distributionpublishingPublishing Fear Freeself-publishing

Smashwords: It’s Become a Problem

Not so much.

Until December 2011, I published my books at four main venues: Amazon, BN, CreateSpace, and Smashwords, and I have recommended them all to my friends and fellow indie authors as good business partners. I’ve extolled the virtues of Smashwords’ Style Guide and their customer service, and until recently, my only real complaint with them has been slow reporting and payment.

But when I chose to enter my ebooks temporarily in the Kindle Select program, I was required to remove my ebooks from all other sales venues. Therefore, I took them out of all Smashwords’ distribution channels and also unpublished my books there completely. This should have been the end of the matter.

But that’s when my problems began. In March, I discovered that one of my books had become available on Kobo via Smashwords. Confused, I immediately emailed Smashwords, and the problem was resolved quickly. Not only was this odd–the book was listed as unpublished and not entered into any distribution channels–but it also jeopardized my standing with Kindle Select. Still, the problem was fixed, and I figured it was a freak error.

Today, I discovered that three of my “unpublished” titles had again been distributed to another retailer by Smashwords without my direction. I have not changed anything in my account: all my books were “unpublished,” and they were not listed in any of the distribution channels, which technically shouldn’t matter since they were unpublished. So nearly six months after I removed my books from their sales channels, some of them are still being published, distributed, and sold without my knowledge or consent. (I have contacted customer service, but I’ve not heard back yet. However, it was after 3 PM, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.)

Yet again, my Kindle Select status is being risked because of this company’s mistake, but that is not my biggest concern. Frankly, the fact that this error has happened to me twice causes me to question the accuracy of Smashwords’ distribution system. How are my unpublished books making it out to retailers? And even when I was selling and distributing via Smashwords (of my own free will), were my books accurately making it to the retailers I’d selected? And what does that mean for other authors? Has this happened to you? Are your unpublished books being sent to retailers without your consent?

I am not one to create drama or to rant about every little thing that happens, but I believe this problem is worth mentioning to my writing and publishing friends. I can no longer do business with a company that is selling my books without my permission. Even if this is an error, it has occurred twice, so it is clearly not a fluke or isolated incident. Once my books are removed from (unauthorized) sale at the retailer and my remaining royalties are paid, I am going to be forced to delete my account at Smashwords. I wish it didn’t have to be this way.


17 thoughts on “Smashwords: It’s Become a Problem

  1. Hi Jennifer.

    I recognize that a lot of authors are fans of pubbing through Smashwords, Lulu, and other similar sites. It’s basically one-stop-shopping, so to speak, for publishing to multiple vendor sites. A middle-man to distribute your work, collect your payments, process the same, and you get paid from one entity.

    It is my contention, however, that the heyday of places such as Smashwords are over. I won’t go into all of the reason, as I would end up writing a whitepaper. There are too many smokescreens, behind-the-scenes sales tactics, paradigm shifts, etc. going on to talk about here. And not all of them are good.

    In the same sense that places like Smashwords like like a great bet for authors as a one-stop-shop, so too do these great new paradigm shifts in the industry. They smokescreen the benefits to you, the author, and everyone drinks the Kool-Aid. And it is specifically that industry shift that they are forcing that will be the death of vendor management middle-men like Smashwords. And that’s okay. It happens.

    Both Smashwords and these paradigm shifters have something in common, however. They are brilliantly taking advantage of the self-pub authors who have no experience publishing, and those who do not take the time to research their own industry (which unfortunately, as I have found, it an extremely high percentage of indies.) In addition to that, these Indies don’t have the legal expertise on their side, so they sign these ridiculous contracts written by witless idiots (yes, I’ve read them and I take screen shots; my District Judge father and I laugh out loud at them). And it’s not the authors’ fault. Were they to go trad pub, or agent, it would be very different.

    The self-pub industry is baptism by fire. And the ones who go the extra mile, such as yourself, are the ones that survive. Because it’s not just about writing and publishing; you are your own business. You are a brand. And you promote, market, sell and brand yourself. You have to do everything that trad pubs do, and if you don’t, there is no excuse. No “well, I didn’t know,” or, “I don’t have experience in that,” or, “well, I’m an author, that’s just not my forte.”

    Too bad.

