We celebrate reaching our 100th episode with a classic D2D Q&A. Join us as the team talks about publishing, the features of Draft2Digital and Smashwords, and how far we’ve come over the years.
We can hardly believe it ourselves… Self Publishing Insiders with Draft2Digital is TURNING 100! 100 episodes, that is. That’s 100 live shows, 100 guests, 100 insights into the industry!
We hosted a live Ask Us Anything to celebrate with our viewers—with some of D2D’s own personalities and influencers, waiting to take any and all questions.
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Mark Lefebvre, Dan Wood, Kevin Tumlinson
Kevin Tumlinson 00:02
Hello to everyone out there in Draft2Digital land. Thanks for tuning in. This is a special episode, this is our 100th live, or I guess it’d be our 100th podcast episode for the Self-Publishing Insiders podcast. If you’re not a listener to the SPI podcast, make sure you go and find that wherever fine podcasts are sold. We’re the walking wounded this week, everybody kind of came down with some stuff while we were in Vegas and we’re still kind of clearing crud. So if you hear coughing and phlegm noises, just ignore those. But I am joined by two of the sharpest, most handsome guys in the business, Dan Wood and Mark Lefebvre. Welcome, guys, to the 100th episode.
Dan Wood 00:46
Hey, everybody. Good to be back. It’s been a while since I’ve been on.
Kevin Tumlinson 00:51
It has been a while since you’ve been on, yeah.
Mark Lefebvre 00:54
It started out with the three of us right, doing these things?
Kevin Tumlinson 00:58
Yeah, right smack in the middle of 2020. And we were doing, at that time, we were doing a show every single day. And a guest every single day. And when we didn’t, it was us three schmoes showing up and giving our viewpoints and opinions. Of course, while you’re here watching, those of you watching live, make sure you ask us anything. You can post a question in the comments. And we do have folks running around there answering stuff in the actual comments, but we’ll try to answer as much as we can online as well. So since we started this back in 2020, there have been a couple of changes to Draft2Digital. Who wants to start talking about some of the stuff that we’ve that we’ve had happen in that two year span?
Mark Lefebvre 01:53
Dan Wood 01:55
Print, yeah. I think the major ones are Print is well on its way, we’ve made major revisions here and there and kept it in beta for a very long time. But Print just ended up being complicated. It’s been fun kind of working through some of those problems. We’ve expanded it to international just fairly recently, where we can do the author copies and proofs internationally, to many, many countries in the world. So that was something that I know I’m super excited about and Mark’s been fighting for for quite a bit. So that’s all good. But you know, the major thing would just be the merging of Smashwords early this year, we announced it in March. That’s really kind of the reason why I haven’t been around as much is because there was stuff going on starting around this time last year, where we were doing all the little paperwork that has to be done to consider such a thing. So that kind of took up a lot of my time over this year. But man, it’s been great. With the combined team, we’re up to I think 38 people now and spread out all over the US and our local Canadian.
Kevin Tumlinson 03:16
And to put that in perspective, there were 16 people when I started back in 2016, so we’ve grown quite a bit in that time. And it’s not all the Smashwords acquisition either. We added quite a few people even before Smashwords came along. So some pretty steady growth in that time.
Dan Wood 03:37
We’ve added several developers over the last year and a half or so just to, we have all these different things we want to do with the Draft2Digital platform, with the Smashwords store, with Books2Read. And so we’ve been really trying to get the right staffing to make those things happen a lot more quickly. Because we know there’s all these little features the authors are always writing in about that are things that we’ve wanted to do forever. And we’re just trying to get to all those as quickly as we can.
Kevin Tumlinson 04:06
Yep. Yeah, we have no shortage of suggested features. What we have a shortage of is developers to make those happen. But I’m glad to see that that’s growing. Are we still looking for folks, we still looking for anybody to join us?
Dan Wood 04:22
Not currently. Currently we’re kind of seeing, we kind of hired rapidly there towards the end of the summer. And now we’re kind of waiting to see, we want to make sure we get everybody kind of onboarded and see where we need to add resources. You know, one of the things I’m most excited about is adding resources to our marketing department, because for a very long time it was basically just Kevin in marketing and then me and Mark kind of helping out on the side. So now we have three people full time on marketing. We have Megan full time on promotions. And so those different things have been very exciting for just getting the word out about Draft2Digital and helping our authors make more sales.
Kevin Tumlinson 05:09
Yeah. Yeah. If you’ve tuned in in the past to some of these episodes, these live shows and stuff, you’ve met Lexi Green, who is in the comments right now. Say hi, Lexi. And Jim Azevedo joined from Smashwords. Much welcome help, actually. So I was really glad to have those two come on board. And it’s been fun kind of, we’re still figuring some things out. And we’re still strategizing about what’s going to happen in 2023 going forward. Very excited about that. And Megan is great. Megan is one of my new favorite people. She and I bonded over the Darrelle Brooks trial while she and I were in Atlanta, so we have that in common. If you don’t know what that is, go YouTube it when you’ve got several hours to spend just goggling at the camera. So, Mark, I know your voice is not entirely with us. But thank you for showing up. What do you think are some of the highlights over the past like two years? I mean, I know we’ve got Print, we’ve got Smashwords. You’ve been kind of keeping an eye on the industry stuff. What do you see has happened, industry-wise, that’s been useful?
