About Smashwords

Welcome to Smashwords! Smashwords is the world's largest distributor of indie ebooks.  We make it fast, free and easy for any author or publisher, anywhere in the world, to publish and distribute ebooks to the major retailers. 

  • FOR AUTHORS, PUBLISHERS AND LITERARY AGENTS, Smashwords offers the fastest and easiest option for distributing an ebook to the world's largest ebook retailers.  We provide free tools for marketing, distribution, metadata management and sales reporting.  At Smashwords, our authors and publishers have complete control over the sampling, pricing and marketing of their written works.  Smashwords is ideal for publishing novels, short fiction, poetry, personal memoirs, monographs, non-fiction, research reports, essays, or other written forms that haven’t even been invented yet.

  • FOR RETAILERS, Smashwords offers a catalog of over 250,000 vetted, well-formatted ebooks from over 70,000 authors and publishers.  We work with our retail partners to help them efficiently ingest and sell our titles.

  • FOR READERS, Smashwords provides an opportunity to discover new voices in all categories and genres of the written word. Once you register, the site offers useful tools for search, discovery and personal library-building.  Most of our books are affordably priced, and many are free.

 

 

Mark Coker of SmashwordsQ&A With Smashwords Founder, Mark Coker

(Updated November 2013)

What is Smashwords?
Smashwords is an ebook distributor.  We make it fast, free and easy for authors and publishers to distribute ebooks to the world's largest ebook retailers.  Authors and publishers retain full control over how their works are published, sampled, priced and sold. If an author wants to give it away for free, they have that freedom. 

When was Smashwords Founded?
2008. I first started working on our business plan in 2005, we incorporated in 2007, and we officially launched the business in May 2008.  In our first year, we published 140 books from 90 authors.  Our catalog reached 6,000 books in 2009, 28,800 in 2010, 92,000 in 2011, 191,000 in 2012 and as of this writing (November 2013) stands at over 250,000 titles.  Thanks to the enthusiastic support of our authors and publishers, we've grown to become the world's leading ebook publishing platform for indie authors and independent presses.

Why did you create Smashwords?
Smashwords was inspired by my own unsuccessful multi-year attempt to get my novel published. In 2002, my wife, Lesleyann, and I completed a novel called Boob Tube, a roman a clef set within the daytime television soap opera industry (Lesleyann is a former reporter for Soap Opera Weekly Magazine). We were fortunate to have multiple top tier literary agents compete for our representation, and in the end we selected one of the most respected firms in New York City. Our agent contacted all the top publishers of commercial womens fiction, and each rejected us. We took their feedback to heart (the book was too long, too complex, characters needed better development) and completed a major revision. We then shared the manuscript with multiple test readers. Soap fans and those who enjoy celebrity gossip loved it, and even non-soap fans enjoyed it. Confident we had a winner on our hands, our agent again pitched the book to publishers. All of them rejected it again. Some publishers told our agent they didn’t believe soap opera fans read books! I found it frustrating that the whims of a publisher could stand between our book and those who would want to read it. I ultimately came to the conclusion that the publishing industry is ill-equiped to serve all authors.  They're unable to take a risk on every author.  They acquire books based on perceived commercial potential, but ultimately they don't know which books will sell well.  I created Smashwords so I could take a risk on every author, and so we could let readers decide which books are worth reading.  We've helped launch many best-sellers!

How is Smashwords performing as a business?
The business has been profitable since September, 2010.  We think profitability is important because it means we'll be here tomorrow to serve our authors, publishers and retailers. Unlike publishing services that earn their money by selling services and books to authors, Smashwords earns all its income selling your ebooks to readers.  In other words, we only earn income if our authors sell books.  We think this aligns our business practices with the best interests of the authors, publishers and retailers we serve.  In June, 2012, Forbes magazine did a feature profile on Smashwords.  It was the first time we shared revenue numbers.

Who publishes on Smashwords?
Over 70,000 serious writers and small independent publishers publish and distribute with Smashwords. Many Smashwords authors have been previously published in print through mainstream publishers, or have had their works published in well-respected literary journals. Starting March, 2009, Smashwords introduced new publishing options for publishers who want to publish and centrally manage two or more authors.

What does Smashwords offer readers?
Smashwords is a virtual playground for those who love the written word. Readers can sample most works for free (and in many cases, read up to half of the book before they commit to a purchase decision); read in multiple DRM-free formats; create digital libraries of purchased and sampled works; publish reviews (including YouTube video book reviews); and “favorite” their favorite authors, publishers and works.

