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How to Publish and Distribute eBooks with Smashwords

Many people are diving into the field of self-publishing. And why not? It is so simple to do this now. Between Smashwords, PubIt, and Kindle Digital Publishing, there are plenty of ways to get your eBook put out there for millions of people to discover.

Of the three platforms, I'm a huge advocate of Smashwords. Even though they have a smaller market share than Amazon, Smashwords is set up with the indie author in mind. They give you the biggest commissions, they covert your eBook to just about every format you could want, and they distribute your eBook to other retailers like iBooks, Kobo, Diesel, and more. They offer all this service at no extra cost.

But your real question is probably, "How do I publish and distribute my eBooks with Smashwords?"

It's easier than you think.

First, go to Smashwords home page and click on "How To Publish On Smashwords" along the top of the page. This will walk you through the steps of creating your author/publishing account. It's pretty straight forward. From there, customize your author page with your photo, blog feed, Twitter feed, biography, and more options that will give potential readers information about you.

Once you do that, you're ready to publish. The most important thing with publishing is that you format your cover art and book file properly. A great read for this is the Smashwords Style Guide. This eBook walks you through the steps for formatting your work so that it looks good, and qualifies it for the premium catalog, allowing your eBook to be distributed to other vendors. Keep in mind that you have to upload a Microsoft Word document, and it must be from before the Microsoft Word 2007 version (just make sure the extension on the end of your file is ".doc" and not ".docx".)

Here are a few key things I make sure of when formatting my books:

  1. My cover art is usually 6 x 9 inches and 150 dots per inch.

  2. Make sure your format the book text for easy reading. Instead of using spaces to indent, set up paragraph styles in Word to keep everything consistent. Also, justifying the text makes it a lot easier on the eyes for reading than flush left.

  3. Make a Table of Contents for your eBook. This is really important to get right because if you don't, it will get rejected for approval into the premium catalog. Keep these things in mind: Delete all hidden bookmarks in Microsoft Word. Make sure you link all bookmarks to the Table of Contents. Make sure the links in the Table of Contents go in the order of the chapters.

After, you've made sure of these things, you're ready to upload your book. This is all done on a single page. You'll enter your book title, a short description, a long description, categories for the genre, tags, formats, and sampling sizes.

For the sampling size, I suggest 50% for short stories and 10-20% for anything longer.  I do this because 10% for a short story won't give the reader enough of a sample to read the story. Also, for the formats, I select all of them because then it gives the reader every option they might need.

Once you have everything to your satisfaction, submit your book. Smashwords will then place it in a queue for conversion. This use to be a one to three-day process, but recently they upgraded their system. Now it only takes a few minutes and your book will be available for the world to read.

When the conversion is complete, make sure to go to the ISBN manager on your Dashboard and assign an ISBN to your eBook. Some of the vendors Smashwords distributes to will not accept an eBook to sell if it doesn't have an ISBN. Don't worry though, they're free! Yet another benefit of working with Smashwords for your eBook distribution.

The above are the basics for publishing and distributing on Smashwords, but I can't cover it all. Check out these helpful links for more information:

I've also taken the time to make a template for you to work from. This is directly from the Word document for my book Unspoken Stories, but each story only has the first few paragraphs. This should save you the trial and error of getting it right.

Do you have any suggestions? Feel free to leave them in the comments below!


  1. Great post for those who are getting started on Smashwords. I agree that there is definitely a learning curve when you start, but the publishing guide is great and after you've done it a few times it's pretty easy. I also saw your taco pricing list on Dean Wesley Smith's blog and have been using a nearly identical one myself as well. It's great being on the edge of the new electronic frontier as we get to help figure out how all this stuff will work going forward.

  2. Aron, you're right. In the beginning, learning the nuances of uploading to Smashwords is tough. But once you get it, it's easy. Except when they change something, which has happened to me once with TOC setup. Then I had to do a little relearning. But now I'm back on track.
    How's your pricing structure working for you?

  3. Great summary for Smashwords. I'm a little puzzled that only Microsoft Word docs from before Word 2007 are acceptable. This seems quite limiting. I use a Mac, and I have Microsoft Word for Mac, but I somehow doubt that version of Word will be acceptable. I'll have to query Smashwords about this issue.

    I'm wondering why it wouldn't be more efficient to simply publish your eBook directly to the Amazon Kindle store? I'm thinking that Amazon is where you can expect to get the most sales.

    I believe that Apple iBooks accepts manuscripts in the Apple word-processing program, which might be a good choice for Mac users. I don't know how Apple iBook sales compare to Kindle and Smashwords.

    It will be a big step forward for authors if Amazon, iBook, Smashwords, Lulu et. al. would standardize on one format for submitting eBook manuscripts. But I suspect they will resist standardization for competitive reasons.

  4. John, the Microsoft Word situation is definitely an odd requirement, but I think it has something to do with the ease of automatically converting the Word Doc to all the formats it offers the eBook in.

    I published my eBooks directly with Amazon, but use Smashwords for everyone else. The reason I do this is time. It's a lot easier to upload one file format and be done, than to submit it to each retailer who has their own requirements for submission. In some cases, going through Smashwords actually garners a higher royalty, too.

    Thanks for your thoughts!


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