Tips for publishing on Smashwords

Despite what Amazon would like you to believe - not everyone on the world has a Kindle... As such, if you are just in the throes of putting out your first book, whilst Kindle may be the obvious first choice for publication, what about readers with other devices, Nooks, Kobo's etc? Well there is another option. Smashwords.

smashwords logo

Smashwords is an independent bookseller that allows authors to self publish. It's small, and it must be said, not without its niggles and issues, but I think it's very important to authors. When I first saw my books appear on Kindle, I was immediately met with questions like "but what about me, I have a Nook - will your book be on that?". Smashwords sorts that.

Some authors I have spoken to don't speak to highly of Smashwords for the fact that sales generated are far less than Kindle. That is certainly the case with me too - however I don't use Smashwords as an attempt to try to 'beat' Amazon - I use it to ensure my readership have an alternative choice. As I say - not everyone has a Kindle, and the Smashwords service allows you to make your books available in a dizzying array of file types to suit all readers. The basic setup means that people can buy your books in all those formats direct from the Smashwords site with a PayPal payment. They have their own (hard to navigate) charts, bookshelves for 'liking' books, and review system. But where Smashwords really shines I think is the Premium Catalog, which means that your books will be listed directly with Sony, Kobo, Nook, iTunes amongst others - direct on those sites. By doing that, as word spreads about your book you can get to the point where the e version of your title is available on pretty much every device. Small sales or not, that is a convenience to your readership that should not be overlooked.

All of that said, whilst listing on Smashwords is straightforward, the Premium side of things is not without it's issues. I thought I would therefore share my tips having had four books go on that site.

1. Prepare your manuscript as if you are going for Premium right away. Even if you think that you will never list it on Premium, I would recommend this in case you change your mind. The Premium application is now automatic anyway I think, but the system is VERY fussy about the formatting of your book. In my case, with my first book, I created huge headaches for myself in formatting that meant literally going through my book line for line in order for it to pass muster on submissions. My advice - start with a clean copy of your manuscript with zero formatting, and only add minimal formatting after that. Mark Coker - the founder of Smashwords has produced an excellent and free Style Guide that runs you through all the do's and don'ts of formatting. I highly recommend you get it and read it to avoid headaches!  You can grab that HERE. The most common pitfalls include things like not including a 'Published by Smashwords' line at the beginning of the book, double carriage returns adding  unnecessary lines in the text, and paragraph styles. The system is fussy as I say, but I think it's worth it.

2. Once your book is ready, the upload process is simple and very similar to Amazon. You can just upload a Word Document if you wish. You will also be given the same sort of boxes to fill - description, keywords, price etc. The pricing section is nice in that you get a clear pie chart that shows how your book price is distributed between you and Smashwords (their royalties are pretty good as it happens)

3. One difference from Kindle is the Sample feature. Smashwords allow you to choose your own percentage that readers can read for free, unlike the fixed percentage on Amazon. This will require some thought - clearly, you don't wish to give away too much. Smashwords actually suggest 50% which for a novel I can understand - someone may read the first half then pay to finish it. For a non-fiction book though, like mine, this doesn't seem to make much sense, and I would suggest setting a lower figure.

4. Once you are up and going, you need to check your progress in the Premium submission. If you fail, you will helpfully receive a notice telling you what elements failed. This is a good feature and should help you out with the obvious formatting issues. If you kept things simple you should sail through (it takes about a week by the way). My first book was a nightmare, but I learned from my mistakes. Book two went through first time, book three had a minor error that failed only once, and book four went through first time.

5. As part of the publishing processyou can choose which file formats you wish Smashwords to make available on their own site - I would recommend you let all versions go out there with the exception of the plain text options (which to me reads like a nice easy way for someone to steal your work). Don't worry about leaving the Kindle format box ticked even if you are on Amazon - it will do no harm. You can also change these options at any time after it is published.

6. When you are in the Premium Catalog - you also get the option of which stores to ship to and which to not. Again I would leave all of these ticked - it will do no harm, but I would certainly untick Kindle if you already have a copy on Kindle to avoid duplication.

7. Smashwords submissions I have found are a little hit and miss. Some of my books are on some sites, all are on others. In some cases and email to Smashwords asking them to re-submit them has worked, on others it hasn't done a thing. I still don't have all my four books on iTunes for example - and even stranger, book one and three are available, but two and four are not. Smashwords have been no help at all in sorting that issue. Just bear that in mind - the system is not as foolproof as it looks, and their customer support is less than speedy.

8. When you are up and running you get a handy dashboard in which you can make changes to things like price etc. Bear in mind if you change anything more serious, like your title, cover or manuscript, then you will need to resubmit to the premium catalog! Within the dashboard are some other handy features that I so wish were available on Kindle. You can view graphs that show page views, sample downloads and full downloads for your books. When you get a sale you are emailed, and you also get an completely up to date sales listing for all your books. Sales for stores that Smashwords have submitted to don't update live however, or appear on your tally of sales graph. Rather, those sales are aggregated and tend to update at the end of each month or quarter depending on the store. That is a bit of a pain, but it also provides a nice surprise when you see a sudden leap in sales data because one of the stores has reported back!

9. Payments from Smashwords are made quarterly, and are paid via PayPal (are you listening Amazon??!!). If you are in the UK and have no tax forms set up, like Amazon they will be subject to 30% withholding for tax purposes.

10. Make sure you let your readers know you have an alternative format available. Start by sharing the Smashwords address for your books. Keep an eye on sites like Barnes and Noble, Sony, Kobo etc for your books appearing (they can take anything from weeks to months to appear) and when you have links for those make sure you share them too.

And that's it - it's very simple to get going on Smashwords, though can be a headache for some fighting through the Premium Catalog rules. Support isn't great but as I said in the introduction to this post - I think if you have a book that you hope with be popular, you owe it to your audience to recognise that they may not actually have a Kindle!

Good luck!


  1. Good post, Barry! A couple of problems I've had have only manifested after the book got through Premium, so always worth checking your book and its blurb on Kobo and other channels once it works its way through (the type of apostrophe and some accented letters came out as gobbledegook in one of my book blurbs).

  2. Thanks, this was very helpful!

  3. Thanks, this was very helpful... got through the whole mess in less than 2 hours :)


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