Are you an aspiring author or freelance writer dreaming of publishing that first novel, cookbook, or how-to guide, but afraid a traditional publisher will never give you a chance?
There’s a better, easier, and still profitable way to publish a book.
And it doesn’t involve sending off countless letters to traditional publishing houses.
It also doesn’t matter if you’ve been paid for your writing before.
The ebook revolution has created an open marketplace for authors to reach readers without massive third party publishers dictating content.
Thanks to the expanding popularity of smartphones, tablets, and e-readers like Nook and Amazon Kindle, books — and readers — have gone digital.
If you want to publish your book independently, you can still reach millions of potential readers with services like Smashwords.
The company was launched in 2008 by Mark Coker, an indie author who had the idea to streamline self-publishing ebooks after his own novel was rejected by multiple publishers.
Coker created Smashwords to allow independent authors to publish and sell their non-fiction books and novels for profit.
In this article we’ll take a look at the specifics of uploading your book to Smashwords, including navigating its “Meatgrinder” user interface, as well as how to get paid when your book sells and which ebook platforms will sell your book once you’re a Smashwords author.
How to Use Smashwords Meatgrinder
Once your book is finished, you’ll have to decide how you want to send it through the formatting process.
That word processor or Google file you used to compose your book won’t cut it.
If you want to format specifically with Smashwords instead of a third party distributor, you can create an account at Smashwords.com.
Once you’re set up, you’ll be introduced to the Smashwords style guide, a comprehensive document that you’ll need to read completely in order to upload your book with minimal problems.
The style guide is big — over 100 pages — and the company advises authors to read it completely to understand how to format their document for upload.
The key to an easy upload on Smashwords is having some familiarity with Microsoft Word, the software the company requires for documents to be uploaded.
It’s a bonus if you wrote your official document in Microsoft Word, but if you’re unfamiliar with Word, don’t worry — for an additional fee ranging from $40-$60, Smashwords operates “Mark’s List,” a group of recommended freelance editors, usually authors themselves, who can format your book.
Smashwords can also accept previously published EPUB files through their new Direct program where you can bypass most of the steps involved in formatting.
You’ll still need to check your existing EPUB file against the style guide, though.
Once you’re done with the uploading process, click publish, and the MeatGrinder will auto-format your book and cover art to sell across a variety of platforms.
You’ll receive an email from the “AutoVetter” process that will scan for any potential errors or formatting problems.
At this point, there’s no cost to you.
The company doesn’t charge a fee to publish.
Authors can determine their own list prices for retail and can even upload free books.
Placing Your Novel in the Premium Catalog
Now that your book is published on Smashwords, how can you get the most exposure possible?
That depends on the Premium Catalog certification.
Once you’re published on Smashwords, your book is eligible to receive an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), which the company will provide.
But how can you get that new ebook in as many storefronts as possible?
The Smashwords Premium Catalog is a selection of books that are vetted and selected by the company’s staffers.
Once approved, Premium titles are distributed to services like Apple and Kobo, and receive specific promotion on the Smashwords e-bookstore.
The vetting team is a California-based group of employees who will manually open your EPUB file and check to see if it fits retailer distribution requirements.
This is why it’s so important that Smashwords authors follow the style guide:
Failure to be approved for the Premium Catalog means that your book won’t be available on other distribution platforms, which can dramatically affect your book sales.
How You Get Paid When Your Book Sells
Once it’s time to sell your book, Smashwords will take a fee for each copy sold through its e-bookstore.
Authors will receive 85% of net sales from books sold on Smashwords.
Each individual platform outside of Smashwords will vary in how much of a cut they take, authors generally receive 60% of the net sales from books sold at third party retailers.
The downside for authors is that payment isn’t fast.
The company issues payments to authors on a quarterly basis.
In addition, the company requires a minimum number of sales before a payment will be issued.
Authors can request a PayPal transfer or a traditional check.
If you choose to be paid via check, you’ll need to clear at least $75 in royalties earned (and that’s after Smashwords takes their percentage) before the company will mail you a check.
Smashwords Distribution Channels
Smashwords has become a successful ebook publishing platform because it allows indie authors to sell their books on the Smashwords e-bookstore, as well as almost every single ebook storefront on the internet.
Once uploaded, your ebook will be formatted for sale on Apple iBooks, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, Baker & Taylor, WH Smith, Sony, and many other ebook retailers.
As a bonus, you don’t have to format your book for each storefront — the Meatgrinder interface creates the formatting to submit to each retailer.
You probably noticed one missing retailer from that list: Amazon.
The race to become the largest distributor of ebooks has come down to Smashwords and Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, or “KDP.”
Smashwords doesn’t have a relationship with Amazon and vice versa, meaning that your book will be available with almost every single ebook distributor, except for the world’s largest distributor.
Should You Work With Smashwords or Kindle Direct Publishing?
If you complete the Smashwords upload process, the Meatgrinder service will prep your book for distribution across almost every popular ebook retailer in the world, except for Amazon KDP.
But Amazon and Smashwords aren’t mutually exclusive.
If you upload to Smashwords, you’re covered for Apple, Barnes & Noble, and the rest, but you can still upload the same book to Amazon for sale on the Kindle app and devices.
Amazon Kindle Digital Publishing is formerly CreateSpace, a rival self-publishing platform that competed with Smashwords.
Much like Smashwords, Amazon KDP features native publishing software with no fee for uploading your book.
And Amazon KDP authors also retain total ownership of their work.
Unlike Smashwords, however, Amazon KDP’s royalties can vary depending on the region you’re selling to.
Amazon claims that authors can earn up to 70% in royalties.
One major difference is that KDP offers paperback printing for titles.
Smashwords has no physical printing options available and operates exclusives as a digital publisher.
And Amazon’s KDP Select offers authors additional revenue if they make their work available with Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited Plan.
If you enroll your title in KDP Select, you will have to give exclusive access rights to Amazon for a determined amount of time.
That means your book will only be available on the Unlimited format for customers to read.
In return, Amazon will pay authors a fee per page read by each customer, with rates varying.
Start Making Money as a Published Author
Whether you choose Smashwords, Amazon, or both any online distribution channel is faster than traditional methods for publishing your first novel or non-fiction book.
The trick is to follow the accompanying style guides with each service.
And if you’re on Smashwords it might be worthwhile to use a freelance formatting service to make sure your book will earn Premium certification and can appear with Apple, Barnes & Noble, and other distributors.
While there’s no way to guarantee your book is the next bestseller, using both Amazon and Smashwords to upload your book guarantees total market coverage for your ebooks.
Between the two services — both free to upload — you can make sure your book is available in every major ebook marketplace.