Self-Publishing via Smashwords: A Review

Logo (c) Smashwords

Logo (c) Smashwords

In July of 2013, I dived into the world of self-publishing head first. I left the paddle and canoe at home. In the effort to spread my novel as far as I could in my opening days as a debut author, I decided to focus my efforts in three different places: Smashwords, Amazon (Kindle), and Createspace (Amazon's POD service).

This is an accounting of my experiences with Smashwords, as well as a review of this service.

I do not recommend or suggest the use of this service.

There, I said it. That is the TL;DR version of this review. Almost all of the experiences I have had with this system have been terrible. What you're going to find out in this review is why I feel this service isn't ideal for self-publishing authors.

This review has several parts: Formatting, Updating a Novel in Smashwords' System, and Removal of a Novel from Smashwords' Distribution system. I also discuss a little on sales figures.

The Lure of Smashwords

First, I want to talk about why I wanted to use Smashwords. Not everyone likes Amazon. Let's face it, Amazon has a certain bad rep with a lot of readers. I originally intended to use Smashwords as my distribution option for those wanting epub versions of my novel.

Nowadays, if someone wants an epub version of my novel, I give them two options: a reviewer's copy (with a request that in exchange, the reader does indeed leave a review of the book) or purchase the book from amazon and I'll give a reviewer's copy of the epub. This lets me use Amazon's KDP Select option legally.

Hint: If you bought a copy of my book on Amazon and you want an epub version of it, use a file converter. It's okay. You bought the book. It's yours. All I ask is that you don't give away copies of my book unless you buy a copy for your intended recipient. (I like eating.)

So, how does this relate to Smashwords? Smashwords is a distributor of all book formats, including Sony's now-defunct book store, Kobo, Nook, and even mobis. They mainly serve to distribute epub e-books,though they also support pdf and plain text versions of books.

At first glance, I thought this was great. I could hit a lot of markets at one time. I could spread word of my novels to everyone. The royalty percentage is higher with Smashwords than with Amazon.

Of course I wanted a piece of that pie.

That was when the troubles began.

Formatting for Smashwords

Formatting for Smashwords is anything but friendly. When I released The Eye of GodI hired a formatter to handle all of the files for me. The mobi edition was so simple I could handle it myself, but I wanted things to look uniform, and I had already heard how difficult it was to get a Smashwords-formatted novel to look good.

So, I splurged. Several hundred dollars later (paid in form of editorial work) I had a file that was prepared for Smashwords.

Out of all of the versions of the file, including print format, the format for Smashwords was the hardest and most time consuming to deal with. I couldn't establish my ISBNs for each format. Smashwords didn't allow that. I had to list all of the ISBNs on the copyright page because of how Smashwords handles file creation.

The formatting itself is very specific. You must brand your book with Smashwords' brand if you want to go through expanded distribution. This branding must be on the first actual page of the book, or it will not pass Smashwords' autochecker. It handles fonts and images in a very quirky way when converting the files into each type through their system.

In short, it's a money-sink for formatting if you don't happen to be good at that sort of thing.

I'm not good at that sort of thing. For The Eye of God, I dealt with it, under the impression that having my book on all of the major sites would make a notable difference in my sales.

About those Sales…

In the first week, Smashwords accounted for about %50 of my sales for The Eye of God. To say the least, this was not a high number of sales. In the second week, Smashwords' sales slid down to nothing. After a few months, with an occasional sale here and there (and absolutely none of them through the major distribution vendors) I came to the conclusion I had just spend an exorbitant amount of time on something that wasn't helping my novel sell.

Amazon was performing significantly better.

Making Updates to a Novel

Every time I wanted to make an update to my novel, be it for spelling errors, or just because something wasn't formatted just like so, I had to jump through the loops of Smashwords' formatting system. To make this a fair review, if the system wasn't so persnickety, it might work really well for people who want an easy option to do bulk conversions of their novel.

However, it isn't easy. It's extremely specific on everything, right down to how fonts are handled, to how images are handled, and how pages are ordered, specifically in terms of the copyright page. For example, I had wanted to put the copyright notice in the back of the book so it was less obtrusive. I couldn't do this. It had to go in the front so Smashwords could brand itself using my book.

