Here I am, writing from beautiful Whitefish, Montana, late with this blog--the internet here is on the iffy side! I spent the weekend at the Flathead River Writers Conference in nearby Kalispell, MT. The word "Flathead" has nothing to do with the state of the writers; it's an unfortunate name whites gave some western Indians because they purposely flattened the heads of their babies.
A featured speaker at the conference was Mark Coker, the creator of Smashwords. Mark is the ultimate democratic person. Anyone can publish a book on Smashwords, with a few content exceptions, for no cost, and Smashwords takes a modest cut of revenue. Sounds perfect for the frustrated author who can't find a publisher for her/his masterpiece, doesn't it? The problem is that many thousands of writers have posted their creations, and it's very difficult to get noticed. Mark believes that the best will ultimately be rewarded, and the lousy will sink into obscurity. However, even the best of the best need considerable savvy on the part of the author.
What opportunity does Smashwords create for nonfiction writers? From what I heard over the weekend, both from Mark and from a local author/promoter team, my conclusion is "not much," unless the works are in the "how to" category and in a series. The lone book without sequels is hard to promote, as one of the easiest promotional tools is to write a series, then offer book #1 or #2 for free. Free books "sell" quite well on the internet and can result in 4 or 5 star reviews that give buyers confidence they aren't wasting their money. So if book #1 in a series is free and gets good reviews, the author has a good chance of actually getting revenue from subsequent books in the series. The price of book #1 can also be changed over time, going from free to, say $2.99--which seems to be a prime price point--in hopes that the good reader reviews will boost the book into visibility.
So for now at least, I'm sticking to the traditional "slow but (sort of) sure" route of proposing books to publishers, signing contracts, and getting to work. And for nonfiction, an advance upon signing the contract is usually part of the deal, so there's a "sure thing" factor that's hard to resist in the traditional publishing world.
Epublishing does, however, also offer an opportunity for us to get our books that have gone out of print in front of readers. I've put my one OP novel, "Return of the Wolf," up in a variety of e formats, but so far, it has gone pretty much unnoticed. I'm going to experiment with some tricks I've learned this weekend and see if I can change my beloved novel's fate, but I'm not holding my breath!