SPS-323: Why Did Draft2Digital Acquire Smashwords? – with Kevin Tumlinson

On March 1, 2022 Smashwords and Draft2Digital officially merged into one company. Kevin Tumlinson, from D2D, talks to James about what prompted that merger and how it will affect, and benefit, indie authors moving forward.

Show Notes

  • What is Draft2Digital and how do they help authors?
  • When will authors be able to set up print books at Draft2Digital?
  • The history of Smashwords
  • On building better tools for greater author success
  • What the future might look like for the newly merged company
  • On the realities of van life

Resources mentioned in this episode:

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SPS-323: Why Did Draft2Digital Acquire Smashwords? - with Kevin Tumlinson
Speaker 1: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show.

Kevin Tumlinson: Having done the whole van life thing, when everything about your life depends on you taking ownership and responsibility, learning a skill, getting into a regimen of doing it right. It changes something about you and that's a helped my writing. It's helped everything.

Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers. No more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?

Speaker 1: Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time author James Blatch, as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Hello and welcome. It is the Self-Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.

Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson.

James Blatch: Be on your phone, Dawson, you're in the middle of a live broadcast of the nation.

Mark Dawson: Well, that's' all right. I'm just checking the Patreon supporters, so I should probably do that now, whilst it's-

James Blatch: I excited about you doing our Patreon supporters today. I want to hear this. So we are have a few Patreon supporters to welcome.

Mark Dawson: It's easy. So we've got yes, two Patreon supporters. We have DJ McCool Jr, which is probably the best name we've ever had as a Patreon supporter and Stefanis Mikalaedi from Attiki in Greece. So thank you to Stefanis and DJ for supporting us and where can people supporters, James?

James Blatch: They can go to And we are very grateful indeed for people who help us all out and help the team get this podcast and show out every week.

We have a big guest this week. We have from Draft2Digital with a big announcement you may have seen in the forums about a merger.

We're going to be talking to KT, Kevin Tumlinson in just a moment. Couple of updates on what's going on at the moment.

I continue to think TikTok is going to be a very useful platform for us. I seem to have found a little niche on there. I now have two of my posts have gone past a million views and I've been invited to join the Creator Fund.

Now there's something I had this discussion with my author friends, with Cecilia the other day. And she said to me, "So, you are doing something a little bit different from what most authors are doing."

Most author on TikTok are very much part of BookTok where readers trawl through the BookTok posts and they get to hear about new books and we know that's the route that is being used by authors, that's projected some of them to number one in the charts.

Whereas what I'm doing is I'm finding an area of expertise that links with my books, building up a following that way and off the back of that, occasionally posting about my book, which is very different.

But, because of Ukraine, I think my defence reporting past has helped. And I've got quite a big following and yes, invited to join the Creator Fund, which is basically in YouTube if ads are shown during your video, you get a small percentage of that. And that's how creators with big followings make their money on YouTube.

And they can make a lot of money. TikTok have something much more mysterious called the Creator Fund, where they allocate based on an undisclosed algorithm of views and engagement.

It's not a lot, to be honest. I think the big creators do talk about it's a few thousand dollars a year. Whereas most of their money comes in from sponsorship, but I got five pounds fifteen, which about $8 on day one.

Waiting to see what data because there's a big lag, like a week's lag when you get told what it is, but honestly, if it's five pounds a day across the year, that's a few books.

I've only got one book at the moment. So for where I am at the moment, that's actually really useful advertising money.

Mark Dawson: Yeah.

James Blatch: So if you can find a niche on TikTok. I would also say whilst on the subject that you do need a thick skin and once your head's above the parapet on a social media platform, particularly I think TikTok, you do get attacked by people.

You get some personal comments about your appearance. You get comments about what you're saying and people don't hold back and they're vitriolic in what they say.

So I need to think at this stage, I've already started to get those, how I deal with them. I ignore the personal comments and then be really mature and always add value to what people are listening to.

At the same time as maybe addressing some of the points that people have made. And also think sometimes if you're being attacked about something, maybe there's a point there. You've made a mistake, just be open about it, but you do need a thick skin.

Mark Dawson: You do, yes. And that's something that is common for all authors getting bad reviews. I suppose the difference is you're not going to get a reviewer making a comment about how you look.

That is something that's kind of specific to TikTok, YouTube, that kind of thing. And yeah, it's one of those things about modern life that's just a bit rubbish, isn't it? That people feel empowered. We had a quick chat off air about how people will say things on online behind the safety of anonymity perhaps, or knowing they'll probably never meet the person they're being unkind to.

