Monday, September 27, 2010

Dear Smashwords

I used to love you.

Really, I did.

I would come home from a hard day's work, and there you would be, waiting for me to upload my latest e-book. You were simple, uncomplicated. You were fun.

Then a few months ago, I noticed you began to change. "Growing pains," some might call it. "Overextending," was another word I've seen.

Whatever it is, it's getting to the point where soon you will no longer be meeting my needs, and Smashwords, at that point I will say goodbye.

Yes, it's fine and dandy that Smashwords has hooked up with all these different distributors and can make one's e-books available on a bunch of different sites.

The problem is what the writer has to put up with to get that distribution. There comes a point when enough is enough, and I'm rapidly nearing that point.

What are my complaints?

1.) It shouldn't take months for changes to appear on distributors' websites. Yes, I'm fully aware each distributor has their own different rules. Guess what? I don't care. I realize that sounds harsh, but with today's technology, there's no reason there couldn't be some consensus formed among distributors, perhaps one implemented by Smashwords. It needs to happen. I tend to have wandering eyes, and your competition doesn't seem to have this problem, though I realize they aren't distributing to others.

2.) The meatgrinder has become an utter pain. Once upon a time it was actually helpful, pointing out errors in formatting and the like. Nowadays, it's become a formatting Nazi. It shouldn't be that difficult. It doesn't need to be that difficult. If distributors want everything Smashwords has to offer, then they should be the ones bending, not Smashwords expecting all its submitters to have to meet more and more nonsensical guidelines. Don't get me wrong. Some guidelines are good, but it's gotten beyond that. And suggesting that all Smashwords submitters should just use Microsoft Word is an idiotic option, unless that is you're willing to give each of us the $150 it would cost to purchase Word. Sure, business costs money and those who are serious about publishing with Smashwords should be willing to fork out some dough, but again, your competition doesn't expect this.

3.) The customer service from Smashwords has been pretty good, but it still needs improvement. If it weren't for all the newfangled changes to the meatgrinder, this wouldn't concern me at all. But considering every little bitty thing that's now having to be formatted, there needs to be faster turnaround time on customer service. Instead of waiting for an e-mail response that can take days, if it ever appears, there needs to be at least one online representative available at all times, and it should be someone who knows what they're doing and not some intern working for free who's just going to tell everyone "we'll get back to you."

I've mentioned your competition, right? Guess what? More is coming. And once they're available, Smashwords isn't going to look so good.

My apologies if this hurts your feelings, but I've grown tired of waiting and waiting and waiting while you're busy expanding the e-book universe. If my sales were better, I'd rethink this. And one could say it's all my own fault for my sales not being better. But again, that's not a problem over at the competition where I sell as many e-books in a day as I do in a whole month with Smashwords.

So, I hate to say it: But I'm looking.

I'm not leaving you just yet. I'll give it a little more time to see how things work out. But I am exploring other options, and frankly, most of them are looking better than what you've got to offer.

P.S. While the distribution possibilities of Smashwords are quite impressive, taking into account the frustrations and the weeks and sometimes months it takes to actually get an e-book distributed, the possibilities will remain just that. Possibilities.

P.P.S. I realize there's a habit in the distribution world to look down upon product suppliers.  I have worked white collar jobs and in retail, so I've seen this kind of thing happen. I'm not accusing Smashwords of this kind of attitude, but I hope that's not what lies ahead. Yes, customers are customers. But in a way, so are suppliers. With all the changes and possibilities in today's publishing world, there are plenty of options, more of them every day. I desperately want Smashwords to be my main option. But right now, I'm not seeing it.


AvDB said...

Interesting post. Very relevant to me, as I am currently preparing for an ebook launch. Considering where Smashwords ranks in the sales of one prominent ebook author, one would think they'd be trying a little harder to accommodate their authors.

Charles Gramlich said...

2 sales through smashwords so far. I'm not tearing it up obviously.

Ty Johnston said...

AvDB, the thing is, I really do love Smashwords. I believe it has tons of potential. But what I'm seeing appears to be a slow, probably unintentional, move towards corporate interests over user interests. Nothing wrong with corporate interests in and of themselves, but since I'm a user and not a CEO ... well, you know what side I come down on.

Charles, I'm doing better than that, maybe 10 to 12 sales a month. It's difficult to tell what is selling and where and when, what with Smashwords' untimely sales reports. Ack! There's another complaint.

Moses Siregar III said...

They're also having a problem that involves some SF/F books not being locatable through their searches. For example, go to their site and search for top rated SF/F ebooks. Mine has four 5-star reviews and so it should come up on the first page (or as the top result on page 2). It doesn't show up at all.

Search for SF/F "free ebooks." Mine should be the #1 result because it's currently free and has more 5-star reviews than any other on that free list. It's not there.

