Tag Archives: epublishing

Printgasm BINGO

I totally don’t blame Scalzi for being sick of the arguments for self/digital publishing. I self/digital publish and I’m sick of the evangelizing, too. (Because most of the arguments are just shitty logic.)

HOWEVER.

There’s another side of the Electronic Publishing BINGO card: Printgasm BINGO, for those who believe that reading ebooks is just one step away from civilization sliding back into the primordial ooze.

I’ve been published!!!

Like, by somebody else. (Inorite?)

So Freya’s Bower (one of the veteran epublishers in the landscape) has this annual anthology called Dreams and Desires, where the proceeds from it go to a charity. This year’s charity is A Window Between Worlds, a non-profit organization that provides art supplies and training for art as a healing tool free of charge to battered women’s shelters across the United States.

Marci Baun, Freya’s Bower’s Perpetrator In Chief, asked me to contribute a story to the anthology, and because it’s a) for a good cause and b) for the #1 cause on my personal list of good causes, I said SURE! The result? Short story “Twenty-Dollar Rag.”

For fans of the Dunham series, the hero in this one is the weird kid from Stay (who wears kilts and sleeps in trees), Vachel Whittaker, all grown up and possibly more normal than the rest of the Dunham men. Lo, there is no religion or politics in it.

Here’s the blurb for Dreams and Desires:

True love, freedom, self-worth, security… Dreams and desires of the ordinary woman, or man. From a thirty-something, single woman who wants a baby to a jeweler who finds love with the least expected man to a widow who wants to finish her degree and find love to a young, futuristic woman who’s still searching for herself to an 18th century saloon girl whose lost hope but still dreams of love to a man who has escaped his abusive lover but has lost himself. This collection of nine stories celebrates the attainment of all one can dream or desire. Which one do you secretly yearn for?

And here’s the blurb for “Twenty-Dollar Rag”:

One night. One man. One dress.

Regina Westlake sees nothing wrong with her clubbing lifestyle until the gorgeous guy cleaning her pool refuses to play her games. When he’s hired to be her arm candy for a formal event, he makes his disdain for her clear by re-dressing her in something far more appropriate than what she had worn to the party.

Shattered, she takes his contempt, his dress, the memory of his kiss—and rebuilds her life from the ground up. She never expects to see him again, but when she does…

Buy the collection, have a few hours of entertainment and help somebody out at the same time. Win-win!

Dreams and Desires ($5.99)

Twenty-Dollar Rag” (12,000 words) ($2.99)


Free agency

Mormon publishing is a small world, but since I only hover on the outskirts of the community as a fiction writer who is Mormon and not as a writer of Mormon fiction (albeit I have Mormon characters), I don’t have much invested in the state of the Mormon art.

Currently I’m involved in a discussion on the Association for Mormon Letters blog that led to these comments:

Author Annette Lyon said:

Angela also hit it right on the head when she said that it’s a bit tricky naming names and titles when you’re one of the LDS writers yourself. It was a different story before I was part of that group. It’s easy to praise, but this is a tiny sandbox. An offhanded remark can make an enemy, so imagine if I were to give an honest review of that other book. Yeah. Let’s just say I don’t dare.

Author Lisa Torcasso Downing said:

Like Angela, I’m hesitant to criticize other writers–and their publishers–because a) who am I to talk? and b) I need those publishers.

There was a level of pathos there that I don’t feel that deeply with unpublished writers of work aimed for the national market, and not a niche one, and such a niche one. Actually, it was the “I need those publishers” that made me hurt.

I can understand Annette’s position, as she’s established and seems to do very well within the niche. But this is what I want to say to Lisa et al: You do not need those publishers.

Look around. eBooks, podcasts, print-on-demand, serial fiction blogs. The landscape is changing drastically and at breathtaking speed.

My question is: Could you do worse on your own? Really?

Just think about it. Please.

I got your suggestions right here.

The Pareto Principle.

Also known as the 80/20 rule, wherein 80% of sales are generated by 20% of the customers. When applied to the way publishing gambles on blockbusters to subsidize its titles that lose money, it might be more or less 20% of the authors make 80% of the sales.

Publishers look for and sign new authors in a neverending search for the next blockbuster book that will sustain the 20%. Very often a new author will be taken on in favor of renewing a current author’s second or third book if the sales don’t meet expectations (which could mean that it did, in fact, make money, but not enough to satisfy the bean counters).