Mark Lefebvre 06:23
So I mean, I’m really excited to have Megan on the team doing author promotions, that’s a huge thing. That’s a big thing, trying to get authors in front of our retail partners and library partners. And Megan’s got, she just sent out or is in the process of sending out a reminder, for the end of year promos that she had sent out in the last few weeks, just reminding people that deadline to submit is now. That’s exciting. I think the other thing I’m so excited about in relation to the merger is, we now have, and we do these as part of the Self-Publishing Insiders, is we now have with the Smashwords store sales, plus all the Smashwords distributed stores, plus all D2D’s distributed stores and libraries, all of this data can really help us share with you, the author, what we’re seeing, the trends that we’re tracking, I mean, considering we have access to the world’s largest independent author store. And so we’re looking at trends and sharing those trends. And I’ve been so excited about, I mean, the data is overwhelming to look at. But I’ve been so excited that we’re now able to share a really comprehensive look at the industry to help authors understand what’s going on. What are the trends that we’re seeing? Why are my sales down, you know, this year, for example. So that’s been a really good bonus for me is being able to have access to all that data and try and decipher it for authors.
Kevin Tumlinson 07:48
Yeah, that’s been a useful, and we need to do another one of those. We’re due for one of those. It kind of fell at a bad time with all the holiday and conference stuff. But we’ll get one together. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s changed in the past few months. We’ve got plenty of questions loading up here. Let me see if I can scan through some real quick. Here’s one from Will Norman. “Love D2D. Does D2D have any plans on upgrading/modifying My Reports? Aside from the landing page, everything else isn’t exactly intuitive.” So what do we think? We doing some upgrades to that anytime soon?
Dan Wood 08:29
Not anytime soon. Unfortunately, because all the vendors present the numbers in different ways, making it intuitive is very difficult. Like it’s just, we don’t get the information in the same way from all the vendors. For an example of this, there are at least five different reporting services I know of that are third parties that are full-time businesses in and of themselves. People like ScribeCount and Book Report. A few others that just aren’t coming to the top of my mind. But there’s a reason why reports are so unintuitive. And it’s just because the data sources are very weird. Like, they’re not normalized, there’s not a consistent pattern to everything. We have little tweaks that we do here and there. We’ve talked about doing a major overhaul of the reporting system at some point. It’s just that at the end of the day, we have things that will help authors sell more books that we think are better uses of time than the reporting. And I think really, the best thing to do is just to look at those final reports that we send out from every vendor each month, because those are going to have the most extensive data that the vendor has provided to us. Unfortunately, it’s all different. You know, if you look at your Overdrive final report, you can look in there and actually see which library systems bought your book. That’s something that would be difficult, because not all the library systems provide that for us to put into one main page. There’s some of the vendors that give you information down to like county or city level that you can look at, that some vendors do not. And so I don’t think there’s a way to fix reporting where everyone’s gonna be happy with it. But we are always looking for good ideas, we get many suggestions from people. One thing I’ve really wanted to do for a long time, I’ve always loved the breakdown by country that you get it from Kobo Writing Life, and I believe ScribeCount does as well now, where you can easily take a look and see where your books are selling. Because that’s such a compelling, I see people share it on social media all the time, because it is neat to see your books make it all over the world.
Kevin Tumlinson 10:54
Yeah. And that’s useful for helping you fine tune your marketing strategy as well. So that would be kind of a dream come true I think. Rebecca Platt has a question, “Do you also prepare a print edition for Amazon if I want to publish a softcover book?” I am interpreting this question. I think, Rebecca, correct me if I’m wrong, I think she’s asking if we will send the print book to Amazon. That’s what I seem to be deciphering from that.
Mark Lefebvre 11:31
That’s an easy answer, isn’t it? Because our partner distributes to Amazon. So yeah, if you make a print book with us, it will get listed on Amazon.
Dan Wood 11:38
We made it really easy with our print beta. If your account is not already in the print beta, and you don’t see anything about print, you can just write in to our customer support, or go to draft2digital.com/printbeta to join the queue. We’re adding people, for new accounts, you’re already seeing it on your account. If you have an older account, we’re gradually adding people in from that. But if you go to that print beta link, then we’ll add you within a week. We’ve made it really simple. You upload your Word document, and we will make the EPUB file, which is what the digital books use. And we’ll also provide a PDF for print. Our print beta includes our software that will make a print cover for you out of your existing ebook cover. You can also upload your own files, if you’ve got files from a product like Atticus or Vellum, you can upload your own EPUB, your PDF, you can upload your own cover art, print-ready cover art, if your graphic designer has provided that. So we just tried to take all of the different, we’re trying to make it as simple as possible, because that’s what we were seeing in the market that was missing was that it’s really kind of tough to work with some of the vendors, and they all have different specifications and sizes and everything.
Kevin Tumlinson 13:10
Yeah, very challenging, and that was one of the reasons I came to Draft2Digital in the first place, was that was too difficult to try and manage all the different … Everyone had a different set of criteria that you had to meet. And if you didn’t meet it, you got yelled at digitally, which I’ve never appreciated.
Dan Wood 13:26
How many books do you have at this point, Kevin?
Kevin Tumlinson 13:28
I am sitting at around 70 books total, not counting the ones in progress. So that’s a lot of books to update.
Dan Wood 13:38
And Mark, how many do you have?
Mark Lefebvre 13:40
I’m only at about 30.
Kevin Tumlinson 13:41
Still a lot of books to update.
Dan Wood 13:42
Only at 30? That’s like twice what most traditional published authors have.
Kevin Tumlinson 13:47
Yeah, you’ve used only and 30 in a way that makes no sense to me. All right, question from Jack Roberts that I probably should have started with actually but “Can you give a bit of an overview for first timers?” Who wants to tackle that one?
Dan Wood 14:02
I feel like our head of marketing. That’s a Kevin question.
