Help! How Do I Publish With Smashwords?


The self-publishing eBook platform Smashwords allows authors and independent publishers to upload their manuscripts as Microsoft Word files, which are then converted into DRM-free EPUB files for reading on a variety of devices. Smashwords distributes eBooks through Apple’s iBooks, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Kobo, OverDrive, Scribd, and more. Maggie Bonham shares how to publish once to Smashwords and distribute to the world. (Well, a lot of it.)


If you’re planning on publishing eBooks, you need to considerSmashwords. As one of the big players in the eBook aggregators, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about Smashwords. Of all the aggregators I’ve used thus far, they have the largest number of distributions, thus far. Chances are, if you’re using any aggregator, you’ll at least try Smashwords to decide for yourself if it is a route you wish to go.

A Love-Hate Relationship

Smashwords creator Mark Coker Smashwords’ Mark Coker

I will admit that although I do use Smashwords, I have a love-hate relationship with it. Smashwords provides so many different platforms to distribute to that, it is hard to ignore. It has a growing following and most people who publish have at least considered Smashwords at one time or another. Also, I have respect for Mark Coker, who is the president of Smashwords. I truly believe that he is committed to what he is doing and looking to change the face of publishing and making it more accessible to writers everywhere. That’s what constantly entices me to publish on Smashwords.

At one time, Smashwords actually allowed you to purchase. ISBN’s under your own publisher name. They were relatively cheap to add about 10 bucks a pop. For whatever reason, Smashwords has done away with this, do you still can use their free ISBN’s which mark Smashwords as the publisher. It’s okay if you’re an author or an independent publisher with very few titles, but if you’re small press, or even a medium press, it can be a little annoying.

There are several reasons why I am ambivalent about Smashwords. One has to do with copyright notice. The other has to do with the Smashwords meatgrinder. I’ll discuss these in detail below.

The Smashwords Meatgrinder

Smashwords has what has been “affectionately” termed the Smashwords meatgrinder. Basically, it’s the conversion software, which takes your document and converts it into all its various forms. Because Smashwords supports a wide range of formats, not just EPUB, MOBI, or text documents, has quite a bit to do. What you do is give it your .doc file and it will convert it into the appropriate formats, assuming the meatgrinder interprets it correctly. It will take EPUB documents which helps with some of the headaches of the conversion, but you still have to include a doc file if you want the other formats.

Note that I say .doc and not .docx. At the time of this writing, Smashwords does not support the newer formats of Microsoft Word. Switching between Microsoft Word 97 and the newer versions can get a little old, especially if you use conversion software such as Jutoh™ or some of the other e-book builders.

One of the many problems that I’ve run into with the meatgrinder is that is supersensitive to formats in Microsoft Word. Because I deal with a number of editors and authors who have their documents specially set up, I can’t guarantee that everything is how meatgrinder likes it. Because of this, I spent many a night pulling out my hair trying to figure out why something was corrupted, that doesn’t show up in the document itself.

Copyright Notices and Formats

Smashwords has a lot of documentation for how to format your book, including the copyright page. Smashwords requires that you have a copyright page plus a statement saying something along the lines of “Smashwords Edition.” That requires you to making different copy of your manuscript for Smashwords than other e-book distributors such as Amazon. If this is something you don’t mind, then Smashwords is easy. With more than 80 books, it gets a little old, having extra versions of your eBooks out there. It’s just one more place you have to change the manuscript, if you need to make a change.

Smashwords-StyleGuideOne positive thing about Smashwords is that Mark Coker actually has three eBooks worth picking up. They are free. One is the Smashwords Style Guide. He also has two eBooks on how to market your eBooks. They’re certainly worth reading, especially if you’re planning on publishing with Smashwords.

Smashwords Guides
#1 Smashwords Style Guide
#2 Smashwords Book Marketing Guide
#3 The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success

The style guide is also available in other languages–including French, Danish, Dutch, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Getting Started with Smashwords

Assuming you have created an account for yourself, the next step is to have your Smashwords prepared file ready so you may create your book. At the menu above select Publish, and it will bring up a menu for you to follow.

