Self-published authors who are looking for help with book distribution may want to check out Smashwords, the world’s largest distributor of independent ebooks. With over 440,000 titles in its catalog from over 120,000 authors and small publishers, Smashwords is a free, easy service to use, allowing authors to distribute their books to major retailers and thousands of libraries. Smashwords also provides free tools for marketing, metadata management, and sales reporting. If you are wondering whether this service is right for you, continue reading!
How it Works
From a nuts and bolts perspective, Smashwords is very user-friendly. Once you have an ebook ready for distribution and you’ve set up your Smashwords account, it’s as simple as uploading the epub and cover art, and then choosing your distribution channels. If you want to have a one-stop distribution shop, you can choose all channels Smashwords has to offer. This includes everything from iTunes to Kobo to Amazon. It’s completely customizable. YOU get to decide where to sell your book.
Creating your author presence on the website is also very easy. You have the opportunity to post author interviews along with author profiles and photos, blurbs about the book, and other features that will help establish a presence on the site.
Authors retain full control over how their books are priced, sampled, and sold. If you want to price a book for free, you can do that! Unlike Kindle Unlimited, there are no time limits on how long you can set the book for free, allowing you to make the first book of a series truly “perma free” in hopes of stoking interests in the titles that flow. This is often a smart approach for new authors who want to offer price promotions that may help an unfamiliar title look a bit more enticing. This can also be a great way to “hook” readers.
Potential customers can sample a book for free, and authors are able to determine what percentage of a book can be available for free previewing. This is a greater level of flexibility and control for the author that allows readers to take a test drive before deciding to purchase.
Once your book is loaded, it is usually added to the catalog and available to purchase within a few days.
Marketing, Marketing, Marketing
Every successful author knows that once a book is published, the work does not end—in fact, it’s just getting started. How are you going to move copies? Smashwords knows marketing is a challenge, so it offers authors a variety of free marketing tools to help make a connection with readers. In addition to the free reading samples and the author pages with bios, headshots, and more, authors can post YouTube video book trailers, conduct virtual author events and interviews, create customizable widgets for off-site marketing, generate coupon codes for price promotions, and post reviews from readers. Smashwords also offers a free book marketing guide that has plenty of other free and easy marketing ideas (worth downloading even if you don’t use Smashwords). These tools all require work on author’s part—Smashwords doesn’t market for you—but the tools make it easy to do!
The first thing to know is that it costs you nothing to publish your book on Smashwords. No membership fees, no listing fees. Nothing. Smashwords makes its money by taking a modest commission on all net sales. This amounts to 10% of the retail price for sales through retail channels (Apple, Barnes & Noble, etc.), and 15% if a book is sold directly through the Smashwords store. If a book is sold through an affiliate marketer, Smashwords’ commission is 15%. There are different royalty splits for books sold to libraries. Keep in mind that, generally, publishers receive about 40-50% of the price of a print book sold through a bookstore or online retailer. This number can drop to 20% or less once unsold inventory returns are factored in. Smashwords’ compensation model seems fair considering the ease of publishing and distribution. No, you won’t make as much per book as you would if you uploaded files to each individual channel they offer, but time and convenience is worth something.
Smashwords reimburses authors on a quarterly basis. Authors can log onto their dashboard and generate a report detailing which channels a book is selling through, and how much they will make from each sale. Smashwords’ author dashboard provides a real-time, quick, and simple sense of how the book is selling, allowing authors to make pricing changes at any point in time. If you are a self-published author with just a few titles, the reports you download will be easy to interpret. If you’re an independent publisher like we are, having a whole variety of titles from different authors, the reports can take a bit of sorting through in order to determine each author’s royalty payment. It is not an insurmountable task, however.
The long and short of it is, if you want an easy way, one-stop way to distribute your ebook far and wide while retaining most royalties, Smashwords is a good bet.
We have been using Smashwords for years, but we do not use them for ebook distribution across all channels, and we treat each book differently depending on the title and the target audience. In some instances we’ve uploaded the files ourselves to Kindle, B&N Nook, Google Play, and then used Smashwords for the remaining channels. In other instances we’ve skipped Smashwords entirely. It’s important to note that Smashwords does not utilize digital rights management if that matters to you.
One thing that keeps Smashwords on the table as an option for us is Mark Coker’s (the founder) continued efforts to support writers and publishing. Coker began working on Smashwords in 2005 and officially launched it in 2008. He can often be found speaking at conferences for writers and publishers or making other efforts to support literacy and the industry. His work always leaves us feeling good about supporting Smashwords.
An alternative to Smashwords?
Pronoun is quickly gaining ground. Like Smashwords, they will deliver your book across various distributors. Pronoun joined Macmillan Publishers in May 2016, so we expect to see more from them as time passes.