When I self-published my first book “An Expat’s Guide to Ireland” I published it exclusively to Amazon for the Kindle since they are the market leader in e-books (currently, Amazon has 70% to 80% of the e-book market). They also have the option of publishing the book for print on demand, so that buyers could get the book as an e-book or print book through the Amazon website. When doing the second edition I decided to give the Barnes & Noble (B&N) Nook and Smashwords a try. One reason for this was to see if I could increase sales by utilizing more than one sales channel. I also wanted to compare the experience of setting up my book for each digital format. Since Smashwords doesn’t offer print options, I’ve decided to just focus on the digital version of my book.
Upload and Formatting
The Kindle is the number one e-reader in the world, so I expected the setup process to be reasonably easy, and it was. Setting up an account with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is quick and easy. Once the account is set up all I needed to do was select Kindle e-book and follow on-screen steps. They do a proof check automatically and have an option to view the book in the browser. I found that it wouldn’t work for me in Chrome and had to use Edge to view the book. Yes, Edge! After viewing it, it is easy to go back to the original document, make edits, and re-upload. The book can also be sent to your Kindle to preview if you have one.
Uploading was quick and easy, and so was the interior review process. The website as a whole I would say looks the best out of all of them. The last step in the process was asking me to complete a W9 form. The problem I had was when it came to doing that. According to the process, “You have up to 30 days to submit your W-9 information. Your vendor account can be submitted for approval independently and your books can go on sale before your tax form is submitted.” They link users to the IRS website to access the form. The IRS site is a government website, so not the easiest to navigate. If you can find the form, you have another problem, and that is that B&N wants people to enter their Account Nook ID in the list of account numbers on the form. However, if you have ever done a W9 you would know there is no field for that. I’m guessing you can just write it at the top or something before scanning and emailing it to them. I don’t know because I gave up with B&N, knowing Smashwords provided the option of publishing to Nook.
Smashwords was by far the most annoying to deal with for uploading and formatting my e-book. Simply entering my ISBN involved multiple steps that were not clear at all because the publishing form doesn’t currently have a field to enter an ISBN.
As per the help, “Once you upload your book, you can go to Dashboard > ISBN Manager (https://www.smashwords.com/dashboard/ISBNManager) and click on ‘Assign an ISBN’ toward the bottom of the page.”
According to their review process there were errors with the document itself. The first error I received was “This looks like a “.docx” file, which is not supported.” My version of word was more recent than what they supported, so I had to save the document in a .doc format.
The second error was “EpubCheck result: Failed! Error while parsing file ‘attribute “value” not allowed here; expected attribute “class”, “dir”, “id”, “lang”, “style”, “title” or “xml:lang”‘. This involved me removing various formatting such as numbered lists and cells in the document.
After getting past the initial verifications there was a second process for the book to be in the Smashwords Premium Catalogue. For that, I received “Your book contains some possibly corrupt formatting.” It turned out the system didn’t like the way I formatted my chapter headings using the Word auto headings functionality.
The final error was even less helpful, “Your book is failing EPUB Check. For more information on this error, please go to https://www.smashwords.com/epubcheck.”
After a few rounds of edits and painstakingly reviewing my book to find anything that could be causing a formatting issue, it was eventually accepted.
Amazon KDP. Uploading and setting up the book on the site was very easy to do. The tools available for checking the book to make sure it looks good and formatted correctly are easy to use, and they do a better job of auto formatting from MS Word to epub.
Pricing and Distribution
During the setup process, it is possible to select all global markets, or if you want to limit the distribution to specific markets, there is an option to select individual markets. It is possible to select the US market price and the system will automatically price the book for each other market, or you can select and price the book manually for each market. I selected all markets and let the system automatically set the price for most of the market and manually set it for a few European markets, as I have a bank account in London and wanted the sales for any books sold in Europe to go to that account. Another nice thing about KDP is the fact that they let users set multiple banks to receive payments. If, like me, you have an account in a different market you can receive your payments in the local currency.
KDP has two royalty options — 35% or 70%. If you are enrolled in KDP Select you get a 70% royalty in all markets. If not enrolled, authors get 70% in some markets and 35% in others. By enrolling in KDP Select you are not allowed to publish your e-book to any other e-readers. They do have an option to un-enrol which is what I did for the second edition so that I could then publish to other e-readers.
