Smashwords or Draft2Digital for Ebook Distributor?

smashwords or draft2digitalThis article by Jason Matthews first appeared on The Book Designer.

You’re selling ebooks on Amazon. Where else? The options keep expanding as a rising global market embraces digital books. There are dozens of potential retailers, but only a few of the big sellers have enabled indie authors to directly upload in do-it-yourself fashion. KDP Amazon was the first to offer that. In recent years, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Google Play have followed suit. Apple iTunes allows DIY uploading too, if you’re a Mac user.

Beyond those options, other retailers exist that are only available through a distributor. Since 2008, Smashwords (SW) has been the established solution, where authors can upload for sales and also distribution to many retailers that don’t enable direct uploading. Smashwords admits it is primarily a distributor, where most authors will make about 90% of their earnings via the SW distribution partners and not direct sales from the SW bookstore.

Lately more distributors have emerged, some charging upfront for their services and others free of cost with their earnings made on a cut of any sales, usually around 10% of the retail price like with SW. I prefer the no-cost-up-front companies. One choice is Draft2Digital (D2D), and it’s often compared to SW. Each distributor has pros and cons, but is this just a case of apples and oranges or is there a frontrunner? I’ve written on this in the past as have many others, but since e-publishing is an ever-changing industry, it’s nice to reevaluate some of the deciding factors.

Fear the Meatgrinder?

The most obvious difference is the formatting to be done before uploading. SW CEO, Mark Coker, is an expert on formatting that will be compatible for all reading devices. The Smashwords Style Guide, is a 27,000 word manual explaining the majority of requirements for the average ebook. Its length and scope have been reported to cause hair-loss, migraines and contemplated suicides for tech-challenged authors. In contrast, Draft2Digital doesn’t have a style guide. Their goal is “to support your style guide.” Just send them your Word doc, RTF or EPUB file and they’ll convert it.

An intriguing contrast: do we trust D2D’s program as an intuitive ebook formatter or do we buckle down and learn to do it ourselves? Not surprisingly, this factor alone divides the masses. Some writers (like me) appreciate the knowledge to upload with their own personal touches, while others love skipping that learning curve altogether. Would you prefer not to learn how to create an NCX file or even know what an NCX file is? Would you prefer not to be subject to the rigid requirements of the Meatgrinder, the endearing name given to the SW file converter and spell-check software on steroids? You don’t have to worry about that with D2D. Hey, if Google can build a car that drives on autopilot, D2D can probably design a program to format ebooks.

I wonder if quality is compromised. Are aesthetically unpleasing ebooks getting published more by D2D than SW? I believe that’s probably true, but I also think the quality is getting better all the time.

Sales Potential

This is what matters to me: who are the distribution partners? Presently D2D will get your ebook into

  • Apple
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Kobo
  • Scribd
  • Page Foundry

(Recognize that all of those except PF can be done on a DIY basis, though it’s harder for PC owners to get into Apple. Still, there’s value in doing things once and having it relayed to all channels, or after the inevitable updates happen when a reader points out a typo or you decide to add your latest link to the About the Author page.)

Outside of Amazon, those first three retailers are the main players. Apple is now my second biggest seller. But those retailers aren’t exclusive to D2D.

SW distributes to

  • Apple
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Kobo
  • Scribd
  • Page Foundry

In fact, SW has been doing it longer and also distributes to

  • Baker & Taylor Blio
  • Flipkart (India)
  • Oyster
  • txtr (Germany)

plus three channels to libraries

  • Library Direct
  • Baker & Taylor Axis 360
  • Overdrive

Note that India represents a ton of potential readers, and as the digital age matures Flipkart could be a great source of sales. For current ebook distribution partners and sales potential, the advantage clearly goes to SW.


Want your book in print with the same ease of skipping the format learning curve? D2D also enables a paperback version to be uploaded to CreateSpace (CS), Amazon’s print-on-demand company. Again, I prefer to upload directly, but formatting books for CS can be a Herculean task for newbies, known to drive even pacifists to seek gun applications and home addresses for Microsoft Word designers. Interior templates exist and formatters too, but D2D is offering an attractive option for CS paperbacks. I haven’t tested their system to comment on performance, though I admit being a fan of the concept. Can you envision being chauffeured to a book signing in a Google car while D2D formats your next release in paperback? It’s a nice thought. Fortunately CS has an excellent digital previewer for analyzing results and determining what changes need to be made. Advantage for paperbacks goes to D2D.

