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Is Bookbaby Or Smashwords Best For Self-Publishers?

Is Bookbaby or Smashwords Best for Self-Publishers?

smashwords-logobookbabyPart One of A Five-Part Week Series: “Which Distributor“. A Guest Post by Giacomo Giammatteo.

All this week on the Alliance blog, we are featuring personal experience and opinion pieces from our members, on the various ebook and pbook distribution options open to indies — and what to expect from which.

Today, Alliance member Giacomo Giammatteo gives us his thoughts on Bookbaby and Smashwords, concluding that there are strong positives to going with each. Here's his in-depth, and extremely useful, camparison of two top players.

Ebook Distribution

Until recently there was only one sensible option to distribute your ebook outside of Amazon, and that was through Smashwords. I didn’t worry about any of it until my 90-day exclusivity with Amazon was about to end. All I knew was that I wanted to get into all the major channels, get the best return in terms of dollars, and do it with the least amount of frustration. It didn’t take long to determine the choices were still limited, but the “sensible” options included a new player, Bookbaby.

  • First Impressions. Bookbaby’s site was clean, attractive and organized. It gave me a warm, friendly feeling as soon as I landed. Smashwords had a nice site but, to me at least, it seemed a little cluttered by comparison.
  • Ease of Use. With Bookbaby, everything I needed to know, everything I had questions about, from pricing to distribution channels, was one click away. Not so with Smashwords. I had to do a little searching to find what I needed. It was there, but not as obvious or easy to access.
  • Customer Service. It isn’t fair to rate customer service before I sign up, but service is important to me, and I loved the fact that Bookbaby had telephone support. If Smashwords had phone support, I couldn’t find it. I must add that I emailed Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, and he got back to me right away and provided straight answers to all my questions. How many CEOs do you know who do that? I was impressed.

Distribution and Fees

All of the above is important, but I wanted to get to the real meat—channels and costs. The tables below should answer those questions for you.

Apple iBookstore
Baker & Taylor
Barnes & Noble
Diesel eBook Storex
Page Foundryx

In the chart below, I list Amazon and B&N but I don’t know why anyone would want to list at Amazon through either Bookbaby or Smashwords; it’s better to go direct with them instead.

For some reason, B&N only pays 50% to Bookbaby. For Smashwords, I took the 60% figure off the ‘Channel reports' section on their website.

Apple iBookstore70%60%
Baker & Taylor Blio60%60%
Baker & Taylor AxisX45%
Barnes & Noble50%60%
Diesel eBook StoreX60%
Page FoundryX60%
Sign-up fee$99$0
Yearly fee after year 1$19$0
Changes made after publishing*See below$0

Here is the fee structure for changes at Bookbaby:

  • Up to 10 changes in your eBook – $50
  • 11 to 25 changes in your eBook – $75
  • 26 to 50 changes in your eBook – $100

Metadata changes:

  • Bookbaby allows one update per calendar year.
  • Smashwords allows unlimited changes.

The Economics

For the sake of sanity, and because there are too many possible scenarios to consider, I restricted my calculations to one scenario—that I would publish to Amazon and B&N on my own, and go through either Smashwords or Bookbaby for the rest. The top four sellers of ebooks are: Amazon, B&N, Apple, and Kobo. That left Apple and Kobo as the only two to consider. I assumed combined sales at Apple and Kobo of 100, 200, and 500 books, and rounded earnings to an even 60% & 70%.

Books soldEarnings @$2.99 BBEarnings @$2.99 SWEarnings @$4.99 BBEarnings @$4.99 SWEarnings @$6.99 BBEarnings @$6.99 SW

*SW=Smashwords, BB=Bookbaby

  • At the $2.99 price point, an author would have to sell 333 books to break even if they paid the $99 fee to Bookbaby. If you ran that number out to two years, you’d have to sell 400 books over a two year period to break even.
  • At the $4.99 price point, the break-even points shift to 200 sales in year one or 240 in two years.
  • At the $6.99 price point, the break even drops to 143 sales in year one and 171 over two years.

Another point to consider—if you don’t sign on directly with B&N you’ll have to recalculate, as Smashwords offers 60% from B&N sales versus 50% from Bookbaby.

Bottom Line

Financially, the decision on which route to go with will vary depending on your price point and your projected sales, but decisions are seldom strictly financial ones. Other factors come into play. Here are a few to consider:

  • Ease of use. although at first blush Bookbaby seems to win the prize here, with a clean, organized presentation, the more I played with Smashwords, I realized it was easy to use as well.
  • Customer service. I loved that Bookbaby had phone support, but I was also very impressed that Mark Coker responded personally to answer my questions. If his staff responds to emails the same way, I’d have no problem.
  • Accounting system. I haven’t signed up, but from what I can see on the surface, I’d have to give an edge to Bookbaby on this. Bookbaby also pays weekly; Smashwords quarterly.

Each person’s circumstances will be different. Before you decide, think of how each factor might affect you.