They would never say face to face. And that's the thing I try to do. I try to be confident that if I say something, I would say that to someone if they were sitting in front of me.

For me anyway that's a fairly good rule to apply when you are dealing with that kind of stuff. People coming on and being unpleasant about things that are completely irrelevant to what you're talking about. It's just trolling. It's just a waste of time.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Mark Dawson: I think it's a waste of mental energy to engage with them and in fact that's probably what they're looking for. They want to get a rise out of you and an argument. So, don't give him the satisfaction.

James Blatch: Rise above it. The only one I sort of quite like is that this man 'nose' his stuff. N-O-S-E. I get quite a lot because of my appearance.

Mark Dawson: Oh God.

James Blatch: And it's sort of double edged. It's double edged because, "Oh, he knows what he's talking about. He's also got a huge nose."

Anyway, I've started Googling rinoplastic surgery. So we'll get that sorted. As long as I get enough money from the TikTok Creator Fund.

Mark Dawson: Yes. You got to love your nose, James.

James Blatch: Thank you very much. But you got a laugh, right? You got to laugh.

Mark Dawson: Yeah exactly.

James Blatch: And let's face it, women get this-

Mark Dawson: Oh God, yeah.

James Blatch: A lot more than men get it.

Mark Dawson: Much, much worse. Yeah.

James Blatch: I just get a little taste of it.

Mark Dawson: Yeah.

James Blatch: Which actually precludes probably a lot of women from even doing it because of the hassle they get from it.

Mark Dawson: Yeah.

James Blatch: Okay. Right. Look, let's get on with our interview. So Kevin Tumlinson, we've met Kevin lots of times over the years.

He is a lovely guy. I still enjoy following his nomadic existence where he trawled around the country in a van. And we talk a little bit about that because he's now bought a house, he's settled down, I think in Texas.

He talked about the flip side of van life, which is a topic that has come up in the last couple of years about how the Instagram image of van life is one thing and the reality can be different. He talks about that.

But we mainly talk about the future for Draft2Digital, because they've had a big merger with Smashwords.

Now, before we get into this, Mark, I'm going to ask you about Smashwords because it's not a platform that I have ever used, but it was there from the beginning. It's pretty old platform, isn't it?

Mark Dawson: Yeah. So Mark Coker is the CEO of Smashwords and he's been in the indie space longer than most people, certainly longer than me. So quite a lot longer than me.

Smashwords was around way before Draft2Digital. I think before, I may be wrong, but I think before KDP as well. So he's been a real pioneer for a long time and making it possible for authors to find readers and to get books onto devices and onto stores that would otherwise be impossible to do.

He's definitely one of those pioneers that have been incredibly important as the industry has developed and grown.

I was on Smashwords back at the start. I've got a couple of books on there I think. And my view, whilst I have a tonne of respect for him and for Smashwords, I never found it the most intuitive of platforms to use.

And there was this kind of ancient law about how difficult the, it's called the Meatgrinder, the software they used to format the books was called the Meatgrinder. I think it's still called the Meatgrinder and there was a big style guide that you had to follow. It was a bit complicated I think. And maybe my fault for not getting into it enough, but that was the reputation.

Draft2Digital came along and addressed those problems fairly quickly, made it much easier to get onto the store. So they're doing different things. They have different pros and cons.

I think they're both really important companies and all of the people behind it from Mark Coker to Dan Wood after Draft2Digital to all of the guys that we've spoken to from D2D, that we've had drinks with at conferences and stuff. They're all book lovers, they're all doing amazing things for authors.

I think this is a really exciting development and it makes a lot of sense as well to make it easier, even easier, for authors to find new readers and to get their books onto different stores.

James Blatch: Well, I think that's interesting and I think there's a lot to benefit both organisations. That's what they're talking about, isn't it?

Draft2Digital do have a very smooth and nice and easy to use platform. So Smashwords can perhaps benefit from that and vice versa.

And it is a true merger. Kevin explains that. I was talking, "Is this a takeover? Is it going to be Smash to Digital or what's going to happen?"

He talked about the name and conventions they're thinking about and the fact that this is going to be a proper integration of the platform. So anyway, I don't need to say this because we've got KT, the man himself, here's Kevin.

Okay. Kevin Tumlinson, KT, as I like to call you. Here you are back on the Self-Publishing Show. It's been a long time actually and a lot has happened.

Kevin Tumlinson: Yeah. So many things have happened.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Kevin Tumlinson: The first 10 minutes of us talking is just catching up on everything that's happened since the last time.

