ebook Publishing Success

Book Review and Excerpts: The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success

Book Title: The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success

Author: Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords.

Review and excerpts by: Gary Wolfe, New Author Publishing

Review Date: June 2013

Book available from: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/145431

Book cost: Free (ebook)

Book Reproduction Rights, Licensing Statement (partial): You have the author’s permission to reprint the entirety of this book, or any excerpted portion of this book, on your blog, website or social media platforms, provided you credit the author and include a live hyperlink to Smashwords at www.smashwords.com and a link to where readers can download their own free copy.

Permission to post the excerpt: Requested June 23. Granted June 24 via e-mail from Smashwords.

Review: (by Gary Wolfe)

The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success is a wealth of information for anyone who is interested in becoming a published author. Although it is written for e-book publishing success, many of the “secrets” also apply to print books. The book is free from Smashwords (Mark’s company) and gives real methods and tips that will help an author become successful. It is obvious that becoming a successful author requires good old fashioned hard work and a solid plan. This plan starts long before your book is finished and continues long after it is published. Your success will be directly related to the amount of effort you give. Mark’s book is a guide to “everything ebook”. I have come across many of the “secrets” Mark explains in his book before, but this is the first place I have seen them explained in depth, and all in one document.

Smashwords is an ebook distribution service. You up-load your book with a very specific format (Mark has a free ebook on how to do that) and Smashwords distributes your ebook to all of the major ebook players. Kobo, Nook, Kindle, Apple and the rest. All your royalties go to your Smashwords account. The royalty share is fair and the service is excellent.

This book has an unusual rights statement (see above). Since Mark owns Smashwords, I believe part of the reason he offers this book for free is to help people understand ebook publishing and therefore grow his company. I believe his rights statement is also intended to encourage others to share his work (with the provision they provide the appropriate credit and links as I have done). I have cut and pasted (and slightly re-ordered) approximately 5,000 of the 39,000 words as a “condensed” version. My intention for doing this is to provide new authors with an introductory “need to know” version of Mark’s book.

Since the tag line for New Author Publishing is “Painless Publishing for New Authors”, I truly feel that if you take the time to read the excerpt (and Marks complete book if you wish) the knowledge you will gain will make your journey as painless (and successful) as possible.

Excerpt: (5,000 of 39,000 words from The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, cut/paste/re-ordered)

The Book:

Book Quality: Ninety percent of your book’s success will be determined by the quality of your book. The other ten percent is distribution, marketing and luck.  If you remember nothing else from this book, remember this: The most important marketing you can do is to write a great book that markets itself on the wings of reader word-of-mouth. If your book makes the reader say, “WOW!” then they won’t just recommend your book to their friends, they’ll command their friends to read it.

“Pretty good” isn’t good enough if you want to spark word-of-mouth. Be fanatical about quality. Revise, revise, revise. Hire a professional editor if necessary, but only if you can afford it. If you can’t afford a professional editor, seek out other free alternatives, like bartering editing with your fellow writers. Join a critique group. Utilize beta readers. Seek out critical, dispassionate feedback from beta readers, preferably from strangers rather than friends and family. It’s difficult to obtain honest critical feedback from friends and family because they’ll be awestruck that you wrote a book, and they won’t want to hurt your feelings.

If your book is poorly-conceived or poorly-edited, readers will reject it. If you write a great book that satisfies readers, they will reward you with their word of mouth. Honor your readers with a great read.  Readers value their time more than the money in their wallet or purse. Book marketing has always been a word of mouth business. Your readers will market your book for you if the book touches their soul, or inspires mad passion.

Cover: If a picture is worth a thousand words, a great ebook cover is worth 100,000 words. Your cover is the first impression you make on a prospective reader. It’s the visual embodiment of everything your book represents. Great covers, through their imagery alone, can communicate genre, topic, mood and setting. A great cover image makes a promise to the reader. It helps them recognize your book as one they’ll enjoy reading. At a glance, the reader will gain an instant sense for whether or not you’re a professional.

