Smashwords is an ebook distribution platform for self-publishers founded in 2008. Despite the dominance of Amazon, the company has enjoyed considerable success. Smashwords published 336,000 books by over 100,000 authors in 2014.

The CEO of Smashwords, Mark Coker, is a man who is dedicated to the idea of democratizing publishing. His insights are enormously helpful for writers breaking into the publishing scene, and Smashwords' annual surveys provide valuable information about strategies for epublishing success.

Below are some of the findings from the 2015 Smashwords survey. You can read the full survey (with an informative slide show) HERE.

Key Findings of the 2015 Smashwords Survey

1.  Wow, preorders.  For the first time we analyzed the percentage of books born as preorders (as opposed to simply uploaded the day of release) and compared the sales of preorder-birthed books to non-preorder books.  During the survey period, less than 10 percent of books were born as a preorder, even though this feature has been available to Smashwords authors since mid 2013. 

 Yet despite the low usage, two thirds of our top 200 bestselling titles were born as preorders.

2.  Series with free series starters earn more money.  For the first time we analyzed the difference in sales between series with free series and starters and series without free series starters.  We looked at our 200 bestselling series with a free series starter and our 200 bestselling series without free series starters.  Then we added up the numbers and compared them.  First we looked at the average.  The free series starter group earned 66% more

3.  Free still works to build readership.  For each survey year, we've looked at how free ebook downloads compare to paid downloads using iBooks as our apples to apples comparison each year (bad pun, sorry!).  In the 2014 Survey, we found that free books got 39 times more downloads than priced books, down dramatically from 91x in 2013 and 100X in 2012.   I expected the power of free to fall further this year, given that this secret - which I've been advocating for nearly eight years - helps authors earn more money.  The result for 2014?  41x.  The effectiveness of free increased despite the glut of free books.

4.  Longer books sell better than shorter books.  This finding is consistent with each of the prior year's surveys, though as I mention in the presentation, this year's finding comes with a lot more caveats.  In a nutshell, I suspect the rise of multi-author box sets, often at deep discount prices, is probably throwing off the data this year, and as I discuss in the presentation, some of the dynamics will cause it to understate impact of longer books and some will cause it to overstate it.

5.  $3.99 remains the sweet spot for full length indie fiction.  For the third year in a row, authors sold more units and earned more overall income with books priced at $3.99.  This is significant because it counters the concern of some authors that the glut of high-quality will lead to ever lower prices.  For great authors, readers are still willing to pay.  The pricing, earnings and unit sales data we share has been remarkably consistent now for four years, especially when you consider how this translates to a competitive advantage for indie ebook authors compared to traditionally published ebook authors. 

6.  99 cents is still good for building readership, but not as good as $2.99 and $3.99.  And from an earnings perspective, 99 cents underperforms the average of all other prices by about 65%.

7.  Avoid $1.99.   For the fourth year in a row, $1.99 was a black hole in terms of overall earnings.  On a unit sales basis, although $1.99 books outperformed all books priced $5.00 and above, it dramatically underperformed on overall earnings, earning 73% less than the average of all other price points.

8.  Bestselling authors and social media.  Bestselling authors are more likely to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, and more likely to have a blog.  Not a huge surprise, though it's worth noting there are plenty of successful authors who have minimal presence on social media.

9.  Top 10 Fiction categories during the one year period:  1.  Romance.  2.  Erotica.  3.  YA and teen fiction.  4.  Fantasy.  5.  Mystery & detective.   6.  Gay and lesbian fiction.  7.  Science fiction.  8.  Historical.  9.  Thriller & suspense.   10.  Adventure.

10.  Top 10 Non-fiction categories during the one year period:  1. Biography.  2.  Health, wellbeing and medicine.  3.  Business & economics.  4.  Self-improvement.  5. Religion & spirituality.  6.  Relationships and family.  7.  Sports and outdoor recreation.   8.  Education and study guides.  9.  New age.  10.  Computers & Internet.

You can read the full survey along with an informative slide show HERE.

Building on its previous year's high of $870 million, 2014 saw an increase in graphic novel sales to $935 million, divided equally among digital and print.

