My 3 questions for Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords …

My e-mail interview on July 22 with Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords:

Q. Has Smashwords exploded in line with your initial expectations since you launched in 2008 or has it exceeded them? Why do you think your website has become so popular? 

Coker: The business has grown beyond my expectations.  We’re now publishing over 140,000 ebooks from over 45,000 authors around the world.  In our first year, 2008, we published 140 books from 90 authors.

Back in 2008, we initially focused on helping authors publish ebooks that we’d sell in the Smashwords store at Smashwords.com.  In 2008, we were lucky to sell $10 a day worth of books.  I knew the world’s writers needed a free and easy publishing platform like Smashwords, though it was clear that selling books on our own website alone wasn’t enough to accomplish our mission of connecting the world’s writers with the world’s readers.

In 2009, I realized we needed to get our books to the major ebook retailers, since they were attracting millions of customers to their online stores.  We made the decision to expand into ebook distribution. That was the watershed event that led to our growth. At the time, the major book distributors weren’t serving self-published authors. At first, I wasn’t sure if the major retailers would want self-published books.  I quickly learned they were hungry for them.  In the span of a few months in late 2009, we signed agreements to distribute our books to Barnes & Noble, Sony and Kobo, and then in early 2010 we began distributing to Apple.  Since we were one of the first companies to focus on distributing self-published books to retailers, we had a significant head start at opening up mainstream retailers to self-published ebook authors.

Today, we’re selling over $1 million worth of ebooks each month.  Our books are rising in the bestseller lists at major retailers, and we’ve enabled thousands of authors to publish and distribute their books.

2. You really are the savior of the frustrated author who suddenly can be his/her own publisher instead of being ignored in the slush pile. Is there an anecdote you can share about an author (other than yourself, I know you were frustrated, too, at one point) who was saved by Smashwords and propelled in a big way? 

Coker: I love the story of Brian S. Pratt, a writer of epic fantasy novels.  He’s a single father of three.  A few years ago, he was living below the poverty line.  Publishers weren’t interested in his books.  So he self-published.  His first quarter, he earned $7.82.  Most authors would have been discouraged, and many might have given up.  Brian kept at it.  His attitude was that as long as people were buying his books, he’d keep writing.  Today, he’s one of our bestsellers.  He’s a fabulous writer, he’s earning a great income, and he’s the captain of his own destiny.  His best years are ahead of him, without a doubt.  I look forward to introducing him and authors like him to millions of readers.

It takes great courage to self-publish.  Authors like Brian are an inspiration to me.  He illustrates the lesson that if you work hard and write great books that readers love, readers will find you.

3. Where do you see ebooks and the traditional publishing industry headed 3-5 years from now? 

Coker: Four years ago when I started Smashwords, the prevalent attitude toward self-publishing was that it was the option of last resort for failed writers who couldn’t get a traditional publishing deal.  Today, that  attitude is changing, due in part to the great commercial success of many Smashwords authors like Brian S. Pratt, Ruth Ann Nordin, R.L. Mathewson, S.C. Stephens, Randolph Lalonde, or Amanda Hocking who inspire the next generation of writers.  We’re also seeing an increasing  number of traditionally published authors at Smashwords who are  embracing self-publishing as their preferred route for the future.  These authors include Bella Andre, Julie Ortolon, and hundreds of others  too numerous to name.  Three to five years from now, self publishing  will be the option of first choice for most authors.  Authors will  publish directly to their readers and bypass traditional publishers
altogether.

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