Characteristics of a good ebook cover image include:

  • Genre or topic-appropriate – At a glance, the reader should have a sense of your genre or topic. Is it romance, a thriller, a mystery, a cookbook, or is it a selfhelp book?
  • Great covers are aspirational – A romance cover promises the reader romance, a chance to experience the feelings of first love again. A horror novel promises to scare the reader out of their wits. A thriller promises to keep the reader on the edge of their seat.
  • The image says it all – The image on the cover is more important than the title or author name.
  • Smart use of color – Color lights up our senses. It catches the eye and helps convey a message. It brings realism to an image and what that image represents.
  • Looks good in thumbnail size – Unlike print book covers which are meant to be viewed up close or from across the room, ebook cover images are usually displayed as small thumbnail images.
  • Looks good in black & white or greyscale – Even if your image is in color, keep in mind that millions of ebook devices don’t support color, so test your cover image in greyscale mode and make sure it looks good.
  • Invest in a professional cover image. You don’t have to break your bank to hire a professional. Next to the quality of your book, your ebook cover is your single most important marketing tool.

Book title: Your book title is your single most important piece of metadata. A good book title grabs the reader and helps them self-identify as a reader who would enjoy your book.

Author name: Your author name is your brand, so choose carefully. For most authors, it’s their real name, but for others it’s a pseudonym or pen name. A good author name is simple to remember, and simple to spell. Your fans should be able to go to Google, or go to an ebook retailer, and spell your name without error.

Book description: After the book title, this is probably the second most important piece of metadata. For ebooks, the book description is equivalent to the jacket copy of a print book. This is your chance to hook the reader with pithy marketing copy that motivates them to download a sample of your book, or better yet, purchase it on the spot. A good description is tailored to your target audience. The description also tells the reader something about your writing talent, or lack thereof. You’d be surprised how often authors upload book descriptions with spelling errors, missing punctuation, or grammatical errors. Nothing screams, “DON’T READ THIS BOOK” faster than typos in your book’s description. For inspiration about the tips and tricks that work well for book descriptions, study the descriptions of the bestselling books in your genre. Look for commonalities in how the descriptions sell the story to readers.

Tags: Tags are supplemental words (also known as “keywords”) or search phrases that go beyond your book categories. So, for example, let’s say you wrote a thriller novel categorized under Fiction: Thriller: Psychological, yet the book takes place in Venice, Italy. You might add tags such as “Venice” and “Italy” so that if someone’s looking for a fun read to bring on their vacation to Venice, your book is more discoverable.

Write another Great Book: Most bestselling authors at Smashwords publish more than one book. Each book gives you an opportunity to reach new readers and earn their trust. If you honor the reader with a great read in your first book, then they will seek out your other books for their next read.


Business: Successful ebook authors approach publishing as a business. Profit is the sustaining lifeblood of any business. Profit means you get more out of it than you put in. You might measure your profit in terms of emotional satisfaction, or, you may measure it in the traditional form of cold hard cash.  You do have the power to manage your expenses. If you keep your expenses low and you manage your time, then the opportunity to build a sustainable, profitable business is within your reach. Remember that it’s difficult to recoup expenses because most books don’t sell well.

Bootstrap your publishing business. Invest sweat equity first. Use your head before you use your wallet. Wait for the cash to come in before you start spending it. If after you release your book it starts selling well and generating a profit, then that’s the time to consider reinvesting a portion of the profits back into the book, possibly in the form of an upgraded cover, new marketing, or hiring an editor to assist with a revised edition.


Brand: You, the author, are the brand. What is a brand, exactly? Your brand is that bundle of characteristics, qualities and magic readers come to expect from you when they read your material.The author is the brand, and brand matters.

