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How to Publish Your eBook on Smashwords

Updated on March 22, 2016
FatBoyThin profile image

Colin's novels, story collections and stage plays are available as eBooks and paperbacks.

Cover design for 'The Architect's Apprentice' by Colin Garrow
Cover design for 'The Architect's Apprentice' by Colin Garrow | Source

One of the challenges facing us writers is that sooner or later we’re going to want to get our work published. In the case of short stories and poems, there are well-documented avenues to publication – literary mags, online publishers and so on, but when it comes to novels, that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

For most of us, the idea of seeing our books on the shelves of our local bookstores (and elsewhere) is the Big Prize – to have our work published via the traditional creation of an actual, physical collection of paper and card, with a nice glossy image on the front and our (suitably pensive-looking) author pic and blurb on the back.

However, as old Bob likes to say, the times they are a-changing, and the traditional route to publishing (to use a watery metaphor) is a hard boat to get into. Either it constantly sits out there in the bay while we stand forlornly on the shore waving like fools, or it docks at the jetty, allows us to get on board then makes us get off at the next port.

In other words, even if we get published, the chances of keeping our precious creations on the bookshelves and in the minds of our intended readers, is a difficult task. Even books that sell well to begin with need to continue selling well in order to keep the book in print. As usual, with these sorts of things, it’s all about money.

Traditional vs eBook

For the last couple of years, I’ve been pursuing the aforementioned route to publishing success. I’ve written three novels and have two more on the go at the time of writing, so of course I want to see my work up there with the big boys. But to get there, I need a publisher, and to get a publisher I need an agent (I know this isn’t always true, but most publishers won’t look at you without representation). So that’s what I did – sent off my precious cargo in the hope of finding that ephemeral vessel.

Still waiting on the dock...

So if, like me, this route doesn’t work for you, what do you do? Luckily there’s another way. eBooks. Self-publishing. Going the way of the Indie Author. But of course, that opens up yet another kettle of those pesky fish:

How do I make one?

Where do I start?

Do I have the skills to do this?

How much will it cost?

So here are a few answers to those questions, and several others.

Traditionally published books take up a lot of space
Traditionally published books take up a lot of space | Source

I can’t say I’ve been an enthusiastic fan of eBook publishing – like a lot of stuff in our modern world, these things take time to gain popularity, to see how they work, if they work, and what the consequences of doing things this way might be. One of my objections for a long time has been the idea that anyone can publish an eBook.

While most people won’t get within a mile of a traditional publishing company unless what they’ve written is highly desirable, commercial and likely to attract a lot of readers, with eBooks you don’t have to be the next Salman Rushdie or Margaret Attwood. You don’t actually need to be very good at all. You can publish an eBook whether you're amazing or rubbish, whether your writing is groundbreakingly good or clunky, clumsy and crammed with clichés.

Obviously, most writers considering publishing their work, will no doubt believe their creation to be worthy of bestsellerdom, but if, like me, you’ve spent a bit of time perusing what’s on offer in the world of e-publishing, you’ll know that there’s a lot of crap out there. Though, just to be clear, I should say there’s also a lot of very talented folk who have written great books that deserves to be read (our own Billy Buc is a good example).

I came across Smashwords a while ago, though it was only recently that I looked at it from the point of view of signing up with them. The company was founded by Mark Coker (as a result of not being able to find a publisher for one of his own books) and is now the biggest distributor of indie eBooks in the world.

Unlike some other eBook publishers, Smashwords is free. That’s right – Free. It doesn’t cost a penny to upload your novel and if you get into the prized P Catalogue, your work will be distributed to the likes of Apple, Sony, Barnes and Noble and WH Smiths. Which is no small thing.

Like anything new, it’s a bit of a learning curve, though if you’re already a writer it shouldn’t be too much of a wrench. However, it’s not all plain sailing (there’s that watery metaphor again), as you’ll see from my own journey to getting published.