Mark Coker was great about getting back to me on it, but said:

"This is probably due to a problem in how the search is set up. I know some sci-fi and fantasy books aren't getting properly exposed. Cc'ing our CTO, Bill Kendrick.

I don't think we'll be able to fix it right away."

Moses Siregar III said...

I got it more or less worked out. I wrote Mark again about it and he told me to put my book in the "Sci-Fi and Fantasy" category rather than the "Fantasy (Epic)" category that it was in. My categorization was more correct, but this is the one it needed to be in in order to show up in those searches.

Mark Coker said...

Ty, we want you to love us, though I should probably clarify a few things.

1. Most Smashwords books appear at retailers soon after our shipments go out, and usually no more than a couple weeks afterward, assuming the author follows the Style Guide and its formatting recommendations. There are exceptions to this all the time, of course, because delays can happen for any number of reasons, ranging from author formatting errors to metadata glitches between us and our retailers. I think over the last few months we've definitely accelerated the speed and accuracy of retailer ingestions, though I know we have a long way to go before we achieve instantaneous distribution. It's a goal we'll always strive for, but it's also somewhat unrealistic given the current state of retailer ecommerce systems, which are all dissimilar and subject to their own idiosyncrasies. We also need our authors and publishers to provide us clean files.

2. Meatgrinder - our recent updates to Meatgrinder have improved the output quality. Beyond that, I think you're referring to the Premium Catalog approval process. I see one of your books was sent back to you yesterday with a line spacing error, probably introduced by using a word processor that corrupts your line spacing. The particular issue you had is the most common reason why our retailers will refuse to list a title. These formatting guidelines, if you follow them, will help you meet the retailer requirements. Eventually, we'll probably update Meatgrinder to fix these errors for you, but until then the Style Guide tells you how to fix the problem.

3. Customer service. Your comments on customer service are curious. We're 100% author-centric and the customer service piece is very important to us. As Moses experienced, I often reply personally to these inquiries. We'd never use interns for customer service. If I've ever performed at an intern level, my apologies.

4. Microsoft Word. We recommend Word because it's what most authors use, and we know how to get high quality, consistent results from it. It's not practical for us to develop dozens of different Meatgrinders to handle every potential word processor, writing package, or professional publishing package. Many Smashwords authors get good results with non-MS Word word processors, but it means you'll have to go the extra mile to check your files for the likely problems we identify in the Style Guide.

5. Growing pains. The moment we stop experiencing growing pains is the moment I'll know we've gone complacent on everything that matters to us. Our mission to to expand every author's distribution opportunities so you can reach more readers. We're always pushing the envelope, and always iterating our technology and processes to improve things along the way. We need you, the professional self-published author, to help us help you. Please understand most of these requirements are retailer-mandated and will lead you to create a higher quality book. Isn't this our common goal, to connect quality books with readers?

Ty Johnston said...

Mark, first off, thanks for your comments.

As to customer service, I have few bones to pick with Smashwords concerning its customer service. Yes, it's true you often personally respond to situations, complaints, concerns, etc. My preference would still be to see something a little more "instant," an online helper of some sort or at least an extensive FAQ or somesuch. Perhaps that's not practical for Smashwords; only you would know. But as a professional writer, time is money for me. Perhaps I'm just being whiny about this, but when it takes me weeks to get a bunch of little, seemingly nonsensical things taken care of, I'm losing money. As is Smashwords. The Style Guide is a big help, sometimes, but it's often not detailed technically for a lot of the little problems that seem to spring up.

As for the meatgrinder, I understand where you're coming from. But I'm beginning to feel like the users/suppliers have become Smashword's beta testers. I'd prefer a lot the things that pop up to have been taken care of before being introduced into the "public" meatgrinder. Again, perhaps that's not realistic.

Mark, I realize Smashwords is likely a relatively small company, at least compared to the likes of Amazon, B&N, Sony, etc., so perhaps I've just become used to a differing level of service from the larger corporations. I mean that not as a slight against Smashwords, but as a way to explain my own frustrations.

I really, really do love Smashwords. I believe the site is poised to take over the world of indie writers and publishers, but I also don't think it's quite there yet, at least not for those of us who are beyond being hobbyist writers, and my guess would be that's your larger, core audience.

Ty Johnston said...

Mark, another thing, I wanted to apologize if it sounded as if I meant for the "intern" remark to point at Smashwords. I didn't. I've just had enough dealings with other companies that have gone in that direction.

JaxPop said...

Ouch! Good "info" - but I'm still up in the air. Kindle? iBooks? Smashwords wasn't on my radar. The POD company that I use (they're great) works with Apple exclusively. It's all kinda sticky. I asked Scott Nicholson's advice. He & Joe Konrath seem to have a great understanding of what works. Me - I write. Have 1 book in print & a 2nd book ready to go. I'm clueless on the business of ebooks. Frustrating.

Ty Johnston said...

JaxPop, don't let my grumblings dissuade you. Smashwords is definitely worth your time to investigate.