My wonderful editor (see previous blog) gave a talk at the library about self-publishing. That's where I first heard about Smashwords, a company that helps you create an e-book. What a great moniker! It conjures up thoughts of a factory operation, noisy and chaotic, but with a product relentlessly emerging on a conveyer belt. At least to me it does!
Once again I reasoned that I could follow instructions faultlessly. There were a lot of them, though to be fair, they were very good. Still, I didn't get it right the first time, or the second, or... The key issue is 'hidden formatting'. I had created this beautiful manuscript in Word for Create Space to publish. In it was a lot of distinct formatting. Smashwords explicitly asks you to remove ALL formatting from your document. That's easier said than done. My naked document looked dull and uninspiring, especially as it was in Times New Roman, my least favorite font. Still, they pointed out that the KIS principle (keep it simple) works best for e-books as they come in so many different sizes and formats. As for images, I kept four of the original 20, too terrified to chance any more than that.
Finally it came time to upload the file to Smashwords' Meatgrinder. What a brilliant concept: you throw your 45,000 words into a machine and out pops an e-book. Once again I headed to the local library for the transaction, and lo and behold, it worked on the first try! I was elated. But as I paged through the book (you can check it out in different formats, EPUB and MOBI), there were odd blank sections on some pages. And the links from the table of contents didn't work either. So I went back to the drawing board, did it all over and headed off to the library. All I could think of was getting gowned up to treat an Ebola patient, discovering that you had self-contaminated, and having to hose off in chlorine bleach and re-robe. It's agonizing, but absolutely essential.
The blank sections were still there, and I hadn't a clue how to get rid of them. This time I was sensible and sought professional help early. For $100, a thoroughly efficient on-line consultant took my Word document and gave me back EPUB and MOBI files. No sleep was lost, no hair pulled out, and I have no remorse at not being able to figure it out myself.
What did I learn? When you write a book, hold off on formatting it. Keep the master file as simple as possible because Smashwords likes it that way.
The great thing about Smashwords is that they distribute the e-book, for a fee of course. In no time the book was available in iBooks, at Barnes and Noble, and on Amazon. They also notify you when someone buys a copy. It felt soooo good.