If you have to make changes after uploading, there will be steep charges you’ll incur at Bookbaby, while Smashwords is free. Look hard at that chart. It doesn’t take long to add up 11 commas that need replacing, and that will cost you $75.

Be honest about how many books you think you’ll sell, then look at the charts and determine what makes sense. I would advise against making a decision based on how many you’d like to sell. Be realistic. Remember, this is how many you’ll sell outside of Amazon. Most authors won’t hit the break-even point.


Opinions expressed in the "Which Distributor?" series are not necessarily those of the Alliance.

Author: Giacomo Giammatteo

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. He also writes non-fiction books including the "No Mistakes" Careers series.
He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.” His website is at www.giacomogiammatteo.com.


This Post Has 104 Comments
  1. Authors Beware
    My POD experience with Book Baby has been terrible. While the formatting and cover design have been satisfactory, the distribution has been the opposite. My book went online for pre-order at Amazon, B&N and other sites around July 1. Shipping was to be July 21. However, five weeks later, the book has been listed as “temporarily out of stock.” Amazon and B&N finally have it posted as available now at the end of August.
    When I questioned Book Baby, they pointed the finger at Amazon. Amazon, of course, told me to talk to Book Baby. When I continued to question Book Baby, even to writing the President, Steven Spatz, I got no help. Everyone was going to “check.” Weeks have gone by with no communication. I never did hear from the President.
    In addition, I learned that to order my own books through Book Baby (for book signings, etc.) will cost about $8/book. When I worked with Create Space on my other books, they were only about $4.
    At this point, I plan to get my files from Book Baby and turn them over to another company for POD printing and distribution. I will not use Book Baby in the future.

  2. Grazie Giacomo for posting such good information!

    I am hoping to go self-publishing with Bookbaby and Amazon Kindle, hoping it will not be a mission!

    Thank you



  3. This is anecdotal, but as Managing Editor of Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews we have now rejected a couple of Bookbaby published e-books on grounds of incorrect justification and opening line chapter indents i.e incorrect formatting.

    It seems that Bookbaby will not use full justification, only left-justified, i.e ragged right-hand margin, not straight on both sides. This can make the text difficult to read and is not standard ‘mainstream’ practice, so is another marker point as ‘unprofessional looking’ indie novels by those who knock indie and self-published, which is why we insist on correct formatting within HNS.

    Many authors (and readers) are not aware that text should be fully justified in the finished article, whether e-book or hardcopy, it isn’t until the error is pointed out that the penny drops.

    And before you say it – yes it IS important to have your book looking as if it has been published to a high quality professional standard! You pay a lot of money to these companies to produce your books, you should get a professional result. (Compare to a tailor – you pay to have a new outfit tailor-made. When you get the finished item you do not expect to have no button holes and the hem hanging down. If that was the case you would take the item back. So why accept incorrect formatting with books?)

    I am not sure why Bookbaby do this but I suspect if a manuscript is submitted as left justified – as most are – their cheaper rates do not include alteration to correct the formatting. In which case they are not producing your book correctly.

    I have been told that left justification is their policy – if it is it shouldn’t be, or maybe this was just an excuse in order to cut costs? Either way, not good.

    1. I understand that fully justified is the “norm”, however, for anyone with an eye for typography, left justified is far more pleasant to look at. My books are fully justified, but that is just because of antiquated attitude by publishers and editors that they must be. I find the rules of writing is full of these seemingly random, yet fanatically endorsed styles, and that is what they are: just styles. I look forward to the day when both styles are considered OK.

    2. Actually, I wrote a book and went to BookBaby to see how they wanted ME to give it to them and they want it only left justified (there is a list of things I’d have to have correctly done to their specs before giving my document to them).

      I write my material fully justified, as it looks far nicer that way. I can’t recall why they say they want it left justified only but it had something to do with how it comes across when someone is reading it – they said something about there being problems in how it appears if it is justified fully. I found this frustrating as every ebook I’ve ever seen is fully justified – and judging by the amount of typos I’ve seen in some, it’s obvious almost everything I’ve read is indie written – yet all those books were fully justified. BookBaby is doing this on purpose and it’s one reason I haven’t jumped to have them put up anything for me yet.

      I really can’t stand reading things that aren’t fully justified and having really wanted my books looking that way – especially when no one else’s does. I just don’t understand that why, as a professional service aimed at putting people’s ebooks up for them, they can’t manage to justify fully – like everyone else can seem to.

    3. Helen, in her self-ordained glorious position, more or less wrote; “we have now rejected a couple of Bookbaby published e-books on grounds of incorrect justification and opening line chapter indents i.e incorrect formatting. ”

      Yes indeed Helen. The considerations attendant to the proper and easy favoring of style over substance are classic. “Left justified,” oh good lord.

