Self-Publishing Tips from Smashword’s Jim Azevedo

1. In one paragraph, summarize the services of Smashwords.

Smashwords provides free ebook publishing and distribution services for self-published authors. When you click “Publish” at the Smashwords site, you’ll be asked to upload your original document as either an epub file or a Microsoft Word .doc file (we recommend a Word .doc file). Once your book is uploaded, it’s converted into every important ebook file type (e.g. mobi, epub, pdf, etc.) and then checked for any formatting errors. This process takes about 5 minutes, after which your book is available for immediate sale and sampling at Smashwords.com. If no formatting errors are detected, the book is ready for distribution through our global retail network–including Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Scribd, Oyster and more–as well as to libraries through our partnerships with OverDrive and Baker & Taylor. I should point out that Smashwords is free to join, free to publish, free to distribute, and the ebook conversion is also free. Authors can also make unlimited changes to their books at no charge. Smashwords only makes money if our authors’ books sell. We take a 10% commission, and the author earns 60-80% of their ebook’s list price as their royalty.

2. Besides writing a super awesome book, what is the most important thing a self-published author can do to promote their books?

Besides writing a super-awesome book, the most important thing an author can do to promote their books is to make their books as findable as possible. To make your books as findable as possible, distribute all of your books to all the places where readers go to find books. This means a reader should be able to find your books at any of the major online ebook retailers, subscription services and at libraries. On your website, blog or favorite social media platform, if you’re only providing a link to one retail store, you’re missing out on all the readers who prefer to shop elsewhere. So, don’t just link to one store where your book is for sale–link to all of them. Make your books as accessible and affordable as possible. Remember, within every ebook you have the opportunity to promote your other titles, link to your website, etc. Think of every book that you write and every hyperlink that you provide as paths that lead the reader back to you, the author, and to your other books.

3. What is the most important “lessons learned” that Smashwords has discovered since it started in 2008?

I’ll answer this from a Smashwords business perspective first, which I believe also applies to the business of being an author. The most important lesson learned is that everything is changing all the time. You can ill afford to rest on your laurels or stop innovating or stop learning. In the same vein, you also can’t afford to be paralyzed by fear, so don’t be afraid to experiment with your style or your marketing, and don’t be afraid to fail. From an author perspective, the most important lesson I’ve learned is that finding time to write must be your number one priority. This isn’t just my advice, but advice culled from dozens of bestselling authors I’ve either met or who I’ve had the pleasure to hear speak at conferences.

4. You trained to public speak through Toastmasters, what other advice would you give to writers faced with giving talks to promote their books?

Boy, this could be the topic of a completely separate interview. I’ll boil it down to three key pieces of advice. First, jump into the fire. Say yes to every opportunity that comes your way and proactively seek out more. I know it’s scary, but nothing alleviates fear more than experience. When I started public speaking, I transitioned from 5-7 minute Toastmaster speeches to presentations that were at least 45 minutes long. But two years later, I’ve spoken at 40 different events and presented about 60 hours worth of material. To gain experience, seek out opportunities to speak at CWC meetings, at work, at school, at Toastmasters, and even at writers’ conferences. Consider submitting a speaking proposal for a panel session at a writers’ conference with some of your fellow author friends sitting on the panel with you. That way, you’re exposed to a live audience but you have backup if needed.

Second, rehearse as early and as often as you can. Most of our nervousness derives from some internal lack of confidence. However, the more prepared you are the more confident you’ll be. While different speakers have developed different techniques to help prepare, what works for me is reading through my slides several times out loud, so I can get used to the sound of my voice. I’ll also project the slides onto a wall and pretend like I’m speaking to an audience. Audiences appreciate a prepared and knowledgeable speaker. Remember that your presentation isn’t about perfection. It’s about providing information to an audience that’s on your side and eager to hear what you have to say.

Third, show up early and chat with the attendees and the other presenters. When I first started publicly speaking, I convinced myself that everyone in the audience was smarter than me and that I would be exposed as a fraud. Talk about pressure! However, whenever I found the time to meet the other presenters or members of the audience, I learned that they were normal, very friendly people who weren’t out to get me. Another advantage you’ll have by chatting with others before you start, is that you’ll find you have friends in the audience when you begin. They will be the people who are smiling brightly at you as you cover your key points.

5. What is the most common formatting error that you see?

The most common formatting error continues to be a hodgepodge of different paragraph styles within the same document, prior to ebook conversion. If writing in Microsoft Word, the author might have Normal Style for one paragraph, Body Text in another paragraph, and possibly even multiple Heading styles. Often, in Microsoft Word, the author may not even realize they have multiple conflicting paragraph styles. Once converted into an ebook, this formatting error can cause the ebook to have inconsistent font sizes from one paragraph to the next. As you can imagine, this can make for an annoying read. Fortunately, the fix is easy. Simply by unifying the entire document under a single paragraph style (e.g. Normal) can take care of the issue. The author can still create custom sections to enhance the appearance of their book. For more detailed advice, be sure to download our free formatting guide, the Smashwords Style Guide, here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52

6. When not working at Smashwords, you are a drummer in a band called Rivals, if you were to describe yourself as a famous musician who would that be?

I don’t know that I can describe myself as Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, but I’ve admired his career for years. Dave reached celebrity status as the drummer for Nirvana, the gritty punk rock band widely credited for launching the so-called “grunge” movement of the 1990s while simultaneously destroying the “hair metal” scene of the 1980s. Nirvana’s raw, authentic sound was refreshing to music fans that had grown tired of a manufactured look and sound. After the demise of Nirvana, Dave founded the Foo Fighters, now recognized as one of the most successful bands in history. More recently, his passion for music led to his producing and directing of two critically acclaimed films, Sound City in 2013 and the HBO series Sonic Highways in 2014. My drumming style is similar to Dave’s, but what I admire about the man is how he’s stayed true to his passion throughout his life. I think there’s a lesson there, whether you’re a musician, an author or a bricklayer. If you love what you do, keep doing it no matter what.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Jim Azevedo. To learn more about Smashwords visit http://www.smashwords.com or follow their blog at http://blog.smashwords.com/

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