(As an update to using D2D for paperbacks at CreateSpace: don’t do it unless you already know how to perfectly format a CreateSpace PDF. And if that’s the case, why not upload your PDF directly to CS? What D2D sends to CS is pretty much a joke from what I’ve seen.)

Small Victories

Another bonus with D2D is monthly payments compared to quarterly payments from SW. D2D also doesn’t stamp their edition with their name as SW does (Smashwords Edition), making it a more attractive copyright page for those who feel the self-publishing stigma is a factor. I’ve also checked my titles at B&N online and noticed the D2D book description displays entirely while the SW description is limited to the short version. Small advantages to D2D.

Leveled Playing Field: Sales Reports, Speed, Preorders

In recent times D2D had much faster sales reporting and speed of uploading to retailers, especially after updates were made (price change, newer version, metadata, etc.), but SW has evolved and caught up in both regards. I believe the speed for updates taking effect at retailers still leans to D2D, but the new sales data from SW is more detailed and appealing.

Another SW special has been setting up a book for preorders before publishing. The benefit: on the day of release the retailers will count all of the preorder sales as if they happened in one day, which can result in your book showing up at the top of popular charts, thus resulting in even more sales. Recently D2D set up preorders too, and it works in the same way. Just publish your book with a firm future date listed for release.

Price Points

At SW you can create coupons to make your book available at any discount, even for 100% off. This is handy in case you’d like to advertise specials for things like gifting copies or generating reviews. At both vendors you can set your price to always be free, but the coupon option is a bonus for authors who would prefer to charge most of the time. Advantage here to SW.

The Future

Expansion is an important element. SW has been expanding its distribution channels since they began. In the past year SW has added OverDrive, txtr, Scribd, Flipkart and Oyster. Just recently D2D added Scribd and Page Foundry and mentions they have plans in the works to expand. D2D has also seen its titles briefly removed from B&N and Kobo shelves, though they were replaced and that was largely due to retailers taking a stand on adult material. Hopefully that won’t happen again.

I like betting on proven winners, and since Mark Coker has such established history and ongoing presence in the publishing community, my choice is to stick with SW and plan for more expansion.


There are a few options that make sense. I recommend always directly uploading to KDP Amazon of course (plus B&N, Kobo and Google Play if you want to).

Option A: Use SW exclusively. Bottom line: it has the most retailers under its belt, and learning basic formatting is good for you and not really that bad, just like eating spinach.

Option B: Use D2D exclusively. It gets you into the most important biggies like SW does, plus it can make CS paperbacks. And it’s as simple as sending them whatever you have.

Option C: Use a combination. Decide which one for Apple, B&N, Kobo, Scribd and Page Foundry based on the personal preferences. Consider D2D for CS paperbacks and rest assured that Smashwords will get you into FlipKart, Oyster, txrt, Baker & Taylor, the library channels and the new set of retailers destined to join the field.

Ultimately it boils down to your skill sets, your time and your needs.

Have a comment? Please share them in the comments section.

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Ebook Retailers Grade for Upload Process

report cardJust finished an update to stay current with the e-publishing industry (not an easy task), then went to the sales venues to submit ebooks and paperbacks. Here’s the graded list in order of most efficient and user-friendly IMO to the least:

1. Amazon KDP. A+, love the subtle changes to their preview mode, still with the ability to both download the converted document or to view the newly enhanced on-screen version with Kindle options and working hyperlinks–very nice and fast. Available in the Kindle store in about 6 hours. This company has always done the most to sell ebooks and help me do it.

2. CreateSpace. A , the interior digital proof and final proof including cover design are miles better than years past. I love this company for paperbacks. Proofs went through in about 12 hours online and a physical copy delivered to my door in 3 days at the slowest shipping speed (because I chose to order a copy). Used to take a week. Fine quality and price is fantastic, can’t be beat by LightningSource or Lulu. Only wish they did more to proof the cover design online before submitting and perhaps add interior template options.

