Friday, August 26, 2011

How to Publish and Distribute Ebooks with Smashwords

What in the world is Smashwords and why would anyone want to smash words anyway?  What did words ever do to you?  It's not like they're sticks and stones.

Smashwords is the name of the most awesome company in the world; just ask them.  In all seriousness, if you're an author or reader, Smashwords is one of the best things ever to happen.  They make success possible for writers who were once shut off from plying their craft by draconian publishing institutions.  Smashwords is a distributor of eBooks written by Indie Authors from around the world for readers around the world.

It's especially valuable for readers who are tired of the same old stories written by formulas that are considered popular by individuals who judge writing by its profitability rather than by its art.  Until now, publishing companies, the so-called "Gatekeepers", have been deciding what you get to read and what's no good for you.  They know best and take care of all the hard decision making for you.  It's offensive.

Smashwords is the best place to publish your books in a brave new world for writers.  They distribute your eBooks to B&N, Apple, Sony, Kobo and Diesel.  It doesn't cost anything to publish and they pay higher commissions than any traditional publisher ever has.  It's the best place to publish especially for international authors.  Even better, international readers can buy from Smashwords.  You can find out more in their FAQ.


Many people like the feel and smell of a paper book while sitting next to a warm fire with a glass of wine or other fine beverage in hand.  It's a time honored tradition that's been slowly dying in the face of action films and video games.

eBooks are the new fad of the future.  eReaders like the Nook, Kindle, Kobo and tablets like the iPad, Galaxy Tab, and others are becoming popular methods of reading books.  A person can store thousands of books in one reader smaller than most hardback books.

All of that is well and good, but why give up the comfort of a good book for a cold piece of computerized hardware?  One of the biggest reasons is price.  Most Indie Authors sale their books for $.99-$5.99.  It's much less expensive than established authors.  A lot of them also give books away for free just to get readers to check them out.  It makes sense for the authors to do this, especially when they're making 60-85% off the sale of each and every book.

Another reason is the incredible variety of new ideas and genres that can be found without the restrictions of having to make everything fit a formula for profit.

Indie Authors

The best thing to happen to books since the golden age of Pulp Fiction is Indie Authors.  These are people who like writing, but have been discouraged by hundreds of rejection letters.  Or they're writers who never even tried because the process of getting published was just too daunting.  With companies like Smashwords, they can self-publish their own works, thereby becoming an independant author - Indie Author for short.  Plus, Indie Author just sounds cool.

Many people out there have considered writing a book.  Some have been writing in journals or jotting down poetry, but never showing anyone for fear of being told they were fools for having feelings and dreams.  They would never stand a chance of getting published, so why bother?  Other people tried writing the next great novel, but it's sitting in a box up in their attic collecting dust. Some may have dreams or ideas rattling around in their head that have never even seen paper.

Perhaps it's time to let those dreams out into the world.

How did I become a writer?

Well?  How did I?  Tell me.  I'm dying to know . . . Oh . . . wait, you want me to tell you.  Right.  That would probably make more sense.

One day I decided to give writing a shot, thinking maybe all those dreams floating around in my head deserved to escape. The poetry I wrote at first was pretty cheesy and not all that good, but I had fun with it.  I continued to write the poetry off and on before finally getting serious about writing a book.  My first attempt at a novel was more of a learning experience than anything.  I started over after 40,000 words.  Then I set it aside for a while.  The first thing I finally succeeded at writing was a short story called "Blue Haired Alien Girlfriend".  It's a bit cheesy and my inexperience still shows in the writing.

It took a couple more years to finally get around to writing a book again.  I couldn't find my original work, so I started with a brand new story.  Writing it was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life.  I spent 4 months writing and another 5 thoroughly editing it.  On November 24th, 2010, I finally published it to Smashwords. :)

It's done moderately well in the 9 months since I've published it.  Through all the stores it's been distributed, I've sold about 230 copies so far.  I've also published 2 more novels and 4 more short stories through Smashwords.  I've got another novel, a novella and a few more short stories coming out in the next few months too.

So how does a person publish?

Publishing an eBook is now easy.  It does take a little work though.  Be willing to spend a couple of hours getting everything right.  It's worth it in the long run.

The first step is going to seem silly, but it's important:  Write something!  It's a bit silly to publish blank pages, plus they don't normally sell well.  You can make it a short story, a novel, a collection of poems, a recipe book, or just about anything really.

