In his annual survey of e-book trends on the Smashwords platform, CEO Mark Coker noted that fiction, specifically romance, dominated 2015 sales, and that the sweet spot for e-book pricing shifted between $2.99 and $3.99.

In a presentation prepared for the recent RT Booklovers Convention in Las Vegas, Coker surveyed a variety of trends extracted from data generated by the Smashwords platform. Smashwords distributes more than 300,000 e-book titles from more than 100,000 authors/publishers.

Fiction dominated on Smashwords, generating more than 89.5% of all sales. Fiction in turn, Coker said, is led by the romance category with about 50% of all fiction sales. Within the romance category, “New Adult, YA and contemporary had the highest average earnings per title,” he said.

The sweet spot for pricing e-books, Coker said, was $2.99, which “barely edged out $3.99 for the greatest average unit downloads,” although, “$3.99 retained the mantle for the average price that generates the highest earnings.”

While romance has dominated indie author sales for years, Coker credited the sophistication of romance authors, noting that they are "professional, experiment and have a close relationship to readers.” Coker also noted the importance of “a social media presence” for bestselling titles, in the form of “author web sites, blogs and Facebook and Twitter presence.”

Once again, Coker emphasized the importance of free samples to book discovery and subsequent sales. He said that free books "get about 41 times more downloads than books at any price.” Series, Coker went on, sell better than standalone novels, and box sets, including multi-author box sets designed for promotion, are also a valuable publishing strategy for indie authors. “The best-performing multi-author bundles are usually free or priced at $.99, and the objective is to build author awareness among new readers and drive readers into their new favorite authors' books,” Coker said.

In addition, Coker pointed out that longer books sell better, and books that launch using pre-orders earn more over time: “Median earnings for books born as pre-orders were 2.8 times higher than books simply uploaded the day of release.”

Coker emphasized that his annual survey is intended to “identify habits of the most successful authors.” He said: “The secret to selling more books is to adopt dozens of best practices while avoiding fatal mistakes that can undermine your success.”