An Alternative to Smashwords? Draft2Digital

I am not overly thrilled with Smashwords right now. After the big announcement about EPUB, the reality has been less than… well, let us just say, I am not impressed. One, the formatting requirements are the exact same ones they use with Word files–that means generic looking books–and there is STILL NO WAY to test or even preview the converted books before they are published. As much as I get frustrated with the Kindle Previewer, it’s still a valuable tool and its error reports make sense. (Smashwords’ error reports tend to make sense only in alternate universes). When I heard about Draft2Digital, I was quite interested.

While I’ve heard from some people who’ve had good results with D2D, I haven’t tried it myself.

Paul Salvette at BB ebooks has done the legwork for us. He and his crew of wonder-formatters took part in some beta testing and have written up a useful report. Here’s an excerpt:

First Impressions with Draft2Digital

Uploading your manuscript to the newly established website, Draft2Digital seems like a perfect solution for DIY eBook conversion. Thanks to Joanna’s tutorial how to use Calibre on TeleRead, automatic conversion has gained momentum in the business when indie authors are striving to publish as cost-effectively as possible. Although we have already discussed automatic conversion before (it’s not very good quality), many of our clients have urged us to try out the closed beta test on D2D. Fortunately, an email from Draft2Digital sent yesterday notified us of the open beta of which anybody can test the service without getting the beta code. We wasted no time this morning to get our hands on their hotly anticipated conversion service. Our initial doubt prevails: how much can you trust the fast quality of artificial intelligence, especially when it comes to formulating the immortality of your eBook?

(Big Plus)

Hooray, It’s Pay Day!

According to the latest email, customized payment methods have been very convenient for international authors who can receive payment directly into their bank accounts or via PayPal. Look under ‘Payment’ in the Draft2Digital FAQ, authors can sign a big relief to be paid by check, PayPal, or Direct Deposit. Please note for non-’Merican authors you will need to get an ITIN so that the IRS can tax you.

Paul and his crew went through the process with… results. BB ebooks is a pro outfit, and Paul is one of the best in the biz when it comes to producing ebooks. His standards are very high. He did find some problems.

Problems Ensue with Automatic Conversion to EPUB

We tried to one of Paul’s other books that was well formatted in Word, including with a hyperlinked Table of Contents. Unfortunately, it looks as though the formatting is completely blown out when their automated conversion is used. All paragraph styles are first-line indent—which is okay for body content, but not for front matter and back matter. Additionally all first paragraphs in Chapters are first-line indent, which screams Amateur Hour. Below is how it looked:

Pop over to the site and read the entire article. Lots of illustrations and good explanations for what is happening.

My takeaway from this and from what I’ve heard and from what little bopping around I’ve done on the D2D site is that they have a lot of potential. Their terms are good, their payout schedule is excellent, and they are responsive to customer complaints and concerns.

So go read BB ebook’s article, then check out D2D. It might be suitable for you.

Boast Post: A New Way To Make Ebooks

A new way for me anyway. Not long ago I got my hands on Paul Salvette’s book, The eBook Design and Development Guide (link in the sidebar). I talked it up because it explained in plain English (mostly) the hows and whys of building a better ebook. Even though it intimidated me, I knew I had to try his method.

Well…

(Pardon my not using screenshots. I haven’t figured out how to capture screenshots off the Kindle Fire yet. The instructions I’ve seen require a little more… Anyhow.)

As per my usual knuckleheadtude, I picked for my maiden voyage a three-book omnibus. Go bold or go home, right? By the time I figured out I should have chosen an easier project, it was too late and I had no choice except to keep going forward.

This method is NOT for beginners. You need at least some experience with html and text editors. If, however, you are like me, knowing just enough to be dangerous and curious about how ebooks and ereading devices work, going through the steps to build an ebook this way will teach you plenty. I now have a much better understanding about what happens to files when they go through conversion and why some things work better than others and why some things fail.