Kevin Tumlinson 14:05
Draft2Digital is what’s known as a publishing aggregator, which is fancy talk for, you can bring your manuscript to us in the form of like a Word document or an RTF file, or even a pre-formatted EPUB. We can format your Word document or RTF file and make it an EPUB. And then we can distribute that to retailers worldwide. We have a vast network of retailers. And we don’t offer currently like marketing services per se. We do have a sort of a promotions thing as Mark has talked about, Megan handles that, but we do help you with things like, if you come in and all you have is say an ebook cover, we have a way to convert that to a full wraparound print cover. We have tools like our universal book links that will allow you to create one solitary link that sends readers to everywhere your book is sold online in pretty much all the formats at this point. There’s actually so many features, it’s very difficult to encapsulate things in a nice soft overview. So what I recommend is go to draft2digital.com, go to the blog, and you will find videos, you can go to our YouTube channel as well. If you don’t subscribe to us on YouTube, please do that. You can find videos that walk you through every single feature that talk about ways creative ways to use those features, give you some best practices. There’s a whole wealth of information there. And of course, you can reach out to our support team at email@example.com or go to the contact button on our website. And we have real live humans who will answer your every question. You can also follow us on Twitter and other social media.
Mark Lefebvre 15:52
But Kevin, how much does this cost for all of these great services?
Kevin Tumlinson 15:56
How much? You might expect to pay $1.99. No, no. So there is actually no charge. For the services that we offer, what we do is take a cut of the royalty. It ends up being about a 15% cut by the time it’s all said and done. And that’s it. That’s all the money we take. So it’s not free. But it’s free. All those services that we offer, the conversion, print layout conversion, the templates that we offer, all that stuff, all that stuff could actually be used even if you don’t distribute through us. And then the inevitable question is always, well how do you make money? And that’s how we make money. We make money when you sell a book through one of our retailers that you’ve distributed to through us. So we hope that you’ll use us, but we are built by authors for authors. We have author DNA right at our heart, there’s a lot of us on staff who are authors, and we understand the needs of this industry. And so we also understand that most of the time when you come into this business, you don’t really have a budget. So we try to keep everything to as close to no overhead as possible.
Dan Wood 17:12
For people that don’t know, all of our different partners we work with for distribution, they’re all entirely opt in. And so you can use us to go to everywhere we go to, you can use us to just go to one or two different places. Some of the retailers have their own sites where you can go directly, many of our partners in the library world and subscription services, we’re one of the only ways to get to them. And so you can kind of pick and choose how you use our service to distribute your book. But we’ve managed to open up a lot of different opportunities to authors all over the world, including the one we added most recently that I’ve been excited about, the BorrowBox, primarily as a way to get into Australian libraries. But they also get to several other countries in the Commonwealth. And so that one is a really neat one that we’ve added.
Kevin Tumlinson 18:15
Yeah. It’s exciting. The library thing is exciting to me. Because I grew up like all of us, you know, I mean, that’s where I first discovered a love for reading. I was that kid who was sneaking into the adult section of the library, I thought I wasn’t allowed to check out books for that were meant for grownups. Not the adult section you’re probably thinking of, I’m talking about grown up books. And I thought I was limited to like, you know, the Hardy Boys and stuff like that. But my love for reading started in that sort of clandestine sort of environment in libraries. I think a lot of us were like that. So it’s good. I’m glad to see that we’re doing that. Cheryl Rogers asks, “Where does D2D intersect with AI audiobooks or short stories, if anywhere?”
Dan Wood 19:06
That would be our partnership with Findaway Voices. We help authors connect very easily to Findaway. And if you check in to Findaway through our links, they also kind of hook you up with, they don’t charge you some of their normal casting fees. But Findaway, kind of like ACX, will help you produce the book if you don’t already have an audiobook produced. And then they can help you distribute the book if you want to. And so with their model, it is sort of expensive right now to produce audio. I missed the AI portion of this.
Kevin Tumlinson 19:45
That’s okay. I think we can circle back on that.
Dan Wood 19:48
Yeah, definitely. I think people will want to consider, Findaway can distribute AI audiobooks to some of their partners. But not everyone accepts them yet. And yeah, we do see AI audio becoming more and more of a thing in the future. So we’re always kind of paying attention to it.
Kevin Tumlinson 20:08
Yeah, a lot of the retailers are starting to experiment with AI audio. So there’s a potential that lots of options may become available in the near future. It’s definitely something that’s really interesting to see develop, especially as that all that gets much more refined and gets better. There’s some really phenomenal stuff happening out there. So Mark, did you want to throw anything in on that score?
Mark Lefebvre 20:34
I’m just always excited about how advances in technology continue to enable authors with more power. And it’s inevitable, right? We’re seeing it with the art. All the great stuff that’s happening there, even some tools for breaking writer’s block. I’m pretty excited, I think AI becomes a tool writers use, rather than anything else, anything they should be scared of,
Kevin Tumlinson 20:56
That’s definitely my position on it, it’s one more tool that we have available to us, and we should look to embrace it. And I know there’s a lot of controversy around that on both sides. But we can talk about that, we can talk about that at some point.
Dan Wood 21:14
I was just gonna say, there was controversy to around opening up publishing to authors direct and not making agents and publishing houses part of it. And ultimately, we have a much more robust system that has more diverse forces than ever because of that, and I think that’s where we’re gonna see AI, is it’s gonna drive down some of the costs that prohibit some people from being able to participate. You know, not everyone can afford to pay $100 to $300 for a cover. And so maybe AI artwork will be a good thing for them. Not everyone can afford, narrators are about $300 a finished hour, which is about 10,000 words. And so a lot of books for the audiobook end up being two to $3,000. And that’s cost prohibitive to many authors and publishers. But the advantage of an audiobook is that it’s so much more accessible to everyone. For people with sight problems. For people just with time problems, I mostly consume audiobooks now so that I can multitask and do other things, because I don’t have as much time is I had, unfortunately, when I was in high school and could read, you know, real time books, and not have it eat away at my entire free time.
