Friday 26 August 2011

Publishing an eBook with Smashwords

At Smashwords
Like so many aspiring authors, I felt that I had a really good idea for my debut story. After six years of trying to write part time, I finally took the plunge and began to work full time on the story. After so many years of struggling to get the story sorted out and find my voice, I was alarmed at how quickly everything was coalescing.
I really needed to find an agent. I had been putting it off because I had heard so many stories about how hard it was to find a good agent. The struggle to find a willing publisher would be even worse. I was starting to realize that finishing and editing the book wasn’t even half the battle. It would be years before my story ever saw a sale.
Then, as I surfed the various sites and blogs looking for advice I started to stumble onto authors like Joe Konrath and David Gaughran. David is an excellent author and recent convert to ePublishing. His blog and his latest eBook Let’s Get Digital is a highly inspirational resource for eAuthors. Joe is a well established author and one of the leading prophets of the eBook revolution. His blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing is something akin to a masters degree in self publishing your work. This is where I first heard of Smashwords.
Smashwords is a game changer. For an author new to the digital publishing world, getting your book into the major retail sites can seem just as daunting as the traditional publishing process. Smashwords takes that headache off your hands by converting your file for you and shipping it out the major sales sites. They have an automated ‘meatgrinder’ program that converts your file into all the major formats, and human staff that vet the file. Once your file is shown to be free of major flaws (they aren’t editing it for you, just a review of cover quality and general appearance) your book ships out to major retailers. There is no charge for this conversion, they get paid by a commission of 15% for each sale. Not bad when you realize that a traditional author would be lucky to get 15% percent of the sale, let alone 85%!
Congratulations! Just like that, you are a published author!
Don’t go rushing off to buy that bottle of Champaign just yet. You still have to put in some work to get ready for the conversion. You still need to format your book. Fortunately, Mark Coker’s Smashwords Style Guide provides a comprehensive review of all that needs to be done in order to get your masterpiece into premium distribution.
Nonetheless, I did hit a few small snags.
The first was the page breaks. I had put in page breaks to keep the chapter headings at the top of the screen. The style guide warns that the breaks might be stripped out during conversion and that you should put a couple of hard returns before and after so that some separation will be preserved. My problem was that too many of my chapters were ending so close to the end of a page that I had empty pages between chapters. I fixed this by taking out the two hard returns that sat in front of the page break.
The next issue that I came up against was my navigation points. Despite trying to be careful, I somehow managed to double up on one of my bookmarks and ended up with an extra chapter tag that led nowhere. I spent the better part of a day trying to track it down (the engineer in me likes complicated problems). I finally accepted that I could blow away the whole index and rebuild it in an hour. Finally – success – sort of.
I failed my first vetting because I had colored text. I didn’t figure the dark grey text in my chapter headings would be an issue, but Smashwords is very clear about text needing to be black. Colors can disappear on some screens. I changed them and re-submitted.
I failed my second vetting because I had colored text. I was kind of confused by this one – I had selected the entire document and changed the whole thing to black font so what could I have missed? Then I looked at the very end where the ‘About A.G. Claymore’ links were. I had to change the hyperlinks from blue to black. I fiddled around for a few frustrating hours before I realized that they weren’t going to change colors unless I changed the underlying hyperlink style in Word.
Finally, I had a convertible document. It went back through the meatgrinder and into review status on my dashboard. Within a couple of days I was pleased to see my status upgraded to ‘approved’! The book is now for sale at all major retailers.
All you have to do to start the process is – well – start the process. The two or three days that I spent formatting the first novel will likely only take a few hours for the sequel.
The only question you have to ask is this; do you want a traditional publishing deal where your books might get a couple of months shelf time for pennies a sale, or do you want them to sell as eBooks for as long as you want, for dollars a sale?
Smashwords can help you with that, when you’re ready.  


  1. Great post. Once you get into a routine for editing and formatting, it becomes a snap. A simplete change if you haven't followed the rules and you should get approved. Do check any photos to make certain they are OK if you use these.

    The best advice: Just do it.

    Brian Lawrenson
    28 eBooks for travel lovers

  2. Thanks, Brian!
    I write fiction so I don't deal with images except for cover art. I can see how important it would be for a travel writer like yourself.

    Love the slideshow on your site!

    Good point about gettting into the routine. I now set up my stories with the right formatting before a single word is typed. I think conversion of 'Firebringer' and 'The black ships' will be a snap compared to the first effort.

  3. Hi A.G. Your blog hit the nail on the top about the little surprises when using Microsoft Word 97-2003 word and the hidden codes. If you like a challenge it is fun to accomplished the error and have your book published. Learn something new everyday. I like your common sense blog, much success with your book.

  4. I just bought your e-book and at the end of it, you posted your blog site which led me here. I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your book. It was just awesome!

    Chrissy Peebles

  5. That's amazing. I can't wait for my book to finally be ready. Thanks for the links and the advice.

  6. Thanks Chrissy!
    Always good to get feedback from another author!
    I enjoyed your book 'Agartha's Castawy' - got me thinking about a story I've been thinking of writing for a few years now.


  8. Thanks A.G. A very useful lot of tips on Smashwords Publishing.
    Good luck with your book !


  9. Great post - I am prepping a few books for Smashwords myself and find you inspiring.

    In one, I make use of MS Word Smartart. I'm trying to figure out if I can use them or have to somehow reformat them. If you know, or can send me in the right direct, I'd appreciate it.

  10. Hi Stefan.
    I've never used Smartart in an eBook. I would just go ahead and try it if I were you. If it doesn't work, you'll need to convert them to images and re-insert.

    Of course, if it doesn't work, you still have a messy copy of your book for sale on the Smashwords site. Remember to hit the unpublish button if the Smartart doesn't survive the meatgrinder.

    I know that smashwords handles Jpegs, Gifs and PNG's just fine.

    Love the covers for Ripper and Dead Mann Running.

  11. Thanks AG - for the info and the compliments! I'll probably just convert to JPEGS in the first place to avoid an extra step.

  12. All your comments sound encouraging. I'm writing my life story (christian book). Thanks for the wonderful encouragement.

  13. I've enjoyed reading all the comments and am anxious to begin my book. Christian book re
    my life story. thanks