Original Word version of 'The Architect's Apprentice'
Original Word version of 'The Architect's Apprentice' | Source

Editing

It goes without saying (or at least it should), that before you think about uploading your precious cargo, you’ll have spent some time going through your finished novel to get it to a standard that is acceptable to the reading public. Acceptable in this context means that it must:

  • Be free of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors
  • Make sense (in terms of the plot)
  • Have a table of contents (chapter headings etc)

One of the things I often notice when I come to submit a piece of writing to an agent, magazine or whatever, is that usually I spot stuff I want to change. So instead of spending a little bit of time correcting spelling errors etc, I spend a lot of time re-writing the stuff I should have re-written before.

So when I’ve done that, then I get to the editing bit, and again, I find that in correcting spellings and such like, I always notice things that I haven’t noticed before. Even in the final, (final, final, final) edit, there are still changes to be made. Which is good, since none of us wants to be picked up for being a baad spellur.

So then I get to the Formatting.

Formatting Your Manuscript

One of the reasons Smashwords is free, is because they don’t do anything with your manuscript in terms of checks, editing, formatting etc. You have to do that yourself. Luckily, there’s plenty of guidance. Mark Coker has written several books (all free) and lots of videos to guide you through the process of formatting so there won’t be too many problems when you come to uploading the thing to their site.

I won’t attempt to give the full rundown of the process here, since it’s far easier to use the guide books/videos provided, but here’s a little taster: Smashwords formatting advice relates mainly to writers using Microsoft Word (although there’s info about Mac’s too). The recommendation that you copy the whole manuscript into a Notepad document is a nice idea, since it gets rid of a lot of the formatting problems you might encounter otherwise. The new version is then copied into a new document with Microsoft’s generic spell-check and auto-correct etc switched off. For most novels, there are four main areas to cover:

  1. Chapter titles/headings
  2. Paragraphs (including block and indented)
  3. Table of Contents
  4. Links

Notepad version of 'The Architect's Apprentice'
Notepad version of 'The Architect's Apprentice' | Source

Chapters

Chapter headings are one of the problems I encountered, as I wanted them to be slightly larger than the rest of the text (just like a normal book, in fact). Unfortunately, I couldn’t get this to work all the way through so I ended up using a simpler layout, and while the finished book looks fine, I’m sure it could look a bit more appealing.

Paragraphs are another difficulty, since there are various options open to you. Indenting, using block paragraphs, or using a combination of the two (first paragraph of each new chapter aligned left, while the rest of the chapter is indented), which looks more professional.

Finished version of 'The Architect's Apprentice' as it looks on Kindle
Finished version of 'The Architect's Apprentice' as it looks on Kindle | Source

Table of Contents

This is the magical list of linked headings you’ll see at the start of any eBook. Usually it’ll consist of a list of the chapters or main sections of the book - in an eBook these are all linked to the actual chapters, so readers can easily skip to any one. It’s a bit like including links to websites, so is a fairly straightforward task, but it’s also quite easy to get muddled up. I managed to get it right on my third go.

The other links are the ones that link externally to your blog, website, Smashwords page etc, and again this is pretty straightforward. There’s lots of good advice about what to include (as well as what not to include), and which areas of the book will serve you best for placing each section. For instance, it’s deemed not a good idea to have pages and pages of introductions, explanations, chapter headings, external links and several hundred words relating to how you came to write the book, right at the very front before the reader even gets to the actual novel itself.

My book page on Smashwords
My book page on Smashwords | Source

I won’t say I found this process difficult, but it took me a few goes to get an uploaded manuscript that was readable, had the chapter headings in the right places and looked good on most of the devices eBooks can be downloaded onto. It actually took me 12 goes, and 12 re-formatted manuscripts, before I got one that looked okay.

And then there’s the cover image.

Original cover design, without the wording
Original cover design, without the wording | Source

Cover Design

The advice for creating the cover of your book is that unless you know your way around Photoshop or one of the other good quality design programmes, DON’T DO IT!

