Publishing Your Ebook Is Changing on Smashwords

by | May 13, 2022

By Lee Foster

Editor's Note:

Since this article was originally published in November 2019, Draft2Digital has acquired Smashwords. For more information on that merger / acquisition, check out the article from SelfPublishing.com. The original press release is here.

This is a third and final perspective in my publishing strategy trilogy, a drama festival with three events, Amazon and Ingram being the earlier performances. There have been five-week breaks between these theatrics as I proceed in the Joel Friedlander modern publishing ecosystem.

If you want to distribute your ebook through Amazon directly and then also to “every ebook vendor beyond Amazon,” how should you do it? Smashwords is my recommended choice.

Non-exclusive is my chosen publishing survival mantra in book/ebook publishing. I work with Amazon directly, but am non-exclusive. I also think this is the healthiest approach for all citizens who control “knowledge products” in our society, meaning books/ebooks. We need as much diversity in the marketplace of ideas as we can arrange. Diversity in the marketplace is a socially desirable goal.

I have always wondered what percentage of ebooks sold in America are sold on Amazon. I have heard a lot of folks say 60% for several years. But recently a couple of knowledgeable people said the figure is higher. If you have credible info on this, please share it with us.

I wanted a way to distribute my ebook with Amazon and beyond Amazon. My targets would be Apple Books (formerly called iBooks), B&N ebooks, Kobo, and all the other vendors. How would I do this?

From Bookbaby to Smashwords

Each of us has a publishing history. We have had partners over the years. We and our partners have likely worked hard to achieve success. But maybe we have moved on to new partners.

I decided years ago, in my first ebooks, to proceed with BookBaby for two ebooks. They did and still do a good job. But revisions of my ebooks with BookBaby will require a substantial new cost, as I understand it. In Amazon Kindle and in Smashwords, I can simply write over the file at no cost. So I switched to Amazon direct and to Smashwords for “everyone else,” which is what I recommend now for ebook distribution.

Smashwords now distributes about 523,000 ebooks. They must be doing something right.

Companies are composed of people. The main people at Smashwords are Mark Coker and Jim Azevedo. I first met Mark about 2009, when he was getting started and we asked him to talk at our local independent-publishing org, called BAIPA.org. Later I met Jim when we both gave talks at Mike Larsen’s annual SF Writers Conference. Both men seem dedicated to author empowerment as well as their own success.

Like all participants in modern publishing, Smashwords has evolved. It has become a major educational ecosystem for the do-it-yourself ebook author. My own practices are a variation on do-it-yourself. I believe in do-it-yourself as much as I can, but I also favor get-an-expert-to-check-it. For my latest ebook, I had Tracy Atkins check things out after I took it as far as I could.

For one earlier ebook, when looking for some expert assistance, I turned to a feature of Smashwords, called Mark’s List. This is a vetted list of suppliers of ebook-formatting and cover design services. Through Mark’s List, I chose a guy in Vancouver to check out my ebook formatting of two years ago. He did a good job.

Uploading to Smashwords

So my plan was settled for ebooks: Smashwords would be my distribution point for the ebook to “everyone beyond Amazon.” This meant Apple Books, B&N, Kobo, and others.

The “interior” and “cover” files were a little tricky to get organized.

Again, as is to be expected, there are a lot of little nuances in file preparation.

For this new book, Northern California History Travel Adventures: 35 Suggested Trips, the file finally went through okay, partly because, once again, I engaged a file expert (Tracy Atkins, [email protected]) to massage my best do-it-yourself efforts.

I had used a Joel Friedlander 2-Way Word Template to set up the book in a brutal manner before asking Tracy to massage it. Tracy ultimately gave me an epub format version that went through well.

Before I engaged Tracy, my Word template format had challenges on Smashwords. The long and modern Word file got saved with a modern Word docx and was slightly under the 15 megs maximum size allowed for Smashwords. However, the Smashwords system seemed to need an earlier doc file format rather than docx.

When I tried to convert the docx to doc the file emerged as too large. Therefore, I had Tracy change the file to the alternative epub format, and it went through fine.

Ebook authors need to show a bit of resilience to be successful. In all the publishing systems, expect a few glitches rather than instant success, and puzzle forward.

Details of Financial Return to the Author in Kindle, Ingram, and Smashwords

Authors need to keep track of exactly the cash returned to them in sales from their participation in each of these publishing ecosystems.

With my $4.99 ebook, how much do I earn today in the various structures?

