Monday, August 29

Publishing With Smashwords

Smashwords is an ebook publishing and distribution platform for people, scribblers like myself, who publish their work in ebook form. If you are an independent author -- a writer who has chosen to publish their work themselves -- Smashwords provides a fantastic opportunity to get your book into the hands of readers while retaining control over every step of the process.

I have published two books through Smashwords and it has been a great experience. While I'm learning how to be a publisher, marketer and publicist, I'm part of an ever expanding community of mutually supportive writers and readers. What's not to like?

What Can Smashwords Do For Me As A Writer?
Smashwords will not only help you publish your book but will act as a distributor getting your work into digital bookstores. Here are a few of the retailers Smashwords has access to: Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Nobel, Sony, Kobo and the Diesel eBook Store. (For a complete and up-to-date list, click here.)

How Much Do I Have To Pay To Publish Through Smashwords?
Smashwords is free! This is from the Smashwords FAQ:
We don't charge for our ebook publishing, conversion and distribution services, and we don't sell publishing packages. We earn our commission only if we sell your book, and our commission is only 15% or less of the net, which works out to slightly under 10% of the retail price when your book sells at our retailers.
If I Publish Through Smashwords Does That Mean I Can't Publish Through, For Instance, Amazon?
Not at all! Smashwords allows an author to opt out of certain distribution channels, allowing you to publish your work to that channel yourself. For instance, although I'm using Smashwords to publishing my book, Until Death, to iTunes, Barnes & Nobel, Sony, Kobo and the Diesel Book Store, I chose to publish my book through Amazon myself, without help from Smashwords.

My Experience With Smashwords
When I first heard about Smashwords it sounded too good to be true. I've published two books through Smashwords so far and -- while formatting my first book was tedious -- I found formatting my second book, Until Death, to be relatively painless. At the moment it only takes me about half an hour to format and upload a file. Speaking of which, here are some formatting tips and tricks:

- Styles. When I was formatting my book files I found it worked best if I used styles based on the normal template when I did any formatting. This saved me, oh, so much work. The last time I did this my manuscript went through the meatgrinder with zero errors. Yay!

- Table Of Contents. This is what I do, I know other folks do it differently, but this works for me. I number each chapter simply with "Chapter 1", "Chapter 2", and so on, and I don't bother typing out a listing of the chapters in the beginning of the book.
The first time I formatted a book file I spent half an hour just formatting a fancy table of contents and put links from the chapter headings in the manuscript to the TOC entries and back again, but I kept getting errors when the manuscript went through the meatgrinder and the epub file wouldn't display properly in Adobe Digital Editions. After I removed my lovingly constructed table of contents, everything worked perfectly.

Recommended Reading For Publishing on Smashwords:
When I first formatted my book file for Smashwords I knew nothing, absolutely nothing, about the process. Here are a few links to resources. I've read every one of these books and they helped me enormously.

1. Smart Self-Publishing: Becoming an Indie Author, by Zoe Winters.
I can't recommend this book highly enough. When I bought it I was hoping Zoe would give some advice about marketing, but she did very much more. I stepped through her description of how to publish on Smashwords the first time I went through the process. Her advice was great and it made me feel as though I had someone someone experienced with me each step of the way.

2. Smashwords Style Guide, by Mark Coker
When someone first recommended that I read the Smashwords Style Guide my eyes glazed over; it sounded too much like something I'd have to read for school. But I read it anyway and was glad I did. The Guide is well written, nicely organized and easy to understand.

3. Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, by Mark Coker
This is a must read. When I decided to become an independent author I knew nothing -- and I do mean absolutely nothing -- about promoting or marketing myself. A writing acquaintance of mine with a background in advertising recommended the Book Marketing Guide to me I am very glad she did. For instance, most of my sales have been generated through my Twitter contacts but I wouldn't have joined Twitter if it hadn't been for Mark Coker's urging. He's great! :)

I'd like to end this blog post with a few links to blogs that I've found enormously helpful:
- Joe Konrath: A Newbie's Guide to Publishing
Joe Konrath is the unofficial spokesman and leader of the indie publishing movement and he seems like a toughly nice guy. When I first started reading Joe's blog I knew nothing about the independent publishing movement. He was the one who showed me that there was a big difference between the vanity press movement of yesteryear and the independent publishing movement of today.