Kevin Tumlinson 22:34
And my perspective on especially the AI audio stuff is that what we’re seeing is the emergence of a new market, because these were books that … So there are always going to be listeners who prefer listening to a human narrated book, and they are not going to give those digital books a shot. And then there are the authors themselves who are aren’t interested in that, I think what’s going to happen is there’s all these authors who would never have been able to do an audiobook in the first place. And there’s also all these listeners who just want the content, and they’re not entirely particular about how it sounds, and they’re gonna give that a shot. The authors over time can take that money that they make and reinvest it and get a human narrator and now they’re actually providing a product for two separate markets. So that’s where I see it going, but I’m crazy like that. Okay, so this one, I don’t know how close this is to your stomping grounds, Mark.
Mark Lefebvre 23:32
Elizabeth is practically a neighbor. I’m here in Waterloo, Ontario.
Kevin Tumlinson 23:36
Okay. All right. Guelph. Am I pronouncing that right? Guelph, Ontario?
Mark Lefebvre 23:41
Well, everyone in Guelph right now is mocking you.
Kevin Tumlinson 23:44
Thank you for that. All right. So “Wondering if there is the possibility of book printing to be done here in Canada? I like ordering from D2D, but delivery costs really eat into the profit margin for sales.”
Mark Lefebvre 23:55
I feel you, Elizabeth. Unfortunately, our current partner does not have a printing facility in Canada. When they do, if they do, that will make life easier for you and me. In the meantime, just like we don’t have a book like my American friends have, books and shipping there’s going to be a cost. But one of the things I do, Elizabeth, is when I’m ordering author copies, I try to order more in order to amortize the cost of shipping. So if it’s $4 per paperback or whatever, and then my shipping costs, that means my cost is $5 or whatever it is, and I try and save my money that way. Another thing is, I do use D2D Print for distribution but I also use KDP Print. And I know Amazon does have a printing facility here in Canada, so the shipping of author copies from them to me here is very quick because it’s in Milton, I believe it’s right next door to Guelph. So, that’s one workaround I’ve been using here in Canada. And I also use local printers sometimes when I know I want a lot of copies, like 100 or more.
Dan Wood 24:58
And you are free to use both services, both the Amazon Print and our print program. You want to make sure that you don’t check expanded distribution with Amazon. Is that what they call it, Mark?
Mark Lefebvre 25:14
You mean pretended distribution? Expanded distribution that they have? Yeah. You don’t want to do that, that’ll conflict with the way that we’re processing the print books.
Kevin Tumlinson 25:22
Yeah, that’s been our recommendation is that you should actually have your print book in KDP Print, as well as D2D Print, and turn off the expanded distribution on Amazon. That way you’re covered, because there are a lot of retailers that just simply will not do business with Amazon. It’s just a fact. They will do business with our print partner. So you’re covered. Okay, this is a question I knew was inevitable. I would love to apply to the Smashwords end of year sale, but the store is not yet on my D2D dashboard. Will you be rolling it out to all accounts soon?
Dan Wood 26:05
So short of something going very wrong, in early December, we should be able to send Draft2Digital books to Smashwords, the storefront. And I think everything’s going good. It’s not going to be the most elegant solution, but we’re going to have a manual way for you to opt into the end of year sale.
Mark Lefebvre 26:30
And for anyone who is not familiar with the Smashwords end of year sale, it allows you, the author, the publisher, to control a discount that is given out to Smashwords customers and smashwords.com is available in more countries than Amazon. And it is a huge sale that Smashwords has traditionally done for, what, 12 years now? And it’s always been the biggest sale of the year. It’s kind of like a big Black Friday extravaganza of indie author book sales. So great question. I’m glad you asked that. And I can’t wait. Because I can’t wait to play in that soon. If everything goes well in the next week or so.
Dan Wood 27:07
And we do have about 8000 books already in beta. Some of our authors have had their books in Smashwords now for a while. By our authors, I mean the employees that work with us. So we’ve done alpha testing, we’ve been beta testing for the better part of two months now. And so everything is going pretty smoothly. In fact, I have a meeting right after this to discuss, to make sure we’re gonna hit that deadline we’re aiming for.
Kevin Tumlinson 27:39
Yes. And I’m sorry, I was a little quiet there. I’m looking ahead to see what other questions we got. And we got lots of them today. So here’s one from author Tom. Okay, I’m not gonna try it man, McAuliffe? I will try it. McAuliffe, tell me if I’m right or wrong. All right. So, “That you know of is there any organization, governmental or other, that routinely audits the various aggregators and distributors like Ingram Spark, KDP, et cetera, and audit author royalties?” Just the U.S. government man.
Dan Wood 28:11
There are some organizations that have popped up, like RWA, Romance Writers of America looks into certain things. NINC, Novelists Incorporated looks into certain things, but no one that routinely does it. Because the cost of such an audit is on the organization or on the publisher or author. I would say at least at our level, we’re routinely auditing, we built a lot of software to double check the numbers that we get from our partners to make sure they make sense. We have had many circumstances where we’ve had to reach out to them and something had just gone wrong. It’s normally just a minor technical glitch. But it does happen. And so we pay attention to that quite a bit, because we want to make sure the authors are getting everything that’s owed to them.
Mark Lefebvre 29:06
Yeah, and in traditional publishing, your contract has a clause that says you can audit your publisher’s reports and stuff like that, but I’ll be honest with you, it is not an easy process, and you lose more money in legal fees than if you find out what you find, if you ever find out any details, as we probably saw through the DOJ, they don’t even know half the time, like a lot of the systems and everything are so antiquated. It’s difficult. So it is really a challenge, especially when you think about the international nature of publishing now. What sort of us organization is going to hold someone outside of the US accountable, you know, for a store in somewhere in Europe or something like that? That’s gonna be a difficult one.
Kevin Tumlinson 29:52
Yeah, there’s a lot of challenges to that. Billy Fitzpatrick asks, “My manuscript has a lot of photos, illustrations and graphics, and reflowable won’t work. It has to be fixed format. It’s all typeset in Word exactly how I want it to look. Is there anything else I need to do?”
