Quick Guide to Smashwords

Recently, I helped publish Denizens of Steam on Smashwords. I thought I’d share what I learned.

First, let me just say that if you haven’t heard of Smashwords, it’s well worth checking out. Smashwords is a site for writers and readers. As an author, Smashwords can help you get your book out to the masses, and with no cost for their services, free ISBN’s, and distribution to Scribd, barnesandnoble.com, and a number of other sites, it’s definitely worth the time and effort.

That said, as a previously unpublished writer, there were a ton of things I didn’t know about publishing or formatting, and it was necessary to learn these things before publishing. Smashwords offers a Style Guide to help writers get started. It’s filled with useful information for writers with thoroughly detailed instructions for formatting for Smashwords. It’s also 117 pages long, and even after following the instructions, I still got errors that caused the conversion process to fail.

A number of key points

117 pages of instructions for formatting instructions proved to be more than I had patience for. A lot of the details in the guide could have been stripped down to the bare essentials. A couple of quick points:

1. Smashwords allows writers to upload books in epub or Word doc format (doc, not docx). They do not allow you to upload mobi, html, or plain text formats, even though they distribute in these formats. Instead, they convert your book for you, taking your Word Doc and converting from that. So, don’t waste your time exporting mobi formatted books, like I did.

2. Smashwords conversion software is a bit temperamental. Make sure you format your word doc correctly, or you’ll get errors. Quick formatting tip: Smashwords suggests avoiding “exotic fonts.” They suggest using Times New Roman, Arial, or Garamond. Do not use Garamond, as I did. It caused the conversion to fail.

3. Font colour should be set to “Automatic.” Note that this is not the same as black, even if it looks black. Do this as your very last step. If you set up a table of contents for your book, you’ll be using hyperlinks, which tend to mess with the font colour. Be sure to change the font back to automatic after this step. This is very important, as skipping this step will cause conversion to fail.

4. This one might be obvious, but in case it’s not, I’ll say it anyway. Don’t manually indent (by pressing the tab key). Instead, set up your alignment using the Ruler.

5. Key points in the style guide: how to set up your table of contents. There are a number of ways to set up a TOC in Word, but make sure you follow the instructions in the Style Guide, or you may run into trouble.

If you want to grab yourself a (free) copy of Denizens of Steam, it’s now available in both mobi and epub formats, and you can get it at Smashwords, Scribd, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Be sure to leave a review!

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