Publish your ebook on Smashwords

Ebooks are taking off in 2009 – with ebook readers, phones with ebook apps and the economy in a spin, you need to jump on the wave!

If you have the digital rights to your book, or if you have something you would like to self-publish, you can publish it as an ebook in a few hours and have it for sale today!

I have been selling my book, “How to Enjoy Your Job” as an ebook in PDF format for the last few months and have sold a few copies. I wanted to get it onto the Amazon Kindle, but they only accept US residents for upload. I also wanted it in other ebook formats but it seemed too complicated.

Smashwords is the answer!

Smashwords is an ebook site where you can buy and sell ebooks in various formats. As an author, you can load your products onto the site for free (Smashwords takes 15% of sales), and it will convert your document into the various formats for you. Brilliant! This takes a lot of time and effort from us creative types who don’t want to spend days reformatting.

You can have an author profile, and it will index your book for SEO and allow customers to sample your text. It has integration with Kindle and Stanza (for the iphone). You can load YouTube videos, and create coupons to allow special offers for your customers. The books can also be tagged on social networking sites so it is a great service.

This is my Smashwords page “How to Enjoy Your Job”

Here is what I learnt from my Smashwords experience this morning which may help you:

  • Read the Smashwords Style Guide first – definitely! Do not assume that your file is ok to load as is!
  • I tried a few variations of formatting but the best one was plain Microsoft Word. Select All and make it Normal text. Then go back through and Bold or Underline or change font size. Delete all pictures and hyperlinks. Make it as basic as possibile and this seemed the best format for conversion. The style guide does not include instructions for Microsoft Vista. Reformatting my original (very well formatted) ebook into plain format took about 1.5 hours including loading and reloading. Take breaks so you don’t get too frustrated!
  • You load on the same page as you fill in all the header data, so if you make a mistake or the format is unable to be loaded, you lose this information. Keep a copy of your blurb text and tags separately so you can just paste it back in. (Recommendation for improvement Smashwords!)
  • Check the HTML and Java versions and make changes, then reload as necessary. It took me a few tries!
  • As a non-US resident I can sell on Smashwords, I just have to email a copy of the with-holding tax form and have 40% with-held. I get this with as well but what can you do! Legality is important! This is much better than the Kindle direct load which does not allow non-US residents.
  • Once you are all set up, use the Smashwords Marketing Guide to see how to broadcast about your book.

To start the Smashwords publishing process, register for an account, and just follow the instructions. You load a profile with your websites and info, and then Publish your ebook. It is still in Beta (improvements are still being made) but you can start selling today!


After posting this, I had a great email from Mark Coker, who runs Smashwords. His team are looking into making the loading easier. This is also great customer service! Here is an interview with Mark at Joe Wikert’s blog.

Smashwords is also now a catalogue on Stanza on the iPhone.


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  1. KKBokovay says

    Hi. I have a question about Smashwords. You say that you need to upload a Word file without formatting or pictures? My eBook, Find the Right Man (, is full of formatting and pictures, which is part of what makes it so cool. If I take all that out, it won’t be a good book anymore. Can you advise please?

  2. admin says

    Hi KK, The best thing to do is read the Smashwords style guide which contains details on what to do with pictures and formatting. I had some pictures in my book, but decided they could be got rid of and the text would not be impacted. You can use pictures but they have to be embedded in the text and any formatting has to be specifically done. The great thing with Smashwords is that they use a conversion tool, the Meatgrinder (!!) to change basic text into multiple formats. If you wanted to do this manually it would take forever. So yes, you may lose some of your special formatting, but simplicity allows you multiple platforms. The Style Guide has more. Plus remember, you can have multiple channels. You can still sell your fabulously formatted ebook somewhere else (like Clickbank)and also put it simply here. I sell my book “How to Enjoy Your Job” as a fabulous formatted, colour pictures PDF on Clickbank but in all other formats on Smashwords. How brilliant that we can have multiple ways of selling now!

    Thanks for your comment – Joanna

  3. KKBokovay says

    Hey, thanks for taking the time to answer me. I read a recent statistic that for every eBook that you sell, 20 people will want printed books. Perhaps we’re just on the cusp of an eBook explosion, but are we there yet? What are you finding? Are your eBooks selling well?

  4. says

    Hi KK, that’s an interesting statistic! I personally think that ebooks are just starting to happen. My husband has just got an iPhone and buys books on Stanza, I buy ebooks in PDF to read on the computer (for non fiction, how to topics) but many people I know here in Australia are not even aware of the market yet (as Kindle is not here). I think it is coming – hopefully 2009 will be a good year for it! I also have print-on-demand books at Amazon through so I satisfy all markets. I think at the moment, ebooks should be part of your sales channel, but possibly not the only one. In terms of sales, I have sold both ebooks and mp3 audio files reasonably well. I already had my first Smashwords sale! They also will soon have an affiliate program through Stanza so it seems like a good place to be!
    All the best, Joanna

  5. says

    Hi Joanna,
    I didn’t know that there was such a thing as smashwords till I read your post. will definitely check it out and try it when I finish writing my e-book.

