Why Smashwords?

The decision to use Smashwords as my e-book converter and distributor was somewhat unexpected. Smashwords was on my radar, but I had been leaning toward self-publishing through Kindle Direct at Amazon. I participated in an Amazon webinar and downloaded their formatting guide, Building Your Book for Kindle. Then I heard about the Multnomah County Library Writers Project, and I made a quick 90-degree turn.

Our library was inviting local authors to submit their novels to be considered for the library’s e-book catalog, and one of their few requirements was that the book come through Smashwords. I studied up on what Smashwords had to offer and realized that once I followed all their guidelines, not only would I have an acceptable product for the library but New Old World would be available in a number of formats, including Kindle, and would be distributed around the world! I had nothing to lose, and most importantly, I now had a deadline: Dec. 15, 2016.

It was by then October and I was still doing my “final” edit. (There had been other “final” edits, and I even continued to edit while I was reformatting the manuscript for the e-book!) Once I’d downloaded and skimmed the Smashwords Style Guide, I was raring to go, and any thoughts I’d entertained of hiring a professional to do the formatting went by the wayside. I realized I could easily do it myself and retain complete control over the special design considerations of my book, including the use of photographs, a few pages of poetry, and a couple of other touches. Perhaps what nudged me over the edge was that I could format the book in Word and not have to learn Adobe InDesign.

With Smashwords’ very clear instructions, and some super e-mail support, I had my manuscript ready by the first of December. I spent the weekend polishing my bio and the two synopses (short and long) that accompany the book in the various retail catalogs. You really want to make sure you’ve captured the spirit and content of your book (and yourself!), so it’s a little nerve-wracking. That Monday, Dec. 5, I uploaded the formatted Word document and the support materials to the Smashwords “Meatgrinder,” which is what they affectionately call their e-book converter. And later that same day, New Old World was available for purchase in the Smashwords catalog!

But my goal was to get my book into the Smashwords Premium Catalog, not only because that’s what the library required but because once a book achieves premium status, Smashwords distributes it to an extensive network of retailers worldwide.  I was excited out of all proportion to learn that through one of their channels my book might reach retailers in England and France, the settings of large parts of my novel!   More practically, a great appeal for me was that instead of creating my e-book in different formats for different distributors or retailers, I could do it once and Smashwords would not only ship it, but handle the financial end so I wouldn’t have to manage multiple outlets and accounts.

The cost for all this? Free! Smashwords takes a cut of the retail price (about 10-15%), as do the retailers Smashwords distributes to (30%), but there’s no upfront cost to publishing with Smashwords. As the author, you retain all rights to both the original manuscript and the published e-book, and you simply license Smashwords and other retailers to sell it.  As the publisher of your work, you can unpublish at any time or take the same work to another publisher/distributor, like Amazon.  The downside of all this freedom is that your Smashwords e-book is not DRM-protected (DRM=Digital Rights Management) so it’s relatively easy for people to share your book without paying for multiple copies.  Pricing it low and making it available as many places as possible helps head off such piracy.

A word about the formats churned out by the Meatgrinder:  I focused on EPUB because that’s what the library wanted from me, but I’ve come to understand that it’s also Smashwords’ most “powerful” format, used by Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble (Nook), Kobo, Sony readers, and Android Aldiko, as well as other retailers, subscription services, and libraries.  Smashwords also produces a MOBI version for Kindle readers, so technically you don’t have to publish at Amazon to reach Kindles.  If your book sells really well at Smashwords, they might send it on to Amazon, but there may be good reasons to do it yourself directly.  I need to study up on this!  There are lesser versions you can elect to have the Meatgrinder produce, too, like one for old Sony readers and a PDF for device-less folks.  Smashwords has most everyone covered—except print book lovers.

New Old World did make it into the Premium Catalog, and it could well be winging its way to England and France as I write this (in fact I think I’ll go check W.H. Smith and FNAC online!).  But I need to come full circle and finish my library story first.  With my book ensconced in the Smashwords catalog, I could now prepare my submission to the Library Writers Project. I wrote two short essays about why library members might be interested in my book, pasted in a link to my book page at Smashwords, and turned in the application with a week to spare! I’ll learn by February whether the library wants to acquire New Old World, but it’s more than reassuring to know that my novel is in the e-book marketplace—and several friends and family members are already reading it!

While they’re reading, I’m sitting at my nifty Smashwords Dashboard, watching sales come in, getting reports on page visits and download activity, generating coupons for complimentary books, and seeing what channels the book has been shipped to.  I can even upload a new version of New Old World from the Dashboard, a dangerous feature that makes it tempting to do more “final” editing!

But as easy and straightforward as it was to publish through Smashwords, it’ll be a while before I engage the Meatgrinder again.  Now that the book is out there and once the holidays and winter colds are over, I must begin promoting it more publicly.  It’s more fun, though, to reflect on my Smashwords experience and blog about it!

Of course time will tell if Smashwords is as good at distribution as it was in production.  At this point I can say unequivocally that Smashwords was a very professional enabler and ally in my quest to create an e-book.  Almost everything I needed to know to prepare my manuscript for publication was on the extensive FAQ page or in the Style Guide, and when I got stumped, I turned to their help desk and found a wonderful guy named Kevin who drilled down to bedrock with each of my issues. I’ll be doing future posts about the formatting and uploading processes, but in the meantime, you can peruse the Smashwords FAQ page.

And hopefully this post will encourage you to take the leap with your own book.


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