My First Smashwords Experience

Yesterday I published my first short story on Smashwords. It was a very positive experience, and now the e-book “The Last Christmas” is on sale for $0.99. You can view it for free, either by adding me as a friend on Facebook, or using this coupon code on Smashwords: WR35H. The code is good through the 18th of December.

I spent most of yesterday, and part of the day before, formatting my story to publish to Smashwords. I had a good friend, Rodney C. Johnson, to help me troubleshoot the process. He's gone through it before, publishing his first novel,“On the Forge of War”, in November.

I sardonically joked that Smashwords was 1,000 times easier than chasing an agent. When I first started writing, none of this was possible. I would have had two options for “The Last Christmas”. Sell it to a magazine, a total crap shoot, or design my own website and post it there and hope more than five people showed up to read it. Times have changed, and the e-book market is totally open. Smashwords, Amazon, and Lulu have made sure of that.

I have no doubt that anyone with talent and an ability to write a decent story, patience and a willingness to work hard to market and make friends, can be successful in this business. It may take five or ten years, but it's more than possible to get to a point where you're at least supplementing your income by writing regularly, or even writing full time.


I've gotten several questions about Smashwords, all dealing with the same thing. What is it? Well, for all practical purposes it's the same thing as It's an e-book seller, an independent publisher.

Authors format their stories to prepare them for a process Smashwords founder Mark Coker calls the meatgrinder, in which a well-formatted word document will be turned into PDF, RTF, Kindle, Epub, HTML, and Java documents.

As the author, I set my own price. I can give it away, let readers pay what they think the story is worth, or set an exact value. I chose $0.99 for “The Last Christmas” merely to test the process.

E-books published through Smashwords can be bought and read on every major reading device. E-books of any length can be published on Smashwords. My short story, “The Last Christmas” is approximately 2,500 words. Fiction, non-fiction, and poetry are all acceptable. A well-formatted e-book will qualify for Smashwords premium catalog, which is distributed to other major e-book sellers, giving authors more visibility.

A poorly-formatted e-book will be rejected. It's not a process any author can take lightly, and any author who tries to skirt the details should find another job. I'm very serious about this. Publishing to Smashwords is not difficult, but does require attention to detail, and if one cannot give that attention to this, how can one give it to an entire novel?

But authors don't have to be technically gifted to get their work published.

I found the Smashwords style guide easy to follow. It demystified the process for me. It only took me about an hour to get through the entire thing, and outside of a few topics that concerned me, it covered everything I needed to know.

The only major problem I had was with my e-book cover. For PDF and RTF files it was necessary to include the cover inside the document, but Smashwords uses the cover I uploaded for thumbnails as the cover for all their other files. So when I uploaded the cover art inside the document for Epub, Kindle, HTML, and Java, the cover was duplicated, and this caused a few problems.

There was occasional distortion on some files, discoloration on Kindle, and the HTML and Java files were unreadable. I read nothing about these details in the style guide, and had to work them out myself, but it was a simple fix. I simply uploaded the document, sans cover art, to all the major formats except PDF and RTF.

Overall it took me about 10 hours, over two days, to get everything ready and finally published. I'm not sure how this will translate into total hours for a story of 80,000 or 100,000 words, but I would not recommend your first experience with Smashwords be anything longer than a short story. There's an initial learning curve, and I expect my next attempt to require far less time.

Though the time requirement is a bit high (at least for me), the actual labor is not difficult at all. Anyone with experience in HTML, or Microsoft Word, should take to this like a fish to water. For the rest of you, a little patient studying should be enough to figure things out.

If you're using Open Office instead of Microsoft Word, there are a few minor differences to be aware of, one being that the regular expressions are different in OO, so using “find & replace” to remove something like tabs will require a different code. With MS the expression for “tab” is ^t, and in OO it's \t. I used OO and found no difficulties in the process, even though the style guide recommends (insists, really) to use MS. Before I loaded the document to Smashwords, Rodney told me to save the document as .DOC, not .ODT.

Some, or all, of what I've written so far may not make sense to anyone without reading the style guide or actually going through the process, but for anyone who may yet go through the process, I hope they'll return to this for guidance.

More information on about Smashwords itself can be found at and

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17 Responses to My First Smashwords Experience

  1. Hi J.R

    I picked this sotry up through a friend, Bob Scotney, who flagged it up on Facebook.

    I've been using Smashwords for almost four years and I have 15 titles on there. I'm pleased your experience was a positive one, but you know, upload and publishing a 100,000 word novel is no different to a 2,500 word story.

    I use MS Word (1997-2003), and the key is in formatting the doc in Word. As long as all that is correct, it uploads and publishes in a matter of minutes.

    I also publish on the Kindle and I find SW far less taxing than KDP, for which you really need to format an html doc in advance.

    Good luck to you, hope your tale sells well


  2. Thanks so much for the feedback, David! I'm lucky that I didn't have to deal with the TOC in the short story, thankfully!

    Good luck with your titles,

    - J. R.

  3. Informative post as I'd like to put an e-book out this year. Will certainly check out Smashwords when the time make it sound relatively easy. Thanks for posting links and good luck with "The Last Christmas"

  4. Thanks a ton, David. I'm glad this was helpful!

  5. J.R.

    thanks for this information I will be checking out Smashwords : )

    good luck on the new e-book

  6. Well firstly Congratulations! I for one am useless in this sort of thing. I spent the whole day messing with my blog that I gave up...
    Good Luck on the new E book...

  7. J.R, great informative article. Congrats on your e-book, I am headed over there now to give it a read as well as checking out Smashwords.

  8. JR, such a wonderful story it is. I, too will need to check it out. I published my Christmas story, The Mice Before Christmas ( ) on Yahoo as a contributor. I haven't taken any steps in doing anything else with it because it has a famous poem in it. I am still very new to all of this and this article helped me learn a bit more, so that I soon can be on my way to being published. Thank you.

  9. Thank you, Debbie!

    @ Jen, I used to publish to Yahoo Contributor (I was sad when they took it over from Associated Content). I finally gave up on it. I published dozens of articles but only one ever earned more than five or six dollars in three years.

    I don't think the poem will bother anything. It's in the public domain. I'd love to see your story on Smashwords or Kindle :)

  10. Lots of information about samshwords... I'll surely go n check your story their :)

  11. I would love to give it a go and it sounds fairly okish although lack of pc or net may mean me begging for help from my friends

  12. First JR, I loved your story! It was awesome and I hope it sells like crazy..I shared it on fb :) I love all the detail you give about your experience with producing an e-book through is definitely helpful for those of us who are interested in producing published material in the future.

    Great post! :)

  13. Excellent post, JR - a perfect example of authors helping authors. I will share this on the Author Connections FB page, which reaches about 2000 people across multiple channels. Best of luck with your sales. With ideal launch time and low starting price, you are well positioned for success. If you haven't yet, be sure to set up an Amazon Author Central page and promote a 24 HR sale price to boost your ranking.

  14. @ Baldy. I have a feeling all of your friends will help you :)

    @ Jessica, thank you! You should leave me a review on Smashwords ;)

  15. Author Connections... I'm really honored that you've shared my post. I've published The Last Christmas to Kindle but I'm not sure if I have an Author Central page (or at least if I've filled it out). I'm going to check into it.

    Thank you!

  16. Hello.
    I actually saw your book had been published while visiting Melissa'sFB page.

    Congratulations, my friend! I wish you much success. Thanks for the information too.

    For ref:
    Thoughts Of Beauty In The Stillness Of Dawn


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