Epublishing: Smashwords vs. Amazon

With the recent self-publication of my first novel “The Soul Detective,” a reader of my blog noticed the link from my novel on my home page takes those interested to Smashwords.

The reader asked why I chose Smashwords over Amazon.

The short answer was I didn’t. I actually went with both. But because I used Smashwords first, I linked to that website first. Since this reader asked about it, I thought I might detail the differences that separate the two for any other writers going the self-publication route, specifically via epublishing.

When researching the best sites and methods to go about epublishing, I stumbled across Smashwords. Several other blogs suggested checking it out. So I obviously did.

I instantly loved it. Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, comes across as someone who generally wants writers to be successful, whether it’s financially, philosophically or just plain happily to produce an ebook.

Coker’s desire to help writers epublish is evident in the painstaking length he’s gone to to help writers publish to Smashwords. Coker published the Smashwords Style Guide, a completely free step-by-step guidebook to publishing on Smashwords. The effort put forth in the guidebook is wonderfully helpful.

The reason Coker and Smashwords does this is twofold:

1. To make sure readers who’ve gone to lengths to download and read your book are rewarded with an easy-to-read ebook;

2. To make sure that the biggest ebook retailers (Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Sony, Diesel) distribute your book. Smashwords acts as a distributor to ship your books to all those other ebook retailers. That means, that simply by following the guidebook, you just need to publish to Smashwords (correctly as the style guide indicates) and Smashwords will in turn distribute to all those retailers.

Now, with Amazon, Amazon does not distribute to all those retailers. However, Amazon and its Kindle are the most widely used ebook outlet. Smashwords and Amazon work together a little bit in that some (albeit very few) ebooks from Smashwords are distributed to Amazon. Regardless, Smashwords does make publications available on its site for Kindle users, so even if you were to opt to solely publish at Smashwords (though it doesn’t makes sense to), Kindle readers can still find your work of art at SW.

Amazon also has step-by-step instructions to epublish to its site, Kindle Direct Publishing. However, it didn’t seem to be quite as in depth, nor did I really need it because after following the guides set down by Smashwords, I had already pretty much done everything KDP requires.

Beyond those steps for the two, they start to vary. Amazon has plenty of options for printing hard copies of your novels. They also have a number of paid options to help produce your book, if that’s what you’re looking for.

Smashwords has helpful tips and insights, but they don’t go to the length Amazon does because that’s not the goal at SW. They want an author to write and enjoy their writing. Naturally, they want you to sell some books too because they (like any ebook retailer) get their cut.

So when choosing where to publish, use the best outlets available to you. For me, it seems like both of these sites provided great options.


Henderson the Rain King: A sort of book review

Book reviews aren’t exactly something that will appear regularly on my blog. I’d just rather stick with more original ideas than reviewing someone else’s work (though movie reviews might be an avenue I venture down regularly in the future).

But “Henderson the Rain King” has seeped into my brain and I can’t get rid of it now that I’ve finished it.

I’m not even sure where to begin. The novel never sucked me in. Yet I continued to plug away at it.

I think the main protagonist, Henderson, was a blowhard. From the get-go he was always talking about how great he was or how much he could love or could feel pain or regret or anything. And yet the first chance he got he would do the opposite or offend someone without an ounce of regret.

Then he was off to Africa to supposedly find himself. Though the first three-quarters of the novel, including his early journeys through the middle of Africa, were more about doing things to prop himself up as vastly important than they were about finding himself.

Irksome. That’s the best way I could describe Henderson. Like a grown-up Holden Caufield, but without the charm or innocence of youth.

And then came the lion cub and the death of Dahfu and the child on the plane. And suddenly Henderson came to the realization that everything wasn’t all about him. There was so much more. Maybe that was when the grun-tu-molani fully hit Henderson, yet in a subversive way so that he didn’t realize what it was. He was so focused on achieving that level of knowledge, or that act of being; but it was something that had to happen naturally. The queen of the Arnewi couldn’t teach him. And no matter how many discussions he had with Chief Dahfu, Henderson wasn’t going to learn it via discourse.

But when Henderson stepped off that plane in Greenland, holding the child wrapped in a blanket, and started running in circles around the plane, he had finally become a Being person. No longer was he a Becoming person. He’d finally reached a point of peace. He was happy with where he was. He was Being.

And suddenly, in just those last few pages, I fell in love with the novel. It was as though I could forgive Henderson for his lifetime of mistakes and self-righteousness. Whatever happened to Henderson in the waning years of his life after the novel, it became easy to imagine him living life to the fullest in a way he’d never before made you think possible.

Searching for the write words

Whenever I hit a snag — known as the accursed ‘Writer’s Block’ — I’m instantly cast back to “Throw Momma from the Train.”

An odd reference? Maybe. But Billy Crystal’s character of Larry constantly searching for the right word to end the sentence, “The night was…” is the perfect example of writer’s block. Throughout the film Larry is searching for that missing word, and that’s just in hopes of starting a new novel. Never mind the rest of the book’s plot. Just the idea of how important that lead sentence is, is a great example of how one word can get you on a roll.

So often the flashing cursor is unbelievably intimidating. Like it’s waiting for you, beckoning. Maybe even taunting.

“I’m not stuck,” you tell the cursor. “I’m just waiting for the right words.

“And they’ll be here any second.”

Stop waiting for the words and just start typing. The first thing that comes to your mind could lead you down an entertaining path. I’ve written on a similar topic to this in the past, especially on just getting going.

How about a gentle push. Here’s your start:

“The first time the alarm didn’t go off…”

Take it from there. Don’t let that cursor hold you up.


When do you consider yourself an author?

With the upcoming debut of my fist novel, The Soul Detective, I’ve been wondering at what point do writers consider themselves authors?

For me it is as soon as you’ve typed in “The End” to conclude that book or short story. It doesn’t need to be published, it doesn’t need to be read by anyone, it doesn’t need to be edited.

When you feel that book has reached its conclusion and you can honestly tell yourself, “I’m finished,” then you’ve become an author. Congratulations!

Of course, getting it published traditionally is an entirely different topic. For me — like so many thousands of other authors — I’m going the e-publishing route. I don’t think a story such as mine is one agents feel is marketable. Never something any author wants to hear. But unless you find an author willing to risk their neck on something out of the ordinary, it’s going to be tough to break into that traditional-published market.

It’s one of the great things about being an author in this day and age. After you’ve endured enough of all those “thanks, no thanks,” letters, sending you back to the drawing board to rewrite your query and synopsis for the umpteenth time, you actually have a legitimate option.

And it’s not like you’ll be going it alone. There is so much information and opinion throughout the Internet on what to do and what not to do regarding e-publishing.

A couple of great blogs that have helped me:

David Gaughran’s blog, especially the entry under Basics 

Another with links to multiple reference sites is Jane Friedman’s e-publishing blog

J.A. Konrath’s blog is inspiring and empowering for the neophyte e-publisher

As most of them will let you know, pick and chose from all the info you run across and find out what works best for you.

Regardless, whether you want to go the traditional route, prefer e-publishing, or just love to write for no one but yourself, type in those little words, “The End” and understand you determine when you’re an author, nobody else does.