Dan Wood 30:11
Typesetting anything in Word is a waste of time. Like it just doesn’t transfer over to the ebook world. If it has to be fixed format, then you’re going probably going to need to pay like a professional book formatter. That’s like where you get into InDesign level stuff. You can try some of the products like Atticus or Vellum. But there’s just no way to take the stuff Word gives you and make it look exactly like that in the EPUB. Kind of same thing with, PDF files are not meant for digital reading. Many people want to submit PDF, and PDF files really only work for print. And there’s not a way to easily convert them and maintain the formatting and whatnot.
Kevin Tumlinson 31:04
If you do feel brave and you want to try your hand at some layout and you’re low on budget, there is an application that a lot of lot of people who work in the engineering world use called latex, LATEX, and it’s it’s sort of like a low-grade InDesign. You can have a little bit more control over that and it will generate an EPUB. I wouldn’t want to do it because it is kind of a pain. But if you’re trying to lock in a format, you’re going to have a lot of challenges on the ebook side. Did anybody else want to … ?
Dan Wood 31:44
You’re very right that fixed format is the way to go. It’s just the tools for making it fixed format EPUB are the ones that are more expensive and tend to require an actual skilled person. Otherwise, it’s something I think just about anyone can learn to do, it’s just going to spend a lot of time learning InDesign.
Kevin Tumlinson 32:07
You could also go on Fiverr and see if you can find someone who does InDesign work that could actually do that for you. And you can usually get by pretty cheap there.
Mark Lefebvre 32:17
We also have, Reedsy is one of our friends and trusted partners who actually curate really good designers, and you know you’re not going to get random wild turkey surprise, you’re going to actually get a professional designer if you use them.
Kevin Tumlinson 32:32
Wild Turkey Surprise was what we had for Thanksgiving dinner actually. So alright, that’s a call back. Okay. Here we go. Here’s a good question. Linda French asks, “I’ve had people say ‘I bought your book,’ but no sales show up in my report. Is there a delay? Of course it’s possible people are lying to me.”
Mark Lefebvre 32:51
People lie all the time. If I had sold as many books as people told me they bought my books, I would be rich and I wouldn’t have to be talking to you two right now.
Kevin Tumlinson 33:02
How long does it typically take for things to start showing up in the report though?
Dan Wood 33:07
It varies by retailer. For the most part, in most of the major retailers, like Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, are next day, the sales start to show up. That’s for actual sales, most of them consider free downloads a very separate thing. Sometimes the free downloads don’t come for a week or more. Sometimes we don’t get the reports on free download for a month. Anytime that you think there’s a discrepancy, when we reach out to the retailer, we have to provide a receipt number. And so if a person will give you the receipt number, we can reach out and see if something happened. But we’ve never caught a case where a retailer failed to report a sale that happened in that way.
Mark Lefebvre 33:54
We’re pretty good at auditing that, our pub ops team audits the sales feeds, and if anything weird happens, like sales are too big or too small, there’s kind of an alert and they look into it and usually fix it within 24 hours.
Dan Wood 34:10
Yeah, we definitely have had moments. Earlier this year, one of the retailers was reporting to us about half the sales we normally get, and you know, we followed up on that and it took them about two weeks to fix the problem, but then all the sales showed up later. So it does, every once in a while something happens, especially when you consider that there are some of the partners like Kobo that distribute to hundreds of other different storefronts. And so sometimes just something gets weird or one of them stops reporting for a little bit. But eventually everyone has to make their balance sheets, like the accounting all has to balance out and so those things are caught pretty regularly.
Kevin Tumlinson 35:00
All right. This is a good one actually. “Data analytics, SEO, these all make me sad. How does D2D help?” We don’t really help with the …
Mark Lefebvre 35:14
Well come on, we offer analytics of the trends in the industry. That’s how we help.
Kevin Tumlinson 35:19
I mean, we do help with that, you’re right, we do offer you some of the some analytics about what’s going on in the industry. You know, in terms of automating any of that, not much. You can get some data. So, you know, some of our tools, like the Universal Book Links will provide you with click through data. So if you send out a link, you can see how many clicks it’s getting, and where those clicks are going. So all those different retailers, it’ll actually break it down for you by retailer. So you can see that you’re getting more clicks to Apple, etc. If you correlate that with the data you get in the reports, now you can kind of see the effectiveness of your marketing. So there is that, although that’s not a done for you kind of thing. We do give you all the tools to do it. On the SEO side. I mean, there’s an argument for, some of what you’re doing with your book descriptions and all the metadata stuff, the categories and all that can factor into SEO in certain respects. But we don’t do any of that stuff for you. But it’s something we can, you know, I mean, that’s the kind of thing we’re always looking for new things to start working to implement. So that might be something down the road.
Dan Wood 36:37
And we do have several partners that do those things, like Reedsy. SEO is more or less people like Publisher Rocket and K-lytics are doing those, although they’re primarily focused on Amazon right now. They’re just really kind of big things that are beyond our scope. Like we’re not running a lot of bots to crawl and guess things about Amazon’s algorithm. You know, we’re distributing books to people. We do try to share what data and analytics we can. And Mark does a segment here on this show every so often, we share information at some of the conferences we get to, and then we try to share on our blog as well.
Kevin Tumlinson 37:30
So no automated tools, but a whole lot of helping hands. We’ll help you every way we can. Gail Daley asks, “Any plans to start publishing hardcover books with a dust jacket please?”
