Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Smashwords vs. Kindle?" Are Your Lights On?

Yesterday, Don Gause and I posted out book on problem definition, Are Your Lights On?—a book many have called a "classic."

Today, I ran across a perfect example of why the lessons in the book are so useful. On one of the writers' forums in which I participate, a reader posted a query entitled Smashwords vs. Kindle? Here it is:

Gemma, a writer, asks:

Can someone tell me what the benefits or advantages of publishing on Smashwords might be when Amazon, the number five most visited site in the USA, (according to provides such a successful solution and so much higher traffic? To compare, Smashwords ranks 2,751 in terms of daily traffic. Amazon's "query popularity" is 86 out of 100, versus only 38 out of 100 for Smashwords. Amazon visitors spend an average of eight minutes on the site and view 8.8 pages while Smashwords visitors spend six minutes on the site and view 6 pages.

Still, I have found the folks on this list to be a savvy bunch, so I suspect there must be some hidden advantages or benefits of which I am unaware. Can anyone who has published on Smashwords help me out by sharing some benefits? I am about ready to put up some titles on Amazon and had decided to stick exclusively to that platform and to B & N, but maybe I am cutting off potential sales by not posting on Smashwords.

Perhaps someone else has the answer already:

One of the things Are Your Lights On? teaches is to use all the information you have. In this case, I had an earlier answer from another author, "Linda."

Linda offered this answer:

Yes, Amazon offers worldwide traffic, but Smashwords offers retail eBook outlets that we do not get at Amazon.  My books are directly at Amazon Kindle.  And then I have also added a number of my books and my husband's at Smashwords to take advantage of the retail outlets they distribute to.  At Smashwords I opt out of Amazon, and will continue to do so.  But Smashwords has not only their direct website, but the books are sent to the ebook retailers-- Kobo, Nook, Diesel, IPad, etc.  I love being able to check daily on my Kindle sales and be paid monthly by Kindle.  Royalty payments and sales via the Smashword's distributors are slower, depending on the retailer.

So the advantage is having more retail distribution (and hopefully sales) by putting your books at Smashwords, in addition to having them at Amazon Kindle.

Even good answers may not be complete.

Are Your Lights On? teaches:

"If you can't think of at least three things that might be wrong with your understanding of the problem, you don't understand the problem."

Well, I really liked Linda's answer, but applying the Rule of Three, thought about how it could be improved.

Jerry adds to Linda's answer:

First of all, listen to Linda. She and her husband use exactly the same strategy Dani and I use. [Note from AYLO: Answers don't just have to be right, they have to be convincing. Supporting Linda's excellent answer is the first job a consultant has to do to be effective in this case.]

So, my first answer to Gemma is this: You've done your research, and done it well, but the data you've gotten happens to be irrelevant to this problem. The traffic each site receives doesn't really matter. What matters is selling books. Suppose Site A receives 1000 hits/day, and the average stay is 10 clicks, and they sell one book per day. Site B receives 10 hits per day, and the average stay is 1 click, and they sell two books per day. Which is better for you, the writer, A or B?
The answer is "none of the above." Why, because you don't have to choose. You can put your book on both A and B's sites, and sell three books.

On to the details:

Once you have the right problem definition, the solution is often trivial, as above. Since I can't verify my assumptions about Gemma's problem definition, I can add some other facts to support various definitions, such as,

1. A book sold at Smashwords gets a higher royalty than the same book sold at Kindle. For each $7 of Kindle royalty, the same sales on Smashwords earn $8.

2. Smashwords, as Linda says, distributes to many retail outlets that would be a pain to reach individually, and perhaps not worth the small sales they generate. Through SW, I reach them with zero extra effort.

3. In addition to extra retailers, I reach readers who don't use Kindle. As Linda says, SW formats automatically for just about every eReader known to humanity, again, at zero extra effort.

4. I don't know how many SW sales I would have through Amazon if SW weren't available, but I do know that through SW, I earn about 2/3 of what I earn through Kindle, so instead of, say, $1,000 through Kindle, I earn about $1,666 through the combined offering. (plus another $100 or so through Barnes and Noble, which you should also use.)

5. SW has a "coupon" feature that Amazon doesn't offer. That allows me to offer special price deals for a day, a week, a month, or whatever period of time I wish, for whatever price I wish. Very useful for marketing, and for reviewers. On Kindle/Amazon, a price change takes about three days to start, and three days to remove, and is seen by the whole world. On SW, the change takes place instantly, and can be removed instantly. I can offer it to one person, or 10, or 100, or to the entire internet world. My choice.