  6. Tim Atkinson says

    Hi Joanna:
    As a direct result of your post I’ve just singed up for Smashwords (and was sure to credit you as the source of my information!). As the author of a print-book but with e-rights, I intend to go ahead with them ASAP. There’s one question I can’t seem to get a decent answer to, though. You mention it yourself – withholding tax. I tried to ‘opt out’ when signing up, but couldn’t. But as I understand it, WT is for US nationals. How come non-residents (especially non-taxpayers in their country of domicile) are expected to pay?
    Any thoughts?

  7. admin says

    Hi Tim,
    actually with-holding tax is for NON-US residents. They essentially with-hold the tax because we won’t pay any income tax in the US. You just have to bite the bullet on it. take it as well. Sorry, but it is a necessary evil!
    I’m glad you joined Smashwords – its a great service! Thanks, Joanna

  8. says

    This article and ensuing remind people how helpful it is to be aware of different markets and also the legalities related to different listings. Thanks for sharing such ueful insight.

  9. Raj says

    Hi Joanna,

    Many thanks for the great advice in your article; I would appreciate it if you could help me with this query of MS Word (Vista System).

    What exatly do you mean by normal/plain text? I tried to enter “normal” into my text field and the I got a message saying that it does not exist on my system.
    If I click on use it anyway, the font changes but the bold fonts remain bold albeit the fonat changes appearance. Please advise; cheers, raj

  10. says

    On the withholding tax — it’s worth reading’s explanation of this:

    I’ve already asked smashwords to provide something similar on their site, and to clarify what they do. Eg lulu says that w/t only applies to items delivered in the USA; does smashwords withhold tax on a sale made in my home market (which is the UK)? I couldn’t tell when I searched their site.

    Anyway, depending on where you live, you might have a reduced liability for this tax, though there are a couple of forms to fill in and some documents need to be notarised. Probably not worth it for smaller amounts, but with strong sales it sticks in the craw to be taxed at 30% by the USA and then again on the already-taxed income by your own country.

    Since there’s no reason for an ebook seller to be located in any particular tax jurisdiction, I’m hoping that an international competitor will spring up that won’t be obliged to withhold this tax :-)

  11. says

    I’m curious. Since your original post, have you actually received any income? I’ve had several books up on Smashwords since 12/09 . None have made it to Sony at all so far (my original reason for using them), but figures on the Barnes and Noble site seem to indicate I’ve made some sales there. But still no revenue reported.
    How’s this worked for you?

    • says

      Hi Jim,
      Great question! I have seen very little sales on Smashwords, but there are a few reasons for that I think
      a) I sell direct from this site as PDF which is the majority of my sales so far
      b) I think Smashwords is better for fiction (or seems that way from the outside)
      c) I sell direct from Amazon DTP on the Kindle and make a fair few sales that way, so I get people from that market as opposed to through Smashwords.
      d) I don’t promote my Smashwords profile at all actually, although I actively promote the company itself because I think it is wonderful for indie authors.

      So I haven’t made too many sales (although I do have some revenue actually reported so that works) but I am also not focusing on it as a primary sales channel.

      The Smashwords Marketing Guide
      is very good for helping promote your actual Smashwords site so maybe have a look at that.
      Mark Coker, the founder is also a lovely approachable person, so you could email him with any issues.

      Thanks so much, Joanna

  12. says

    Thanks for the response, Joanna.

    I have a lot of outlets myself. And in fact I wasn’t really expecting many sales through Smashwords itself. But I would think its main attraction is that it provides access to other, larger channels (including the heavily touted but so far as I know still not active Sony link), so, given that some of my books exist in ebook only in Smashwords versions, I’d expect a bit more action (as I do get on CreateSpace, Lulu and Kindle). It may just be that this has happened on Barnes and Noble but having no idea when sales figures will actually come through I can’t say.

  13. Nancy says

    I’ve helped to get two books up on Smashwords; I’d love an answer to the following question. How is it possible that I upload a doc that is NOT double-spaced, but it uploads as double and then MY copy on my desktop shows up as double-spaced? This has happened both times, and once I remove all the extra spaces, it’s fine. Any ideas?

    • says

      That does sound odd Nancy. I suspect it is something to do with MS Word formatting or whatever word processor you use. Sometimes they are a law unto themselves!