What is an ebook, and how do I read these books?
Ebooks are digital books. They're similar to print books, but you read them on screens. The ebooks on Smashwords can be read online using our online readers, or they can be downloaded to other reading devices such as the iPhone, iPod Touch, Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader or Barnes & Noble Nook, or to other ereading devices. Smashwords offers generous sampling options so readers can try before they buy.

Why would authors and publishers give part of their book away as a free sample?
When an author uploads their book to Smashwords, they can determine the sample size of their book.  Our sampling controls how many words, from page one, the reader is allowed to sample for free.  Free sampling allows the reader to test drive your writing before they make a decision to purchase.

How does Smashwords compensate authors and publishers?
A primary mission at Smashwords is to help make publishing more rewarding for the world's indie authors and publishers, and more affordable to the world's readers.  Authors and publishers earn 85% or more of the net proceeds from the sale of their works. Net proceeds to author = (sales price minus PayPal payment processing fees)*.85 for sales at Smashwords.com, our retail operation. Authors receive 70.5% for affiliate sales. Smashwords distributes books to most of the major retailers, including Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo and the Diesel eBook Store.  Sales originated by retailers earn authors/publishers 60% of the list price.  To put these high royalty rates in perspective, it means if an author has a book they might otherwise publish via a traditional commercial publisher as a $8.00 mass market paperback, which would earn a 40 cent royalty, they could publish the same book at Smashwords as an ebook and earn up to $6.45, or 16 times more. Or, they could price their ebook on Smashwords for $3.99 and make nearly 8 times the per unit amount compared to selling a traditionally published print book. To learn more about how we compensate authors and publishers, see our Royalty FAQ or read the Smashwords Terms of Service.

What marketing tools does Smashwords offer authors and publishers?
Smashwords offers multiple free marketing tools to help authors and publishers connect with readers. We offer distribution to major online ebook retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Sony, Apple iPad iBookstore, Kobo and the Diesel eBook Store, and to all major smart phone platforms via app providers such as Aldiko, Page Foundry, Kobo and Word-Player. We also offer free author pages with bios, headshots and lists of works; the industry’s broadest range of sampling options; embedded YouTube videos for video book trailers and virtual author events; reviews from readers; ebook downloads in multiple ebook formats; a coupon code generator for custom promotions; Smashwords Interviews, our exciting self-interview tool; preorder distribution to Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo; Series Manager which makes series books more discoverable; and more tools in the works.  For a great summary of what Smashwords does to market your book, along with 40 marketing ideas you can implement at no cost, download our free Smashwords Book Marketing Guide.

Will I sell a lot of books on Smashwords?
Probably not. How's that for an honest answer? Some Smashwords authors don't sell a single book. Some authors sell thousands of dollars worth of books each week. Although ebooks are the fastest growing segment of the book industry, ebooks still only represent about 30% of the overall book market in the US, and less in other countries. Authors should publish their books on Smashwords not because they'll make a lot of sales today, but as a long term investment in their writing career. eBook authors face the same marketing challenges all authors have always faced. By publishing digitally on Smashwords, however, authors and publishers can expand their global readership by leveraging the power of viral marketing to reach more potential readers with less effort.

Do you have archived versions of any of your workshops?
Yes!  You'll find many of my Powerpoints at Slideshare at http://www.slideshare.net/Smashwords/presentations.   I've also uploaded several full workshops to Youtube.

Introduction to Ebook Publishing (an introductory primer)

Ebook Publishing Best Practices (learn the secrets of the bestsellers)

Smashwords Survey Results (learn the best price and length for an ebook)

10 Trends Driving the Future of Authorship (indie authors are the future!)

How to Reach More Readers at Apple iBooks (the #2 global seller of ebooks)

How to Add Navigation to a Smashwords Ebook (it's easy, and will please readers)

Will Smashwords market my book for me?
Although hundreds of thousands of readers march through our virtual doors each month, the bulk of your sales will come as a direct result of your own marketing and promotion efforts. We provide you free tools to help you do this, but it'll be your hard work that makes sales happen. For authors who want to maximize their sales opportunities on Smashwords, we created The Smashwords Book Marketing Guide. The Guide starts with an overview of how Smashwords helps you sell your book, and then provides a series of tips for how authors can take their book marketing to the next level.  Also be sure to read our free ebook, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, where you'll learn the best practices of the most commercially successful ebook authors.  Over at the Smashwords Blog I share additional information that helps writers learn to become professional publishers (there's an option to subscribe to the blog via email).