James Blatch: Exactly. Well, we'll do a bit of that. That's partly what this is about, but also some exciting news out of Draft2Digital and your acquisition of Smashwords.

Before we talk about that and its implications, why don't we start with Draft2Digital? Because of course not everybody listening will know who D2D are or the central role they play in the lives of lots of indie authors. So perhaps you could just fill us in?

Kevin Tumlinson: Yeah. Okay. If you don't know by now. Wow. No, but-

James Blatch: I know.

Kevin Tumlinson: That's possible. That is possible. Draft2Digital, we are what's known as a publishing aggregator, meaning we will help you get your manuscript from a word document or RTF file, whatever you wrote it in, we'll convert it for you for free and we'll distribute it worldwide for free.

The only time we make any money is when you make a sale through one of our distribution partners. And so we're an avenue for authors and publishers to reach the world. That's sort of the basics of what we are.

James Blatch: You are a service is probably most used by people who are wide, i.e., who are not exclusive to Amazon. Is that fair to say?

Kevin Tumlinson: That is absolutely fair to say. We cannot do the exclusivity thing. You can't get into Kindle Unlimited through us because that's Amazon's territory, but you can distribute to Amazon. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Kobo, you name it. There's very few of the big names that we don't distribute to at the moment.

One of those is Google Play, which we're continuously working on Google Play. We need them to budge just a little.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Kevin Tumlinson: Then we'll have Google Play.

James Blatch: I think I remember last time talking about some API issues and some policy issues there, but yeah.

Kevin Tumlinson: Totally policy.

James Blatch: Oh, is it? Okay. Well, Google's a tiny organisation run by a couple of people I'm sure you just pick up the phone.

Kevin Tumlinson: May not have heard of it.

James Blatch: Now on the sort of wide / exclusive thing. I'm exclusive in my book, but I do resent the paperback distribution through Ingram. I don't resent Ingram. It's a good organisation and well run, but it's expensive, right?

Kevin Tumlinson: Yeah.

James Blatch: It's expensive for people to buy my book through a book shop and so on. I think that's an area you were thinking about or trying to move into potentially.

Kevin Tumlinson: We have D2D Print and we are working on relationships with printers outside of the Americas. We've got some things going there and we're developing other solutions to make it less expensive for people.

So if you buy a D2D Print book through a retailer like Amazon or something, it's not any more expensive or shouldn't be, if it is you need to let us know if something like that's happening, but it's not any more expensive for the consumer.

What's really expensive is the author copies. We're working on solutions for that. We've got a couple of things we're doing now to help with mitigating some of that, but it's all very manual and all very case by case.

But D2D Print is nearly ready for prime time. We're getting very close to being able to take it out of beta and put it into full working.

Kevin Tumlinson: It's already a full working version of itself. It's just that there are these little tiny niggling little issues that we are just working so hard to figure out for the authors and we're almost there.

James Blatch: Is that a genuine competitor to IngramSpark?

Kevin Tumlinson: I wouldn't say it is necessarily, just like most of what we do, you can use multiple services and we use Ingram as distribution partner for print, but what we recommend to a lot of people is use us for expanded distribution and you could use Amazon's KDP Print for getting to Amazon. That's a good route.

And you could do the same thing if you see an advantage with using one of the other POD services. You may not be happy with IngramSpark, so you don't have to use them.

What we do honestly is provide IngramSpark with support, that's sort of our thing. We do blank with self-publishing with support.

IngramSpark has their issues with customer service and costs and things like that. We eliminate a lot of that. And so you can deal with us directly and get the same service that you're getting.

And there's very few things that Ingram offers that we don't yet, but we've been looking at. Like, how do we add this and that feature?

Basically our whole goal here is to make it as simple and easy as possible for you to get your book into print and get it to all the different retailers out there worldwide.

That's an ongoing mission, just like everything else we've done, it's it starts with, here's what we're able to do right now and then it's all about building more tools and resources for the author and trying to keep overhead as close to zero as possible at all times.

There are unfortunately some charges and fees with print books, and we actually mitigate some of that by covering you on the first round of changes and then covering you every 90 days.

So if you upload a book to D2D Print, if you have to make a change, so that's why you need to make sure that manuscript looks as good as it's going to look and is as free of errors as it can be. Because unlike eBooks there's a cost to update it.

What we do is every 90 days and maybe I misspoke about this slightly. It's not like first round of changes and then. It's once you upload the book, you'll get a free change in 90 days.

