On Writing Well: An Interview with Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords

As a part of our On Writing Well series we reached out to Mark Coker, the CEO and founder of Smashwords, an eBook publishing company. As so many of our Hubbers have literary ambitions and given the growing success of eBooks, I believe that Mark’s advice on writing well will be very valuable to our community.  His advice on editing, writing, and publishing are very accurate and wise. Thanks Mark for sharing your story with HubPages’ writers!

1. What would the best advice you’d offer writers about the writing process?
Writing is the easy part.  Editing and revision is the difficult part, because that’s where masterpieces are made.  Writers should strive for masterpiece, in the sense that you must honor the reader with a great story.  When my wife and I wrote our novel, Boob Tube, the first draft was nearly 200,000 words.  It took us three years and nearly a dozen major revisions to trim it down to its current svelte 86,000 words.  Each revision was grueling and painful, but the new draft that emerged each time was better.

2. How important is it for a writer to have community support?
Without community, writers are writing in a vacuum.  It’s more important than ever for writers to work together to share knowledge and experience.  Writing is a craft and a skill you will hone your entire lifetime.  Surround yourself with writers greater than yourself.  Be a sponge and learn from them, and then return the favor by sharing your knowledge with your fellow writers.  When writers work to contribute to their fellow writers’ success, new doors of opportunity open for everyone.

3. Tell us about Smashwords and why you started it.
Smashwords is probably the largest eBook publishing and distribution platform for indie authors.  In the last three years, we’ve helped over 22,000 authors from around the world publish and distribute over 55,000 eBooks.  Most of the biggest names in indie publishing are Smashwords authors.

The idea for Smashwords grew out of my experience as an author.  My wife and I were fortunate enough to have representation by one of New York’s most respected literary agencies, yet after two years they were unable to sell our book to a New York publisher.  Our book explores the wild and wacky world of daytime television soap operas (my wife is a former reporter for Soap Opera Weekly Magazine).  Publishers questioned whether there was a large enough commercial market for a book targeting soap opera fans.  Previous soap opera-themed novels had fared poorly.  They all rejected us.

As you might imagine, it was a disappointing experience.  My wife and I had put our lives on hold to spend four years on this novel. We pour our hearts and souls into it. Our beta readers loved it.  Yet publishers had the power to deny us a chance to reach readers.

After much contemplation, I came to the conclusion that the business of New York book publishing was broken.  Publishers are unable to take a risk on every author.  They say no to most authors.  They reject great authors.  They look at what sold well yesterday then acquire imitation titles today that they’ll then publish 12-18 months from tomorrow.  It’s a backward looking business that stifles creativity and limits reader choice.

With Smashwords, I saw an opportunity to create an online publishing platform that would allow any author, anywhere in the world, to professionally publish an eBook. We launched the business in 2008, and then in the following year we expanded into distribution.  We now distribute our books to Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo and several others.

5. What is your favorite thing about HubPages?
I like the democratic aspect of HubPages.  HubPages is doing for web content what Smashwords is doing for eBooks.  You’re providing a free publishing platform that helps connect writers with readers.  The best writers who honor their readers with words worth reading will float to the top, attract more readers and earn more income.  I see services such as HubPages and Smashwords as mutually complementary tools to help writers build readership and grow their platforms.

[Thanks, Mark Coker!]

8 thoughts on “On Writing Well: An Interview with Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords

  1. I tried submitting my first book to Smashwords, but the formatting was all wrong. Rather than try to change it (is available for sale elsewhere) I decided to write my next one in the proper format in the beginning. I have the ebook for publishing on Smashwords, which is making the formatting much simpler. Thank you Smashwords and HubPages for teaming up to give authors and writers a chance at greatness!

  2. Thank you Mark Coker for this informative and uplifting interview. It reinforces that my choice to publish here on HubPages is a good one and will be beneficial. I strive to only publish well written and entertaining articles that will inspire or bring a good chuckle to my readers. Thanks for the encouragement.
    I certainly hope to need the services of Smashwords very soon.
    Sincerely, Hyphenbird.

  3. I too submitted to smashwords. Good point is the multiple format options. Bad point, the site look/feel and the format outcome.

    True, compared to Jexbo, Smashwords ranks higher. But like all self publishing platforms, the work load is on the author. What makes Smashwords better than say iUniverse, eBooks.com, eBoosktore.com and Lulu? And especially Barnes-Noble ePub.

    I think SW has some soul searching to do, IMO.

    As for the publishers of NY being broken, “hog wash!”. They are thriving, actually. Publishers and Agents should not take risks on all writers, as 90% of people who write are not writers by career, else are one-shot wonders. Bloggers are not pro writers in many ways. Writing a topical 1,200 word page is something anyone can do. Writing a full 70,000+ page manuscript is another. This is why publishers cannot take the traditional risk with most. No business would. I think self publishing is fine for bloggers or great writers who cannot get a ‘gig’.

    Writers, don’t forget, if you ARE that good, you are paid to publish and the publishing company and agent see “career” not book-o-the-month. All the marketing, advertising, press, print, etc is done for you, so you can focus on your craft instead of building a life raft.

    Anton.

    • Carolyn- if there is a particular online magazine you’d like to write for, I recommend learning more about that magazine’s processes and seeing if they’re looking for writers. If you’re just interested in writing magazine style articles, then HubPages would be a great choice!

  4. I like the democratic aspect of HubPages. HubPages is doing for web content what Smashwords is doing for eBooks. You’re providing a free publishing platform that helps connect writers with readers. The best writers who honor their readers with words worth reading will float to the top, attract more readers and earn more income. I see services such as HubPages and Smashwords as mutually complementary tools to help writers build readership and grow their platforms.

  5. Interesting, especially the comments. Unusual that, that a commercial site will publish without fear. I’ll have to reconsider things. Perhaps I’ll take writing a little more seriously.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s