Publishing with Smashwords

SmashwordsDisclaimer: Other than utilising their systems for the publication of books, neither T. R. Robinson nor T. R. Robinson Publications are employed by, personally connected with or affiliated to, Smashwords.

Note: The information contained below is primarily intended for new and inexperienced authors. Those familiar with self-publishing will probably not find anything they do not already know. However, some of the formatting requirements to publish with Smashwords are different to those for other systems.

Readers, please note; this is only intended to be an overview of the processes for publishing with Smashwords. Further, detailed, information and guidance may be found within the Smashwords publishing site. Nevertheless, to provide an adequate overview, the post has to be longer than normal. The writer hopes, new, inexperienced, authors will find the following helpful.

Why Smashwords?

Most indie (independent) self-publishing authors will be familiar with, or at least have knowledge of, Amazon’s self-publishing systems and platforms (CreateSpace, Kindle). In fact, many never consider publishing their books elsewhere. So why even consider Smashwords?

Amazon is probably the world’s most popular and active on-line retailer that sells a complete range of products besides books. It therefore makes sense for authors to ensure their books are there. However, there are limitations: Amazon only retails from its own sites. They do not permit authors to make the CreateSpace or Kindle edition of their book available through other retailers. There are also limitations when it comes to putting books on offer.

In comparison, Smashwords, provided a book is accepted into their premium catalogue (more of that later), distributes to multiple retailers including: Apple (iBooks); Barnes & Noble (includes Nook); Overdrive (enables libraries to obtain the book); Baker & Taylor (one of their branches also facilitates library discoverability); and many more. It is therefore worthwhile for authors to consider also publishing with Smashwords.


Naturally, as with all services, an author needs to open a Smashwords account. The following will be required: e-mail contact address; username (they will be requested to enter one of their choice. Rather than a full name these are usually short terms that have some baring.); name (actual or pen); state whether a person or company; age; location (country); password (for security best if not one already used elsewhere).

There is also the option to add: profile information: profile photograph or image; author biography and to complete an author questionnaire. Of course, anything that gives the author greater visibility is useful but there is no requirement to add any of this at this stage. They may return at any time to add the information, if they wish.

Book Setup

Title: Simply enter the title the book will be published with.

Release Date: The author has the option of confirming immediate publication or of selecting a future date. For example: If the book is to be available for pre-order, the date when the book is to be made available for purchase should be entered.

Synopsis: Enter the standard, long version, of the book’s synopsis e.g. as it would appear on the back cover of a paperback edition. N.B. Smashwords only publishes digital editions but does provide for the insertion of a URL to the paperback edition if one exists.

Short Description: A one or two sentence version of the synopsis. This, rather than the full synopsis, is usually displayed in the initial index of books. The full synopsis will be available if the reader clicks through to the actual book page.

Language: Language the book has been written in.

Price: The author choses how much they wish to charge for each individual book. Please note: Smashwords is based in the USA consequently, all prices are entered and shown in US Dollars ($). Please also note: to meet the requirements of other retailers the price needs to end with .99c e.g. $2.99; $5.99 etc.

Sample: To enable readers to decide whether the book is for them or not, as with other on-line retailers e.g. Amazon, they may select to download a sample before deciding to purchase, or not. This usually defaults to 20% but the author has the option of changing it. Authors need to bear in mind the sample comprises everything in the initial pages e.g. title page, copyright statement, preface, dedications, acknowledgments etc. Less than a 15% sample is therefore not recommended.

Categorization: This is the equivalent of the BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) used in other systems. To gain the best indexing, the author should select both a Primary and a Secondary category.

Adult content: Important this section is completed. If not, a child, or reader who objects to such content, may purchase the book and understandably be upset. This would not reflect well upon an author and may in fact lead to them losing sells or even finding their books blocked or banned.

Box Set: Self-explanatory.

Tags: Up to ten tags may be entered. Provided they are relevant tags may help considerably with a book’s discoverability.

Ebook Formats: In order to make the book suitable for all the various digital readers available e.g. tablets, kindles, iPads etc., Smashwords enables a broad spectrum of formats. This is where the author selects the options for the book. The more there are the more available the book is. Why would they not select all?

Cover: This is where the author uploads the completed digital book cover. The cover has to meet specific requirements but, unless it has been created by an inexperienced amateur, most designs usually meet the requirements by default.

File: This where the book file manuscript is uploaded. Note: Smashwords’ formatting requirements are different to those for other systems. But there is no need to panic.

Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, has provided an excellent Style Guide that details exactly what is required. Provided it is followed, step by step, the correct formatting is easy to achieve. Note: if the manuscript has not been formatted in accordance with the Style Guide it is unlikely the book would be accepted into the Smashwords premium catalogue. This means distribution to other retailers, as mentioned above, will not occur though the book may still be available through Smashwords own site.

N.B. The Style Guide contains a lot more useful information besides describing how to format the manuscript document.

Publishing Agreement: To meet legislative requirements as well as Smashwords own terms and conditions, the author will need to agree and confirm by ticking the ‘Yes, I agree’ panel at the end:

  1. They agree to the Terms of Service.
  2. The work does not violate the Terms of Service
  3. They are the original author and hold the copyright.
  4. They authorise Smashwords to publish and distribute the work.

Publish Immediately: Presumably whether or how this panel appears will be influenced by what the author entered under ‘Release Date’ in the initial stages of the set up process.

ISBN (International Standard Book Number): Smashwords offers a free ISBN for each book published. Authors need to remember, though for most it is not an issue, acceptance of a free ISBN will result in Smashwords being shown as the publisher. As said for most this is not a problem but if the author wishes to identified as the publisher they will need to utilise an ISBN they have purchased. This does not affect their author status: they are still shown as the author. Note: Book identification within the Smashwords system does not use ISBNs. A unique ‘view’ URL/code is provided.

Metadata Details

When the ‘Publish’ button has been pressed Smashwords quickly publishes the book on its own website. Acceptance into the premium catalogue takes a few days: the manuscript has to be carefully checked to ensure it meets requirements before it may be distributed to other retailers. The following information is, almost immediately, provided on screen:

  • Word Count: Total for book.
  • ISBN: Whether a Smashwords free one or an author’s own.
  • Title: As on book.
  • Author: As shown in the book.
  • Publisher: Shown as when a free ISBN has been utilised.
  • Date and time of submission: This will be shown with the book details.


The above is only intended to be an overview to assist new and inexperienced authors to get going with the publication of their digital books. Besides Mark Coker’s excellent Style Guide, the Smashwords system has many helpful guidance notes that authors may avail themselves of. Provided they do not try to rush matters, and carefully follow the Style Guide, the process is reasonably straight forward and within the grasp of most.

Due to Smashwords extended distribution to multiple retailers, authors are advised to consider publishing with them.

Tax: No matter where an author is based or a book sold, tax is always payable. The author will have to complete a tax form. Further information and guidance regarding tax and tax forms may be found at ‘Avoiding US Tax Withholding’.

Offer Campaigns: Unlike Amazon, Smashwords permits authors to put their books on offer without having to withdraw them from other retailers. A very distinct advantage if the book has been published through various channels.

More information may be found in the Smashwords website:

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