These figures are encouraging, because graphic novels may be the last great print holdout. (All we really need is one.)

Why am I such a fan of print? 

It is because there is something irreplaceable about the smell, feel, and look of a book on paper (or papyrus). Holding one in your hands, cuddling up with it, or flinging it across the room when the author fails to deliver a satisfactory ending, are all things that enhance reading, and make it an experience that cannot be replicated on a screen.

Also see:

Oni Press Opens Door to Graphic Novel Submissions - No Agent Required

7 Graphic Novel Publishers Accepting Manuscripts Directly From Writers

Graphic Novel Sales Hit $870 Million in 2013

From Publishers Weekly, July 1, 2015

By Calvin Reed

Led by increases in the book trade, combined sales of graphic novels and periodical comics in North America reached $935 million in 2014, a 7% increase over 2013, according to a joint report by comics trade news sites ICv2.com and Comichron.

Sales of graphic novels in the book trade rose 16% to $285 million, while periodical comics sales in the comics shop market grew 4% from $340 million to $355 million.

Digital download-to-own sales were estimated to be about $100 million in 2014, an 11% increase over 2013. Though the ICv2/Comichron report noted the rate of digital growth declined from the 29% (on sales of $90 million) reported for 2013. Once again the report noted that “digital appears to be complementing, rather than cannibalizing, print."

Comichron’s John Jackson Miller called 2014 the “biggest year for print since 1995, adjusting for inflation.” Indeed, the report noted growth across all formats, print, periodical and digital. Print (both periodical and book) sales grew $55 million to $835 million in 2014, up 7% from 2013.

A recent survey conducted by FicShelf found that while men still dominate the traditional book industry, among self-published writers women are publishing and selling more.

FicShelf found that 67% of top-ranking titles were written by women on platforms such as Blurb, Wattpad, CreateSpace and Smashwords. Compare that figure to the top 100 traditionally published titles on Amazon, 61% of which are written by men.

When FicShelf focused on novels, the results were even more skewed: of 134 fiction titles, 109, or 81%, were by women, 11 were by men, and 14 were unknown.

“The scale of the discrepancy shows that women writers aren’t being treated equally in traditional publishing,” said the author Roz Morris. “We’re usually pigeonholed into obviously feminine genres such as chick-lit and romance, but not generally allowed to be complex artistes, to write the unusual books that break new ground. These figures show a huge vote of confidence for the writer in charge of their artistic destiny – and indicate that the literary world should take more notice of what women writers are publishing.”

Self-publishing lets women break book industry's glass ceiling, survey finds

The Guardian, March 6, 2015

If a woman writing fiction needs “money and a room of her own”, as Virginia Woolf suggested, writers at the beginning of the 21st century should perhaps insist the room comes with an internet connection, after a new study has found that the proportion of self-published bestsellers written by women is almost twice as large as in traditional publishing.

The DIY sector of the books market is currently booming, both in terms of numbers of books created, and numbers bought. In 2013, Nielsen Book found that 18m self-published books were purchased by UK readers, up 79% on 2012, while according to Bowker, there were over 458,000 titles self-published in the US in 2013, up 17% on 2012 and 437% on 2008.

Read the rest of this enlightening article HERE.

PictureBoth men and women enjoy nonfiction.
MarketWatch recently trumpeted this headline: "The huge difference between what men and women read." You can always get readers to open an article about the differences between men and women - after all, I did - because apparently we have not yet figured out what they are.

There are, as I have long suspected, differences between men and women.

According the the National Endowment of the Arts, men are more likely to read nonfiction books than fiction, while the opposite holds true for women: 55% of women read fiction in 2012, and 48% read nonfiction.

The real news here is not that 7% more women read fiction than nonfiction, or that more women than men read fiction.  It is the steady decline in the total fiction-reading population.

The waning literary leanings of American adults

Year           Percentage of adults who read fiction

1982           56.40%

1992           54.20%

2002           46.60%

2008           50.20%

2012           46.90%

A ten point drop may not appear to be much, but in sheer numbers it represents a LOT of people. (Someone else will have to do the math, But given an adult population of roughly 230 million, I am sure it's more than, say, a hundred.)