Dan Wood 37:44
Hardcover’s one thing we want to move on to, as soon as we get our print out to general availability, it’s probably what we’ll target first. Technology-wise, do you know, Mark, is dust jacket going to be …
Mark Lefebvre 38:00
It’s a possibility. I think the big challenge, obviously, is our dev team. Because we do the automated cover wrap, we don’t want to just make it available, we want to make it available if you don’t know how to design a dust jacket, that is available format from our partner, we need to automate it and make it easy for you. So without knowing what you’re doing, you upload your front cover, we have to put the pieces together, a dev team has to design it. And they did it for paperbacks, they’re gonna do it for case bound. And of course, they can do it for dust jacket. But I think we have to do it step by step, right? We want to let our dev team do it, test it, make sure it works properly, run it through a whole bunch of sequences, so everything’s working properly, because you want your book to look perfect. But I think Gail, I mean, just based on the on the trends, that’s probably something you’ll see in the next year, as we continue to refine and expand our trim size, availability, etc. with print.
Kevin Tumlinson 38:55
Yeah, it gets talked about internally. We’re all fans of that, too. We know that’s something that authors want, we want it. So you know, that’s something about Draft2Digital that you really should keep in mind, we’re out to solve all the problems. But we won’t release a solution until it’s a D2D solution, meaning it’s got to hit certain levels of quality, can’t be buggy, can’t cause more problems than it solves. That’s what we’re here for. So at least you know, when it does come out, we’ve done all the legwork to make it the best possible product for you.
Dan Wood 39:32
We’re also looking into large print, that’ll be one that we had a lot of demand for. Just because it’s a growing format as certain demographics get older.
Kevin Tumlinson 39:43
Yeah. And that’s tougher than just making the font bigger, by the way. There’s more complications to it than that. Rebecca Platt asks, or says, “This is so great. Do you like Atticus for those of us who don’t have a Mac?”
Dan Wood 39:58
We do, yeah. I would encourage everyone to try our free solution, because our free solution is very solid. If you need a little bit more control though, Atticus is the way to go on PC as far as I’m concerned. Vellum is rock solid if you do have a Mac. I don’t think I’ve seen a product as beloved as Vellum out at the conferences. And so they’re definitely doing something right with the formatting. But not everyone wants to own a Mac,
Kevin Tumlinson 40:30
Since that’s come up, so at 20 Books Vegas, I was asked by dozens of people when we were going to add more templates to our free template tool. Are we looking to add more of those?
Dan Wood 40:45
Not anytime soon. We’re very laser focused right now on the merger and Print. And so we are very much trying to get the integration of the Draft2Digital platform and the Smashwords platform, so for some people that are gonna have books that have been on both, we want to make it to where they’re just having to go to one interface to manage all that. We want to make it to where, you know, the thing that’s coming out next, where Draft2Digital authors can easily send their books to the Smashwords storefront, we want to make it where they can easily participate in all the different types of sales Smashwords has. So for the next year, that’s really the main goal. You know, we feel like we have enough templates that we meet most needs. We have added a couple of randomly here and there. We are working on one that is to kind of mimic that look of a book that went through the Smashwords meat grinder process. So if you liked the way that looked, we’re trying to make sure that we can continue to make your books look consistent with that. But outside of those things that have to do with the merger, it’ll probably be a year or so before we add in many other templates.
Kevin Tumlinson 42:11
Author Tom asks, “What are your plans for audiobooks in 2023?”
Mark Lefebvre 42:18
We have a great partnership with Findaway Voices, right?
Kevin Tumlinson 42:20
Yeah, that’s the biggest. Yeah.
Mark Lefebvre 42:24
So, continue a great partnership with Findaway Voices.
Kevin Tumlinson 42:27
Yes, continue that great relationship. And we do have a great relationship with those guys. They’re like the Draft2Digital of audiobooks, they’re very similar in their business practices and in their attitude towards the author community. They were purchased by Spotify you may have heard of, and so they’re looking at over 2023, they’re gonna be doing some interesting upgrades to the way they do audiobooks and handle things. It’s an exciting time to be a part of all this, this is all you know, there’s so many of us now who came in early, established ourselves, and we all like each other and work well together. And what that’s created is a sort of network of really useful author tools out there. And because we all like each other, work well together, you guys get all the benefit from that. So Tom asked a second question here. “Is it true that some distributors or outlets are not allowing AI narration?” Also I had a question and it disappeared, but someone asked what AI audio means. So maybe we can kill both those birds with one stone?
Dan Wood 43:42
Well, it’s sometimes called, AI means artificial intelligence. And machine learning is probably a better word for it. But the common marketing language, people call it AI because it sounds fancier. But it’s the equivalent of things like the Alexa, the Siri, Google’s voice on their different products. Those have all made huge improvements over the last few years. There are several people who are working on continuing to refine that and to make better products that can read things and still not sound inhuman, you know, where they actually have some emotion and inflection to them. It is true that there are many places that do not allow AI narration. The biggest holdout on that is Audible. That being said, people have gotten stuff through their system because it’s getting harder and harder to detect, but it is against their terms of service. There are others that have not made a choice yet to allow it but probably I think will in the future. But there are many places, I know Kobo allows it as long as you clearly identify that it’s an AI-narrated product, and I think that will just grow as the products get better, because I think what every bookstore out there wants is more formats available to their readers because the readers are wanting and asking for audio versions. So we continue to, we’ve got to hear a number of these products. It just keeps getting better and better.
Kevin Tumlinson 45:28
Yeah, Amazon isn’t known for just letting other people take a market and own it. So I’m sure that at some point, they’re gonna want AI audio. That’s my feeling.
Dan Wood 45:39
I think the thing that people should keep in mind, because I don’t think authors necessarily would think about this, but there are a lot of bad actors and scammers. And so you have to build a whole new tool set to catch where people are trying to make AI-narrated versions of other people’s works and sell them. And that’s different than the tools that everyone has built to catch that happening in text.
