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!]