The real advantage to Amazon is market share. Amazon has by far the biggest market share out of any e-reader. They also offer additional services such as the Kindle lending library for Amazon Prime members.
For the Nook, Barns & Noble provides authors with one option when it comes to setting the price. Basically, you set the price, and that’s it. No options for market variations.
The Nook has two royalty options. 40% and 65%. The royalty is based on the price of the book. If it is listed under 2.98 the author gets 40%. If it is over 2.99 the author gets 65%. The nice thing about this is the author gets 65% regardless of the book being published on other platforms. They don’t require exclusivity.
Smashwords is the same as Amazon in offering the option to set different prices in different markets. Since Smashwords publishes to multiple platforms, they allow writers the option to select which e-reader the book can be released on. For example, since I already published my book for Kindle on KDP I unchecked that option. But since B&N was a pain and I gave up on it, I allowed Smashwords to publish to B&N instead of publishing directly through the B&N site.
Smashwords charges a 15% commission depending on where the book is sold. E-books sold through Smashwords earn more for the author than if they sold it through another channel since that channel also has to get its cut of the price. “For example, a $10.00 e-book sold at one of our retail partners earns you $6.00, the retailer earns $3.00 and Smashwords earns $1.00. The same book sold at Smashwords earns you about $8.00.”
Smashwords. They pay the best royalty out of the three options. Not only that, since they have the option of distribution to multiple sales channels, it can be a one-stop publishing option.
Tracking Sales and Getting Paid
The KDP reports page is terrible if you have more than one book published through them. By default, the sales dashboard shows all books in all markets, without a breakdown of each book. It is through drop-downs that users can change the report to see each book’s sales. They have an option for exporting to Excel so that users can export it to Excel and sort sales. Even this I found to be less than user friendly in the way the export is formatted. Luckily I’m pretty good in Excel but the fact that I have to export into Excel each month and sort the data to breakdown sales by different books and markets is annoying.
KDP pays each month’s royalties via direct deposit into whatever bank accounts are set up, automatically converting the currency. As mentioned previously I am able to receive payment in local currency, to local banks. Users can easily enter W9 information on the site for tax purposes.
Just by looking at the website it looks like B&N has the best reporting options for payments. The website is easy to navigate. They allow for direct payment to a bank account, but since I gave up on the process due to the W9 issue, I never received a payment or used the reporting tools. So, I can’t say for sure.
The only thing you get from Smashwords regarding reporting is what platform someone purchased the e-book from. Users will know if someone bought it from Barns & Noble or Apple for example. That’s pretty much it. Instead of paying to a bank account, Smashwords pays to PayPal. The only other option they offer is check (US residents only). So, if you don’t have PayPal, better set it up. Users can complete W9 information without issue on the website here as well.
Smashwords pays authors monthly.
I think B&N would have been the winner if it wasn’t such a pain to set up. Since that is the case, and it came down to Amazon vs Smashwords, the winner is Amazon.
Each site does allow authors to enter some personal information. I don’t get the impression that these are often visited by readers as most authors have websites. However, it is another way for writers to make their work visible.
The author page for Amazon is done through author central, not KDP. Writers have to register separately through the site. Once done you have to add your books. Authors can enter a headshot and a promo video if they want. The site also has an option to enter an RSS feed for a blog and upcoming events.
They provide a space for some text with a bio. That’s all.
Since Smashwords distributes to multiple platforms, they do offer a nice profile page that authors can set up with a bio page with a headshot and allows for links to FB, twitter, and a website. They also have the option of doing an interview page to provide even more information.
Smashwords. It is easy to add information to the page and they provide a lot of nice options such as linking to social media and websites. And you can do it all within Smashwords, unlike Amazon where you have to setup an account with different sites.
Overall Smashwords seems to be the winner. When it comes to paying royalties, they pay the best, assuming you want to publish to multiple platforms. If only interested in publishing to the Kindle then Amazon is the way to go with the KDP Select.
Personally, I’m not a fan of one company having such control over the market so I’m going to stick with my plan of publishing to Smashwords for all e-reader platforms except Amazon Kindle, even though it might mean making a little less overall. For the Kindle I will publish to KDP directly just without KDP Select. This allows me to sell a paperback version of the book through the Amazon website.