Publishing A Short Story: Part II (#0045)

Read Introduction/Part I for premise: #0028

It’s been a little over two months since I declared my intention to publish a short story while blogging the process leading up to the release. Long story short, yes, I’ve made progress (couldn’t resist that pun).

After finishing the rewrite and choosing a new title, most of the time has been spent drafting cover possibilities and waiting for the copy edit. Now that the edit is done, I’ll be applying changes and polishing the final draft that will be published.

Obviously, I decided to collect my progress into one large post instead of dappling smaller posts on the blog.

I’ve split the discussion by the following categories….

  • Adult Filter
  • Genre Listings
  • Price Points
  • Cover Design
  • Synopsis/Description

Adult Filter on Smashwords

Smashwords has a very particular approach to Adult/Mature works. However, the actual definition of Adult on Smashwords is extremely broad. It doesn’t simply apply to sexual content, but “adult language” and “scenes“…. whatever that pertains to.

An actual definition of adult on Smashwords remains a bit… fuzzy. The site’s FAQ directly responds to this query as “If your book contains language, situations or images that are inappropriate for children under 18 years of age“.

The reason why this is a broad definition is that under-18 encompasses a wide range of ages. Are images/situations that would be inappropriate for a 8-year-old included or could it be based off whether images are appropriate for a 17-year-old? It easily becomes entirely subjective. The basis for what people consider appropriate and inappropriate for the various ages under-18 is also arbitrary and based on individual experiences, as well as how a person was raised in their family and community.

It could be assumed, however, that Smashwords means a general American society’s approval for what is inappropriate. Further in the FAQ, it is said in regards to the adult filter that “this label will help our retail partners keep your book out of any kid-centric areas of their stores while maintaining full listings elsewhere in the store“…… but is that actually the case?

If this is part of the purpose for the filter, then I would suggest that Smashwords could benefit from a three-way filter of “Child”, “YA”, and “Adult” instead. Even better, separate “Adult” from “Erotica” to make the filter even more suitable for readers and authors. Those who don’t want smut listed can simply not include Erotica instead of having to figure out which Adult books are Adult because of sex or because of other “language”, “images”, and “situations”. Also, instead of having the “adult: off” as default, have a member select their filter settings upon sign-up as an account choice, but I digress.

I doubt all of the non-adult books published on Smashwords should be found in the children’s section of a store anyways…. Shouldn’t there be a “child” filter for that? Isn’t that the point of the genre category; “Children’s Books” and what else could a “kid-centric area” mean, but Children’s Books or YA? Since Child is the direct opposite to Adult, does that mean that the default Smashwords platform is a Children’s platform?

Labeling like this, through filtering, is important to examine because labeling books as “Adult” or Not-Adult creates a false impression that non-adult/kid-centric books are the expected normal and should be strived for due to the advantages provided, while relegating “adult” books to be censored from ordinary public view.

Anyways, left-over puritanical perspectives motivating insidious labeling aside…. why does this matter for writers and how does Smashwords’ Adult Filter impact author platforms and potential readership?

With the vague definition of “adult”, it is left to the indie author to decide whether their book is Adult or Not.

On Smashwords, the adult filter is automatically set to block “adult” content books from showing up in search results, tag queries, category listings, and the homepage.

The only way around this is either for the reader/user to manually set the search filter to allow “adult” content or to click a direct link to the book’s url. In addition to being filtered out of book listings, “adult-only” books have a warning displayed on the book’s info page.

Maverik Writer has a post about dealing with this from an author’s standpoint… all the way from 2011, nearly 5 years ago. It astonishes me that Smashwords hasn’t bothered to change their system since then because in a lot of ways, “Adult: On/Off” seems like a horrible approach to filter books, especially when the definition of adult is as broad and subjective as Smashwords makes it. They seem to assume you know what they mean… which isn’t the best way to clarify possible confusion.

Even Amazon has the ability to choose between age groups (with erotica always 18+) instead of just creating a vague dichotomy of “adult” vs. “under-18”.

When the adult content filter is on, it mixes adult content books with non-adult content books. There is no way in the browsing section to tell which is which. It isn’t until you click on a title that you can see the tiny little blue tag underneath the author’s name that marks it as ‘Adult’.