  1. Before you get started, you need to know that the Publish tab is only for new books and not changes to books you already have on Smashwords. The first section, you need to enter the book’s title, the book’s release date, the synopsis, both short and long synopses, and language. The book is written in.
  2. The next section is the pricing and sampling section. Here you can choose to make your book free, let your readers determine the price, or charge a specific price for the book. It’s important to understand that if you are planning on having your book and expanded distribution having the readers determine the price isn’t a good idea. Many of the distributors do not allow readers to choose their price. It is better to price your book or make it free. After this, you need to decide on how much of your book, your reader may sample. The recommendation is a minimum of 15 percent for book-sized works, and 30 percent for short pieces according to Smashwords. The idea behind this is the more the reader has invested in the book or piece, the more he or she is likely to purchase the book.
  3. The next section you will select the category for your book. This is important for marketing purposes. For example, if your book is an urban fantasy, you may select. Fiction-> Fantasy-> Urban. The secondary category, which is optional, is a good idea as well. Choose your secondary category, and if your book has adult content, he sure to select the radio button saying, “My book contains adult content.”
  4. Under the next section, you can select what formats to make your book available in.These include EPUB, MOBI, PDF, Sony reader, RTF, Palm Doc, plain text, and HTML.
  5. The next section, you will add your cover image. You’ll need to follow the directions in their cover FAQ for formatting the cover.
  6. Now you’re ready to select your file. Here you can use your .doc file to go into the meat grinder and get converted into all the different formats. You can also upload and EPUB file. Note that the EPUB file will only affect the EPUB formats of yourself.
  7. Next, you read over the publishing agreement and check the box “Yes, I agree.”
  8. Next, you click the big yellow button that says “Publish Immediately.”
  9. At this point, Smashwords queues up your book for conversion. Depending upon who is using the meat grinder and how many people are ahead of you, it could be immediate, or it could take some time. Smashwords will alert you when your book is ready.
  10. You have two possible outcomes: the book converts fine, there’s dancing in the streets, and the angels sing; or your book doesn’t convert correctly, and you have to figure out what’s wrong with it. The best thing I can suggest is read Mark Coker’s manual and try to figure out what’s wrong with it. If you really have problems, my suggestion is to open up a new document and cut-and-paste the entire book into the new document without formatting (a huge pain if you have a lot of italicizes like I do). My suggestion is that if you are having a lot of problems, you should probably use a processor, like Jutoh™, and make sure that it passes EPUBCHECK.
  11. Once you have your book through the meat grinder, it now goes into review for premium distribution. This is probably the hardest part to pass. I’ve actually had books that have passed premium distribution only to get kicked back with a needs modification message afterwards. Follow the instructions and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

ISBN manager

While you’re waiting for them to approve or disapprove your book for premium distribution, you’ll need an ISBN. In order to choose an ISBN, you’ll need to select the dashboard. The menus at the top include an ISBN manager. Choose the ISBN manager and select your title. You have a choice at this point to assign a Smashwords ISBN, or you can assign an ISBN that you own, provided that you have not assigned it to another book. Both choices are free.

Assign Channels

The other thing you can do is assign your channels for your book. These are your distribution channels available. There normally marked as selected. If you’re already distributing on some of those channels you want to deselect certain channels. Then you simply save your choices.

Some Final Thoughts on Smashwords

Whether you love or hate Smashwords, it’s definitely here to stay. Some of the heavy hitters include Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple iBooks, Baker and Taylor, Blio, Page Foundry, Scribd, OverDrive, Kobo, Smashwords Library Direct, and their own Smashwords store. With all that distribution, it’s hard to ignore Smashwords.

It’s only natural to keep using Smashwords as an aggregator, despite some of the difficulties with handling formats. While there may be other easier aggregators out there, none of them have the clout that Smashwords seems to have. I know I’ll be using it for a long time.


Maggie BonhamMaggie BonhamMaggie Bonham is an award-winning writer and editor of more than 30 books and more than a thousand articles. She has written articles on science, pets, sustainability, hunting, technology, outdoors and recreation, food, writing, publishing, careers, and other topics. She is also a publisher.

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