TWO Files For Smashwords?!? Not So Fast With The WTF, Folks

I’ve been one of the noisy gripers bitchin’ about the Smashwords “Meatgrinder.” My complaint was not what Mark Coker of SW was doing, but that MS Word makes lousy ebooks. Now, Coker has made it possible for ebook producers to submit validated EPUB files for distribution wherever fine EPUB-platform ebooks are sold.

This is terrific news.

Now I’m seeing complaints all over the ‘net that in order for an ebook to be fully distributed in the SW catalog one must also submit a Word file along with the EPUB file. A lot of WTF going on and people acting as if they’ve been somehow buffaloed.

Back off a minute and put down your pitchforks and torches. In order for SW to do what it’s been doing, it’s had to take a one-size-fits-all approach (could not have afforded it any other way). Using Word as the source file for conversion made sense for two reasons:

  • One) SW is mostly a self-publishing platform for WRITERS who use WORD PROCESSORS to create DOCUMENTS;
  • Two) Ebook files are based on html coding (they are essentially little websites) and most word processors are based on html which can be converted so they can be read on various and sundry devices.

The problems were not so much in the conversion. The problems came from the ereader devices. Every one of them is different. Some use older technology, some use the newest technology. Many have user interfaces, allowing readers to customize (to an extent) the way they read an ebook. (Ever wonder why mobi files are so big compared to an EPUB file? It’s because they are actually several different formats–eink, tablet, keyboard, touch screen–all of which display differently and give the reader different options on the various Kindle devices.)

Smashwords also offers readers different options, such as PDF and (essentially) text files for reading on the computer. They offer formats like LRF and PDB for people with older, almost obsolete devices.

A mobi file can be converted from EPUB, but it requires some adjustments to the css, the cover image and navigation coding. You can do things on a Nook you can’t do on a Kindle (for instance), and vice versa. Much different platforms. I can convert an EPUB to a mobi file and read it on my Kindle, but in order to make it work properly on all Kindle devices, in order to make it convert through Kindlegen without errors, I need a different type of EPUB file.

Then you get into the platforms that aren’t based on EPUB at all. Can I convert an EPUB file into a pdf file? Well, sure, but it’s ridiculously convoluted and requires more clean-up than conversion. The reason is in the name: “Portable Document Format.” Word files convert easily into pdf files because both of them are document files.

The beauty of what Smashwords has done is that if you have a validated EPUB file (and that means error free according to IDPF–International Digital Publishing Forum–standards) it is going to work on the various devices using the EPUB platform–namely Nook, Kobo and Apple products. It will work the way users (our customers) want them to work and the way the device makers intend them to work.

What it boils down to is quality control. I can control the quality of EPUB files in ways that are not possible with a Word file. It’s not about the bells and whistles, it’s about the formatting and making sure my ebooks are stable and functional across devices.

If you understand how ebooks work and how other file formats work, then you know it is not feasible for SW to convert EPUB files into other formats such as mobi or pdf or rtf. That’s my job. These are my ebooks and my readers/customers, and it’s up to me to figure out the best way to make the ebooks I create compatible with their devices.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to ebooks and ereading devices. SW made a valiant effort when it tried to force Word into that role, but it was doomed from the get-go because Word is not the right tool.

EPUB is only one format out of many, and it is not Smashword’s or Mark Coker’s fault that the retailers and device makers cannot get their shit together and settle on a standard.

You do not have to submit two files to SW if you don’t want to. You can go EPUB only–which shuts out those who don’t have a device based on the EPUB platform. You can submit a Word file only–take your chances that your ebook is going to glitch, or settle for an ebook so generic it might as well be a text file.

Something else, too. Smashwords is a distributor. It reaches markets that indies cannot always reach on their own. I suspect the number one reason many of those avenues are closed to direct distribution from indies is because those outfits don’t want to deal with buggy, broken, half-assed ebook files created in word processors. SW could have insisted that those who wished to use their distribution service must provide files in compliance with the different platforms. That would have set back the ebook revolution several years. Instead SW came up with concept that mostly worked. So to those who are bitching that they now have to provide TWO files to SW, take a deep breath, step back and consider the alternative–the market could demand that you create up to ten different formats in order to reach all your potential readers. That, my friends, would be real cause for cries of WTF.



23 thoughts on “TWO Files For Smashwords?!? Not So Fast With The WTF, Folks

  1. Well said, Jaye.

    I e-published an anthology recently and while I was pulling my hair out trying to get the Word file right for Smashwords, I thought, hell, I could just generate the epub, mobi, rtf, pdf…holy crap – all those formats!? Okay, back to messing around with Word.

    As you said, yes, one could do all those formats oneself, but then one would be neurotic like Jaye. 😉

  2. Interesting and viable. So an author ‘can’ submit two formats or ‘must’ submit two formats? And what do you recommend?

    • CAN, not has to. It all depends on where the writer wants to distribute. There are pros and cons to distributing to some markets through SW. There are some markets where it only makes sense to distribute through SW. So do a cost analysis (including the time it takes to manage multiple accounts).

