Friday, July 8, 2011

Smashwords vs. Kindle


Ever a foolishly enterprising fellow, I've been trying Smashwords and Kindle to learn more about the self-publishing thing. I don't know that I'll ever publish an entire novel, but I find the formats extremely satisfying for my shorter pieces of fiction.

I'm not giving up on the traditional route...but I'm also not short-sighted enough to see what can be accomplished in this new era of electronic publishing. Of course, about 10,000 people wrote this same post five years ago (I'm only half-kidding).

Anyhow, I have four stories up on the Kindle Store and five up on Smashwords. Both formats have their quirks in terms of ease of use.

Smashwords

Summary: I like Smashwords quite a bit. I'm new to the ereader/ebook thing and the website makes it easy to upload your work.

Of course "easy" is relative. You really should read through the Smashwords Style Guide because it will help you publish with minimal fuss. Still, the style guide takes a time investment that may worry or intimidate some writers.

I had a few issues with Smashwords when I first tried uploading, but I did find out the answer. It was, however, buried in the style guide and required a Google search to find.

Smashwords also has a lot of distribution channels. However, several of my fellow authors are probably feeling the frustration stemming from the lack of free ISBNs. Smashwords ran out on June 25 (I know this because that's when I first tried the website!) and hasn't acquired additional ones. An email update said they'd be available this week, but I haven't heard for sure yet. This is keeping potential readers who have Kobi, Nook, iPads, and Sony ereaders from buying my stories from those distribution channels. It's a frustration -- not a dealbreaker -- and I expect this to be fixed soon.

I've been satisfied with the Smashwords conversions, which match up adequately with other books I've purchased from the Kindle Store. When I noticed issues with my books, I was able to fix them quickly. The site, however, can get sluggish at times. I'm fortunate in that I did most of my work with Smashwords during the overnight hours, so it wasn't as big of a problem for me.

You also get a higher royalty cut than Amazon for your stories IF you're going for the quasi-magical 99-cent price point. So that's something to consider.

Pros:

*mostly easy to use
*flexible formats (epub, mobi, PDF, etc.)
*variable pricing
*changes take effect quickly
*variety of distribution channels (Nook, Kobi, Sony, etc.)

Cons:

*requires some homework
*some formatting quirks that aren't readily apparent
*fear that books are "cookie cutter"
*sometimes sluggish
*Free ISBN shortage limits exposure

Amazon's Kindle Digital Publishing (KDP)

Summary: Amazon's format is as tried and true as it comes in the world of ebooks. The company's Kindle is the best-selling ereader and Kindle has apps for PC, iPhone/iPad, and Android that give you the potential for a very large reader base (if you can find it, of course).

Amazon's interface is fairly simple (my full experience here), but it gave me the feeling that I didn't necessarily have complete control over my book and formatting. Most of this is a mental game and not the reality, however.

Unlike Smashwords, Amazon's KDP doesn't have a style guide. You're mostly safe with uploading an HTML file to the Mobi Pocket Creator and going from there. It's an extra step that makes it feel like you have to do a little more to get your book to the Kindle Store. The Mobi Pocket Creator is, thankfully, easy to use.

My biggest problem with KDP is the perceived sense of sluggishness I get from the platform. When you upload to Smashwords, BOOM!, your book is there, shiny and new and available. With Amazon, it takes a day or two before your book shows up. It's not a huge deal for the initial publication, but if you want to change something or upload a new version, that change won't be reflected for at least 24 hours (and 2-3 days in international marketplaces). Therefore, I feel I have less "control" over the Amazon offerings.

Pros:

*huge exposure base
*Security of having Amazon's power behind it
*Kindle Store easy to buy from
*more perceived quality control

Cons:

*lower royalties for $0.99 price point
*feels like you have less control
*changes are sluggish
*Mobi conversion feels like "extra" step
*"legalese" in uploading may turn off some

Conclusion:

Both formats have their quirks and I'm sure other writers have had different experiences (and therefore different opinions) with Smashwords and Kindle Digital Publishing.

But I'd advise all writers to learn both of them. And if you're not comfortable epubbing yourself, find someone willing to help.

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