Here's how it is supposed to work:

  1. Upload an updated word document to Smashwords
  2. Smashwords converts the file into pdf, txt, mobi, epub, sony's format, apple's format
  3. Distribution options are selected and confirmed
  4. Book is published

Here is how it really worked out for me:

  1. Updated word document uploaded.
  2. Smashwords converts the file.
  3. Smashwords throws unknown errors — usually involving apple's system.
  4. New word document uploaded.
  5. Smashwords converts the file.
  6. New errors reported.
  7. Download of the epub commences, using a epub checker for apple's format to find the nature of the error. Error corrected. (Usually, it's something stupidly simple, such as a between-scene glyph needing reset in the image because Smashwords corrupted it.)
  8. Upload new word document.
  9. Smashwords converts the file.
  10. No Errors reported? Faint from shock. When able to function, distribution is reset and confirmed, update processed.
  11. Publish.

Now, there's something you should know about the conversion process with Smashwords. It takes a varying amount of time for the conversion to happen. It is queued into their system. Smashwords apparently doesn't run the converter on multiple files at one time, so you have to wait in line. If you're lucky, you're in front of the queue. I've been as close as third in line.

Usually, I had been 20+ in line, meaning it takes a few minutes for the files to be converted. I've waited up for an hour just to get through the basic conversion process. While I can do other things, it isn't like amazon, where you can expect to wait 2-5 minutes for a file to convert and get back to work on the rest of the novel.

Smashwords took noticeably longer in that regard. Due to how persnickety Smashwords is about their formats, this can become a time-consuming and frustrating problem.

Removing a Novel from Smashwords' Distribution System

(c) Derry Public Library - Creative Commons License

(c) Derry Public Library – Creative Commons License

As a quick aside, there is something I want to talk about: Copyrights.

Before I started working with any of the companies I have worked with, I secured the full and legal copyright to my novels. All of them. In fact, on the day I wrote this, I received a letter with four new copyright notices. These letters secure the copyright to all of the novels I'm planning on releasing in 2014.

Because I am the legal, official holder of the copyrights for my books, I have better protections in court.

Back to the review: Come fourth quarter of 2013, I made the decision to give KDP Select a try. Smashwords wasn't working out for me. I wanted — no, I needed — something more robust. I needed a better chance to get readers connected with my books.

I wanted to run a Christmas sale of both of my novels.

Unfortunately, I didn't anticipate that Smashwords didn't honor copyrights as carefully as they should.

I waited a week or two before enrolling The Eye of God into KDP Select's system.

Turns out, Smashwords doesn't view themselves as responsible for ensuring novels are removed from their distribution lines once a book has been pulled, or ‘unpublished' as they call it in their system. According to the customer service representative I emailed with, they receive weekly reporting from their partners, which show all of the books in their system. But, they do not view themselves as responsible for ensuring books no longer published with them need to be removed from their distribution venues.

The Eye of God violated KDP Select's system twice because of Smashwords' blatant disregard for copyright. If you're removing your book from their system, the author is responsible for making certain the title is removed from all of their distribution venues.

I kid you not. I have an email from someone at Smashwords stating that I was 100% at fault because I did not triple-check their work. I was also informed that they were not responsible because they have a liability paragraph in their terms of service.

Which, I'd like to point out, only covers them for delays in availability and errors in ad copy, descriptions, and within the book. Not for copyright violation. (By the way, copyright violation happens anytime a legitimate copyright is revoked and the distributor doesn't honor the request. Unpublishing a novel with Smashwords is a revocation of copyright — IE, Smashwords is no longer permitted to sell copies of the book in their venues.)

Their FAQ states changes take 2 weeks to implement, which is a fair period of time to ensure they're abiding by the shift in copyright. Last week, an entire quarter later, plus a month, it came to light that Smashwords had failed to remove my novel from three of their distribution partners. One is a mistake or error.

Three is purposeful neglect. I told the Smashwords representative that much. I also informed him I was the legal copyright holder, and that while I didn't want to pursue a copyright claim against Smashwords, I could — and would — if this issue wasn't resolved immediately.