I highly recommend editing next, although a lot of Indie Authors seem to be skipping it.  Go over it with a fine tooth comb and make sure all the words are spelled correctly and that the grammar is in proper shape.  If you can, get your friends to go over it too.  If you have money, get a professional editor.  The better your work, the more likely you are to sell copies.

Once you have you're work written and edited, it's time to format your book and publish it.  To publish through Smashwords you'll need to put everything in .doc form, which is what Microsoft Word 2003 uses.  Throughout the different forums I've visited, I've seen some complain about this.  They work their manuscript into html or epub format before publishing to Smashwords and it's upsetting to have to redo everything in this way.  Here's the thing:  It's worth it.  Indie Publishing is a long term prospect.  If you publish your book now, you can leave it published for years and decades.  50 years from now, you can still have your eBook published. (Barring meteors hitting the planet, blood sucking alien invasion, or zombiepocalypse)

Your best bet is to take the time to go through the Smashwords Style Guide.  It's free.  Have your document open and spend the few hours making sure everything is right.  It will be easier with each successive submission.

Here are the things I really found important and that a lot of people have trouble with.

My biggest advice is to keep everything simple.  It's pretty easy for me writing fantasy which doesn't have a lot of pictures, tables or anything but words, words and more words.  If you want everything to go smoothly and get approved for premium distribution, follow these steps.

Some of the keys I have for making it work every time.  Every single one of my submissions has made premium distribution first time.

1. Turn off auto correct while you're doing this.  It messes everything up.
2. I added maps with a couple of paragraph returns between them.  No page breaks or anything else.
3. Each of my chapters is simply named Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc.
4. I use size 12 Times New Roman font.  Readers of eBooks get to choose their own font, so it's best to keep to the most basic font.  I use size 16 bold font for title and chapter names.
5. No tabs.  Don't ever use them.  Go to 'format' at the top, go to 'paragraph' and set it so that it's "first line" .5  That will give you indented paragraphs that work every time.
6. Get rid of page breaks.  A lot of authors seem determined that they have to be there.  Get rid of them for your Smashwords document.
7. Use the style guide.  It works. 
8. Self-publish your books through Smashwords.  It's one of the best things you can ever do.  Leave them published for years and years.  Write more books and publish them too.

How to take a work in progress, clean it with the nuclear method, and then finish writing it so that it will easily convert in the meatgrinder.

First of all, the nuclear method:  This is in the Smashwords Style Guide, but it takes a lot to muddle through it. I'm going to try to simplify.

1. The beginning is pretty simple.  Use ctrl-a to select everything and ctrl-c to copy it.  Then open a blank notepad document and paste it in there.  This strips everything out of the document, including centering and italics, but it's worth it.

2. Open a new Word document

3. Go to "tools" - "autocorrect options", then go to the tab: "autoformat as you type" and turn off everything but smart quotes.  Then go to the tab: "autoformat" and turn off everything but smart quotes, and styles at the bottom.  Say okay and the box will close.

4. Use ctrl-a to select everything on your notepad document and ctrl-c to copy it to the new Word document.  It will all be sitting on the left side of the page in one size.  That's fine, we're going to fix all of it.

5. Use ctrl-a to select everything again.  In the formatting toolbars at the top of your document is a box next to the font and font size boxes.  Click the arrow button to show all the options and choose "normal" (if you're anything like me, you'll hate anything normal, but it's for the best)

6. Go to "format" - "paragraph".  On "Indentation" choose "first line" in the "special" box and ".3" in the "By:" box.  In the "Spacing" section, you'll want "single" spacing when publishing, but I usually have it at 1.5 spacing or double spacing while writing.  This can be changed at any time.  This will make the first line of all your paragraphs indented without ever having to push the tab key. :)

7.  Now you can go back and center the title and chapter headings.  If you have the ruler feature on around the page, you can move the little indentation arrow to match up with the other arrow on lines that are centered, so they're truly centered. (I hope that makes sense, lol)  I'd keep the font size of all the writing to 12pt and the font size of the title to 18pt.  The chapters work nicely if they're bolded and set to 14pt.
8.  To replace all those italics, go to your original document, ctrl-f to pull up the find function, then instead of typing a word or anything else, type ctrl-i in the box and it will now search for any words in italics. find the corresponding word in the new document and put it in italics too.