The huge difference between what men and women read

MarketWatch, Published: Jan 29, 2015 3:25 p.m. ET

Most Americans don’t read fiction, but the residents of some U.S. states are far bigger bookworms than others.

The number of adults who read at least one novel, play or poem within the past 12 months fell to 47% in 2012 from 50% in 2008, according to a new survey of over 37,000 Americans, “A Decade of Arts Engagement,” by the National Endowment for the Arts, a government agency that promotes artistic excellence.

Fiction reading rose from 2002 to 2008, but has been dropping ever since — and is now back to 2002 levels. By comparison, 30 years ago 56% of Americans read fiction. The decline in fiction reading last year occurred mostly among white Americans, including women and men of various educational backgrounds; rates held steady among non-white and Hispanic groups, the report found.

Men are more likely to read nonfiction books than fiction, while the opposite holds true for women: 55% of women read fiction in 2012, and 48% read nonfiction, according to an update of a previous NEA report released in 2013. Young adults are more likely to read fiction than nonfiction books, whereas the oldest Americans (aged 75 and older) are more likely to read nonfiction books, the NEA found. Literary reading varied widely from state-to-state: It was 63% in Washington state, far above the national average, and 56% in Colorado, Rhode Island and Connecticut, but just 34% in Alabama, 36% in Virginia and 37% in Nevada.

Read more here...

BOSTON, Nov. 10, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Strategy Analytics' "Global eBooks Market Forecast 2001-2020" predicts that the global consumer ebook market will more than double from $7Bn in 2013 to $16.7Bn in 2020, driven by more consumers accepting e-reading, more content made available through different business models, and the accelerating growth of emerging markets, especially China.

Click here for the link: http://bit.ly/1srb1Fq

Globally, more consumers of all ages are now including ebooks as a part of their reading behavior.

"A clear trend in recent years has been the shift of e-reading from desktop computers to mobile, in particular to reading on smartphones and tablets. At the same time, more readers are choosing multi-purpose tablets over dedicated e-readers as their primary ebook reading device," said David MacQueen Executive Director, Apps and Media. "All in all, we expect ebook reading penetration to increase from less than 10 percent of the total population in 2013 to close to 25 percent in 2020. China, the biggest smartphone market in the world, has just begun to see accelerated growth in the ebook market. We are seeing China join the traditionally big book markets in the US, Japan, Germany and the UK to form the 'billion dollar club' in 2020."

"From the content perspective, more publishers are releasing books simultaneously in digital format and print format. Meanwhile, an increasing number of new and established authors are opting for digital self-publishing only, made possible by ebook service platforms, which brings them closer to the readers," said Wei Shi, Analyst of Wireless Media Strategies (WMS). "Another nascent but significant development in the ebook market is the subscription based services launched by more platforms, including Amazon. In essence this is similar to how Spotify and Pandora have evolved the digital music market beyond downloads. We expect to see subscription service gaining more momentum in the second half of this decade, and contributing to close to a fifth of the total market by 2020."

Bowker, the distributor of ISBNs, has reported a 16.5% increase in new print books in 2013, as well as a significant increase in self-published books to 450,000 - up from last year's total of 391,000. The figure of 450,000 may, in fact, be on the low side. Amazon, a huge platform for self-published ebooks, does not require ISBNs. 
What does this explosion in self-published books mean for authors? Obviously, more books means more selection and increased competition. But, the ebook world is just beginning to open up in highly populated parts of the globe (e.g. India, China), so there are also more readers. Distribution networks for ebooks are also expanding rapidly.

Self-Published Books Topped 450,000 in 2013
By Jim Milliot, Publishers Weekly, Oct 08, 2014

Although it comes with a number of caveats, Bowker's newest report on the number of self-published titles rose again in 2013, increasing 16.5%, to 458,564. The increase was due entirely to the release of new print books which rose 28.8% to 302,622 offsetting a decline in self-published e-books which fell 1.6%, to 155,942.

