Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Starting to publish

I am about to try publishing through Smashwords for the first time.

Before I use a publishing system like Smashwords, Createspace or Amazon for my long novel, I thought I’d ease the learning curve with something short. I decided on a short story called “Sam, the Strawb Part.” It’s about a boy who, among other things, slurs his words so much it’s almost impossible to understand him. “Strawb part” is what others hear when he says “strawberry pirate.”

What is a strawberry pirate? You’ll have to read the story to find out. I plan to make it available by the end of this week—I know, it’s coming fast—and all proceeds from the sale will go to charity.

From what I’ve been reading, the Smashwords system seems pretty easy to follow. The service began only a couple of years ago, and according to its President, Mark Coker, has released over 44,000 books by 17authors and publishers since then.

Smashwords sells the books through its own online retailing system, and any books produced through it can also be bought through Sony’s online bookstore (for the Sony e-reader), Barnes and Noble (for its Nook), Diesel, Apple’s iBookstore (for iBooks for the iPad) and others. Of course, Amazon has its own publishing system. I’ll try that next, and I’ll write about my experience with it, too.

Signing up for Smashwords is free. The company makes its revenue by keeping a percentage, I think 15 percent, of each sale. The rest goes to the publisher or author—the source of the book.
After signing up, the first step in publishing a book on Smashwords is to download and read The Smashwords Style Guide. This is one of the best step-by-step guides I have ever read. The writing is clear, there are lots of pictures, and it’s organized extremely well. The order is completely intuitive.
I’ve read it, and I think I understand it. I have a lot of experience in publishing, but one of the early warnings in the guide not to assume that what you’ve learned in publishing, particularly paper publishing, can be transferred to e-books.

I like the idea that my Smashwords book can include in-line pictures, although I don’t plan on having many, other than a cover image and a back image of my own face. You can use hyperlinks, as long as the hypertext is embedded properly. This is important, as I will use some images that require attribution via a hyperlink. And you can also have a linked table of contents—crucial for longer and technical works, but not really for a short story.

One limitation of Smashwords is that it really wants to start with a .doc file, which means something created using Microsoft Word. Yes, I know it’s the de facto standard, and it’s pretty open in the sense that there are several programs that can create or save .doc files. But it’s still a commercial system. It’s a minor point, but I think it would be nice of Smashwords could accept other file formst. On the other hand, that would make the system more difficult, complex and therefore costly to maintain.

Anyway, it’s not a problem, since I have an old version of Word that I use fairly regularly. And Smashwords, or at least its head, Mark Coker, seems to prefer the older version that I use—the one that creates .doc files, not .docx files.

Next, the Guide advises writers to make Word behave itself. First, turn off most of the AutoCorrect functions. I couldn’t agree more. It drives me nuts when Word helpfully changes the whole document to boldface when I only wanted to boldface a single word.

The Guide explicitly tells you which features to reset, and illustrates them, too. Other warnings that bear repeating: don’t indent with tabs or (worst of all) multiple spaces on the space bar; don’t hard-return after every line, and so on. And finally, the Guide prescribes the title and copyright information required for listing in the Premier Catalog, and ends with some advice about the end matter.

I cannot recommend The Smashwords Style Guide highly enough. It could help with publishing through almost any system, I think. So, I’m going to put “Sam, the Strawb Part” through the process, and I’ll post the results and my thoughts about it right here, and on Twitter, too.


  1. Hi Scott. I'm a new follower over here, so:

    Nice to meet you!

  2. This sounds really exciting. I've been wanting to start off with a short story on Smashwords but haven't taken the plunge. Can't wait to hear more about your venture!

  3. I've heard a lot about Smashwords lately, and I'm really looking forward to following your journey as you publish your story (and later your book) with them. It will be great to actually get a feel for the process. Thanks for sharing your journey with us!

  4. Scott;
    I have published with smashwords and am very impressed with it. I agree the Style Guide is great. The site has many nice features. Your book is available in many formats. You can change the price, republish the manuscript if necessary, check on sales, and other neat things. I also like my old version of WORD (2000) better than the newer ones, and it works great. Good luck with Strawberry Pirates and future books.
    Mike Bove

  5. Hi Scott, I'm in your fantasy campaign and stopped by to say hello. Looking forward to your updates, since this is something I've considered, too!

  6. Thanks all of you for your comments.
    I have just published my story, "Sam, the Strawb Part" on Smashwords and Amazon. That means it's available for just about every e-reader there is out there. Check it out. All proceeds from sales will go to a charity that supports children with autism spectrum disorders.