“Should I publish with Smashwords?” is a question beginning indie authors often ask. For me, the answer is a resounding yes!
In my opinion, every indie author should publish and distribute their ebooks via Smashwords. Here are 8 reasons why I love Smashwords so much:
- you’re where the readers are
- you have an additional advocate
- you can give away your ebook for free without hassle
- Smashwords is convenient
- Smashwords is author-centric
- you can generate coupons for your books
- you make more money
- Smashwords is fueled by passion
Reason to Publish on Smashwords #1: You’re where the readers are
After reading Watching the Numbers, written by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who has extensive experience with traditional and indie publishing, I became convinced: you have to be where the readers are.
Here’s a brief quote from the original article (it’s worth reading in full):
I want to plant all of this in your head as writers because we were all trained to think small about our work. Even (especially?) traditional publishers. The problem with book sales has always been getting the books to readers. The old distribution system left out more readers than it found. There were even shooting battles in the streets in the distribution wars of fifty years ago (I’m not kidding) over who controlled what area to distribute magazines and books. (This was when distribution was controlled by the Mob. This kind of publishing history is fun and colorful, and mostly no longer necessary to understand except in a very vague way.)
Am I ever going to get all of the world’s English speakers to read my books? Hell, no. I’m not even going to get a statistically meaningful percentage of them to read my books. But already, my books are being read in countries where they were previously unavailable, not only because of Amazon, but because of Kobo, Apple, and a bunch of other small companies that partner with Smashwords and such places. My biggest problem as a business person right now? Keeping up with all of the developing markets for my fiction. Making sure my work is available in as many places as possible is something I’m continually falling behind on, as more and more and more markets appear.
Keeping up with all the developing markets for your fiction is an excellent business strategy–and Smashwords makes it easy to follow. First of all, Smashwords provides readers with ALL major eReader formats for a variety of devices, including:
- MOBI files for Amazon Kindle
- EPUB files for B&N Nook
- EPUB files for Kobo
- EPUB files for Apple iPad
- EPUB files for Sony eReader
- LRF files for older Sony Readers
- PDFs for reading on computers
This flexibility is a great blessing to readers, whose libraries will no longer be limited by the eReading device they own. If, by chance, they decide to change their eReader, they’ll still be able to download and read your book…without paying for it a second time. If a wife wanted to share your ebook with her husband, she could do so without jumping through various hoops. That kind of freedom can only help your long-term sales.
Benefits for International Readers
Additionally, Smashwords is a huge boon for international readers. There’s no territorial restrictions attached to books. For example, readers in New Zealand won’t receive a message that they can’t buy your book because it’s only available for sale in Canada and the United States.
If international readers don’t have a credit card, they can pay with Paypal…something which you can’t do on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. This is why selling your books directly through Smashwords is one of my 7 Tips to Selling Ebooks in a Global Marketplace.
International readers are also not hit with a value-added tax. The dreaded VAT can take away one of your main competitive advantages: namely pricing your book so that it’s an impulse buy.
Indie author David Gaughran also notes that in addition to the VAT, in certain countries, Amazon adds a surcharge of $2 to every ebook purchase:
In certain countries Amazon levies a $2 Whispernet Surcharge on all e-book transactions before the VAT is added. This means that a 99 cent e-book costs $3.44. Big difference.
This is clearly an issue which affects all writers (and publishers), but it affects indie writers disproportionately. One of the key advantages that indie writers have is the ability to be flexible on price.
We can sell books for $0.99 or $2.99 and survive. And while trade publishers can do that for select titles for a limited time, they can’t do it with their entire list; they simply have too many overheads.
Adding $2 to the price of a $12.99 e-book will have some effect on sales, for sure, but adding it to a $0.99 or $2.99 book, and then adding 15% VAT, just kills sales.
Concerned about the surcharge, Gaughran directs certain readers to Smashwords on his sales page of Let’s Get Digital (an excellent self-publishing primer):
It is also available from Apple (iBookstore and iTunes) and will be available shortly from Sony and Kobo. If you are in one of the countries affected by the Amazon surcharge (i.e. if you are being displayed a high price like $5.74 for this book), you can purchase through Smashwords for the normal price.
Personally, I feel that one of the perks of self-publishing is being able to keep your prices easy on pocketbooks–and not just those belonging to US readers. Smashwords gives all indie authors the means to do so.
You never know where or how you’ll become popular. That’s why it’s so important to have your ebooks available all over the world, in a variety of formats–and without unnecessary restrictions. With Smashwords, you give yourself the greatest opportunity of maximizing your success.