How does Smashwords change the economics of authorship?
Smashwords turns traditional authorship, publishing and pricing models upside down. With 85% of the net purchase price going to the author/publisher, author/publishers can charge readers significantly less for their works than would otherwise be possible through traditional print channels, while making greater per-unit profit on each book. When costs to the reader drop, there is a fundamental change to the demand side of the equation. This creates a virtuous cycle of more per-unit profit for the author/publisher, lower prices for consumers, and greater demand and consumption for written works. It’s a win-win-win for publishers, authors and readers.

Does Smashwords require exclusive publishing contracts?
No.  We think exclusivity is a bad idea.  All author contracts with Smashwords are non-exclusive. We are the distributor.  You (the author or publisher) are the publisher, and retain all ownership rights to your works, and are still free to publish your work elsewhere if you choose. Authors and publishers can remove their works from Smashwords at any time (although they cannot take back works that have already been purchased or sampled by readers).

If I publish first with Smashwords, will my "First Publishing Rights" become less valuable to a publisher?
Although this was a common concern a few years ago, it's less of a concern today. Traditional commercial publishers have warmed to independently published authors, especially if those authors sell a lot of books and thereby prove that a large commercial market exists for their books.  Many Smashwords authors have sold their books to big NY publishing houses.  If you do well as a self-published author, you will increase the value of your book because you will have proven the market for it.  Most Smashwords authors believe it's better to get their work out there now for readers to start discovering than to allow their books to languish in obscurity, unpublished, as they wait for a publisher to publish it. An increasing number of Smashwords authors don't even bother pitching their books to NY publishers.

If Smashwords publishes all authors and publishers, how do you maintain quality?
Our mission is to give every author and publisher a chance to find their audience. At Smashwords, every author or publisher who honors our Terms of Service has a right to publish, and it's up to readers to decide what's worth reading. Readers are the new curators. Because we publish everyone, it means we publish brilliant up-and-coming writers who haven't yet been discovered, and we'll also publish works of lesser quality. The authors who write reader-pleasing books will bubble up to the top and build audiences.

Where can I learn about some of the successful authors on Smashwords?
With over 70,000 authors at Smashwords, we represent most of the world's most successful indie authors.  Over at the Smahwords Blog, you can find interviews with many of them.  Also check out my free ebook, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, where I identify the best practices of the most successful Smashwords authors.  Or, browse Smashwords Interviews, where you can read interviews of thousands of Smashwords authors.

What does it cost to publish on Smashwords?
It's free to publish on Smashwords. There are no hidden fees. No listing fees, no setup fees, no change fees and no conversion fees.  We earn our income by taking a small commission on all net sales. Our commission is 10% of the retail price for sales through our retail distribution network (Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, etc.) and library distribution network (Baker & Taylor Axis360, 3M Cloud Library, and others coming) and at our Smashwords store, 15% of the net for sales or 18.5% for sales that are originated by affiliate marketers.

Can Authors Publish Partially Written Books to Gather Feedback?
No. Smashwords is a place for complete, finished books that are ready to be published. Numerous other writers web sites offer communities where authors can critique each other's partially written works. Smashwords is a platform for complete, finished, and original works.

Can I publish public domain books on Smashwords?
No. You must be the original author of the work, or the exclusive electronic publisher or distributor of the work. The only exception to this rule is if you are the author of the public domain book.

What other types of books will Smashwords *not* publish?
Smashwords will not publish works that advocate criminal activity. We do not publish books that appear elsewhere on the Internet under other people's names, or books that come from private label subscription services that give people the right to distribute generic content under their own name (please don't throw your money away on these scam services!). We're also wary of many Internet marketing-related books that promise the reader simple "systems" for making money on the Internet, especially if the books advocate sneaky systems designed to trick search engines. If your book is nothing but an advertisement, we will delete the book and your account. Bottom line, for it to appear on Smashwords is must be legal and original, and you must either be the original author or the exclusive publisher. For more information, see the Smashwords Terms of Service.