Last month, I was involved in a rigorous discussion on Dear Author, wherein author Courtney Milan likened publishing’s ability to support this model to pooling risk or, more precisely, flood insurance. I found the flood insurance specificity to be flawed and said why, but really I found the whole “risk pooling” argument flawed, but couldn’t articulate it, so I remained agnostic on the subject for the moment.

Now, after having stewed on it for a while, the better (read: more polite) analogy would be research and development—except without so much the development part.

Recently, president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Jonathan Galassi, wrote an extraordinarily unorganized, incohesive rant op ed piece in the New York Times concerning whose rights are whose once the publishing house has put its resources into a manuscript to make it a salable product. Quite frankly, other than the amusing fact that he (an editor) wrote an essay not worthy of a high school freshman learning the basics of English composition, I don’t give a shit about what he thinks the publishers’ value-added rights are.

It was his exemplar of an author long dead, into whom marketing resources were invested to make him that success, that struck me as disingenuous. And a non sequitur. Or ignernt. Dude. You do realize that very few new authors are given these kinds of resources, right? Publishers throw new authors at the wall to see who sticks. There is no “development” counterpart to “research.”

Given that, I’ve moved on from a publisher’s resource allocation to be “risk pooling,” to “research and development,” to “shotgun approach.”

Hang with me—I know I’m only about the 1,537th person to say this, but I do have a point.

So yesterday on Teleread, Rich Adin from An American Editor opined that the way to save publishing is to kill the paperback. When the usual suspects (me) broke out with the usual reaction (Are you out of your fucking mind?), he shot back with, “Well, do you have any better ideas?”

Never mind I have no interest one way or another whether publishing remains profitable, and it’s not my job to put little slips in the suggestion box that will be ignored, and people (readers) have been screaming their fool heads off about what they want which would keep publishing profitable and publishing’s just not paying attention, I will tell you how to keep publishing profitable:

Do less research.

Put a little more development into your research.

Quit getting caught up in auction fever.

Embrace the e-book and treat it as deferentially as you do your other formats and respect those people willing to pay for it. Court them. Cultivate them. They have money to spend on books. Really.

The point is to make every title profitable, or as close to it as you can get.

But I don’t really think you care.

My editor likes me!

He really likes me!

Scroll down to #64.

064) Stay by Moriah Jovan (MS POLICY), finished July 15.

My faith that I put in Moriah after reading The Proviso was justified. This book is good. Parts of it are excellent. And it’s still only a draft. It still has explicit sex (though not as much) but you should have no other qualms about checking this one out when it’s released in a few months.

Congratulations, Moriah, on a great book. Keep ‘em coming.

MS POLICY

I am positively giddy.

Also, independent publishers Zoe Murdock and Riley Noehren and I had a roundtable chat about independent publishing. What we have in common: We’re female, LDS, and publishing ourselves. That transcript (and awesome discussion) are up at A Motley Vision.

PSA for LDS publishers

Y’all probably don’t read my blog. I curse muchly and there is “sex” in my banner, not to mention a bare nekkid lady.

Before you read any further (if you are still reading or the least bit interested), please go to these websites and study them. Ignore the content; I want you to see what they’re doing. Then come back. I’ll wait.

B10 Mediaworx.

My Bookstore and More (mostly Samhain Publishing‘s titles, but look under the “manufacturers” tab and see the other e-book publishers).

Loose-Id.

Ellora’s Cave.

Baen Books.

Zumaya Books.

eBooks.com.

Project Gutenberg.

Fictionwise.

Back? Cool. Now, please go here:

Amazon Kindle.

Sony e-book reader.

iPhone.

iTouch.

BlackBerry.

Palm Pre.

A more complete list of e-book readers.

Did you understand what I wanted you to see? Awesome!

As a consumer of e-books, I would like to offer you a friendly suggestion, which is to embrace the digital distribution of your titles. The e-book publishers I linked are making money hand over fist. The devices I linked are the way people read e-books. This will grow.

You probably don’t understand the seduction of having an entire library in your palm, and that’s okay. There are lots and lots of people who say they won’t give up print for anything, and then they get to live with an e-book reader for maybe two or three days, and they’re hooked.

There’s also something very seductive about being able to log onto an e-bookstore and download a bunch of books onto your device immediately. No driving. It’s all about impulse. I can talk myself out of an Amazon purchase because it involves shipping time. It leaves the shopping cart and goes into the wish list, never to be seen again. I don’t even want to go to a bookstore anymore.

I’ve now encountered three small LDS presses and individuals somewhere in the LDS publishing arena dismiss e-books as so much of a passing fad, a waste of time or, worse, think that “e-book” is synonymous with “PDF.” I simply have to shake my head at their short-sightedness.

Be on the cutting edge of the digital age of books. Take a cue from the church’s rabid embrace of the interwebz and streaming audio and its ability to reach its members nearly effortlessly.

But beyond that, the take-home message here is this: E-bookstores are dangerous to the health of my checkbook.

Want to know the real reason I don’t buy anything from Deseret Book, Zarahemla, Signature Books et al? No e-books. I want to read your books; really I do, but I’m not going back to paper unless you give me something terribly compelling. I buy e-books on impulse. Impulse. Hear that? IMPULSE.

Please give me a reason to throw my money at you in the middle of the night when one of your titles catches my eye. Pretty please?

Writers: Accept it and keep going. Or not.

Keep your day job.

Accept that you will not be able to quit your day job.

Regardless how much weeping and wailing and gnashing of the teeth goes on around the web about monetizing art, if you’re a writer not already pulling income that allows writing to be your day job, just deal with the fact that you probably aren’t going to.

In my mind, making peace with the fact that you have to keep your day job is a lot easier than spending all your creative energy to resent it. Ask me how I know.

Today, right now, as I look over the fiction writer landscape on the web, I see lots of writers I can slot into roughly five categories:

  1. The unpublished authors seeking publication via the normal route (query/reject/revise/repeat). They’re hustling to get an agent’s attention, and possibly spending money on ink/toner, paper, envelopes, and postage to do so. They aren’t earning any money.
  2. The midlist authors having to prove their numbers in order to get their next book contract, which means they have to hustle and market and fight to make sure people know their books exist (especially if they aren’t in Wal-Mart or Target). They probably aren’t earning enough to write full time.
  3. The self-published authors having to fight just to let people know they and their work exists. They probably aren’t earning enough to pay the cost of producing their book(s), much less earn a living.
  4. The career category authors (Harlequin/Silhouette) and e-published romance authors (Samhain, LooseId, Ellora’s Cave), a good portion of whom can earn a fairly decent living cranking out the books, but there’s a catch: Putting out enough books to make that kind of living has to be grueling. At least, it would be for me. YMMV. The advantage to e-publishing over career category publishing, though, is that your titles never go out of print and you have A) time to build a backlist and B) your backlist is forever available to any late-night shoppers with a credit card.
  5. The A- and B-list authors who have pressures of their own, I’m sure, to which I am not privy. This includes anyone who may (if they choose to) write only one book per year or fewer and earn a comfortable living doing so.

Now, I’m obviously #3, except that I’m doing okay: Not enough to quit doing my day job, but enough to bear out the investment of time and money. (See my Six-Year Plan.) However, my goal is the same as the e-published authors: Build the backlist and invest in the future.

I hate my day job. I really do. Yeah, it’s my own business but I hate the work, mostly because I’ve been doing it or something similar for years. It’s easier now that I have a couple of decent clients, but the work remains. I fight an uphill battle every day to Just Do It, but do it I must. Some days I’m more successful than others.

But the explosion of free versus paid writing that has kind of ballooned lately with Chris Anderson’s book Free, and Malcolm Gladwell’s review of that book in the New Yorker only reinforces the necessity of resigning myself to the fact that I must have a day job.

For now.

The fact of the matter is that I have better odds of doing so than unpublished authors who hold out hope that they’ll hit the lottery.

I also believe that I have better odds than those authors who have to prove every book via sales, even if all the stars are aligned against them (bad cover art, little marketing support, not being in Wal-Mart or Target); perhaps that myopic of me, but I’m hustling for 100% profit, while they’re hustling for 10% royalties and they’re locked into questionable digital contracts (amongst other things).

As for career category writing, I couldn’t do it (as stated above), especially within the restrictions of category. I know, because I tried, and missed the bullseye by half a hair every single time.

I also couldn’t do e-publishing because there isn’t one that would contract what I write, and I know that; I’d rather not waste their time or mine. Also, see above for the grind in order to make money.

Basically, what I have on my side is control and time. I’m going to write no matter what, and I’m going to write what the stories I have to tell. I’d rather put it out there for the opportunity to earn a little money than let it languish in the inboxes of agents who are also feeling the pinch.

Yeah, I think I’m in a really good position. I just can’t quit my day job.

Yet.

I’m slowly coming to terms with that.

Guest blogging and Tools of Change

I’m over at Publishing Renaissance today, blogging part 3 about how The Bewbies came into existence; in case you missed them, see part 1 and part 2, too!


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April Hamilton, independent publishing crusader extraordinary, built a new site called Publetariat, which will serve as kind of a clearinghouse/gathering space for independent-like authors. As soon as I figure out the Nixonian Drupal (you know, tricky dicky), I’ll be adding my voice over there. At least, uh, that’s what I’ve been s’posin’ to do for a while now and haven’t gotten to it. I’m sure April will find a suitable punishment for me.

The O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference went on earlier this week and I followed the comments on Twitter. Fascinating! although I’m not sure any conclusions can be drawn in any direction. Frankly, it seems to me nobody really knows what the hell’s going on in publishing right now. I will just keep on keepin’ on. By the way, a free e-book rundown of the conference is available for anyone who wants one.

A lot of what I saw related to the creative monetization of fiction, which ties in perfectly with The Urban Elitist‘s and my cross-blog series on the same.

The EPUB format drum continues to be beaten and pleasepleaseplease, PTB, do IT! All for one and one for all! The mp3 format of e-books. I cannot tell you how I salivate at the thought.

DRM was preached against as the Great Satan (which it is).

The guy behind the Espresso Book machine spoke. I don’t know what he said, but check out this video.

Some of my independent publishing cohorts and pals had a session. I wish I’d been there!

I’m coming to the conclusion that it will be another few years before e-books are widely read and that at that point, the value of the print book will be in POD pretty, well-made editions, hardback with gorgeous jackets and/or the ability to offer leather-bound and tooled editions or other specialty editions, where the object of the book is the art as well as the content. Until then, the market’s going to be in flux with regard to price, from free to outrageously overpriced. (I’ll blog this later; I have lots to say about this.)

In other news, the XY Tax Deduction went rooting in the cabinet and brought me a can of corn to make for him. So I did. He said, “I not hun’ry.”

Are authors like journals?

NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of several posts David Nygren of The Urban Elitist and I will be cross-blogging concerning the issue of authors (whether traditionally published, e-published, or self-published) actually getting paid for their work.

Yesterday (grimace) was David’s turn and he’s got me seriously thinking about that whole FREE thing again. I swear, the more we hash this out, the fewer solid opinions I’ve got.

The forbidden Apple

So let’s try this again and I will make myself very clear: I’m seriously pissed.

Apple rejected my book from its iApp store on the basis that it has the F-word. Now, I’m sorry, but the fact that the F-word is in my book is the least of its crimes (they must have missed the “cunt”), so…“fuck”? Really? But that’s not the point.

And you can download the Stanza (free) or eReader (free) applications to your iPhone, download my book, and read it that way, so all is not lost. But that’s not the point.

Some people call this censorship. I don’t; they’re well within their right to accept or reject any book they want. But that’s not the point.

The point is also not that Apple is cutting off its nose to spite its face. For whatever reason I don’t understand, they’re wishing-washing on e-books.

1) There is no iBooks.

2) There is no restriction of explicit lyrics and explicit/violent games and R-rated movies in the iApp store, which leads me to believe that the restriction is solely for e-book applications. Why? Are we discriminating against reading as a leisure activity? Why?

3) At the same time, Apple made a deal with ScrollMotion to provide a host of e-books as applications, but I notice they are of the young adult variety, which is a pretty safe bet, content-wise. However, they’re wrapping these up in DRM. Why?

4) Not only that, but some of them are seriously over-priced. More than the hardback!!! Gah.

5) When I actually looked at what was in the e-book section if the iApp store, it was classics in the public domain (good!) and puppies-and-kittens (no, seriously, books on puppies and kittens) and manga (in which I have no interest whatsoever). Yeah. Selection. I can get a better selection of books to read at Wal-Mart, albeit I have to go there and buy dead-tree books.

6) On Teleread, the speculation is that spikes in iTouch sales are good for e-books, but is that true for e-book applications?

Nothing Apple is doing on this front makes sense to me. David Carnoy’s Knife Music (read his whole post) was rejected for the F-word, but this wouldn’t have even come to light if he weren’t already semi-high-profile (which fact is okay with me, but it’s happening all over the place, not just with him). I mean, they’re adding e-book applications a little bit. Here and there. Snootily.

On a purely capitalist pig basis, wouldn’t you think this would be a market they would want to exploit? I can only conclude that Jobs simply carries an utter abhorrence for The Book and does not want to exploit it for another revenue stream.

Seriously.

Music.

Movies.

Games.

But not…books?

Creating e-books: Gather your “materials”

I want to make something very clear. What I’m doing is giving you the tools to create e-books from scratch with very little money and not a lot of automation. There’s a reason for this: When you learn it this way, you learn principles you can carry with you to other projects. If you’re expecting oh golly gee whiz bang flashy stuff, this ain’t it. It’s just the nitty gritty. Now, it is a time suck, but hopefully, if you’re inclined toward DIY and you want to know how things work, you might have fun. In fact, I want you to have fun.

I. PRELIMINARIES

For the purposes of this series, I’m going to demonstrate using a short companion vignette to The Proviso called “July 14, 2001.”

A. COVER ART AND ANY GLYPHS

I’ve assumed you’ve formatted your cover art for use on a 6″ x 9″ trade paperback. At 300 dpi (as per Lightning Source’s specifications), that’s 1800 x 2700 pixels. I suggest you do everything to Lightning Source’s specifications because if you eventually want to go into paper, you will be used to them.proviso-cover-directory

I have several different sizes and formats of the cover art for The Proviso for many different purposes. One includes a grayscale .png file for the IMP format that is 290 x 435 because that’s the most comfortable size my eBookWise device allows. Most of the software we’ll be using will allow you to use your biggest size and will re-size it for you.

If you use glyphs (e.g., a publisher or imprint logo), they should be simple, small, grayscale, and in the .png format.

B. FRONT MATTER

1. Title Page

2. Copyright notices

3. Table of Contents (if the work is long enough).

4. Any acknowledgments or specialty items necessary for understanding the story (e.g., family tree, maps, provisos [heh]).

C. TEXT

D. BACK MATTER

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II. PREPARE YOUR TEXT

I’m going to assume you’re working from a Word document. You should work from your final manuscript (with minimal or no styles applied). Do not work from your typeset-with-styles document that you will use for your PDF format.save-as-html1

A. SELECT “Save As…” THEN CHOOSE “web page (.htm; .html).”

B. OPEN THE HTML DOCUMENT YOU JUST SAVED USING WORDPAD OR NOTEPAD.

C. STRIP ALL OF WORD’S MARKUP.

dirty-clean3

There will be scads of lines of it at the top and some along the bottom. Take it all out. You should have nothing left except straight text with <p></p> tags.

D. BUILD THE SKELETON OF THE HTML FILE:

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01//EN”>
<html>
<head>
<title>…</title>

<style type=“text/css”>

INSERT YOUR CSS STYLE SHEET HERE
OR
LINK TO YOUR CSS STYLE SHEET HERE

</style>

</head>

<body>

INSERT YOUR CLEANLY MARKED-UP TEXT HERE

</body>

</html>

E. BUILD YOUR CSS (CASCADING STYLE SHEET).

You should have learned how to do this elsewhere.

NOTE: In my opinion, these are the things you should include in your styles:

1. Left AND right justify your text.
2. Put a fraction of a line space between each paragraph if you wish. In e-book reading, I find this desirable, but others may disagree.
3. Indent your paragraphs. I find this desirable no matter what.
4. Make sure your left and right margins don’t go to the absolute edge of the device’s screen.

F. MAKE IT PRETTY.

You don’t have to, but I think it means something to the reader, which is that you care. You care about your work and you care about the reader. You care about how the reader sees your work. They may not notice or they may, but you will know you did everything you could as professionally as you could.

So if this is important to you, do it. Use the HTML entity or ISO Latin-1 code for curly quotes and apostrophes, accented letters, em dashes instead of double hyphens. Find-and-replace will automate the process somewhat. Always use the ASCII codes instead of depending on the visual in WordPad; it won’t translate to Notepad if you care to use that as your editor. For an ellipses, use 3 periods with spaces between them. Do not use the ASCII or 3 periods run together. (You should probably just get into the habit of doing this in your manuscript.)

Left double quote: &ldquo;
Right double quote: &rdquo;
Left single quote: &lsquo;
Right single quote (apostrophe): &rsquo;

Em dash: &mdash;

G. CHECK AND DOUBLE CHECK YOUR ITALICS AND BOLDS.

Find any other specialty tags you used (e.g., double underline, strikethrough, etc.).

H. ADD IN YOUR FRONT MATTER AND BACK MATTER.

Mark it up as you wish to make it pretty, too.

I. HAVE FUN.

Experiment. Try different things to make it as pleasing to your eye as possible. It won’t be possible for you to make it pleasing to everyone, but have fun in the trying.

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III. REFINE

A. PAGINATE

I say that tongue-in-cheek because, as I’ve already discussed, there is no such thing as a page in an e-book. But for the purposes of this discussion, there is such a thing as front matter breaks, chapter breaks, and back matter breaks and I firmly believe they need to be separated and not run together.

You’ll need this tag:

<p style=“page-break-before: always”>

Live it, learn it, love it.

B. BUILD YOUR TABLE OF CONTENTS

If you have a novella or short story, don’t worry about this. If you have a doorstopper, do this. Unquestionably.

You’ll need these tags:

table: <a href=“#MARKER NAME”></a>

reference: <a name=“MARKER NAME”></a>

C. INSERT HEADERS AND FOOTERS.

If your device/reading software needs that done manually. My eBookWise does and I like it.

You’ll need these tags:

<!– HEADER –>

<header>
<table border=“0” width=“100%”>
<tr>
<td align=“left”>TITLE</td>
<td align=“right”>AUTHOR</td>
</tr>
</table>
<hr>
</header>

<!– FOOTER –>

<footer>
<table border=“0” width=“100%”>
<hr>
<tr>
<td align=“center”>PUBLISHER</td>
</tr>
</table>
</footer>

IV. CHECK IT OVER

What you should have when you’re finished is a cleanly marked-up HTML document ready to put through the eBook Publisher to create an IMP file (OEB container). Open it up in your browser. Look for formatting mistakes.

We’re going to start with the IMP (eBook Publisher) because this program has a compiler that will catch a lot of your markup errors and will help you create an even cleaner HTML document for the construction of the rest of your formats.

Creating e-books: The easy way

I AM AGAINST DIGITAL RIGHTS MANAGEMENT (DRM). ANY VENDOR I RECOMMEND WILL SHARE THIS STANCE AND ANY INSTRUCTIONS I GIVE WILL IGNORE ANY POSSIBILITY FOR ENCRYPTION. IF YOU WANT TO LOCK UP YOUR WORK, FIGURE IT OUT YOURSELF.

In my last episode, I instructed you to go learn (X)HTML/CSS. I was gently taken to task for that with the point, “writers shouldn’t have to learn code.” While I am of the opinion that for some writers, this is not only true, but that they should be kept from any computer interaction whatsoever, I’m afraid it’s just not realistic in the long run. You will learn something, even if it’s only the paragraph tags and all of it will be useful to you at some point.

Yes, you can use blogger.com or wordpress.com or any other sign-in platform for your blogging.

Yes, you can use Word and PrimoPDF to set type and distribute your work as a free PDF.

If you want to:

A. want to offer more than one file format (PDF) and/or

B. want to charge for your work

you’re going to have to either pay someone to do it for you or learn how to do it yourself.

There are quite a few places that will help you with #A.

FEEDBOOKS. As far as I can tell, if you use this service, you must offer your work for free. If this is not acceptable to you, just don’t use their service. (And if this isn’t true, let me know because I scoured the site and couldn’t find any “payment” type information. ) Also, you must manually build your book. Now, this has its pros and cons. The con is that it takes a while. The pro is that you can make it look purty with a little care and attention without having to learn much (if any) (X)HTML/CSS.

BOOKWORM. This is a peculiar service in that you may upload your own book, but the only format you get is the EPUB format. It is also more for reading than publishing (as far as I can tell; more information on this is welcome).

SMASHWORDS. This is the Q-DOS of e-book building/formatting. It’s very quick. And yeah, sometimes it’s dirty, especially if you don’t format your Word document correctly (as in, according to standard word processing practices and to SmashWords’s style guide). That’s the con. The pro is it’s fast and you can charge for your work.

I’m making several assumptions here. The FIRST assumption is that you want your book to be in as many electronic formats as possible. The SECOND assumption is that you want to have those formats available to you on your own hard drive for dissemination as you please. The THIRD assumption is that you want your work to have widespread visibility across the interwebz. The FOURTH assumption is that you might want to get paid for your work.

So let’s talk about SmashWords.

I heard about SmashWords from Eugene Woodbury quite a while back, who used it for his novel Path of Dreams, but I dismissed it because I thought the work had to be offered free. Then Zoe Winters used it for her free novella “Kept.” Okay. But then Aaron Ross Powell used it to offer his draft of The Hole in more formats than Kindle right after I bitched about it. Then RJ Keller used it to offer Waiting for Spring, and that’s when I had the V-8 moment.

I figured, well, what the hell, I’ll try this thing. So I took a vignette from The Proviso‘s world (not in the book) called “25 to Life” and decided to put it on Smashwords.

CAVEAT: “25 to Life” did not call for fancy formatting like The Proviso does. The Proviso has blog posts, e-mails, news clippings, court transcripts, social services records, a wedding announcement, and other specialized formatting that required different fonts, spacing, and margins to make those items look good. If you have something like that, this WILL NOT WORK for you.

Assumption 1. That you want your book to be in as many electronic formats as possible.

They have this nifty little API they call the “MeatGrinder.” It will turn a plain, properly formatted Word document into any one or more of the following digital formats:

Format Full Book
Online Reading (HTML) View
Online Reading (JavaScript) View
Kindle (.mobi) Download
Epub (open industry format, good for Stanza reader, others) Download
PDF (good for highly formatted books, or for home printing) Download
RTF (readable on most word processors) Download
LRF (for Sony Reader) Download
Palm Doc (PDB) (for Palm reading devices) Download
Plain Text (download) (flexible, but lacks much formatting) Download
Plain Text (view) (viewable as web page) View

.

As you can see, that’s a lot of variation. I got both The Hole and Waiting for Spring in the RTF format, as that was the easiest for me to convert to my eBookWise reader. Powell asked for $2.99 and Keller offered hers for “you set the price.”

Assumption 2. That you want to have those formats available to you on your own hard drive for dissemination as you please.

I don’t even know if you have to buy it yourself (if you set a price) to download which formats you want to offer from your own site or elsewhere, but even if you do have to, you got off cheap in both time and money.

Don’t be an ass. Be courteous and leave it up on SmashWords. They did the work for you.

You will NOT be able to get a straight HTML document to download and then tweak to other formats, which is good.

Assumption 3. That you want your work to have widespread visibility across the interwebz.

The founder of SmashWords, Mark Coker, says: “Our mission is to give every author a chance to find their audience.”

SmashWords is gradually gaining in name recognition and usage. Augment your presence on SmashWords with placement of your work elsewhere on the ’net. It benefits you and SmashWords (you know, the people who did the work for you).

Assumption 4. You might want to get paid for your work.

There are several payment options at SmashWords, which I’ve addressed. In my first “creating ebooks” post, commenter and indie author champion Morris Rosenthal told me about e-junkie.com, which is a payment portal for downloads. He’s had quite a bit of success with this method, though I can’t vouch for it at this time (although I do intend to check it out).

However, as far as I know, SmashWords is the only independent e-publishing vendor that offers an API process AND a payment portal and quite frankly, there’s just nothing else that beats that, even if you do have to sacrifice a little formatting.

So after having put “25 to Life” up on SmashWords, used their API, seen their output, what do I think?

The HTML and Java versions (the ones that you read on your computer) are very pretty and you can adjust fonts, colors, and sizes as you like.

The plain TXT ones are, well, plain text. It says “may lack some formatting,” but if you know anything about plain text, you know that means NO formatting.

The EPUB (use with Stanza for iPhone/iTouch, Adobe Digital Editions) format doesn’t seem to have centered anything, but I can live with that.

The LRF (Sony) and PDB (Palm) didn’t pick up the italics, which is something I CAN’T live with, but it’s being worked on right now (no promises!).

The PDF looked like a manuscript because, well, it comes from a plain Word document, so you know that going in.

The MOBI/PRC (Kindle, MobiPocket) looked great.

The RTF is obviously going to look just like a Word document, and it’s my go-to for conversion to IMP (eBookWise), so I don’t care how it looks.

If you follow the SmashWords style guide to the letter, you’ll have a slew of decent-looking e-books (including EPUB!) as defined by my last post on “the page” and you’ll get them in about 3 minutes, along with a payment portal.

SmashWords is an elegant little API, and it’s still in beta testing. I can’t wait to see what it’ll be at full force.