The totals are based on self-published titles that have an ISBN registered with Bowker as of August 6, 2014 with the year referring to the year of publication provided by the publisher. The report also does not include titles published through Kindle Direct Publishing since books created there do not need an ISBN, and also does not include titles from Nook Press. In addition, it is likely some titles are double counted as self-published authors who do both print and e-books often give different ISBNs to the same title. Beat Barblan, Bowker director of identifier services, explains that the counts are ISBNs, not titles, “and indicate trends rather than absolutes. We’re consistent in the way we calculate this each year, making the reports accurate reflections of trends.”

The report, Barblan continued, shows a self-published market that is maturing into a serious business. He pointed to an 8% increase in the number of ISBNs registered by small publishers--publishers that registered fewer than 10 ISBNs--as evidence of a move by self-publishers to business--owner rather than writer only.

Small publishers registered 46,654 ISBNs in 2013, placing that group fourth among companies that registered ISBNs. The Big Three in 2013 were Amazon’s CreateSpace which registered 186,926 ISBNs last year, followed by Smashwords which registered 85,500 ISBNs and Lulu which had 74,787 ISBNs. The different Author Solutions divisions had 44,574 ISBNs. The CreateSpace figure reflects only print ISBNs, while Smashwords includes only registered e-books.

According to Steve Bohme, research director at Nielsen Book, the British self-published market is a "growth industry," meaning it is still quite small compared to overall sales of books. That may put somewhat of a damper on its spectacular growth. Nonetheless, 18 million self-published titles purchased (worth £59 million) is nothing to sneeze at.

While the book industry continues to regard the self-publishing market with a somewhat lazy eye, Amazon has not. As a consequence, it is attracting increasing numbers of self-published authors, even as it undercuts its competition. 

Great Britain is taking steps to curb Amazon's enthusiasm, but given the growing popularity of its self-publishing platform, as well as the increasing use of ebook readers, it's not likely traditional retailers will be able to get a foot in the door of the ebook market. Especially now that self-published authors are beginning to gain a following on Amazon.

Self-publishing boom lifts sales by 79% in a year

By Alison Flood - The Guardian, June 13, 2014

As authors are becoming more established, they get followings, just like mainstream authors, so the self-published market is becoming more like the traditionally published market," [Bohme] said.

"Self-published ebooks tend to be impulse buys, discovered by browsing in genre, or in the recommendation or offer sections. However, they are increasingly planned, via author. [So] price and blurb are the top prompts to buy self-published ebooks, but series and characters are increasingly important."

Read the rest of this article here.

The economic figures recently released in the UK do not bode well for authors. While authors' income has dropped 29% since 2005, publishers' income has increased, which means authors are getting a smaller cut of the profits generated from their work.

Prospects for UK authors bear a depressing similarity to those of the US. A poll conducted in 2013 by Digital Book World and Writer's Digest revealed that the median income for self-published authors was $5000.  Hybrid authors (those who both self-publish and publish with established publishers) had a median income range of $15,000 to $19,999. Fewer than 10% of traditionally published authors make a livelihood that could be called lucrative.

Does this mean you should abandon writing? Absolutely not. Just keep your day job.

Traditional publishing is 'no longer fair or sustainable', says Society of Authors

Chief executive of 9,000-member UK group argues that while 'authors' earnings are going down generally, those of publishers are increasing'

By Alison Flood - The Guardian, July 11, 2014

After figures released this week showed professional authors' median annual incomes have collapsed to to £11,000, The Society of Authors' chief executive has claimed that traditional publishers' terms "are no longer fair or sustainable".

Earlier this week, the Authors' Licensing & Collecting Society released a survey of almost 2,500 writers which found that the median income of a professional author last year was £11,000, down 29% since 2005 – a period in which median earnings for UK employees have fallen by 8%. By this year, according to the survey, just 11.5% of professional authors said they earned their income from writing alone, compared with 40% in 2005.

The ALCS set its findings against Department of Culture, Media and Sport figures which show that in 2014, the creative industries were worth £71.4bn per year to the UK economy. "In contrast to the decline in earnings of professional authors, the wealth generated by the UK creative industries is on the increase," it said. "If unchecked, this rapid decline in the number of full-time writers could have serious implications for the breadth and quality of content that drives the economic success of our creative industries in the UK."

Continue reading this article here.

