Technical communicators have plenty of options when it comes to publishing their own manuals and guides, which includes other self-publishing platforms such as Amazon’s CreateSpace, Lulu.com, Outskirts Press, iUniverse, Kobo, and Apple iTunes (iBooks). With the wide variety of options available, sorting through the pros and cons of these sites can be daunting. Determining which site provides the best benefits would take far too long.
Some factors to consider when choosing a self-publishing platform include the number and types of distribution channels, upfront fees, hidden fees, royalty payments, types of file formats accepted, whether the author sets the price, the terms of the contract (if it is exclusive), whether authors retain the rights to their work after publication, and how easy or difficult it is to make changes to your work after publication (JaneFriedman.com).
More and more technical communicators are using Smashwords to publish their manuals and guides. This white paper will highlight the pros and cons of using the following self-publishing platforms: Lulu.com, Amazon’s CreateSpace, Author House, Outskirts Press, and iUniverse. These are the industry’s top five self-publishing platforms.
Technical communicators have been self-publishing technical manuals and guides at an increasing rate over the past few years. This trend is important to the field of technical communication because many technical writers don’t make enough working just one job.
The problem with most self-publishing platforms is that they do not have enough distribution channels available, they are hard to navigate, the process of self-publishing is too difficult, or it just does not benefit the technical writer in publishing technical manuals. Most self-publishing platforms are not as easy-to-use as Smashwords.
Self-publishing on Smashwords can lead to more revenue and greater recognition, which can lead to higher paying jobs in the future. The more a writer’s presence and work is known, the more opportunities he or she has to increase their income as well as advance their career.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
CREATING YOUR OWN BOOK COVER
Smashwords offers the best value to publish your manuscript (free). Although Smashwords is free, authors do have to create and upload their own ebook covers. Creating your own book cover is not as hard as it seems if you have basic design skills and a software program like Microsoft Publisher or even Microsoft Word. Purchase a photo online from as low as $1 on some sites and $100 or more on others. Use the photo to design your own cover. Study the best-selling books on Smashwords and determine what works for each cover. Some sites even offer pre-made, professionally designed book covers from $50 and up.
FORMATTING AND FILE TYPES
Smashwords requires authors to format their book’s interior. The site has a set of style guidelines that every book must follow so that it can go through the “meatgrinder” process. The “meatgrinder” is Smashwords’ tool for creating a readable ebook format file for your book. After going through that process, your book will be readable on multiple electronic devices, such as smart phones, tablets and eReaders.
Smashwords provides an easy option for self-published authors to submit and distribute their work. Some sites restrict they types of things you can publish (such as Lulu.com), whereas Smashwords will publish anything (Eddy). Smashwords allows you to publish in a variety of formats, including Mobi (Kindle), ePUB (Nook and Kobo), PDF, RTF, and your book can be read online.
Once your book is properly formatted according to the Smashwords Style Guidelines, you can upload it in .doc format. PDFs are not accepted.
A distribution channel is an outlet in which your book will be published. Amazon is an example of a distribution channel because it sells your book to the public for a percentage of sales. It is important to choose a self-publishing company with a large number of distribution channels because it means your book will be available to more potential customers.
Smashwords offers far more distribution channels than other self-publishers, including Lulu.com, iUniverse, CreateSpace, AuthorHouse and Outskirts Press. Distribution channels available through Smashwords includes Sony, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Amazon, Apple, Diesel, Page Foundry, Baker and Taylor Blio, Library Direct, Baker-Taylor Axis 360, Flipkart, Oyster, and Scribd. When new distribution channels are added to Smashwords, your books automatically move to those channels and become available for sale.
Smashwords offers self-published authors non-exclusive contracts, which means you can publish your work on sites other than Smashwords. An exclusive contract would prohibit you from doing that.
Smashwords allows authors to set their own price and there are no upfront or hidden fees. Smashwords distributes to all major ebook retailers (Friedman). Authors receive 85% of the list price of their books and 70.5% of the list price for books sold at other retailers. Smashwords does not have any hidden fees and making changes after publication is simple.
CENTRALIZED METADATA MANAGEMENT
Smashwords offers centralized metadata management. Metadata management allows you to manage details about your book, including categorization, pricing and book description, which you can change at any time. From the Smashwords Dashboard, you can control your book’s details for not only Smashwords, but for other retailers instantly.
SMASHWORDS PREMIUM CATALOG
The Smashwords Premium Catalog is a subset of Smashwords titles that are up to the standards of Smashwords’ online distribution partners, such as Apple iBooks and Amazon’s Kindle Direct. In order to have your book included in the Smashwords Premium Catalog, it must meet certain requirements. After passing the Autovetter scan (which checks to make sure you followed the style guide), your book undergoes a manual inspection. If there are no further errors, your book is approved within a week and is included in the Smashwords Premium Catalog. It then becomes available to major retailers previously mentioned.
The most common reasons books are rejected from the Smashwords Premium Catalog include poor formatting, an improperly formed NCX (provides easy navigation for the reader), an EPUBCHECK error (EPUB is a tool that checks your file for compliance to the .epub standard), missing proper first line paragraph indents or block paragraph formatting, missing copyright page, inappropriate book cover, metadata mistakes, a font size error and mistakes in the table of contents. To avoid these common errors, simply follow the Smashwords Style Guide word for word.
An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a unique 9- or 13-digit number assigned to your book to identify it. Most ebook retailers require an ISBN in order to sell your book. The ISBN helps retailers keep track of sales and report back to Smashwords so that you get paid. The Smashwords Style Guide shows you how to place the ISBN number onto your copyright page.
Smashwords provides a free ISBN numbers for each book you publish. On other sites, if you want to be named the publisher of your book, you have to pay for the ISBN number. Bowker is the company that distributes ISBN numbers. Usually, a self-publisher would have to go straight to Bowker and pay for one (which costs $50 for one).
Smashwords prohibits the use of a specific retailer name on the copyright page of your manuscript, which is the standard in self-publishing, because it will be distributed to multiple retailers. Therefore, the copyright page should never read: “Published by CreateSpace,” or anything similar. The copyright page of your manuscript must read include the statement: “Smashwords Edition,” as outlined in the Style Guide.
The only real drawback to using Smashwords is that you cannot use their meat grinder to create files and upload them to other sites. Lulu.com has a similar process in which you can simply download the converted file.
While other sites offer the ability to create your own cover, Smashwords does not. However, the reason may be because those sites offer low-quality, generic covers that may become duplicated if another author chooses the same image or graphic.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Technical writers have multiple options when it comes to choosing the right self-publishing platform for their technical manuals and guides. Choosing Smashwords provides the greatest benefits, including the retaining 100% of your rights to the book, paying virtually nothing, setting your own price, managing your metadata, access to more distribution channels than most self-publishing platforms, and high royalty payments (considering the cost).
Technical writers should use Smashwords also because it is an easy-to-use, fuss-free way to make extra money. Smashwords also provides a stress-free way to format your manuscript if you do not have the time or simply do not know how. For just $40, you can have your manuscript formatted to the specifications of Smashwords’ Style Guide. For most users of Smashwords, it takes less than 30 minutes from the time you upload to make your book available for sale. For the reasons named above, Smashwords provides the most benefit to technical writers.