    And I’m sorry to sound so harsh, but this is reality, folks. This is the life of the indie, and times are changing. It’s changing for trad pub authors too, and they are now required to do a tremendous amount of their own marking and promotion as well.

    Anyway, I’m way off topic here, but let me go back for a second. These paradigm shifters are smokescreening us authors. And everyone stick their head in the sand and their fingers in their ears and sings ‘LALALALALALA I can’t hear you.’ when I explain why. Or they don’t understand because they don’t have a business background or haven’t worked for really large corporations who do business this way.

    They ONLY see the benefit that is provided to them, and they only compare it to the trad pubs; well, the media rhetoric that is spewed at them about it. And don’t get me wrong; what is provided to you guys through these vendor sites is a hell of a lot better than what you would ever get through a trad pub. But there is a difference between a corporation that is making decisions for return on investment (which is the fundamental nature of a corporation: to make money, and its primary focus; NOT you the author), and what they are currently doing, which is to shift the entire industry and force it to its own will.

    And THAT is what authors fail to see. They fail to look at the long-term. These vendor sites that are killing places like Smashwords by redefining what you can and cannot do are strongarming the industry, giving you candy up front, and putting up that smokescreen, telling you, don’t look at the man behind the curtain. Don’t look at what he is doing. Look at me. I’m giving you candy right now. Don’t look at what we are doing down the road. Don’t even think about what could happen to you based upon how we are changing the industry. Don’t think about the actual impact. Don’t assess cause and effect. Don’t use logic.

    They say, convertly, “You’re an author. We’ll take care of you.” **pat on the head** “Look at how much we’re giving you in commissions. See? Oh, and look at all these other offerings. See? We’ll take care of you. You don’t need to worry about a thing. Nah, we have no experience in the publishing industry, but hell, we’re just going to take it over, hire people that have no experience in it (you can tell by the legal documents they’ve written) and we’re goign to completely change it. Oh, but we’re going to change it so that WE benefit the most. We’re not going to make it a win-win.

    Nope. There are ways for corporations to focus exclusively on RoI and still create a win-win for their clients and themselves by making the industry better. Amazon lost that years ago. And they really lost it when they decided to go after the publishing industry. They did it too fast, with too little expertise, and they’ve made too many mistakes.

    And now that Apple is in the loop, and they are going proprietary with a number of things (as would be expected with Apple), who suffers?

    The readers.

    So really, what’s happening? None of these vendors are doing what’s best for the industry. They are moving the industry to hurt authors and readers. They are going to degenerate sales. They’ve destroyed the gateway system by not being proactive to begin with, and Amazon glutted the entire market with absolute crap by allowing anyone to publish a book. And there are so many grass-roots gateways out there, and at some point, something has to gel.

    And the only way around it is trial and error for these new indies by using price points, different marketing tactics, etc. Because the Amazon review system is a bunch of crap. A layman has no idea how to create an actual proper review of a book. They don’t understand the proper criteria upon which to review a book. So Amazon’s little desperate gateway system is worthless. Yet another example of how they are completely ignorant and moved into taking over the publishing industry without forethought and proactivity.

    Okay. I could actually keep writing for hours.

    But here’s my recommendation.

    1. Get out of the middle-men vendor sites.
    2. The only benefit of the select program is the lending library. You will make more money off of that than anything else. This is information that I get from VERY successful authors with whom I work. I have the data to back that up.
    3. Do not use the Kindle Select program just because you get free days. If that’s the only reason you are using it, don’t.
    4. If you don’t care about the lending library, stay out of Kindle Select and utilize the multiple channels of distribution. INDIVIDUALLY.
    5. Of course, I have the luxury of working with one of the most successful indie authors around, and he has taught me everything he knows about selling books. And that’s why we created the site that we created. And I won’t put it here, because that’s not why I wrote this–not promote my site.

    My goal is to educate your author readers. I want authors to start paying attention to the long term consequences of what’s coming down the road. This is not the apocalypse. But never put your eggs in one basket. Diversify, take calculated risks, and come up with different ideas. Mitigate against the possibilities, and listen to the experienced ones around you. Never take these big companies and what they say as rote. Always remember that publicly traded companies have to answer to 1 body: the shareholders. And in this day and age, the only answer shareholders want is SHORT-TERM GAINS. And that means bad things for you.

