Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Publishing Process: Part Three

Let me tell you something about Smashwords. They sound really good, a lot of authors use the site to publish their contribution to literary excellence and entertainment, but if you decide to publish on Smashwords you'll end up looking (and working) behind the glitter and the face paint, which is a true chorus girl experience.

Consider Las Vegas, the legendary land of milk and honey. You go to a show and you get a seat near the back, about three rows on the good side of the nosebleed seats.  The show is spectacular and includes a troupe of nearly naked chorus girls giving their all right behind the headliner.  What a show, what a show.  The costumes are magnificent, the girls are all beautiful twenty-somethings that no man in his right mind would take home to mama, and you have a great time watching.  Hey, what's not to like, right?  Well old son, it's like this.  Don't get too close.

If you get within shouting distance, you'll notice that the girls are sweating and breathing hard; some more than others.  Advance to eye contact distance and you can see that their skin has a kind of fake looking plastic uniformity to it, sort of like it's all painted on (it isn't, by the way.  It's sprayed on.) and the face makeup is pretty heavy.  At spitting distance it becomes evident that not all of these girls are petite, athletic twenty-somethings.  In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find one that is under 25.  Move right up to halitosis range and the truth comes out.  We're talking late twenties for some, mid to late thirties for the others and there's one or two that may have celebrated their big four-oh with a fifth of vodka and a handful of pills.  Most have had cheap boob jobs that need repair.  Others have been rode hard and put away wet far too many times.  There's one or two that have more miles on 'em than I-15.

Talk to the girls and you'll find them friendly enough, but the more you get to know them the more you'll regret giving out your phone number.  Most of these girls are a bit quirky.  Delicately put, they're eccentric.  They tend to have baggage, both emotional and social.  We're talking ex-boyfriends, husbands, girlfriends and in some cases - other.  That last should cause you to change your phone, email, residence and buy a gun.  Emotional baggage gets triggered by things you'll never guess at or see coming.  Some little thing triggers a reaction, the bag drops off the luggage rack, falls open and the bats fly out.  Your best bet is to walk away and keep walking.

By way of comparison, Smashwords agrees to accept your story in M$ Word format, run it through their own system which is affectionately known as the meat grinder, translate your hard work into multiple formats too numerous to name here, then hawk it for you all around the world.  They'll pass your part of the royalties back to you when they're good and ready (see the royalties agreement).  The fly in this miracle ointment is formatting errors and the reporting of same.

When your work is accepted by Smashwords, they'll check the work for formatting errors.  If they find any, your work is either rejected entirely or partially.  Partial rejection means that your book is not included in the Smashwords premium catalog, which is where you want your work to be.  Smashwords will send you error messages about your formatting; unfortunately all the error message are generic: You have errors.  Check our formatting requirements, fix the errors are re-submit.  What Smashwords is really saying is that somewhere, and we're not saying just where, but somewhere in a novel of 61,273 words there are one or more formatting mistakes.  And if you can't find 'em, where does that leave you?

Step One: Curse and think bad thoughts about the geniuses at Smashwords who can't compose a helpful error message.

Step Two: Download and read, or re-read, Smashwords Style Guide.  The guide is not concise nor is it particularly well written.  If you plow through it and do some word substitution, you'll be able to fix your formatting problems and make the Smashwords premium list.  For instance, if the guide says something like, "We've found that the best results are obtained when..." you should change that to, "Anything that violates this condition will be rejected."  I don't know why they don't say that in the guide, but they don't.

Step Three: Fix the errors and resubmit.  Just do it.

Step Four: You are now on Smashwords time.  Your priorities are not the same as Smashwords priorities; your time is not Smashwords time.  Sit on your hands.  It will be ten days or more before someone at Smashwords gets around to checking your story for inclusion on the Smashwords premium list, and there isn't a thing you can do to hurry the process along.  Yeah, I know it sucks, but until something better comes along this is it.

I've been through this process just once.  It took me three days just to decide to keep going on Smashwords, and this is entirely due to the obstructive error reporting system they use.  I have no trouble with, or objection to, fixing the formatting errors in my work.  The very least Smashwords could do is show me where the errors actually are.  Still, I persevered - here's my book on Smashwords: Magic For Hire.  I console myself by thinking that the next book will be easier.

Until someone successfully shoots Smashwords out of the saddle, they're one of the best games in town.  I say one of the best, because in reality it's Amazon and whomever is in second place.


  1. That's a really useful post, thanks.

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you, Boatbumms. We don't have anything like that around here, although we do get raccoons, opossums and coyotes once in a while.