Smashwords, Or, How to publish (and sell) your book the smart way

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Publishing is dead; long live publishing!

Consider it: you’ve invested a lot of time – perhaps years – and labor to write a book, and have it read by some top agents and editors. The book is great, and you can write, most of them tell you, but in the end all of them reject you. Why? Some hint obliquely that the book does not satisfy today’s marketing condition. Bottom line: your book lacks the quality of a blockbuster.

Today’s publishing scarcely wants to publish anything except a blockbuster. The all-important market does not care you a bit unless you can deliver the next big thing a la J.K.Rowling or Dan Browning who are not, by any standard, great writers. So, the traditional publishing has long subverted all its cardinal rules and principles, and ceased to function. The cabal of lit agents-publishers-distributors-sellers now decides who to let in, and determines what to publish (vampire novels, sorcerer’s black magic or gay/lesbian fiction – readers’tastes be damned!).In the current milieu of publishing, it is really difficult to publish some classy, pertinent and valuable work and emerge as a real writer.

Welcome to Smashwords Inc (http://www.smashwods.com) founded by Mark Coker, a marketing consultant, and a rejected novelist himself! It wants to take care of the creative writer in a special way: the writer himself should decide what to publish, and the reader is to judge the merit of the work, and there should be no intermediary between them. The startup is all set to change the way books are published, marketed and sold.

Of course, it sounds like a tall claim, and you may feel skeptic about it. But Mark has been working at it for quite a while, and his project has been in beta stage for the past one month. He gets together a group of writers, publishers, bloggers, literacy advocates, and e-book technologists – 50 persons from across six countries – to form a core group to extensively conduct different tests and trials with his tools before the launch. I’m a member of the core group from India, and through my active participation, I get an idea of an emerging publishing paradigm that might revolutionize the concept of publishing altogether.

Over the past month, we published and sold our books, read and bought others’ books,( without spending a buck, in real term though) and tested our two ‘readers’s, found out bugs and glitches in them and had them fixed, exchanged comments and interacted about Smashwords’ usability, interface flow, features and function. While I’m fascinated by some aspects, especially in terms of writer’s new-found freedom and opportunity, I’ve also learned a little about digital publishing along the way.

Mark and I exchanged twenty or so e-mails during this time, and I found in him a candid, earnest and committed person who is ready to walk that extra mile for this project. Though he has yet to formulate his business model, he has a solid philosophy behind his work. Being a rejected novelist himself, he knows about the anguish and struggle of aspiring writers, and wants to prove really useful to writers, though he has agendas for readers as well as publishers.

I like Mark’s views on writing. “Most authors write,” says he, “because they have a story to tell, information to share, and ideas to communicate, and these noble desires often trump the motive for financial gains.”

In reply to my e-mail query about whether he has any editing option at their end, he candidly says that it involves manual work, and he’s not at all considering it. “What we’re going to do is to create a Smashwords style guide that helps authors prepare their source document,” he writes back to me.

There’s of course a downside to this project. Since there is no filter, the website might experience an avalanche of crap from wannabe authors from all corners of the world, and the readers may have a hard time to sift the real stuff from the chaffe.

But given that traditional publishing is shrinking everyday, Smashwords might emerge as the future of publishing.
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