Friday, September 16, 2011

A Smashwords virgin no more

Yesterday evening, I published using Smashwords and Amazon for the first time. The subject was my short story written in support of Asperger’s Syndrome and other autism-spectrum disorders, “Sam, the Strawb Part.” I’m happy to say that it’s now available on both Smashwords’ and Amazon’s sites for the low, low price of just $1.99. All proceeds from sales go to Children at Risk, and Ottawa-based charity that supports children with autism spectrum disorders and their families.

I am also happy to say that it was very easy. I had already registered accounts as a buyer with both Smashwords and Amazon, as a customer, and they don’t require any further steps to register as a publisher.

The important thing with publishing on Smashwords is to set up your document properly. Follow the Style Guide. Keep your document simple, using only one or two standard fonts, and don’t add extra elements like running headers and footers. Smashwords’ “Meat Grinder” formatting and publishing application will take care of that. And don’t add page breaks or extra tabs or hard returns (Enter), either.

You can add hyperlinks and images, as long as they’re embedded. You can also have a hyperlinked table of contents, which is essential for a longer, technical book, nice for long novels, but not necessary at all for a short story. If you want to include a ToC, make sure you follow the Style Guide carefully.

Smashwords demands that you put “Smashwords edition” or “Published by [publisher] on Smashwords” in the copyright information at the front of your book. The Style Guide also recommends that you add your author bio and photo at the end. I complied with their recommendation to add hyperlinks to my own website, blogs and Twitter account.

Don’t forget about an International Standard Book Number (ISBN). This is essential for listing your book on some retailers’ sites, like Apple’s iBooks. You can get your own—I did—or you can go through Smashwords for that. Remember, every edition should have its own ISBN. I registered two numbers, one for the Smashwords edition and one for the Amazon edition. The rules governing ISBNs stipulate that you use different numbers for each format, which means MOBI (Amazon), PDF, LRF and so on. And another one for paper, as well. Smashwords automatically converts your manuscript into all the different electronic formats and, eventually, distributes them to different retailers in the formats they require; however, it has no way of assigning different ISBNs to each of them, yet. If you want to follow the letter of the ISBN rules, then you’ll have to register your manuscript for each different version, get a different ISBN for each one, and then upload each one separately to Smashwords, selecting just one format for each ISBN. I did not do that, however. Maybe next time.

Finally, the cover. Save the image and and text—title, author, publisher, tags, etc.—into one JPEG file. Since it’s one image, you can use the craziest typeface you want. Smashwords associates the cover and document files and puts them together quite nicely.

Then, in the Smashwords publishing interface, all I had to do was fill in the information about title, format, uploading the cover image and uploading the document file. It took a few minutes for Smashwords to process the files, but I watched Boardwalk Empire on demand TV while I waited.

The last step was to update my publisher and author information. I added the same picture that I have on this blog and copied the bio from the back of the story, plus links to my LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook pages and my blogs.

Done! My story was right there!

Next, the Amazon version. I copied the file, and saved it as a different version. I changed the ISBN for the Amazon version and took out the mentions of Smashwords. Then I logged into my account and selected “Self-publish with Us” at the bottom of the page. Follow the instructions, upload the cover and document files, update the author information, and it’s done. The interface notified me that it had successfully uploaded the files and that it would take 24 hours to appear on the catalog, but I found it this morning, maybe 13 hours later! Thanks, Amazon.

If you want to see (or buy) the story, you can go to
To view my Smashwords Author Profile, visit

So, you see, it’s quite an easy process. Now the hard part, to promote it. I’ll keep you posted on how that is going, too.


  1. I'm not quite where you are because I'm holding out for an agent and traditional publisher for my book, but this took a lot of the mystery and fear away. I think picking a cover is worse. I followed you from twitter because I'm a beginning twit too. You may be a tweep but I'm a twit. You can find my blog and a chocolate follower contest at Hope you do well!

  2. Hello from the SF campaign group. You need to visit this guy's blog if you haven't yet. He's setting up a site for writers who are donating a share of their book proceeds to charity: I think it will help your sales. Although my book isn't strictly for charity, I'm using the profits to send my youngest son on a church mission and later, my hubby and I. Of course, I hope the Boy Scouts regain enough favor among teenage boys that more will stick with it until they reach Eagle. I'm giving you the Versatile Blogger Award, which I hope to have posted by tonight at the latest.

  3. I published my first ebook on Smashwords last Thursday (same day as you!) and on Amazon on Friday. Great feeling, isn’t it? :)

  4. Anonymous9:25 AM

    I have a question on ISBN on Smashwords for you or anybody that knows about this. Smashwords give you the ISBN for your electronic/digital book, right? But I'm told Smashwords then owns the ISBN for their distributions. If they own it, what happens if the author, at some point in time, wants to publish it electronically with a traditional publisher? How does that work if Smashwords own the ISBN and a traditional publishing company wants to publish it?


    1. It's no problem, because an ISBN attaches to a specific edition of a book. If you were to re-publish a second edition of your book through Smashwords, you would have to use a new ISBN for it.

      As long as the author retains full copyright of the content (which he or she does under the Smashwords contract), the author can subsequently contract with any other publisher. That publisher would be responsible for getting a new ISBN.

      By the way, if you're Canadian, ISBNs are free.

    2. Smashwords asks you not to upload a new version if you make changes, but to change the original. Using their free ISBN is as good as using your own (I've done both under a different writing name) since they both say Published by Smashwords. I've been with them nearly from the beginning and love them!

  5. Anonymous9:55 AM

    I have published on both of these venues. I found the Smashwords Style guide tedious and long-winded, but I believe it is probably written for someone who has little or no experience with Word. I wish they had a version of the guide in a straight-forward, enumerated list of Do's and Don't's for the technically savvy and ADD types. Otherwise, the experience has been generally pleasant. Marketing is much more dreadful.