An Alternative to Smashwords And The Horrors Of The MeatGrinder»
If you write and publish ebooks in English these days while not being a US-citizen, there are many hoops to jump through. Many authors have been discouraged by the stories alone and stopped the journey before they even started.
Payment and tax issues aside, a big problem is that it’s very difficult to get your ebooks listed on several stores such as Barnes & Noble or iBooks if you’re not an American.
As far as I know there are currently two major marketplaces that allow you to upload your book directly, independent of your country of origin: One is of course Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform, and the other one is Kobo’s Writing Life.
But you don’t need to sign up for a Green Card just yet, there’s still an alternative!
Smashin’ Words Like It’s 1992
I stumbled over Smashwords a few years ago before. And to be honest, I navigated just as quickly away from it as I found it. The design seemed stuck in the early 90ies and although I saw truckloads of new books being uploaded, the site somehow felt cluttered and deserted.
It was only last year that I found out that Smashwords offered a very crucial component for people like me: free distribution to US-stores (well, almost free, they take a small commission). The complete list of their distribution channels is impressive. They get your book onto Sony, B&N, Kobo, Amazon, Apple, Diesel, Page Foundry, Baker-Taylor’s, Blio, Library Direct, Axis 360
Thus, not wanting to put all my eggs in one basket (Amazon), I decided to ignore Smashword’s webdesign and created an account. How difficult could it possibly be to upload my books? After all, they were already completely finished – their final edits painstakingly optimized for ereading devices.
A Quick Note On The Anatomy Of Ebooks
What I’ve discovered in my years of working with documents is that standards compliant documents convert to other standards compliant formats. - Steven Saus
What is an ebook anyway? It’s not that simple a question, actually. There are some people who sell PDFs as ebooks and then there are hundreds of different ereader specific e-book formats.
The good news: two of the most popular e-book formats, MOBI and EPUB are basically just HTML documents (just like the page you are reading right now).
In the beginning, I wrote and formatted my books in Open Office, exported them as PDF and tried to upload to Amazon. The result: a mess!
This is why, whenever I create a book now, I edit it through an HTML editor and pay special attention that my code is valid, just like when working on a webpage.
The simpler the underlying HTML, the easier it is to convert my book to MOBI and EPUB.
The Horrors Of Meatgrinder and Autovetter
I fought with the Meatgrinder until my eyes bugged. My fonts were many and their name was Legion - Meb Bryant
As great as Smashwords’ distribution channels may be, its processing is infamously horrible. And it all hinges on the simple fact that they want their uploads in Microsoft .DOC format!
In terms of structure, EPUB and HTML are close twins while DOC couldn’t be further from any ebook format.
Smashwords wants to make it easy for people with no coding experience to just upload their book straight from their Office Suite.
But oh, the horrors!
Instead of allowing me to just upload my finished EPUB or MOBI I’m forced to stuff it all into a DOC format and watch Smashwords Meatgrinder wreak utter havoc while trying to convert it into …yes… EPUB and MOBI.
Assuming the nagging Autovetter doesn’t find any problems with the uploaded file, just wait one or two weeks for the file to be reviewed by Smashwords in detail and there’ll be a long list of vague errors (aka reasons why the book can’t go live).
It has taken me months to push through various books this way that were already compliant and valid e-book files ! And the sad truth is that many of these publications only survived the Meatgrinder when stripped of most of their formatting.
Again, the sole reason for putting up with this deranged process in the first place is because Smashwords is the only way to get my publications into US-only channels. But maybe it isn’t…
An Alternative to Smashwords?
Yesterday I stumbled over an interesting service called booktango.
They seem to be a doing something very similar to Smashwords (distribution channels include Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Books on Board, Google, Kobo, Scribd, Sony) with a few exceptions:
- they don’t take a commission for themselves (business model is built on offering services such as cover design)
- their website is simple and straightforward
- you can upload your EPUB directly!
- you can edit and correct your book in an online editor
- the automatic check shows errors directly in the text
Yesterday I gave it a quick try and it feels very refreshing. Since I already have a number of books on Smashwords, though, I’m not sure whether to change horses in midstream.
Struggling with Smashwords’ Meatgrinder is like wrangling a herd of lobotimized mustangs and when it finally works there’s this sense of (admittedly low-key) achievement.
But even if I continue the good fight with the MeatGrinder, it’s good to know there’s finally an alternative for us non-Americans.