Not too long ago, I posted about BookGlutton, a service which allowed for online collaborative reading. You could also upload your own work, but that wasn’t the main focus of the site. Smashwords, on the other hand, is a web site devoted to self-publishing. It doesn’t […]

swlogoNot too long ago, I posted about BookGlutton, a service which allowed for online collaborative reading. You could also upload your own work, but that wasn’t the main focus of the site. Smashwords, on the other hand, is a web site devoted to self-publishing. It doesn’t lend itself to collaboration, necessarily, but it does present another possible method of content delivery, and for web workers looking for another revenue stream, it may provide an avenue for monetizing your content.

For me, it also raises the age-old question: is self-publishing really just a form of vanity publishing, along with all the negative connotations that implies?

It’s a thorny question, and one that takes on new significance as we slowly but surely move away from print media towards online publishing. I went to school for writing, and had it drilled into me pretty much every day that unless it was someone else’s name on the masthead of the journal or press I was publishing with, I wasn’t accomplishing anything.

Online, however, many of the most successful professionals are self-published, and self-made. Darren Rowse, Guy Kawasaki and Om Malik Richard MacManus come to mind. They are dealing primarily in the medium of the blog, however. The stigma associated with self-publishing doesn’t seem to have entirely disappeared when it comes to books.

Smashwords is a service for self-publishing your own eBook. Once you’ve signed up for an account you can upload your original work and offer it for sale at a price of your own choosing. Your book will also be available for purchase via Stanza for the iPhone, the most popular and fastest-growing eReader available. Authors make a royalty of 85% of the net proceeds from the sale of their work. Readers using the service get free samples of all the books available on the site, and get access to search and library-building services.

It’s a good system, but will it work? Even if you already have a built-in readership from a successful blogging career, will users be willing to take the extra step and pay for your content in eBook form? The answer probably depends on what kind of content you’re offering. If you’re just repackaging your blog as paid content, it probably won’t pay off. But if you’re offering valuable content that extends, rather than mirrors, your blog-based content, Smashwords may be a useful platform.

To me, the benefit of a service like Smashwords, and self-publishing in general, is the same benefit that consulting firms get from preparing free research reports for distribution to clients. It’s a proof of competency, a means to show you can and will deliver the type of results they’re looking for. And with distribution via Stanza, there’s also the possibility that you could reach potential clients where you otherwise wouldn’t have, even if you do end up just reformatting your blog content for alternative distribution.

What do you think about self-publishing? Is it a good means to increase your revenue or profile as a web worker?

  1. I think a more important question is whether “traditional” book publishers will continue to be required in the future. With digital distribution, publishers are no longer a necessary part of the chain: self-publishing (whether through a service like Smashwords or independently) is becoming more commonplace. Devices like the Kindle and the iPhone will only accelerate this trend.

  2. I recently read John T. Reed’s “How To Write, Publish, and Sell Your Own How-To Book”. He explains the differences between the traditional published author and the self-publisher, as well as the difference between self-distribution and using traditional methods. He has nothing against eBooks, but considers the technology too immature to take a chance on it.

    Self publishing is definitely a way to get into the market. I’ve considered writing a couple of books on a variety of topics, but my odds of getting them past a traditional publisher (much less an agent). A service like this could help me to product information that might be helpful to a few people. I’m sure the market might be small, but if my work is useful to a few people and a small charge for the eBook is agreeable, I think it would be a good thing.

  3. I work in publishing — for http://www.packtpub.com. I don’t see anything “vain” about self publishing your ebook or print book, if you do it for the right reasons.

    As with any product, the right reasons to develop it are because there is a demand / need that you can satisfy. If you’re doing it to just see your name [or photo ;-) ] on a cover, or to show off about “my latest ebook” then yes it is vanity publishing.

    Publishers are no longer necessary for the mechanics of distribution, but they do still do a lot of important work. Many authors who write books would not produce the results they do (in terms of quality and in terms of sales) if they didn’t work with a publisher.

  4. I’m with David Barnes. Self-publishing is good in certain areas.

    Self-publishing will have a stigma as long as the market is flooded with books with with abysmal writing and poor editing.

