Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Review of Smashwords

Since I'm coming up to my one year anniversary of publishing Of Ghosts and Gunpowder with Smashwords, I thought I would offer a little review of the process and end results.

The Site:
The Smashwords site certainly won't win any awards.  It has a real "Internet in the Year 2000" feel.  For the more prudish among us, there is also a high amount of Erotica here.  There is button to filter this out, but be warned - on the new books listing, your work could be right next to "Spank Me, Daddy" or some other work.

But really, Smashwords should be used as a way to easily distribute your books, not a main source of sales.  I have gotten some sales through the site, but nothing like Amazon or one of the larger vendors.

Preparing a book for submission:
After you have written and edited your book, it's time to prepare it for Smashword's "Meatgrinder" software.  This process is used to take your word document and translate it for multiple formats - .mobi .pdf .epub .lrf and even plain ol' .txt.  The end result seems to work just fine with simple word-only documents, but I can't imagine what a heavily illustrated book would look like.  Also note, the Meatgrider seems to work best when your document has been edited for submission using Microsoft's Word product.  I use a lot of OpenOffice, which forces me to switch between the two.  The Smashwords formatting guide can be found HERE.  Download it in a .RTF format it, print it and have at it.

My first stab at this was frustrating - and I work with computers on daily basis - but after a few tries, everything fell into place.  I can now prep a book in just a few minutes.  The most difficult part is removing the tabs for paragraph indentation.  It may throw off your document, which will require a manual search to make sure everything properly lines up.

Premium Distribution:
After submitting your book, it goes into the Meatgrinder queue.  When I first started using Smashwords, the wait time could be several days.  Now it is much faster - only taking a few minutes to process.  Once Meatgrinder is done, your book is immediately for sale on the Smashwords Site.  However, your book must meet certain criteria to be distributed to the other vendors - Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, and Diesel (Note: Amazon is not supported at this time).  This review process can take a couple days or perhaps up to a two weeks, depending on their workload.

At this time, it's good to check your channel distribution (what vendors you want to distribute to), pricing, and book description.  You would be surprised how many new books on Smashwords have spelling errors or poorly constructed sentences in the short and long description.  This will certainly turn away any potential buyers.  The Short description is a limited blurb which some sites use.  The Long description is much lengthier - good for reviews, samples, etc.

Smashwords "ships" books to the other vendors on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, so it will take some time before your book shows up on other sites.

The Smashwords Dashboard screen lets you see all the sales, but just for the Smashwords site.  Of note is the Books Sold and Downloads Column.  Sold, is of course, the number of units paid for.  The Downloads is the total sold + the free samples. 

Clicking on Stats, under the Operations Tab, will show the number of hits that your book's page has had.  This is useful for fine-tuning your keywords and book description.  A new book will always show an initial jump in interest, but eventually fade once the entry falls off of the main Smashwords page.

To see your Sales with other vendors, it's time to visit the Sales & Payment Report tab.  Here you can select a year, generate a quarterly spreadsheet, and see your current account balance.  Selecting a year will display your total sales to the different vendors, even including Amazon - which isn't currently supported through Smashwords.

Some negatives: Though Smashwords displays sample downloads from their site, no such information is available from the other channels.  This would be useful to know, but is not supported.  Sales reporting time is also not instantaneous - Barnes & Noble and Sony are almost weekly, while the other vendors are reported monthly.  This can lead to some frustration on the part of the user - who doesn't want to have quicker feedback?  This is one area that consistently bothers me since Apple is usually a large source of sales.  A weekly update would be much better, but I imagine Smashwords is limited by the information that Apple gives them.

Smashwords has a coupon generator.  This is a nice feature which allows the writer to keep his current price, but give a discount on a book.  This is useful for new work and marketing.  However, the coupon can only be used on the Smashwords site.

They also give away free ISBN numbers.  Some eBook sellers - notable Apple - require these.  Once your book has been submitted, go ahead and get one assigned to your work.  Note: These ISBNs are used for the Smashword edition - which is published across your selected vendors.  It is not a generic one for Amazon usage.

You can also create an Author Profile on the "My Smashwords" profile.  Here is a chance to write something pithy.

Yes, Smashwords has its flaws - notably the slow sales reporting time, the old-fashioned website, the lack of an Amazon channel, and the nefarious demands of the Meatgrinder submission process.  However, it is a one-stop location for submitting your work to several vendors, all in one fell swoop.  My publishing method is to use Smashwords in conjunction with Amazon's KDP service.  The majority of my sales are through the latter, with Smashwords and the associated vendors picking up the slack.

For all my complaints, I'm just happy to have an easy way to publish my works - it certainly is less frustrating than waiting months for a rejection letter, or an emai/phone call from an agent, who may or may not want to see your book published.

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