Dana Weinberg has done another survey analysis, this time of author satisfaction.

She compared how happy authors were with royalties, editorial help, copies sold, and so on across three publishing platforms: traditional, self-published and hybrid (a combination of the two).

Are the horror stories about traditional publishers true? Her conclusion was a resounding "meh." 

I have a few comments to make about this survey. The first is that people are more reluctant to give negative answers on surveys than positive ones. This means that every survey will be slanted towards positive responses.

The second thing to keep in mind is that
the majority of books that are traditionally published don't make back their advances.

What this means is that publishers don't put a lot of time or energy promoting books by authors who aren't already celebrities. The reason they don't bother is that they would rather invest their resources in promoting cash cows. With hundreds of authors, and thousands of titles on their lists, this makes sense for large houses.

The other thing to keep in mind is that authors who are "cursed with ugly covers ... receive very little assistance or support in the way of marketing and promotion, or learned that their publishers had little investment in their careers as writers and/or no interest in their future books" is not a horror story - it is the reality of the publishing world, and thinking otherwise is delusional.

Just to give you some perspective, here are a couple of real horror stories:

You sign a contract with a major publisher, only to have is scrapped when the house goes through an organizational shake-up. You can't find another publisher. (That happened to a friend of mine.)

You submit your manuscript, and your editor wants you to take out any word longer than two syllables, shift the POV, change the title, and delete half the chapters. (That happened to me, as did having an editor insert the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence into one of my short stories.) Your baby is butchered.

While traditional publishing is not all it's cracked up to be (it really isn't), believing that self-publishing is the road to the Land of Milk and Honey is delusional as well.

Those who find themselves dissatisfied with self-publishing have to ask themselves some hard questions. Have I spent several hours a day marketing and promoting my work? Have I researched the market to find out how I can reach my audience, or have I assumed that simply "putting it out there" is enough? Did I expect instant fame and fortune?

Let's be realistic. No  matter how you publish - whether you have taken the traditional route, or done it yourself - great expectations must be matched by a great amount of work. There is no substitute.
How Common Are Traditional Publishing Horror Stories?—Author Survey Results

By Dana Beth Weinberg, Digital Book World

I have heard numerous horror stories on the fiction front from authors who sold their books to publishers only to find they had lost control of content, were cursed with ugly covers that doomed any hope of sales, received very little assistance or support in the way of marketing and promotion, or learned that their publishers had little investment in their careers as writers and/or no interest in their future books. Such horror stories often seem pervasive, and they easily become rallying cries for self-publishing and the greater control it provides authors. Are these tales of dissatisfaction with traditional publishing notable exceptions, or are they the norm?

The traditional-publishing victims I’ve encountered typically report that they had been thrilled to receive their contracts and had accepted neglect or poor treatment or disadvantageous terms because they felt they had no choice. Indeed, before self-publishing became a viable option, few of them did. Worse, such experiences could harken the death spiral for an author’s career: no investment from the publisher could lead to sluggish sales which in turn could lead to poor chances of selling a subsequent title either to publishers or bookstores. Authors would be forced to abandon series or throw away their brands and try to reinvent themselves.

Cautionary tales capture our attention, and they tend to get repeated and even embellished. In other posts, I reported survey results showing a preference for traditional publishing among authors. I also found that authors had expectations for several advantages of traditional publishing relative to self-publishing. With so many authors positively disposed toward traditional publishing, perhaps these horror stories are very visible and heartbreaking exceptions, a disappointing conclusion to the struggle to break into the traditionally published ranks.

Read more HERE.

Should you self-publish? The answer, according to Hugh Howey, is a resounding YES!! In fact, you'd have to be crazy not to.

A few days ago, Howey published an author earnings report that was eye-popping. After crunching the data on 7,000 bestselling e-books on Amazon, he not only discovered that Amazon was doing better than the Big Five, the authors were earning more as well.

This article contains great information about the financial side of self-publishing (with nice graphs and charts!). But not everyone agrees with the conclusions Howey draws. Digital Book World's survey appears to contradict the claim that self-published authors are earning more than those following the traditional route.

(Read survey results HERE.)

