Gemma Halliday on Author Support from Ebook Vendors

I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter on loops lately about author support at the various ebook vendors.  Some authors seem to feel the vendors are out to get them, out to manipulate them, or just plain out to take our money and run.  So I just wanted to share what some of my experiences with author support have been at the various vendors.  As anyone who does a volume of business on ebook sites, I’ve had multiple very frustrating issues with almost every vendor of ebooks in the three years I’ve been indie pubbing.  For example…

Smashwords was the bane of my existence for several months this past year when I moved to a new address and my check went to my old address.  (Ah!  No one likes delayed payments!)  I’ve also had issue with books being slow to move to sites, prices changes being slow, payments not correlating with the reports, etc.    However, Mark Coker has always responded quickly to my issues and been super fast to fix them. I’ve been into their offices in person a few times, and the entire staff is always so friendly and tries so hard to be helpful.  I think Smashwords has had the biggest growing pains of any vendor in the ebook boom, mostly because I think they were more surprised than anyone how quickly they grew.  But of all the vendors, Smashwords is the most invested in indie success.  They almost feel like the indie company of the indie publishing world.  And no matter what has gone wrong there, they always jump to fix it!

I’m newer to Apple, so I’ve had fewer experience with them so far.  When I incorporated my business this year, I needed to contact someone to change my tax ID number and roll my books over to a new account.  Something I thought would be easy, but no such luck.  The first thing I found was it was difficult to know who to contact.  I did finally find a generic email address to contact, and sent my email out with little hope it would actually get me a real person who would be able  to personally help me.  I was wrong!  Almost immediately I got a real response from a real person who fixed my issue with no hassle.  Color me surprised.  Apple gets  a thumbs up form me on author support!

Ditto at Amazon.  Every time I write to their generic address, I get someone who can help me, not an automated response.  In fact, a couple of weeks ago one of Amazon’s auto-bots took my bestselling book off sale because of a “formatting” issue.   (Gah! Heart attack time!  I freaked, because I knew this meant thousands of dollars out of my pocket every day it was off sale.)  Before I could even write back to Amazon to complain, one of their techs contacted me personally and said he noticed the book off-sale and would fix the issue personally for me.  He spent all day on it, worked overtime, and even had techs working OVERNIGHT to fix it for me so the book would be back on sale as quickly as possible.  I was incredibly impressed by that.  Amazon sometimes feels like the big corporate machine, but there are friendly, helpful people working there that do care about authors and making the best reading experience possible for readers.  Do I agree with all their policies?  No.  But they’ve arguably done more for the indie author movement than anyone.

BN has sometimes been harder to reach through the generic address and slower to fix issues, but in the end they always have for me.  Of all the vendors, when I do get a person at BN I get the feeling they really care about authors and treat them more as author-partners not customers.  They also seem to have the most leeway in their policy over what they can and can’t do for authors.  Basically, they want to make authors happy no matter what they have to do.  They are book people, period, and authors are their lifeblood.  And I’m so happy to see them working to be innovative wherever they can.  My fondest hope is that they find their way in the digital marketplace and don’t go the way of Borders.  Long live the bookstore!

So, with Thanksgiving around the corner, I am counting my blessings and thankful for all the helpful people I’ve encountered this year who work at ebook vendors.  More often than not, they get author complaints and not author praise.  But their help has been invaluable, and we couldn’t do it without them!

