Okay, I think it is time to put some of this Smashwords love-fest into perspective. I’ve read so many articles lately talking about how Smashwords is the best thing since sliced bread. Don’t get me wrong, most of what is said about them is true. It is a one stop stop for your ebook. You upload to Smashwords and they’ll send it to almost every online ebook site on the web (the notable exception is Amazon). Easy. Mostly. Convenient? Definitely. But it isn’t without its flaws. And here are the ones I’ve found.
The biggest obstacle you’ll first run into with Smashwords is formatting. Their Meatgrinder program is very particular and can be a pain to format for. That said, it isn’t impossible. It helps if you are using a PC with Word. OpenOffice is a pain to deal with and I haven’t tried LibraOffice yet. But getting your manuscript accepted into Smashwords or even their premium catalog is only the first step.
The problem is changes. You look at your formatting in PDF, HTML, even MOBI and it looks fine. But it uploads to iBooks and suddenly it is weird. And it will stay weird until they ship again which is at least a week. So that’s a week of people downloading your book and immediately deleting it because all the text is red or it is center justified.
On top of that the formatting is often okay, but not great. Case in point is the MOBI formatting for Kindle. When I formatted it myself, it was perfect. I could make changes and make sure it looked right. But when Smashwords did it, it was just okay. Readable? Sure. But surely not up to my standards. My book is a reflection of me. I don’t want just an okay reflection of me. I want the best one I can get. Smashwords doesn’t allow you to change formatting manually for each format type.
My problem has been Kobo. Others have had other issues but mine was Kobo. It’s been five months and my book still isn’t showing up in their library. My book is free so it isn’t as much of an issue but it surely would be if I was losing out on a revenue stream. Of course, Smashwords can’t do much about that. They send the book and when Kobo (or whoever) gets around to uploading it, they do.
Edit 6/21/11 – Sometime during the month of June Bob was finally uploaded to Kobo. Not sure what caused the delay.
Black Hole of Communication
The first email I sent to Smashwords was answered in minutes from Mark Coker directly. I was very impressed. Since then, I’ve been actively ignored. I’m not one to send endless questions. I think I’ve sent three total emails one of which was to change my email address, something the website directed me to do if I wanted my email address changed. My email hasn’t been changed and I don’t expect ever to receive any sort of response to any of my previous emails and I won’t bother sending more since I’m sure they won’t be answered.
This is a problem. Smashwords is growing in leaps and bounds (if Coker’s twitter posts are to be believed) and it still seems they are running a skeleton crew. Their directions basically tell you that you shouldn’t email them if you have a problem but should instead pay someone (from a list they provide) to fix it for you. That’s the sort of customer service Apple wishes they could get away with. It’s stunning that they can have such a policy and still have the following they have. Sure, they are a start up but at this point they seem to be getting large enough that customer service is going to become a must.
Don’t get me started on the delays. I’m trying not to curse in this post and it is really hard when getting to this topic. Smashwords states they’ll get to your manuscript in a week or two. It took them much longer than that for me. And then they asked me to remove a picture from the manuscript (something their directions said was okay) and then took another two weeks to approve the book. I was pulling out my hair. Sprinkle in a healthy dose of “don’t contact us” and I was ready to punch someone in the face.
This goes hand in hand with the lack of communication. If they are so overwhelmed that they can’t answer questions, so overwhelmed that they can’t post your book in a timely manner, and so overwhelmed that they can’t provide any sort of assistance, what good are they? If the idea is that they make epublishing easy, I’d rather be aggravated with Apple or Amazon directly where I have control over my document than with some stupid gatekeeper.
For those interested in numbers, having an up-to-date count of downloads is your crack. You check your stats daily, hourly, minutely. But, other than Smashwords downloads, you have to wait for literally MONTHS to find out how many downloads you’ve had. Months? Oh, I don’t think so. This isn’t Smashwords’ fault but it, alone, is enough for me to submit to each of the major services individually. I uploaded to Kindle and I can check at any time and see how many downloads I’ve had from the US, UK, and DE stores. I still don’t know how many iBook downloads I’ve had and I’ve had my book on iBooks since February 18th (that’s three months for those reading in the future).
Edit 6/21/11 – According to the Smashwords sales report page, my Apple sales should be adjusted through May 28, 2011. It is still showing zero sales. I’ve got 35 reviews on the US iBookstore alone so I know that can’t be right. Hell, I downloaded it. Against my better judgement (and previous statement), I’ve sent an email to Smashwords. We’ll see if I get a response this time. I’m not hopeful.
Edit 12/10/11 – Received word from a commentor that Smashwords doesn’t currently report stats on free books (though they receive them). Information that should be communicated to prospective authors.
My last gripe is a nitpick. Smashwords has become the defacto site for posting erotica. If you spend any time on the site it seems well over half of the books are some sort of fetish erotica (I have no stats on that, it just seems so). While I have no problem with people writing or reading erotica, it bothers me that Smashwords is so full of it. I almost don’t want to send people to the site because of it. I honestly wish there were multiple Smashwords URLs for each of the divisions. That way when you hit “Home” you’d be at children’s books home or sci-fi home and not looking at a book cover with a half-naked woman with a whip titled “Disciplining Daddy.”
Note – I have no idea if such a book exists and if it does…well, I don’t know what to say.
So, what does this mean for me and Smashwords? Well, there are some services that won’t accept direct submissions (not sure which those are but they are out there). Smashwords is good for them. They are also good for giving away copies of your book as they make it easy to create a coupon code that people can use. But for the services that I’m seeing the most traffic, namely Kindle, Nook, and Apple, I’m probably going to submit directly. Sure it’ll cost more money (need individual ISBNs) and it’ll be more hassle, but I’ll want to track my upcoming release Bob Moore: Desperate Times more closely. Plus, with direct submissions you’re generally making a larger cut of the sales price and you can control exactly how the book looks. When you are trying to put out the best product possible, that alone is reason enough. As an overall service concept, I give Smashwords a 4 out of 5 (needs Amazon shipping for a 5). For performance, I give them a 3 (better/some customer service would increase this to a 3.5). For my satisfaction, I give them a 2 (far too aggravated for a higher number but they did get my book into many venues).
Concept -[rating: 4]
Performance – [rating: 3]
Satisfaction – [rating: 2]
Followup – More Smashwords Stats Woes
Having problems formatting your eBook for Smashwords? Check out my Smashwords Self Publishing Guide!