Smashwords – the big smash-up

Writer Beware!

The complaints are piling up over the unresponsiveness of Mark Coker’s Smashwords publishing company, which touts you’ll get “Your ebook. Your way.” Authors send emails through the proper contact and wait for a reply. And wait. And wait. Sometimes, for weeks, there is no response. This is not how to run a business that is trying to compete with Amazon.

In my own recent experience, I chose to use Smashwords as a means to have my books published to iTunes and other outlets, like Sony and Diesel. The iTunes author interface is cumbersome and difficult for this author to figure out. The SW (Smashwords) meatgrinder is disliked by many authors, but I never had a problem with it, or with getting accepted into the premium SW catalogue that is required before books can be sent out for distribution. I did all that. Passed the meatgrinder. Had my books, there were 3 of them, accepted in the Premium catalogue and checked all the distribution points I wanted.

A month later, after I’d gotten through that acceptance process, I went back to SW to check up on my books through my dashboard and I saw that my second book was not being shipped to Apple. First and third were, but not #2. I had it checked to go, but the message on the dashboard said it hadn’t shipped, but it would. Odd, I thought, and emailed SW through the contact link at the top of the page.

I got an email back within a decent time line. It took a couple of days. This was back in mid October, 2012. I was assured that the problem was fixed. I moved on to other projects. When I checked back some weeks later, in November, I discovered that no, the problem remained. And from there it just got worse. Through the month of November there was much back and forth. Finally, the difficulty was blamed on iTunes. By then, I’d decided to move on and informed them they no longer had to worry about sending my book as I was unpublishing all but one book from Smashwords.

I thought that surely this would be the end of it, but no. In the process of checking my links to all the various retail outlets, I discovered mid December that iTunes had my unpublished book live on their site.

I immediately wrote to Smashwords through their contact form again and told them to take the book down. I know, a Comedy of Errors here. Again, not the kind you want to have when you are trying to compete with Amazon. That was last year, last month about a week before Christmas and I’ve not had a response from them since. Last I checked (today) my second book was still up on iTunes even though it has been unpublished for over a month! Is it selling anything? With the book unpublished, how am I to know?

This is just plain shoddy business practice. I’ve been on Smashwords for quite some time now and had intended to put my entire series there even though I haven’t sold more than a handful on the site. (Compared to Amazon where that figure has moved into the thousands) Mark Coker recently suggested that Amazon was leading authors around by the nose. Well, at least there’s money at the end of that lead line. I think I’ll take a company responsible for helping me pay my mortgage over one that doesn’t respond in a reasonable timeframe to problems. At least Amazon sends out a bot response, and then they do get back to you. I may not always like their answers, but it is an answer instead of the crickets coming from SW.

The same problems are being reported across many platforms and from many authors who need faster response times than a month. For instance, customer service reps from Sony claim to have been issued a new directive with instructions to stop assisting the large number of authors from Smashwords calling in to get problems fixed. Only Smashwords, who acts as publisher, can make changes to books, says Sony, cover changes, new versions and including having the book removed completely. Smashwords is not keeping up their end of the bargain.

As an author in control of my rights and work, I should be able to tell SW to unpublish or change my distribution set up and expect that my instructions will be followed within a reasonable timeframe. A month+ is not reasonable. If there’s a problem with companies like Barnes and Noble, or iTunes following through with those direct requests from SW then Mr. Coker should get those problems ironed out with those companies, instead of using that as an excuse. Authors are left wondering what the status is of their work. If we want to go into Amazon’s exclusive program, Select, we ought to be able to do that, but because these companies keep our books for weeks on end, against the exclusivity agreement with Amazon, it’s like threading the eye of a needle to make a schedule for marketing activities when the unknowns keep getting in the way. Mark Coker doesn’t have the right to hold my book hostage indefinitely by not getting this delayed response from his partners worked out. It’s all electronic! It’s a computer program that says unpublish that book!

Mark Coker needs to get his house in order and soon, or many more authors like me will give up on his grand idea, and seek elsewhere for what we need. So far, Amazon is doing a far better job of filling that need. I’ve only one book left with SW. I’m actively looking for somewhere else to publish.

Are you having problems with Smashwords? (or anywhere else?) Feel free to leave a comment. I’ll pass them along.


Filed under Indie Publishing

16 responses to “Smashwords – the big smash-up

    • Thanks for the reblog! 🙂 Update – Smashwords finally got back to me and said they’d pull my unpublished book from iTunes via a take down notice sent manually. If the computers aren’t working, shouldn’t they fix the computers? If programs are supposed to do this job, then obviously the program is broken! Several authors I know are getting in trouble with Amazon because after a month, SW distribution outlets have not removed their books. What kind of trouble? They are penalized by not having the ability to have ‘borrows’ for the full 90 days they are in KDP Select. Smashwords is costing authors money with their faulty system. It shouldn’t take a month for their distribution partners to remove a book! It definitely shouldn’t take even longer!