Amazon Kindle

In Amazon Kindle, the formula appears to be 70% of retail, but after a delivery fee, which depends on ebook size.

Your ebook on Amazon must be in the recommended $2.99-$9.99 range to get the 70%. The return appears to drop to 35% when you are out of compliance regarding the recommended ebook prices.

No one can explain Amazon better than Amazon itself, so review the nuanced details here.

Amazon is not shy about suggesting you go exclusive with them. I prefer non-exclusive, but the exclusive benefits are presented at here.

IngramSpark

In IngramSpark the formula for ebooks appears to be 40% or 45% return of retail price and there is no restriction on price parameters.

IngramSpark explains here

Smashwords

In Smashwords, the situation is both simple and more complicated.

When Smashwords sells one of my ebooks in Apple Books, as an example, it appears that I earn 60% of list. For Libraries, the return is 45% of list.

However, Smashwords also has its own internal selling ecosystem, so my book in that structure appears to net for me 56% to 85% of list. The details are granular. Mark Coker recently wrote me about this as follows:

“For sales through the Smashwords Store, the percentage is based on the total amount of the shopping cart. The author earns 85% net where net = the purchase price minus the PayPal fee. So, for some common price points it would be 56% for a 99 cent ebook, 74% for a $2.99 book, 76% for $3.99 and 80% for books or shopping cart totals over $7.99. The easiest way for you to get the exact percentage at different price points is to log into your account, click publish, then enter sample prices into the pricing calculator. It’ll display a dynamic pie chart that shows how much is earned at each price for each channel.”

There is one endearing humor item in the Smashwords’ presentation of their program if you look at their publishing page.

The humor item, if you missed it, is that the threshold of monthly payment to authors, if you receive your money from Smashwords on Paypal, is one cent. For an author with extremely modest sales, this is about as good as it gets.

Smashwords does not appear to offer phone support, so communicating via email or their forms on their website is best.

Smashwords, as well as IngramSpark, does not appear to penalize authors who want to price their ebooks above $9.99. Two of my travel journalism colleagues, experts in their niches, like this set-your-own-price approach. They have their niche markets and are able to command higher than $9.99 for their ebook products. On Amazon their return would drop to 35%. These talented and successful self-publishers, models to all of us who seek indie success, are Sandy Friend and Candy Harrington.

The situation on ebook pricing and financial return to authors does change. I may even be in error in some of my reporting comments above. There are nuances in all these pricing schemes to be aware of. Do not hesitate to correct my possible errors regarding any of these vendors.

Looking to the Future of Ebook Publishing

Attentive ebook authors will want to watch, with each passing year, the evolving payment and author-learning ecosystems available through Amazon Kindle, IngramSpark, Smashwords, and others.

All these major systems will evolve, with innovation and disruption as the norm.

In our device-driven world, it will also be interesting to watch consumer behavior and how consumer choices affect the mix of print books versus ebooks sold.

Some folks will say: I just want to curl up with a printed book in bed or, in my travel world, take that guidebook in my backpack in the field.

Others will say: Why would I ever buy a printed book again, since I can carry around a hundred ebooks on my device?

The wise author, in my view, will remain agnostic as these theological debates proceed and will give the consumer whatever form of communion and salvation he or she desires. The forms in which content can be presented to the consumer are slippery.

Beyond even print books and ebooks, I am a fan of a form I would call the “website book,” but that is another discussion for another time.

Photo: BigStockPhoto

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26 Comments

  1. Anita Hasch

    I started publishing with Smashwords, and find them very efficient and helpful. I also publish at Amazon, but have not had much luck there. They seem to make it very difficult to get reviews.
    I’ve written two novels with the third one ‘Kidnapped To Order,’ nearly ready for publishing.
    I’ve also written a few non-fiction books and children’s books.
    What I do like about Amazon is the ability to publish your book as a paper back. I noticed that my sales were going down and when I checked each books stats, I noticed that many were viewing but not buying. I’ve come to the conclusion that, especially with children’s ebooks, they want it available in audio as well. As this is very expensive, I’m trying to do it myself.

    Reply
  2. Keith Jones

    Lee,

    My company publishes history books, with photographs. I had a company format our first book for ebook and it was the standard reflowable without page numbers. For anyone using our books for academic purposes, this is a big problem when citing sources, so I have not released anything further. I am playing with the idea of just formatting them in a static form just like the interior. What are your thoughts on this, or do you know of a better solution where the text can be flowable/resizeable and still maintain a real page number?

