Books written by Ray Sullivan

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Smashwords Improves Author Tools

I've been critical about the paucity of information available to authors in previous blogs. The playing field is far from level, nor is it consistently ploughed. Amazon, for example, lets me know instantly if I have sold a book, which one it is, how little royalty I will get and which of its regions it was bought in. This is as good as it gets in self publishing and probably a heck of a lot more than you get in traditional bookselling. They've made it easier to see when you've sold a book but paradoxically it gets harder once you know. But at least they tell you. Mind, you have to look, no advice emails from them.

Smashwords email you whenever anyone buys one of your books direct from them, so that's helpful. However selling books is a bit of a sideline for them, their core strength is distribution through Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc. So those emails are generally few and far between, for me anyway.  However Smashwords are constantly looking for ways to improve their services to authors - their view is that if we authors don't sell books, they don't get paid.  They already provide a certain amount of information regarding sales, but unless the sales are directly through them you won't find out for maybe a month or more, and then you've still got one heck of a wait for payment from the likes of Apple, B&N et al before Smashwords can tee up your quarterly payments.

Like many Smashwords authors I pop onto my dashboard several times a week, mosey through the graphs showing how many pageviews each book has had, how many 20% downloads have occurred, I take a peek at the sales log that shows how many books are recorded at Apple, Kobo etc, bearing in mind this data is inevitably very old by the time I get to see it, and I then often take a peek at the site updates.  The site updates is the forum where Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, passes on information to the authors.  Sometimes you get three updates in a week, other times there are no updates for up to three weeks.  The other night I was popping into this forum to see if anything new had been posted to see a request from Mark to the first twenty respondents with a bit of free time to carry out some beta testing on some new features.  Normally I would pass on something like that as it was mid week, but I'd just come out of hospital after a minor op and was convalescing for the rest of the week.  So I threw my hat in the ring and, once Mark had secured twenty volunteers, the posting disappeared.  So not only can I tell you about the new features in Smashwords announced today, I can actually say I had a small part in their gestation!

The first item I looked at is a feature called 'daily sales'.  Now although Apple, B&N etc data is often quite old by the time we get to see it on Smashwords, it appears that the companies involved pass the data to Smashwords frequently, some pass it daily.  It's unaudited, but I suspect correct in the main, and Smashwords are now presenting that data to us authors through the dashboard.  When you enter it, you are advised graphically and numerically of all the sales you've had in the last 30 days - I'm told that when the database has been running for a while they will increase that range, possibly to 90 days.  You can see which sellers have sold books, which books have been sold, how many were free downloads (if you permit them) but you can't see where the books were bought from.  You'd have to wait until the audited data appeared to find that out, but at least you can now tell almost within 24 hours if you've had sales in these channels, which is useful if you've been running a promotion.

You still have to look to see if you've made any sales, unless they are direct from Smashwords, but at least we can find out how sales are going on a daily basis. The routine appears bug free - there was an issue with displaying the graphics on some versions of Internet Explorer but the Smashwords software team have aced that problem. It's a really useful tool for Smashwords authors and one to keep the pressure on the big A.

It wasn't the only new tool I was asked to test, but as the other tool hasn't been released yet I have to stay quiet. It's a very useful promotional tool that works very well, although there is at least one software issue that I've identified, however once released I'm sure all Smashwords authors will get a lot of use out of it. Watch this space for more news.

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