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 and thousands of libraries.
(Updated February 2017)
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 and library ebook platforms. Authors and publishers retain full control over how their works are published, sampled, priced and sold. If an author wants to price a book at 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 (February 2017) stands at over 440,000 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 small 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 titled 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 known for representing many New York Times bestsellers. Our agent contacted all the major 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. The publishers rejected it again. Publishers were reluctant to take a chance on the book because previous novels targeting soap opera fans had performed poorly. 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 was 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 give every author the free tools and distribution they needed so bypass these traditional gatekeeps and publish direct to their readers. Today, many Smashwords authors have become USA Today and New York Times bestsellers!
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 income by selling expensive services to authors, Smashwords earns all its income selling your ebooks to readers. In other words, we only earn a commission if our authors and publishers 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 wrote a feature profile on Smashwords. It was the first time we shared revenue numbers. In 2014, Smashwords was named to the INC 500 list of America's fastest growing privately held companies.
Who publishes on Smashwords?
Over 120,000 authors, small independent publishers and literary agents 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. Smashwords offers robust publishing tools for publishers managing multiple authors.
What does Smashwords offer readers?
Smashwords offers a virtual playground for those who love the written word. Readers can sample most works for free (and in many cases, read generous samples 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, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, or to other ereading devices.
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. Smashwords 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, Kobo and hundreds of smaller retailers. Sales originated by retailers typically earn 60% of the list price. To put these high royalty rates in perspective, it means if your ebook is priced at $10.00, you'll earn about $8.00 if it's sold in the Smashowrds store and $6.00 if it's sold at one of our retailers. Library sales are usually paid at 45% for sales through our library platform partners (such as OverDrive) and up to 70% list for library sales through our Library Direct service which offers bulk sales to libraries. 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, Apple iBooks, Kobo and Tolino, and to libraries via distribution relationships with OverDrive (20,000+ libraries), Baker & Taylor Axis 360, Bibliotheca CloudLibrary, Odilo and Gardners. 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; customizable widgets for off-site marketing; 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 while other Smashwords authors sell thousands of books each week. Many Smashwords authors have hit the USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists. Although ebooks have grown to account for 25% of industry book sales, the competition for readers fierce. There's a glut of high-quality low-cost ebooks on the market, and every year the glut becomes more pronounced because unlike print books, ebooks never go out of print. Ebooks are immortal. In the old world of print publishing, most authors' sales were concentrated in the first few weeks immediately following publication. With ebooks, you can look forward to an annuity stream of income. It's also common that some self-published ebooks will sell poorly for months or years before they final break out.
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 the virtual doors of the Smashwords store each month, the bulk of your sales will come as a result of your own marketing and promotion efforts, and as a result of readers discovering your book at our retailers. We provide you free tools to help you market your books more effectively, 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 we 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, authors and publishers can charge readers significantly less for their works than would otherwise be possible through traditional print channels, while still earning 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 publishing platform and distributor. You (the author or publisher) are the publisher, and you retain all ownership rights to your works. You are 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 decade ago, it's less of a concern today. Traditional commercial publishers have warmed to independently published authors, especially if those authors have established a strong sales record. Many Smashwords authors have sold their books to big NY publishing houses, just as many of our bestsellers have refused to sell their books to large publishers because these author prefer to publish independently. 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 bubble up to the top and build audiences.
Where can I learn about some of the successful authors on Smashwords?
With over 100,000 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 our free ebook, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, where we 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, Kobo, etc.) and library distribution network. At our Smashwords Store, our commission is 15% of the net for regular sales and 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. However, at the end of a complete book it's perfectly fine to include samplers of your other work.
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.
What other types of books will Smashwords *not* publish?
Smashwords is professional authors and publishers only. Please see the Smashwords Terms of Service for complete details, though here's a short summary: 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 (aka Private Label Rights or PLR) that allow people 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 get rich quick schemes or sneaky methods designed to trick search engines. If your book is nothing but an advertisement, we will remove it and close the account. Bottom line, your Smashwords book must be legal and original, and you must either be the original author or the exclusive publisher.
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, and they're not going to commit significant resources to your book, then, well, we think the correct decision is obvious. If you choose to sell your rights to a publisher, choose a publisher with a track record of success. A good literary agent can help you navigate publisher 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. If an "agent" charges a reading fee, avoid them. Many reputable literary agents are 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 "Support" link at the bottom 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. Or, visit the author's blog or website and request a Smashwords Coupon so you can download the book for free.
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 every author 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 publishers for this because publishers can't afford to lavish 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 more brick and mortar bookstores closed. With fewer physical bookshelves to showcase books, it will become increasingly important for authors and publishers to replace those physical 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 have been relatively stagnant for more than a decade. 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 physical bookstores. There are several reasons for the challenges faced by publishing:
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. Our commission works out to 10% of the list price for most sales through distribution. 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.
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. Click the support link below and ask to be connected with Jim to learn how Smashwords can support your conference.
What’s next for Smashwords?
We’ve been in business for almost ten years and have grown significantly but we still feel like we're just getting started. We're constantly improving our 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 authors and publishers whose valuable feedback guides our daily development. Stay tuned and tell a friend!