What’s Smashwords Good For?

Smashwords LogoRecently, for a number of reasons that will take too long to explain here, I decided to pull a few of my titles from the KDPS (Kindle Direct Publishing Select) program and make them available for other retailers as well as Amazon.

But this left me with another choice: I could publish with each of the big retailers individually, I could pay a company like BookBaby to do it for me, or I could publish through an eBook aggregator like Smashwords, Draft2Digital, or Pronoun (formerly Vook and now owned by MacMillan Publishers).

The idea of publishing vendor by vendor gave me a headache; the potential for slightly higher royalties didn’t jibe with the work and time it would take to get the titles up and running piecemeal. Not to mention the effort to track them all. BookBaby promised to make my life easier…for a fee, of course. That fee was more than I wanted to spend, and I’ve learned enough around the IU gruel pot to be able to do most of the pre-publication tasks myself.

That left the aggregators.

I’ve been with Smashwords on and off since I began self-publishing in 2012. Draft2Digital is a relatively new player in the game, as is Pronoun. Smashwords and I have had our growing pains, but after a thorough investigation of my alternatives, I decided to throw back in with them. Here’s why, along with some of the pros and cons of using Smashwords.

The Good:

More distribution channels. As of this writing, Smashwords ships to more outlets than Draft2Digital does, including two channels that make it easy for libraries to purchase my books, at whatever pricing I want to set for them.

A storefront. Okay, it’s not much to look at. In fact, 2005 called and wants its web design back. But Smashwords at least has a storefront. If readers buy your book there, they can download whichever file format works with their reading device, and you get higher royalties. And readers can leave reviews. Smashwords provides instructions on how to sideload  the downloaded files to an eReader, although finding them on the site is a little like driving in New Jersey — you pretty much have to live there to know where you’re going. But the typical Smashwords user tends to be the tech-savvier, DIY type.

Discount and free couponing. As part of that not-so-whiz-bang-sexy storefront, Smashwords will let you create custom coupon codes for readers, reviewers, giveaways…whatever you want to do with them. These are really handy and give you the flexibility and ease of offering a free book without having to spend money gifting a copy, like you would need to do on KDPS.

Promotional opportunities. For a while now, you could poke onto an author’s Smashwords page and find an interview, video trailers, and links to whatever stories they’d published on Wattpad. Last year, Smashwords partnered with Wattpad to promote a select group of romance authors. They recently did another with thriller and mystery writers, including one of Indies Unlimited’s own minion emeriti, DV Berkom. I asked Smashwords’ marketing guru Jim Azevedo about the cross-promotion efforts. He was thrilled with how they were going, and told me that we can expect more in the future. They’ve also done promotions with Kobo and iBooks and will continue doing that, too.

The Not-So-Good:

The style guide can be intimidating. If you’re new to formatting a manuscript or don’t feel comfortable beyond the basics of word processing, the Smashwords Style Guide can be daunting. When I hear about an author who is switching to Draft2Digital, one of the most commonly cited reasons is that they don’t need to worry about style guides, or…

The Meatgrinder. This is what the Smashwords people affectionately call the program that converts your manuscript into the many file types that will be distributed to all the different retail outlets. If your formatted manuscript is text-only, has a table of contents, and a cover at the correct size, you can generally go through the meatgrinder with no problems. But if it bounces you out, you’ll have to fix the problems and start over.

Are we there yet? To be fair, Smashwords has done a lot of work in the last few years to improve the speed at which the different retailers get your manuscript or post changes to it. But it’s still lagging for some outlets, particularly Barnes & Noble, and unlike Draft2Digital, you don’t get an email telling you when the title is live there. You just have to keep checking.

When I asked Azevedo about what the future looks like for Smashwords, especially in light of the new players on the field, he replied, “I wouldn’t say our strategies have changed following the entrance of new competitors (there have been many) or the acquisition of companies like Pronoun. Smashwords has always tried to make our publishing and distribution service the most robust. I think our authors and publishers will be pleased to see that we continue to focus on expanding our global distribution network and that we’re investing resources to make our platform easier, stronger and faster.”

I’ve been waiting for a little whiz-bang, so I’m curious to see how all of this will pan out.

Overall, if you want to take your titles wide, and if you’re somewhat savvy with eBook publishing and don’t need a sexy interface, publishing your eBooks on Smashwords can offer some big advantages.

Author: Laurie Boris

Laurie Boris is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer. She has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of four novels. She lives in New York’s lovely Hudson Valley. Learn more about Laurie at her website and her Amazon author page.

44 thoughts on “What’s Smashwords Good For?”

