Should you abandon the Smashwords ship?

One of the things I’m constantly advocating to my writer’s group, and basically to anyone who wants to write and who will stop and listen for a few moments, is the need to keep on top of what is happening in the publishing industry. The best way to do this is to keep an eye on publishing related blogs and sites such as Publisher’s Weekly. I also tell folks that, just like with the news, you have to read both sides of the story and then try to glean the truth from the facts you find. Maybe that’s the blood of all the journalists in my family tree and that runs through my veins but I’ve always believed in double and triple checking your facts before making an informed decision. That’s not always possible but you have to try.

One of the blogs I regularly turn to is The Passive Voice. I like the site for several reasons. The first is that Passive Guy, the owner of the blog, does a great job of pulling together posts and news articles about the industry that are of interest. More importantly, in some ways, PG is not only an author himself but he is also an IP attorney, iirc. So when he talks contracts, I tend to pay close attention.

Two of his recent posts caught my eye for different reasons. The first is a link to M. C. A. Hogarth’s post about why she is leaving Smashwords and closing down her page there. The second is about the impact of the new Kindle Unlimited program on the best sellers list — I’ll be discussing that one in a separate post.

(If Hogarth’s name is familiar, it might be because she is the one who had to fight for the right to use the term “space marine” in her work. The short version is that Games Workshop last year told Amazon that she had infringed on their copy right by using the term in her work. She hadn’t. GW had trademarked the term in relation to games only. You can read more about it here and here.)

Those of you who have read my posts here or over at Mad Genius Club know I have little love for Smashwords. Years ago, when there were few places for self-published authors to sell their work — and when self-published authors were viewed with a great deal more disdain than they are today — Smashwords was a pioneer. It gave us a place to not only sell our books in a number of different formats but it also gave us access to stores we wouldn’t have access to otherwise. Smashwords developed their meatgrinder which allowed you to upload a DOC file and they’d convert it to all the required formats. And all was happy with the world.

Until Amazon brought out its KDP program, followed by B&N’s PubIt and then others.

Their programs evolved while Smashwords’ didn’t — and, btw, I hate the meatgrinder.

So, seeing that Hogarth had decided to leave Smashwords, I read with interest her reasons why. Her answer, in brief, boiled down to this:  The answer, in brief: I hate the Smashwords interface. I hate that they are fussy about uploaded documents and have mysterious/inexplicable delays shipping my work to retailers. I hate their quarterly payment schedule. I despise their customer service. Or lack of thereof. And I dislike that they have this quasi-retailer face.

To which I say, YES!

Everything she says as she describes her reasons in further detail, I’ve experienced. Add in the fact that Smashwords pays quarterly — which means you may be paid for books sold six months ago depending on when the retail outlet paid Smashwords — and a spreadsheet that drives accountants to drink and, well, it isn’t fun to work with. Then there was the book I oploaded and, when I started checking the various versions, realized that the conversion process had somehow turn the text in over half of the book into small caps. Small caps! Nowhere in the document I’d uploaded had there been small caps. Yet the meatgrinder managed to insert them. It took weeks and multiple uploads of new files to get that fixed.

Frankly, Smashwords just isn’t worth the time and aggravation. At least not for me. I will admit, I put Vengeance from Ashes up on it when the novel first came out. But I uploaded an ePub file and did not use Smashwords as distributor to any other stores. The book is not avvailable through them right now because I’ve opted to take it into the Kindle Unlimited program and, in the week or so KU has been available, I’ve had more downloads through that program than I had sales the two months previously on SW. Assuming the KU program pays about the same as the old KOLL program, I will have made more money through the loans than I did through the SW sales.

At the end of the KU period, I may take VfA back to active status on Smashwords. I will take it active again on Draft2Digital to get into Apple, B&N and Kobo.

What about you? What are your thoughts about why Hogarth — and others like her — are moving away from Smashwords?


  1. I maintain that Smashwords and its Meatgrinder program were aptly named. Trying to get something to come out other than ground-up meat is…difficult. And it took over a year for my first sale through Smashwords to even show up, all while I was making nice royalties from Amazon and Nook.

    So after wrestling with the first couple of books (we’re talking short stories in the main; my novels go to my small trad pub), I quit even trying to post anything to Smashwords and went to Amazon first, and Nook second.

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