Clarifying Smashwords File Formats and Distribution Channels

I’ve seen a question and assumption on an author loop several times, and I thought I would post about it here just in case anyone reading my blog is confused.

The issue? Some believe that if they allow Smashwords to create a .mobi file that it automatically distributes to Amazon, and they want to do that themselves. So, they uncheck the option. Or that if they allow Smashwords to create a .epub file that it automatically distributes to Barnes and Noble and they want to do that themselves. So, they uncheck the option.

Uh, no. That is a wrong assumption.

Smashwords File Formats and Distribution Channels

To be clear, the two things mentioned above do not have anything to do with each other. I’ve seen people assume this without verifying by looking through Smashwords documentation or asking them. So, here we go…

File Formats: When you upload your Word document you are given an option on which formats you will allow the Meatgrinder to convert into. This is for ebook formats SOLD ON SMASHWORDS! You do not want to limit what a customer can buy on Smashwords, as you have no idea what format they need for their preferred ereader.

Did you know Amazon tacks on a $2 surcharge to purchases from a large part of the world? That people outside the US cannot buy from Barnes & Noble?

Do not limit what your customers can buy there! They may have a Kindle and need a .mobi, but refuse to buy at Amazon. My earnest suggestion is to allow Smashwords to create all formats possible.

Distribution Channels: Yes, if you are approved for expanded distribution, your ebooks are automatically sent to all of the Smashwords distribution partners. Using the “Channel Manager” option on the left side of the Dashboard you can control which distributors your ebooks are sent to.

If you want to distribute to Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo yourself, then uncheck those specific options. It’s as simple as that. Meanwhile, the file formats will still be available to potential customers on the Smashwords site itself (See note above about File Formats).

NOTE: Even though the “Channel Manager” lists Amazon as a partner, this is not currently true. Smashwords does not distribute to Amazon at this time because of delays on the Amazon end. Honestly, I would be very surprised if Amazon ever opens up to allowing Smashwords to distribute ebooks into their website and catalog.

To summarize, the two issues are different (even though on the technical back end they may be related). You want all file formats to be available to all Smashwords customers. If you don’t want a book distributed to a specific vendor, then use the “Channel Manager” page.

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A Redpoint One RomanceJ.A. Marlow

A Turn of the Pipes

An alien newt leads to… love?

Rachel Henderkito’s job of taking care of Redpoint One’s plumbing problems isn’t easy, especially when citizen pets clog up the pipes. After fishing an alien newt out of the pipes for a third time she takes the creature back to its owner for a stern warning.

Ignacio Manetti is determined to help keep rare alien newts and salamanders off the extinction list. He doesn’t have time for romance, nor for the heart-breaking memories it brings with it.

Add in an alien flying squirrel, preparations for Redpoint One’s annual Exotic Pet Show, and the lovably interfering Naughty Knitter’s Club, how can romance not bloom?

Except Rachel and her bot hate his rare Mandian Ruffled Newt while he unconditionally loves it.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | SmashwordsKobo

Smashwords New Distribution Channel

I thought I posted about this, but a look through the archive shows I didn’t. Oops!

Smashwords today announced a distribution agreement with Baker & Taylor, one of the world’s largest distributors of physical and digital books.

The agreement will expand distribution for nearly 100,000 Smashwords books to new devices and markets.

There are two components of the agreement. The first is distribution into the Blio online store and e-reading app. The second part of the agreement gains Smashwords authors and publishers distribution into the library market through Baker & Taylor’s Axis360 service.

More information at the Smashwords Blog.

The new channels are already showing up in the Smashwords dashboard and it looks like for some of us distribution started even before the announcement. I’m happy to see Smashwords expanding what channels they distribute to. The more the better.

I find the library angle quite interesting. The other big library service, Overdrive, is notoriously difficult for Indies to get into unless you are dominating bestseller lists. The Axis360 service isn’t as widely used as Overdrive, but maybe this will put some pressure on Overdrive to get their act together.

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J.A. Marlow

Smashwords New Distribution Channel

Welcome 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.

When Zach Callahan and his father, Hawk, arrive unprepared for a new life in the wilds of Alaska they find the first challenge is just getting to the small town of Salmon Run. They think they have it made once they get to the Solar Express, the unique train that will take them through a dark roadless wilderness to their new home.

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

With the Solar Express shutting itself down, stranding its passengers in the middle of nowhere, Zach and a new friend find themselves on a collision course with an alien spaceship hidden under the snow and ice.

Right under the path of the rescuers. A spacehip also feeling the effects of the light show…

A 37800 word, 152 page (approximate), Alaskan science fiction stand-alone novella in the Salmon Run series by J.A. Marlow.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

Expanded Distribution Through Apple

On Tuesday October 4th, Smashwords announced that the Apple iBookstore was expanding Smashwords ebook distribution into 26 more countries. This is very exciting news, as these markets are largely untouched when it comes to the ebook revolution. As time goes on they could start to make up a larger and larger percentage of sales. Added markets are always good for the bottom line.

New Country Markets:

Austria
Belgium
Bulgaria
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
Greece
Hungary
Ireland
Italy
Latvia
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Malta
Netherlands
Norway
Poland
Portugal
Romania
Slovakia
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland

This is on top of the previous markets which were:

US
Canada
U.K.
Germany
France
Australia

For those who are counting this makes a grand total of 32 countries that authors and publishers are now able to penetrate via Apple or through Smashword agreement with Apple. This allows more market penetration and the reaching of new demographics. Yay!

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J.A. Marlow

Expanded Distribution Through Apple
A planet-wide conspiracy is waiting at Grandmother’s house…

“Always wear the red hood and cape while you are in the forest,” Grandma admonished.

For a teen with purple and red hair, and an attitude to match, the small claustrophobic city of Oburos grows ever smaller with Uncle Travis’s attempts to take over her and her mother’s life.

An invitation to visit Grandmother’s house, nestled among the giant trees filling the planet, gives Kate a welcome respite. But, there is no time for rest. A conspiracy among the forest inhabitants, moving trees, and other mysteries await her at Grandmother’s house.

Kate learns just how little she knew of the forests, much less its animals. To survive she must learn fast, and that includes trust and teamwork.

And just where was Grandma, anyway?

A Science Fiction 83600, 335 page (approximate) word stand-alone novel retelling of the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood”.

AmazonExpanded Distribution Through Apple | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords

Ebook Moving Sale!

Ebook Moving Sale!The stress of my move might as well be a good thing to my readers.

So, moving sale!

Until the move is over and I’m back online, I am putting the following items on sale:

Smashwords:

“Night of the Aurora” – Is free! When Zach Callahan and his father, Hawk, arrive unprepared for a new life in the wilds of Alaska they find the first challenge is just getting to the small town of Salmon Run. But, Alaska has more in store for them. A massive aurora, the Solar Express train stranding them in the middle of nowhere… and the alien spaceship hidden beneath the ice and snow…

Omnilit and All Romance eBooks:

“Into the Forest Shadows”: 45% off: On a world of valuable giant trees and intelligent animals, a red-cloaked headstrong teen struggles to save her family from a planetary conspiracy awaiting her at Grandmother’s house. A Science Fiction novel retelling of the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood” by J.A. Marlow.

Ebook Moving Sale!There was supposed to be a few other books for sale at Omnilit, but so far the discount has not propagated out. Oh well, I tried. Check on Thursday to see if they show up.

Oh, and enjoy your reading!

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.

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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.

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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