An Open Letter to Mark Coker (of Smashwords)

Dear Mark,

I don't know if you remember me. We had a brief, but ultimately forgettable six-month affair about three years ago. But then I left you for someone else. I left you for KDP Select. I have needs, Mark. You weren't filling those needs. You weren't filling me, Mark.

This is getting weird. Let's start again.

I like you, Mark. And I like the idea of Smashwords. Though I no longer use your service, I follow you on Facebook and occasionally read the articles you post on your blog. You seem like a nice guy. You personally respond to most of the comments people make on your posts, always politely and professionally. And that's great.

But if I'm being honest, Mark, you seem like a bit of a complainer. It almost seems like whatever topic you want to discuss on your blog comes secondary to you wanting to bitch and moan about Amazon. And there's nothing wrong with some bitching and moaning, as long as you make it entertaining. I know I do my fair share of it on my blog. I've bitched about idiots, spammers, dullards, bigots, trolls, fanatics, complainers, doomsayers, shitheads, douchebags, assholes, and fucktards.

What's the difference between my bitching and yours? For me, entertainment comes first. I want to provide some value to my readers, so that they may want to share my blog posts with their friends, and perhaps go on to buy my books. How much I actually care about what I choose to bitch about doesn't even enter into the equation.

Do I really give one goblin tooth-studded orc turd about something Phil Elmore tweeted about me? I can assure you, I do not. But looking the guy up, I found him to be a rich mine of comedy gold, with which I could craft one of my best blog posts to date.

Likewise, the things in my life that really do bother me, whether its my job, my bills, rush hour traffic, whatever... These are things I choose not to blog about, because nobody gives a shit.

Reading your blog, I can't help but picture you as that kid in high school who's sulking in the corner while the girl he likes is out in the parking lot, blowing that douchebag who plays the guitar in the back of his dad's Camaro.

Amazon is the douche with the guitar.

I guess that makes me the one blowing a guy in the back of a Camaro.

"It seems I took a wrong turn somewhere."

"It seems I took a wrong turn somewhere."

Let's go with a different analogy. One closer to home.

You're the frustrated indie writer who's always complaining that the Twilight series is selling bazzilions of copies a day, while your far superior work of big-girl-fucks-a-bear erotic literature isn't selling at all.

In this case, Amazon is Stephenie Meyer.

And I'm the customer reading the Twilight saga.

"Is this really preferable to blowing a guy?"

"Is this really preferable to blowing a guy?"

What I'm trying to say here, Mark, is that if you want me to blow you, you need to stop sulking and learn how to play the guitar... metaphorically speaking.

Maybe retire the tired old doom-and-gloom "Don't put all your eggs in one basket!" warnings, and focus more on how you can make Smashwords a place where us indie authors can sell more books.

Maybe jazz up your bestseller lists so that they're something an author can be proud to take a screenshot of and post on Facebook, along with a link to their Smashwords version of said book, instead of the arbitrary and unnumbered lists you have now.

My own books have fallen to the bottom of the first page of Amazon's Top 100 Comedy Books list, but next week I'll be running a Kindle Countdown promotion, during which I'll expect the list to look more it did last time I ran a promotion.

rocking the shit.jpg

In exchange for exclusivity through their KDP Select Program, Amazon gives me toys to play with and things to get excited about. They're playing the guitar, Mark.

This indie writer thing is a hard gig. Give your authors something to brag about, and they'll be more reluctant to risk losing it.

In your most recent blog post, you compare Amazon to an out of control train, poised to "run the entire publishing industry off a cliff". A little dramatic, Mark. I read a lot of this sort of thing when Kindle Unlimited made their big change in how they paid authors, and I speculated that many of the authors who were losing their shit over the change were the ones who had been gaming the system under the old rules.

After all, it's easier to blame Amazon for their shitty book sales than it is to admit to themselves that maybe the market for eight-page impregnate-your-stepsister erotica had become saturated.

You have a lot of rabidly loyal fans, Mark, who are always eager to raise their pitchforks and scream the evils of Amazon.

"BEZOOOOOOOS!"

"BEZOOOOOOOS!"

Perhaps these are authors you could court with your own exclusivity program (Smashwords Elite?). If Amazon is doing something that's working well, why not take a page out of their playbook? In exchange for exclusivity to Smashwords and those who you distribute for, you could offer members more visibility and opportunities to offer special deals. 

What kind of nutbar would remove their books from Amazon's shelves? Perhaps the kind who isn't selling shit anywhere. Or maybe even a few who are just getting their feet wet, and are open to experimentation. But once they start seeing some actual sales as a result of their commitment, and see their rankings begin to rise (Give them rankings, Mark.), they may be more inclined to stick around, and others might be more inclined to join them.

Or hell, I don't know. Maybe that's a terrible fucking idea. I'm not in the distribution business, Mark. I'm in the dick joke business.

But do something, Mark. Play the guitar.

In that same blog post I mentioned earlier, you claim that authors and publishers who choose not to go exclusive with Amazon are "trying to support a diverse ecosystem of multiple retailing options".

I suspect that's true for only a very small fraction of them. Most of us aren't that altruistic, Mark. Myself, I'm more interested in trying to support my family. 

Last week on the blog, I announced that I had given my notice at work, and would be moving my family to the United States where I would be a full-time indie writer. Do you know why I was able to make that announcement, Mark? I give a lot of the credit to my Kindle Countdown promotions, which I've been able to run once every ninety days because of my books' enrollment in KDP Select. 

I want to see you succeed, Mark. I really do. But here's the thing about competition. For it to work properly, you have to actually compete.

Going back to your train analogy, I found it telling that Amazon was the only train on the tracks. I envisioned a vast prairie, with the Amazon Express chugging across the horizon, moving its cars full of books to Customer City. Where were Smashwords and Kobo and B&N and the rest? They were canoes on the ground next to the track. They weren't moving shit, Mark.

My Smashwords experience.

My Smashwords experience.

You're a go-getter, Mark. You wouldn't have been able to create Smashwords otherwise. I don't claim to know much about the history of how Smashwords came to be, but I'm willing to bet it wasn't born of ceaseless complaining.

I'd like to see you turn the crank on that well of entrepreneurial creativity and pull up another bucket of awesome sauce. Play the guitar, Mark.


For the time being, my books remain exclusive to Amazon. Find them HERE.

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