Well, while I might explore the possibilities of getting a designer in at some point to update my book covers (which of course, you can do at any time), I like to think I have some talent in the design field. For the moment, therefore, I’m designing my own covers (1600 pixels x 2400 pixels - the recommended size).

If you don’t have a clue about this sort of thing, then it’s probably best to get someone else to do it for you, since (as the Smashwords guides will tell you), you won’t sell a lot of books without a cover.

And So...

March 2016 update:

At the moment I have 11 eBooks available at various outlets (including Smashwords, iBooks, Barnes & Noble). In addition, they're also available as eBooks and paperbacks via Amazon and Createspace, and I have to admit, it's Amazon that folks are going to to buy my stuff, rather than Smashwords. So there you go...

Would you consider publishing an eBook?

See results

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    • bizarrett81 profile image

      bizarrett81 23 months ago from Maine

      Thank you for this. I have a few short novels I would like to turn into e-books. Great information!

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 23 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Hi bizarrett81 - yes, I think Smashwords is a good option, especially as you don’t get lumbered with that old 'exclusivity' thing like Amazon. Worth giving it a go, anyway. Thanks for reading.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 23 months ago from Oklahoma

      Helpful tips. With all this help, maybe I'll work up the courage to self publish a book.

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 23 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Thank Larry. Publising an ebook doens't take courage, just a few spoonfuls of patience and common sense. Go for it!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 23 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Very helpful advice Colin. In fact I have just published my first eBook of poetry on Lulu.com. I can relate to most of your experiences. Lulu is also free and they can also provide a free ISBN number for you and their software automatically generates a table of contents for your book, but you have to have all the chapter headings written in "Heading 1" in Word and the font has to be Times New Roman or Arial. They then automatically convert it to ePub or PDF. I had to do 7 revisions of my book before I was reasonably happy. One problem I had on my last revision was that it converted to PDF instead of ePub and I couldn't change it back..so had to upload another version under a different name a ePub which is accepted by more distributors such a Barnes and Noble. till haven't figured out how to get a suitable cover photo the right size though so only using a generic cover for now with no pic but it looks ok. You are right it does take a lot of patience. Common sense..I could do with more of that. Thanks for sharing your eBook journey.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 23 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for sharing your experiences in this useful and interesting hub, Colin. I'm trying to learn more about publishing ebooks, so I appreciate your advice.

    • Julie K Henderson profile image

      Julie K Henderson 23 months ago

      This is a mightily informative hub. Thank you for sharing what you've learned about publishing ebooks. Voted up.

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 23 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Jodah - glad to know I'm not the only one making mistakes, but it sounds like you had a similar experience. I haven’t heard of Lulu, so I'll need to have a look at that. I'd advise you to try and do something about your cover image since that's reckoned to be one of the main things that will generate interest in your book.

      Alicia - thanks for your comments. I think it's good to read as much as you can before committing yourself, but I do think ebooks are the way forwards.

      Julie - thanks for reading. Glad you found it useful.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 23 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Good information my friend. I have not used Smashwords, but I'll check them out thanks to you.

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 23 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Thanks Bill, much appreciated.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 22 months ago from Oakley, CA

      An interesting look inside, and good advice. I've actually already signed up with Smashwords, with the intention of publishing my book of poems...However, just when I thought it was ready to upload, I remembered several other stories that need to be rendered into poems for this book. So, I'm at a standstill.

      As for the cover, I'm using one of my father's old black and white photos of San Francisco, which is suitable for the content..in a manner of speaking... ;) You have to read the poems to understand. ;)

      No more voting options, but I certainly would have voted this up, interesting and useful.

      However, I've bookmarked it and Pinned it...

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 22 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Thanks for reading Liz - sounds like you've got things in hand. Be careful with your book cover, though, since the quality is a pretty major point in marketing. I just had one of me ebooks declined by 'That's My eBook' (book promoters) because they reckoned my cover wasn't good enough. Anyway, good luck and thanks for your feedback - much appreciated.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 22 months ago from Oakley, CA

      Thanks--I'll have to keep my fingers crossed. I'm not at a level to have promoters involved yet, so hopefully, I won't run into that issue. This will be my first publication...not counting HP and a few letters to the editor over the years.. ;-)

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 22 months ago from sunny Florida

      Thanks for the info. One day I will take the plunge or whatever cliche may work here....perhaps.