3. Smashwords. A-, some of this is my familiarity and loyalty but they still do a great job and give LOADS of advice on self-publishing. I wish approval times were faster for Premium Status, but it has sped up to around 24-48 hours compared to several days in the past. Also it can be a grizzly bear passing meat-grinder for newbies, but indies should learn proper formatting. SW is doing everyone a service by keeping formatting standards high.

4. Kobo. B, they have a great way of handling uploads for cover, description and content, but their Previewer needs work to get past the B grade. Don’t like the required download to view on Calibre or some other method–Kobo, keep up with the others and create an online Previewer. Props to them for more monthly sales than B & N, a pleasant surprise.

5. NookPress. B-, my first time uploading since the change from Pubit. Definite improvements with the ability to edit within their system and working links in Preview mode and an improved online Previewer. Still not as sweet as the way Amazon handles TOC but getting better. Needs improvements with the Editorial Review department, couldn’t get that to work right or to just delete it altogether. Now if they could fix their Nook Store search engine and get sales going (a long story), which is still affecting their overall grade.

6. Draft2Digital C+ My first experience with them and mixed feelings. Love how they’re attempting to simplify approval for authors without formatting experience, but does it currently come at a cost to those of us with experience? Maybe, maybe not. I’m only distributing to Apple through them and have been watching my book in Publishing status for a week now, assuming it will be distributed to iTunes soon. Excited for the promise of “real time” sales reports. Jury still out on this company but since they’re new, that’s understandable. Wishing them the best.

Besides the biggies, I upload to my own websites for direct sales (pdf, epub, mobi) and give that an A+ at both Webs and Yola. So easy and nice to sell books via PayPal.

I may update the samples at Scribd and other venues but doubt to upload again to Google Ebooks-Partners-Play, not even sure what they’re calling it theses days.

Your thoughts?

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Draft2Digital Formatting Improvements

draft2digitalThe jury is still out (my own private jury) on this ebooks distributor, Draft2Digital. Their M.O. is noteworthy–trying to offer the best of what Smashwords does as in distribution to retailers while eliminating the worst of the Smashwords experience as in formatting hoops, delays and formatting hoops. Follow-up to a recent blog post on Draft2Digital–this email below just came on recent improvements:

As many of you are aware, we provide a free formatting and conversion service for your Word documents. Thanks to our beta testers, we have made many improvements to this system over the last several months. Most of these changes have been minor and released as they were completed, but starting today you’ll see this as well:

  • Preserve Scene Break Symbols – We now preserve the symbols you use for scene breaks while still recognizing that it is a scene break.
  • First Line Indent – We no longer indent the first line of a new chapter or scene in accordance with industry standards.
  • Whitespace Scene Breaks – Whitespace scene breaks are now smaller and can be used in places where a small amount of whitespace is desired.
  • User Provided Table of Contents – We can now use an embedded, linked table of contents to detect your chapters. We still do not require a ToC and will generate one for you, but some authors prefer their own.

Note: None of your existing projects will be updated to use this new styling unless you “Save & Continue” on the Acquisitions step of your book. As always, we strongly encourage that you preview any book that you make changes to before approving them for distribution.

We have also made some other changes you might be interested in:

  • CreateSpace Formatting – We have made major improvements to our CreateSpace formatting. Please take a look and tell us what you think!
  • User Provided Epub Repair – We now repair many more common user-provided ePub errors caused by many popular ePub creation programs.

We always welcome your feedback, criticism, and suggestions.

Kris Austin
President and CEO
Draft2Digital, LLC

Makes me wonder how well those documents look after their conversion process. I actually haven’t checked, have you? Mine are probably fine because I learned proper formatting from Smashwords. Yours? Sounds like everyone might want to inspect that D2D ebook they sell on iTunes.

How has your experience with D2D been? Jury still out? Leave a comment.

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Draft2Digital vs Smashwords Self-Publishing Options

draft2digitalDraft2Digital is an attractive newcomer to publishing for indie authors. Open for about a year and based in Oklahoma City, it’s similar to Smashwords, which since 2008 has been the main venue for getting ebooks uploaded to retailers who otherwise don’t or didn’t have a self-service option. I’ve been a loyal SW user since 2009 and love what Mark Coker has done for the entire industry.  My books will definitely remain on the SW shelves though I also appreciate what some users are reporting on the benefits of Draft2Digital. (Notice that D2D is still in beta mode and may not be fully functional for awhile. You may need to sign up for an activation code, which arrived for me in about 2 minutes. Shout out to author friend, Cheri Lasota for telling me.)

