The Moveable Writer

New technology and old comforts for today's writer.


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Uploading to Smashwords

In a previous post, We Can All Be Published, I compared uploading my ebook to Kindle Direct and Barnes and Noble publishing websites. I concluded that Barnes and Noble’s Nook Press was much more intuitive than the Kindle Direct Publishing site.

Recently I was shocked to learn that Barnes and Noble and Amazon do not have a coupon program where authors can create a sales promotion for their book and offer certain people a free copy using a coupon code. I have a marketing idea involving a coupon and was disappointed that I would not be able to launch it yet.

Enter Smashwords. Smashwords is another great internet company hailing from the Silicon Valley. They are an ebook publishing and distributing company that does offer a great coupon program. They also offer other promotional programs and will distribute your book in every format to most ebook retailers including Apple and Kobo. Their author percentage is also higher than Kindle Direct and Barnes and Noble. And when you first publish to their site, your book is featured on their new ebook page.

There were a couple of things about uploading to their system that I didn’t like. After you use their 140 page ebook to format your ebook for their system, you fill out the usual information and upload your materials. If you make a mistake and check off a box on their form that comes back as something you need to correct, then you have to upload your cover and manuscript again. You have to upload your materials for as many times as it takes you to get the form right. This is not the biggest deal, but still annoying.

The bigger issue for me was that you are published and featured on their website as soon as you hit the publish button. BUT, there is no way to know if you formatted your ebook correctly. There is NO preview section like in Kindle Direct and Nook Press. You don’t get to correct your book before it goes live. Since I like my books to look as profession as possible, this was a problem for me.

Next your book goes through a computer system that flags any immediate problems for you to change. You receive an email and then must consult the 140 page manual again to figure out how to fix the issues. Luckily they suggest where your problem may be found. When you are finished, you upload your revised manuscript. It goes through their system again and flags other problems that you may have. If no new problems are found, it goes into a cue to be reviewed by humans. All this while it is still live and featured. By the time the review is done, you are no longer a featured book and the only way you know how your book looks before this is to download it yourself in all of the formats to see what it looks like, which they suggest for you to do.

I did this and found that it did not look right in epub and looked great in mobi and others. I was able to make corrections and it turned out to look good in all formats, but I lost that window of being featured at my best. I am sure that across the industry the uploading systems will greatly improve over the next year, and still, Smashwords is an innovative company in this space.

 

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Data Driven Art?

Recent articles in The New York Times, NPR, and WSJ have reported on ereaders collecting data from readers while they read. The data collected includes noting at what point a reader stops reading a book. It also notes which parts of a book – action scenes, sex scenes, or romantic scenes, for instance – that the reader stays engaged in.

The chief executive of Scribd, a company that sells subscriptions for unlimited ebooks, stated that, “We’re going to be pretty open about sharing this data so people can use it to publish better books.”

But what does this mean for the future of literature? What would writer’s like Hemingway say about altering your writing to suit readers? I think we know what he would say and I am not going to write the profanity that would come out if his mouth in protest of this approach.

First, let me acknowledge that readers are individuals and that one book may appeal to many readers for different reasons. People may fall in love with different aspects of a character, but still love that character. Second, I acknowledge that certain stories and characters that do appeal to many readers have specific qualities that many people will like. These are two contradicting statements. Sort of.

If the data does come up with a certain combination of events that when written are more likely to become best sellers, should we alter our writing to ensure that our books meet that criteria? I must say that I would very much be interested to find out what readers think about my writing. As previously mentioned in this blog, I like the idea of readers being able to give me feedback about how and when my manuscript moves them. Readers matter to me. That being said, I think it is naïve to assume that we, as a group of writers, can “write better books” just by following this data. I agree that there are data that could be helpful, but we should not take over our writing.

Even if in the short term people did buy more books that fit a certain storyline, the market would be saturated by it very quickly. Nobody wants to read the same thing over and over again. Then, the data would see a shifting trend and writers would have to alter their writing to suit the new trend. We would lose the value of literature. One point I want to highlight is that many great books are like time capsules of a day or year or decade and capture a distinct atmosphere. We record this in detail and it is preserved for future generations to experience. Books written about life in our time may not be in trend in our time. What does that mean for future generations?

That is just one example. For me, I want to connect with a reader by telling a story that is meaningful and entertaining whether it makes a reader uncomfortable at times or takes them on an adventure they might not have known they wanted to go on. I believe that writing is telling a story through the unique perspective of the writer and that the truer you can be to human emotion and motivation the better. For this, there is no formula other than perception and practicing your craft. For these reasons I think we can gather data, understand it, and use it, but we should not let it make our writing untrue.