In previous Adventures with Smashwords, I wrote about Signing Up as a Small Publisher and Publishing an E-Book. But getting your book successfully uploaded to Smashwords is not the end of the story. To get maximum distribution for your title and thereby maximize your profit potential, you want to make sure to distribute your title through the Smashwords Premium Catalog.
Once your title is accepted into the Premium Catalog, Smashwords begins distributing it to their retail partners. The partner list currently includes Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, and Apple. Amazon is "coming soon." You do earn a lot less on titles sold through these retailers, but the increase in exposure is worth the loss in margin. After all, the number one threat to the success of your book is obscurity.
Overview of the Process
Getting into the Smashwords Premium Catalog is a straightforward process. The hardest part is formatting your book to conform with the Smashwords Style Guide, but that is something you need to do regardless of whether or not you plan to take advantage of the Premium Catalog.
Here's an overview of the steps involved:
- Get your book accepted into the Premium Catalog
- Assign an ISBN to your book
- Select distribution partners
- Make money!
Getting Accepted into the Premium Catalog
The "Premium Catalog" is the Smashwords way of separating e-books that are suitable for commercial distribution from those that are not. They do this to protect their relationship with their retail partners, because frankly, the partners have no interest in receiving a lot of poorly-done e-books. The Premium Catalog essentially represents a quality-assurance hurdle.
As I mentioned, the first thing you need to do is produce a book that meets the requirements documented in the Smashwords Style Guide. My Publishing an E-Book article can help you do that. You also need to provide specific metadata about your book, such as a good description and cover image. See the Smashwords distribution page for more information about Premium Catalog qualifications.
As soon as you upload your e-book to Smashwords, the system queues it for review by the Smashwords team. You can monitor the review status of your e-book on your account dashboard. The last column (as of this writing) shows your title's Premium Status. When the status changes to Approved, you are good to go. [The status can also change to "requires modification," in which case you need to do a little more work.]
Assigning an ISBN
You can publish your e-book through Smashwords without an ISBN and sell your book through their "Standard Feed," which places your book on Smashwords.com and distributes it to a few other retail channels (e.g. Stanza). Additionally, some of the Premium Catalog vendors do not require an ISBN, so you can sell through them as well. However, if you want to distribute your book to Sony or get it into the Apple iBookstore, you must assign an ISBN to your e-book.
Smashwords offers three ISBN choices. They'll assign an ISBN for free, but it lists them as the publisher. You can also pay about $10 for an ISBN that lists you as the publisher and them as the distributor. Finally, you can assign your own ISBN that you buy directly from Bowker, the official U.S. ISBN agency. If you are serious about publishing your own work, you should buy your ISBN's directly from Bowker so you are the official publisher of record with no third-party affiliations.
Getting an ISBN is easy, but for some reason, many authors are petrified by the acronym. We get a lot of nervous questions on the subject from our clients. Don't sweat it.
All you need to do is visit the Bowker Identifier Services Web site and create an account with them. Signing up with Identifier Services is no more difficult than signing up with Smashwords. Once you have an account, you can purchase ISBN's. You'll get a better deal if you buy more than one ISBN at a time, and when you think about the fact that your book needs a separate ISBN for every format (softback, hardback, EPUB, MobiPocket, etc.) and edition, getting anything less than a block of 10 makes little sense.
At this point in time, Smashwords allows you to assign only one ISBN. That ISBN represents the EPUB format of your e-book, which is the format they distribute to their premium partners.
After you purchase ISBN's from Bowker, assign one of them to your e-book. Pay particular attention to the "Format and Size" section of the title detail page. For Medium, select "E-Book," and for Format select "Electronic Book Text." For now, the File Type should be "Open Ebook," which was the precursor to EPUB. However, if Bowker eventually updates their site to include EPUB as an option, select that instead.
When you are done, Bowker gives your book a free "SEO Title Card" Web page on their Bookwire.com site, which gives your book a little extra Internet exposure.
Selecting Retail Partners
Unless you specify otherwise, Smashwords automatically distributes your book to most of their retail partners when your book is approved for the Premium Catalog. However, some vendors, such as Apple, require that you accept an additional distribution agreement. I suspect that Amazon will similarly require an additional agreement when books are eventually distributed to them.
To view the status of your books in each retail channel, use the Smashwords Distribution Channel Manager. You can access it from the Dashboard of your Smashwords account. The channel manager shows you which retailers are currently getting your books and provides tools to manage your relationship with them. For example, if you have yet to accept the Apple distribution agreement, you'll see a link to take care of that.
You have full control over the channels through which your book is distributed. You can choose to "opt out" of distribution to a particular vendor. For example, we opted out of distributing our book Funds to the Rescue to Amazon.com because we are already selling a Kindle-optimized version of that book directly through Amazon.
One thing to consider is that these vendor-specific distribution agreements may affect how you can market your book. For example, the Apple agreement requires that your price end in .99 and may limit the price you can charge for your e-book in the iBookstore. Because Funds to the Rescue is available as a softback print book for less than $22, we can't charge more than $9.99 for the e-book version. It just so happens that was the price we chose anyway, so it wasn't an issue for us, but it just goes to show that you may not be willing to accept all the terms in the Apple agreement for your book.
So now life is good. Your book is available for sale on the Smashwords Web site and through their Premium Catalog to their retail partners. It's time for the money to roll in.
But exactly how much money will you make on your book?
Well, ultimately your own marketing efforts have the most impact, but when it comes to how much money you'll get from an individual sale, the answer is that it depends. You get different royalty amounts depending upon where the book was sold.
At first glance, the Smashwords royalty arrangement seems very generous, and it is. They give you 85% of the net proceeds from your book. But there's the rub: net proceeds. Your proceeds from the sale of a $9.99 e-book vary substantially based on the channel through which it is sold.
Here's a quick look at our royalty for Funds to the Rescue (priced at $9.99), based on where it is sold:
- Smashwords.com: $7.99
- Smashwords.com affiliate: $7.11 (at std 11% commission)
- Premium channel partner: $4.25 (assumes 50% retail discount)
Premium channel partners get 50% (or more) off the top, and then Smashwords takes it's 15% cut, leaving you with 42.5% (or less) of the cover price. It sounds like you are giving up a lot, but realistically, even a 42.5% royalty is fabulous when compared to what you get from a traditional publishing house and many so-called "self publishing" companies (i.e. subsidy presses).
Is Premium Distribution Worth It?
Absolutely. One of your goals as a book publisher is to get the widest distribution and exposure for your title possible. Publishing through Smashwords gives you tremendous leverage for doing exactly that with very little effort and in a short period of time. Can you imagine how much work it would take to sign up with each of the vendors individually and jump through their hoops to get your e-book into their system? That's certainly not my idea of a fun time.
It's remarkable how much publishing and promotional power Smashwords gives self-publishers for free. All they ask in return is a very reasonable cut of the sales they are enabling for you. For just the cost of your time and an ISBN, you can share your message with the world and make some money while doing it.