Distribution: Smashwords

So, I go wide, and the first place you want to check out when you’re thinking of going wide is going to be Smashwords. It’s not only another sales channel on its own, but it will distribute your books to other retailers and give you a decent cut of the profits, though there are some hoops.

File preparation

Yeah, so with Smashwords, on top of all of that preparation you did with your file beforehand, also requires one extra little bit. I take my file and save a separate Smashwords version of it and add in the extra page they require, stating that this is a Smashwords edition.1 Which is annoying, and it means that shows up on every copy they distribute, but they have a lot of outlets I don’t want to distribute to directly.

Distribution

Once your book passes their checker2 you will have you book placed in their Premium Catalog and it will be available for wide distribution to a variety of stores. They will go out automatically and be available in those stores within a week.

However. I don’t want Smashwords to distribute everywhere. I’ve opted my books out of several retailers, including Smashwords and Amazon. Every time I upload a new book, I need to opt them out of the retailers individually, since you can’t just set your store to always opt out. And opting out is… annoying.

The UI

So for those who don’t know, on top of being a Canadian, I’m also a web developer as my day job, and I work mostly with doing UX3 and UI4 design these days. And I can definitively say that Smashwords has put minimal time into theirs. It has gotten better, but things are not where you’d expect them. There’s a whole separate page to manage your ISBNs for some reason, instead of editing them right with the rest of your book. And the opt out page involves a hell of a lot of side scrolling, just to even see what all the retailers are.

And you can’t even define presets for it! Every time!

Although, Smashwords, if you want someone to redo your UI, I will totally redo it. Hell, I may just redo it for a portfolio. It is seriously annoying.

Payment

There’s one more strange thing abut Smashwords. Since I reside outside of the States, they pay me monthly via Paypal instead of a deposit into my bank account. Which is… unexpected, but not entirely unwelcome for my particular situation.5

On the bright side, when you’re setting your pricing for your book, Smashwords will outright tell you what their cut is, both through their own storefront and what everyone is making on a book sold through one of their affiliates.

The Extras

Smashwords has my most favourite of all of the statistics. There are charts that will let you see sales by book, series, and outlet.6 It also gives you a running total of what they owe you, along with the all time books sold. Though the stats aren’t as good when you look at the numbers for the individual books, they do give you enough so you can see how many people downloaded even the sample of your book, as well as how many users added it to their library.

This is also the only outlet I have that lets me make coupons whenever I want. I can discount my books sold on Smashwords down to free if I want. I do have to make these individually per book, rather than for the entire store, but you can set things like an expiration date on them and use them as promotions. I know I’ve put a coupon in a newsletter before to try and drive people to get a book and they have.

Oh, and there’s the Pay What You Want option, which is strange. See, a common practice for people who write longer series is to set their books to free so people will give it a shot. Smashwords will let you do that, but they also have this other option. For the first book in a longer series, I’ll set it to Pay What You Want, and let the reader set the price for the book, whether that’s free or if they want to pay anything for it.

And lastly, they have site-wide promotions. They allow you to set what your discount is from a set of options and your book will be listed alongside the others on the site opted into the promotion. It’s a really easy and cool way to get your books out there, particularly since a lot of Smashwords authors also promote the hell out of it when they roll around.

Sales

I do actually get sales from Smashwords, and not just because I am using coupons to lure people to the store. Somehow I get people stumbling onto the books organically, though I still am not quite sure how. I’ve had people give extra on the Pay What You Want books, and I always get a lot of sales during the site wide promos.7 It’s been a generally positive experience using them. Even the sites they distribute to get sales, which is always a plus!

And honestly, despite the terribly UI, Smashwords has been pretty fantastic to me in terms of getting my books out there. The people coming to Smashwords are looking for indie books, so the general feel you get from everything on the site is a lot more appealing to an indie author, and you do kind of feel like they got your back, even though they are a company and they probably don’t.

But that’s the last of the ones with a storefront. Next up, straight distribution services.

  1. They outline how to do this in their own docs []
  2. This can sometimes take a while. I’ve found that Smashwords has the strictest formatting guidelines, though if you follow their guide you’re generally fine []
  3. User experience []
  4. User interface []
  5. I work with other people via Paypal, so having a balance in there is generally pretty okay []
  6. Although outlet is kind of… not fantastic []
  7. Even full price sales, oddly enough. []

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