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  6. Wow is my first response! I’m planning to have my first crime novel finished and ready for professional editing beginning of July. The most difficult decision as been how to publish it. I’ve researched so much, talked on the phone with a few publishers, and made tons of comparisons; yet, I’m still deciding. I have to say that this wealth of information on here has helped.

    My cover and video trailer is being done by a family member who is a graphic artist/videographer/filmmaker. Wondering what suggestions others would have as to which direction you would go for publishing if you were in my position.

    Thanks so much and good luck to everyone!

  7. Whoa! I Googled “Smashwords vs Bookbaby” and yours was the first to appear. And now I have to look no further. Thank you for such a well explained comparison of those two companies. I had the same thought about cleanliness and ease of use for both sites and your advice is invaluable in my decision making. Thank you very much!

    1. Matt, glad you found it useful. I am doing some updates on all of the ebook distribution. You’ll find the new ALLi book helpful, as it digs deeper into quite a few of the distributors.

  8. I had no idea that a self publisher could distribute their books to the various retailers as per Douglas’s reply. I need some help and assistance. I have a small book, 54 pages, which I was going to get printed through Create Space but their minimum is 101 pages so that leaves out Create Space. I explored Lulu and they have a pocket book size which would be appropriate but they do not distribute to Amazon for ebooks, only print. I looked at Bookbaby but based on the reviews here, I would probably now avoid them. I am now unsure what to do. I want to do both ebook and print versions of this book and get them distributed to the various big retailers, non fiction, but am at a loss as to who to use. The only other alternative is to just do ebook, no print, and just distribute as per Douglas’s post. Thoughts anyone?

  9. I have published my books on Amazon Kindle and also on Create Space.

    I found both of these platforms easy to use with everything well documented. The thing is that publishing is just the start of the process. You also need to think about how to continually promote and market your books as well as follow up with the people who buy and read it.

    Just by adding in a simple marketing and promotion strategy got my book to #1 in 15 categories in 5 countries. I am selling around 200 copies per month.

    If you are wiling to learn how you don’t need either Smashwords or Bookbaby.



  10. Thank you for writing this wonderful article Giacomo, I’ve been struggling with the detail of who to self publish my series with and you’ve helped enormously! I noticed you mentioned smashwords distributes to Amazon but as far as I can see this isn’t widely available for the vast majority of their authors, is this correct?

  11. Interesting comments. I’ve just published my weight loss book, Think Yourself Slim, on Smashwords a week ago; didn’t have any problems, but will check the relevant retailers to see if it’s online with them. Today, I’ve also published direct with Amazon which was easy; however I I did employ the services of a designer for the cover and a proof reader/formatter who was excellent and gave me all the relevant formats I should ever need – would recommend this investment to any serious self-publisher.

  12. The discussion about BookBaby and Smashwords was helpful. Does anyone have comments on Booktango??? How does it compare with the other two? The Freetango component sounds too good to be true. What do you know?

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  14. AUTHORS AND WRITERS BEWARE OF BOOK BABY!…..RUN FROM THEM AS FAST AS YOU CAN!…………………………A friend of ours told us that they signed up with bookbaby and had pre-paid for 25 basic publishing credits which is $1875.00. They went to publish 13 Books and they all went fine. When they started with book number 14 was published. There was an issue on the some of the originality……it was re-written by some writers on elance But instead of cancel that one book that was in question……BOOK BABY CANCELED THEIR WHOLE ACCOUNT!…..WITH NO REFUNDS!….It is said that they have done this to SEVERAL AUTHORS……BOOK BABY IS EXPENSIVE, NIT PICKY AND RISKY!…………….WRITERS TAKE CAUTION!……THE ICE IS VERY THIN ON BOOKBABY and you will LOSE MONEY!…..Just Go and Do it YOURSELF !

    1. Thank you Thomas, I’m afraid your statement that “you will lose money” is not factually true as we have many members who have successfully published on that platform.

  15. Tremendous post! Thank you. Appreciate all the hard work and time that went into it, Mr. Giammmatteo.

    K. Alex

      1. Hi Giacomo, this is a very useful comparison. Your name sounds Italian so I was wondering if you ever checked Simplicissimus. They are doing great in distributing digital books and they are much cheaper than both BB and SW (only 5% on the revenues). Plus, they are extremely fast in delivering the product to the digital distributors. This is one aspect that it was not touched by your analysis and that constantly concerns authors.
        Of course these guys are in Italy so they have to charge VAT and withholding taxes. That makes them relatively not competitive with US counterparts.

  16. Great article Giacomo. I’m always late to the party, but interested to hear the comparison. There seem to be quite a few e-book distributors popping up now (eBook Partnership, Easypress, ePubDirect are all active fee-based distributors in UK & Ireland where I’m based).
    One of the problems with going direct is that B&N PubIt isn’t yet open to people without a US bank account. Kobo opened up their Writing Life a little while ago and that works fine. Apple require the iTunes Producer to be run on a Mac and, here in down-country Ireland, there are only a couple of people in town with an Apple Mac and I’m not one of them.
    I’ve had my 4 e-books on Smashwords and Amazon KDP from the start but I’ll be going direct wherever I can for better control over book presentation, changes and sales & marketing feedback.
    In a world where most e-book authors will earn less than $500 a year we have to be very careful of piling costs onto our titles. Any money is best invested IMHO in professional covers and editing (if needed).