The customer service representative didn't reply to me. The book, however, vanished from these venues within 24-48 hours.

So, take it from me on this one: Bookmark your novel on all distribution venues. Getting this info isn't easy. You have to look at the premium distribution page, find where it links to the sites, and then search for your book on each and every one of the sites. Do this so if you do remove Smashwords' copyright privileges, you can confirm they have removed your novel from their distribution partners.

For the record, there were other incidents prior, but those were resolved when I got nailed with the KDP Select violation the first time. Which, by the way, was why The Eye of God wasn't on sale for Christmas, for those of you who were disappointed when Storm Without End was on sale.

Why I do NOT Recommend Smashwords

The copyright issue is the major deal breaker for me. I want to work with a business that cares about my novel — even after they lose their cut of it. Amazon may tell me things I don't like, but they have respected my copyright to date. Smashwords hasn't. It's obvious where my business is going — an author's copyright of their novel is the lifeblood of their career, and one of the few protections an author has to ensure they get paid.

The formatting issue is a pain in the neck, but if the copyright issue hadn't happened, it would have been something I would have cried my way through, but dealt with. It's an unpleasant system. A deal breaker? Very close to it, but not quite.

The customer service representative who didn't respect my copyright — and viewed me as the problem because they didn't have my novel removed from their distribution system ensured I will never work with Smashwords again. A deal breaker on its own? Bad customer service never appeals, but… I can deal with bad customer service.

If they don't cross that line with my writing. My copyright is important to me. They had 4-5 months to get their shit together and honor my copyright. Telling me that removing my novel from their distribution lines isn't their responsibility crosses way too many lines for me to accept.

In their FAQ, they state it takes up to two weeks for changes to show in their distribution lines. Having worked in a large-scale business who has to work with distributors on the internet, it realistically takes two business days at a maximum. For email lists, it can legitimately take up to a week depending on the size of the list.

The business I worked with had email lists with hundreds of millions of addresses.

At the time of this posting, Smashwords has approximately 287,000 published books. It doesn't take a week to process bulk emails to distributors there. Inefficiency happens, but I do expect better from a business. A deal breaker? No. Annoying? Yes. Especially when Smashwords refuses to take any responsibility or liability for their mistakes.

So, no. I do not recommend this venue for a Self-Publisher. There are other options out there, including Draft2Digital. If I decide I want to expand my novels beyond amazon again, this is one of the sources I'll try.

Worst-case scenario? I'll distribute directly to the major sites myself. It wouldn't cost me any more time than Smashwords' nightmare of a submission system.

Leave a Comment:

Author - M. C. Webb says August 19, 2014

Excellent and I am feeling the same way.

Brian says October 7, 2014

Thanks for this useful info. I am going to think more deeply about it now!

sue Jacobs says October 14, 2014

I am so pleased that I’ve read your review. I have my first novel nearly ready for e-publication and am nervous that I don’t have enough knowledge to make the right decision on who to approach to distribute my ‘baby’.
I have read into Smashwords and my gut feeling was that it sounds too simple, although i greeted that sentiment with relief. I shall now go back to planning on using Amazon.

Thank you so much for sharing your experience and ‘baring your soul’!

    RJBlain says October 15, 2014

    Draft2Digital is a good site so far; very professionally run, and they don’t use invisible channels like Smashwords does; you might consider them if you want to try epubs.

Cheryl says December 29, 2014

Thank you for your fair sounding advice. I am going to publish my 1st children’s book and you have helped tremendously.

Helen Treharne says February 12, 2015

I have had exactly the same issue. Six weeks after unpublishing with Smashwords and my book has suddenly popped back up with Barnes and Noble, an affiliate with Smashwords. Nobody returns messages. As far as I am concerned they are distributing my intellectual property without my consent and will be seeking legal advice if it continues. Their lack of concern for copyright extends to the way that anyone cn download a file (pdf, ePub etc) of your book and share it whomever they wish. The whole thing is a farce. Trust me, it may seem like a sensible option to use smashwords to distribute your work, but their lack of integrity, service and basic business systems will create more work for you in he long term.

