Submitting books to Smashwords

When I entered the self-publishing business, I was working with an author who signed up with Smashwords (SW) and was determined to join the many authors who believe that Smashwords is the best distributor of e-books for self-publishers. They may be indeed be a great choice if you can get on what Smashwords calls their “Premium Distribution List.”

When we initially began submitting a Microsoft Word document, we  were approximately #187 in the queue. After a few hours, our document was rejected for errors. We studied the Smashwords Style Guide and began our quest for advanced formatting skills in MS Word.  On our next document submission to SmashWords, we were #362 in the queue and a day later were rejected again with “errors” in our document.

After hours and days of trying to find the “errors” (hyperlinks that didn’t work) in our book, I decided to see what file formats other distributors were accepting for e-books. My research led me to the realization that the EPUB format was, and is, the industry standard for electronic books. I dislike and distrust automated conversion services, so I set about learning how to convert our Word document to the EPUB format manually.

The learning curve was steep but I had our first EPUB completed in a couple of weeks, verified as error-free with epubcheck and we submitted it directly to Amazon. It was accepted by Amazon in less than 24 hours.

Smashwords requires MS Word docs

So, why does Smashwords continue to require files submitted to them be MS Word documents? Only Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, can answer that and he isn’t saying. We have repeatedly asked him to allow the submission of EPUB files. He repeatedly insists that if we studied the Style Guide, we could fix the “errors” in our document and attain Premium Distribution.

I quickly lost all interest in using Smashwords as a distributor. I grew weary of the mysterious “meatgrinder” process that SW puts documents through. I didn’t want them to “smash” the words of our book through their “meatgrinder” any longer. The author of the book felt the same way. “We have an EPUB that is perfect and beautiful, why can’t we submit it to Smashwords?”

Hidden bookmarks

You may be thinking, “what a loser! Why can’t you fix the errors?” In our defense, there are 708 hyperlinks in the book. It is non-fiction and there are 141 terms that are defined and hyperlinked in the text.

My author just couldn’t let the possibility of Smashwords as a distributor go, so she wrote to Mark again and pleaded for clarification about the repeated rejection of our document. Mark was nice enough to look at the problem and declared that there were “hidden bookmarks” in our document. Aha! She had read about this “problem” in their forum and directed me to look into it.

There were suggested fixes. Chief amoung them: delete all the bookmarks in your document using a complex Visual Basic macro. This is what Microsoft has to say about removing hidden bookmarks.

WARNING: Microsoft Word uses hidden bookmarks for table of contents entries, cross-references, and captions. After stripping the hidden bookmarks from a document with cross-references, and then updating fields, all the references are lost. In their place you get one of the following error messages: “Error! Reference source not found” or “Error! Bookmark not defined.”

That was NOT a option. I was not going to delete 141 bookmarks and re-create them, so I kept looking. Mark had pointed to a specific line in SW’s code that demonstrated what he said was the problem. He said (believed it to be) the problem with our document was  hidden bookmarks. I looked at the code in the failed epub. [An EPUB file is simply a zipped file. If you want to see the files inside an EPUB, simply rename the file extension to .zip instead of .epub and you can extract the files. This is very useful if you want to study the method used by other authors/constructors of EPUB files.]


I opened our Word document and saved it as a “Web Page, filtered” document and looked at the code. The offending line Mark had identified did indeed have an error in it, but it wasn’t a “hidden bookmark.” It was an extra bookmark. Word will kindly do whatever you ask of it even if it makes no sense. We have many, many bookmarks and hyperlinks in our book. Mistakes were made adding bookmarks. When links didn’t work, they didn’t go where they should, the right bookmark was added. What we didn’t realize is that adding a bookmark did not remove the first bookmark, it simply added another one. Thus, when I looked at the HTML code, there were two or more “<a name=[bookmark]>.”

If you find you have the same problem, here’s how to fix it. Click on the word that is bookmarked. Click Insert/Bookmark. The bookmark that is currently being used will be highlighted. Click Delete (even if it is the right bookmark). Click Insert/Bookmark again, a bookmark will be highlighted if there is another bookmark. Click Delete. Repeat this process until there is not a bookmark highlighted in the open dialog box. Next, click Insert/Bookmark and Add the correct bookmark. Problem solved.

It was too late for Smashwords and Mark Coker, though. The author had finally grown tired of beating her head against the “meatgrinder.” She already had her 8 books published on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, LSI, xiinxii and her website.

Why do you use Smashwords?





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