  17. Personally I’m against the idea of paying an upfront fee to publish my ebooks. I don’t mind sharing the sale revenue with the retail operator because has been the model that bookstores and publishers have been using for decades and I see no reason to change it at this time.

    With amazon, kobo, Smashwords and others publishing ebooks without up front fees and no fees for changes I prefer Smashwords but i’m always open to changes.

  18. I’ve published 3 books with BookBaby and have been very satisfied. BB runs specials once in a while and I bought a 3 book special so each book ended up costing me $89 instead of $99.

    I want to focus on writing and editing and of course marketing eats in to my time as well. When I’m ready to publish a book, I send my Word doc. to them and they handle making the files, changing the formatting if necessary and uploading to 8 sites. Once a month, I get a check for whatever amount I have earned at all of these sites. The only drawback is I don’t get sales numbers for the previous month like you do if you upload to Amazon directly. I don’t find out my Amazon sales numbers till I get paid, which is about 8 weeks after the sales actually occur. It’s very difficult to see what marketing has worked and what has not. But that is my only complaint. The staff is available and friendly and helpful.

  19. Thank you everyone! I am a newbie. I have 2 short books written and have great reviews from people I respect. I need to know how to format for Aamazon and other distributors. I don’t know if formatting for one is the same for all others. I also need to crete covers. I am somewhat computer adept and an artist. Can anyone tell me if/where there is an up-to-date, accurate and compete guide/instruction to the formatting and one for creating one’s own cover. Or services that cost very little? I hope so. Help! 🙂

    1. Hi Lisa,
      I self published my book on Kindle, Nook, and CreateSpace (Amazon’s print on demand service).
      I uploaded MS Word files, and each one had to be slightly different – mainly how you define page breaks and other little formatting tweaks. By far, CreateSpace was the most demanding, but ultimately the most satisfying for me, anyway, since I found it really cool to hold my book in my hands.
      CreateSpace has a cover designer that is free to use, but produces covers that the savvy bookworm will easily tell is a self-pub cover. There are several templates with multiple themes, but the individual elements are not customizable. (e.g. you can’t move a title bar even slightly.) You have to have high res. pictures to make a cover that has a large image. I ended up using stock art. I haven’t had any luck using any free versions of photo software like Gimp.com or whatever to make my own covers. For some reason my skill set stops short – probably because I am too cheap to get a really good program.
      If you want to see samples of what I did all on my own, go to my website: http://www.kristicramerbooks.com
      I recommend just going to the various services and starting a project. The three I mentioned walk you through it, and for me, that was more help than all the reading and research I tried to do in prep.
      If you are not afraid to try stuff out, and maybe trash it and start from scratch a few times (just always save a ‘virgin’ copy of your work to fall back on) then you will get it figured out, and the only cost to you will be your time.
      Good Luck.

  20. Hi Guys,

    Just want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has contributed to this page, very informative and insightful for us newby Authors.

    I’m a British Author and have established a UK, USA & Canadian customer base through word of mouth. .

    I was looking at Smashwords and Kindle, however feel that selling directly via my Website, Amazon KDP, Barnes & Noble, Apple & Kobo will work best for me and cover all bases. Though also from what I’m finding here is that it could well be more lucrative. Getting my head around the 30% witholding for tax purposes, I imagine I can get customers to pay direct through Paypal and receive a direct payment rather than waiting for the aggregates to pay

    I just wanted to let you all know that I have been reliably informed that you can transfer a PDF to your Kindle device which I had no idea was even possible.

    Looking forward to reading any further content and appreciate everyone’s efforts

    Thank you

    1. Selling from own website is definitely lucrative, but never dare to show inclination with Smashwords. They really waste. Their system always runs with more flaws. When i pointed out their mistakes, immediately closed my account that is with 14 approved books.

  21. Great stuff! There is one drawback I think to the DIY model, versus going with SW or BB, etc., but it’s not one that anyone is talking about. If an author has an integrated dashboard in SW, BB, etc. versus sales figures with Apple, Amazon, etc., won’t those integrated numbers move the dial more? Is there any value in having these numbers combined and tallied in one source, apart from simple ease?

  22. Hi there,

    This is a great article – thank you. I just went with BookBaby but am already discovering quite a few issues that I wonder if anyone can enlighten me on:

    1) I have a book of short stories I intended to publish on Kindle for free as a taster of my writer to encourage people to buy my novels. BookBaby tell me they are unable to publish a book on Amazon at less that $0.99… why would this be and can I change the price later? I can’t see an option to do this in Author Central.

