Once upon a time, a handful of publishing companies decided what Americans could read. Those companies lived in the great literary castle. No common writers were admitted to the castle. The publishing royals would periodically admit certain citizens that they deemed worthy to petition them on behalf of the common writers. By and large, most of the worthy citizens had either worked in the castle in years gone by, or they had worked for other worthy citizens that the royals had known for years. It was an insider’s paradise and no outsider need apply.
The worthy citizens had the loathsome job of dealing with the commoners in the Kingdom. Someone had to do it and it wasn’t going to be the royals themselves. After all, the royals couldn’t dirty their hands by working directly with those who created the products that paid for their castle. No, let the worthy citizens deal with the rabble. Best of all, the worthy citizens not only protected the royals from the rabble, the royals didn’t even have to pay the worthy citizens. The worthy citizens took their fees from the rabble’s proceeds. A cut of the bounty paid by the royals to the rabble rightly belonged to the worthy citizens. ’ Twas a small enough price for their having to deal with the commoners and sort through their barrage of products to find the work that worthy citizens thought would be deemed acceptable by the royals.
Most of the commoner’s notions got rejected by the worthy citizens. Those esteemed folks worked and socialized directly with the royals and knew what the royals would and would not deem worthy. Or at least, they believed that they knew. And the worthy citizens did not, as a rule, challenge the royals to accept something too new or too different.
And thus was born — the sacred system.
The worthy citizens received missives from the commoner’s via mail. But as technology progressed, they began receiving queries via email. Although the email saved the commoner’s time and money, ’twas the fact that it saved the worthy citizens equal amounts of time and money that won the day. Besides, it gave the worthy citizens grounds to beseech the royals to accept their submissions via email. So they saw that it was good.
But time passed and technology marched on and the sacred system remained, changed it bits and bytes but not in any measure that would benefit the commoners. The worthy would only present the same commoner’s work and the work of those new commoners who could write like the acceptable commoners. New ideas and radical concepts would die beneath the weight of a rejection email.
If a commoner wished to bypass the system and market his own work, well he could do that. Or at least, he could try. He had to marshal his resources for the endeavor would demand all he had – and more. The commoner would pay a rebel printing company to print his book. Then, to market it to the holy bookstores, he had to spend more coin and buy many, many copies of his book and use all of his free time to peddle them, door to door. It cost money and time and pride and left the commoner with many unsold copies of his book crowding his chariot.
The royals and the worthy citizens watched these pathetic efforts and sneered or shook their heads and said, “The poor, deluded fools.”
But time marched on and technology marched apace and then technology marched faster. The royals and the worthy watched in mild concern as their compatriots in the Kingdom of News lost a revolution. But, surely, that was news and this was publishing and even the vapid commoners understood that publishing could not be challenged! And for a time, only small and largely unsuccessful forays were fought.
But then, the commoners who could now gather, filter and disseminate news as they liked it, began to gather in numbers. And while the sacred system remained the same at its core, the holy bookstores had heard the beat of change in the requests of customers. More and more, the bookstores marched apace with change and opened their doors to the rebel publishing companies. And thus were born the great online retailers.
Soon, the public demanded the right to get their books the same way they now got their news — instantly. And the royals and the worthy began to grow fearful for they too could hear the beat of fists on the castle walls. They knew the public would demand more – and soon it did. The public demanded the right to decide for themselves which books were worthy and which were not. And the rebel merchants and online retailers worked to satisfy the demands of those whose coin began to fill the merchant’s coffers.
So came to exist Amazon and the Kindle, Sony and the Stanza. Soon, there were more e-readers and more online retailers than the royals or the worthy could count, much less control. Great services like Lightning Source and CreateSpace were born to allow the commoners to disseminate brand new work at the speed of tomorrow. But smaller services were born too, and they were not destined to remain small.
A brave, bold Knight marched to the fore. His name was Mark Coker. He’d been among and with those commoners who had demanded change. He’d also labored with the royals and the worthy. He was what those first current events, politics and beyond bloggers (Drudge and company) were to the news revolution – an outsider’s insider who decided to storm the walls of the castle. He created a small online site for commoners to post their work. He named it SMASHWORDS and he promised the commoners that his battle had only just begun.
Through Smashwords the common writers, using the word processing programs they had on hand could post to a site. Then the great engines that Mark built could take the work and presto, chango – turn it out in a format that every reader on the planet could enjoy. Adobe, yes and HTML and Java and plain text, yes. But also Palm and Epub, RTF and LRF and yes, the engine that Mark built even turns the commoner’s work to Kindle.
But Mark said he hadn’t finished. He promised more. And soon, he delivered it. He created a path to allow others to sell the writers work on their sites and earn a commission. Horray for Mark, cheered the commoners. But Mark said he hadn’t finished. He promised more. He promised another chink in the castle walls.
And now the masses believed him, so they cheered for that too. “SMASH IT AGAIN, MARK,” they shouted.
And so he did. Smashwords took the engine that Mark built and showed it to one of the wise retailers who’d heard the shouts of the crowd, who’d studied the news revolution, and who’d seen the future. The wise retailer saw that it was good and it would present customers with what they’d come to demand - the chance to choose what they’d read in the format they wanted to read it in. And the deal was done.
Smashwords is now distributing to Barnes and Noble and Fictionwise. So soon and very soon (the first catalog just shipped), the work of the commoners on the site that Mark built will be available in the biggest e-book retailer stores on the planet.
As one of the lowest of commoners, I wish to thank Mark Coker and his Smashwords team, including his “magician” and CTO, Bill Kendrick. I suspect that Bill had a hand in the engine Mark built as well, but my suspicions don’t much matter. What does matter is that Mark, Bill and their team are battering the castle walls for me and my fellow independent authors.
To my fans (come on, they exist – or at least I believe they exist the same way I believe in them) I say that all of my e-books – the historicals – Brotherly Love, A Faerie Fated Forever, A Golden Forever and A Six Sense of Forever, and my contemporary – E-mail Enticement, should be on Barnes & Noble and Fictionwise soon. I expect that other e-book retailers will come to share the wise vision of B&N and Fictionwise – the e-book retailers who understand the American thirst for choice and who are bold enough to embrace change rather than scurry out of its path. So hopefully, my e-books will appear on those sites soon. They are also available through Lightning Source, another rebel company who has long fought for independent publishing. I don’t plan to restrict anything – in choice there is power and that power is where it belongs – in the hands of the e-book stores big and small and ultimately, in the strongest hands of all – those of the buying public.
But I do cheer for Mark and Bill and the Smashwords team who’ve gone a GREAT BIG step farther than even the other rebels. Smashwords will take my work, my words, and run them through their magic machine and turn them out in formats that make them available to virtually every PC user, every cell phone user and every e-reader user on the planet. Smashwords turns raindrops into a rainstorm. You’re much more likely to get wet in a storm than a sprinkle.
We shouldn’t forget that the castle walls still exist. But I understand that these days they’re quivering. Those walls should be shaking in their foundation because the Good Knight Mark says he isn’t finished and I bet his wizard, Bill the Magnificent, isn’t finished either.
So let’s give a cheer and root for the next battle in the revolution.
SMASH IT AGAIN, MARK!!