Distribution Channel: Smashwords Pt 2

And now we continue analyzing the objections to Smashwords. The main complaints?

  • I sell way more at Amazon with Kindle!
  • Quarterly payments are too slow.
  • Slow sales (for most)
  • Meatgrinder woes!
  • Premium Distribution is too hard to get into!
  • Premium Distribution sales numbers come in too slow.

The first three we went over last week. Now on to the last three!

Meatgrinder woes!

This is the biggest complaint about Smashwords.

Smashwords has a difficult task. Not only do they sell many formats of ebooks themselves, but they also need properly formatted ebooks to send to the other online etailers they distribute to. Add on top of that is that many authors don’t know how to make all the conversions by themselves.

So, Smashwrods came up with a converter program called the Meatgrinder that takes a DOC file and converts it into many formats. In order to do this they need a very specific formatted original file. The converter already has a lot to do so I can understand them wanting to standardize the original file (still would like the option of uploading an epub, though). Each ebook format has special features and problems. The Meatgrinder has to compensate for all of them.

What is the best way to deal with the Meatgrinder so it can do what it needs to do?

People are going to hate this…

FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS!

Yes, indeed. One of the first things you learn in school. Follow the instructions.

This means downloading the Smashwords Style Guide and following it. Create a checklist for yourself if need be. Whatever you need to do. Just follow it.

The only time I’ve had problems with the Meatgrinder is when the Meatgrinder itself had a problem (such as the one in May and June when it was corrupting the NCX file, and then of course the person manually checking for inclusion in the Premium Channels flagged as wrong). Smashwords admitted that it was a problem and worked to fix it.

Okay, I have had other problems. Such as when I messed up the formatting myself. I take responsibility for that. I found the problems, fixed them, and uploaded again.

Will the files resulting from the Meatgrinder be as polished and beautiful as they would if you did them all yourself? No, not typically. Is it enough to turn off readers? No, not typically.

I think that because the actual upload itself is such a big mental step that this has taken on a life of its own. But really, it doesn’t need to be. Follow the instructions of the Smashwords Style Guide (which has good advice for controlling the formatting in Word even for normal-day use) and let the Meatgrinder do its work.

If you have a problem, contact customer service. Smashwords has one of the best customer service response times I’ve had so far among all the vendors, and that includes Amazon.

Premium Distribution is too hard to get into!

This complaint has two parts. We’ll deal with the first one: the time needed for approval into the Premium sales channels.

Smashwords has been a victim of its own success. Sales are exploding. With it the uploads by authors and publishers is exploding. For a while the wait time for an ebook to be checked and either accepted or denied was going on towards a month.

However, Smashwords very quickly realized the problem. It benefits them to get books out into the distribution channels as fast as possible just as it benefits the author. So, they hired new people.

I can personally testify that the new hires have greatly speeded the process.  This is a short-lived complaint as Smashwards has always responded rather quickly.

The second part of this complaint centers around the Meatgrinder. If the source file isn’t just right, or the conversion process hiccups, then the submission will be denied. The author/publisher then has to go and find the problem and upload again. Not much an author can do other than to pay attention to the formatting (see the bigger section above about the Meatgrinder).

“Premium Distribution sales numbers come in too slow.”

Sorry, not the fault of Smashwords. Blame the other etailers for reporting so slow. Again, we are spoiled by having minute-by-minute updates on sales through Amazon, Barnes & Noble,  and even Smashword’s own dashboard. It’s a great thing, but also a recent perk.

In other words, be patient. Get into those other channels and start gathering sales. Remember, this is about the sales over the long-term, not short-term!

With this complaint we also go back to reader demographics and international sales.

Smashwords can get you into other etailer online stores in an easy fashion, and into some stores that will not work with individual authors. Those online etailers each have their own customer base, not only in basic demographics, but also in other countries.

Leave out Premium Distribution, and you are leaving out potential audience.

Also, think of this: Some of these etailers have horrible customer service on the publisher end. Getting answers or help with problems is like pulling teeth. Having Smashwords on your side can be a great benefit. Smashwords is providing so much content, content which is helping with the bottom lines of these etailers, that they are much more likely to listen to Smashwords when a problem comes up. Much more than if you complained yourself.

***

Smashwords has benefits not discussed in the previous sections. I think it’s a good idea to go over them, as well.

Sales Coupons:

Smashwords has the easiest coupon system I have used across all the big sites. They are very handy to use with reviewers, family, and for limited time sales.

The last item is important. You see, Amazon has these little webcrawlers roaming the internet looking for lower prices. If they find one then your ebook will be marked down whether you want it to or not. At times this can be a good thing, but most times it isn’t. If it isn’t wanted, then this can have a horrifying affect on your royalties.

With a coupon the sales price of the ebook displays as normal, satisfying the Amazon webcrawlers that all is well in pricing-land. But, at checkout time, your customers can apply a coupon for any percentage you set including 100% off.

There are so many ways to use these coupons such as book-cards suggested by Dean Wesley Smith. Don’t underestimate the possibilities.

