Smashwords: An upgrade to help indie authors sell better ebooks

On the last day of 2012, Smashwords made an exciting announcement: authors can now directly upload epubs to the site.

This might not sound like a big deal, but it kind of is. According to the Smashwords blog, as of December 31, 2012, Smashwords became “the world’s largest distributor of ebooks from self-published authors and small independent presses.” And now that authors can directly upload epubs to the site, Smashwords will not be limited to novels, short stories, and other books that are mostly narrative. Because authors now have the ability to upload their epub, they can sell their enhanced ebooks, children’s books, and other illustrated works through Smashwords to retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Apple, and more.

As an ebook developer, reading the announcement almost made me jump up and down. I’m already a fan of Smashwords, and I’ve written about their distribution before. I’ve actually been waiting to hear this news since May of 2012, when I interviewed CEO Mark Coker at BEA and he told me by the end of the year authors would be able to upload epubs to Smashwords.

The new service is called Smashwords Direct, and it’s currently in beta, which means it’s not perfect yet. Right now it’s only possible to upload epub files, so authors who want to distribute their ebooks to people who can only read pdfs or mobis (for Kindles) will have to also upload their properly formatted Word doc to Smashwords Meatgrinder–the system that automatically turns a Word doc into a valid epub. But I have high hopes. There are already plans to allow authors to upload their own mobi and pdf files sometime this year.

I’m personally not a fan of the Meatgrinder. Since I make ebooks for a living, I found the process of formatting a Word doc to Smashwords specs to be tedious, and for the final product to not look as good as the ebooks I make myself. But I do understand Mark Coker’s defense of it on the Smashwords blog. Not everyone knows how to make a valid epub (an ebook that passes EPUBCHECK, the validation system Apple requires in order to allow an ebook to be put up for sale in iBooks).

Anyhow, I’m really glad that starting this year, I have one less format to worry about (no more Word docs for Smashwords), and I’ll be more proud to show off my ebooks in the iBookstore. I also plan on publishing my first enhanced ebooks this year, and I’m excited to be able to distribute them to a wider audience via Smashwords.

If you’re also an indie author, I highly recommend taking advantage of Smashwords Direct.


13 Replies to “Smashwords: An upgrade to help indie authors sell better ebooks”

  1. Actually, from what I read, your epub will produce nothing but an epub. For the other formats, you still have to upload a .doc file. Smashwords doesn’t convert the epub to the other formats. “If you upload an EPUB instead of a Word .doc, you won’t get the multiple formats (PDF, MOBI and browser formats are most important), nor will you get the downloadable samples.” (from the SW blog.)

    1. Yes, that’s what I understood from the SW blog too. But, I also read that if you also upload a Word doc, you can have your original epub file and then the Word doc will convert to the pdf, mobi, and other versions. And sometime this year, it sounds like authors will be able to upload their own pdfs, mobis, and other versions as well. Hope that’s the case!

      1. True, but the whole reason everyone was waiting for this change was the hope that .doc files could be left behind forever. Instead, if you want a specially formatted epub, you now have twice the work: the epub plus the .doc file. And later on, if you want control over your PDFs and MOBIs, you will have to format those too. So SW is offering more control, but also more work. That pretty much kills one of the main reasons for using SW — convenience.

      2. I guess I see it a little differently because I’m already making a pdf, mobi, and epub version for every ebook. So for me, I see having the .doc file as one less format. But I understand for some people it could be the other way around. Don’t at least some authors either pay ebook devs to make all these formats for them or figure out a way to do it themselves though?

      3. I get the impression that most indie writers either aren’t tech-savvy or prefer not to spend their time formatting, if they can avoid it. That’s much of the reason for SW’s popularity — not just the distribution channels. And most can’t afford to pay someone to do the formatting for them. It’s becoming easier to convert text to several different formats now that more word processing programs allow it, and as apps like Sigil appear. But it’s still a question of how much time and effort you want to put into all that when you need to be writing. The same problems exist with editing, which writers are either having to learn to do for themselves or find the money to pay someone to do it for them. Between formatting, editing, and promotion, a lot of time and energy is consumed by non-writing tasks. Add to that, Word’s quirks that make turning out an acceptable file so difficult, and there was every reason to hope for something better from Smashwords.

      4. Something better? Giving up dependence on Word, for one thing. Improving relationships with distributors, which is one of the biggest complaints these days. It can take weeks to months before requested changes are made, depending on how efficient the distributor is. Writers have very little control over their books once Smashwords sends them out, and help isn’t always forthcoming. The problem is especially bad with B & N right now, since that site seems to be in a process of decline.

      5. Thanks for reminding of Pressbooks. I found it when they were brand new, but there wasn’t much going on, so I forgot about it. Bookmarked and will definitely check it out again.

        I gave up on B & N a long time ago, and just as glad, from what I’ve been hearing lately. Smashwords was gangbusters for me when I first signed up, but now it’s more like a big fat zero. But my books are small-niche and I don’t do much promotion, so I can’t entirely blame SW. Amazon has been pulling in sales pretty steadily, but even that’s fading. Really need to publish something new. I’ll also be trying Kobo Writing Life (again – first try messed up formatting), and a new sales site: Ganxy, which looks promising. If I can’t do much new publishing right now, at least I can try new outlets.

      6. Good luck! I’ve used Ganxy, and I like the way they make all the purchase links work. Kobo also has a really slick interface, and technically you can just upload your .doc file and it will convert to epub. But, they use the calibre system, which in my experience produces a lot of errors (won’t pass the Apple test), and often doesn’t look as good. I’m actually working on a startup now (, and in the nearish future am looking to add a feature that would make it easy for authors to create their own epubs. Will keep your comments in mind 🙂 (and if you have any other suggestions, would love to hear them).

      7. It’s nice to hear from someone who actually uses Ganxy. The site is well-designed, and the owner came on Kindleboards to get into the conversation, and seems anxious to answer any questions.

        I don’t have any problem creating epubs, but mostly stick to .doc because that works with most sites. Can’t remember which I did for Kobo, but will give it another try when I have the time.

        I bookmarked your site and will look forward to seeing it fully developed. I can see there’s a good bit to be done yet.

      8. Oops, I meant to say I like how Ganxy links look (of course they work!). Thanks for bookmarking my site–yes, we’re still in very early stages but hoping to have a working beta in the next couple months.

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