Obscurity: Recognize your obscurity and it will help you become a smarter, more successful author. Your obscurity is cause for optimism. Why? An author who realizes they haven’t reached all their potential readers will never stop working to find new readers. There are thousands of readers out there just waiting to discover you. If you work to make your books more discoverable and more enjoyable to readers, you will get read by more people than those authors who aren’t as hungry, or who rest on their laurels.

Spend Your Time Wisely: The most valuable contribution you have to give to the world is your time. Spend it wisely. Jealously guard it from distraction and inefficiency. Ask yourself, where is your time and talent best-utilized? What can you do better than anyone else? What can you create that is singularly unique to you? Hopefully, your answer is to write the best book only you can write. Then write another, and another! As the power of publishing shifts from publishers to authors, authors must become professional publishers, and professional time managers. Publishers possess a wide range of responsibilities. They must professionally edit, revise and proof each book, professionally format it and package it with a professional cover image. They must adorn the book with quality metadata, price it, distribute it, sell and market it, market the author, and collect payments from distribution partners.  Some indie authors mistakenly believe they must do all the work themselves. This thinking is counterproductive, and potentially damaging. If you can hire a low-cost specialized expert to do the job better, faster and cheaper than you can do on your own, then hire out. If you’re not an expert cover designer, or if you don’t have the time or patience to format your manuscript for conversion, hire an expert. If you don’t have time to prepare your book and metadata to each retailer’s specifications, or you want to save time on uploading, metadata management, distribution and bookkeeping, use a distributor.

Give (some of) Your Books away for: FREE is the most misunderstood and underutilized book marketing tactic for indie authors. It’s one of the best-kept secrets for the best-selling authors at Smashwords. When you price a book at free, you eliminate the financial risk readers face by giving you a try. Free books at Smashwords receive 50-100 times more downloads than priced books. Take advantage of free to reach new readers and then introduce these readers to your priced titles. If you only have a single book, consider offering it for free for a limited period of time. This is a great strategy for building early buzz and obtaining a critical mass of reviews at the major retailers. Try to involve your fellow authors in cross-promotional launch promotions, especially if you write in similar genres or topics.  Think of each book and each retailer as an asset – a fruit tree perhaps – that will yield fruit for you over the long term. Give your book time to plant roots and develop a solid base of reviews. Market your book. Promote all your retailers in your marketing on your web site, blog and social media. Give readers the option to shop where they like. Make it convenient for them by offering direct hyperlinks to your book’s listing at each retailer.  Successful authors put their works out there and trust their readers to honor their copyright. Even if readers do share your books with their friends, consider it low cost marketing, because they’re introducing you to new fans you might not have reached otherwise. At Smashwords, we don’t infect our books with DRM (Digital Rights


Platform Building Starts Yesterday: If you wait until the book launch to start building an author platform and marketing your book, your marketing will be less effective. The moment you decide to write a book, you should start marketing you, the author.

The author is the brand. Like any brand, you want to increase your brand’s awareness, and you want to build positive perception of your brand among potential readers (the people who will purchase your book) and partners (the people who can connect you with more readers).

You market your brand by building a platform. What’s platform, you ask? Your platform, simply put, is your ability to reach readers and partners. Consider platform a measure of your fame, influence and reach. Multiple elements contribute to your platform. If you blog, and thousands of people are reading you each month, your blog is part of your platform. If you participate in social network services such as Facebook or Twitter, these social networks are part of your platform. If you’re a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars, that’s a platform. If you maintain a mailing list of fans, that’s a platform. If you actively participate in writers groups, professional associations, or online message boards related to your subject, these are all part of your platform. If you’re fortunate enough to be the subject of press coverage – both mainstream media and blogs – that’s platform too.

Take care how you build your online presence. Don’t spam your social media friends and followers with solicitations of your book. Remember that everything you do – including your marketing – becomes a direct reflection of your brand.

