12.13.2012

Why I Left Smashwords

Managing one's own writing career is hard. When you have no agent or any sort of background running a business, you're at a disadvantage and you're often finding that the whole process involves mimicking other people until you find what works for you. Sometimes you REALLY want something to work, but it just refuses to do so, and after trying for over two years to get something to work, I eventually had to give up. I wrote awhile ago about the issues I had with Smashwords, but today I decided it was just time to pull the plug on these people once and for all.

I can hear the record needle scraping across the vinyl. I can hear the collective gasps from the indie writing community. But you know what? I can't do it anymore. I'm fucking done. Maybe Smashwords has worked wonderfully for you and I'm part of some whiny minority, and that's fine. Consider the meatgrinder less burdened by yours truly.

I'm done with waiting weeks or months for sales updates from the Premium Catalog (as of today, the last update I got from nearly all the retailers in the catalog was either October 31st or November 1st). I'm done waiting weeks for my price changes to proliferate through to the other markets (if they proliferate at all). I'm done getting paid quarterly when Amazon and Barnes & Noble pay monthly. I'm done with the shitty website design that makes shopping and browsing for books a pain in the ass or an exercise in sifting through porn. I'm done with the inconsistent distribution (why I have five books at Sony and only four books on Kobo even though I have my entire collection of fifteen or more books marked to distribute there is beyond me). I'm done with their slow to non-existent customer service when I've had to contact them regarding my abundant issues.

I'm just done.

Mark Coker has done a great thing for the indie community, don't get me wrong. I think he's a good guy and he's fighting the good fight against huge corporate interests. We need Smashwords (or something like it) to keep Amazon honest. And there is a lot I do like about Smashwords as a service, even though the casual consumer doesn't quite understand what those things are because Smashwords has not made it a priority to simplify things for them. The casual consumer doesn't understand sideloading files onto their e-reader, for instance. And in other cases, they understand it but they just don't want to do it. So I could crow until the cows come home about how ALL ebook formats (Kindle, Nook, Apple, Sony, PDF, HTML, etc) are available at Smashwords, but it isn't going to make any bit of difference if someone can't easily point their Kindles, Nooks, and tablets to Smashwords and download and start reading. As such, my core Smashwords sales have always been nil. Any sales I did get through them were through the Premium retailers, and again, it was always a crapshoot as to what those sales figures were going to be, because again, I wouldn't get accurate sales data but once or twice a quarter. This is unacceptable.

Smashwords has been promising improvements in all of my above mentioned complaints since I've been with them. I've seen very little progress, if any. Unless or until Coker is willing to put his money where his mouth is  and make his service more useful for artists who need up-to-date sales and accounting data in order to generate a more useful marketing approach, and for consumers who just want to download an ebook to their readers and start reading just as easily as they can if they shop through Amazon, his site for all intents and purposes is useless to me.

So I've pulled all my work down from Smashwords until I can formulate a new plan of attack. I may try KDP Select for awhile and see how it goes. I was very dubious about it for awhile (a lot of indie authors are running for the hills where that's concerned, and I can't say their concerns aren't valid), but this month I've had a few borrows on two of my exclusive titles, and that's a first for me. I want to test the waters with a little more of a commitment and see if this improves things. I can't just keep following every fad in the hopes it will work for me. That's what got me into the mess I have with Smashwords to begin with. If nothing else, I'll distribute to Barnes & Noble and Kobo and the other retailers myself. It's a lot more work for me to keep track of, and I'll lose all of my sales rankings at the other stores that Smashwords distributed to. The latter thing is why I held onto Smashwords as long as I did. I was making genuinely good Amazon-like sales with a few of my titles at Barnes & Noble. But at this point, my annoyance has outweighed the extra forty bucks I was making on a few short stories. I'm willing to take the hit just to be done with this crap once and for all.

I'm sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused you the readers. Things are still rocking and rolling over at Amazon, and I'm sure you will be able to buy my stuff from Barnes & Noble, Sony, iTunes, and Kobo for a while until they get the memo that I've taken down my stuff (though let us all pray that I don't have to kick Smashwords in the taint repeatedly to make it happen after a few weeks). You might wonder why I don't just use Smashwords as a standalone retailer, but let me be frank: in three months, I get MAYBE two or three sales from the actual Smashwords store. Sure, having an account there is good for SEO, but my blog, Twitter feed, and Amazon presence are doing just fine for me there as well. And I'm not sure the SEO there is actually driving sales anyway.

I'll be keeping my eye open, and if Smashwords actually does do a full revamp, and if they're actually getting useful and timely sales data, I might consider publishing with them again. Until then, I'm just going to enjoy this little bit of liberation from the constant annoyance. After all, if I'm stuck with the job of managing myself, this is the kind of stuff I have to do. Trial and error. Experiment and sacrifice. I do know that it's goddamn hard to run any sort of business when you don't know what you're selling and when.

If I live to regret this decision, I'll let you know, but I have a feeling I won't need to.