International Authors:

Did you know international authors are having a hard time with Indie publishing? Barnes & Noble’s Pubit program won’t even talk to them. Then there is the problem of the tax treaties with the US (where the big ebook etailer companies are located). 30% is deducted from any payment unless the proper papers are filed and the IRS gives the author permission to be paid without any witholding.

Amazon will work with international authors, but they will not help at all with giving the authors what they need to go to the IRS, specifically a letterhead letter saying, “Yes, they are selling through us.”

Smashwords WILL work with authors. They will help provide the special letter and have a dedicated FAQ section on the subject on their website.

By using Smashwords, not only do international authors have the help they need with the IRS, but they can also use Smashword’s premium distribution to get into online etailers that won’t allow them to sell through directly such as Barnes & Noble.

For international authors, Smashwords is a great thing.

Conclusion

Successful business is about putting together the tools needed to make it a success. Smashwords is a valuable part of the Indi publisher’s toolbox. Smashwords does have its issues, but then so does every other etailer and distributor. It fills a big niche and to ignore it will be to the detriment of your books and sales. There is a reason it’s called one of the “Big 3” when it comes to ebooks.

Think long and hard before turning your back on it.

Summary:

  • Marketing: Offer your wares at as many outlets as possible so that you can reach as many readers as possible. This is the most basic piece of marketing you can do other than write new product.
  • Do not keep all your ‘eggs in one basket.’ The markets are changing. By diversifying you can be ready for it.
  • Do not ignore the international markets. The potential there is massive, and Smashwords can help you reach them.
  • Don’t ignore the small sales in favor of the big sales. A sale is a sale is a sale is a sale (you get the point).
  • Follow the instructions. Smashwords provides a lot of information between their FAQ and Smashwords Style Guide. Use them.
  • Be patient. This is a marathon, not a race. Whether it be payment cycles, sales reporting from distribution channels, or premium approval, remember how not too long ago things were much much worse. Unlike Big Publishing, I haven’t heard of Smashwords delaying its author’s payments.
  • Whether you like it or not, you are now in business for yourself. Treat it as such. Don’t look down on sales and new readers. Keep yourself flexible, and that means not closing your mind to new possibilities.
I hope this these two posts have been helpful. I love the Indie movement, and I want to see as many successful as possible.

__________________________

J.A. Marlow

Distribution Channel: Smashwords Pt 2Welcome to Salmon Run, Alaska! A place of wild animals, wild land, and wild inhabitants…oh, and native legends come alive and an inter-planetary alien conflict at their backdoor.

Zach Callahan and his father, Hawk, arrive in Alaska to begin a new life. Anxious to arrive at the lodge crazy Uncle George left them, they find the first challenge is just getting to Salmon Run.

While still in Cordova, an old prospector declares the two greenhorns unprepared for the realities of an Alaskan winter. Sasha, a young native girl, attaches herself to Zach, much to his disgust. A failed sled-dog won’t leave Hawk alone, giving rise to an old phobia. They think they have it made once they get to the Solar Express, the unique train that will take them through a dark road-less wilderness to their new home.

The same night a massive display of the Aurora Borealis lights up the sky.

The Solar Express shuts down, stranding its passengers in the middle of nowhere. Hidden beneath the snow and ice, and under the path of the rescuers, an alien spaceship also feels the effects of the light show.

Cut off from the rescuers and trapped inside the spaceship, Zach and Sasha must ally themselves with a pair of aliens before either the malfunctioning security systems or the native Alaskan wildlife kills them.

A 37800 word stand-alone Novella in the Salmon Run series.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

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7 thoughts on “Distribution Channel: Smashwords Pt 2

  1. •Do not keep all your ‘eggs in one basket.’ The markets are changing. By diversifying you can be ready for it.

    That’s why I’m on Amazon, SW, and Xin Xii.

    Another great post! 🙂

  2. Smashwords has definitely got its heart in the right place.

    That said, I followed instructions to the letter, basing my document on norml paragraph style and modifying for intros and story titles. I kept it simple.

    But the HTML (the only version I’ve looked at so far) didn’t quite turn out right. The titles should have been a slightly larger font size, and it looks like they’re in a different font entirely than the one I started with.

    But the book is perfectly readable. And I’m enjoying the experience.

    Just not quite sure what to do next…

    • @Michael

      Honestly, I haven’t let different size and type of font bother me, unless it makes the ebook unreadable. The reason is that pretty much any ereader can change those two items anyway.

      Your last line, did that refer to what project to work on next? Or how to tweak your ebook file formatting?

  3. A very insightful post, I learned a lot.

    You also answered most of the questions I had regarding Kindle. Filing taxes etc. Either way, I am ready to take next leap with my writing.
    Thanks

  4. Pingback: Learning New Things about eBook Publishing « D J Mills Author
  5. I meant tweaking. The file was on a seperate hard disk in the new computer, and I think it passed through the version of word that’s on the main drive. Sigh. I’ll double-check everything.

    But I’ve already started the next project–finishing the novel version of Saviots of the Galaxy

    🙂

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