  1. Catana

    I’m afraid I’m another author who’s fallen out of love with Smashwords. I haven’t published anything for quite a while, but sales continue at Amazon, while they’ve completely died at Smashwords. I direct-published to B & N for a while because I thought I would do better than way. Finally gave up, and now I hear more and more complaints about B & N.

    Distribution channels work only if you have the complete cooperation of the other sites, which clearly isn’t the case. Those sites have their own problems and SW has no power to overcome them. The result is that authors keep getting hammered into the cracks.

    I believe that Mark has lost control of SW, mainly because he’s become an “absentee landlord,” running around the country, making speeches, and leaving the site in the hands of partially trained people. Too many improvements that were promised have been neglected, and the site has become a haven for people who can no longer make money on content sites. That means thousands of poems, short articles, and other ephemera that don’t exactly qualify as books, though they’re counted to prove how well SW is doing. Mark keeps increasing the vitriol against Amazon, as if that’s the problem. Someone should tell him that the best defense is putting his own house in order, not in mounting an offense against Amazon.

    • It’s all starting to sound too familiar. I hear they just started accepting epub files, but I haven’t heard anything nice about how that’s going. I agree 100% Mr. Coker needs to fix these problems (faster than he is). Is he listening? Hard to say, but it appears not.

      • Catana

        Everybody’s been waiting for the epub uploads, but it turned out not to be what was expected. At least, not what I expected. SW doesn’t convert the epub files. You still have to upload a .doc file for the meatgrinder for all the other formats. So, it’s just twice as much work. The only advantage is that people who know how to do it can produce epubs that will look exactly the way they want them to.

  2. I completely agree. Smashwords is an inferior platform – customer service sucks, the meatgrinder sucks, and there is no end to the problems they are causing authors.

    My short story Underneath showed up at Sony under ANOTHER AUTHOR’S NAME. Heather Mar-Garrison. I was pissed. I emailed Smashwords, who “emailed Sony” because it was their problem. I never heard a word back from Sony or Smashwords, but thank goodness, it’s been fixed. It was a free book, but what if it hadn’t been? Would this author have been given my royalties, as well? (and it’s been fixed, but it’s still showing the old cover which was replaced over a month ago).

    I also published the most recent free Elective collection and it was approved premium on Dec 12 – yet hasn’t filtered to BN.

    Coker talks a lot of rooster strutting, but until he can run a business that stands up next to Amazon, he will never be seen as a force to compete with.

  3. Thanks for the warning, I’m in the process of getting my first novel into the Meatgrinder. At least now I know to watch out for some issues. I’ll keep you posted on what happens with mine. Anyone got some alternative services to recommend?

    • You can go direct to Barnes and Noble through Pubit. Kobo also has a direct upload and is the best of the lot – even better than Amazon for a publishing platform – except the sales numbers don’t add up. It’s easy, but you don’t sell much (or anything!) You can also go direct to iTunes if you have a Mac and you can figure out the program and you have a perfect epub file (which apparently, I don’t). The great thing about SW was that they distributed to all those locations for you, but if you can’t get there and SW are not responding, then there’s nothing great about it. Good luck!

  4. Pingback: Looking back on 2012; forecasting for 2013

  5. Reblogged this on Theo Fenraven and commented:
    Something for self-publishers to ponder. As it happens, I unpublished my books at SW two weeks ago because the titles never showed up anywhere I was promised.

  6. I unpublished two books at SW a couple weeks ago. Why? Because after four months, they never showed up at B&N despite being in their premium catalog. As far as I know, my titles never showed up anywhere but SW. Sales were consistently flat, at next to nothing. I doubt I’ll use them again.

    • This whole back and forth with the one book started in October and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t have been resolved well before the Holiday ‘selling season’. If there’s such a problem, premium catalogue should have rejected the file, or if the problem is with SW partners like BN and iTunes, we should know about it so we can make alternate plans to publish our work.I use them for one book since it’s my free one, lead-in to my series. That’s the only reason I use SW at all, but I’m looking for another platform that will let me keep that book free.

  7. therealtbaggins

    Reblogged this on shadesofgay and commented:
    So true! Never thought I would see the day Kobo, Diesel, and the Sony Reader store became models for customer service, while Smashwords decided not to bother anymore.

  8. Reblogged this on Emma Jameson's Blog and commented:
    I am a bit under the weather today, but let me just say, if you’re an indie author who is using Smashwords, or considering using Smashwords in 2013, please read this first.

  9. You know I am a bit under the weather at present, but I agree with every word you’ve written. It’s sad, because I used to defend SW to so many new authors, and urge them to consider SW as part of their global marketing plan. Now, alas, I have no choice but to repost this everywhere.

    • Thanks Emma. Hope you are feeling better soon! Darn flu/cold/crud season – I’m a little surprised by the number of people complaining. Maybe Mark Coker should concentrate on fixing the problems than bemoaning the evils of Amazon.

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