Maze to Barnes & Noble, or tried to. Its release status is still pending weeks later.

Smashwords was another outlet I was familiar with. I always thought of them as the goofy second cousin everyone has heard about but never met; another of my mistakes. But still, the goal was to cast as broad a net as possible and Smashwords was another outlet. While I researched how to upload my work there, I came across their style guide. What a gem that is. If you plan to sell an eBook, go to Smashwords and download their style guide now - unless you’re a masochist and like avoidable pain. Not only does it cost nothing, it tells you how to avoid formatting gremlins that will ruin the appearance of your eBook, it gives great advice on making the reading experience better for your readers, and advice how to better market yourself within your book. GET THE SMASHWORDS STYLE GUIDE.

One of the topics in Smashwords’ author resources is whether or not to give away free material. After reading the article, I determined that in my case, free was the perfect price. I am a relatively new author without a defined readership trying to introduce readers to my work. As my sales, or lack of them, on Amazon showed, even 99 cents can be an impediment for an unknown author. I want readers, not nickels and dimes. By the time my novel comes out, I want people to know who I am.

After reformatting the Cupid’s Maze.doc file per the style guide and uploading to Smashwords, 60 copies of Cupid’s Maze were downloaded in the first eight hours. Not only that, but the Smashwords’ Meat Grinder generated files in various formats compatible with every retailer and eReader device out there. When I downloaded the Cupid’s Maze.mobi file to my Kindle, lo and behold, it rendered my author’s photo perfectly, a feat I had never managed in my own formatting attempts.

After a little more researching, I discovered Smashwords is not the goofy second cousin of ePublishing, it’s the industry leader. For while more people may go to Amazon to download their eBooks, the eBook’s being downloaded may likely have come from Smashwords. You see, if you follow the Smashwords style guide and your book qualifies for the Smashwords Premium Package (free), Smashwords will distribute your eBook to the major retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Apple, Borders Australia, and many more. And that little minimum pricing issue with Amazon and Barnes & Noble? If you price your book at $0.00 (free) on Smashwords, it will be free when it hits the major eBook retailers. It’s the only way to this that I know of.

So back to that question: to FREE, or not to FREE? Go to the Smashwords site, peruse the information they make available to authors, and make your own decision based on what your objectives are. Smashwords will be there to support you either way. And while there, download your free copy of Cupid’s Maze (and the style guide).

About the Author

Mark Souza lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife, two children, and mongrel beast-dog, Tater. When he’s not writing, he’s out among you trying to look and act normal (whatever that is), reminding himself that the monsters he’s created are all in his head, no more real than campaign promises.