    2) I want to issue free copies of my ebook to reviewers – as Kindle or other ereader downloads. I understand SmashWords have a system to do this by issuing coupons. They also seem to invite their authors to participate in seasonal sales. BookBaby doesn’t appear to offer of these capabilities – have I missed something?

    3) I have another couple of novels in the pipeline (one in editing, one close to being finished) – I’m leaning towards a KDP/Smashwords model for these given my observations above. But I don’t want to manage 3 interfaces (i.e. BB, SM and KDP) if I don’t have to – having one was my logic for going for BB. Has anyone ‘migrated’ a published book from BB to KDP? How was that?!

    Peoples’ advice and comments will be very gratefully received!

    Thanks, Helen

    1. Hi Helen,

      I’ll try to help. Amazon does not allow free books that I know of until you are in its KDP Select program and then they have exclusivity. And that is only 5 free days in 3 months. I have heard a 0 price achieved through price matching, so if you do SW (or BB?) at 0 and publish on Amazon at .99, eventually Amazon will go to 0 to price match against SW/BB.

      What I do for giving away freebies is create epub and mobi files through Calibre E-book Management. It takes a bit to learn, but then you can use those files to send to anyone. I have no experience with BB so no idea if they do freebies.

      I use Createspace for paperbacks, KDP directly for all Amazon ebooks, and SW for the rest. I live in the UK so I can’t go direct on some of the retailers.

      Hope that helps!

  23. You actually make it appear so easy with your presentation however I find this matter to be actually something that I think I would never understand. It kind of feels too complicated and extremely huge for me. I’m looking ahead on your next put up, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

  24. So instead of a bunch of basic html to create the basic comment forms, we now have a bunch of crazy php with a bunch of html hidden and mixed up inside it, so it is confusing and impossible for anybody but programmers to make any basic adjustments to the comments area?

  25. For quite some time now, I have been intending to E-publish through BookBaby, however, I am now having some second thoughts.

    It seems to me that every time I turn around, there is some ‘hidden’ fee–$249 for the ‘Premium’ package, $279 (?) for the premium cover design, $19 for the ISBN…etc.

    I had also planned to spend the $199 and get a website for a year–since I am HARDLY a computer/Internet type of person, I figured that paying someone to convert and help with all this technical stuff would be the best route for me to go.

    Seeing the posts about BookBaby’s track record with Customer Service however, is making me rather gun-shy.

    Having worked for Wal-Mart for many years, I have learned that having a smaller markup and selling in volume is the best way to make money. I do not plan to charge much for my book and hope to recoup my initial investment quickly–perhaps make some money on the side while I am at it.

    I will be watching this site and tracking the posts. Any suggestions as to who REALLY IS the best E-publisher would be greatly appreciated, and please post how fellow E-pubishers out there are handling marketing and promotion!

    1. I dove into self-publishing on a wing and a prayer.

      It was fairly easy to upload directly to Kindle using KDP – a lot of trial and error, but the only thing it cost me was time. Same with PubIt! from Nook. Of course, they both require slightly different formatting. (I uploaded Word documents.) I also used Amazon’s CreateSpace to make a print version of the book. Yet another slightly different format. (Format meaning margins, page breaks, that sort of thing.) After reading this thread, I am considering looking into going direct to Apple and Kobo, but I don’t think I want to expend the effort to get in on the all the smaller services.

      The beauty of the process on all three of these is that you can upload your file, get a preview of it, and see what needs to be tinkered with to make it look right. If you see an error, you go in and fix it. All prior to the official review period, where they check your content to make sure you, I don’t know, aren’t publishing pornography or whatever. And you can go in after it is on sale and make changes, at no charge, just another review period where you work is unavailable.

      CreateSpace also has a cover creator that lets you design your own covers. It is a step by step process that you can see as you go. Once the cover is created, you can save a copy to use on ebooks and in advertising, etc. It’s pretty slick.

      The hardest requirement for me was getting photos with high enough resolution. I ended up going to a stock photo site (Dreamstime.com – http://www.dreamstime.com/res5637135-stock-images) and finding pics there. (You buy the license and get unlimited electronic usage, and up to 500,000 print copies – I spent about $10.50 to license one.)

      You can go to my website to see examples (and links) of what I produced, all on my own. http://www.kristicramerbooks.com

      I also designed the website on my own. Got the domain through GoDaddy, with the website builder and an email account for about $170 for two years. I think I’m having compatibility issues with GoDaddy, though, because I find their website builder a pain in the tush to use. I don’t know what other service might be better, though.

      As a disclaimer, I consider myself to be fairly computer savvy – though not in programming, just using. I don’t know any special computer languages, but I have a fairly complete working knowledge of MS Word, and I’m pretty fearless about trying things out. When designing and formatting, I click on things just to see what happens, and yes, I had to trash the whole thing more than once because I made a mistake I couldn’t undo. But it was a learning process.