    RJBlain says February 12, 2015

    Have you tried a formal cease and desist letter? That’s pretty much what I had to do in order to get Smashwords to cease the distribution of my first novel–which was not a fun experience. (It’s easier if you own the actual copyright legally, which is something I make a point of doing for all of my novels now.)

      Helen Treharne says February 12, 2015

      That will be my next step. I own the rights to all my work and I’m glad I have gone down that route. Shaming on Facebook seems to have done something as I’ve just had an email directly from BN confirming that it is being taken down. The email to their legal time helped too I think. I’m lucky I have a reasonable knowledge of copyright now, more so than when I signed up to Smashwords a year ago. I strongly suspect that they rely on less assertive people taking their poor service at face value.

        RJBlain says February 12, 2015

        I suspect you’re correct. It took me four months and several requests to get smashwords to cooperate.

        Draft2Digital is far, far better. Their removals process is all automated, and it confirms when every outlet is revoked. IT also provides links to the pages so you can check for yourself. I’ve been really impressed with their system even though I’ve had no luck with the epub market.

          Helen Treharne says February 12, 2015

          I will definitely look at them. Thanks for the recommendation.

          RJBlain says February 12, 2015

          No problem at all, you’re welcome! I really need to feature them on an Author Services review–I’ll make a note to do that. 🙂

Jenni Gorgon says May 12, 2015

I published 9 books with them and did not look for pay first. I lost my email account and could not log in to my smashwords account to see my dashboard. Several employees were rude to me when I asked about items sold and for a dashboard transfer.
My books are being sold everywhere so I begged to be unpublished. I begged to verify myself as the original account holder. I use the same name and the email address has one less letter, yet I was willing to email my books with their covers to verify who I was. All I got was rude answers and silly remarks about money.
Today I found out two things; my book Excite is on a most downloaded list, priced at $99.99 USD and many authors have been complaining about not getting paid although smashwords has all the necessary information.

    RJBlain says May 12, 2015

    When I had an issue with Smashwords, I filed a cease and desist threat to their customer service department. It worked very well.

    Try this: Send them an email. Don’t ask for things, demand it.

    Inform them that you are the copyright holder and that you have revoked their right to distribute your work. Inform them that have two weeks to comply, per their terms and services. Make them aware that you are willing to file in court if they do not cooperate.

    After that, you may want to invest in a lawyer.

R C Murthy says June 18, 2015

Tks. It’s enlightening. I’m trying to self publish. What’s cease and desist letter? How it works? Thanks again for critical info.

    RJBlain says June 18, 2015

    A Cease and desist letter is a form of documentation you send to a company or individual who is using a protected work illegally. It can also take other forms, but in this case, it is a notification that they do not have the rights to distribute a work, and that you’re formally requesting for them to take down the work from their websites. It’s used in a lot of different ways.

    Generally, most people will never need to write a cease and desist letter.

Martin Winkler says July 17, 2015

I wish I had read your review before I spent more than an hour trying to upload my book to Smashwords. Fortunately, their software for indicating price is so buggy that the listing did not go through. My name for them would be “Smashmouth”. Successfully used instead and it was near seamless and I recommend it instead.

    RJBlain says July 17, 2015

    Aye, agreed. Draft2Digital would be my recommended distributor as well.

Ludmila says August 1, 2015

Smashwords keeps my money/royalties/ from Feb. 2014. Because it was under
$ 10.00 they did not intend to pay at all. Therefore I closed my account with them on May 29.2015, and yet, they still owe me my royalties, do not want to pay, they create excuses for everything, so today I told Mark that I want my money NOW or I will drag him over social media, telling the truth about their horrible company. So no, I would NOT recommend these robbers to anyone. And BTW, yes, some employees, like Aaron, are very rude.

Ludmila says August 6, 2015

Smashwords finally paid my royalties about 25.7.15. Part of the problem was misunderstanding, because info about their payments did not go to my e-mail where it should go, and so it took the time until Aug.2. when they finally told me where the info about my money was sent. My money did not go to PP directly, I had to claim them and that was the whole problem. Anyway – I still would NOT recommend Smashwords to anyone. Too much problems there.

