Publishing On Smashwords

May 6, 2009

Mark Coker is relentless.

Despite the fact I hate the name Smashwords, he’s been at me over and over again to give it a fair shake.

Because a project I had been working on had frustrated me for four days straight, I took a break yesterday and decided to finally go through Smashwords.

I went through about 190 pages of listings. I also did real-time tweeting of that, ragging on some of the bad stuff — and there was a lot — as well as pointing out some interesting things that looked worthwhile (very few!).

Before sleep, I decided I should try publishing something on Smashwords, to see what the entire effort would be like.

Mark Coker dared me to put my fiction up. No, not when it’d be next to things such as this.

At first, I was going to simply publish an essay I believed was in the public domain by someone else.

But something that simple isn’t much of a challenge nor would it have been by me.

So, I decided to take three of the most popular posts I’ve written and repackage them as an “eReprint.” These were the three posts I did in October 2008 about the introduction of the Sony Reader.

Dutifully, I RTFMed over at Smashwords. Moriah Jovan had already clued me in to it wanting a certain type of file only. I wanted to play by the rules and see what resulted.

I took those three posts and made an RTF document in Wordpad (the only writing tool I have, besides BlogDesk, believe it or not!).

I also made a quickie cover (using MS Paint).

Even though the photos in total couldn’t have been more than 500K, when the RTF was saved, it managed to balloon to a whopping thirteen megabytes!

I didn’t find that out, however, until my Smashwords upload was rejected.

I did everything I could think of to shrink the pictures, but the result remained at over ten megabytes.

I then relented and downloaded Open Office.

I opened the RTF in that, put the photos back in again — to see if that would recalibrate their sizes — and saved it as a Word 5 DOC file (which is what Open Office kept switching to, despite my asking for Word 6).

Result: over five megabytes. Smashwords wants nothing more than five megabytes.

Finally, I started deleting photos. That meant some text changes too.

The final result was about four and half megabytes and I was good to go.

The process to publish something on Smashwords is very simple. Fill out a form, choose the cover to upload, then the file of the book to upload, and hit Publish.

After that, a bit of whirring, then the Meatgrinder, as they term it, activates and converts the file into the formats that have been chosen before uploading.

Once that’s over, the eBook is ready to be looked at within Smashwords itself via an HTML window or can be downloaded in the formats chosen.

My first hint of trouble was that the HTML preview was rather wonky. The photos, although not great to begin with, became outright atrocious. Just look at this awfulness:

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Also, it managed to lose the centered text I put in. It was only in three places, too!

I then downloaded the ePub and the PDF versions to look at.

Remember that ePub is the file format all the major publishers have agreed to use. So this is very important for writers who choose to use Smashwords to put their work before the general public (and, in some cases, ask money for it).

Let’s see the results of the ePub.

This is what it looked like in FBReader, starting with the all-important cover:

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Oh my god.

Would you want to read that? I wouldn’t want to go further, and I created that! The cover is supposed to look like this.

OK, this I chalk up half to my fault and half to Smashwords. The Smashwords guidelines do not suggest any sort of recommended dimensions for a cover. I simply did a quick and dirty one in MS Paint without paying much attention to the size. But even so, this is horrible.

And then in FBReader this is what the photos turned into:

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More hair-raising horror!

I can’t dismiss FBReader because it’s the ePub rendering engine that drives the ECTACO jetBook. Will people who view ePub with embedded photos wind up seeing something as terrible as that? I don’t know. (And ECTACO has not been willing to provide a review unit. Maybe this is why!)

With the Sony eLibrary software, the cover results were the same:

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The photos were no better than the HTML preview:

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The final test was the PDF. It came out beautifully:

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My centered text was preserved and the photos were identical to the originals.

And thus ended the experiment.