Anyone else want to share some ebook love?  Had great experiences with vendors or author support?  Thankful for anyone in particular who has made your publishing journey just a little easier this year?

~~~Gemma Halliday

Gemma Halliday is a New York Times Bestselling Author, who had a hard time figuring out what she wanted to be when she grew up. She worked as a film and television actress, a teddy bear importer, a department store administrator, a preschool teacher, a temporary tattoo artist, and a 900 number psychic, before finally selling her first book, Spying in High Heels, in 2005 and deciding to be a writer. Since then, she has written several mystery novels and been the recipient of numerous awards, including a National Reader’s Choice award and three RITA nominations. Her books have hit both the USA Today and the New York TimesBestseller lists. And she’s a proud member of our WG2E Family.

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  1. Angela Brown says:

    It’s good to get a first hand testimony of experience. I will have to say that Smashwords has been the one vendor that keeps coming up as the most difficult to work with or deal with.

  2. Great post, Gemma! Definitely one to bookmark. I’m just hitting my one year mark, and so far Amazon has been the most helpful. But like you, I am thankful for all the channels that exist for Indie authors.

  3. I’ve had good experiences with most of the distributors. Amazon is very quick to respond. The support at Apple is immensely friendly and fast, and Smashwords too, is no slouch in responding. However, I had an annoying experience with B&N last year when I created my Pubit account. I had to call their offices four, or five times before I could even have my account up and working, but I haven’t had any issues with them since. :)

  4. I haven’t had any major issues (knock on wood), but the issues I have had have *mostly* all been handled. Some take longer than others and I’ve just learned that patience is required whether we go Trad published or Indie published.

    I will say, even the issues that have taken longer to handle were faster than 99% of my responses to queries to agents and editors, so I can’t complain too much. :)

  5. Merry Bond says:

    It’s terrific (and a little amazing) to hear that there are real people out there who can really help you. I’ve only had one experience with that — with CreateSpace. They have an actual live people who will call you at the press of a button and ask how they can help you! It’s incredibly wonderful.
    I’m afraid my experiences with Smashwords has been less than stellar. When I have an issue that needs a response, the only way to contact them is by email and then it’s taken weeks, if not months for them to get back to me to help.
    KDP was quicker, but less helpful. I got email responses which repeated back to me instructions they’d already given — as if I was an idiot who couldn’t read. And that’s the only response I’ve gotten. I guess they figure that if they tell me the same thing enough times, it’ll make the computer do what I want it to. It doesn’t. I followed their directions and it doesn’t work and I can’t make them understand this. Luckily, I found a way around the problem — a side door, if you will.
    It would be lovely if all e-retailers were responsive to us little authors, but, alas, I have no hope for that. Call me jaded.

  6. Liz Matis says:

    I haven’t had any issues except I can’t seem to upload to Apple directly despite having a MAC: i decided just to keep them at Smashwords for now.
    What I don’t get is when people get upset because the KDP sales report is late or the dashboard is down for a few hours. Relax; take a deep breathe; and go write.

    • So true, Liz! Sometimes people freak out way too fast. :)

    • I love the “relax, go write” advise! So perfect!

    • SK Holmesley says:

      Hi Liz,

      We upload to Apple directly all the time (also on a Mac). You have to use their desktop app (iTunes Producer) to upload and the book must be in .epub format, but if something is wacky (like your cover not being the right size, for instance) you’ll get an email that says your book can’t be uploaded and why (usually within 24 hours). You can download iTunes Producer after you log in to your iTunes Connect account at If you’ve got iTunes Producer and still having problems, I found Apple very responsive early on when I contacted them with questions (after you log in there’s a contact us link at the bottom of the icon list).

  7. Smashwords has had some issues, I’ll agree. But I want to give you a quick visual of the Smashwords offices. Amazon has a virtual compound in Seattle. Smashwords SHARES a tiny office space in Silicon Valley with another company. Basically, they have a cube and one small office with a door. The times I’ve been there, they’ve had only 1 or 2 people working there – and I’m including Mark Coker in that count! To give you an idea how small their offices are… my dad actually has an office in the same building they do. He runs a small mom-and-pop architectural firm employing about 4 drafters. His office is three times the size of theirs. When I told him I was visiting “Smashwords” in the building, my dad looked at me and said, “Who? I’ve never seen that office here.” :) They do have some remote employees, who telecommute, but it is a SMALL operation that has grown so big so fast that I can imagine it’s a full time job just trying to keep up with hiring people to help authors.

  8. Jill James says:

    Gemma, yesterday at Smashwords I sent a note to see about fixing my stuff at Apple. I wrote myself a note that I sent an email so I could track down how long they took. I was so surprised to get a response within the hour, and to go to Smashwords and see they already resent it to Apple. Yeah!!!

    • That’s awesome! I really think they are trying to keep up with the big boys of distribution. I have hope that 2013 will be even better in terms of thier author response times.

  9. I’m just beginning my formatting journey (launch is 1/3/13), so I’ll be curious to see how it goes. Good to hear, though, that so many of the vendors are so supportive!

  10. Adan Lerma says:

    your name on this article caught my eye gemma, as i’m thoroughly enjoying reading the second book in your high heels series (maddy and rodriguez et al) ;-)

    i’m on a time crunch, so i’m sending your article to kindle to read later, looking fwd to reading it, thanks ;-)

  11. Sibel Hodge says:

    I agree, Gemma! Mark from Smashwords in particular always responds quickly to problems and tries to sort them out. I know there have been a lot of delays between their shipments to vendors in the past or vendors not changing prices or selling books quickly enough, but I think he tries his hardest to make it work :)

  12. Great post, Gemma. I’m planning to roll out to other eretailers in the new year once I’m out of KDP so this is very timely :)