Smashwords seems set-up for books to be “non-adult” based on the clear advantages gained from not being filtered within their current system.

Consider a book like American Gods, now that is a book involving adult language, situations, and scenes, but on the Smashwords platform… would it be relegated to the filter’s shadow? According to Smashwords, it should be. On a question in Gaiman’s personal FAQ, he tackles the question whether Coraline is a kid or an adult book by answering,

“As a general sort of rule, kids seem to read it as an adventure. Adults get nightmares. Does that help?”

Many people view Coraline as a kid’s book and it can be found in kid-centric areas of stores, middle-grade and juvenile. This general rule actually helps to apply to my own story – I even asked something similar in the first part post, “Is something made of nightmares considered Adult?” – but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it caters to Smashwords’ guidelines and even Gaiman’s answer maintains the confusion of the initial question (most likely on purpose). I haven’t gotten around to reading Trigger Warning, but I feel that Gaiman has an astute perspective on the topic of filtering stories based on “appropriate” guidelines.

The current state of censorship in literature through content guidelines set by increasingly-powerful virtual publication platforms… that’s a topic for another post, another time. It’s an issue that needs to be considered and pushed towards progress, instead of taken for granted as ‘it is what it is’ and allowed to regress into pseudo-puritanical morality boundaries that are more dictatorial than other art/media/entertainment outlets.

For instance, where’s the HBO or Showtime platform for virtual indie literature, where adult content is the norm, expected, and appreciated? Why doesn’t this exist already?

If I had the capital and the will, I’d consider creating a publication platform where authors have less censorship to their story content… and aren’t forced to make those stories free, or hidden, in exchange for that artistic freedom.

At this early point in my career though, I’m willing to play by their rules and thus, I already cut a great deal of adult content from my short story specifically so I can avoid marking it as “adult” and it can be seen by a general browsing readership. Still, because of the vague definition, it could be argued that the sheer theme of the story is mature… However, a 15-year-old could read my story fine without being scarred for life, if that’s the actual reason why there is concern for a filter. I wouldn’t necessarily suggest a 5-year-old to read it, but if I compare my story to Coraline, I feel confident in not marking adult for my story.

Genre Listings on Smashwords

Moving on, genres are a lot, lot, lot less of a struggle to figure out than the adult content label. The closest Smashwords genres to my short story are Fantasy > Short Stories and Literature > Visionary & Metaphysical.

There is not a lot in Visionary & Metaphysical, but I think that it is cool the category exists. Still, I doubt readers click on it as much as people click on Fantasy > Short Stories, so it will be a secondary genre. I’m not sure if I can choose a second category, but if I can, I’ll add it in.

Fantasy isn’t entirely accurate either because the story is speculative fiction, but Smashwords doesn’t have a Speculative Fiction main category. I could put it under Science Fiction > Short Stories since there are some similar premises in that category… but I personally feel that Fantasy is closer than Sci Fi to the genre. Speculative Fantasy, but still…

Price Points on Smashwords

Smashwords seems transparent when it comes to price points. They recently came out with an analysis on the ebook publishing market and as always price point was included as a topic of discussion.

Generally, the price point information hasn’t changed that much. 0.99$ to 2.99$ is still a sweet spot, it seems, for this and that reason.

I was tempted to make my short story Free because well… people like free stuff sometimes and it might make more people likely to read.

But I already provide free fiction on this blog site, albeit rough projects that I’ve abandoned and shared for the fun of it, they are mostly throw-aways that I’m not developing anymore.

This story is different. It isn’t a throw-away.

It’s the inspiration for a novel that I’m still considering whether I want to write or not and it’s gone through a fair amount of development to be polished. I, even, rewrote it again in hopes that it will be more accessible to general readers. It’s so much more than just a free throw-away snippet to me.

For this reason, I am considering making it 0.99$ – the closest price point to free through Smashwords (since they prefer .99 endings for their Apple market and will force it that way in Apple stores if I choose any other price point).

Choosing 0.99$ gives me the chance to explore how promotions and give-aways work because I’ll have the space to play with that.