And then you get one every 90 days. And if you need to make a change in between that time, it's a fee. And I believe it's around 25, maybe $30. I think it's 25 though.

That's not really an exorbitant cost. If you've been in print for a while you know that's not that expensive, but we don't like to charge it. We don't like charging people with that stuff. So we pay for around every 90 days.

James Blatch: Yeah. Very good. Okay. Well look, should we talk about Smashwords then? So this was the big news that came out probably about 10 days ago, something like that now I think, maybe two weeks.

Draft2Digital had, do I say you've acquired Smashwords or is it a merger? Like an acquisition.

Kevin Tumlinson: It's a bit of both, but it was an acquisition. I don't know that this is an official term in the world of mergers and acquisitions, but it was an acquisition to merger.

James Blatch: Okay.

Kevin Tumlinson: There was no cash involved. We didn't pay for anything per se. It was like a stock transfer kind of deal. I am no expert in these things.

But the idea was our CEO, Chris Austin, reached out to Smashwords CEO, Mark Coker, as we have many times actually over the past few years.

Mostly we were trying to find ways to work together. Getting our books into the Smashwords store was one of the primary goals and there were always some hiccups and barriers to that. A discomfort I think.

Everyone always saw us as rivals. I don't think we were ever truly rivals. I joke about it a lot, but I don't think that the two companies were ever quite rivals. It was fun to kind of play with that in the public perception a little, but for the most part we always recognised and were very vocal about the fact that the world needed Smashwords.

When Chris reached out, he basically said to Mark that it would be better for us to work together for the author community than for us to remain separate. And something in the way he moved convinced Mark like no other. And so they started talking and this started in November, 2021 and it'll be finalised tomorrow, March 1st, 2022. That's how quickly things came together. So yeah. It's been interesting.

James Blatch: Tell us about Smashwords. I've never used Smashwords and I'm not that au fait with their kind of origins and set up.

Why don't you describe the service for those of us like me who aren't so familiar with it?

Kevin Tumlinson: Smashwords actually got so started about four years before Draft2Digital. Ironically Smashwords and I both started indie publishing on the same year, 2008. I actually used Smashwords when it was brand new out of the box. I remember in fact Mark Coker had a couple of books freely available on the platform about formatting and that sort of thing.

I read them cover to cover one day on a lunch break when I was working for an ad agency. And so that's when they started and their goal was the same as Draft2Digital's.

We have very parallel histories. Started by an author, built for authors. The idea was to make it easier to distribute to all these storefronts from one place rather than having to chase each retailer.

And so they built they had their own sort of, not a formatting tool per se, but a format check notoriously known as the Meatgrinder.

They became an avenue for authors to get out to the world. And eventually they had their own retail face. They had the Smashwords store and they've done some really innovative things there. They have coupons, for example, which is something Draft2Digital is kind of notoriously not been able to pull off because of the nature of our business.

We don't have a retail store, for example. We've never been able to discount things that way and doing so with the retailers required a whole series of relationships. We're sort of always in flux.

So there's a lot of reasons why that kind of thing didn't happen, but the Smashwords store, the coupons, they've got this thing that they're patenting or they're attempting to patent for pre-sales. You've got pre-orders, this would be a way for the author to sell copies of the book before it launches. I really need to bone up on how the whole process works.

But it's something revolutionary enough that Coker and team have been pushing for a patent on it. As of the acquisition and merger, we're gaining all those tools.

James Blatch: That's almost like a sort of crowdfunding thing, that's the way you would do it now if you wanted to raise money in advance of publication.

Kevin Tumlinson: Yeah. And the idea is to make that part easier too. What's really interesting, so the whole thing, the whole acquisition and merger, it was really, I say this now looking back, I might not have thought this six months ago. But it feels inevitable now that we've seen each other, how each other works from the inside out. We have been working in parallel developing tools for the author community and sort of always playing a little bit of catch up with each other, right?

Smashwords releases a feature and we look at how can we replicate that feature and Draft2Digital does the same. And so there's a lot of what Mark Coker calls duplicative effort happening. And our evolution on both sides created unique tools for each aggregator. And just seeing how those tools function, they're all kind of clicking together already.

There's a kind of integration happening that's going to take time. We have to figure out each other's system, each other's code, we've got to work together to bridge these two worlds. But there's so many tools that we both have that almost seem like they were made to go together.

James Blatch: Right.

Kevin Tumlinson: Just off the top of my head, by the way, universal book links from the Books2Read links and the Smashwords store and the other components that we've built on top of UBLs, like the author pages and book tabs and the reading list, all that stuff was just begging for the ability to do direct sale and something similar, right?