Jeff Pearson says August 26, 2015

Super post RJ – with so many people pushing us down the ‘as many platforms as possible’ route I was just about to sign up with Smashwords but decided to do a little due diligence first. Straight up in the first five gurgle searches was this post. I’m a) glad I found it and b) glad you wrote it!
Thanks again.

    RJBlain says August 26, 2015

    You’re very welcome! If you do want a multi-platform service, I recommend Draft2Digital; if I were to go back to a non-exclusive platform, it’s the service I would use if I didn’t approach the marketplaces individually.

GS Monks says September 21, 2015

As I suspected, others have had the same negative experiences with Smashwords as myself.

I just wrote a negative review of Smashwords for SiteJabbers warning people away from the site. You might want to contribute a little something yourself, putting the site into its proper perspective for unwary authors who don’t know what they’re letting themselves in for.

J. Ellyne says October 6, 2015

Okay, I can’t let this go. This review of Smashwords is just wrong. I have published three novels on Smashwords and am about to publish my third. All my novels are also published on Amazon as well as the growing list of retail sites to which Smashwords distributes. I have no other affiliation with Smashwords and nothing to gain by promoting them here. I will address Blain’s unfair and inaccurate comments one by one.
1. Smashwords formatting too difficult to use? I have seen many Ebooks with crappy formatting. Crappy formatting will not help your sales. If your read Mark Coker’s free Ebook on Ebook formatting (really study it), you will have no problems with Smashwords’ Ebook converter. If you don’t read this book your book will probably be poorly formatted as are so many Ebooks. You can get away with this on Amazon but no print shop editor would ever allow it.
2. Copyright issues – If you publish your work on Smashwords, your work IS copyrighted, IN YOUR NAME, you own the rights. No need to go pay a lawyer for a redundant copyright.
3. Removal of Ebook from distributor sites. Because YOU hold the copyright to your Ebook, you can do this yourself. Don’t be lazy! Don’t expect Smashwords do fuss over this for you; what would be their motivation?
4. Amazon KDP sales versus Smashwords sales. As I said above, my books are published both places. Amazon is a bigger site and yes I get slightly more sales on Amazon than I do on Smashwords BUT, why would I want to give up all my Smashword’s sales (not insignificant) when I can have both. I have seen nothing in Amazon’s KDP literature to convince me the increase from going KDP will make up for the loss of sales on Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo and all the rest of Smashword’s retailers.
5. Smashwords customer support. I have received a lot of personal help from Smashword’s support staff and never encountered any that were rude. Blain’s attitude on all these things makes me wonder who was being rude, Smashword’s staff or him?

    RJBlain says October 6, 2015

    Just because your experience with a company doesn’t match another person’s doesn’t mean yours is automatically the one true way.

    Fact: when smashwords distributes on your behalf, it is very difficult to force a removal of a title from a vendor. You need to provide legal evidence you are the copyright holder. (That is not just the default copyright everyone gets–legal copyright). Why? Because anyone can claim they own the title.

    Trust me, when I had my issues, I went to retailers directly.

    When I used smashwords a long time ago, their system was notoriously difficult to get a suitable ePub for. That, plus their absurd requirements to brand your book with their information.

    Next, I was quite polite, actually. They refused to acknowledge multiple requests for my title to be pulled, which resulted in a cease and desist, which they wisely did not opt to ignore.

    Not everyone is going to have a good experience with a company. I did not have one with Smashwords. I am not going to lie to make people like you feel better, sorry.

    P.S.: I am a woman.

    T'Malkia Zuri says October 25, 2015

    “Eye” am with you J. Ellyne. Haven’t had these awful experiences listed on this site personally. The truth of the matter is that there is absolutely NO system available that will make everyone happy. My advice is to don’t rely totally on an internet site to be solely responsible for your book and its distribution. Use them as passengers on your ship but YOU are the captain. Smashwords is alright by me..:-)

    John says March 4, 2016

    I agree with everything you said. Smashwords is great! Followed their guidelines and book converted first attempt. Recommend.

