by Will Viharo
When it comes to self-publishing platforms, three of the biggest in today’s thriving literary marketplace are Amazon’s Kindle, Lulu, and Smashwords. Most writers have heard of all three, but find it difficult to decide which one to go with, since they all come with pros and cons.
The good news is that each has been around for a while now, so there’s a track record to help you decide.
Based on the accumulated evidence, Smashwords might be the right option for you, but as always, it depends on your individual agenda, and finding the right balance of sacrifices vs. rewards…
Smashwords was founded in 2008 by Mark Coker, who actually began building the company in 2005, making him a visionary pioneer in the DIY publishing industry. While they are unquestionably one of the leaders in this booming field, the company’s claim of being the top distributor for independent authors is debatable.
Still, by the end of last year they boasted 336,000 unique titles by over 101, 000 authors, which is a very respectable report.
If you scan the Web, you’ll find both positive and negative user feedback from Smashwords customers. Frankly, more con than pro, at least from what I’ve discovered via my own research, though most agree it is basically user-friendly and cost effective, offering competitive rates and revenues.
This review by author Tom Andry points to a lot of formatting and communication issues which reminded me of my own problems with Lulu. After five fruitful if frustrating years, I wound up canceling my Lulu account, but have kept my “selfie” eBooks available via Kindle, a service I still recommend, even after I signed contracts with small presses and am no longer strictly a self-published author.
But let’s face the facts: Amazon has suffered a lot of bad press lately due to questionable business practices, and despite its overall superior success rate, this has resulted in many authors seeking alternatives. Despite the mixed reviews, Smashwords is definitely a primary contender, based purely on its massive client base and mostly favorable public profile.
Since I lack any direct experience with Smashwords, though I am very familiar with it via its popular reputation, I asked a fellow author, the other “Will the Quill,” Boston’s Will Berkeley, to share his own history with this particular platform.
Thankfully, he didn’t hold anything back, providing an eloquently balanced and comprehensive assessment, including a detailed comparison to the current heavyweight champion of self-publishing, Amazon:
“I did Kindle KDP for ninety days with five titles and did not like it. It only permitted me five free days of giveaways per title. I recently switched to Smashwords and released ten titles. I found teaching myself how to format to Smashwords specifics onerous. However they provide a free 70-page guide to teach yourself.
The author page itself is inferior to what Kindle offers. It also has zero other global locations such as Amazon. Amazon permits you to set up pages in several regions. Smashwords also does a poorer job of presenting high resolution covers. I had to have them sized down.
Now having said all that I prefer Smashwords because I have far greater control. My current model is to give away my entire catalogue to early adopters. The cost of acquisition of readers far outstrips the possible profit that I might make. I am also using Smashwords as a platform to find an agent, editor and publisher.”
There you have it. Like many ambitious, enterprising authors, Will Berkeley is using the digital DIY platform primarily as a springboard to eventually launch a career as a professional author via the traditional route.
This pathway is not nearly as circuitous as it may seem. It’s actually one of the more practical approaches to ultimate success. The main hurdle is simply getting your best work out there, in the best presentation possible, otherwise nobody will be aware of its existence much less excellence, and you never know who will take notice. Speaking for myself, all of my novels previously published via Lulu have been reissued by a small startup called Double Life Press, giving them some official “street cred” which, despite claims to the contrary, does boost your professional profile with both peers and the public.
As for choosing a platform, I strongly suggest doing your own research. The point of these posts is to provide some anecdotal aid. This writing life is mostly a solitary venture, and everyone’s journey is unique, leading to different destinations, but it helps your morale sometimes to know you have spiritual company.
Have you used Smashwords and if so, can you share your own experiences with that platform?
PHOTO: WILL BERKELEY