My Completely UNAUTHORIZED Interview With Mark Coker, Founder of Smashwords

I feel like I’m in St. Louis, Missouri in the 1850s, and I have my nice, little St. Louis life, plain, drab, work-a-day, but then, stories come in with wild tales of The West, gold mines, Indians, gunfighters, and more talk of gold mines. Go west! Be a pioneer! A better life awaits!

We are living in The Wild West of the publishing industry, and for those brave enough, fortunes can be had, but also, dreams can be lost. Those people who are going rogue, indie publishing, doing it all themselves, well, they are like the pioneers. And there’s me, even though I have a small press, well, I’m in St. Louis, wondering what I should do.

I talked with Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, yes, let’s ponder that for a minute. I met the founder of one of the largest venues for independent publishing on the web, and of course, he’s a Bay Area guy who lived through the gold rush of the .coms in the 1990s and his story is pretty common. He and his wife wrote a book. They couldn’t get a literary agent or big press to take them on. So they asked themselves, should they tuck their manuscript under the bed and start another one? Or should they go west with a dream?

Mark Coker went west and hit gold. Yee-haw! Eureka! He didn’t just go rogue with his writing, he set up a way for millions of others to follow him. He set up his own Oregon Trail.

I asked him if he was afraid when he went on his own. His answer was interesting. He said of course he was afraid, and he figured he’d fail, but he had a vision, and he wanted to follow that vision to see where it would lead him.

Loved that he assumed he’d fail. I’m just like that. I tell people all the time I’ll never make it, and they blanch, and wonder why I’m even trying.

Because like with Mark Coker, I have a vision. I am compelled. Everyone who has ever sat down to write a novel had to follow a vision they had for themselves and for their work. I think it’s a miracle that any book gets written ever. I think it’s even more of a miracle when a book gets published.

But Mark Coker is changing that. He is taking the miracle out of getting books published. And why not?

At the Pikes Peak Writers Conference there was a little drama between Donald Maass and Mark Coker, and God bless them for that. Gives us writers something to talk about other than sex. And as we all know, all conversations lead back to sex. Or Donald Maass.

Donald Maass, whom I admire, says that the New York publishing industry acts as a filter so only the best books reach an audience. I can see the logic there. But Mark Coker also is saying that, only his filter is far more democratic. On Smashwords, every book has a chance, from the horrific to the sublime, and the market will decide what works and what doesn’t. Shouldn’t every writer who has spent years working on a book have a chance for success?

In the Wild West world we live in, that is a reality. We’ll see what happens, but I’m still in my little St. Louis office, pondering. Could I make it to California? Is there a gold mine waiting out there for me?