      Also, all these sites have contracts and I did read them, but just ended up biting the bullet and agreeing to them. They didn’t seem evil or out to steal my works. It just costs what I consider a fairly large chunk of the sales, especially because unless you buy their big packages, these sites don’t promote your work. Promotion is up to you.

      As far as promoting, if you are anywhere near releasing your work, I recommend getting established on GoodReads, learning the ropes there, so when you do have a book, you know how to jump in and use that site’s considerable membership to drum up interest in your work. I published my first in November 2012, and only just got on GoodReads last month. I wish I had known about it and got on there sooner. It is a great way to get the word out.

      Good Luck!

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  27. Hi Giacomo, thank you for the comparisons (especially the profitability and cost break point scenarios). I would like to offer another consideration that is important for comparison between these two companies. I believe their are size limitations for file uploads associated with Smashwords (5MB) which creates a constraint for graphic intense uploads. I was trying to upload a book that has a 9.4MB file size and Smashwords rejected it (there was no way for me to compress it lower than 9MB due to the graphics). The other concern I have with Smashwords is I am not sure if they produce fixed format layouts (children’s book) for distribution to iBooks. In all fairness I do not know whether Bookbaby has a file limitation size for uploads (although since they are an aggregator I suspect if you need file conversion services they will perform the upload of a file larger than 5MB). Thank your for this excellent article Giacomo, I am leaning towards Bookbaby because I need a company who can produce a fixed format ePub and .Mobi file (however I will upload my files directly to Kindle Direct).

    1. Hi Wayne,

      How about your e-book now. I have a same kind of your book, children book with many graphic for kids. So I’m very confuse about which service I should chose for my book publishing. And I think we could make a conversation about this to help together. Please email me at: [email protected] for further conversation. I’m looking forward to hearing from you soon. Thanks


      1. Don’t dare to go with Smashwords. They really sucks with fully faulty system. When I pointed out their flaws in the system, they closed my account that is with approved 14 book in non-fiction genre.

        1. There are five or six comments that are essentially the same thing but with different names. I’m thinking these are bots, that are to bash SmashWords. I use it for one book, and will be publishing more, but i have had 0 issues with them, payouts, or even the meatgrinder.

          In fact, I think it’s a great service. They provide ebooks on formatting that are very easy to follow.

          I’m about to complete my third manuscript for the final draft, and plan to publish the series through SW.

          For people reading the comments here, stating negative reviews, I urge you to check it out and try on your own. Maybe a standalone book, or something similiar. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, and it will dispel some of these “naysayer” bots.

        2. Smashwords is fine and it is free. They have done wonderfully by me with never a problem and no cost to me.

  28. Hi. I am an old hand with smashwords, (Just over a year and with 42 titles through them). The so called meat grinder drove me nuts, but i got the hang of things. Don’t hold your breath waiting for them to send your books to Amazon any time soon. Go directly there. Although I don’t have issues putting my books on smash, I find I have to continuously monitor my titles on all the sites because of the stuff ups. To be fair, that isn’t all down to smash. As an example, books missing (kobo) Overviews missing, (Sony) wrong categories. (all over the place) My latest beef is my book, Starlight Army, one i wrote for charity. it was intended to be a Young Adults / adults book. Smash doesn’t say this anywhere, but Y A does not exist on several sites, including Apple, believe it or not. So it has gone into children’s fiction!!!!! AND, trying to get things altered is a damn nightmare. There. I feel a bit better now. For Denise, check out my book the fix it lady on smash. That cover was done by Kathryn Sharkey, of mulleghderg arts see her art on FB, (not a typo) and she will be doing all my covers from now on. For really user friendly FREE software to do just about anything to photographs, get photoscape. brilliant. Bye

  29. Hey Giacomo,

    Thanks for writing this thorough comparison piece.

    I wanted to comment here and add one thing to your list of less-quantifiable factors: we offer a number of other services besides just eBook conversion and distribution, including high-quality short-run book printing, cover design for print books and eBooks, website creation tools and hosting for authors, and more coming soon.

    BookBaby’s mission is to simplify authors’ lives by offering affordable solutions to common problems that writers face. So as you build your platform, you can call a single company and get a bunch of important pieces put in place.

    Also, we’re always looking to expand our distribution network, and adding new partners frequently.

    Thanks again for taking a close look at BookBaby, and if you or any of your readers have questions about working with us, please write [email protected] or call 877-961-6878. We’re happy to chat.

    Chris Robley

    BookBaby Marketing Coordinator


    1. Perhaps you think Smashwords as user-friendly, but ignoring the flaws with their system. Their system is full of flaws. Today I pointed out their flaws and in return they closed my account that is with 14 approved non-fiction books in premium catalogue. That is the kind of monopoly you have to bear with them

      1. whoever is printing this is making the same comment over and over with different names. so not to be trusted at all.