For most of us, our platform will start off small with limited reach. We all start off with zero friends on Facebook, zero Twitter followers, and zero readers of our blog. However, if you keep at it and you add positive value to those around you, word will get out about you, and others will want to connect with you, spread your message and help you build your platform. they will spread your message and recommend you to their social circles. Maybe they’ll follow your blog, or attend your talks, or interview you for their blog, or retweet your tweets. Maybe they’ll even buy your book when it comes out, and recommend it to their friends. How do you build platform? It’s easier than you might think. Start with social networking, both in the real world through local writers groups, and in the online world through online writers groups, mailing lists and special-interest message boards. Cultivate your social network.

Public Relations: Educate yourself about the practice of Public Relations. Public relations is how you generate free press coverage, and it’s one of the most powerful platform builders. PR builds awareness, creates perceptions, and can create urgency for readers of the story to take a specific action such as purchasing your book, or subscribing to your blog. A single well-placed story that features you can expose you to an audience of hundreds of thousands of people.


Viral: Virality is all about word-of-mouth. Thanks to the reach and immediacy of social media, word-of-mouse is like word-of-mouth on steroids. If someone loves your book and tweets a recommendation to their 10,000 followers, word spreads fast. How can you maximize virality? Make it easy for your book to spread by eliminating all the friction that prevents readers from discovering, sampling, purchasing and enjoying your book. Ultimately, the success of a book depends upon that First Reader’s reaction to the book. If they enjoy your book, they’ll recommend it to their friend.

  • Question: If given the option to invest $2,000 in a professional book edit, or to invest it in marketing, which would you choose?
  • Answer: The answer, of course, is editing. Spend your best effort making your book as great as possible, because a great book sells itself through viral word of mouth. Marketing is important, but even the best marketing can’t trigger the Viral Dream.

Marketing gets you First Readers, but only the best book can unleash the Viral Dream. Your book must ultimately market itself by resonating deeply with each reader.

How do you prevent all-negative reviews? The simple (or not-so-simple) answer is to write a great book. One secret to avoiding the big flop is to utilize beta readers. Find readers – preferably not family members or friends.

Viral Catalysts

Great cover: This is the first impression you make on a reader. A great cover tells your target reader, “This book is for you!” A bad cover scares the reader away. Good cover design starts with you understanding your target reader. A great cover makes a promise to the reader. Take a look at the best-selling romance titles at Barnes & Noble, and study the covers. Then study the covers of the bestselling thrillers or mysteries. Then look at the best-selling self-help titles. Notice how each is different, and each has a different feel.

Great story: Ultimately, if you don’t write a great book your readers won’t recommend it to their friends, and they’re not going to give you a good review. How can you make your book better? Does it need a full revision? Does it have typos? Is the plot too weak? Do readers care what happens next to your characters? Is your writing crisp and clear? Is your plot satisfactorily resolved? You’ll likely determine you need to tweak many small things to make a big difference.

Great title: Like a good cover image, a good title helps draw the reader in by telling them, “this book was written for you!”

Great book description: Once the reader has progressed past your cover image and title, they’ll read the description, which is where you close the next stage of the sale.

Fair price: Readers appreciate fair prices. They read for pleasure (fiction and non-fiction) and knowledge (non-fiction, and sometimes even fiction). If the value of the perceived pleasure or knowledge they’ll gain from your book exceeds the purchase price, the book will be perceived of as valuable. If the book is priced too high, you’ll reduce the perceived value of the book to them, and therefore diminish potential virality.

Professionally edited: Good editing is about more than simply catching typographic errors. Good editors will help you strengthen all aspects of your story. They’ll help you strengthen all aspects of your book, including plot, character development, pacing, sentence structure, dialogue, and more. They’ll help you address weaknesses that might diminish reader satisfaction.

Good proofreading: It’s impossible for writers to find all their own typos and grammatical glitches. This is why you need multiple proofreaders before you expose your book for publication. The more sets of eyes touching your words, the more typos you’ll find.

Great marketing: Great marketing is grounded in honesty, not vapid hype. Don’t try to market your book to readers who don’t enjoy your genre or topic.