    So take the time to do your due diligence. Don’t just be a writer. Be a business. You are a brand. And it’s your responsibility as an author to be everything that a traditional publisher would be to you, from substantive editing, copyediting and proofing, all the way through marketing and branding. And read every single legal contract, question everything. And never think that big companies hire people that know what they are doing. They may; but don’t just expect it. Always question everything. It will do you well in life.

    Okay, diatribe off.

    BTW, the above was not directed at you. That was advice for your readers. 🙂 Because I am old and get to dispense my wisdom to the young ‘uns these days.

  2. Michelle, thank you so much for your comment. I would absolutely love to see the data you have gathered on Kindle Select free promos vs lending. I’ve had success with free promos for the most part, but I have definitely made a good deal of money with lending, more than all my sales at other retailers combined.

    1. I did a free promotion on KDP. They were downloads..not sales. As soon as it was over the ‘down;loads’ dropped off. So I changed tack. One of my books is now way above others in pricing and now sells consistently. What happened? I’m not sure but KDP is a waste of time. I see people saying I sold 300 books on KDP. No they didn’t, they gave away $1300 on KDP!

  3. Hi Jennifer. I ran across your blog article as I searched for recent problems with Smashwords. Maybe it’s telling that yours is the second Google listing in the search, right under Smashwords.com. I hope there are that few problems!

    My first book took some time to distribute to Barnes & Noble, but it finally got there. However, my second book seems stuck somewhere. Six weeks after approval for distribution, it still isn’t available at B&N, and it still hasn’t shipped to Kobo. I’ve had three interchanges with Smashwords support, and they are looking into it. But each response from support has taken longer than the previous. This last one was over a week.

    I get the feeling that they are overloaded–perhaps in the technical areas of distribution. Both your and my issues could be caused by inadequate computer systems and problematic database coding.

    I hope they get their act together soon, but I won’t wait forever. The handful of sales produced through their channels isn’t worth it. I’d rather go directly to B&N and be done with it.

  4. Hi, and thank you so much for your very timely and informative words, I am a new author about to publish my first book. I was strongly considering ‘Smashwords’ but now I am unsure. Can you suggest some things I should do, some avenues and venues I should consider? Also, would you share the name of your website with me? I believe that there is a wealth of information there that would be extremely helpful to me and others.
    Best Regards,
    G. Morgan

  5. Hi Jenifer and co. I’m glad/not glad to hear that others are having the same problem I have had.

    I submitted to Kindle and Smashwords. I decided to go to Smashwords as a quick way to enter iBooks before Christmas- as an Australian I know my friends and family have never heard of Kindle.

    Anyhow, after about 6 weeks downloads flattened to zero and when I Googled the name of my book, 5 Smashword pages were at the top (Not iBooks, iTunes, Kobo etc ) and my friends and family couldn’t find the book instores unless I gave them links.

    So, my promotion or any word of mouth from the early free downloads that I allowed in the first 6 weeks were promoting the Smashwords website and not my book. The Smashwords website it not attractive and it doesn’t offer links to where people can buy the book elsewhere.

    Amazon managed to have a link directly to my book about half way down the first page of Google. If I could remove Smashword from the search by unpublishing it would be at the top.

    So, I unpublished a few weeks ago and decided while I prepare my book to go to iTunes and iBook direct I might as well try the KDP Select.

    But, now the top of the search for my book (the Grand Adventure of Prince Usab and his Horse Roger) is a link from Smashwords offering a free PDF. The second is Amazon, and the third is Kobo and Barnes & Noble and iTunes via Smashwords offering it for free, and then there are several pirate sights offering it for free.

    Well, at least links to where they could buy it directly- but not for free. My book is no longer for free!

    Why would anyone who has heard about my book and googles is by name buy it on Amazon when Smashwords are offering it free on other sites right below (and sometimes above).

    There are also pirate sites offering the book on the first page of Google. I know pirating happens and a few wayward copies can even help word of mouth, but not on the first page a couple of links under where it is for sale!

    I have emailed Smashwords and not received a reply (it was two days ago and now it’s a Saturday).

    This is a massive flaw we need to warn new authors about because it means we don’t know if our book is being downloaded and read, or even sold by Smashwords without our knowledge. Moreover, as Jennifer said it risks our status on Kindle Select.