      RJBlain says March 5, 2016

      I’m glad you had a good experience with them–wish mine had been that positive. (It’s also possible they have done substantial improvements to their system, but honestly… after having to issue a cease and desist letter to get them to honor their own terms and conditions, I’m not exactly willing to trust them with my novels.)

    John says November 6, 2016

    Totally agree with you. I’ve had the same good results with Smashwords.

Mike says October 15, 2015

You could have used the smashwords system to update your book to a differently titled dummy book. Then that would have eventually been updated with the same dummy book at the other venders. Then you could publish the real book with Amazon. Problem solved.

    RJBlain says October 15, 2015

    That someone would have to go to that measures is unacceptable. Other vendors (Draft2Digital for example) removes a title within 24-48 hours, consistently, with no issues.

    If you’re willing to accept having to take unnecessary measures like that, that’s your choice, but that’s not how good business is done–and authors shouldn’t have to stoop to those levels.

    Other businesses can handle removals with quick turnaround times. Why can’t Smashwords?

William E. Levine says December 11, 2015

Wow! You’ve saved me time, money, and a great deal of frustration. Thanks. I will not use Smashwords at least for the foreseeable future!

William E. Levine says December 11, 2015

I commented, but it’s up to you if you post it. My point is your feedback about Smashwords is very helpful for me, and I’ll be many first time authors.

    RJBlain says December 11, 2015

    Glad it helped you! I know there are some who swear by Smashwords, but my experience with the site was all bad; it has plenty of competitors with far better business integrity to choose from, so.. 🙂

Paul Hill says March 19, 2016

I am a yet “un-self published” author considering my options for my first novel, now complete. When I first looked at the SW formatting process, I thought, “Wow, that seems complicated!” (I used to be a systems analyst). Apparently, it is. Beyond technical considerations, there are of course the ever popular legal ones. Much has been said above about copyright protection and cease and desist letters.

“Just sayin’…” cease and desist letters have few teeth unless the copyright owner is willing and able to sue the transgressor just in case they don’t cooperate. For a copyright to have legal bite, it has to be REGISTERED with the US Copyright Office. Only then can the plaintiff recover damages and attorney’s fees via the courts. Otherwise, a wronged owner must pay his/her attorney out of his own pocket, and the best they could do is get the defendant to “cease and desist” but never recover damages.

The reality is, legal copyright “protection” derived from the simple act of creating a work is something of an illusion, unless its actually registered. Pay the $36 and a half hour of your time on the online Copyright Office website!

PS: This is not legal advice. Consult your own legal advisor. I am not an attorney but have learned this from an intellectual property attorney in CA.

    RJBlain says March 19, 2016

    I own all of my legal copyrights/they’re registered. (In my country of residence, but still legal within the US system.) While Smashwords gave me trouble, they complied once I issued my cease and desist letter, which gave information on the legal copyright I owned.)

    And in my cease and desist letter, I was perfectly clear I would pursue the issue to the full extent of the law.

Sharon A MacKenzie says April 26, 2016

Thank you for your review!
I am trying to update my knowledge since University graphics 2000 and this tells me a lot!

Thank you for helping me sidestep more frustrations

Francis Meyrick says August 2, 2016

I’ll add my bit to this. I have three books already published on Smashwords, and we are doing the formatting struggling thing to get the fourth one past the formatting nightmare. When I say “we” I should say my Editor. A very technical and savvy gentleman with a Ph.D. in Physics. He HATES the Smashwords complexity. I don’t even begin to understand the problems, but if it’s driving him crackers, I know I could never, ever handle it. It seems to be far from user friendly, and you have to avoid finer styling, use of fonts, use of indents, or it will keep being rejected. He says that basically Smashwords forces you to use a older version of Microsoft Word.
On the positive side, I’m happy to see the books up there. If you search for ‘Francis Meyrick’ you can get an idea of what my efforts have ended up looking like.
Good luck to all you budding authors out there.

