Interview with Shayne Parkinson

I admit it — I haven’t used Smashwords. I’ve got publishing arrangements that handle distribution using other methods, partially because I run my own publishing house. Some of the ones I love might not be available to all indies. When people ask me for recommendations, I hesitate, because I’m tempted to recommend a product I haven’t tried — Smashwords.

Shayne ParkinsonThankfully, Barnes and Noble came to the rescue and recommended an author to my attention: Shayne Parkinson. I bought Shayne’s first book as a freebie and then proceeded to buy everything else she had written at their regular price. I then proceeded to stalk her back to her website and ask when the next novel was coming out. Her marketing is obviously working!

For my writing and teaching about independent publishing, I wanted to turn to someone with more experience to discuss Smashwords. Shayne did an interview with me for a class I was teaching. The information was so good, I wanted to share it on the blog and she has agreed. Enjoy!

What were the main factors that helped you decide to go with Smashwords?

I’ve concentrated on e-books, and at the time I made them available Amazon wasn’t an option for authors outside the US. I came across Smashwords, and liked the feel of the place.

What has your experience been like? I see that you’ve published a number of books with them, so does that mean you’re happy and you’d recommend them?

I’m very happy with Smashwords, and have found them great to deal with. They’ve had their share of growing pains, but they’re constantly improving the site, adding staff and finding new ways to get the books out there. I’ve found their support excellent, too. They do have a small shopfront of their own, but most of the sales are via their distribution to retailers like Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc. I’ve found it much easier to use Smashwords to distribute to these retailers than to try to go there directly (which is not actually an option for some of them, especially for anyone outside the US).

When I looked at their website, I didn’t initially see that they published to Kindle. Is this something that happens automatically in the process or did you upload the book separately to Amazon?

They have an agreement with Amazon, but the technical issues of automated distribution to Amazon have dragged on for ages now. Smashwords does now offer their larger sellers the option of a manual distribution to Amazon, and I’ve taken up that offer.

Do you start with a doc file or another format?

Yes, a doc file, produced by MS-Word or by OpenOffice/LibreOffice.

What are the basic steps for uploading to Smashwords?

Upload the doc file, upload a cover image, add some bibliographic data (e.g. keywords). Sit back and wait for the automated coversions. They do have a good FAQ section, and a downloadable manual on formatting, so I haven’t gone into much detail here.

They advertise a free ISBN, along with other distribution – all free. Is this accurate? Did you find there were hidden fees or extras that you wanted to purchase?

It’s true. I haven’t bought any extras from Smashwords, or come across any hidden fees. Some people choose to buy their own ISBNs (Smashwords offers a paid option, too, but they don’t push it), but the free (actually Smashwords pay for it) ones have worked just fine for me. Some people choose to pay to have their books formatted and/or to have covers done, and Smashwords will pass on contact details for people who’ll provide those services, but the arrangement is between the author and the service provider.

You’re getting good advertising through Smashwords and Barnes & Noble – that is something that led me to discover you. Did you do anything special or has this just come with time?

It just came with time (and presumably B&N’s algorithms), not from any action on my part. I’ve been very lucky!

How technically challenging did you find it to upload a book to Smashwords?

I didn’t find it challenging, *but* I should add that some people do find it less than straightforward. In those cases, they may find it worthwhile contacting someone from the list of formatters. The most fiddly thing I found I needed to fix was that some stray styles had slipped into my Word documents and needed to be found and set to Normal.

Do you have any recommendations or words of advice for new authors just starting out with self publishing?

Every writer’s experience will be different, but here are some things that have helped me: – Making the books as good as I possibly can – Writing what I’m inspired to write, without worrying if it will be commercially successful – Being accessible: the books are in a variety of outlets; I’ve a website and a blog, and an easy-to-find email address – Patience – A healthy dose of luck.

You mentioned in an email that it has taken time and this is something I see in other people’s recommendations and comments about self-publishing. From the point where you published your first book, how long did it feel like it took to be “discovered” — for new readers like me to start finding and recommending your work?

Hm, that’s not easy to answer, as it started so gradually. For some people this happens in a matter of a few months or even weeks. For me, I’d say it was more like a year to 18 months.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Self-publishing has proved a wonderful opportunity for me to reach readers with manuscripts that had lain neglected in a drawer for years. Every time I hear that a book has touched a reader in some way, that’s something to be celebrated. Commercial success is a bonus, and one I’m very grateful for, but I think it’s important not to lose sight of why I write: for the joy of the writing itself, and for interacting with readers. Those are the most important things of all.
In 19th Century New Zealand, there are few choices for a farm girl like Amy. Her life seems mapped out for her by the time she is twelve. Amy dreams of an exciting life in the world beyond her narrow boundaries. But it is the two people who come to the farm from outside the valley who change her life forever, and Amy learns the high cost of making the wrong choice. Book 1 of “Promises to Keep”.

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