Benefits authors say about D2D:

  • No formatting hoops to jump through (a biggie for non-tech types). Unlike the strict rules for passing the Smashwords Style Guide and meat-grinder for proper ebook formatting and conversion, Draft2Digital simply asks you to upload your MS Word doc as it is and they will figure out your formatting needs. Yes, it sounds too good to be true and makes me wonder if human eyes are required to get the job done. Turns out it’s all automated, with a computer system that does its best to figure out your formatting needs. Is the computer pretty accurate? Probably, but still a machine in beta stage. On the site they do mention, fancy page formatting doesn’t always convert well. The recommendation is to be as consistent as possible through the document, and their computer will have an easier time figuring out your formatting needs.  (My advice is to learn some basic formatting for MS Word doc even if you do upload there.)

The easiest and most popular format is a Word document. Upload your story in Word .doc or .docx format, and we’ll convert it into an ebook. RTF, HTML, and Open Office’s .odt should work fine, too. Anything Word can read, we can read.

More pros:

  • They automatically convert a CreateSpace file for making paperbacks. Wow, that is cool because I’ve had more headaches getting Word formatted for CreateSpace than I did for Smashwords. Again, I hope the formatting is really intuitive because it sounds too good to be true. At least they have a preview mode for checking first.
  • They let you sell their conversion from your own site, without having any Edition stamped upon like the Smashwords Edition. (Some authors feel the self-publishing stigma comes into play here.)
  • The time is reduced by huge amounts. Unlike Smashwords, where it can take a week to be approved for premium status and then another week to have distribution go to all of their partners, D2D apparently has extremely fast conversion and nearly immediate distribution to retailers. For example, make a change to your document and have the Apple version updated in very little time. That’s a nice feature.
  • Updated sales data in nearly real time. Instead of having to wait several weeks to find out how sales are doing, D2D users get sales results throughout the day. Nice.
  • They upload to Amazon while SW never seemed to get that contract ironed out. (I would not use D2D for this of course; I’d upload to Amazon KDP directly, but it’s nice they offer. They also offer uploading to Kobo and Barnes & Noble, but I’d go direct with them too.)
  • Can also pay with checks and electronic bank deposits (international), not just PayPal like SW. Good news for many authors especially those in other countries.
  • Payments are monthly instead of quarterly.


  • D2D doesn’t have a bookstore on the site like Smashwords does. I do sell some, not a lot but some, books directly from Smashwords and that’s important to me. My books are searchable in their system and SW does have a large reader base. Also, in the brief period of time after uploading when an author’s book is on the front page of  Smashwords, hundreds to thousands of people might consider buying your book. That can help get the ball rolling.
  • Since there’s no bookstore, you can’t create coupons like you can at SW for a marketing campaign or to give certain readers a special deal. Coupons can be effective for boosting sales/readers/reviews.
  • They don’t currently offer some of the retail partners that SW does (Sony, Diesel, Baker Taylor, Page Foundry), but that could change soon. IMHO those channels aren’t nearly as important as Amazon, Apple, Kobo and Barnes & Noble, which is supported by D2D.
  • They don’t currently sell ISBN’s in case you wanted one. Again, not an issue because even SW recommends not buying an ISBN but they do offer them for sale and some authors prefer that.

Royalty amounts are the same. I might wait to publish a new book title to know more, so hopefully in a few months I can report my personal results. However, some constants should remain in place. Everyone should sell directly through KDP Amazon. If you go with either Smashwords or D2D for the other options, it still makes sense to have a properly formatted MS Word document before uploading. The simplest way to do that is to read Building Your Book for Kindle or the harder and more thorough way is the Smashwords Style Guide or you can read the Formatting chapter in How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks, which is the really the best of both worlds and so much more to sell ebooks. Everyone should probably also upload to Smashwords, even if you do prefer D2D, because Smashwords has a bookstore and currently some distribution partners not covered by D2D.

Have an experience with D2D or SW to share? Please comment.

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