The Curious Phenomenon of Smashwords

I love Smashwords.  I think it’s a brilliant tool for self-published writers.  The Smashwords Guide to Style held my hand through the process of formatting my novels for publication.  The site’s “meat grinder” is the most awesome tool I’ve seen for converting a formatted Word document to every eBook format out there.  It’s my first stop whenever I have a book that’s ready to roll out.

Other than that?  I don’t understand Smashwords at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it without understanding it.  The other day it gave me the best surprise I’ve had in a long time….

You see, like any other Indie Author, I tend to judge my book sales based on Amazon numbers alone.  I check in with KDP a few times a week to see how things are moving.  This month hasn’t been as fantastic as last month (and I haven’t had a fraction of the time to promote that I usually do).  I was all ready to shrug and move on … when I checked Smashwords.

Holy heck!  How did I sell that many copies of The Faithful Heart (not even the first book in the series) in such a short time on … iBooks?  Seriously.  iBooks.  Who would have thought?

At first I was all please with myself and thought “well of course this is all a result of the two free days I had around Easter”.  I mean, back then I offered The Loyal Heart for free, so it’s only natural that I would then sell so many copies of The Faithful Heart, right?  Yeah, you’d think.  Only from what I can see those free copies were “sold” through Sony, not Apple.

Still scratching my head, I popped on iTunes and went to their book section to see if my books appear there.  Sure enough they do! … And The Loyal Heart has 19 ratings.  NINETEEN.  That may sound like small potatoes to some of you, but to put it in perspective, I have just 12 reviews for that book on Amazon and only 9 ratings on Goodreads.  I might also add, just to brag, that the overall rating of The Loyal Heart on iBooks is a happy 4.5 stars.  Woo hoo!

Side-note:  I rather like the fact that on iBooks you can rate something without leaving a review.  Goodreads works that way too.  Amazon should get with the program.

But back to my complete bafflement.

WTF?  How am I suddenly so popular on iBooks and Sony?

It has to be those two free days.

But I digress.

When I decided to give The Loyal Heart away for free through Smashwords I thought that maybe I’d find a few takers out there.  I was secretly hoping that Amazon would drop the price to free for a while so that I could take advantage of that whole hoopla, but it didn’t happen.  Eh.  I considered the whole thing an experiment anyhow.  And really, in the grander scheme of things, I didn’t end up giving away that many books.  Just under a hundred.  I shrugged and moved on with my life.

But if all of these sales that surprised me the other day are related to those two free days, then I may have stumbled on something.  While the raw numbers weren’t all that impressive, the percentages were.

The Loyal Heart was free on April 9th and 10th.  According to Smashwords reporting, The Faithful Heart sold 50% of the number of free copies I had given away a month later.

Maybe it’s just me, but selling 50% of the freebies within a month of the promotion is pretty cool.  Imagine if that had been Amazon?  Imagine if it had been ten times the number of freebies?

So what am I getting at here?

When I did my free days I asked some of my writer friends for their opinion.  Someone mentioned that Amazon doesn’t really consider Smashwords a competitor.  True.  It’s a fish of a different color.  I routinely cringe when I look at the main page and see sleazy erotica titles flaunting their assets (or lack thereof).  But the fact that the Smashwords premium library distributes books to all sorts of different eReader formats kind of makes me happy.  Sure, they take a cut, but that cut is worth the labor that I DON’T have to do to have my books on so many platforms.

So is Smashwords not really a serious competitor to Amazon?  I’m not so sure about that.  I can count the number of books I’ve sold on the Smashwords site without running out of fingers and toes, but I’m beginning to think the fact that they distribute it so widely may be the best kept secret of the whole self-publishing world.

What do you think?  Anyone else had any experience with this?



12 thoughts on “The Curious Phenomenon of Smashwords

  1. I agree with almost everything you’ve written: I hate how Smashwords looks, don’t understand it, and forget about it most of the time while I flirt with Amazon. But my books sell internationally MUCH better on the iBook platform (love to see those sales from Denmark!), and Nook is a good friend to have around. In fact, Amazon gets a little testy and demands exclusivity for their lending books. So yes, I’d say SW is definitely a competitor.

    I wish SW would get rid of the meatgrinder for folks who can format w/o, but other than that, I’d highly recommend them for multi-platform distribution. It’s more important than you might think. (Don’t tell Amazon!)

    • Yeah, I agree with the look of the site. It’s archaic. But it is an incredibly important tool in the publishing toolbox!

      But yeah, don’t tell Amazon. *lol*

  2. Hai Merry,

    I am one of reader who bought ‘The Faithful Heart’ thru Smashwords. Amazon doesn’t allow Asia region to buy an ebook from the site. I always loyal to Smashwords and I loved checking new ebook from there. So we Malaysian tend to email author to publish ebook in Smashwords. And Thank You Merry for the freebie and registered your ebook in Smashwords. I’m looking forward to read your next book.

    Love from Malaysia

  3. I love Smashwords for helping me get into other outlets. And the coupon feature makes it really handy & the fact I can snag my book in all formats is great for giveaways.

  4. Thanks for this post, Merry. You’ve really lit a fire under my rear to get my book up on Smashwords and B&N. I let its KDPS enrollment expire last month, so it’s past time I got on it!

    • Go for it Gregory! I have flirted with the idea of enrolling in KDP Select for a while, but something has always held me back. And now with all of the changes it’s been going through I’m more convinced than ever that it’s not for me and Smashwords is. There’s a lot to be said for distribution over a variety of platforms.

  5. I had someone recently ask me if she should just forget SW when she considers the number she sells there and I told her as long as I’m able to, I will ALWAYS publish through SW for the other distribution sites. I upload direct to Amazon and BN PubIt!, but I let SW distribute to iBooks, Sony, Kobo and the others. Those sales are a nice ‘bonus’ every three months in my paypal account. 🙂

    Congrats on the increased sales and hope it keeps up!

    • That’s how I feel too. I wasn’t selling enough on B&N to make it worth my while to upload and maintain my books there myself. I’m grateful to Smashwords for taking care of that for me too. 🙂

      And thanks!

  6. Since about February, my BN sales have picked up and now more than double my daily sales on Amazon, so for me it’s totally worth it to upload direct and get paid every month.

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