As an independent author, I’m not setting in my basement cranking out books on a printing press. That would be cool, but it’s not really feasible (Trust me, I crunched the numbers). What I am doing is going through a variety of distributers to reach readers, mostly through ebooks. The nice thing about ebooks is that they effectively cost nothing to distribute, and that the big publishing houses have still yet to really figure the whole thing out.
Everyone has heard about Amazon and kindle. Amazon has their Kindle Direct Publishing, which works just fine. Amazon is the common approach taken by most independant authors. That said, it isn’t everything. There are a number of ebook retailers out there, some are selective to their platforms and some have their own loyal customer bases. How do you reach them?
I use Smashwords. It’s not the be-all, end-all, but it does allow you to reach a number of booksellers who would otherwise be difficult to reach. I use Smashwords to go through Smashword’s website, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Sony’s ebook reader site, and even Apple’s iBooks. I also distribute on Smashwords. It is not the best platform, to be certain, but it does allow me to reach a much wider audience.
As far as pro’s and con’s… well, the positives are pretty obvious. More platforms are reached, presumably it makes you open to a wider audience, and you can consolidate efforts spent on self-publishing (that non-trivial time spent formatting and checking for content errors). The downsides are somewhat less obvious. As a platform, Smashwords doesn’t seem to get sale data from the other outlets in any fashion, beyond actual payments, which you get once a quarter. Also, if there are errors with formatting for one distributer (Apple is notorious for this), you may not find out for a month or two, while your book doesn’t get sold. They also have issues with specific formatting errors, which if you aren’t tech-savy, can take a long time to fix.
Still… for an independant author, I think Smashwords is an excellent tool, and one that shouldn’t be ignored. As a reader, I’ve found a very interesting selection of books there, and I’d recommend it to anyone who is looking for new authors to read. The nicest thing about it? Authors get 85% of the money from book sales, it seems to be the largest of any of the distributers I’ve found yet.