Smashwords has major shortcomings

It's hard to ignore the 800 lb gorilla in the room

It’s hard to ignore the 800 lb gorilla in the room

Smashwords has major shortcomings.

After plowing through their 100+ page manual (The Smashwords Style Guide), and following, exactly, each of its instructions, I submitted my newly formatted work for its review process and waited for their reply.

Smashwords says that they will reply within 24 hours, and they did. They informed me that my work had failed their tests, and that I needed to correct the nine errors listed.

OK. No problem. I had made some mistakes, and I needed to correct them.

The errors are displayed by clicking a link on Smashwords’ dashboard page. The problem is that the list is written in a language that not even the NSA can decipher. This is a major shortcoming.

Smashwords provides another link to a page that, they say, explains the meanings of the error codes, but that page only adds to the confusion. It has no apparent connection to the specific error messages listed. I continued searching throughout their website for answers, but I found nothing to explain how to correct my errors – another shortcoming.

I can follow instructions. I have been doing just that throughout this whole series of blog posts (“So you want to be an author…”) The instructions provided by Smashwords fall far short of what is needed for us “do-it-yourselfers.”

The only relief they offered was a list of freelance formatters for hire. This “solution” displeased me. One of the reasons I had chosen Smashwords in the first place was to learn their processes for myself.

But, I bit the bullet and hired one of the formatters they recommended. He was thorough and provided the necessary modifications within a day or so. The price was $49 dollars – not extravagant, just galling.

As part of the deal, I requested that they please provide me with an explanation of my errors, and how they corrected them. They denied my request because, they said, it was too involved to do so. The formatter did tell me that at least some of the problems stemmed from my use of word play that was not compatible within the Smashwords regime.

Once my work was fixed and returned to me, I followed their instructions and “published” it.

My work is now in a queue pending review. Smashwords warns that this process can take up to a week, after which there is another wait while Apple conducts its own review. All told, it appears that it can take up to anywhere from two to three weeks before a work is ready for sale. Draft2Digital says it will publish immediately – and they will format your book for you.

So, why did I choose Smashwords? A momentary lapse of sanity, perhaps?

Turns out that I may not have had a real choice in the matter anyway.

Here (thanks to Greg Strandberg – one of our fellow contributors) are three links with comments by professionals on their experiences with Smashwords:

The common thread in these pieces is that the authors are unhappy with Smashwords slow responses to the number of books sold and the profits those sales generated. This is a reasonable objection since it makes linking marketing efforts with resultant sales more difficult to correlate.

I have just been informed that my book has been approved and it is now available in all formats except Apple’s. Yea!. It took them less time than they said it might for the completion of their review process.

Also on a positive note is their customer service. Contrary to what I read elsewhere, I found their customer service quite responsive. I sent them several emails about problems reviewing my manuscript with their EPUB checking tool, and I received almost immediate responses. They were very attentive to my specifics, and offered quick and ready solutions.

My main reason for using Smashwords has been realized. My book is now available on all reading devices (via epub, mobi, pdf, rtf, lrf, pdb, & html), on all screen sizes, and it will soon be available on Apple.

Given these results, I am satisfied with Smashwords in spite of their shortcomings. Like Amazon, they are the 800 lb. gorilla in the room, and it’s hard to ignore the benefits of their size, dominance, and connections in the marketplace. I only wish that their procedures had been less involved. I would have liked to have known what my specific errors were, and the methods used to correct them.

Live and learn. It could have been worse.FotoFlexer_Photo Quill

10 Responses to “Smashwords has major shortcomings”

  1. Sandra Farris

    I’ve published several e-books on Smashwords, but have used someone to format it rather than go through that headache myself. Besides, I am not that computer savvy. And I agree that their customer service is great. The few times I’ve e-mailed them, they got right back to me. You don’t find that very often these days.

    • tmcgann

      Hi Sandra,
      I like the ease of using someone else to format our work too. It sure does ease the headaches as you mentioned. My complaint is that I wanted to learn how to do it myself and I wasn’t able. That was discouraging.

  2. Leslie Silton

    Your write-up of your experience with Smashwords makes me think I would never want to use them. I don’t think I could handle a 100-pg manual. I’m glad you’re happy with the final result. I wish you great success.

  3. T's Blogging

    A lot of their guidelines stem from sharing the ebook with other online merchants. It is very frustrating, but as you mentioned, “Live and learn.” Next time you won’t run into that many issues.

    Take care and happy writing.

  4. K. Caffee

    I’ve sent 2 books through Smashwords so far. The first one bounced a few times until I “nuked” the format and started over fresh with a blank MS Word Doc. I have an older version of Word, which is preferred, so it went through the second time.

    The second book sailed through for me.

    The key seems to be using what I call “hard code” formatting, instead of using Word’s built in formatting options. Also, when you build your linked table of contents make sure you double check the bookmarks for hidden bookmarks right before you submit. Even one hidden bookmark remaining (and Word generates these every time you click on a link in the work) will cause the manuscript to bounce.

    Once you have the basic format set up for your manuscript, open the style and formatting option, set the display to “formatting in use” (think that is the option), and then save the entire thing as a template. Clear out the text already written, and resave the empty template. Now, you have the formatting you need to write your work without having to dig through several pages of option.

    At least, that’s what I’ve done, and it seems to be working.

    And, I have heard that Smashwords is a bit of a pain to submit for. So far, I haven’t had difficulty with it. But, I also have very simple fiction content pages to deal with. Not sure how illustrated or non-fiction pages with embedded links would work.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)