6. And, if you offer a book on SW, you can pull the book(s) any time you want. So, if it turns out you don't like something about SW, you're out of the deal instantly, whenever you want--not cost, no fuss. It's totally under your control.

Bottom Line

Yes, the book-selling business can be complicated, but this one's probably a no-brainer when you have all the facts—if I have the right problem definition. In a real consulting situation, I'd be able to talk with Gemma and verify that I understand her problem. Since I don't have access to her, I'm guessing that her implicit problem definition is wrong from the start.

Gemma, I think it's not "Smashwords vs. Kindle," but "Smashwords and Kindle" (and Barnes and Noble, and any other sites you wish, as long as they don't restrict your publishing elsewhere).

Perhaps the definition would have been better stated: "How can I achieve the best sales results for my eBook?"


You can sample Jerry's books on Smashwords, including Are Your Lights On?, then buy them there or at any other site you might prefer. See and sample all my books on Smashwords (more going up all the time).

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It Flies! Da Vinci's Dream Comes True

by Robert Krulwich

This is not a trick. There are no invisible strings, no post production video fixes. What we have here is a graceful, flapping, unfeathery machine that looks and flies like a seagull. It was built by a team of engineers at a company called Festo in Germany, which specializes in factory automation, and for years now they've been doing what Leonardo dreamed of when he sat on those hills near Florence sketching birds: they copy from nature's designs.

Watch the movie! See the artificial bird fly! - Jerry

Monday, April 11, 2011

How Fast is Fast Writing?

See my guest post on Ellis Vidler's blog: "How Fast is Fast Writing?"

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Learned Helplessness

My e-pal, L.M. May has written the most striking, useful blog post I've seen in a long time. L.M. says: "The following essay is about fiction writing and learned helplessness, ..." but L.M. "used to work in the software industry as a software tester," and so writes this essay with much the same qualifications I have—and combines the two main foci of this blog: writing and software creation. So, if you're a writer, or a software professional (or both), this essay is for you.

What is "learned helplessness," and what does it have to do with writing and software making? I'll leave the writing part to L.M., but I'd like to cover the software side briefly, before I send you off to read the essay, at:

L.M. quotes the Wikipedia definition, "Learned helplessness…means a condition of a human being or an animal in which it has learned to behave helplessly, even when the opportunity is restored for it to help itself by avoiding an unpleasant or harmful circumstance to which it has been subjected."

The essay was inspired by the reactions of some writers to the enormous technology-induced changes taking place in the publishing industry. (See, for example, my posts of Feb 27 and Feb 28, on this blog.) These writers had learned that the only real way to publish their books was the traditional way, as books printed on paper by a few large publishing companies. Mostly, they had put their entire business of writing in the hands of agents who dealt with these companies for them. Now, with e-publishing, they have an avenue for bypassing all those "helpers" (and their fat fees), but some of them, many of them, have learned to be helpless, and violently oppose the idea of standing on their own two feet as adults.

How does this relate to software professionals? If you really don't understand, I'm not sure I can explain it to you. To put it briefly and bluntly, have you ever allowed the "grown-ups" (the salespeople, the managers, the customers) to override your professional judgment because you felt helpless?

Did you ever agree to build some code in two months when you knew it would take at least five—and then silently take the blame when you made it in four?

Did you ever allow unqualified people to override your technical decisions, thinking you couldn't do anything about it?

Have you agreed to undertake testing software that was (to you) obviously unready for testing (or even patently untestable)?

Even if you've never experienced such events, have you ever watched others trapped by them, and not known how to help them?

If you know about such matters in your work, read L.M.'s essay about the psychology of learned helplessness, then come back here and be a voice in the conversation that follows.

And why here? LM explains:
"I keep my comments section off due to family and work commitments, but Dean Wesley Smith and Gerald M. Weinberg offered their blogs as sites where people could discuss this essay amongst themselves.  I will be checking in as often as I can to both their websites over the next few days to answer any questions."

I think we should divide the labor, with the writers' comments going to Dean's site ( and the software people laying out their thoughts here. But you can choose where to hang out—both places, if you wish—and we'll see what comes of our sharing.

And, BTW, as you dig into this subject, you may want to try my ebook, Managing Yourself and Others, or at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.