    Reply
    • Lee Foster

      Keith,

      That is an understandable problem. How do you get citations or the index to link up to a point in the text? In a fixed-layout print book, of course, the pages are stable. But in an ebook, the pages will float. In fact, the consumer might increased the type size for easy reading, totally changing where the pages break.

      I am not expert on this, but I believe it can be solved. For example, I linked my Chapters page list of chapters to the individual chapters in my various ebooks. I would think the same could be done for an index or citations. I engaged Tracy Atkins ([email protected]) to assist me. Maybe he could do the same for you.

      Let me know how this goes.

      Thanks,
      Lee Foster

      Reply
  3. Frank Prem

    Thanks for this, Lee.

    I’m an Indie poet with 3 collections in print, but Amazon and Ingram only to date.

    I’m actively contemplating uploading via D2D and testing those waters. This has been helpful.

    Thank you also to those that have commented. Appreciated.

    Reply
    • Lee Foster

      Thanks, Frank. Yes, the comments from everyone on how best to do our digital product marketing are helpful. Like you, I learn a lot from everyone. We wish you all success, and keep us informed.

      Reply
  4. Jemima Pett

    Well, I’ve never really heard of Draft2Digital as a publishing partner, but I publish on Smashwords and Amazon, to cover most of the bases I can ever imagining my books reaching. I generally sell more on iTunes than I do on Amazon, which is nice.

    I have no problem with Smashwords payment system. You can drill down into the data from your dashboard if you need to. And the support from the support team (by email) has been spectacularly good.

    And since I switched to Mac for my computing needs, I can make my own ePubs, which is great. Of course, I don’t do complicated layouts for the most part, and I use inbuilt formatting tools like styles, and I take note of the smashwords style guide for my chapter illustrations, and maybe I’m both simple and old-fashioned. But Smashwords suits me just fine.

    And gives me promotional tools like coupons and site-wide promos.

    Reply
    • Lee Foster

      Dear Jemima,

      It’s good to hear of your positive experience with Smashwords. It seems as if you have your projects well organized. I have not used coupons yet, but perhaps will next year.

      Thanks,
      Lee Foster

      Reply
  5. Maggie Lynch

    Like others, I highly recommend D2D. At 24 books and still going they are still my #1 recommendation for aggregators. I appreciate all that Mark Coker has done for indie publishers. He is a stand up guy. However, the Smashwords platform has not progressed since it was first built. The fact that they still prefer .DOC instead of .DOCx is a big factor and the interface is clunky. Like others said, D2D is very easy . It’s easy to upload a new file at any time and have it immediately distributed to all, and they will do direct deposit with no additional fees. The idea of charging you for the PayPal fees is ridiculous. That should come out of the percentage they already take from you to distribute your files.

    Another highly recommended aggregator is PublishDrive. They are fairly new on the scene–I think maybe 5 years. Also, slick interface, easy to update and reasonable pricing.

    Also, a recommendation about pricing. It is true that Amazon has the 70% for $2.99 to $9.99. However, other distributors do not have an upper end (Kobo, Apple, Google Play, Nook). When I have something over $9.99 (e.g., a boxset of novels from a series) I will simply not distribute them at Amazon. Amazon isn’t good about selling boxsets anyway and I’m not willing to lower my price for them. So, I can price at $12.99 or $14.99 or whatever is needed and distribute everywhere else through D2D or PublishDrive. And sell direct from my website with the help of BookFunnel as the passthrough for both MOBI and EPUB files and customer support for my readers.

    I agree that Amazon is a major player, about 52% of my total sales. But I’m not going to let them be the decider on my pricing because they want to undercut everyone.

    Reply
    • Lee Foster

      Dear Maggie,

      Thanks for all the detail on how you are working. Your considerable experience, such as on those boxsets, is useful for all of us to hear.

      Thanks,
      Lee Foster

      Reply
  6. Joel Friedlander

    Widdershins, you’ve found me out!

    Reply
  7. Scath

    After seven years, I left Smashwords for Draft2Digital. Sales were the deciding factor. Sold more my first six months at D2D than I did the last 3 years at Smashwords. Sold triple what I did at Smashwords all seven years the first full year at D2D.

    Doesn’t do much good to stick with an aggregator with more retail connections if you rarely see any sales from those connections.

    Not to mention, D2D’s interface is far better, and there have been only two issues. I received a response and fix right away when those two issues arose. D2D does a fantastic job and adds useful things that work from the get-go.

    Reply
    • Lee Foster

      Dear Scath,

      Thanks for sharing your experience. Everyone’s experience is helpful to us all.