Kevin Tumlinson 46:11
And that’s the thing, every time we have a new innovation in technology, the scammers are the first people who figure out how to push it to its limits and that’s why this is always much more complicated than it seems, you know, it’s not as easy as pushing a button. And I think people do realize that but, you know, it becomes much more challenging when you have to factor in, like, we have to ask all the questions in advance. We have to think like, how could someone use this to scam people? Or how could they use this for some nefarious purpose? And you’d be surprised how creative those guys can get. So all right. Richard Del Connor asks, “D2D has ‘promotion,’ which is a discount price. Why do Smashwords discounts anymore?” I am not familiar enough with the Smashwords discount system to know why there would even be a conflict there.
Dan Wood 47:09
We have some promotions where the retailers require you to offer a discount. So on the Draft2Digital side, why you would offer a discount for promotion would be because of the requirements of the sale. The Smashwords discounts are also kind of, as it’s a retail store, if you want to participate in one of the sales where it is a sale, then you offer a discount price. That’s pretty common.
Mark Lefebvre 47:38
Oh, I think I know why. We use a [inaudible] don’t we?
Dan Wood 47:41
[inaudible] if you want to.
Mark Lefebvre 47:44
Smashwords uses a coupon code, or does it change the price?
Dan Wood 47:48
It can use a coupon code and so authors … Right now, if you’re direct with Smashwords, you do have that option. Once we integrate them fully, you’ll have the option on Draft2Digital as well to offer coupon codes. But most of the time when you’re doing a promotion on Draft2Digital, it’s because the retailer has offered to give special placement if you lower your price for a certain number of days and use our promotion tool, and then it just goes back up to the regular price once it’s done.
Kevin Tumlinson 48:22
Yeah, yeah, the coupon codes are not going away. We’re actually going to be offering those to authors. That’s something that we’ve been asked for for years. Notoriously, we made a promise to do that. Now we’re going to fulfill that promise by acquiring an entirely different company. Matthew asks, “How much does shipping author copies cost?”
Dan Wood 48:48
Impossible to answer here, we’ve got a …
Mark Lefebvre 48:51
Weight, distance. A lot of variables.
Dan Wood 48:54
Basically, we do show you before you check out. Once we have the order in, then we can let you now. But we can’t really ballpark it here because there’s so many different factors. But it is all in the user interface will give you the exact amount because we’re getting those numbers from them in real time. It’s uses databases and stuff to reach out to find out how much they’re charging right now. And as you know, with the pandemic, and all kinds of different things going on the world, shipping costs have been changing rapidly and constantly and so it can vary quite a bit.
Kevin Tumlinson 49:40
Yeah, just know that this isn’t some fee we’ve implemented, it’s not like a set fee. It’s determined by where it’s shipping, who’s shipping it and where it’s shipping from.
Mark Lefebvre 49:50
I can guarantee you that I pay more for shipping to get it into Canada than it would be if I was living in the States. And that’s just based on the cost to get things into different countries.
Kevin Tumlinson 49:59
I’m thinking of just making bundled runs across the border into Canada, just load up the van with author copies and charge a lower fee by pallet. That’s how I’m gonna pay for that van. Author Tom asks, “If there was one thing you wish authors knew about, I’m gonna assume he means D2D, what would it be? What’s the number one mistake that new members make in joining your platform?” I’ve never thought of them as members before, but I like that. D2D members.
Dan Wood 50:35
I see some authors that, they don’t always know how much vetting we’ve done of all of our partners, like we’ve gone out of our way to try to make sure these are people to work with, and there’s a reasonable chance you’re gonna sell books on their platforms. And so I feel like, more people should take advantage of using us for everywhere that they’re not currently getting to. And so you know, I’ve seen some people that, they’re not sure about subscription, or they haven’t heard of a retailer in a foreign country, so they just don’t select it. And I think that’s a mistake. Like, if you’re not going to be exclusive with Amazon, you should be as wide as possible. And we’re very selective in who we work with to make sure that they’re selling books, that they can make changes to books quickly. So I would encourage everyone to, you know, just because you haven’t heard of a storefront doesn’t mean it’s not significant somewhere in the world.
Kevin Tumlinson 51:37
That’s actually one of my greater pet peeves is authors who will, you know, they’re not making a sale on a platform. So they delist it from that platform. That makes no sense to me, there’s no cost for you to keep a book on a platform, it makes it available for those readers to stumble upon and find if the book does hit. Let’s say that it suddenly did very well on Amazon and it gets some press and other readers on other platforms decide they want to read it too, but they don’t read on Amazon. Well, now the book’s not available on XYZ platform because you weren’t making sales there. That’s a crazy strategy to me. So pet peeve, that’s a trigger I guess. M asks, “Indie bookshops don’t purchase SP books from IS because they can’t be returned and shops cannot make a profit. Should I resign myself to online orders?” Mark, you’re probably the best qualified to answer that.
Mark Lefebvre 52:35
Yeah, so here’s the reality, is we offer a print on demand solution with a print on demand partner that has the world’s largest distribution to online bookstores and independent and chain bookstores can order the books in, but they are non-returnable. And we set them that by default. Bookstores do not want to order books they can’t return. That’s not part of their business model. Therefore, it’s very, very, very unlikely that you’re going to have a bookstore bring your books in. The best way to actually get your books into a print bookstore is to go with a traditional publisher. I call that vanity publishing, by the way, because you may have your books in the bookstore, but you’re not going to make very much off of them. Trust me, I’m also traditionally published. But one thing I can tell you about is, you can still have a relationship with a local bookstore, I have a local bookstore that takes my stuff on consignment. I print the author copies, I bring them in, they pay me directly. I have had relationships in the past with some bookstores that will order them in through Ingram, which is the world’s largest distributor of print books. But they’re non-returnable, so I have a relationship with them that says, if you don’t sell these books, since you can’t return them, sell them to me at a discount. So you can do this. But the reality is, it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of legwork. And the key thing is, it’s about relationship building. And so if you’re thinking about wanting to be into print bookstores, you either have a relationship with a traditional publisher, or you have a relationship with a local bookseller. And you may have one bookseller that’s receptive and loves you and your local, you know, you support them and you’re part of the community. And then you may have another one that’s like, nope, I don’t want to talk POD, end of story. So you’re gonna get all kinds of different answers depending on where you go, and how you interact with it. But it always comes down to, it’s a lot of hard work. We just make it available for them to order the print book mostly online. But it can happen, I just wouldn’t build an entire business around expecting that bookstores are going to stock your books. Because at the end of the day, the thing I always ask is, ask the bookstore what your book can do for them, not what the bookstore can do for you and your book. Is this a book that’s actually going to sell because it fulfills a demand and a need in their local community? That’s a key thing to think about when you’re thinking about your book in bookstores. I could go on. I’ve even written a book about it, you know?