    Another note is my intention was to withdraw it from Smashwords for only three months, go direct myself to iTunes/i Books to enable it to be found with search engines, and then resubmit with everything on Smashwords (except Kindle and Apple which I want to manage myself). However, it appears Smashwords just lost my faith completely


    1. You can see my books on my site. I am in limbo and thought I found the perfect site in smashwords. Oh well ! I’m not surprised by anything anymore… I published through Xlibris 10 years ago. Wrong! They sold my 1rst book, ” Rocky Mountain Destinies ” over seas in many foreign Languages. I didn’t see a dime. Yet I found my book for sale on e-bay from Australia and other places… My new book ” Purple Rains. ” is my Pride and Joy! I am tired of letting every one else profit off my long hours of input… What advise can you give me? Please include your website. Thank you. David Allan Durr

    2. Just an update on my situation- nothing has changed except the a search for my book on Google will now send you to 2 more Smashwords links, neither of which contain my book. One, if you link through, will deliver you to similar books ie. my competition but not my book. I think it is technically illegal to do this. IE. I link Coke can´t use Pepsi as part of their SEO. The other Smashword link is entitled ¨Activate adult filter¨ which again doesn´t contain my book but it´s not a good look.

      My book is still on Barnes and Noble via Smashwords too.

      It´s over 2 months and I´ve contacted Smashwords several times and the CEO Mark Coker once. He was lovely enough to reply but it was kind of white wash. I´m told that Google only change their SEO cache once a months so to wait but that should have happened twice by now.

      I´ve also gone into my Smashword account and deleted all my details, removed images and deleted all tags and anything that can trigger SEO manually. I think the staff at Smashwords need to do the same but they keep giving me these polite standard emails about the Google cache and how they will contact Barnes and Nobles to hurry up the removal of my book.

      The book is doing okay on Amazon and Amazon is now the number website when you Google the name of the book.

      As I mentioned previously, my SEO concerns with Smashwords is that people who are referred to my book by name and friends can´t find where to buy it because of all the Smashword links that take you to other books or nothingness (or for a while free downloads after I´d removed the book and put a price on it at Amazon).

      In a sense, I´m more curious than worried right now, just watching how it works.

  6. Smashwords does NOT have their act together. And they never will. We have done everything to the “standard” their standard. And? Everytime a new request, change of platforms (their words).
    My recommendation, after trying to place two books with Smashwords. Sounds harsh – but don’t

  7. We have worked to self-publish a successful series, but have had nothing but problems with Smashwords. The biggest complaint is that their reports show money earned that is never paid. You can download a report, but upon adding up the numbers, they simply don’t match.

    They only pay quarterly, and say that if you have below $10 for PayPal payments of $75 for a physical check, you won’t get paid. But the reports show clearly earnings that are well above that, but no payment. They have significant delays in reporting, and in my humble opinion they are just not worth the hassle. You literally have nothing close to real-time reporting, and their reporting is confusing and seems to hide your numbers.

    Also, I know someone said that KDP select was good for the lending library, but I can tell you with REAL NUMBERS we are earning much more through sales through Barnes & Noble alone than were ever earned through KDP’s lending library. Apple is picking up. But the minimal sales and delayed reporting and payments through Smashwords make it ABSOLUTELY NOT WORTH THE HASSLE. If you’re new to this, they’re selling you hope…but don’t fall for it.

    It’s unrelated, but another hassle is Audible.com. They set their own prices…you DON’T…and getting your book in the right category is almost impossible. For example, they wouldn’t put a zombie book in the zombie genre because the word “zombie” wasn’t in the name. REALLY??

  8. Oh, and to add to the previous comment, royalties have been steadily increasing…overall sales for last month, with a low-priced series ($0.99-2.99) and a free book #1, was around $5400 (for one month). But Smashword’s reported sales for the QUARTER was about $81. So I’m just giving some real numbers for comparison…we are in the process of going directly to Apple, and publishing directly with Barnes & Noble, since we’ve identified them as real sources on sales.

    (And for those who get upset about “free” books, it’s part of the overall strategy, with six shorter books being wrapped into a final book at $8.99.)

  9. After posting that Smashwords hasn’t yet transferred my dashboard to my new account after three years, Mark arrogantly responded there that I am owed $11. He never answers queries to smashwords but he definitely will come here and answer this. Why is my book, Excite, which is priced at $99.99, high on the most downloaded list? Why rude employees keep making empty promises about transferring my dashboard?
    Thank you

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