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Publishing on Smashwords: Meatgrinder and other functions

In our second instalment on publishing on Smashwords, let’s get to through the icky stuff first: The Meatgrinder. Smashwords has a free style guide you can download here, where founder Mark Coker gives you several ways to format your book, but by far the easiest and the most effective way is what he calls the Nuclear Method.

Meatgrinder and other Smashwords functions

Here are the quick steps to formatting for Meatgrinder:

  1. Copy all your text and paste into notepad.
  2. Open a new Word document.
  3. Cut everything from notepad and paste into the new word doc. This ensures that there’s no weird formatting left over from whatever Word did in your last document.
  4. Highlight all your text and add in your first paragraph indent. DO NOT TAB FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. If you’re not sure what that means, it should look like that bit circled in Word.Indenting a paragraph
  5. Go through your text and
    • add all your italics/bold/underline (if any) back into the text. This extra step, while annoying, also helps you proofread your book one last time. And because you’re not focusing on the words per se, it helps you pick out random typos that you’ve probably glossed over because you’ve read it too many times.
    • Add in page breaks after each chapter.
  6. Format your chapter titles and save them as bookmarks.
  7. Add in your front matter. We have a standard template front matter that we just paste in and change details.
  8. Create your table of contents (“TOC”). This is the most annoying part because, to make sure it works right, you have to do a manual one. DO NOT ON ANY ACCOUNT USE WORD’S AUTO TOC. You’re just giving yourself more trouble. What you do is list down all your chapter titles. Remember the bookmarks you saved in #6? Yeah, now you link those bookmarks here.Sample Table of Contents and bookmarks
  9. Add your end matter. Again, create a standard template that you can paste in and change details. This usually includes other books you’ve written, an about you, and a nice “please review” request!

So this means I won’t get any Meatgrinder errors?

The most frequent cause of errors, by far, is caused by hyperlinks, because Word likes to add them in randomly. We know. It has caused us pain many many many times.

This is what it looks like:

Random hidden bookmarks

These bookmarks tend to pop up like ghosts. Like you could look at it in one version and it appears to be clean, but if you deselect and then select hidden bookmarks, they suddenly jump out at you. You just have to patiently delete them one by one, because there is no “delete all button.”

What you want is a clean file like the picture below, or the one under #8, which only shows the bookmarks you’ve created and which are linked to your TOC.

Clean bookmarks look like this

The second most frequent culprit in Meatgrinder errors is your line spacing. If you cut and paste your text to a new Word doc, this usually won’t cause any troubles. But just to be sure, your line spacing should show “0” or “Single” everywhere otherwise your epub might have some weird spacing issues.

Clean spacing

Still too difficult? We’re more than happy to format this for you!

Okay, now that’s out of the way, let’s head to the cool stuff about Smashwords!

Global Pricing

If you’re worried about how fluctuations in USD will affect the price of your book, Smashwords gives you a global price lock to fix the prices in foreign currency.

Global pricing for Smashwords

Just go to “global pricing” on your dashboard, and then “Add lock”.

Series Manager

Got a series? No worries. Match them all here. Way better than having to email back and forth with Amazon to get it done.

 

Premium Distribution

One of the things that Smashwords has going for it is that it is both a retailer AND a distributor/aggregator. If you want to check (or control) where your book is being sold, head to the channel manager.

Once you’re approved for the Premium Catalog, you can head over to the Channel Manager to decide where you want Smashwords to distribute your ebook to.

We usually just opt out of shipping to Amazon because there are some weird conditions as to when Smashwords will actually be able to distribute to them (after a thousand copies sold or something?). It’s also easier to just upload directly on Amazon, especially with Kindle Create.

Coupons!

This is by far the one feature we wish every other platform would also offer. Want to give someone a discount? Or have a sale specifically for a small group of people? Smashwords lets you create discount coupon codes that you can limit or privately distribute instead of having a store-wide sale for the whole world.

 

What’s your experience with Smashwords been like?

Did you have a terrible time? Do you love the platform? Do you have any tips or queries? Let us know!

Publishing on Smashwords: A Step-by-Step Guide

Publishing on Smashwords: A Step-by-Step GuideSmashwords was launched in 2008, and whilst it isn’t quite as big as Amazon or the “big 5“, it’s still a pretty established e-book retailer. The main thing that goes for it is the fact that it is both a retailer and an aggregator. Meaning, once you upload your book onto the site, it can help you distribute your ebook to almost all the top five retailers (except Amazon) as well as other e-book sites and libraries.

One of the main reasons Smashwords didn’t take off as much as it could have was because of their conversion system called the Meatgrinder. To get your ebook on Smashwords in the past, you needed to upload a formatted Word doc and get it processed through the dreaded Meatgrinder for conversion into the various supported file types, like epub and mobi (Kindle). Because the Meatgrinder was so finicky, many people just gave up after receiving multiple error messages. That bad will has kind of followed it since, although the Meatgrinder has been simplified quite a lot and it’s much easier to use. You can also directly upload an epub file now, so that’s a bigger plus.