Kevin Tumlinson 55:06
Yeah. Pick up that book at your local retailer.
Dan Wood 55:10
More book sales, both print and digital, are moving online. It’s just a consistent pattern. Ultimately, I don’t think the returns model is sustainable. It’s what opened things up for Amazon to kind of eat everyone’s lunch. Because Amazon greatly reduced the number of returns by having better warehousing and better prediction of what books they needed. Bookstores, and I loved bookstores when I was younger, but they are just not getting any bigger and they’re too much work. If you put that same amount of work into improving your online presence, you’re going to get much more out of it and your book’s gonna sell 24 hours a day anywhere in the world, as opposed to you know, the bookstore right next to you.
Kevin Tumlinson 56:05
A strategy that might help … I’m sorry Dan, go ahead.
Dan Wood 56:08
Just, if you go into the bookstore, they’ve had people coming in saying, hey, I’ve got a book and I’ve been wanting them to stock it for years. They’re always going to tell you, we want returns, that’s what’s in their best interest. If readers are going and asking them for a book, they will order it, even if it doesn’t have returns enabled. And so as long as they know they can sell it, that means your book isn’t just gonna be randomly stocked, and you’re not gonna walk in some place and see your book all the time, like you would with a traditionally published book. But most of those books, not most of them, but a good number of those books are getting destroyed because they’re not selling. And you know, that’s bad for the environment, because not only was it printed, it’s being destroyed. Maybe you can recycle part of that material. But it was also shipped and you can never regain all the energy that went into shipping those books all over just to be pulped.
Kevin Tumlinson 57:03
I personally, I like to be like Thanos, I want to be inevitable. If you make yourself big enough online. If you put all that marketing money and energy into making yourself undeniable online, you will have people approach you about putting their your books in their brick and mortar store. Ultimately, eventually.
Dan Wood 57:20
My small bookstore and my Barnes & Noble, some of these indie books that are hitting big on TikTok, on BookTok, they are stocking them and they are not returnable. They just know there’s such a huge demand for it.
Kevin Tumlinson 57:38
Yeah. Instead of spending your energy trying to figure out how to get into a brick and mortar store, spend it trying to figure out how to be as big as possible so that they’ll come to you. So this question is interesting. And we’ve only got about three minutes left to the hour. This was an extra long episode, by the way, I don’t know if anybody noticed. But so I just reissued Tao of Taoism with Draft2Digital with the same ISBN as Smashwords. The Smashwords version is still there, new version is at D2D. Will they be merged? Or do I unpublish the Smashwords version?”
Dan Wood 58:12
I would unpublish the Smashwords version for now. We are going to be merging everything but that is going to be more, we’re months to a year out from being able to merge everything because we have to account for a large number of different scenarios. It’s just a lot of development work to merge the two platforms.
Mark Lefebvre 58:36
But ultimately, I think one of the processes we’ll be using is working with authors to say, hey, Richard, we got ISBN A and ISBN A, and it’s in D2D and it’s in Smashwords. Which one do you want to be the master? We’re gonna punt it all over so you can control it all through D2D eventually, and still have it published to the Smashwords store. That that is going to be tricky. So it is going to take a while, I agree with you there.
Kevin Tumlinson 59:02
Yep. Okay, we’re gonna make this the last question. And I do think we should answer this one because this comes up a lot. Billy Fitzpatrick asked, “Lots of noise about Amazon’s ebook return policy, with people buying books, reading them and returning them. Does this affect D2D authors?”
Dan Wood 59:20
The percentage of returns that we have from all the other retailers is very, very low. All the retailers have to have a return policy. I think that’s the case because of the EU, or at least they have to take returns in the EU. But the rates of return were very, very minute, like under 1%. Very small. We did have a higher rate at Amazon on returns and so we don’t know if that’s reflective of all this noise about their ebook policy. But most of our authors go right to Amazon. And so we don’t have as much data pertaining to them.
Kevin Tumlinson 1:00:05
Yeah. All right. Well, Amazon always causing problems. So that is going to have to wrap us up for this, the 100th episode of Self-Publishing Insiders, we are so glad that all of you guys tuned in to be a part of this. For everyone who is watching or listening after the fact, you’re a part of this too. We could not have done this show without you, you’re the whole point of the show. So thank you so much for being a part of it. Guys, did you want to throw anything in before we wrap up?
Dan Wood 1:00:38
Don’t think so. Bye everyone.
Kevin Tumlinson 1:00:40
Okay, bye. Oh, before we say goodbye, make sure you like share and comment, subscribe and profit, you might do that too if you join draft2digital.com. And make sure that you are visiting our site for, ‘ve lost the link. That’s why I’m stumbling here. Be sure to bookmark D2Dlive.com so you know when episodes like this are going to go live and make sure that you are tuning in over at draft2digital.com/blog where we post this and other content just for you. So take care of yourselves out there. Thank you for being a part of our 100, and we’re gonna do 100 more and we’ll see you there for every one of them. Take care guys.