J. Ellyne says August 5, 2016

If you want to be a self published author you need to learn why the recent versions of MS Word keep getting worse all the time for use in writing Ebooks. Read other Ebooks published on any site and see how many fancy word processor features you find being used. Try publishing something written in MS Word 13 with full features used on Amazon. Amazon is even more fussy than Smashwords and gives you absolutely no help with Ebook conversion. They only tell you if your book doesn’t pass. Smashwords recommends MS Word 2007 because it will make your book’s conversion to an Ebook much easier and it will still give you every transferable feature you can use for an Ebook. You can use a copy of more recent MS Word version if you want. Just save the manuscript in MS Word 2007 format. It sounds like your editor is not very knowledgeable about Ebook publishing. If he wants to learn about it, he should read Mark Coker’s (the man in charge of Smashords) wonderful free book on Ebook publishing.

J. Ellyne says August 5, 2016

Oh and also, you can publish your work on Amazon too, even after it’s published on Smashwords. I have four novels published on Smashwords and Amazon and most of my sales come from Amazon but I get the best help from Smashwords tech support.

Rev. Dr. Steve Joel Moffett, Sr. says October 29, 2016

Dear Mr. R. J. Blain, Thank You! for your critique on I was just about to submit my 10 books to their service. My first concern when I read their own site. They said pirating of an authors work was just pent up demand???? The never use DRM (Digital Rights Management??? They recommend you giving away at least one of your books free??? Even though they seem like a rock and roll shop, usually that much unbridled agression is not good for any company, because that type of attitude blurs moral and ethical lines. I published all 10 of my books with Draft to Digital and it has been a wonderful process and easy to use service. One of their submission reviewers named Crystal actually found an error that was replicated across 3 of my books and corrected it for me, and told me to review and resubmit and I did with success on all their platforms, which also prompted me to correct on createspace, kindle, and lulu.
You did everyone a great service! Any author that is pumped on seems like they have some moral or ethical issue of their own, in my opinion.


Rev. M.

    Jini Ellyne says December 21, 2016

    I make more money on Amazon then any other retailer BUT, every SUCCESSFUL new indie author will tell you the same as Smashwords: give away free books to get reviews and build a reader fan base. Guarding your digital rights and trying to make tons of money too soon will just lead to poverty if writing is your only job. This is a hard business to break into and you will have to work for free at first or you won’t make any money ever. Why would anyone except your close friends ever want to take a chance on buying your book? There are so many others out there to choose from.

      RJBlain says December 22, 2016

      This is flawed advice in my opinion, because there are many ways for authors to break out. I took a different route than you, and it works for me–and I’m glad your different route works for you.

      But there is no right or wrong in this business. What works for one person won’t work for another, even if they follow the same exact steps.

      There is a difference between a company deliberately violating their contract with you and digital rights protection.

      When I parted ways with Smashwords, they violated their own contract in regards to my manuscript. That is something I take seriously. It was a business contract between me and them, involving money.

      Why the hell should I be happy when they violate the terms of their own contract? No. That’s ridiculous.

Alan Millard says November 5, 2016

I appreciate your post immensely. Thank you. I am trying to find a worthwhile publisher for my fourth book.

Mariee says December 21, 2016

Thank you for this information because I have been attempting to publish a children’s book for months but I can’t get pass the first step of the process. The error is the system will not accept the coloring inside the book, and I have re-done it and have actually had help to restructure the book from a professional computer technician; but with no luck. This system is truly frustrating. Can anyone direct me to a reputable, yet not costly publisher? Please? It has now been over a year. (I work and have children).

    RJBlain says December 21, 2016

    For a children’s book, I’d go straight to each publisher; Smashwords does too much processing on all files. It takes more time and effort, but if your files are sound, straight to distributor (Amazon/Createspace, Barnes & Noble, etc) would likely be your best option.

    Good luck!

      Jini Ellyne says December 21, 2016

      Too much processing? Really? Really bad advice on this thread. For all books with actual words in them, if your book passes Smashwords vetting it will pass all other vetting on all other retail sites too. If it doesn’t pass Smashwords, it will fail on most other sites too. Smashwords is also the only site where a human person will reply to a cry for help as to why your book failed the vetting process. Oh and by the way, the initial pass is easy and puts your book up on Smashwords immediately. The second pass is for the Premium Catalog which sends your book out to all retailers so you don’t have to do the work and if it passes Premium Catalog vetting all other retailers will accept it. Amazon is the exception but no big deal. You will have to post your book to Amazon separately but again, if it passed Smashwords vetting, it will pass Amazon vetting and Amazon has very strict vetting and doesn’t offer much help if your book fails. Trust me, I’ve had tons of experience. I make more money on Amazon then Smashwords but always start with publishing on Smashwords because of all the help they give me.

