Though initially excited about getting my book, The Wandering King, onto the web site of the e-book seller Smashwords, ultimately the results have been disappointing. To explain…
Getting your book on Smashwords is an ordeal akin to one of Hercules’ labors. Like Amazon, they provide you with a free guide on how to format your e-book for Smashwords. Unlike Amazon’s clear, concise booklet, the Smashword’s manual is over 100 pages long. Oi.
Not wanting to go through their novel length ‘how to’ book, I tried uploading my existing e-book file that had worked with Amazon. No luck. Tried the same with the file I used for Barnes & Noble’s Nook. Strike two. All right, time to crack open their 100-page opus.
Smashwords’ distribution channels
One of the things I didn’t realize about Smashwords, is that when you format your e-book for their site, if you do it according to their specs, you can qualify for something called ‘premium status.’ If your book makes the grade, not only can you put it for sale on Smashwords, they give you access to 12 sites like Apple’s iBookstore, Kobo, Sony, Diesel, even public libraries.
The first thing they recommend in their formatting guide, is to strip out all of the current formatting in your MS Word doc. You can do this by copy/pasting the entire book into a program on your computer called WordPad. Putting it into WordPad knocks out all of your italics, tabs, links, font styles, etc. Then all you do is select your entire document in WordPad and copy/paste it back into MS Word. Then you begin the laborious process of adding back all of your formatting.
Smashwords’ guide walks you through each step, including how they want you to set up the links in your table of contents. As every ancient Greek word in my book was italicized, it took me a long time to get all of the formatting back in my book, but according to Smashwords, by starting with a clean copy, you eliminate any possible quirks that may have wormed their way into your original MS Word doc.
Too, because every e-book seller seems to use their own format (such as ePUB, PDF, MOBI, LRF, RTF, etc…) it’s wise to follow Smashword’s instructions to ensure it meets their formatting requirements, because when you’re done, if successful, once you upload the book to Smashwords, their internal programming automatically saves your book in multiple formats (such as ePUB, PDF, MOBI, etc.) giving you access to Apple iBookstore, Sony, Kobo, etc.
Though it took a while to fix all of the formatting in my book, it was well worth the effort. The third time I tried uploading the book to Smashwords was a charm. It passed their internal checks and even qualified for their premium status, giving me access to a number of new booksellers.
Should you format your book first for Smashwords instead of Amazon?
In hindsight, I wondered if I should have started working with Smashwords, instead of Amazon, as both Amazon and Barnes & Noble are among the distribution sites that Smashwords gives you access to.
Once my book was on Smashwords and they began distributing it to other e-book sellers, I realized, no, I was glad I started with Amazon and did it myself with Barnes & Noble. Why? The main reason is you have more control over your book and how it appears for sale on those sites.
Amazon is the biggest bookseller on the planet. That’s where I’m getting 95% of my book sales, both e-book and paperback. If I want to change my book description or the search engine keywords, it’s a snap on Amazon. You make the changes online, and within hours they are live.
This is where I have a problem with Smashwords. Yes, my book appears on their site and they’ve gotten it on most of the sites they advertise, but I’m guessing they don’t send along the keyword search string to these sites. For instance, when I do a search on Kobo or Sony under ‘ancient Greece’ or ‘Sparta’ my book does not appear. In fact, the only way you can find my book on these sites is to do a search for my name or the book name, ‘The Wandering King.’ Otherwise, my book is invisible on those sites. Nor has it ever shown up on the Apple iBookstore. though Smashwords claims it is there. I guess I just need new glasses.
To smash or not to smash?
I don’t know that Smashwords’ services are quite as good as advertised. Nor are the sales. In the 2 months my book has appeared on their site and the multiple other sites they distribute to, I’ve made a whopping single sale. Whoopty-do.
The other area where I have a problem with Smashwords is the description of the book that appears on sites like Kobo and Sony. Smashwords asks you to write a long book description and a short one, both of which appear on their site. Unfortunately the short description is about three sentences, and that’s what they feed to most of their distribution partners. Make a change to your book description on Smashwords, it’s hit or miss whether it gets posted on the other sites.
So although it sounds great that Smashwords will help you get onto all these other e-bookstores, you end up with no keywords for people to find your book, and you end up with a minimal book description. No wonder I have not received any sales from these sites. Readers have no way of finding my book, and when they do, there is very little to tease them into buying a copy.
About the best thing I can say about Smashwords is that they format your book into multiple e-book fomats for free. If you need an ePUB or MOBI file of your book, Smashwords does the heavy lifting for you. Other than that, my experience with them thus far has been far from a smashing success.