I’ve made a scary Indie-pub decision: I’m leaving Smashwords.
Time for some Real Talk
This is gonna be slightly technical, but as I know other self-published authors are reading this, I want them to know the score. Also, so you know, I’m going to let you in on some real-time numbers so you know what this looks like.
If you’ve been following me a while, you may recall when I made the choice to use Smashwords. At the time, it seemed wisest; most authors were telling me that wide distribution was the key to sales. So what if Smashwords took a cut of my already eaten-into book sales? (No bookstore gives 100% of the sale to the author, after all.) Surely it was worth it, saving me the time and effort of getting into those stores myself.
Well, the experiment has lasted for a little more than a year (since November 2014), and after all kinds of publicity, including a very successful Bookbub promotion (which made me a BEST-SELLER YAY), I can tell you this: for me, Smashwords is not worth it.
(I emphasize “for me” because for some folks, it works great. For me, however, it didn’t.)
Let me break down precisely why.
Problems with Smaswords
This is 2016. Shocking, I know, but here’s the thing: every other self-publishing platform is SUPER-easy to upload your book into, especially if you’ve already formatted it via industry-standard templates such as the ones from Book Design Templates. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo books accept them without a problem; Draft2Digital (Smashwords’ competitor) also does, and, as a bonus, will help you format your book if you’re having trouble.
Smashwords should work that way, but guess what? It doesn’t.
For starters, they use a weird proprietary thing that nobody else uses. And I know nobody else uses it because I have manually uploaded to iTunes, B&N, Kobo, and Google Play, and NONE of them required a 107-page guide on how to style your book so Smashwords will accept it.
That’s not a typo. 107 pages.
And if that’s still confusing (and it might be), worry not! There are plenty of YouTube videos devoted to explaining their convoluted requirements, including things like a 25-minute video explaining how to add a table of contents to a Word document, because you can’t do it in the normal way for Smashwords or your book will be rejected.
In fact, your book can be rejected after the fact.
All three of my books were live at Smashwords. FOR MONTHS. You need to understand this, or nothing else I say will make sense (to misquote Dickens).
When I did my BookBub promotion in April, 2015, I changed one sentence in the description of Strings.
Repeat: one sentence in the description.
And suddenly, Smashwords automatically took my book out of circulation and removed it from all stores. Why? Because, the auto-generated email claimed, my book FILE had problems that the Smashwords Style Guide forbade.
I hadn’t changed the book file. There had been no problem previously. This was a system glitch, or so I thought.
So I tried to re-upload.
I took Strings apart, started fresh from the Word document, and formatted it (again) according to the long and boring Smashwords Style Guide.
I downloaded my previous version of Strings from Smashwords (one that had worked BEFORE I changed the description) and tried reuploading that.
Freaking out now, I emailed them.
Now, I want to make it VERY clear that the person I spoke to at Smashwords was lovely (though most of the time, my customer service rep was unpleasant) She did everything she could to help me, including trying to work on the file herself, but not even this employee could figure out why the system was doing this.
Days passed. I missed out on a ton of sales because we couldn’t get it figured out. And the really crazy thing? The book was suddenly accepted after all, even though I hadn’t done anything differently. Why? Nobody knows! The employee said, “It’s rare, but we are human and can miss an error.”
That was the only explanation I ever got.
By the way, the other two books were randomly unapproved at various times as well, but as this particular one happened during a paid promotion, it hurt me.
More Problems with Smashwords
The formatting isn’t the only thing. There’s also the schedule of payment.
They only send you money quarterly.
This is kind of awkward. Once every three months, you get paid. I don’t know any other self-publishing system that does this, and it’s highly inconvenient. If I were trying to make a living off this, I’d be completely screwed. Once every three months? Really?
Oh, and I’ve encountered other problems, as well:
- Randomly screwing up the price for some stores, so that the same book will be $2.99 in one store and .99 cents in another (March 2014)
- That whole debacle with Strings (April 2014)
- Coupon problems – I set a book to be “free forever,” only to have the coupon magically expire (December 2014, January 2015, April 2015, October 2015)
- Misrepresentation of whether or not they will send your book to Amazon. They say they will, but in the fine print you discover that they will only put your book on Amazon for you if you’ve sold $2000.00 worth of books through Smashwords. What? (November, 2014)
- (Also, for the record? My name is not “Ruth.” Big no-no in customer service to refer to a client by a name they did NOT give you.)
- Their search system refusing to accept the name of my series and search tags so that if you searched on Smashwords.com, you would find neither me nor my books (November, 2014)
I’m sorry to say that most of the time, the staff hasn’t been very helpful when I reached out about these problems. And then there comes the problem of sales.
Sales: Smashwords vs. Amazon
Remember, I haven’t been able to promote much or do anything in the past half year or so. My husband has been extremely ill, and I’ve dropped out of graduate school to take care of him, so what’s been taking place on these platforms is pretty much just what they’re capable of doing on their own.
In the past five months, here are my sales in ebooks:
- Kindle: 312
- Barnes & Noble: 53
- Kobo: 24
- iBooks: 4
- Smashwords: 2
- Google Play: 2
Most of the sales at B&N and Kobo were the trickle-down effect of that awesome Bookbub sale. (Seriously, those guys are very worth it.) A more accurate look at Smashwords is this: Going back to the beginning of October, I’ve sold nine books at B&N, and none at any other store besides Amazon.
Nine. Which equals a grand total of $27.92, and that’s with The Sundered at $2.99 in most stores.
Amazon, however, has continued steadily, with 120 sales since October. And that’s without my ability to really promote or write more, with my focus almost entirely on my ill husband. The books are literally moving all by themselves because I can’t do a thing to help them right now. Not only that, but I’d been selling all three books at .99 (I only just raised The Sundered back up to its regular price), so at .99 cents a pop minus what Amazon takes and various taxes, I’ve earned about $107 from Amazon, going back to mid-October.
(Yep, we authors sure do rake in the cash, don’t we?)
Is this making sense yet? I hope so, because it’s led to a LOT of thinking on my part.
Bye, Bye, Smashwords
So here’s my conclusion so far: is Smashwords worth all the pain and effort of distribution to stores I don’t sell books in? Uh, no.
Is it worth sticking around in B&N and Kobo? It might be; however, I need to give both stores time to register that the Smashwords listing is gone. Given this system’s track record, I honestly expect that to take a while.
So for now, for just right now, I’m going with KDP Select.
Is KDP Select Worth It?
That’s the 64-million dollar question, and I don’t know the answer yet. However, I’m going to find out.
I’ve closed down Smashwords and shut up shop at Google Play Books. Right now, the only place I’m selling is Amazon, and I’ve gone ahead and jumped into KDP Select.
That will give me 90 days to see if it’s worth it. If, in 90 days’ time, I make enough to offset that grand and glorious $27.92 I might have earned frm Smashwords, I’ll already consider it a win.
I may still go back into Barnes and Noble and Kobo; both of those are REALLY easy to get into. I might even bother with iTunes (though I’d use Draf2Digital this time around). For now, however, I’m gonna give Amazon a chance and see if we’re a good fit for one another.
Fingers crossed, folks! I’ll let you know how it went on the other side.