      And no doubt this will be very helpful. I appreciate the way it is direct, concise, and to the point rather than trying to explain in excruciating detail info that I can reference at a later time.

      Angels are headed your way this morning ps

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 22 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Hi Patricia - glad you found it useful. Yes, I too find it slightly annoying when articles are packed with extraneous detail, and in any case, part of the fun of trying new things is finding out for yourself. Thanks for reading - much appreciated.

    • m abdullah javed profile image

      muhammad abdullah javed 22 months ago

      Very informative and useful Colin, this one is but an inspiration for every writer who wants his write ups to be published. Thanks for sharing.

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 22 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Thanks Muhammad - glad you found it interesting. I think these days writers have to be extremely proactive to get their books out there and companies like Smashwords give us the tools to do that. Thanks for your comments.

    • m abdullah javed profile image

      muhammad abdullah javed 22 months ago

      It's my pleasure Colin, take care.

    • sujaya venkatesh profile image

      sujaya venkatesh 22 months ago

      a nice guidance for a writer

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 22 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Thanks for reading, Sujaya, much appreciated.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 21 months ago from San Diego California

      One of the great things about Hub Pages is that I'm always learning about new ideas. I will have to take a closer look at this Smash Words site. Great hub!

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 21 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Hi Mel, thanks for reading. I need to update this one as I now have a few books on Amazon too (though I managed to avoid their hard-sell KDP Select...)

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 20 months ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      Just launching and already signed in to Smashwords. This will still come in handy. Thanks. Good luck on your own endeavors.

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 20 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Thanks for reading, Demas, good luck with your work.

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 19 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      FatBoyThin,

      Amazing hub. Easy to understand and a great read. I would have voted Up if you had a voting section like HP had not so long ago. Keep up the great work and I know that you will secure a lot of success.

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 19 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Thanks Kenneth - really appreciate you taking the time to look at my scribblings. Cheers.

    • charm_baker profile image

      Charm Baker 5 months ago from Los Angeles, California

      Awesome hub and very detailed. While I agree on so many of your points about Smashwords (where I "cut my teeth and continue to go for checkups"), like you quoted above, "things are a changing". If you notice in my two recent hubs about self-publishing and Amazon's KDP program (for digital publishing), they have now added the ability to also publish a paperback print book with them. It makes sense when you realize that a lot of new self-published authors - with ebooks long enough to be in print - having been using Amazon's Createspace affiliate for years.

      Don't get me wrong, I love Smashwords and I recommend it for your first time out. Another advantage of Smashwords is that they enable the author to select other distributors to send their book to (for a percentage of course). This way, your book is available for sell on Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and yes, even Amazon. Of course, submitting it to these sites yourself earns you a little more in royalties.

      One clarification about what Fatboy Thin implied in his comment about Amazon being "exclusive". Your book is only exclusive to them if you agree to join their KDP "Select" Program. If you do, you must not SELL your book anywhere else for 90 days (but you can give it away for free). My first experience with this did not result in any notable benefits, but not with my new novel. I finally understand about the earnings you get (in addition to regular royalties) from their KDP Monthly Global Fund. I was surprised when I started seeing earnings accumulate from this!

      Great job once again Colin. (sorry to take over the post but this stuff gets me excited :-)

    • Mark Tulin profile image

      Mark Tulin 3 months ago from Santa Barbara, California

      Thanks for the hub page. I'll keep Smashwords in mind. I've been writing a lot of short stories and poetry, but I think I'm close to making the plunge into novels.

    • FatBoyThin profile image
      Author

      Colin Garrow 3 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Thanks for reading, Mark, much appreciated. Charm - good points there - I need to update this info! Cheers

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