I recently converted my first published novel, LMF, to e-book format. My idea was to put it out there on the Amazon e-publishing site, to make it available to Kindle readers. I’m not expecting a lot of interest or sales or anything, but it’s nice to have the book out there somewhere. The publisher, Little Green Tree, did absolutely zero promotion, but maintained that distribution wasn’t necessary to get the book out there either. Thus I have a couple of boxes of books in my basement and I’m not going to do the work I did in the first couple of years to try to promote it.

So I completed all the steps to create the e-book in the required format, got the cover image all tarted up, everything that Amazon wanted me to do, and submitted it. I got an e-mail back saying that they were really overloaded but would get back to me in a couple of days.

That was three weeks ago.

As it happened, around the same day I came across a blog post about thriller writer J.A. Konrath. I probably came across it on Reddit’s writers group, but I can’t seem to find it now. No matter. Anyhow, while Konrath isn’t a writer I’ve read, and while he’s a little too… intense, let’s say, to keep me reading his blog regularly, he’s a master of self-promotion, and his books sell well because of it.

He was saying on this post that his e-book sales on a site called Smashwords were starting to amount to some real cash — as in, he pays his mortgage each month with his Smashwords income. Compelling! I thought I’d take a look at Smashwords, since my book was already set up for e-book sales.

Smashwords is an awesome name for a site, I think, and although it’s not the prettiest site out there, it’s easy enough to use. I got the book up on the site in an hour or so. And that’s when I hit a slight roadblock.

Their site provides “preferred” status to books that are formatted correctly, have professional-looking titles, and so on. And after fixing a couple of formatting glitches for my book, I submitted it for approval for preferred status, and was rejected.┬áThe rejection said “There is a white border around the cover image for the book, which needs to be fixed.”

Now, this white border was actually a major design element in the paper copy of the book. It really stands out because of it. (I still like the cover design of LMF, which is more than I can say for the job Little Green Tree did on the inside). So I sent a message back, explaining that that was how the cover was set up originally, and although I did understand that there are differences between paper and e-publishing design, would they reconsider? If not, I would change the image and use it without the border.

I got an e-mail back from the guy who had originally assessed the book. He said that his concern was that the book would look weird with the white border — it might just look like we had screwed up the image somehow, to someone looking at it. And he attached an image without the border, and said if I wanted to use that one, it would be fine. So he went as far as to do the work I needed to do, just to give me a hand and speed up the process.

Within a few minutes, I got a second e-mail, from someone else at Smashwords. This second guy said that he actually really liked the cover, and suggested that maybe I should add a thin border around the cover with the white space around the image, to indicate that the white space wasn’t a mistake. That would satisfy everyone.

So not only were they willing to do the work that was really mine to do — fiddling with the cover image to make it work for their site — they were also interested in finding a solution that would work for me, and were willing to engage in discussion about the solutions that were available.

Well, that sold me. I uploaded the cover modification the first guy sent me, and thanked them both for their time and thoughts. And now LMF is available on Smashwords for all.

This is what I love to see: a company that actually puts in a little time and effort to help its clients get what they need from the site. Most companies don’t have the resources, time, or commitment to make it happen for their clients. But Smashwords, a little e-book company, makes it happen.

Oh, and I still haven’t heard back from the Amazon site. And I don’t really care. Smashwords is the company I want to deal with, and I would suggest that anyone with a self-published or micro-published book should do the same.

  1. Hello Matthew,

    Thanks for your post on Smashwords. They are really fantastic! I had a similar experience with them.

    Mark, the head honcho at Smashwords, bent over backwards to help me format my first book. I did the second one myself because it was a novel and it was easy. The third one had footnotes and those threw me completely. I hired a guy that Mark recommended, and it took a couple of tries but he got it right. Like you, I’m thrilled to have all my books Kindle-friendly.

    Unlike you, however, I’ve had very positive experiences with Amazon in other instances. For example, I just uploaded a book to CreateSpace and Amazon was wonderful. Their tech support was better than anything I’ve ever paid for, and they took my baby online within about four days. I can’t say enough good things about their digital platform and the CreateSpace function.

    Meanwhile, I’m not selling a lot of books on Smashwords; I get the impression that people there want something for free. They’re not particularly interested in buying. The minute I made my novel free, I had hundreds of downloads. But it’s a great site.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.
    Fellow writer and humanist, Sigrid in Ottawa

  2. Hi Sigrid, and thanks very much for sharing your thoughts on the subject.

    It was CreateSpace that I used with Amazon, and I still haven’t heard back from them. I should go check but I’m fine with Smashwords for now.

    And I might yet change my novel to free; I have had a healthy number of sample downloads, though, so I’m cool with things as they are. At worst, like you, I’m just happy to have it available.

    I will get back in touch with CreateSpace, though, and see if I can sort out what happened…

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