  1. I’ve tried publishing books on Smashwords several times. I finally pulled them all because of low sales and an intimidating interface as well as the difficulty in formatting books. Not allowing standard WORD TOC formatting is a major issue! I was attracted by the coupons and the multi-vendor submissions, but found Draft2Digital made more sense.

    1. I hear you, Richard, and a number of authors have told me the same. I have a TOC on mine, and the docs are all in Word. So I’m not sure what you mean there.

    2. Agreed on all of the above. I also don’t like the fact that SW pays quarterly (other platforms manage more timely payments, so why can’t they?). The Meatgrinder and it’s issues with recognizing the TOC always leaves me wanting to scream. I think it’s ridiculous to have to format each TOC link individually, when Word can build a TOC automatically. I am in the process of pulling my titles from all extended channels other than libraries on SW and am moving the distribution to B & N, Kobo, etc. over to D2D.

  2. Back when I was issuing books with Smashwords, I had to separately publish each one with Amazon because Amazon was not playing well with Smashwords — I waited months and the Smashwords version had still not appeared on Amazon. Is that still the case, or have they made up?

    1. you still have to do the amazon separate from smashwords unless you’re a really large seller with Smashwords because Mark Coker has to have someone personally send the books over to amazon instead of it going through automatically. (that’s what I learned.)

    2. The Meatgrinder has never played well with Amazon. It’s been like this since at least 2011, and I don’t expect it to change, ever.

      If you want your ebooks to be on Amazon, you need to upload them to KDP. Smashwords ought to just admit that and be done with it.

      Sorry, Pat.

    3. Thanks for visiting, Pat! Smashwords is still not playing well with Amazon. I’ve read that they do distribute to Amazon on a very limited basis (meaning bestsellers), but for most of us…not yet. You still need to publish on Amazon and also on SW.

    4. If you want to use an aggregator to get into Amazon then Pronoun is one easy option.

      No fees, and some superb metadata analysis tools that can get you into the categories you want to be in, not the handful of categories KDP and Smashwords offer.

      Pronoun also gets us into Google Play, which is offered by neither Smashwords nor Draft2Digital.

      An alternative to Pronoun is StreetLib. StreetLib has fantastic distribution options (inc. Google Play) and allows us to list at $0.00 on Amazon without having to be in Select or to be price-matched.

  3. this was awesome.
    I too hate looking for my book sales at the end of each month.
    I love that Smashwords provide a lot of information regarding my book sales in various outlets and I’m able to get through the autovetter with ease.
    Once you get one book through you really just copy and paste a raw text into that document and format from there.

  4. Smashwords is excellent if you want to get a perma-free book out there, or need access to iTunes and don’t own an Apple computer. Coker’s free formatting guide also includes a lot of handy shortcuts for cleaning up your manuscript, no matter where you’re publishing (like how to nuke a manuscript or do search and replace for symbols and spaces). However, you’re also right about the intimidation factor. (I remember trying to build my first Table of Contents with it. Hoo boy.)

    1. Oh, I forgot about the iTunes and permafree thing, Sandra, thanks! Also, I try to keep my manuscript docs clean, and I get a little help with the TOCs (because they make me crazy), so the formatting thing doesn’t completely intimidate me anymore.

  5. I agree that the SW site sorely needs an upgrade, including the upload/publishing process. However, I find it manageable, and their coupon system has been a valuable tool for distributing review files. Mark Coker has also been a voice for the indie author movement over the years.

    While the SW site is dated, their dashboard stats is something I’ve always wanted to see KDP replicate. I’m talking mostly about page and sample views. Information like that would help to determine the effectiveness of promotions, etc.

  6. I’ve been with SW since 2011 and at this point in the game have few complaints (I figured out early on that if you use “styles” in Word, Meatgrinder glitches are minimal. Otherwise, SW works as stated.) I’d love to see faster payments, and faster changes on sites like B&N, but to me those are minor inconveniences (as long as you know which sites lag behind when you’re discounting.) It was fun to be included in the recent promo for thrillers and mysteries–and it got me off my rear end in regards to Wattpad. I’ve met some lovely people there and found new readers, to boot. All that, wider distribution, and Mark Coker’s tireless cheerleading for indies. What more could you want?

  7. What DV and Laurie said. 🙂 I know some people who have jumped ship to D2D and they like it fine, but I’ve gotten comfortable with Smashwords’ quirks and will very likely stay there.

    1. I’m with Lynne. I’m comfortable with Smashwords and will likely stay with them. I’ve more or less figured out the style guide, and the meatgrinder has been fairly nice to me lately. The coupons come in very handy as well, and is a lot easier and more economical than gifting books from Amazon. The problem with gifting is when I pay Amazon for a book as a gift that is not downloaded, it is waste of money.