We added Payhip to handle direct sale, but now the authors will be able to sell directly through the Smashwords store and take a larger cut than they would from other retailers.

So, there's still the handling, they don't have to worry about setting up something through Payhip and BookFunnel, or some other tool necessarily. And they can still do that but now they get the advantage of a storefront, which will have Draft2Digital promotion attached to it.

We've got some things kind of coming down the pike that are going to make that even more exciting. Stuff I can't talk about, but so exciting.

James Blatch: It's coming. You can try and get back onto the podcast in a few months time and all that's announced, which is fine, of course.

Kevin Tumlinson: My goal is to get on a cadence of you have me on this show like every six months.

James Blatch: I think that's the way it's shaping up. So that sounds really exciting and again with my exclusive hat on, I'm very interested in having storefronts. Particularly Fuse Books as well, having storefronts, cutting out the middle man as much as possible, being onto direct sale.

James Blatch: You've got Payhip and you've got Shopify and stuff, but you do have to get your head around quite a lot of different systems and be the person who holds that together.

Presenting that as a service, an almost off the shelf package, is a great idea.

Kevin Tumlinson: Yeah. And that's the goal, right? All those things need to exist for the authors to succeed and we're so hyper focused on that author success.

Everything we do is about that. And part of that is because we've tied our business model to author success. That line that we use a lot, "We don't make money unless you make money." That is our entire business model. So building more tools to make authors more successful is in our own best interest that we put all our energy into that.

James Blatch: And Mark Coker is not, as you say, it's not a cash by-out. So he's not now on a Caribbean beach sipping Pina Colada's. He's part and parcel of the new organisation. He's basically one of your new bosses.

Kevin Tumlinson: Yeah. We put him to work. He's the new Chief Strategy Officer for Draft2Digital, and he's going to continue doing a lot of what he was doing before and helping us find the right angles on the industry and all our core principles.

He'll be part of helping us figure out how to meet those principles. So, where are the authors? Where are the readers? How do we get these two kids together? All that stuff is going to be part of his purview.

There's other aspects of that as well. And we haven't got all this figured out, by the way, we're still learning how best to work with each other and going forward what are some lines of development that we should continue on or add and what should be removed?

The nature of this happening so quickly, it's negated being able to plan ahead that strategy, but there were so many obvious avenues to explore.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Kevin Tumlinson: That that's not a negative. Having all these things that we know, like Draft2Digital, we know our needs. We know we have needed a storefront. We know we have needed a coupon system. We know we have needed all these different things that Smashwords can do.

And we're adding, through Smashwords, at least 20 more retailers. So to say there's a lack of strategy is a little misleading, because it's all strategy. Everything about this is aimed at our core goal, which is empower the author and the publisher to do more.

James Blatch: What about branding? At the moment it makes sense because you know what Smashwords were doing, what Draft2Digital were doing, now you're doing it together and working together.

As time goes on your one organisation with two separate brands and names, is there some thought that maybe you will adopt name that covers all your services?

Kevin Tumlinson: We are adopting one name and for everyone listening, it is not Smashed2Digital, but we are going to continue operating under Draft2Digital. That will be our name.

We have reformed the company. In essence, as of tomorrow, basically today is my last day employed by Draft2Digital and then tomorrow I will be employed by Draft2Digital. So they're reforming the whole company around the merger and going forward that Smashwords brand, there's still some cache there. We want to hold onto their history and the loyalty of their authors and the brand recognition that they've built. So ultimately we will find ways to leverage that.

Where I see a natural fit is Books2Read and Smashwords. The Smashwords store rather. So we can, I think, eventually aim Books2Read at the Smashwords store and reorient the tools, the author tools that are on that site, and default entirely under Draft2Digital.

So in essence Smashwords, this is me, this is completely Kevin speculation here. But what I see as a potential and good fit is that Smashwords becomes the more reader facing side of the business with Books2Read and other tools available.

Now, that said, Smashwords as an author oriented brand isn't going away. So we'll just start shifting resources is really what it comes down to. Like all the reader facing resources will end up being under a label. I suspect it will be Books2Read, which come on, that's just a perfect name.

James Blatch: It's a good name. It's better than SmashDraft2BooksDigital, which is what I thought you might be called.

Kevin Tumlinson: Exactly. But readers do still recognise the Smashword's name. So you can't take that away entirely. So, we'll grow and edit and change things as we need to, and eventually we will have exactly what the world needs.

James Blatch: What about the culture in the companies? Are you similarly set up?