9.  Don't change any of these settings except the line spacing while writing and you should be accepted everytime you submit to Smashwords.

10.  Here's the cool thing.  To publish to Amazon, all you have to do is add page breaks like they suggest on their formatting page, save as a filtered web document and convert using their converter and you have a perfect document.


Once you have your book published, the easy part is done.  The author has to get it noticed by people, which is no easy task.  There are thousands of other authors learning and trying the same things who also want to get noticed.  One of your best tools is the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide.  Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords is always adding new information to it.

I'm not the best marketer, but I'm not the worst either.  I have three keys:

1. Write more good books.  This is true for everyone and any successful Indie Author will to you to do exactly this.
2. My favorite is to give away the first book of a series free.  I have also published a number of short stories and give a couple away for free.  Those old pulp fiction writers got into magazines with short stories and those got them noticed by publishers who commissioned novels.  I have 11 short stories.  They bring new readers to my novels consistently.
3. Be yourself in your marketing.  I see too many writers just promoting their books over and over.  Take your time and let your personality show through in forums, facebook, twitter, your blog and anywhere else you promote.

Run a marathon

If you choose to self-publish, keep in mind that it's a marathon.  People want to sell a million copies and get rich fast.  I do too, but it's not going to happen for most.  Keep writing more books.  Market gradually and get more readers.  Give it a year.  Give it five years.  Give it time.  eBooks are perfect for long term profits.  The market is expanding at an amazing speed internationally.  There are more and more readers just as there are writers.

Most of all, enjoy the experience.  Writing can be fun.  Selling books can be fun too.  Give it a shot and see where it goes. :)

You can find my Smashword's profile here:  John H. Carroll


Brian Lawrenson said...

Great Post. Just start where you are and move towards where you want to be. The first step is the most important. Aim for multiple books. I did and my royalty checks keep on getting bigger.
Brian Lawrenson
28 eBooks for travel lovers

John H. Carroll said...


You're absolutely right. It's especially important with eBooks to get as many out there as possible. Each new one will bring more notice for all of the books. Plus, they never get taken off shelves. ;)

Patrice said...

Great post! I look forward to working with Smashwords.

John H. Carroll said...


It's definitely worth it and extremely fun in the long run. :)

Book Reviews said...

Hi John, great post with a sense of humor added in. Congrats on winning a collectible cup, now I will have to think twice about drinking hot chocolate out of it. Much success with your works. Join your blog too.

John H. Carroll said...

Hi Susan! Thank you. :) I'm not sure I want to drink anything out of it. I may just put it someplace safe where the kids won't use it too. ;)

All my best to you and may you find success as well. :)


Anonymous said...

What an exceptionally helpful post this is. I was (maybe I still am) a member of Smashwords, but could not find publishing help / tips in a simple-jargon I could grasp, but you've done this, and very well too. So, I am giving it another stab and will follow your advice to the letter.

Cheers. John Haines

John H. Carroll said...

Hi John,

It can get very complicated and confusing, but it's worth it in the long run.

A plate of cookies while going through the process can help. :D

Julie Michele Gettys said...

John, I just had a Sony reader win a copy of my book on Smashwords. I don't know how to give this book to her from Smashwords. I want to download it into her reader. Can you help me. I'll pay for the book too, if I can find out how to handle this transaction. It's hard to get the help I need.

John H. Carroll said...

Hi Julie,

I don't know how to download it directly to her reader. The best way to do it is to create a coupon for the book and give her the coupon code in order for her to download it directly from smashwords. Would that work for you?

Another option is to download the epub version from Smashwords yourself and then email it to her.

Let me know if either one of those will work. If not, we'll try to come up with a new solution. :)


Helen Putre said...

Wow, John! I'm going to be formatting my husband's novel for publication on Smashwords, and your explanation of Mark's Nuclear Method is going to be my bible. Thanks for such a succinct presentation.


John H. Carroll said...

Hi Helen!

I really hope it helps. I know it can get confusing sometimes, but it's worth it in the long run. I've been doing especially well at the Apple store through them recently.

Louise said...

Woah! Fabtastic article, so nicely written. And John you've just made me realise I'm an "indie author". That sounds sooooooooo cool. I never thought of me like that before. God, it's so great to be cool at last! You've made my day.

Anonymous said...

Hi Louise,

*chuckling* You are totally the coolest! And congrats on being an Indie.