      For me personally I think it makes sense to submit EPUB for B&N, Kobo and Apple, then submit a Word file for the rest. Some people do buy through Smashwords, even if they are only a few. I say this knowing in advance that mobi files converted from Word files don’t work properly across all devices, but I figure people who want really good Kindle files are buying from Amazon and not from SW.

      • So SW will act as the clearing house for B&N, Kobo and Apple using the EPUB file? Word would be more for those who want to upload a Word file to their computer?

      • Like I said, there are some formats SW continues to provide that use Word as the source file. PDF for instance. Those nearly obsolete ereader formats. Folks who read on their computer.

  3. Thank you for your voice of reason, Jaye. Smashwords has made being an Indie author so easy, and now they are OFFERING another option to Indies. They don’t OWE us a publishing platform. They offer it.

    • True. And the outrage I’m seeing demonstrates clearly that many, many people do not understand ebooks or how they work. I’ve spent the last year trying to figure it out and have barely scratched the surface. I know enough to know that one size does NOT fit all and it’s dumb to try and force it.

  4. I’m one of the disappointed, but your explanation makes everything clear. I’m willing to put more effort into formating separately, but it’s going to be a learning curve that a lot of people won’t want to or be able to deal with. I’m not happy about it, but it’s easier to adjust when I know the reasons for it. Thanks, as always.

    • Actually, Catana, there are good sources available for the person who’d like to create a validated EPUB file, but doesn’t have the time or inclination to learn how to build an ebook in html. One possibility is Scrivener, which you have to purchase, but it is cheap. It’s a terrific word processor (though not technically a word processor) and file generator. People are using it to generate stable, validated EPUB files. The other option is Sigil, which is a free download. I haven’t used it, but I have read some of the documentation and it appears to be user-friendly. Its sole purpose is to generate validated EPUBs.

      The big danger lies in converting files that shouldn’t be converted. For instance, I can take an ebook formatted for a Nook and convert it with Calibre into a mobi file. I can then read it on my Kindle. BUT, it’s not going to work properly on the device. I won’t be able to change fonts or margins, and the toc.ncx will be screwy. I can even convert pdf files so I can read them on my devices, but they aren’t ebooks. Those “off-brand” conversions are creating digital documents. This aspect trips up a lot of people–it has tripped ME up.

      • I do have Scrivener, Jaye, and love it. But I still have to master the “compile” process. I’ll be working on that for whatever I publish next. I think I tried Sigil once, but without reading any documentation (of course), so that didn’t work out too well. Basically, I don’t mind learning new technologies. It’s just the extra step added to the many steps I already go through, that gets me down. I do my own editing and book covers, so I’m involved in a lot of learning curves. Right now, one more feels like one straw too many, but I know I’ll get over it. At least it always gives me something to blog about. 🙂

        Thanks for all the great info, as usual.

  5. I would be much happier submitting a MOBI and PDF file, too, like the EPUB one, and for the same quality control reasons. I produce them all already, so why not? I can only hope Coker will get there eventually.

    • Maybe SW has those in the works. i wonder if the market is big enough to support the time and expense of setting that up. But as long as we’re making wish lists, wouldn’t that be nice? 😀

  6. Nice to hear a voice of reason in this discussion. I will take issue with one thing you said:

    The beauty of what Smashwords has done is that if you have a validated EPUB file (and that means error free according to IDPF–International Digital Publishing Forum–standards) it is going to work on the various devices using the EPUB platform–namely Nook, Kobo and Apple products. It will work the way users (our customers) want them to work and the way the device makers intend them to work.

    This is, sadly, not quite true. And I think it is really important to understand why it isn’t quite true. There are a few things you can do THAT ARE COMPLETELY VALID according to the EPUB spec that will break your book on one or more of the vendors’ devices you mentioned. Just yesterday I saw the following report (from a trustworthy source):

    Don’t set the left and right margins for html or body tags to zero. If you do, Kobo (at least on iOS) will dutifully render part of the next page on the current one and won’t let you go to the last page of any chapter.

    WTF! This is horrible. Setting the margins of the body and html elements to zero is something that you SHOULD do in every other case, but if your EPUB will be read on the Kobo iOS app, your book will become an awful, unreadable mess. An incomplete list of issues can be found here:

    If Mark Coker is as smart as he thinks he is, he will allow users to post multiple EPUB files per book, allowing us to target specific distribution channels.

    • This is what I love best about you, William. You ALWAYS give me new things to worry about. All right then, I amend my statement: Validated EPUBS will be stable on the majority of ereading devices–BUT SOME DEVICE MAKERS ARE SO STUPID THEY SABOTAGE READING PLEASURE WITH THEIR SCREWING AROUND!!!!

      • Glad I could help. Seriously, Smashwords’ Meatgrinder always struck me as a “bear riding a bicycle” thing. The bear won’t be doing any BMX double front flips and triple back flips, but the fact that a bear can ride a bike at all is amazing.

  7. Pingback: “Two Files” Update, Odds and Ends « Tracking the Words: a yearly cycle

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