  14. says

    Hi Joanna,

    I’ve read Smashwords Guide until I’m blue in the face! Haven’t figured out how to get rid of floating images. I do children’s books and need the images. I have followed what Smashwords suggests: click on image/format picture/layout/ok/save — but it still moves if I left click and drag the image around. I’ve tried to ask Smashwords, but am referred to the same info. Do you have an answer?

    On more question — do you know of authors who are actually earning significant incomes from Smashwords?

    Many thanks.

  15. says

    Interesting to read my own comments and those of others going back a few years.
    I do make significant – not life-changing – income on Smashwords, comparable to what I make on Barnes and Noble and Kindle. It only comes in every few months and their stats are ungodly complicated, which makes it hard to track as exactly as I do other channels. Lulu for instance gives you, plain and simple, a list of all-time sales for each book. Extracting this from Smashwords’ spreadsheets is less than straightforward, as is reconciling the total money due at left with the different amounts shown in the grids at right. But in general it’s doing as well as the others overall.
    Ironically Sony, my original target in joining, remains pretty minimal in terms of sales. For a big company they seem to have completely missed the boat on the importance of content vs technology.
    There are books I still can’t put up on Smashwords. Anything with lots of footnotes is hopeless – you really don’t want to “nuke” this kind of document and start from scratch. It would help if their Meatgrinder had a way of simply converting footnotes to the format they use. As for “floating images”, I’ve never tried that (another thing Smashwords needs is a test bed, so you can try things out without their going on sale). But any complexity of formatting is generally iffy at this point.

    • says

      Thanks Jim, most of us non-US people need Smashwords to get on B&N as well as the rest of them – so it makes sense in general to be on it – but with the advent of Kindle Select it will be interesting to see if Smashwords loses indie market share with the exclusivity deal.

  16. says

    Joanna, since my previous comment above (about withholding tax) I’ve signed several books up with Bookbaby which *doesn’t* withhold tax from non-US authors, and which distributes to B&N (non-agency) as well as iBookstore & Amazon (both agency), and Sony (non-agency) for their respective devices. The agency thing is important because B&N and Sony will discount — typically by 20% — meaning that Amazon will then price-match, taking a certain amount of pricing control away from you.

    They have up-front fees instead of taking a cut as smashwords does, so on balance smashwords will be a better deal for lower-sellers, while bookbaby will be better for big-sellers.

    Another non-wittholding-tax distributor I looked at is, but I haven’t signed with them. They could be worth checking out though.

    As to why some of these companies withhold while others don’t … I tracked down both the appropriate US tax legislation and the IRS guidance leaflet, and it turns out that only certain kinds of revenue are subject to withholding. My understanding (backed up by what I observe) is that if a publishing intermediary pays you a royalty, or gives you some kind of retail presence in the USA, then they have to withhold. I suspect that if Smashwords didn’t have their web-store, but instead acted purely as a distributor, they could pay all non-US authors in full.

    • says

      Thanks Huw, I think BookBaby do offer a good service and they do formatting etc as well, so definitely a competitor to Smashwords in that way. I did fill in a withholding tax form for the US and got all my tax back , so that can definitely be done. W8-BEN I think it’s called. But it is a minefield, that’s for sure!

  17. says

    Great news on getting your ITIN and tax refund, Joanan! I’d be interested to know how you handled the passport certification, since that’s the thing that seems trickiest (or at least, most expensive, given the price that international notaries seem to charge. I have heard of someone in the UK who used the Post Office’s document certification service successfully, but I don’t suppose one can rely on that).

    • says

      I didn’t have to do that Huw. I have a company so got an EIN and then just phoned the IRS for the tax number and then put that on the W8-BEN – I think it’s much harder to do it as an individual than for a company.

  18. says

    Thanks Joanna, that’s very interesting since (perhaps) if you’re doing enough business to make this a major issue, then you might well be doing enough business to justify setting up a company — thus bypassing the jungle that is an individual ITIN application.

  19. says

    Very helpful. I’m going to do it. I’m wondering if I get an e-book copy. Of course I do, but not for free. Also, can I put it on my site as an ebook. In other words, do I own the e-book copy?


  1. […] You can also sell your book on your own website using PayPal to take credit card payments globally without the need for a merchant account. You can sell your ebook on Clickbank and have affiliates sell it for you. You can upload your ebook to Kindle so people can read it on Oprah’s favourite ebook reader. You can sell your book on the iPhone through Smashwords. […]

  2. Publishing a Book Can Cost $0 « ASTER: Women in Business Achieving Success through Enhancing Resources says:

    […] Publisher Typeset book: $0 done by self on Microsoft Word Publish book: Published as an Ebook on Smashwords for free and up for sale for US$4.99. Now for sale on the iPhone. [+] Share & Bookmark […]

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