  5. I have done a little on SmashWords. Where else can a person “be published” with a few short stories? There are the college-based journals of short stories, but wait six months between acceptance and publication and get paid $25. Oh, and by the way, the college professor that taught us that someone else had to publish our work probably edited one of these college-based publications.

  6. Darrell, thank you for this story.

    You raise an important issue. For many years, self-publishing has been associated with “vanity” publishing. I think it’s time we retire the “V” word as it relates to self-publishing and indie authorship because it minimizes the great work of so many talented and professional writers.

    The prejudice against self-publishing is deep seated in the industry. This prejudice is especially strong among authors themselves. Most authors were trained from the beginning that they should aspire to become traditionally published, because the big publishers were viewed as the ultimate arbiters of quality and talent. There was also the tacit assumption traditional publishing was the best route to commercial success (this may be true today, but it will become less true in the future).

    Authors who could not break into these favored ranks of commercially published authors were considered failures.

    I think that’s sad and unfair.

    I created Smashwords because I believe every author has a right to publish and have a shot at reaching their audience.

    I fully respect the right of commercial publishers to publish only the authors they choose, though I also recognize that the traditional publishing industry faces some wrenching change ahead as it adapts to new business models and stronger competition from alternative media sources (this blog among them). In the next couple years, it’s quite likely we’ll see fewer big publishers, fewer brick and mortar bookstores, and fewer publishers taking big chances on unknown authors. In other words, there will be fewer opportunities for talented authors to rise to what was previously considered the highest caste of authordom.

    It also means many talented authors will either be orphaned by their publishers, or will compete for the scarcer number of spots and resources gifted to the favored few.

    Either way, all authors, both indie and commercially published, will need to take more personal responsibility for their own publishing success.

    Authors today now have the tools (Smashwords among them) to publish, promote and sell their works on their own. It’s tough work, and the number of commercially successful indie authors will be rare (just as a traditionally published “best seller” is rare), but at least they’ll have a shot at authorship and a chance to prove their worth, as opposed to relying upon some publishing gatekeeper to make the decision for them.

    It’s also worth noting that authors write for many reasons. I would argue that most artists and authors are driven more by the desire for self expression and personal discovery than by the expectation of commercial success. Chris Baty, founder of Nanowrimo, said as much earlier this week during his keynote address at the Tools of Change conference in New York, when he was describing why over 100,000 ordinary people devoted the entire month of November to write a novel from scratch. I blogged about it today at http://blog.smashwords.com

  7. I’m with Mark on this one (and I am a happy Smashwords user!).
    Vanity press is a publishing house that charges authors for printing their books.
    Smashwords does not charge authors for publishing – but they take a small % of sales.
    They are therefore a self-publishing platform, for authors who are out there and using Web 2.0 in the way it is intended – write, produce, consume, interact, promote…yourself.
    These are fun times for authors – and Smashwords is an easy way to get your book onto the iphone and your words out there.

    The Creative Penn – Writing, self-publishing, print-on-demand, internet sales and marketing…for your book

  8. Best of luck to Smashwords. Power to the people!

  9. Umm – where have you been? Leaving aside the confusion between self-publishing and vanity publishing, which is huge, were you aware that all of the following started out self published? Chicken Soup For The Soul, What Color Is My Parachute?, The Celestine Prophecy.

    Most people on the cutting edge of publishing are on the side of why would you NOT self publish? Especially since a) bookstores are (totally sadly and tragically) increasingly irrelevant to book sales and b) Amazon takes a higher share of the money than any other form of distribution.

  10. This is a wonderful article, and I agree with Mark’s statement regarding the retirement of the “V” word. I think for a long time, I allowed myself to become discouraged with writing because I viewed the traditional publishing route to be somewhat elitist, and the term vanity publishing held such a negative connotation. My writing suffered for it.

    I recently joined Smashwords.com and love it. I find I’m writing more, I’m writing better, and I’m paying more attention to my own editing and formatting. I currently have three short stories on my profile, and two of them are for free. I am encouraged to write more because I feel I have a place to share my work. I figure the chances of being published to the point where I can quit my day job are slim, so I look at any money received as a bonus, and consider it a compliment that someone is willing to pay a little bit to see how the story ends.


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