James Blatch: I know you're nomadic like lots of digital companies are today. There's no sort of a HQ.

Is the same setup in Smashwords or is there a building somewhere?

Kevin Tumlinson: I'm going to take some credit here that no one has given me, but I believe that me coming on board with Draft2Digital ultimately prepared D2D for having people working remotely. Because at first that was not really anything that we did. And then not too long after I joined the team, some of our executive team moved to Seattle, and there were certain people on staff who ended up having to work remotely. And so there was all that.

And then suddenly there was a pandemic, but we were prepared for it at that point. So bringing in the folks from Smashwords, they don't have to relocate. We've already got all the tools and resources to work together and keep our company culture growing. They were a smaller team than ours.

We have 20 some odd people on staff, a handful of which are located not just in different parts of the United States, but we've got Mark Lefebvre in Canada, we've got an employee who is in, I'm going to say Brazil, and I'm maybe off about that one, but we have people in different countries and different continents even, who are doing workforce.

Adding the team from Smashwords was really not that huge of a challenge. There were some challenges in the business structure and the rules and tax laws and things like that. And we're still kind of hiccuping about a lot of that.

Chris might take issue with me saying there were no real challenges, but there were no real challenges in of company culture. We've all been aimed at the same goals for the past 14 years, so.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Kevin Tumlinson: Or 10 years in the case of Draft2Digital, as of tomorrow.

James Blatch: Yes.

Kevin Tumlinson: It's our 10 year anniversary.

James Blatch: 10 year anniversary is the anniversary of which will be the last day of the old company as it was. Okay. So it is all very exciting and it's apposite that we're talking today then.

We should say we're recording this on the last day of February. So the first day of March is going to be-

Kevin Tumlinson: Yeah.

James Blatch: And I think this interview's going out very soon actually, next week or week after. So it'll be at the same time.

One of the questions we should ask them, reader focused here is what changes are people going to notice immediately? Probably nothing straight away.

Kevin Tumlinson: I would imagine they'd notice practically nothing other than there's more chatter. And there were concerns from certain authors in Smashwords circles about some of the changes.

I hope by now we've assured everyone. One of those was the Erotica crowd was very concerned that we were going to shut them down or something, which has never, ever been our goal. We've had some issues with some of our sales partners rejecting certain kinds of content and so we had to make some decisions about that going forward.

But with Smashwords coming into our fold, we now have far more options than we had before. And so we're able to continue serving everyone in the same way that they're used to.

They shouldn't see any real change honestly. Not until we start integrating more and more, and then those changes are just going to be positive changes.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Kevin Tumlinson: More options, not less.

James Blatch: You're famous for having quite a lot of free services and tools available to authors. I can't see that changing as part of your culture.

You've always been very author focused like the formatting tool and so on.

Kevin Tumlinson: Yeah. The idea is always to keep author overhead as close to zero as we can get it.

James Blatch: One of the things I like about talking to you guys at D2D is you understand that the margins are fine when you're writing books because you are all authors, right?

James Blatch: In the afternoon or at some point during the day, you are writing books and peddling your books in the same way that we are doing that.

James Blatch: So there's no sense that you are providing a service, but not fully understanding why some things might irritate authors or be too expensive for them. You are your own customer.

Kevin Tumlinson: Right. In the past I've worked for industries like ExxonMobil or something, the oil and gas industry. And I was writing about and producing content about stuff that just was so outside of my world other than filling up my gas tank several times a week. I just was not really tapped into that. So I had to rely on subject matter experts in order to be able to relate to that audience.

But with this, there's at least three, four authors on staff at Draft2Digital currently, possibly more who are just not telling me, some people like to hide it. And if they're not writers or authors, a lot of them want to be and are attempting it. And then on the Smashwords side, it's the same thing.

Coker is an author, there's several people on staff that write and publish using his platform. So yeah, we're totally tapped into the author world from the start.

James Blatch: Let's have a quick chat about your writing, Kevin, how is that going?

Kevin Tumlinson: It's going well. I've taken a bit of a dip. I think the last time we talked, I was telling you about my strategies to start pulling things out. I had some books that were still exclusive and then the rest of my catalogue was wide.

Now everything is wide and I've abandoned the old thinking that I should release exclusive and make a bunch of money on it and then go wide.

I'm having a lot more fun now going wide from the beginning. But I did see a dip this past, like since mid-year last year, things are a little down, but I'm not entirely sold on it being the transition to wide.

As I start looking at the numbers, I realise, "Oh, well, I'm still getting the same number of sale." I still even get some page reads. I still get the same number of sales.

