Since publishing my book Globe-Hurler through Smashwords in April I've been asked several times about the process and what it entails. Now that most of the dust has settled and my book is available in multiple stores across the Internet, it's a good time to reflect on the ups and downs of publishing my own eBook. There are some misconceptions about what Smashwords is exactly, so I hope I can clear those up as well as give you an idea of what awaits you if you decide to publish through Smashwords.
First off, I chose Smashwords as my publisher and distributor, not as an online store to sell my books. Some call using Smashwords "self-publishing" (I've probably called it that myself in the past), but it's not like writing a book and offering it here on my website with a PayPal button and a download link I send you via e-mail. That would be true self-publishing. No, Smashwords is the publisher of Globe-Hurler, not Robinson Mason, and they are not an old-school "vanity press" where authors pay gobs of money for stacks of print books they may or may not be able to sell. Smashwords publishes and distributes your books for free.
Don't get me wrong, unlike a traditional publisher I still have the right to sell and distribute my book elsewhere. Smashwords does not own my book. As for selling through them, Smashwords does a fine business of selling eBooks, and I've sold some with them myself, but where they really shine is their ability to automatically send eBooks out to a much broader customer base.
Smashwords "ships" to multiple eBook stores. They currently partner with and distribute eBooks for sale at Barnes & Noble (Nook), Sony, Kobo, Amazon (Kindle), Apple, Diesel and Scrollmotion. You can opt out of any or all of these, and sell your books only through Smashwords if you desire, but unless you already offer your eBooks at one of those other sites I don't see many reasons to opt out of those channels. One possible reason to go direct to Amazon to sell your eBook is that Smashwords currently pays every quarter, while Amazon pays every month. You can opt out from Amazon only at Smashwords (keep the rest) and go to Amazon's DTP site if you think that's a better path for you. Royalties can also be slightly better if you go direct.
In a nutshell, Smashwords is a free launching platform for your eBook. By listing them as the publisher you'll even get a free ISBN. You go with Smashwords because you want the maximum eyeballs possible on your book with the least hassle. You could go and submit your eBook to every one of the retailers listed above, but then you'd end up managing your relationship with each one. Going with Smashwords is a convenience.
I wrote "automatically send" above, but you must meet certain quality standards of formatting before your book will go beyond the Smashwords gates to other sites. It cannot look like a mess, or be something you scanned in lazily from print and dumped into a Word file. You can still sell such books exclusively on Smashwords as part of their standard catalog of titles, but they won't get sent to any other eBook stores. If you take the time to follow the Smashwords Style Guide, you will eventually overcome the types of formatting woes that separate easy to read eBooks from digital catastrophes that no reader should be subjected to anyway. One reason for all of the hurdles is the sheer number of formats Smashwords will auto convert your manuscript into. Your book might look find in Adobe Reader, but have five pages of blank space in Kindle format. I counted seven current formats including such popular formats as pdf, epub, and mobi.
For writers who overcome the formatting hurdles, Smashwords adds well-formatted eBooks to its so-called "Premium Catalog". Having a title in the Premium Catalog means that Smashwords will "ship" your eBook on Thursdays and Fridays to the various eBook sites that it has partnered with. It might take a while for that to happen. As of today, my book has shipped to all of the other sites I mentioned earlier *except* Amazon.com, arguably the biggest and best site for eBooks with its Kindle Store. I'm not sure why it has taken so long for Smashwords to ship my book to Amazon, but at least they got my book to the other sites.
The biggest hurdle for writers who use Smashwords comes later. What happens when your book goes into the catalog with 40,000+ other titles? How can you stand out? How will anyone know that you published a book at all aside from randomly stumbling upon it with a search? You won't have a traditional publishing house backing you up with advertisements and direct e-mails. You won't have a spot on a website like this where your book is promoted alongside other media. You won't have radio or TV commercials like Stephen King's latest release. All of the work in promoting your book comes down to you. You can read the Smashwords Marketing Guide, but unlike the Style Guide, no results are guaranteed.
Maybe you're like me and you just want people to experience the world you created. You can even offer a book for free. I plan to release a free eBook in the coming weeks. That said, I don't think that the current price for Globe-Hurler is standing in the way of my success. I have only 24 samples of my book downloaded so far at Smashwords (I have no visibility to what's going on at other sites), and a good percentage of those who downloaded the sample also bought the book. Perhaps you'll decide to do the same after checking out the sample pages HERE Yes, that's a shameless plug for my book, but you need to be a little shameless if you're going to get your book out there and read.
One method I tried was using Smashwords coupons and sending free books to reviewers. You'll find that some of the sites the Smashwords Marketing Guide suggests are not open to temporary coupons and want free e-books only. Other sites are swamped with titles and may or may not ever get around to yours.
A good suggestion is to review the works of other authors and get reviewed by them in turn.
If you would like me to review YOUR book that was published on Smashwords (or another site), please send me a free "coupon" for the book or a PDF copy of the manuscript and I'll be more than happy to read and review it. In return I ask that you do me the same favor and read and review my book (I'll also provide you with a free copy of my book, of course). I'll read pretty much anything. I'll post the review over at Hadanum.com and if you like my review I'll add it to whatever sites you'd like (Smashwords, Amazon, etc.). You can contact me at (replace dot and at with the appropriate symbols): robinson dot mason at swbell dot net.
My journey with publishing through Smashwords won't be over until I can figure out what it takes to get more people to try reading my book. Perhaps the book description itself isn't as enticing as it could be. I like it, but maybe the book cover is too abstract for people who want concrete characters and imagery laid out for them before deciding to read the sample. If I do figure out any effective tricks for self-promotion, I'll be sure to share them here!