1.99$ isn’t that far out there either, but the word count is under 10k and while I know word count doesn’t dictate price points…. Idk. And if I consider a price point on what I actually thought the story was worth….

…well, I can’t do that either because that is such a weird application of worth. The story is worth what it is… but will be valued differently by different readers. There will be some people who resonate with it, there will be others who don’t. So, to consider the “worth” of the story in order to pick a price…. it doesn’t suit my nature or perspective.

So, I’ll probably be picking 0.99$, but there’s room for that to change while I’m polishing the final manuscript.

Cover Design

Can I just mention how much I balk at the prices of stock photography websites? How there isn’t a monthly subscription option for around 10$ on any of the stock sites is beyond me… the cheapest I can find is 50$ where you’re paying about 1.00$ per image because the cheaper options, you end up paying around 6$ or more per image, so that’s uh… well, it’s obviously a fixed system meant to create profit, for sure.

Let’s not even get into creative licensing in regards to fonts and textures and everything under the sun. My, oh, my, it makes something that could be so incredibly simple into something that requires so much bureaucratic work.

Anyways, I was able to find some free-for-commerical-use stock photos on Pixabay that I like and have been playing around with creating covers from scratch.

I’ll probably use a base image from stock, but build on top of that. So far, I’ve made around 8-9 cover drafts, but haven’t reached a final yet. This is important work though, the cover is what browsing readers will see in thumbnail and amongst a list of other covers. It’s important for the cover to represent the vibe of the story well, but also be entertaining enough to inspire and draw in people who might be interested.

My goal with this cover is that I want to create a sophisticated look without spending a single penny on it. Doable, but it takes time.

Synopsis / Description 

Finally, we have the synopsis blurb that must be included in the Smashwords publication. The preview blurb on the browsing page seems limited to around 70 words from a general glance. Beyond this preview, the synopsis can be much longer (though on Smashwords, a user still has to manually click ‘more’ in order to read the rest), and those first 70 words are what browsers will glance at and most likely, base their decision to read it or not.

There are a few different approaches to preview blurbs, whether to fill them with keywords and query grabs or to be straight-forward in speaking to the reader directly.

What a synopsis blurb should accomplish, regardless of the approach, is to catch the attention of potentially interested readers. Describing the story’s premise, main characters, and the issues dealt within the story can provide starting points to focus on and develop into an impactful blurb.

Here are the first five drafts of my short story’s blurb. Notice the changes in focus on certain aspects while the blurb is developed to interest a potential reader.

First Draft – Synopsis Blurb

Niman exists in a strange reality, known as the Other Side. Working for an entity called Hanhoka, he is tasked with training a creature who was captured during a soul hunt. The training offers him a connection he didn’t expect and in turn, finds himself at odds with Hanhoka and attempting the impossible; refusing her. (55 words)

Second Draft – Synopsis Blurb

Welcome to the Other Side, a strange dimension realm world where souls are hunted, captured, and traded like currency. Here, the strong-willed rule over the weak. Niman is a novice soul, unsure of his place in the Other Side, and doing his best to follow the instruction of his guide, Hanhoka. When she tasks him with training a lik, Niman finds himself at odds with her and attempts the impossible – refusing her. (66 words)

Third Draft – Synopsis Blurb

Welcome to the Other Side, where the strong-willed rule over the weak and souls are hunted, captured, traded, and devoured. Novice soul, Niman, is unsure of his role purpose and follows his guide, Hanhoka, with tenuous trust. He does what she asks demands of him until faced with the dilemma of refusing her. Forced through dimensions, Niman has to find his way back and stop Hanhoka before it is too late. (67 words)

Fourth Draft – Synopsis Blurb

Welcome to the Other Side, where the strong-willed rule over the weak and souls are hunted, captured, and devoured. Novice soul, Niman, is unsure of his purpose. Following his guide, Hanhoka, with tenuous trust, he does what she demands until faced with a dilemma that leads him to defy her. Forced through Lost in dimensions life, Niman has to find his way back to stop her before it is too late to save his own apprentice. (73 words)

Fifth Draft – Synopsis Blurb

Welcome to the Other Side, where the strong-willed rule over the weak and souls are hunted, captured, and devoured. Novice soul, Niman, is unsure of his purpose. Following his guide, Hanhoka, he does what she demands with tenuous trust until finally faced with the dilemma of protecting his own apprentice’s soul. Forced through dimensions, lost in life, Niman has to find his way back before it is too late. (69 words)

That won’t be the final blurb, but it’s a lot closer than the first draft was. :3 I’ll give it a few days, maybe even a week, then return to write another round of drafts.