- Dean Wesley Smith
Dean Wesley Smith has written over, probably well over, a hundred books and has been part of the traditional publishing industry, both as a writer and a publisher, for many years. His series of articles contain essential information about where the industry is today and also give the beginning writer encouragement. I highly recommend this blog to anyone starting out who wonders if they will be able to make it as a writer.

- Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Kristine Kathryn Rusch has been in the writing and publishing industries at least as long as Dean and has won many awards for her truly incredible writing. Like Dean, Kristine doesn't mince words when it comes to talking about things -- gottya clauses -- to watch out for in a publishing contract as well as warning about trends in the industry that could harm a writer's career.

- The Passive Voice blog
The Passive Voice blog is written by an attorney who practices contract law and who has the uncanny ability to explain contracts in a way that a layperson can understand and even enjoy. A must-read for anyone who thinks they may sign a contract one day.

I hope that I've given you at least one piece of information about Smashwords that was helpful. Smashwords is a great publishing and distribution platform that I would highly recommend to anyone considering self-publishing their work.

Good luck!


  1. Thanks for this! I was assuming I didn't need to create a Table of Contents because the ePub version seemed to create one of its own - but then I read the Style Guide and wasn't so sure. I think now I'll just forget it!

  2. Marisa, what I did was experiment. I fed my manuscript to the meatgrinder (what a name!) and then looked at the epub file using Adobe Digital Editions. I found that my book looked best in the Adobe reader if I let it generate my table of contents, but I'd advise that you play around with it. Good luck! If you have time, let us know how it went. :)

  3. I can't praise Smashwords enough. I published with them nearly two years ago and when an epub glitch suddenly occurred a month ago I was frantic because I couldn't seem to correct it. I needn't to have worried - they were brilliant and helped me sort it out.

  4. I've had positive experiences with their help department as well. I think every indie author should consider publishing with Smashwords. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Karen
    Thank you so much for this
    I have just published my second book on Kindle/Createspace and I am researching now what between working on book 3. haven't reached marketing yet beyond being boring with family and friends
    Neil Port

    1. You're welcome Neil, thanks for stopping by.

      Congratulations on publishing your second book, you're well on your way.

      "... being boring with family and friends" lol. Well, we have to start somewhere! And, often, family and friends can be wonderful salespeople.

  6. I followed the instructions in the Style Guide on how to create a TOC using bookmarks but the Meat Grinder didn't insert my TOC in the EPUB and MOBI files. What went wrong? I followed their instructions exactly (using Open Office). What I see in the TOC of the EPUB and MOBI is something that says Midpoint. What went wrong?

    1. Hi Nissim,

      Here's what I do these days. Let's say I have a novel that looks something like this:

      Chapter One

      Bla bla, bla de bla bla, bla bla.

      Chapter Two

      Bla bla, bla de bla bla, bla bla.

      (Yes, I know, short novel!)

      There are no bookmarks, no links. When I run a .doc file like that through the meatgrinder the program detects the chapter headings and assembles the TOC for me.

      Have you tried what Mark Coker calls the "nucular option"? If not, it might be worth a try, that's the one I use.

      All the best!

    2. Hi Karen

      Thanks for your reply. How does Meat Grinder know which line is your chapter heading? Do the chapter headings have a certain style attribute?

    3. It's kinda scary, isn't it? Sorry, I've got no idea how the program works.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Thanks for your offer, Nissim, but--for the time being--I'm no longer accepting guest posts. Congratulations on publishing your book!


Because of the number of bots leaving spam I had to prevent anonymous posting. My apologies. I do appreciate each and every comment.