Thursday, August 17, 2017

2017 Smashwords Survey - Best Price for Your Ebook, Preorders & More

Smashwords is a popular  ebook distribution platform for self-publishers. Despite the dominance of Amazon, the company has enjoyed considerable success. Since 2008, Smashwords has published over 450,000 titles by 130,000 authors and small publishers.

In addition to its own platform, Smashwords distributes to multiple retailers and libraries. The largest Smashwords retailer is iBooks, followed by Barnes & Noble, Kobo, the Smashwords Store, Scribd, Amazon and several smaller outlets including public library aggregators such as OverDrive.

Every year, Smashwords analyzes trends in their ebook publishing platform — what works, what doesn’t work, which prices do best, etc. After nearly a decade of ebook publishing, and over the course of many surveys, the CEO of Smashwords, Mark Coker, has insights that are invaluable for writers launching into self-publishing. 

Below are some of the findings from the 2017 Smashwords survey. You can see an informative slide show of the survey HERE.

Top-Selling Categories

The vast majority of Smashwords books are fiction. The top-selling category is romance, which accounts for nearly 50% of books published by Smashwords. The top ten fiction categories are as follows:

  1. Romance (73% of the top 200 best-selling titles)
  2. Erotica
  3. Fantasy
  4. Young Adult
  5. Science Fiction
  6. LGBT Fiction
  7. Thriller
  8. Historical Fiction
  9. Adventure
  10. Horror
In the nonfiction category, the ten top-ranked books are: Self-Help, Health, Business, Religion, Relationships, Sports, Education, History, Home and Garden, and New Age.

Why Does Romance Perform So Well?

Romance has more dedicated readers than any other genre, but more significantly, those readers are voracious. Romance novels tend to be quick reads, and these readers will consume a book a day, which means there is endless demand. 

From an industry perspective, romance writers have the advantage of a strong national association, as well as regional organizations and publication-focused writing conferences. Because romance writers are prolific, they tend to adopt innovative marketing strategies (pre-orders, free series starters, and frequent releases of new books).

Best Price for Self-Published Novels

Free still draws the most downloads - 33 times more than paid books. (Interestingly, this is down from previous years.) Free promotions work best for series, and for authors with a substantial backlist. 

The most popular price is still $2.99. But, $3.99, $4.99 and $5.99 earn more. (The price that generates the most earnings is $3.99. The price that gets the most downloads is 99 cents.) How does this work? Authors who are just starting out should price their books at $2.99 in order to gain readers. But once they are established, they should increase the price of their books. Popular authors can charge more for their books than those who are relatively unknown.

Length Matters

Longer books tend to sell more than shorter. The average length of books in the top 100 selling bracket was 111,000 words. Words counts decline from that point, down to 90,000 words, which is still a substantial book. The average word count for the top 70 romance books is 113,000. 

What this means is that romance readers really like to immerse themselves in a book. 

Title Length Matters Too

Readers who like long books, apparently don't like long titles. The top 100 bestsellers featured titles with roughly 25 characters, rising up to 30 characters as the bestselling rank decreased. Coincidence? Probably not. Covers sell books, and romance covers sell a LOT of books. Romance readers don't need to be distracted by a lot of words on the cover. Just the semi-naked man/men or woman/women plus the author's name will do.


Smashwords launched its pre-order program in 2013 with the promise that it would yield significant gains for authors. Surprisingly, very few authors took advantage of this feature - only 12% of books were launched as pre-orders. But, over 60% of the highest earning authors utilized a pre-order for at least one of their books. Roughly 45% of bestsellers were born with pre-orders. 

The spread of fiction categories utilizing pre-orders was fairly even. About a quarter of romance, YA, and historical fiction books were launched with pre-orders. Fantasy, mystery, and thrillers each amounted to 20%, with the rest of the categories declining. What is interesting is the percentage of sales gleaned from pre-orders. Those categories which utilized pre-orders the most, also generated the highest number of total sales. In sum, pre-orders work.


Series still rate as the top means for finding readers. Of the top ten series, seven started with a free book (all seven were romance titles). And of the top 100 series, 67 began with a free book. What is important to note is that series that started with a free book eventually made three to five times more than series that did not.

There was an average of between seven and eight titles per series. Three-quarters of Smashwords bestsellers come from a series. Series titles sell significantly more than stand-alone books. On average, series books sell nearly four times more than stand-alones. 

Bottom Line(s)

1) Always start with a pre-order

2) Write a series, and start with a perma-free first book

3) Price your book at $2.99, but then increase as your books gain readers

4) Don't base your publishing strategy on a single metric - experiment to find what works for you!

Free Guides

Smashwords provides a number of incredibly useful free guides. Take advantage of these!

(Also available in Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch, Hindi and more.)

1 comment:

  1. Other than the derogatory statement about semi-naked people on the cover, this was a good article with lots of good information.


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