Still, if you want to really know what formatting an ebook is about, Smashwords is the way to know the ins and outs, with some hair pulling along the way. But at least after that, you’ll be like eh, every other formatting is easy peasy. We’ll talk about that in the next post, though.

First, we’ll walk you through the Smashwords dashboard and how to upload your book.

The Smashwords Dashboard

Smashwords dashboard

There’s a lot to see here, but we’ll mainly be looking at “Publish” and Metadata Management in this post.

Clicking Publish will bring you to the uploading page, but first:

Publish Your Book

The rest of the process is pretty similar to how you would publish on Amazon or E-Sentral.

Basic Book Information

1. Title and Release Date

Smashwords: Title and Release Date

The good part of making your book a preorder is that you’ll be able to streamline the release of your book across all platforms, taking into account Smashwords’ review process (usually 1 to 2 days) and the distribution process (usually between 3 to 5 business days). Readers can preorder the book as and when it’s distributed. However, because Smashwords is weird, the site itself doesn’t actually let readers preorder. It just creates the book page and tells you when the release date will be.

2. Book Synopsis/Description

Smashwords requires a short description but also lets you put in a longer one for their site.

To write one, think about the books you’ve read and what made you decide to read it. Oftentimes, the cover attracts our attention, but it’s the description of the story that sells it to us.

The main points to consider are:

  • what is this book about?
  • who is it for/who will like it?

3. Language

I love the Commonwealth/International option because not everyone writes like the Brits. Or like the Americans either. At any rate, Smashwords accepts a whole range of languages, including Chinese!

Money stuff

4. Pricing

One good thing about Smashwords (we think many good things about Smashwords) is that they offer a very comprehensive breakdown of your expected earnings so that you don’t get caught unawares. In this case, this “billing fee” projected is the Paypal charge per shopping cart, which will fluctuate depending on how many books a reader purchases at the same time. Take note that this pricing is before any withholding tax. Before Smashwords releases your earnings to you, they’ll still handover the 30% US Withholding tax, so you’ll only get 70% of that $0.56 earnings per book.

The “Let my readers determine the price” option sounds super cool but makes your book ineligible for distribution to most other platforms, so use with caution.

5. Sampling

This is the standard across all platforms.

Categorisation


Smashwords allows you to choose up to two categories.


Smashwords has an adult filter that users can turn off/on so that erotica will not be displayed to minors and to users who do not want to read that kind of content.

Similar to “keywords” on Amazon KDP, tags are search terms that relate to your book! Start typing in your keywords (they can be phrases) and you’ll find lists of common terms that others on the site are using. You’ll also find a lot of these terms have been misspelt.

The Actual Book

6. Book formats

Who uses PalmDoc and LRF nowadays? Do those devices even still work? But hey, if it allows older readers to read your book, why not? One thing to note about Smashwords is that once someone purchases a book, they can download it in multiple formats, including PDF, AND allows for reading online (html version) so it’s not the safest platform for anti-piracy. But if you link that with their old-school very un-snazzy website, you kind of realise that they’re pretty much trying to cater to older users of the internet who maybe don’t want to upgrade or can’t be bothered to get new fancy tech anymore.

7. Book Cover

Oh finally! Smashwords has a 1400 pixels width minimum, so make sure you take that into account. They also need the Author Name to match your metadata (the name you’re publishing under). Not doing this will increase your chances of your book being rejected during the manual review.

8. Your Manuscript

Ah, the formatted manuscript. As mentioned, they need a formatted .doc file (not even .docx!) or an epub. Note that the epub comes with a lot of caveats. But we’ll get to the actual formatting of the manuscript in our next post, because frankly, this one is too long already.

Publish!

Agree to all the legal stuff and publish!

As a publisher account, we can create “ghost accounts” for people we publish for, which is how we set up your Smashwords account and book for you before we transfer it over to your account. As an individual user, you won’t have this option.

And then you wait…

First, for the automated conversion.

Yay number 1: Book page is up. This page will load automatically once it’s done. 

Yay number 2: Autovetter and epub check passed! This will appear in your email.

Now you can HEAVE A SIGH OF RELIEF. 90% of the time, if you pass the autovetter and epub check, there won’t be any problems with your file during the manual review.

ISBN

You’ll be getting a few emails now, one of which will tell you that you haven’t got an ISBN! You’ll be able to fix this in the ISBN Manager under Metadata Management.

You can get your own ISBN from PNM, or you can get one from Smashwords. Either way, you’ll see that once you click +Assign an ISBN.


Once all that is done, you should see your book on your dashboard:

The Pending Review refers to the manual review as to whether the book can be shipped out to the “Premium Catalog” (i.e. other retailers and libraries. If you do an immediate release, your book will already be available on the Smashwords site. As mentioned before, it usually takes one to two days for approval, and then three to five business days for distribution.

Either way, you’ll have a pretty book page you can share now.

Note that this is what it looks like when you’re logged in. No one else can see all the information about sales and downloads, nor will they be able to download the full versions unless they’ve purchased the book. They will be able to get the first 20% sample though, so that they can check out if they want to buy it.

There’s a bunch more cool stuff to talk about Smashwords, but we’ll save that for another time. This includes global pricing and coupons!

Until next time.