I've been offered a book deal with a big mainstream print publisher. Should I take it?
This is really a personal call, and depends on the terms of book deal. For most authors, if a publisher offers you a six figure advance (and this is rare for any author), you'd be foolish not to consider it. However, if they're only offering you a couple thousand dollars, and they don't allow you to retain digital publishing rights, then, well, we think the correct decision is obvious. And if you do sell the rights to your book, make sure rights revert back to you if the publisher takes your book out of print or fails to deliver agreed-upon sales, marketing and distribution support. Better yet, if you have the ability to do so, consider retaining digital rights for yourself (so you can continue publishing on Smashwords) and sell the print rights. A good literary agent can help you navigate these negotiations.

A literary agent is offering me representation.  What do you think about literary agents?
We love literary agents.  A good literary agent acts as your business manager.  They'll help you maximize the commercial potential of your work.  To learn more about literary agents, check out the Association of Author's Representatives.  Read their cannon of ethics, because it provides a good filter through which to evaluate a potential agent.  Many literary agents are now big supporters of self-publishing, and an increasing number of them are helping their authors publish on Smashwords.

I'm a book reviewer and want to review a Smashwords book. How do I obtain a free review copy?
If you're a reviewer for a newspaper, magazine or blog, please click the "Comments/questions" link at the top of any page, and provide a hyperlink to your most recent review and let us know which author and book you want to review. We will coordinate it for you.

How does Smashwords work with traditional book publishers and university presses?
Smashwords welcomes large and independent presses alike to list DRM-free ebooks of all their titles with us. Smashwords offers special accounts for publishers that make it easy for publishers to centrally manage the ebook publishing and distribution for all their authors from a single console. Click here to learn if you qualify for a free upgrade to Publisher status.

Why should a publisher work with Smashwords?
Smashwords works with thousands of small independent presses.  Smashwords makes it easy for you to publish and distribute your catalog. When a publisher sells an ebook through Smashwords, they receive up to 85% of the net sales price (they receive 70.5% for affiliate sales). Publishers receive only about 40-50% of the price of a print book sold through a bookstore or online retailer. That small number from traditional print book channels can drop to 20% or less once unsold inventory returns are factored in. With Smashwords, publishers have no inventory, no shipping expenses and no returns. Like authors, publishers can increase sales volume and profits by selling their books for lower prices.

Does Smashwords publish only self-published authors whose works are not owned by a publisher?
Smashwords publishes everyone’s content, provided the author or publisher is legally entitled to publish with us, and provided the work satisfies our strict standards for originality. We welcome the opportunity to publish self-published authors, unpublished authors, authors of out-of-print books for whom the rights have reverted, and authors under contract with big-name publishers. If you own the digital publishing rights to your works, we want to publish you.

I'm an agent, and I rep many authors, many of whom control the digital rights to their out of print books. How can I list my clients' works with Smashwords?
Smashwords offers a service designed for literary agents.  Learn more at the How to Publish and Distribute with Smashwords page.

What is Smashwords’ position on digital rights management (DRM)?
We think DRM is counterproductive because it treats lawful customers like criminals. Consumers value non-DRMed content and there's a growing body of evidence that digital content producers who have abandoned DRM are enjoying greater sales. Many buyers of ebooks resent DRM because it limits their ability to fully own and enjoy their digital book. At Smashwords, we only publish DRM-free works. By the same token, we strictly discourage illegal pirating of an author’s works.

Do I need to copyright my work prior to publishing with Smashwords?
If you are the author - the creator - of an original work, then most laws automatically give you copyright to the work. For the best legal protection, register for a copyright at copyright.gov.   Here's what Wikipedia says on copyright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyrights.

Can I publish my book in print as well?
Since you own your book, you can publish your book anywhere you choose.  Print publishing is more complicated, expensive and time-consuming than ebook publishing.  Also, since most self-published authors are unable to get brick and mortar bookstore distribution, it's tougher to reach readers.  For these reason, most indie authors now skip print entirely.  If you do decide to publish in print, consider starting out with a free print on demand service rather than filling your garage with a large and expensive print run of unsold books.

Why can't the publishing industry serve all authors?
First, I should state I am a big admirer of the publishing industry. A good agent, editor and publisher can add a lot of value to your work. The pre-publication support provided by a publisher is invaluable, especially in terms of getting your book edited, packaged and carried by bookstores. However, beyond getting their books carried by bookstores, publishers are unable to provide all authors the publicity and post-publication support they need. First time authors often find themselves disappointed by the lack of publicity support. I can't completely fault the industry for this because publishers can't afford to lavish tens of thousands of dollars in publicity support and advertising on every author. As the publishing industry navigates the rough waters facing all media companies, it's likely over the next few years we'll see fewer publishers publishing fewer authors, and we'll also see many brick and mortar bookstores closed. With fewer physical bookshelves to showcase books, it will become increasingly important for authors and publishers to replace those shelves with digital shelves.

