Smashwords: An Indie Author Guide

Smashwords is a retailer and an ebook distributor, and a great choice for indie authors. Why? Because the platform lets you upload once and sell on multiple outlets, saving authors a lot of time, and it offers a number of marketing options.

If you want a step by step on how to upload and distribute ebooks via Smashwords, read my EPUBZone article, “Ebook Distribution for the Indie Author.” I also have a video showing the steps in my Udemy course, “How to Create Beautiful Ebooks.”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Coker, founder, back in 2012, and Smashwords has only gotten better since then.

How It Works

According to the Smashwords website, more than “100,000 authors, small independent publishers, and literary agents publish and distribute with Smashwords.”

When authors publish on Smashwords, they are 85% of net from books sold on Smashwords and 60% of list price from major ebook retailers. This may be enough to want to upload and distribute to the major retailers separately, since in many cases you can earn 70% instead, but that’s up to the author/publisher.

Retailers include iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Overdrive, Scribd, Oyster, Baker & Taylor, and more. And no, at this time Smashwords does not distribute to Kindle (though for a brief time they delivered ebooks to Kindle), but fortunately KDP Publishing is fairly easy to navigate. On the plus side, Smashwords does distribute to libraries. Smashwords also delivers ebooks via Dropbox and email.

You can either upload a specially formatted Word doc, and have your manuscript go through Smashword’s meatgrinder system, which churns out EPUB and other formats. Or you can upload an EPUB file directly to Smashwords (a newish, and great feature). All books are DRM-free.

Mark Coker is an incredibly accessible guy, and often updates the Smashwords blog, so that you know exactly what’s new, as well as cool data on Smashwords books (like the annual 2014 Smashwords survey, which revealed that readers prefer longer books, free books aren’t as great a marketing tool as they used to be–though having a free first book in a series still works, and $2.99-$3.99 is the sweet pricing spot for most bestsellers.) The blog also offers marketing tips, such as how to use box sets to build an audience.

Marketing on Smashwords

Smashwords offers a number of free marketing tools to help out indie authors. In addition to the usual sales page with author bios, indie authors can embed Youtube videos as book trailers, promote their books with coupon codes, and fill out self-hosted interviews so readers can learn more.


In 2013, Smashwords started letting indie authors set their books for preorders to Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo, which was a huge deal (before, only traditionally published authors could have their books pre-ordered, allowing them more marketing time and a chance to get on bestseller charts before the book was even published).

Smashwords has a whole page dedicated to explaining preorders, as well as a blog post, but basically there are a lot of advantages to preorders:

  • Potential placement in bestseller charts (preorders accumulate)
  • Available to multiple retailers at the same time (instead of waiting for each retailer to process your book, the day you publish it)
  • Market your preorder with other books, or just start your marketing plan earlier
  • Give readers samples of your preordered book, driving up hype
  • Also, now you’re allowed to set up a preorder with just the metadata (meaning you don’t need the actual book file) up to 12 months in advance, which can help with marketing

On the other hand, one thing to keep in mind is if you do preorders with Smashwords, you cannot publish KDP Select, according to Indies Unlimited. But, KDP also now offers preorders, so authors could just work with both platforms.

Daily Sales Reports

This is a fairly new feature, and a great opportunity for indie authors to see, each day, how well their marketing efforts have fared. This probably comes in most handy when you have a detailed marketing plan, such as around a book launch.

Series Manager

Smashwords has a series manager to help make books in a series more discoverable. I haven’t personally used it yet, but it sounds helpful.


All retailers give readers samples of the books, usually 10%, but Smashwords lets authors choose what percentage of the book readers can sample, which is nice.

Smashwords Guides

Lastly, to further prove how accessible Mark Coker is, he has written a number of free guides on how to market and be successful on Smashwords. Here are a couple:

Have you used Smashwords? If so, please share your experiences in the comments!


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