  30. Something niggled at me, and I realised I can’t follow your calculations there, Giacomo. With your $2.99 book, and earnings per unit of $2.10, you cover the Bookbaby $99 set-up by selling 48 copies.

    1. Tim: Sorry I missed this when you posted it. I didn’t do a great job of explaining, but what the comparison was meant to show was the “difference” of earnings between SW and BB. So at 333 copies sold assuming a 2.99 price point, an author would earn $99 more with BB than they would SW. That’s where the numbers came in.

  31. One of the stumbling blocks for me is the requirement by some of these services to arrange a lot of paperwork with the US tax authorities (I’m in the UK). I know KDP and Smashwords require it; not sure about others. I’m looking at routes that avoid the hassle. Anyone had experience of this?

      1. There is a much easier way.
        Go to http://catherineryanhoward.com (Tax issues don’t need to be taxing)and follow her instructions. I did and got my EIN No over the phone now all i have to do is fill out my downloaded W8-BEN forms enter the EIN and send back to the IRS.

    1. I live in Canada and have had no problems with tax paper work with lulu.com they actually have a publishing house in the U.K. that they distribute from.

    2. I’m a New Zealander and the tax stuff looked complicated to me, given that my bank account is in Australia and I live in Argentina! According to Bookbaby they don’t require any Tax info and do not withhold any earnings! They can do this because they work on consignment and don’t directly distribute! So looks like not only a saving of 30% US withholding tax, but a save on paperwork. Or am I missing something?

  32. I’m new to self-publishing and have been reading SW v BB. I need someone to format and create an attractive cover page. I also think buyers may want the option to buy the e-guide (a self-guided arty walking guide/s about 5000 words with images) or download a PDF to print. Can anyone give me advice? I want to advertise it on my website which I’m formulating.

    1. For cover page I love working with CJ McDaniel from http://www.adazing.com/
      He does an AMAZING job, very quick and honest.
      He’s been very helpful with back cover too – where many will charge for extra stuff (like getting an ISBN bar code) he does it for free.
      He provides wonderful service and is VERY professional. He prepared my cover almost a year ago and now I needed some changes – no problem – got them the next day, no extra charge!
      Highly recommended!

  33. This article makes such a good point about choosing which one is right and I think I’ll choose smashwords. I’m going to be new to publishing so I think 100% is the best route for me because I have no idea how my book is going to sell.

  34. A very well documented article. I think i published my first ebook with Smashwords in February. Some drama meeting the uploading criteria of their format cruncher in order to get in their Premium CAtalogue, which is essential, but otherwise a really user friendly process. As my book was free (and still is !), the commercial considerations in Giacomo’s article didn’t apply. But i found that while the Premium catalogue delivered my book to just about every e-retailer i checked with, it didn’t to Amazon. So in the end i also published directly on Amazon, which really was painless. So i’d be interested in confirmation that Smashwords does indeed distribute to Amazon.

    1. Perhaps you think Smashwords as user-friendly, but ignoring the flaws with their system. Their system is full of flaws. Today I pointed out their flaws and in return they closed my account that is with 14 approved non-fiction books in premium catalogue. That is the kind of monopoly you have to bear with them .

        1. you read a fake statement. look how many times it’s repeated here. perhaps you know that and are being sarcastic lol

  35. Great research and comparison. I think the take away here is the upfront charges by Bookbaby. As you state in the last line, most authors won’t hit the breakeven point. That is a huge consideration.

    1. Doug, I second that. In this age of ever-changing technology, why pay $99 when you can self-publish for free. Book Baby needs to get with the program. They aren’t offering any special incentives that would make me pay for what I can get for free. I’ve been self-published on Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords since 2010. This year, I’m pubbing directly to Apple, where I’ve seen an increase in sales on my books. In 2013, we will see a lot of companies offering services to authors. Authors owe it to themselves to research diligently. That’s the only way to avoid the plethora of hustlers that will creep into this industry looking for naive writers to sucker.

  36. The best answer to SW vs. BB, I have discovered over two years and 16,000 e-book sales, is neither! Avoid Smashwords (and definitely Bookbaby since they charge high rates/ fees for everything you can do for free) and distribute straight to the major retailers, where all your sales are likely to be anyway.

    You can easily publish for free yourself to Amazon (KDP), B+N (PubIt), Kobo (with their new Writing Life), Apple (with iTunes Connect). I’ve sold a total of 47 books on SW (0.29% of sales) and 11 books to all the other Smashwords outlets combined (0.069% of sales) so perhaps you too can safely ignore them. Not to mention those 47 and 11 books had literally been through Smashwords’ “Meatgrinder” and thus looked like garbage compared to the originals, plus I had to compress the images to an extreme to fit under SW’s 5MB maximum file size. (BTW, what is BB’s max file size?)

    By working directly with the retailers, you have much more control over the final formatting, will get the full royalty, have far quicker turn-around times for publishing and revisions (hours or days), and you can typically (other than B&N) create much nicer, longer, formatted descriptions of your books for the product page on the retailer’s site. If you find a mistake, you can fix it in hours or days, and not have to wait weeks to see a typo corrected on either the description or in the book, or to have your price adjusted.

