Mar 282013

On Wednesday, March 28th, I took a deep breath and clicked “Upload”. My first self-published ebook, The Curious Kinky Person’s Guide to the Fifty Shades trilogy, had been carefully converted into clean HTML, and it and the accompanying image files went out into the world.

Within only a few hours, I got a response asking me why my text was also found on a website (i.e. my, where the original blog post series remains). I had no idea this would be a problem. The blog Bad Books Good Times did the same thing with their blog series on Fifty Shades of Grey, and mine had extra material as well as extensive copy-editing. I sent Amazon back an email explaining the situation. No response yet.

While my book was churning through some recondite procedure at Amazon, I diverted my attention to the number two market, Smashwords. I like Smashwords’ philosophy better than Amazon’s: no DRM, lots of different formats.

At the moment, Smashwords wants publishers to submit in Word .DOC format. This suggest an unhealthy reliance on Microsoft’s word processor, exacerbated by the fact that I don’t use MS Office and prefer to work in LibreOffice. Even if you work in Scrivener or something else, Smashwords wants you to upload in Word format, and a very particular form of it. LibreOffice Writer can save in MS Word .DOC format, but it does some peculiar things along the way, like removing headers and footers. I suspected this venture would be fraught with difficulties.

I spent Wednesday evening and Thursday morning reworking the file to Smashwords specifications, and using a combination of GIMP, Libre Office Draw and IrfanView to get the cover image looking good and in the right dimensions. I also ordered another ISBN for the Smashwords edition, which was free thanks to the government of Canada. (One of my advisers on this project says she uses the same ISBN for all her

Smashwords has a two-tiered system. On the first tier, where Smashwords sells your book by themselves, they’re much less fussy about formatting. But if you want your work on Smashwords’ second tier, in which they submit your work to Apple iTunes store and other big retailers, your book needs to conform to a much stricter format.

I spent most of Thursday afternoon removing the auto-generated table of contents and manually rebuilding it with bookmarks and hyperlinks. (You can link directly to headings in LibreOffice, which I use, but the Smashwords Style Guide says not to use them, and create bookmarks instead.) I uploaded it a second time, and watched as it worked through what the Smashwords people refer to as “the meatgrinder”.

It looked good for a while, but then I got the error message from the epub validator. Running it through the epub validation app generated error messages like: element “span” not allowed here; expected element “address”, “blockquote”, “del”, “div”, “dl”, “h1”, “h2”, “h3”, “h4”, “h5”, “h6”, “hr”, “ins”, “noscript”, “ns:svg”, “ol”, “p”, “pre”, “script”, “table” or “ul” (with xmlns:ns=””)

What’s worse, I downloaded the epub Smashwords had generated and found that all those manually created bookmark hyperlinks for the table of contents had vanished, and all my Quotation styles had been lost too, and the bullet lists were a mess. I’m not even sure what I can do to fix this problem. I may have to borrow somebody’s copy of MS Word and use that to rebuild the table of contents.

I’m particularly annoyed at Smashwords’ insistence on only accepting Word format, when it’s just going to be reworked into a version of HTML anyway.

Results so far: Still not up on Amazon. It was up on Smashwords for a while but missing important formatting. I unpublished it until I can get it the way I want it.

There’s an app called Jutoh that is supposed to convert Libre Office Writer .ODT files into something Smashwords finds palatable. I’ll give that a shot.

At the risk of a workman blaming his tools, I think this indicates that we are still in the early days of ebook publishing, and that ebook formats are primarily intended for fiction. When you try to do things that are standard in non-fiction books, such as bullet points, indented quotation paragraphs, or endnotes, you run into problems. We are a long, long way from “click to publish”.