Reason to Publish on Smashwords #2: Smashwords gives you an added advocate
When you choose to distribute your ebook through Smashwords, you create another link between you and major online retailers like Barnes and Noble and Apple. This relationship can help a) promote your book and b) smooth over any publishing hiccups.
Smashwords and Merchandising
Back when I used to live near a Borders bookstore, I would approach its shelf of fresh, shiny hardcovers with boundless enthusiasm. Back then, I was under the impression that Borders employees had hand-picked each new release to showcase.
And they did–but they were paid by major publishing houses to do so, in something known as co-op. As I noted in Mo’ Indie, Mo’ Money: Can You Make a Decent Income by Self-Publishing, co-op is one of the biggest advantages big name authors have over other writers.
Online retailers have their own form of co-op, in “featured books” and other similar sections on their websites. The good news is that even though you’re a self-published author, you have a fighting chance of being selected for this promotional opportunity, especially if you distribute through Smashwords.
As Smashwords founder Mark Coker wrote in his guide, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success:
The featured lists are controlled by merchandising managers at the online bookstores. Similar to the brick and mortar world, it’s a relationship business. In brick and mortar, the publisher’s sales force would communicate with their merchandising counterparts at the retailers and try to make the case that a given title deserved featured promotion.
How do the merchandising managers find the right titles to promote?
[One way is by talking] with their counterparts at the publishers and distributors to seek out recommendations for upcoming or existing titles that deserve promotion. At Smashwords, retailers ask us for recommendations.
They want to know what’s breaking out at other retailers that haven’t broken out at their store yet. They’re looking for titles that can break out with a little promotional love. Since Smashwords distributes to multiple retailers, we’re able to compare sales trends and make such data-driven recommendations (this is an advantage of using a distributor like Smashwords to reach multiple retailers at once).
In other words, if you do really well at one retailer, Smashwords can become your advocate at other retailers, convincing them that featuring your book on their website,in an online form of co-op, has a high chance of generating breakout sales. When Smashwords makes its case, retailers take notice because Smashwords has the aggregate data to back up their claims.
Smashwords and Smoothing Publishing Hiccups
Every online retailer has its own way of dealing with emails from upset indie authors who have experienced publishing hiccups. Some retailers respond with better customer service than others. But even with the best customer service procedures in place, it’s always going to be easier and more efficient for retailers to deal with a single distributor than thousands of individual authors.
For example, if you tried to self-publish your ebook on Barnes and Noble around the time they were also making their big UK launch, you may have experienced technical difficulties. Maybe your book showed up, but with no cover…maybe your book never showed up at all.
If you published via BN’s self-pub portal, PubIt, your only recourse would be to contact customer service…whose efforts have to be spread far and wide. If, on the other hand, you distributed through Smashwords, you could send Smashwords a polite, non-alienating email and ask them about the cause of delay.
BN is going to take more notice when Smashwords contacts them than when you do. Because resources are limited, it makes sense that they are going to pay more attention to someone they have cultivated a long-term business relationship with,
Note: Using BN’s self-publishing portal requires United States residence. For international authors, the only way to sell ebooks through Barnes and Noble is via Smashwords.
Reason to Publish on Smashwords #3: You can price your book at FREE — without exclusivity
Giving away your book for free–especially if it’s the first book in a series–can be the most effective tool in your marketing arsenal. When your book is free, readers risk their time if they take a chance on your book. But they don’t risk their money.
This can overcome their initial reluctance to read a book by an author with an unknown track record. Then, if they love it, you’ve made it even easier for them to convince their friends to read it (and increase the odds your book will go viral) because it doesn’t cost a dime!
Many big name indie authors like Ruth Cardello have had success using the power of free. When Cardello started her publishing journey she decided to give away her romance, Maid for the Billionaire. She didn’t have any other novels out at the time. She just hoped that readers would remember her when she published the second book in her Legacy series.
Cardello’s next book, For Love or Legacy, became a huge bestseller, cracking the Top 100 at Amazon. (Same for her third book too.) Free worked very well for Ruth Cardello, to the tune of a six-figure income–and a call from a New York, offering her a seven-figure book deal.
Counter-intuitively, free can pave the road to indie riches…but how do your make your ebook free?
It’s not that easy. Online retailers (with the exception of Kobo) aren’t keen on free indie ebooks. 30% of $0.00 is still 0.
With Smashwords, you can set the price of your ebook to free, and then distribute it to Barnes and Noble, Apple, Sony, Diesel…and of course, Smashwords itself. No fancy hoops, no fancy requirements.