Next short story update will be the last, hopefully, before publication. I’m planning to discuss Document Formatting, Metadata Tags, Marketing Widgets, Social Media Connects and if anyone would like to suggest a topic of related interest, comment below and I’ll try to include it.

~ Dominika.

13 thoughts on “Publishing A Short Story: Part II (#0045)

  1. This was actually incredibly insightful and helpful, in the sense that I had absolutely no idea Smashwords existed! You wrote a very thorough review, which helps to see what it offers. It does sound a little narrow-sighted that they would be so broad and kind of … evasive? Vague? About the adult setting.

    1. I’m glad you could find some use from it. I learned about Smashwords about a year or so ago, but never really looked into the platform until I found out Brandon Sanderson used them and decided to give a closer look then. They service a lot of outlets that Amazon doesn’t reach (Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, etc.) and even though their adult settings are a bit… whatever we’d like to call it, they seem mostly friendly and supportive for indie authors. They’re very transparent about the marketing aspects of their platform since the founder likes to share data and statistics they gather over the year through the platform.

      I plan on sharing more about it as I go forward with publishing through Smashwords. It’ll be interesting to see if anything of interest comes up while publishing and/or post-publication too. :3

  2. In regards to sci fi vs fantasy genres, I recently heard a good rule of thumb in the authors note at the end of the audiobook of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. He says he decides based on whether there would be rivets or trees on the cover, lol. It’s a simple guideline but I think it’s really helpful, because my writing tends to fall in that middle area a lot too.

    1. That’s an interesting rule of thumb between those genres… doesn’t necessarily help for my story though because there wouldn’t be rivets or trees. (@ c @)

        1. Nope, I don’t mind. So far, I’ve experimented with space, stars, portals, gates, skeletons, and essence-magic-looking nonsense.

          1. Cool! Heh, I actually did a fan art painting based on the third to last image you have there. What if you had a similar sort of figure made of stars/space, with hands cupped around a small man or skeleton, and instead of all the yellow hair some sort of dreamscape images? I’m picturing M C Escher a little bit. That’s my two cents. 😋

  3. Thanks for the ping. It’s a disgrace that adult/not adult is still a problem on Smashwords. The novel I’m currently working on has mentions of male rape and lots of “language.” I will *not* be choosing the adult setting.

    Covers — I stay strictly with public domain images and fonts. Limiting and frustrating sometimes, but it forces me to think creatively. Textures — I don’t know what’s available for Windows, but there are a good number of fairly inexpensive programs for the Mac that allow me to play with textures and effects without having to delve into the details of image manipulation. All to be used judiciously, of course.

    1. You’re welcome, thanks for the comment! Nice to see you’re still writing and about since that post, too. ^_^

      Oops, I forgot to mention public domain images and fonts. I managed to find some decent fonts through that and have been meaning to check out The British Library’s public domain collection on Flickr to see if I can find anything useful for covers. It certainly is a creative challenge, kinda like a scavenger hunt!

      I have Mac and use photoshop mostly, texture is a weak point for me when it comes to application. What programs do you use?

      1. I use Pixelmator for the majority of cover work. It’s sort of Photoshop Lite, but much cheaper. For textures and effects that are beyond my skill (not that I use many, preferring to stick with simplicity) I use FX Photo Studio, PhotoStyler, and Moku Hanga. On the rare occasions when I want to play with text, I use Logoist. There are also sites with free textures.

        Yes, finding the right image (for free) can be like a scavenger hunt. But it can be creative, too. Sometimes an image I come across will completely change my concept for a cover. And the scavenger hunt when I was still trying to deal with the licensed image sites actually drove me to public domain, which is much more interesting.

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