Thursday, November 12, 2009

Smashwords v. Carina

by Mari Miller-Lamb I will probably get in trouble for this post. Why, the intrepid and bewildered reader may ask? Because I am comparing a self-publisher with a "real" publisher." Most would say there's no comparison. Smashwords (is an on-line self-publishing venture that allows self-published (pardon me, "independent authors") to self-publish in multiple e-formats including Barnes and Noble and Sony. There is no cost to the author to do this. Carina Press is a Harlequin affiliated e-book publisher with a submissions process as well as editing, etc. They will only publish e-books. We all can now assume that Carina press is better than Smashwords because it is Harlequin affiliated and is more akin to a "real publisher." We're all sure about that right? Right??!!! Well, I am not so sure. I am not here to advocate, or necessarily put down self-publishing or Carina for that matter. But here's the thing. If I self-publish I know I will have to market the heck out of the book. If I publish with Carina I won't have to do this, because after all it is Harlequin and they have a marketing plan in place and will work hard for me, yes? You can go ahead and insert sounds of cricket chirping here. Actually, they don't have any such thing in place. In one of their FAQ's they state: "As author, you have more control of your own brand and can help the success of your book; we'll provide new authors with the tools to get started self-promoting in the digital space" Hmmmmmm. This sounds like what I hear from every published writer today. You are expected to do A LOT to promote your book. It's common knowledge that publicity departments have been cut and cut and cut. Even multi-published, best selling authors complain about all the work they have to do to get noticed. It's just part of the job. Other writers must have been concerned about this lack of marketing plans on the part of Carina as well, because in response to a question from a commenter about this very thing, Carina states: "We will be working together closely with authors on marketing efforts. We expect authors who want to participate in social media, etc. will most likely sell better. It's part of the nature of this space. But by no means do we mean the author will be doing all the heavy lifting! Heck, that's why we stress what an amazing digital marketing team we have." I guess we'll just have to wait and see what this amazing digital marketing team plans to do because so far I don't see the details. Also, even more problematic, they are not going to use the Harlequin Brand to sell their books. As a romance writer I have a big problem with this. It seems to me they are shooting themselves (as well as the romance author) in the foot from a marketing perspective. But I guess the advantage for a writer is that Carina will have more book placement opportunities than Smashwords, right?!! Your book will get out to more people right? Er, maybe not. They have no plans at this time to go to print. They are solely an e-publisher. So that means they will work with major e-stores such as Sony and Barnes and Nobles which sounds a little, like, uhm, Smashwords? Just sayin'. So. If you as the author are expected to play a major effort in marketing your book AND you will not necessarily be distributed any e-retailers that you couldn't get into as a self-published author, what, I ask you, is the advantage of Carina over Smashwords? I don't mean to pick on Carina at all, but I think as a writer shopping a new book, I have to right to ask questions and be skeptical of any publisher. Here's something else: Check out the royalty agreement over at Smashwords: ( Carina does not pay advances, only royalties, although they promise somewhere on the site that their royalities are higher because there is no advance. I suppose its all in the titles. Readers see a quality distinction between "self-published" and published. I admit I am one of them. So I guess you can say that with Carina you are getting professional editing which you will never get at Smashwords as they are at great pains to say that they don't think it is their place to judge the quality of the author's works. Fair enough. Ergo, that means that books sold through Carina will be a higher quality. Yes? What's that you say? You've read tons of published books that seem to lack editing, plot, characters, a coherent story line, etc.? Hmmmmmmm. Of course, we all hope that Carina is not one of them but we have all read bad published books. 'Nuff said. I know Carina is just starting out and I do want to be supportive of their efforts. I applaud any new legitimate publishing venture. But in this brave new world of e-publishing, I think it is fair for authors to ask hard questions of e-only publishers. 1) How many hours a month will you work promoting my book? (Compare that to how many hours a month you, as the author, will be promoting your book.) What specifically are you doing to promote the book that I won't have to do? 2) How long will you market the book for? In other words are you going to market the hell out of it for like, a week, and then ignore it the rest of the year? Do we even get a week? 3) What distributors, e-tailors, stores, etc, will you be getting my book into that I can't get into myself? The advantage of working with a traditional print book publisher is that they can get your book physically on the shelf in Barnes and Noble. Carina and Smashwords can't. 4) Can I please have specifics on royalty sharing agreements? According to their website, it sounds like Carina has already been swamped with submissions. I have to say I find this a little sad. Authors are so desperate to get their works published that they submit without any real understanding of what, if anything, a publisher will do for them. I imagine most of them are trusting in the Harlequin name. Well, I certainly wish Carina luck and I hope they repay the trust authors are putting in them. Mari Miller-Lamb is an unpublished writer, shopping around her first historical romance to publishers with no expectations of marketing on their part at all.


  1. Mari - I'm always pleased to see someone take an interest in this aspect of the writing business because I think most folks don't like to deal with the less-fun aspects. I think, however, that the Carina operation is essentially going to be something along the lines of the other e-publishers. No better, perhaps, no worse, perhaps. Some e-publishers actually have a lot more marketing activity on behalf of their authors because it is all on-line marketing activity. And Harlequin's on-line advertisements are everywhere - including on sites having nothing to do with writing, romance or books. So perhaps Carina will likewise have some activity of that nature. But I firmly believe that, essentially, any efforts by the publishers (no matter the format) are a mere drop in the bucket and that for real success it will always be up to the author. Self-published or not. But keep speaking your mind! It's quite refreshing and I appreciate the substance of your argument.

  2. You're a smart cookie, Lise. I enjoyed this post.

  3. Mari,
    I'm glad you addressed this issue. I'm not expecting much marketing help from my publisher (my first book is due out next year with an e-pub, The Wild Rose Press). You bring up some interesting points and I did consider self-publishing before I went ahead and submitted to TWRP. Good luck shopping your historical!

  4. You've asked great questions Mari. It seems that self promoting is a full time job. I hope that I will one day get the opportunity to do this, then I will share my tips.
    Best of luck finding a home for your historical.