There’s another way to go free: you can join Amazon’s KDP Select program. If you do, you can choose five days during a three-month period to give away your book at no charge.
The catch? You can only publish your book through Amazon. You have to remove it from all other online retailers.
In the long run, I think you’re much better off avoiding exclusivity, because then you can be everywhere your readers are. With Smashwords, you get the perks of free, without making any sacrifices. In some cases, Amazon will even price-match books which are free at other retailers. Theoretically, your book could be free at Amazon without joining KDP Select, but this kind of price-matching seems to be happening less and less freqently.
Admittedly, KDP Select has worked exceedingly well for some indie authors, helping to propel them out of obscurity. If you’re tempted to give the program a try, here are 9 tips to make the most out of your KDP Select free promotional days.
Reason to Publish on Smashwords #4: Smashwords is convenient
Publishing with Smashwords is a one-stop ebook shop. Once you master the art of formatting Word documents to meet the requirements of Smashwords’s automatic ebook conversion system, affectionately referred to as the Meatgrinder, Smashwords takes care of the rest.
In a few minutes, your manuscript will be in ebook format and ready to distribute to multiple platforms. Since you don’t have to format and upload your ebook individually for each ebook retailer, you can save tons of time (especially if you have an extensive backlist).
It’s worth mentioning that Smashwords is also the most convenient way to sell your ebook at the Apple iBookstore. At the moment, from what I can gather, in order to distribute your ebook directly through Apple, you must own a Mac. If you don’t, you won’t be able to use the software Apple employs for its self-publishing platform.
It’s also super-convenient to check your sales on Smashwords. With one click, you can easily see how your ebook titles fare at one retailer in comparison to the others. (And how much profit you’re making at each!)
Admittedly, there is a delay in reporting sales. Currently, you won’t see how many copies you sold in a given month until one, even two, months later. This can be frustrating–especially if you’ve become accustomed to Amazon’s real-time instant sales reports.
However, it may ease your frustration to know that traditionally published authors have to wait six months to learn their sales figures. If you’re following the advice of JA Konrath and Dean Wesley Smith, you won’t be so obsessive about tracking your sales anyway. You’ll be too busy writing!
Reason to Publish on Smashwords #5: Smashwords is author-centric
Online retailers like Amazon and Apple are businesses, first and foremost–no matter what clever copy or customer-friendly policies lead consumers to believe. This means that business strategy motivates every single company decision.
Smashwords is a business too. But more than any other ebook distributor, Smashwords seems to take into consideration the question, “how would an indie author LIKE to be treated?”
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how I arrived at this impression. I think it comes from reading Mark Coker’s posts over at the official Smashwords blog, his guest posts at other blogs, and his thoughtful comments–even in the face of rather aggressive criticism–at either place.
I also am impressed by indie-author friendly features such as:
- providing free ISBNs to authors who price their book at free (which means Smashwords won’t make any money off of that book)
- making style and marketing guides available to any indie author at no cost–even if authors don’t distribute via Smashwords
- ability to generate coupons for ebooks (more on that in tip #6)
- ability to alter affiliate commissions in order to get others to more aggressively promote your ebook
- enabling indie authors to distribute their ebooks to libraries
- focusing on making money via commissions rather than author services
That last point is particularly important. By refraining from selling indie authors services, Smashwords cuts into its ability to generate profits. But this also means they’ll never be in a position to take advantage of indie authors, which is point of great pride–and for good reason.
As Coker writes in his 2012 year in review:
Every day, I’m thankful that so many writers, readers and retailers have supported the cause of self-published ebooks. Every day, I’m tickled pink that so many authors, publishers and retailers have partnered with Smashwords, because without your trust and support, we wouldn’t be here.
Unlike self-publishing services that earn their income by selling over-priced services to authors, Smashwords doesn’t sell services. The money flows to the author. We earn our commission only if we help sell books. We think our approach aligns our interests with the interests of our authors and publishers.
Since most books don’t sell well, and we rely entirely on commissions, it’s incredibly difficult to build a profitable business doing what we do. We figured out how to do it.
Reason to Publish on Smashwords #6: Smashwords lets you generate coupons
Smashwords allows you to generate coupons for each of your ebook titles, a feature which isn’t available anywhere else. This feature can help you tremendously to promote your ebook.
For example, you can reward hardcore fans who’ve signed up for your newsletter with a Smashwords coupon which entitles them to a significant discount, or even perhaps a free copy, of your next release. (This is one of my favorite Smashword coupon uses!)
