Over the weekend, I published an eBook for the first time. As a relatively tech-savvy person, it wasn’t as hard as I was expecting. I’m glad I started out with a short story that had relatively little formatting. Even so, it took two tries to get the Meatgrinder at Smashwords to accept my manuscript. Amazon was much easier, but I had to resubmit there as well because like a goofball, I forgot to change the “Smashwords edition” language on the front matter to “eBook edition” for Amazon. Silly me.
My biggest hurdle is that I don’t own a personal copy of Microsoft Word. I’ve been using Open Office and/or Google Docs for a while now. I’ve been playing around with Scrivener, and will probably purchase it as well, since it’s a very reasonable $40 and it’s really good for outlining and organizing long works. It’s not great for drafting, at least not for me.
Google Docs is my preferred drafting tool. Yes, since it lives in a web browser, there’s always the temptation to start surfing the internet when you should be producing prose. But let’s be honest? You’re never more than a mouse click away from that anyway, unless you’re drafting on paper.
I do draft on paper some, but usually just sketches and scenes, or notes and outlines. I’m left-handed, so writing on paper is not especially comfortable. Reporter style notebooks work better than left-bound, but I still get hand cramps whenever I journal on paper for more than a half hour.
It’s possible to mostly follow the formatting guidelines for Smashwords in Google Docs, but you run into two different problems getting it 100% ready for upload.
The first issue is that Google Docs doesn’t have a setting for initial indents for paragraphs. So unless you’re doing block style paragraphs, you’ll have to do that in something else. Since initial indents are the preferred format for fiction, I didn’t want to go with block style paragraphs.
The second issue is that Google Docs will download as a Microsoft Word format, but only with a .docx extension, which is the file extension for Word 2007 or later, and an XML format. Smashwords won’t accept a .docx file.
The method that worked was a variation on the nuclear method. I took my final document in GDocs, Selected All, copied and pasted it into Notepad to eliminate weird formatting and tabs that had crept into the beginnings of a lot of the paragraphs.
Then I selected the unformatted text in Notepad, copied and pasted it into a fresh Google Doc appended with “Smashwords” in the file name. I formatted the initial indents, 1.5 line spacing and font, and chose “Update Normal Text to match” from the styles drop-down. Then I reformatted my front matter page, updated Title style to match, and inserted a hard page break.
From there, I downloaded as a .docx file, which I opened in Open Office and resaved as a .doc file. Smashwords accepted that file with no problems. After that, I edited the Open Office doc to eliminate references to Smashwords, and saved that as an Amazon version. As I said, Amazon accepted it with no problems.
Honestly, this reminded me of when I was doing desktop publishing years ago for a military subcontractor. We’d get input text from a variety of engineers who all had their own way of formatting and their own preferred word processing tools. So we’d always have to strip out all the formatting before putting it into a master document, and then do one format-stripping-and-reapplying pass of the master document as well to catch any weird formatting codes that slipped through the cracks. So, a bit tedious, but nothing I haven’t done before.
I was a little surprised to discover that the cover image requirements were a bit different than I had originally thought. Smashwords requires your cover to be at least 1400 pixels wide, and taller than it is wide. Amazon’s recommendation for a cover image is now 2,500 pixels tall, with the height 1.6 times greater than the width.
What does that mean? Basically, a cover image that is 1600 x 2560 pixels will have you covered for both Smashwords and Amazon current recommendations and requirements.
At this point, it’s too early to tell what I’ve learned beyond “how to get an ebook into Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing. I’m still waiting to see if I get into Smashwords Premium catalog (which gets it into the Nook/Kobo/etc. online stores). I’m also not doing the KDP select program with this particular book.
As I learn more stuff, I’ll happily share it here. Since I plan on making a lot of mistakes along the way, I’ll probably have lots to share!