      It is good to hear that your sales increased.

      Do you feel your publishing partner caused that sales increase? Or was it some other factors?

      Thanks,
      Lee Foster

      Reply
      • Scath

        I think it was the change in publishing partner. While I did have a book gain some popularity on Amazon sites the year before I switched, there wasn’t a corresponding rise in sales on other retailers until I made the switch.

        Reply
        • Lee Foster

          Thanks, Scath. Getting the publishing partner you are confident with is certainly an important issue

          Reply
    • Craig Ballantyne

      I am a Non Fiction author and write books about Yoga & Meditation. I published my first book on amazon only. It was easy and user friendly. Some of my clients wanted my books on apple and I was getting tired of emailing pdfs which were not optimised for the device and did not provide a good reading experience. So, I decided to publish on Apple Books and used D2D for that purpose. They have a neat interface and I am happy with the service. To get initial reviews and visibility for my book, I used https://usabookreviewers.com and am happy with the sales and growth. I also do podcasts, Youtube videos and blog, so the ebook integrates very well with my brand.

      Reply
      • Lee Foster

        Dear Craig,

        The completeness of your approach to your marketing is good to hear.

        You got your ebook into the main markets.

        And then you supported the effort with reviews, podcasts, Youtube videos, and a blog.

        Congratulations on your success. You are a model for us as we all think of the diverse things an Author can do to support his or her brand.

        Thanks for your insights,
        Lee Foster

        Reply
  8. Widdershins

    A ‘website book’ eh … we wonders what you means, we does, my preciousss. :)

    Reply
    • Lee Foster

      Dear Widdershins,

      In time, all shall be revealed, to the faithful who follow this Joel Friedlander saga on Modern Publishing.

      “Website Books” will a future chapter to be anticipated. For now, all I can offer is the tease.

      Thanks,
      Lee Foster

      Reply
      • Widdershins

        Heh, one Joel to rule them all! :D

        Reply
        • Lee Foster

          Dear Widdershins,

          Thank you for your comment.

          I believe Joel in a benevolent ruler. I believe he rules by acclaim only. I am not aware of any coercive tactics.

          Widdershins, I may task you to determine if my dozen monthly column comments in the Joel system in the past year have a bearing on fact, fiction, fantasy, or some newly imagined conglomeration of those possibilities.

          Widdershins, having looked at your website, I believe you have the expertise to address this task assigned to you.

          Wiidershins, seeing your Canadian perspective, I give you also the option of concluding that author Lee Foster is simply foraging, like the polar bears at Churchill in Manitoba, searching for the magic incremental protein than nourishes the body, mind, and soul. You may have already have found this protein. If so, please inform us.

          I am hoping that Canadian Polar Bears and Authors are not both going to be extinct species. I would rather see them as alpha species. I have some concerns, as expressed at
          https://www.fostertravel.com/canadas-polar-bear-country-near-churchill-manitoba/

          Reply
  9. Harvey Stanbrough

    With over 50 novels and novellas and almost 200 short stories and the attendant collections, I use (and recommend) Draft2Digital for the stores to whom they distribute (all of the big ones) except Amazon. I keep that to myself. I prefer D2D because time is money and their user interface is so efficient.

    I use the much more clunky Smashwords only for all the markets they distribute to that D2D doesn’t. And I use them only for my larger works (novels, novellas and short story collections).

    Reply
    • Lee Foster

      Thanks, Harvey. Your practical experience is helpful to all of us. Some folks in my local self-pub group BAIPA.org also like to use Draft2Digital. I have not tried them myself.

      Reply
    • Tom Combs

      Another satisfied Draft2Digital author here (3 book suspense-thriller series ww.tom-combs.com)
      I also ended up using D2D to create the needed format/set-up for print versions.
      Easy interface, responsive and high quality services and my total cost to this point = $0.00

      Reply
      • Lee Foster

        Dear Tom,

        All good to know. Thanks for your comment.

        The collective experience of everyone is appreciated.

        Your reverse experience, setting up the print from the ebook, is interesting to hear about.

        Thanks,
        Lee Foster

        Reply
        • Tom Combs

          Lee –
          I was unclear. Talking tech I veer into the weeds readily :-)
          I set up print book and ebook from Word version using D2D.

          Reply
          • Lee Foster

            Dear Tom,

            We are likely in the weeds together. Errors are likely to be mine, not yours.

            If it is not tedious to ask you, any further thoughts on how you use Word for both your ebook and print book setup would be welcome by the tribe.

            Thanks,
            Lee Foster

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