You should keep in mind that the data drawn from this sample was for Amazon books only. Amazon is quite successful at marketing its own books, which means ebooks from other publishers will not receive the same amount of publicity. This is also data taken from the authors themselves. Self-reporting is not the best means of collecting data, and neither are data drawn over a short period of time. (For an excellent critique of the Author Earnings Report by Sunita, click HERE.)

While it would be wonderful to have a clear-cut answer to the question "Should I self-publish?" it still comes down to weighing pros and cons. If you are impatient and want complete control over your book, then self-publish. If you are willing to wait, and want the pedigree and editorial guidance of a publisher's imprint, take the traditional route. 

If you want a lot of money, go to law school.

Author Earnings Report

Written by: Hugh Howey

It’s no great secret that the world of publishing is changing. What is a secret is how much. Is it changing a lot? Has most of the change already happened? What does the future look like?

The problem with these questions is that we don’t have the data that might give us reliable answers. Distributors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble don’t share their e-book sales figures. At most, they comment on the extreme outliers, which is about as useful as sharing yesterday’s lottery numbers [link]. A few individual authors have made their sales data public, but not enough to paint an accurate picture. We’re left with a game of connect-the-dots where only the prime numbers are revealed. What data we do have often comes in the form of surveys, many of which rely on extremely limited sampling methodologies and also questionable analyses [link].

This lack of data has been frustrating. If writing your first novel is the hardest part of becoming an author, figuring out what to do next runs a close second. Manuscripts in hand, some writers today are deciding to forgo six-figure advances in order to self-publish [link]. Are they crazy? Or is signing away lifetime rights to a work in the digital age crazy? It’s hard to know.

Anecdotal evidence and an ever more open community of self-published authors have caused some to suggest that owning one’s rights is more lucrative in the long run than doing a deal with a major publisher. What used to be an easy decision (please, anyone, take my book!) is now one that keeps many aspiring authors awake at night. As someone who has walked away from incredible offers (after agonizing mightily about doing so), I have longed for greater transparency so that up-and-coming authors can make better-informed decisions. I imagine established writers who are considering their next projects share some of these same concerns.

Other entertainment industries tout the earnings of their practitioners. Sports stars, musicians, actors—their salaries are often discussed as a matter of course. This is less true for authors, and it creates unrealistic expectations for those who pursue writing as a career. Now with every writer needing to choose between self-publishing and submitting to traditional publishers, the decision gets even more difficult. We don’t want to screw up before we even get started.

When I faced these decisions, I had to rely on my own sales data and nothing more. Luckily, I had charted my daily sales reports as my works marched from outside the top one million right up to #1 on Amazon. Using these snapshots, I could plot the correlation between rankings and sales. It wasn’t long before dozens of self-published authors were sharing their sales rates at various positions along the lists in order to make author earnings more transparent to others [link] [link]. Gradually, it became possible to closely estimate how much an author was earning simply by looking at where their works ranked on public lists [link].

This data provided one piece of a complex puzzle. The rest of the puzzle hit my inbox with a mighty thud last week. I received an email from an author with advanced coding skills who had created a software program that can crawl online bestseller lists and grab mountains of data. All of this data is public—it’s online for anyone to see—but until now it’s been extremely difficult to gather, aggregate, and organize. This program, however, is able to do in a day what would take hundreds of volunteers with web browsers and pencils a week to accomplish. The first run grabbed data on nearly 7,000 e-books from several bestselling genre categories on Amazon. Subsequent runs have looked at data for 50,000 titles across all genres. You can ask this data some pretty amazing questions, questions I’ve been asking for well over a year [link]. And now we finally have some answers.

When Amazon reports that self-published books make up 25% of the top 100 list, the reaction from many is that these are merely the outliers. We hear that authors stand no chance if they self-publish and that most won’t sell more than a dozen copies in their lifetime if they do. (The same people rarely point out that all bestsellers are outliers and that the vast majority of those who go the traditional route are never published at all.) Well, now we have a large enough sample of data to help glimpse the truth. What emerges is, to my knowledge, the clearest public picture to date of what’s happening in this publishing revolution. It’s a lot to absorb, but I believe there’s much here to learn.

Read the rest of this report HERE.