        RJBlain says December 22, 2016

        There are plenty of options for people other than Smashwords, which requires THEIR branding in the book to sell. Draft2Digital is one such good–better–option. Without the fuss.

        I’m glad you have had success with Smashwords, but that is not the case for everyone. Also, your statements about the vetting failing elsewhere is incorrect. I’ve taken the same exact file that failed on Smashwords, used it on Draft2Digital, and zero problems getting it on vendors, including iBooks.

        We will have to agree to disagree on this one. Smashwords isn’t for everyone. I’m glad it worked out for you–it doesn’t work for others.

        I’m plenty happy with how my career has been progressing, and I didn’t need Smashwords to do so.

    Jini Ellyne says December 21, 2016

    Try Smashwords and when your book fails the vetting process, click the question mark at the top of your author page and send them a cry for help. They love to help their authors.

Mariee says December 21, 2016

Thank You RJBlain for UN-selfishly recommending another publisher to consider. I have been dealing with Smashwords for a year or more with no results. I don’t have the financial means to throw away hundreds of dollars and then having no compensation for the money spent. (I have children!!! to feed!!!)I am so glad there are other people like you who share….Thank You again and all other responsible publishers.

Carl Looney, Ph.D. says December 23, 2016

This review paints a dark picture of Smashwords as a publishing partner. But I wonder if things have changed by now, going into 2017 in a week.
It would be much easier for me if they (SWs) have become a bit more streamlined and efficient now. So I wonder if one would have a better publishing experience if publishing via Smashwords in 2017. I certainly would not want the trouble the above review had.

    RJBlain says December 23, 2016

    Maybe they have, maybe they haven’t… but with a competitor that doesn’t have the same sort of issues, I wouldn’t try them again anyway. Draft2Digital offers an intuitive, easy system, doesn’t require the formatting headache, and has coverage into the Apple ibooks system, too, which used to be the major edge SW offered compared to the competition. Since D2D does the same thing without the headache (and no complaining / hassle should you want to remove a book) I don’t see any point in trying SW again.

    My experience with SW was that bad. I know people like Jini who adore SW and will rain hell on anyone who disagrees with that, but… I’m not going to say nice things about a company that forced me into issuing a cease and desist letter to have them honor their own contract. (And I gave them 4 months from initial contact to fix the problem.)

Ron Shears says June 28, 2017

Smashwords is a pile of rubbish, almost impossible to format, I did a few minor alterations to my previously acceptable format only to have it rejected with many so-called faults, so I now pay the previous formatter to check it again for a fee naturally.

Bob says October 31, 2017

I totally agree with all that you’ve stated. I used Smashwords several years ago when I was trying to get four different e-books out there through all of the distribution channels. I didn’t have all of the problems that you had, but I had my fair share of issues, though I can’t remember what they all were since it’s too far back to remember.

What I’d like to pass along though, is when it comes to formatting, I utilized an online company called “” They’re freakin’ awesome to work with, and they provide all of the formatting options available, and the cost is is paltry $49, and still is as far as I know. You’ll get everything back inside of about 48 hours, and I had one experience where I got everything back later in the same day after submitting my e-book first thing in the morning. They’re honest and very reliable. (And NO, I don’t have any affiliation with this company. I’m merely a very satisfied customer).

Hope this helps!

    RJBlain says October 31, 2017

    I do my own formatting now, and I have no problems with it, thankfully! 🙂 I bought vellum, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made–and I’ve gotten to the point I help my writer friends with their formatting needs, too. (Formatting became an obsession long after I parted ways with Smashwords. I really enjoy it!)

    The regular vendors aren’t nearly as persnickety as SW is, and I publish directly to itunes!

    Sorry to hear you’ve had problems with them, too, though!!

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