Publishing via Smashwords – A How-To…

Last year I posted a short series on how to go about publishing something via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform. (You can access these posts, and others you may find useful in my Setting Up page.)

This is a somewhat overdue post that details the process you can expect to complete when publishing something using Smashwords, which is a popular publishing platform that offers exposure to a number of eBook platforms other than Kindle, such as Apple’s iBookstore.

This post assumes you have already set up an account with Smashwords and have two files handy: a correctly-formatted manuscript file and a JPEG or PNG image for your cover. (Seek out and download the Smashwords style guide on their website for guidance on how to format your manuscript. It’s damn near invaluable and the best practices preached within will serve you pretty well for other eBook publishing platforms.) (The cover image needs to be pretty high-res; the suggested minimum size being 1400 pixels wide by 2240 tall.)The Floors - cover

So let’s give this a whirl. I have a .DOC file for my novel, The Floors, and a 1400 x 2240 PNG cover image, a thumbnail of which you can see on the right. Given these I should now be able to get some publishing done.

(NOTE: The following was composed 5th September 2013. If you are reading this while scraping a living on the radiation-blasted wastelands of 23rd Century Washington DC then the process may have moved on a little. But, hey, at least you’ve still got your health, right?)

Once logged into Smashwords you will see in the menu bar an option to ‘Publish’. Clicking on this will initiate the publishing process, comprising of eight fairly straightforward steps that run down the page.

Step 1: Title and Synopsis
There are a number of things to input here.
i) The first is the title of your book – fair enough.
ii) A newish feature of Smashwords allows you to publish a book and make it available as a pre-order. As The Floors was advertised with a release date of Friday 13th September 2013, that was the date I entered. (You can also publish the book straight away if needs be.) When creating a book for pre-order you are encouraged to specify a publishing date 4-6 weeks in advance. This is to allow the necessary time for your book to be approved by the various platforms fed by Smashwords. There is an added benefit to creating a lengthy pre-order period in that your book is persistently retained towards the top of the relevant categories on Smashwords’ site, though I can see this exploit being abused left, right and centre in the not-too-distant future.
iii) Next you need to enter a short synopsis of the book. This is the description browsers of Smashwords will see, so it needs to be short and punchy. No line breaks are allowed and you have only 400 characters to grab the reader’s attention.
iv) You then have an optional text box where you can enter a longer description of your book for those interested to read more.
v) Finally you can select the language of your book. Even though the book is written with a distinct British twang I’ve kept the language to the default: “English (dialect unspecified)”

Step 2: Pricing
Here you get to demand people’s hard-earned cash for the privilege of devouring your words… should you wish. You see, unlike Amazon’s KDP platform, Smashwords allows you to give your story away for free. (This is a popular strategy to help sell a series of books, where the author lets people read the first book for free.) If you decide to charge for the book, however, then it must fetch a minimum price of $0.99.
As mentioned in previous blog posts I decided on a $2.99 cover price for the eBook. (Note you cannot dictate prices in other currencies like you can on Amazon KDP and CreateSpace.)
Finally, you can also dictate the percentage of your book to offer as a sample. The default is 20%, but I scaled this back to 15%, which, if my calculations are correct, leaves the story hanging at a very teasing point!

Step 3: Categorization
Here you can select a primary category and an optional category for your book. Browsers of Smashwords can navigate the sidebar to get to the kind of books they like. This section allows you to specify the location(s) in which your book can be found. Given that The Floors is a sci-fi horror novel, I selected:
Fiction => Horror => General, and
Fiction => Science Fiction => General
You are also asked to declare any adult content within your book. While The Floors is peppered with industrial language and violent scenes, I’m reluctant to declare its adult content as, to me, that’s lumping it in with the frankly staggering amount of sweaty, questionable porn that other Smashwords authors – er – ejaculate on a minute-by-minute basis. That said, I don’t want to find my bollocks in a vice for breaking the rules, so I’ll tick the box and keep my fingers crossed readers can still find me, drowning in a swamp of stepdaddy grot and college girl cream pie action.

Step 4: Tags
Here you can enter a bunch of keywords that all relate to your book. They help browsers search for books that interest them. I’ve kept mine fairly simple, being:
Fiction, Novel, Horror, Sci-fi, Science fiction, The Floors, Thirteen, Thirteenth floor

Step 5: Ebook formats
Here you can select the file formats you would like to offer readers of your book. Your best bet here is to upload a Word document (.doc), as it pretty much opens up every eBook format available. If your book is heavy on the graphics, however, then you may want to explore the options here a little more. A graphic novel in TXT format may not go down too well unless you are some master ASCII artist!

Step 6: Cover image
Here you select the image to upload for your book. As mentioned earlier, a JPG or PNG file of 1400×2240, or larger, is recommended.

Step 7: Select file of book to publish
Here you select your manuscript file. Don’t upload a .docx file (i.e. Word 2007 onwards), as the Smashwords meatgrinder will spew it out. Chuck in a well-formatted .doc file (i.e. Word 97-2003) and you should be okay. Again, read and adhere to the Smashwords’ Style Guide before uploading a file. There are likely some things in there that will improve your overall word processor skills.
You should also make sure your document contains the correct information on the copyright page. See Smashwords’ FAQ page for their current suggested wording:

Step 8: Publish
Easy peasy. This is basically you hitting the “Publish” button. By doing so you will agree to Smashwords’ terms of service, will allow distribution to partner sites (e.g. Apple’s iBookstore) for the price you have set, and to allow users to sample your work as dictated in the settings you configured earlier.

Once you hit ‘Publish’ you’ll be met with a page displaying the current progress made converting your book into the assorted formats you chose. When this is done you will be informed of any errors in your document. These will all need to be corrected to ensure the widest distribution possible, so it’s worth your while exploring each error thrown your way. Note that you can upload newer, corrected versions of your book via your Smashwords Dashboard. You can also download a free copy of your book in assorted formats to check how they look. Very handy indeed!

Your magnum opus will appear on your dashboard with a Premium Status of “Under Review”, even if it contains errors. I can’t fathom why Smashwords would do this as uploading a corrected document serves only to start the review process afresh, but there you go. Once your book has been cleared, and you have specified an ISBN for it, then it will be deemed fit for Smashwords’ “Premium Catalog”‘ and uploaded to assorted eBook platforms. (After my recent review of ISBNs I opted for a free ISBN from Smashwords.)

So there you have it, folks: a whistlestop tour of Smashwords publishing. (You can see the finished article here.) Now all you need to do is the hard bit: writing something upon which you’d feel proud to slap your name, he says pseudonymously. 😉

Laters, taters!