  8. I’d planned to take my books from KDP and load them back up on SW but heard they demand a new size for cover art now? Can someone expand on that? If I have to have all my covers resized, that might be a game-changer for me. Thanks!

  9. I pulled by book from Smashwords because I only sold a few copies in about a year. But the main reason is Smashwords offers books in PDF format. PDF leaves a book wide open to being pirated and I’ve found mine on a lot of pirate sites. I can’t prove they got it from Smashwords, but the only other place an electronic version is available is on Amazon.

  10. Excellent information, Laurie. I recently decided not to use KDP Select for any of my titles. I’ve heard horror stories about authors having accounts suspended because of click spam, and the exclusivity clause limits my options.

  11. The Swiss Army Knife analogy: show me a tool that does a lot of jobs, and I’ll show you a tool that doesn’t do anything very well. Having said that, I always carry my Swiss Army Knife, and I’ll always have my books up at Smashwords. I have to say, I like the style guide. You follow it, and it works. What more can you ask? Not happy with the Meatgrinder/Word interface, but that’s mostly caused by Word.
    Basically, I like to have an alternative to Amazon, and like Laurie, I find life’s too short to market to all the other sites individually.

  12. Great post, Laurie, but I went off Smashwords for good when I tried to buy a book from their site, paid my money [not much but still] and nothing happened. No book, no error message, nothing. I sent an email off to support and received no reply.
    My experience may have been a one-off glitch or who knows what, but it soured me as a reader and killed my trust as a writer. If I ever send my books off to an aggregator in the future, it will be to D2D, not Smashwords. 🙁

  13. Apart from my ridiculously low sales on Smashwords, I don’t have any major gripes with the platform. Like Sandra I use it to leverage against Amazon to keep one book on perma-free. I like being able to run coupon promos when it suits me, and being able to offer my books in other formats than Kindle. It’s a shame that reviews on Smashwords direct don’t transfer over to the outlets though.

  14. To me Smashwords biggest flaw is that they still let you price the book only in dollars no EUR and no GBP no Indian Rupees… which means that my book in Europe (Canada, Australia, India) appears at an unprofessionally looking €2.78 price or such… It’s also a nightmare when you have promos with newsletter services. I’ll still publish with Smashwords but use D2D for Kobo and iBooks.
    I asked Smashwords support more than a year ago when the pricing tool would be available they told me “conservatively six months” … One year later still nada!

  15. 1st time stopping by I.U. Nice post and timely. I’ve published through Smashwords and love the distribution. Yet the KDP draw (more like a tractor beam) is hard to dispute for some who stink at promotions, which I’m guilty. I will say that if an author has a series and can make the first book free, then Smashwords is a H U G E asset. Anyway, I enjoyed your post and will visit again.

    1. Thank you, Susan, and I’m so glad you dropped by. I have a first book free in SW, too, so I’m hoping that will spur sales of the whole series.

  16. It used to be my normal routine to publish a paperback, publish through KDP and SW in order to have everything covered. I stopped publishing to SW about 5 books ago, and I’ve pulled most of my backlist and just left the few I can’t or won’t put into KDPS. I just saw zero sales so it seemed pointless. Gotta go where the results are.

    1. That was my routine too, Melissa, until about three years ago. I wanted to try putting everything into KDPS. It didn’t work for me, or at least it stopped working as well. Who knows; this might not work, either, but I wanted to give going wide another try, maybe applying what I’ve learned along the way.

  17. I have a relationship with the meatgrinder – it tosses errors which weren’t there at me and I swear at it:) Seriously though I do find it useful, especially the coupons. I rarely sell direct from Smashwords but I get enough from the affiliate stores to make it worth it.

    I don’t want the hassle of keeping track of a dozen sales channels, providing bank details, tax details etc. Oh and SW pays by paypal – which is useful.

    I’m a Brit and we can’t gift from Amazon.co.uk and if I can trick it into letting me use the Amazon.com side the gift has to be to another .com account. There is a way around it, apparently- but frankly it isn’t worth the effort as the receiver may not even use the gift to buy the book.

  18. I like Smashwords because it is a one-stop for a lot of retailers. Interestingly, I have a direct account with Barnes&Noble.com where my three mysteries don’t sell very well. But I get literally hundreds of sales on Barnes&Noble via Smashwords distribution. Smashwords reaches readers that Barnes&Noble does not. And Smashwords reaches ibooks readers where my sales are also quite good. The vast majority of my sales are on Amazon, but Smashwords is a healthy second. I would recommend going with Smashwords for sure.

  19. You can now load an epub file directly to Smashwords – No Meatgrinder necessary. As long as it passes epub check it goes directly to all distribution channels. Authors who formats their work into digital format has it golden.

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