So it looks like it's going down. But then when I look at the other distributors, other sales channels, it's getting compensated. It's kind of an interesting thing. I don't yet know entirely how to advertise to the rest of the world in such a way that they can go find the books easily.

James Blatch: It is quite a challenge, isn't it?

Kevin Tumlinson: That's the challenge..

James Blatch: It is a different thing. And you are writing, so fantasy, sci-fi?

Kevin Tumlinson: No, I write mostly thrillers.

James Blatch: Oh, thrillers. Sorry.

Kevin Tumlinson: And I have actually started dipping back into sci-fi because that was my roots.

James Blatch: Oh, right. Yeah.

Kevin Tumlinson: I started writing fantasy and sci-fi so that's where you got that. But I was a sci-fi writer first and then I wrote a fantasy series, but I eventually wrote my first archaeological thriller and that took off.

That's what my core audience is in that. But I recently released a book called A Meme of War, it's a novella really, it's about 30,000 words. I have a lot of sci-fi stories in my head that I've wanted to tell that don't fit the thriller genre, so I've wanted to kind of dip back in.

And as I thought, "I can do short fiction." And then that way between books I can write a novella or a short story and publish it and start picking up that audience again. So it's an experiment, but it's fun.

James Blatch: Sounds fun. Good luck with it.

Kevin Tumlinson: Thank you.

James Blatch: And finally, on a more personal note, I think last time we spoke to you were nomadic, you had a van, you did quite a lot of touring and I used to see pictures of you sitting by lake somewhere in the evening.

James Blatch: But you've done that now or what's the reason? Because you're sitting in a brand new house.

Kevin Tumlinson: It got to a point where we just couldn't say no to the investment. Travelling the US, we spent two years living out of that van, travelling all over the country and we went to conferences and things like that as well for D2D and we loved it.

I've lost count of how many lakes and mountains and forests that I've slept in and enjoyed riding in. But with the way things started to shift, especially here in the Texas Hill Country, the property values were going up and the interest rates were going down.

It just became too good to pass up. So we built a home north of Austin, Texas in what's still considered the Hill Country. And we're central to a lot of cool little areas here. Round Rock is close by.

A lot of the tech industry folks are moving into this area. Tesla, for example, built their gigaplex here. And so the property values had just gone up, up, up. So yeah, it was more of an investment thing, but we were also kind of ready to have a home base.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Kevin Tumlinson: We still have the van so we can go anytime we want. And because we're still technically nomadic, so if I shut the water and the power off to the house and make sure everything's taken care of, we can go spend a month somewhere or two months somewhere. There's no limitation now, so.

James Blatch: Right.

Kevin Tumlinson: That's the fun part.

James Blatch: One of the reasons I ask about it, because we're all authors and for some people, there are no ties in the way that they are with their nine to five job and is an option for people, the van life.

I always got the feeling with van living that it's a little bit tougher and more of a grind than people often show on their social media posts. And that's become apparent in the last year or two of a few stories here and there.

As long as you go into it with a realistic expect that you're not going to have all the creature comforts all the time and you have to work at it, it could be rewarding, can be rewarding.

Kevin Tumlinson: Yeah. You have to go in knowing that not every day is you sitting by a lake or on the beach. Some days are gruelling drives through rough terrain, bad weather.

One of the challenges we had was, so I've actually had COVID twice. I had it right as it started, right as the pandemic started, but I had it again at the end of 2020 when we were in Colorado Springs. We got snowed in, it was like maybe 15 or 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. I don't know what that translates to-

James Blatch: A lot minus Celsius.

Kevin Tumlinson: Yeah. Very, very, very cold is the appropriate way to describe it. So, we're snowed in to this van that's only 90 square feet of space at the most. And we can't leave and there's not really much to do. Now, we were safe. We were comfortable. We had water and electricity and food and everything we needed. But we were on top of each other for four or five days. And so there were moments like that. I wouldn't trade those either though.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Kevin Tumlinson: I really think that the challenges of van life prepared us for a whole different way of living. So the first time we ever owned a house, it was very stressful. There were so many things all the time. One challenge, one problem after another.

When we moved into this place, the fear was that it was going to feel like that. But having done the whole van life thing, when everything about your life depends on you taking ownership and responsibility, learning a skill, getting into a regimen of doing it right, it changes something about you and that's helped my writing it's helped everything.

So not always an Instagram moment, but always something that is enriching to your soul. So I recommend it very highly to all authors if you can do it.