Social media enabled: Do you make it easy for fans to share hyperlinks to your book across their social networks? Visit any Smashwords book page for an example. We make it easy for fans to post at-a-click hyperlinks

Sampling enabled: Do you make it easy for readers to download free samples of your book? Most ebook retailers support this. You can also distribute partial samples on your blog.

Multiple formats: The most common formats for ebooks are EPUB (used by Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony, Google Ebooks and most other e-reading devices and apps except Kindle), MOBI/PRC/KF8 (Kindle), PDF (good on personal computers), though there are multiple other formats as well including .txt (plain text), HTML (online viewing and sampling), RTF (for reading in word processors).

Luck!: Luck happens when it happens, but it happens to all of us, eventually. If a reader stumbles across your book by accident, that’s luck

Discovering: In September 2011, I ran a survey over at MobileRead, the popular online community of ebook readers. I asked readers to name their single favorite method of discovering the ebooks they purchase. I presented them with 12 options, one of which was “other,” and they were allowed to select one answer only. The results were surprising, and the lessons gleaned from this survey paint an encouraging picture for all authors, especially those of us who recognize and embrace our obscurity. Readers trust online communities more than immediate friends and family – 28 percent of survey respondents said they prefer to discover books by listening to the recommendations of their fellow online readers in message boards and blogs. This contrasts with only 7 percent who said they prefer to learn about new books from immediate friends and family. Why the disparity? In the online realm, it’s easy to find hyper-focused online communities that share your same passion for your favorite genre.

The #2 method of discovery,  Goodreads or Facebook. That’s the permanent marketing infrastructure you want to build over time with your marketing. Your book, listed at an online ebook retailer, for example, provides permanent marketing benefit (unless you make the mistake of removing it, which kills the roots). A book’s listing is always up, always working for you, always there to wave down readers when they’re searching for their next read by browsing reviews, category listings or the also bought recommendations.

A blog generates long term marketing benefit, because every post you write will be indexed by the search engines and always available for someone to stumble across. Blog about things of interest to your target readers. Over time, your back catalog of blog posts will become part of the fabric of the Internet as readers interact, build links pointing to the posts, and as the blog comes up in random search engine queries.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: If you want to learn to paint, study the masters. If you want to learn to publish successfully, study the masters. New indie masters are publishing every day. Today’s indie authors are experimenting with abandon. They don’t have corporate staffs or million dollar marketing budgets. They’re innovating on the cheap, taking chances, sharing tips and tricks with their fellow authors, experimenting, and making mistakes. In the process, these authors are also stumbling across new secrets for success, often without realizing it. As you embark on your grand ebook adventure, study the efforts of those who have come before you. If you write thrillers (or any other category), study the bestseller lists for that category at Barnes & Noble, Apple and Amazon. Which titles are selling the best? Study the most-downloaded free books. Which titles are being downloaded more than all the others?

Study the ebook cover images of the most popular books. Study their titles and their book descriptions. Study their pricing. Buy their books. Read the first paragraph, the first chapter, the entire book. Read customer reviews. Visit the author’s web site or blog. How are they marketing their book (if at all)? What are they’re doing that you can do too? Analyze and dissect everything about those writers. Be a sponge and learn from them. You’ll find each author has his or her own approach. Some do absolutely no marketing. They don’t blog or tweet or Facebook. Some do heavy marketing. You’ll find some were successful completely by accident. They might tell you and sincerely believe it was by accident, but ultimately behind every bestseller is a great book that touches the soul of readers. As you study these authors, you’ll also start to recognize their mistakes. Yes, even bestsellers make mistakes. Most bestsellers could do new things to make their books even more successful and dynamic. You can evolve it. You can tweak the cover image, the title, the price, the description. You can even revise the book. You can fine-tune the book until it connects with and resonates with as many readers as possible. Listen to your fans, and seek to serve them.