What challenges does the traditional publishing industry face, and how do these challenges impact authors?
The publishing industry, like most media, is undergoing some wrenching but necessary change. Overall book industry sales, according to recent data from the AAP, have stagnated or declined. Many publishers have reduced the number of new acquisitions and have laid off employees. Bookstores, too, are facing massive consolidation. It's likely in the years ahead will see fewer bookstores carrying fewer titles. There are several reasons for the challenges faced by publishing:

  • Publishing is expensive: Books are expensive to produce, distribute and promote. Book publishers are structurally limited in the number of new titles they can publish each year, because each book requires editing, artwork, promotional flaps, production, sales support, inventorying and shipping.
  • Books are expensive: If a $25 or $30 book is expensive to the average American, imagine how expensive that book is to literate people in developing countries?
  • Publishers have difficulty predicting demand for a book: Despite hundreds of years of experience, consumers are fickle and it's difficult for publishers to predict which books will sell, and which won’t. As a result, they can’t predict the proper size of their print runs, and often saddle their warehouses and bookstores with expensive unsold inventory.
  • Publishing is a “hit” business: Publishers lose money on many books they publish and try to make up the difference by having a few bestseller hits.
  • Shelf space is limited: Bookstores are physically limited in the number of titles they can carry. Most Borders or Barnes & Noble superstores cannot stock more than 100,000 books at any one time. Amazon, by comparison, stocks approximately 2.5 million titles. The major bookstores are also struggling to remain profitable, and we'll likely see many bookstore closings in the years ahead.
  • Bookstores have short attention spans: New titles are allowed only a couple weeks to find their audience and sell well before the books are returned to the publisher for full refund.
  • New titles must compete against midlist: New titles are not only competing against each other, but also against established midlist books - published titles that continue to sell moderately well, year in and year out (often classics and former bestsellers).
  • Tiny earnings: With traditional publishers, most authors receive royalties of only 5-10% of the retail price of their print books, and only 12-17% of the list price for ebooks. With Smashwords, the author earns 85% net, which works out to 60-80% list.
  • Publishers don’t promote most books: Many first time authors receive little to no post-publication publicity support from their publishers. Many authors recognize they have to do the promotion themselves. They have to do their own PR; call bookstores to arrange signings; and personally hand sell books to local bookstores.
  • Limited geographic distribution: Book publishing today is still geographically constrained. Most works are never published outside their own country, or in languages other than the native tongue of their author. In the United States, most published works will never receive distribution outside the US. Authors outside the US have little chance of finding an audience outside their own country.
  • There's no "long tail" in print book publishing: To enter the midlist, books must be able to meet a certain threshold of sales, often several thousand copies per year, year in and year out, with little to no promotion from the bookstores or the publishers. What about the millions of previously written and out of print works which could be selling 50, 100, or 1,000 copies each year, if only they were available for their audience to discover?
  • Readers are left unserved: All of these challenges faced by the publishing industry harm not only authors, but readers as well. Readers are effectively denied the freedom to discover new voices in the written word.

 

What is the business model for Smashwords?
Although Smashwords was founded to achieve a strong social purpose, we also recognize we must produce a profit so we can continue to carry out our mission. Smashwords generates income through commissions from the sales of written works. Guiding all of our business decisions is an overarching mission to serve the needs of the authors, publishers, retailers and readers who participate in our community.

What is Smashwords’ privacy policy?
We will never sell, rent or share our members’ contact information with any third party. We respect the privacy of authors who choose to publish under pen names. We also protect the privacy of book buyers by not revealing their purchases or identity to anyone. Read our complete privacy statement here.

I'm organizing a writer's conference. Can Smashwords supply a speaker?
Contact us with details and we'll see what we can do.  Our founder, Mark Coker, is a frequent speaker, keynoter and workshop presenter at writing and publishing conferences.  Jim Azevedo, our marketing manager, is also a frequent speaker.

What’s next for Smashwords?
We’ve been in business for over five years and are growing quickly, but we still feel like we're just getting started. We're constantly improving the service, and we have hundreds of ideas for how we can further help improve the digital publishing experience for authors, readers and publishers. We listen closely to our members, whose valuable feedback guides our daily development. Stay tuned and tell a friend!