James Blatch: That sounds great. Well, I haven't had COVID at all so you had my dose, which I appreciate.

Kevin Tumlinson: I got yours, yeah.

James Blatch: I appreciate that. Thank you very much. Okay. Kevin Tumlinson, KT. Great fun catching up with you as always. We'll keep a watching brief on Draft2Digital, as it's, not the fall outs, the wrong words, a negative expression, but the opportunities that come from the merger roll out in the next couple of years for authors.

We look forward to seeing that. And maybe we'll see you, I don't know, I think Dan might be coming to London in June.

Kevin Tumlinson: I believe Dan is coming. I don't think I'm going to be there, but if you guys are making 20 Books Vegas or anything like that, I'll be around.

James Blatch: Yes. As long as the world stays in one piece.

Kevin Tumlinson: As long as the world stays.

James Blatch: We will be there.

Kevin Tumlinson: I'm just going to put it out there and people can throw rocks at me later, but I think we're past the quote pandemic part, and now we're in the endemic.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Kevin Tumlinson: That's a personal, well not entirely personal, that seems to be what science is suggesting.

James Blatch: I think so. I think that's certainly how it's being viewed in this part of the world at the moment. So yeah. Hopefully fingers crossed that's that and-

Kevin Tumlinson: Hopefully.

James Blatch: We'll see you around. Anyway, Kevin, thank you so much.

Kevin Tumlinson: Thank you. I was really happy to be here.

James Blatch: There we go. Draft2Digital and Smashwords are now one entity. In fact, I think the day we did the interview, it was the next day. It was the 10th anniversary of Draft2Digital and it was the day they signed the contract to merge those two organisations.

Both good organisations, contribute a lot to the indie world. So we have high hopes for the future. Great to have a Kevin back on the programme ensconced in a brick and mortar house.

Mark Dawson: That's different for him. I know obviously we've known him for a while. And, as you say, we've followed his nomadic lifestyle. Sometimes he drives around America in a Winnebago I think, to use the correct terminology.

James Blatch: And now he's built a house.

Mark Dawson: Just kind of like Breaking Bad.

James Blatch: Yes. Walter White.

Mark Dawson: He's the Walter White of indie publishing without the meth lab.

James Blatch: Does that make Dan, Jesse?

Mark Dawson: It probably does. Yeah.

James Blatch: Dan has Jesse doing all the work. Okay. Right. Thank you very much to Kevin. Right. What else we got to say just before we sign off?

Tickets for the live show, If you want to come and join us there, we signed a big contract this week.

Craig always puts all those figures out there. I saw him last night. He says how much it's going to cost him. It is breathtaking. Did you see the figure he talked about yesterday?

Mark Dawson: I did, yes. It had six zeros behind it, yeah.

James Blatch: $180,000 on sandwiches and then they get the rooms for free. Catering is where they make all their money on these things.

We've signed a, not quite that much, but not too far off a deal with a big London venue or you'll know it, it's the Southbank Centre that is now done.

We are committed to that. We're very excited about it. It's a great venue and the really exciting thing about this year is we're going to have the whole thing, have the whole lobby. It'll be just us, the indie author community. And I know you're working hard on the schedule, Mark.

Mark Dawson: Yeah.

James Blatch: Anything to tease us there? Any further news?

Mark Dawson: No. Not yet, no. I'll start to kind of cement it soon. We had a couple of chats with Amazon over the last 10 days or so, talk about what they might do.

There'll definitely be Amazonians there, probably people from Audible and things like that. So yeah, it'll be good. I'm going to start working on that a little bit more next week. Get that ironed out.

James Blatch: Good. We need to start thinking about lanyards and microphones and all the things that go into a conference. Okay. One more thing just to quickly mention is that I will be on the Who Makes a Podcast podcast, very meta, with Chris Cookley on March the 23rd.

If you go to you can listen to that next week. If you're interested in the podcast production process, and I know for the emails I receive, lots of you are.

Good. Okay. Right. Thank you very much indeed, Mark, I'll let you get off. Thank you very much indeed to our guest, Kevin Tumlinson, and to the team in the background who helped put this show together, we are very appreciative and most of all, to you, especially if you're a Patreon listener, but even if you are just listening, makes a big difference to us.

Occasionally, I'm driving along and I see somebody walking along with headphones on and I think they could be listening to this show or that is what somebody listening to our show looks like and that's why we do it, because of that.

So enjoy the rest of your day. Thank you very much. All that remains for me to say, is it's a goodbye from him.

Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.

James Blatch: Goodbye.

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