The biggest difference between what I was doing before and what I did with this book is that before I was formatting the ebook and producing files that could be read on ereaders, but they were not complete ebooks. To make them complete they had to be run through a conversion program. What was missing on my end was a navigation guide and a toc.ncx. Ebooks, I’ve learned, have two tables of contents. The one the formatter creates while formatting and the toc.ncx which is the internal table of contents which is generated during conversion. Conversion also produces a navigation guide which is what makes, for instance, jumping from chapter to chapter possible. Why are there two tables of contents? I do not know. All I know is, I didn’t know how to make them before and I left it up to the conversion programs to do it for me. With this new (to me) method, I built my own navigation guide and toc.ncx. Now, if someone asks me to format a book that they intend to sell on their own site rather than through a distributor, I know how to do it.

What I appreciate most about Paul’s guide (other than being written in language I could understand or figure out–which often takes staring at the screen until, like magic-dot pictures, the answer slowly appears) is that he takes the time to explain what is happening and how things can go right or wrong depending upon which device the book will be read on. That’s valuable information, especially for a non-programmer. I spend a lot of time over on the w3schools.com site seeking answers to my problems, but what’s over there is geared for programmers and people who have skills and experiences that are foreign territory for me. Which means I do a lot of, “hmn, let’s try this and see what happens,” and sometimes I get the desired results and sometimes I don’t. When I can’t get the results I want, it’s a bear figuring out why. I also learned I’ve been making some parts of my formatting tasks overly complicated and much too hard.

As a bonus, on his website, BB eBooks, Paul has an area for developers with templates and guides. It’s a terrific resource.

If you’re like me, you know how to format an ebook, know some html, are comfortable working in a text editor and now you’re ready to kick it up a notch, the guide will take you through the process step-by-step. I recommend you read the entire book first so you get the overall picture of what it is you’re about to attempt. I took a lot of notes and used my whiteboard to help me keep track of such things as bookmarking navigation points and naming files. Since this method involves splitting up the main file into many smaller files, you will need to find a solid, simple way to name the files and keep track of them.

One area where I had serious trouble was in making the zip file. I could not get the recommended program to synch with my computer. That’s not the guide’s fault (I need to get my son over here to figure out why my computer disallows changing directories). So I cheated and copied my files into a .zip folder then changed the .zip designation to .epub. I don’t know if you’re supposed to do that, but it worked. I’m not comfortable with it because my computer sends me nasty grams when I do, but it did work.

Because I was building a book for the Kindle, I had to disregard some of the advice about line spacing. In the most recent update that Amazon did for Kindle devices, they changed the default font and apparently the line spacing and paragraph spacing defaults, too. I’ve noticed in some of the recent stories I’ve downloaded the text appears double-spaced and changing the line spacing on my Kindle takes it down, at the most, to a space and a half between lines. Plus, where before some extra leading between paragraphs made them look better, now the extra leading puts a noticeable gap between paragraphs. I don’t think that is happening on Nooks or other EPUB readers. It didn’t appear to be a problem on Calibre. So pay attention to line spacing when you’re building a book for the Kindle. Things have changed.

I also refrained from reducing the font size anywhere in the book because I don’t know if Amazon fixed the bug that squishes the font in older Kindles. Until I’m sure of that, no font reductions for Kindle.

Some of the touches I did for this book included moving the copyright page and table of contents to the back of the book so potential buyers can get a larger sample. Plus, because it’s a three-book omnibus, I placed a header at the beginning of each chapter with the title of individual book. Just to keep readers reminded of which book they are reading.

I love the way the book turned out. Despite being intimidated by the process, I learned some skills, gained a whole lot of understanding and ended up with a very nice looking ebook that is easy for readers to navigate. (I also learned some new cuss words, but I won’t go into that…)

Thank you, Paul.

If you want to check out my latest masterpiece, and some pretty good stories, too, it’s available now on Amazon.