You can also give coupons which make your ebook free to book bloggers so they can easily review your book. In fact, many book bloggers will specifically mention Smashwords in their submission guidelines as an acceptable way to send your ebook to them.
If you conduct a giveaway via Twitter, you can send winners a coupon code which will enable them to download their free copy of your book at Smashwords. (When you advertise the giveaway, you might want to mention that the free copy will be available via Smashwords.)
If you do give away free copies of your ebook through Smashword coupon codes, it’s a good idea to include instructions for readers who aren’t familiar with Smashwords as a bookseller or how to “sideload” books onto their eReaders. If you want, you can include a link to this article on how to add Smashwords books to a Kindle–it comes with several helpful screenshots!
If you don’t distribute your novel at Smashwords, then the only way to give away your ebook to book bloggers and contest winners is by gifting a specific title to them, which you can do at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, to name a few. While this can incur major out-of-pocket expenses, there’s an even bigger catch.
A recipient of a gifted ebook doesn’t have to use the gift card amount towards the title you selected. Instead, recipients can allocate the cost of your ebook to a completely different one…perhaps even towards the very authors you’re trying to compete against! There’s nothing you can do about it, and in most cases, you won’t even be able to find out that it happened. But with Smashwords, you eliminate that risk.
Reason to Publish on Smashwords #7: You make more money!
At Smashwords, you get an 85% royalty on books you sell directly on their site. Smashwords only keeps 15%. Compare that to other online distributors. If your book is priced above $2.99 but less than $10, you will earn:
- 70% – Amazon
- 70% – Kobo
- 70% – Apple
- 65% – Barnes and Noble
Granted, you’re likely to sell at a much greater volume at other retailers…but every penny counts, right?
I often check to see if authors I like sell their books at Smashwords because I know they make the most off of each sale there. Unfortnately, many indie authors don’t sell their book directly through Smashwords. I’m hoping that will change in the future!
Reason to Publish on Smashwords #8: Smashwords is fueled by passion
Back in the day, when I was seeking out a traditional publishing deal, I remember coming across advice on how to handle offers of representation from more than one agent. (Yep, I’m a believer in dreaming big!)
If a writer were in the lucky position of deciding between an offer from an agent at a big name agency who expressed lukewarm interest in the writer’s project versus a younger, but more more enthusiastic, agent at a small shingle…the writer should choose the younger one. Why?
Passion is a trump card.
And passion radiates from Smashwords founder Mark Coker. From all of the tutorials he’s written and the blog comments he’s contributed, you can tell that he’s passionate about improving Smashwords and making it the best possible place for indie authors to distribute their ebooks. Just witness his goals for Smashwords in 2013.
This kind of passion can only lead to great things. Not just for Smashwords, but for indie authors around the world.
Are there any drawbacks to self-publishing via Smashwords?
Like with anything, there are cons to go along with the pros. You have to read Coker’s Style Guide very carefully–otherwise the Meatgrinder will not produce a viable ebook. As long as you do follow those instructions though, it’s really easy to sell your ebook at Smashwords and to distribute it to all the other retailers.
Using Smashwords as your distribution partner into retailers like Barnes and Noble, Apple, and Sony can incur delays, although the delay may not necessarily be at Smashwords’s end.
Distribution via Smashwords also means that Smashwords takes a small percentage of your royalties, (which seems pretty fair to me). And as already mentioned, there can be a major time lag between when a sale is made–and when you see it reported in your Smashwords dashboard.
In my opinion, the biggest drawback about using Smashwords is that you can’t tailor your ebook for each specific retailer. For example, for ebooks I upload to Amazon, I invite readers to click on my book’s Amazon page and leave a review. I also provide links to the Amazon pages of other ebooks I’ve written, so it’s very convenient for a reader to locate (and purchase) my other works.
Because the same copy of your ebook goes to all the different online retailers, such tailoring isn’t possible with Smashwords. As Coker comments in the the Smashwords Style Guide:
It’s not considerate, for example, if to advertise your Kindle or Apple ebook in your ebook sold at Barnes & Noble. Such advertising will only alienate your retail partners, confuse your customers, and will cause a retailer to remove your book from their catalog.
To remedy this, Coker suggests that you hyperlink back to your Smashwords book page. Since they’re your distribution partner, that’s admissible. Another workaround is to hyperlink to a book page on your author website which lists links to all the retailers who carry your books.
At the end of the day however, I think the pros outweigh the cons…and that’s why I love Smashwords!
YOUR TURN: Have I convinced you to publish on Smashwords? Why or why not?
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