Reader passion: The most powerful marketing secret is to write a super-fabulous book that markets itself. If a book doesn’t inspire reader word-of-mouth, the author’s marketing becomes less effective. How does an author create a book that markets itself? The secret is to write a book that that touches the reader’s soul. If you write fiction, the characters must jump off the page. The reader must love it; and this holds true for both fiction and non-fiction. If they feel passion for the book, they’ll leave you a five-star review, not a three-star review, and they’ll tell all their friends and family to purchase it as well. Reader passion drives a book’s virality, both via word of mouth and social media buzz.

Author platform: Do you have the ability to efficiently reach a large number of readers? They might be readers of your blog, fans on your email list, or the audience of your in-person talks. That’s your platform. The author platform helps authors place their book before readers for their immediate consideration.

Author marketing: Marketing is the process by which an author builds awareness about the book and the author, and generates demand for the book.

Pricing: Consider your pricing decision within the context of these other important variables: Full length books generally command higher prices than shorter length works. Two of our best-selling, highest-earning authors are writing full length books, between 150,000 and 200,000 words. That’s long by conventional standards which would usually consider 60,000-80,000 words full-length. Most of our highest earners are 80,000 words and up. As mentioned in the viral catalysts section above, the top 50 bestsellers at Smashwords average over 100,000 words.

Platform building or harvesting?: If you’re a new author, or you’re an established author eager to expand your platform, then consider pricing some of your work at low prices to encourage more new readers to take a chance on you, and give you a chance to build reader trust. A $.99 ebook will usually sell more copies than a $9.99 ebook, yet the higher priced ebook may earn the author more income. When selecting a price, an author should ask themselves what their objective is. Is it to harvest maximum income now, or is it to build platform, or is a combination of both?  Free or low cost books act like chum in the water for platform building and marketing. Authors can price other books higher to harvest income. Many authors make the mistake of believing every one of their books is worth at least X price, and refuse to price them lower on principle alone. They miss out on the opportunity to use free and low-cost books to make it easier for a large number of customers to take a chance on them. Other authors price too low so they miss the opportunity to harvest income. It’s a balancing act. The most successful indie authors are simultaneously pricing to chum and to harvest, always looking to introduce new readers to their works so they can sell them higher-priced books. On average, prices of $2.99 to $5.99 yield indie authors the most income, though $2.99 books will sell more units than $5.99. If you find you earn the same amount of income at $2.99 as $5.99, consider sticking to the $2.99 price because lower prices yield greater unit volume (you reach more readers), which give you greater platform building benefit. Keep in mind every book is different and your experience may vary from the norm.

The Impact of Free Ebooks: If you price your book low, or free, even for a limited time, you eliminate the reader’s financial risk of taking a chance on you. Authors who don’t utilize low price points for some of their catalog are missing out on the biggest, most underutilized marketing secret: Price is a marketing tool. I’ll often hear from authors and publishers concerned that free or low cost books devalue books. They fear readers will be conditioned to demand free and won’t pay. This isn’t the case. If your friend tells you you MUST read this amazing book, you’re more likely to read it. Fans create word-of-mouth, and word-of-mouth separates the poor-sellers from the bestsellers. I would argue that this second benefit of the sale, gaining a reader, is more valuable to your long term career as a writer, especially if you plan to publish multiple books.  So back to my original question, if you have the choice to price at $2.99 or $10.00+, what’s the smarter decision? For most books, especially for fiction, $2.99 will be smarter, because according to our data above, $2.99 helps you reach over six times as many readers as $10.00+. Or, if you don’t get results with $2.99, try $.99, and see if that makes an impact, or try FREE. We’ve observed multiple instances where a free book caused the author’s other books to break out, especially when it’s a free series-starter. Most of the highest earning authors at Smashwords have at least one free book.

Share: Share what you learn with your fellow writers. Your fellow writers are your partners, not your competitors. When we authors work together in partnership, anything is possible.

Remember: Remember, successful writers write.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply