Saturday, November 12, 2011

Lessons Learned in Self-Publishing, Part 6…The Smashwords' Meatgrinder

The most daunting and perhaps most time consuming task of self-publishing was preparing the book for uploading to Smashwords.  I spent weeks studying the Style Guide from Smashwords trying to digest everything that was important.  My fear became I’d do something wrong. Uploading a newer version of the book is allowed on Smashwords. But what if I couldn’t fix the problem?

The reality was that thousands of people were uploading their books on Smashwords and creating readable files.  Surely I fit somewhere in that range of intellect. Perhaps not at the top, but surely not the bottom either. I could do this.
It took me five tries to get Penelope and The Birthday Curse. Some of the errors I should have caught during proof reading became obvious when seen on the screen of an e-reader.  BTW, I have the black Pandigital 7” e-reader that can read epub and pdf.  For reading the other formats, I downloaded Calibre which can read just about anything, and that is scratching the surface of its capabilities. Some of the problems beyond typos were large blank areas and blank pages. How it looks to the eye and readability is important. When I did Penelope and The Christmas Spirit I ended up with two sizes of font which looked funky.  Here are my suggestions to getting a great looking book.

First read the Style Guide and get a basic understanding of what is required.  You probably don’t need everything that’s in there unless you have special requirements in your book. The front end is important. First page has title, author name and declaration of Smashwords Edition. Second page has copyright with verbiage per Smashwords requirements. Get these right. After that you can do dedications and reviews and anything you like.
Learn to use Styles when working in MS Word. Word defaults to Normal Style at startup.  Typically people modify on the fly when writing like adding an indent or perhaps italics.  Creating a custom style throughout will keep everything the same. A simple change in the style will affect the document

Use .doc format. That's what the Smashwords converter, which by the way they call the Meatgrinder (nice, huh?), understands.
Although the Style Guide suggests two blank lines can be used and no more than four, I suggest one only. Anymore than that and it is possible to have a blank page at the end of the chapter if next page ends on these multiple blanks. Too many blank lines and large open areas can occur.  At the end of chapters, I use CNTRL-ENTER which forces a new page and use no blanks before it.

Between scenes I use little dividers like ++++ or ~~~~ with no blank line. You can use whatever you like. If you use something from a symbol font be ready to replace it should it not look the same once printed on the e-reader. Personally I believe in keeping it simple.

I set my line spacing to 1.5X.  1.0X can be used, but I think spreading it out slightly makes the reading easier.

For my books, I start every chapter with CHAPTER XX – TITLE. The Meatgrinder will automatically create a table of contents. The format I suggest comes out looking nice. If you don’t use a chapter title, it will just have the CHAPTER XX in the TOC. My guess is the Meatgrinder recognizes the hard return followed by the word CHAPTER.

Keep the formatting simple. Bold. Italics. Centered. If you do have a special need read the Style Guide and try it.  If something doesn’t work, you get another chance to fix it and submit to the Meatgrinder. I also stick to Times New Roman 12 pt.   I tried a fancy font and found the Meatgrinder defaulted back to making it look like Times New Roman.

I put a picture with my bio in the second book Penelope and The Ghost’s Treasure and it came out nicely.  Again suggest reviewing the Style Guide.

Next time Rick Bylina will be the guest blogger. Ron D. Voigts is the author of the Penelope Mystery series available on Amazon and other booksellers on the Internet.

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