Smashwords is the devil.
Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh. Let me rephrase that statement: Smashwords can be darned difficult to work with. Let me explain.
Like most indie authors, Amazon is my friend. It's a huge company, and they throw a massive amount of money and talent at the web software used to create Kindle books from word processor documents. My typical pattern is to write my book directly in Createspace format in Microsoft Word. When the final edits are done, I simply upload my Word document to Createspace and let it churn out the print version.
I then take the same Word file, tear out the fancy formatting I sometimes do, drop caps for example, and upload the file to Amazon.
Churn, churn, churn - Kindle edition ready for the masses.
Life is good, life is serene, and I can go watch The Walking Dead in peace.
Recently, I decided to venture beyond the safety of Amazon and offer my books on Smashwords. Why? Amazon is great for print versions and Kindle, but they only support their own e-book format. There are many other systems out there: Barnes and Noble Nook, Sony, and Apple to name a few. Admittedly, there are Kindle apps available for many of the other e-readers that will allow you to read Kindle files; however, what I really want is exposure in as many e-book stores as possible.
Going through Smashwords gets me listed in their library, as well as Barnes and Noble, Apple, and many others.
Sounds like a plan, right? Oh, if only it was that simple.
Smashwords has put, shall we say, a little less money and effort into their document to e-book converter than Amazon. This isn't surprising, Amazon could buy Smashwords with pocket change. It usually takes me about four tries to finally get everything right on a Smashwords submission. Here are a few gotchas to watch out for:
- Smashwords hates your Table of Contents. Delete it before you upload.
- Smashwords hates page numbers. Delete them.
- Smashwords hates your name and the book's name in the header. Delete them.
- Smashwords hates to flow text around images. Put them in line with the text... or delete them.
- Smashwords hates links to your Amazon page. Delete them.
- Smashwords hates .DOCX files. Make like it's 2003 and save it in .DOC format.
Once you do all this, you will probably get through the first machine scan of your file and the book will go live... but, you're not done yet. Now, the humans get involved.
Before your book can go to Premium Status where it is offered on other publishers' sites, a human being actually goes through it. And, they find stuff.
Worse yet, the results you get from the conversion sometimes looks terrible.
After putting Nine Fingers through the grinder for the fourth time, I saw something that caught my eye: I could upload my file in .EPUB format.
Now, .EPUB is the format used by Sony and several other e-reader makers. And, it just so happens there is a wonderful free program called Calibre which will take your Microsoft Word file and convert it to .EPUB. There are tons of features and settings allowing you to fine tune the finished product.
The best part? You don't have to wait for Smashwords to churn your file over the web. Calibre can generate an .EPUB in seconds.
I tried this out with Nine Fingers, and it was fantastic! I fixed all my formatting errors in just a few minutes.
I then uploaded the .EPUB file to Smashwords and... it failed.
Huh? Smashwords's site put up this incredibly cryptic error message about manifest files and strict requirements from Apple, and then barfed.
No! It was perfect.
After a web search, I found the problem. When I opened my .EPUB on my computer, Calibre tried to add some sort of manifest file to the document. Smashwords doesn't like that file.
The solution? After you check the .EPUB and make sure it looks right, generate it again, but, this time, don't open it. Just upload it.
Once your book is approved for Premium Status, life is good. You will find yourself in all the e-book libraries.
Smashwords needs work on their publishing process. Little things like Table of Contents and page numbers should be handled by their software and ignored. As they mature, I think you will see the entire process become easier and more streamlined.
One other thing about Smashwords you might want to know: the formats they publish are unencrypted. As a matter of fact, by default, Smashwords will offer your book in all the e-book formats as well as PDF and plain text.
That means your book could be easily pirated by a chimpanzee with a See and Say.
Now, if I'm Stephen King and one of my grocery lists could pull in a seven figure advance, I wouldn't publish on Smashwords, because I would lose a lot of money to piracy. Indeed, you will not find Mr. King on Smashwords.
However, I am not Stephen King, and my advances couldn't buy a bag of groceries. If little Vladimir in Tashkent manages to score himself a free copy of Nine Fingers... well, I hope he enjoys it and gives me a nice review.
Smashwords can be a real test of your sanity; however, the satisfaction of being able to triple or quadruple your market exposure more than makes up for the struggle.
My fellow authors, when you are ready to swim in the deep water without the safety of those Amazon water wings, just remember you might have to work at treading water.