    The single advantage of Smashwords is the low cost (or even free) ISBN number. (Also, does BB over low-cost/ free ISBN numbers?)

    1. I went to Amazon today and was immediately sent to “Create Space.” There is a SIX page contract to sign. Did you amend it in any way before agreeing? Do you think there are dangers in agreeing to it without amending?

    2. Read your July 24th article about publishing. I’ve had a couple of books (paperbacks) published by a publishing house that has moved to
      Canada and no longer publishes novels or short stories, just school books.
      I would like to do Kindle on Amazon. Can you enlighten me on how to go about it?
      My books are on Amazon’s list: HIDDEN TREASURES and FIRST BITE by JOHN HARRINGTON BURNS.
      There are a couple of John Burns’ listed. You have to use my middle name or initial to see them.
      Thanks for your time and consideration.

      1. Hi John,

        I only recently have published my father in law’s first book
        on Kindle. We have also now published the first paperback version via CreateSpace. It will be available on Amazon shortly.

        The process is very straight forward. Best advice is to read their guide to publishing on Kindle. It’s a step by step guide, and for me who had never published an ebook before, I found it easy to follow. I am in the IT business so maybe that helps, but if you are familiar with MS Word and using PCs then it’s no problem. The hardest thing to do was produce a table of contents without page numbers!

        CreateSpace was equally straightforward.

        Not sure if they are best option financially but having read the above I feel it’s OK.

        Good luck.

    3. Hello Douglas,

      Thank you for sharing your experience.

      I am interested in knowing how many books you have sold by selling directly through the major retailers.

      I just submitted one book on Lulu and now today I thought, it can’t be that much trouble submitting directly to the retailers myself. A “one stop submit to all” approach sure does save time…but in the end, once everything is set up, it’s not THAT much more trouble..Once it’s done it’s done and you don’t really have to do much else (other than maybe marketing!)

  37. I’ve been using Smashwords for the last year. With two novels and three short stories out, yes, paying for a comma or an innocent typo will get expensive on BookBaby. I’ve even learned how to use the Meat Grinder on Smashwords and that has helped me enormously in doing other publishing. I’d reccomend Smashwords to anyone.

    1. Yes, but what about the rude behaviour of Smashwords people. I have 14 approved books with them and they closed my account, when pointed out mistakes in their system. Who is going to bear this kind of disparities? perhaps you could bear I guess.

  38. Thanks so much for this! i have asked questions about book baby in the past and no one seemed to know any answers! This helps a lot!

    1. After reading an excellent article on e-publishing more than two months ago, I decided to go with BookBaby to create an e-version of my recently published book. (http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-18438_7-20010547-82/how-to-self-publish-an-ebook/) As mentioned in the article above their sales support was excellent. Unfortunately, their production team was a nightmare.

      They could not get the basic formatting for my simple 100 page book right after three attempts. Worst of all, after each attempt, I found new formatting errors that did not exist in the previous proof. In other words, their team would fix one error in the manuscript and introduce a new one upon each revision. Compounding all of this was the fact that I had to wait two full weeks in between each revision.

      So at the end of six weeks after, many hour spent patiently working with BookBaby, and waiting for their team to get the manuscript right; I finally, asked for a refund,. Bill (My email contact) promptly processed my request with no apologies for the time and revenue I lost because the BookBaby’s production guys could not get it right. This felt like a classic case of a growing company that is great at sales, promotion, and marketing, but not nearly as good at execution.

      Although BookBaby’s service seemed like the obvious best choice for me, the result was six weeks of lost time and revenue, which leaves me back at square one – searching for the best e-publishing option?

      [email protected]

      1. Take a look at Excel. This is a self-publisher that is associated with Charisma in Orlando, FL.

        I am trying to choose also and have been looking at Bookbaby versus Excel. Bookbaby options are from 85% to 100% (for a flat fee) Excel does it for free and gives up 85% of NET SALES. So if Amazon pays 60% you get 85% of 60%. The Charisma reputation, as far as I know, is solid. They pay $1.50 per book, period and refer to this as generous. Is it? Not sure. Will their reputation help sales? It seems like it would.

        Thanks for your input. I appreciate it. JME

          1. Avoid! Google “Author House Scam” for a catalogue of horror stories from dissatisfied customers who have lost a lot of money there. For best advice on choosing a service to help you, consult the ALLi handbook, “Choosing A Self-Publishing Service” – 2014 edition by Jim Giammatteo and Mick Rooney. http://www.amazon.com/Choosing-Self-Publishing-Service-2014-ebook/dp/B00CC0NYCM/- it will be an excellent investment that will help you choose the best service for you. Following this blog and joining the Alliance of Independent Authors is also a great idea to keep you informed – regular Watchdog posts giving further advice here.

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