Monday 29 July 2013

How NOT to sell books on Smashwords, and a #bookreview: Fox Magic by IJ Parker

A while back, Danny asked about whether there were any viable options to sell e-books online to an international market, or whether there was any place to sell POD books online that could ship internationally as there was this author he knew whose books were no longer in print and he no longer had access to them.

So I talked about Smashwords (as usual) since Amazon isn't really international, and he said he'd talk to the author about it since she seemed receptive about how to extend her reach to international fans.

A few days later he came back and told me that this author, IJ Parker, wasn't keen on Smashwords because apparently she had put up a couple of books there, but they didn't sell. I said I'd take a look, and I downloaded Fox Magic, for USD1.49.

Here are my reviews:
Fox MagicFox Magic by I.J. Parker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Fox Magic is a very, very short story set in Japan about Akitada Sugawara, a junior clerk in the Ministry of Law. Whilst attending to the Minister at his summer villa one evening, Akitada stumbles upon a colleague who raves about how he bedded and killed a woman who turned into a fox. Convinced that a real crime has been committed, Akitada continues to investigate the case even after the minister has dismissed it.

It's an interesting read that introduces you to the main character in the Akitada Novels. However, it's not quite worth the USD1.49 to purchase a 9K word e-book, a third of which is the preview of the 2011 Akitada novel, The Fires of the Gods.

The Water Sprite (Sugawara Akitada Stories)The Water Sprite by I.J. Parker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this much better than Fox Magic. For one, it was longer and introduced more of Akitada's character and life, including his retainer, Tora.

Parker again plays with Japanese superstitions in The Water Sprite, introducing us to the Kappa, which are mischievious water sprites which can, on occasion, turn violent. In this short story, Akitada is tasked to clear Ozawa Akitsu's name from the charge of rape and murder of his maid. The official is visibly upset when Akitada refuses to dismiss the charges offhand and insists on carrying out a full investigation.

Akitada Sugawara actually reminds me a little of Sherlock Holmes, with Tora as a peasant, superstitious Watson.

Again, approximately a quarter of this book is dedicated to a preview of a full-length novel.

View all my reviews

So the problem with her marketing strategy (at least on Smashwords) is really this: visibility.

Here's her smashwords profile. There's no link to her website, if any, or where we can get any of her other books. There's nothing there which tells you that this author has actually been published anywhere else, and nothing to distinguish her from the gazillion other self-publishers out there. Frankly, if Danny hadn't said that she'd been published before and that he liked her books, I wouldn't have given her profile a second look. There isn't even a profile picture (not that it really makes a difference, but it shows that she's not really interested in selling her books here).

Yes, this information is contained within the ebook itself (making it seem longer than it really is), but really, it should be accessible even on her profile page. Which comes to the question: do her readers even know that these two books are available on smashwords? Hmm.... most probably not.

Amazon has apparently garnered more sales for her, which is why she's sticking to it, but obviously if you put up all your novels for sale on Amazon (which is huge in certain places but not the rest of the world) and only put up two short stories (expensively priced at that) on Smashwords, which platform do you think will make more sales for you?

Okay, so I got round to googling her, and this is the best part.
I found her website. I randomly click a bar, and find out that oh, The Fires of the Gods is actually available on Amazon.

Very awesome. Oh, I haven't read this book... and now I know where to get it, right?

So I go to hunt for the book I downloaded from Smashwords and find that it's under The Short Stories.
And you know what?
There is no link at all to Smashwords, or anything that tells you that the book is available online.

And she complains that she doesn't make much sales on Smashwords. Well, if none of your fans know it's there, OF COURSE YOU DON'T.

Seriously, this is how you do NOT sell on Smashwords.


  1. Dear Anna Tan,
    This was fascinating reading and useful info. My problems with Smashwords started with formatting. Formatting for Smashwords is complicated and formatters charge additional money. Thus, good sense prevailed after my earliest attempts (the short stories) and all future formatting (the novels) was done for Amazon and B&N only. B&N has since flagged disastrously overall, and pretty much I'm now only on Amazon. Amazon has international sales and they increase steadily. I get checks monthly from UK, France, Germany, and occasionally from other countries. The prices of all my books are based on the standard here. I may lower the price of the stories on Amazon. Don't really care what Smashwords does. :)


    1. Hi IJ!

      Thanks for your comment. I've done formatting for Smashwords by myself and I don't think it's much of an additional hassle (though yes, formatters like to charge extra for it). Since you're happy with Amazon, that's good for you.

      All the best with your book sales!