I was intrigued by a post from Christchurch blogger Joan Curry (see link to the right), and contacted her for more details, which she readily provided, along with permission to reproduce her remarks.
The post is worth reading in its entirety for the laugh it will give you at the end, but the paragraph that really grabbed my attention was this:
"I have spent the last week revising and reformatting the writing manual I wrote two decades ago, so that I could publish it as an ebook. The manual was out of date, and a bit creaky here and there. It mentioned pens and paper and tape-recorders and sticky tape, and barely acknowledged the existence of the personal computer. There was advice that was no longer relevant, and there were also, shame on me, typos. So I read the formatting guidelines from smashwords.com and set about bringing the manual into the 21st century."
So I wrote a comment to her post, asking for more info, and Joan kindly replied in an email:
"Smashwords offers a publishing forum, and it's free. Let me just say that I wrote that manual 20 years ago, from course notes that I developed when teaching basic creative writing to adult students at the Canty WEA. That manual was a simple thing - about 140 pages, it was photocopied and spiral-bound, and sold for $20 post free to people (not bookshops) throughout the country. I did very nicely out of it, after paying photocopying costs and income tax. I let it lapse (still have three or four copies but have done no marketing for years) but the rise and rise of the ebook seems to offer new opportunities.
"Hence Smashwords (and plenty of other such sites) - a free forum as I say. They provide a style formatting guide - free - which my son downloaded to his brand new Kindle and left with me for a weekend. I read it through twice - a very comfortable, easy-reading experience I have to say, never having read on a Kindle before - and took copious notes. Then started on re-formatting, then uploaded.
"Smashwords take the book, check it immediately for formatting errors (because ebooks can be read on anything from mobile phones to PCs and dodgy formatting can scramble text), then put it in the "pending review" basket for humans to look at. (I think for things like dodgy content, pictures that don't transfer properly and so on). If all's well, the book goes into the premium catalogue, from where it can be distributed to all booksellers that retail ebooks - Barns and Noble, Amazon etc. Even if it doesn't make the premium catalogue the book can still be bought by anyone who clicks "buy" on the page where the book is displayed, and pays, upon which the book is downloaded to their Kindle, PC, Kobo, iPhone or whatever.
"The writer is in control of everything, including the price. Ebooks are cheap - really, really cheap (prices have to end in .99 to comply with Barnes and Noble requirements) - but the market is world-wide.
"That manual doesn't owe me anything. It hasn't cost me anything to go the ebook way. I have put a price of US$2.99 on it, set a sampling percentage of 20% (they can read that much before they buy) which is not much more than they could do in a bookshop anyway. I look forward to seeing what happens. And I lie in bed at night wondering what else I could make an ebook out of, out of the stuff I've got lying around! What's to lose?
"If you want to take a look, just for fun, go to http://www.smashwords.com/ and search for Joan Curry. That will take you to my page. It's actually very exciting - the concept I mean."
SO -- indeed I searched, and read with growing interest. Then I searched for another self ePublished author, Shayne Parkinson, who is doing very well indeed with her historical series of novels set in New Zealand, also originally produced on smashwords. Shayne has her eBooks featured on Kindle, though Joan does not seem to have gone that route yet. So how did Shayne do it?
The questions proliferate. The jacket design, for instance, always an important selling device. Who produces that? And how is it linked to the text?
And how do smashwords make any money?
As Joan Curry says, it's actually very exciting.
The concept, I mean.