Thursday, November 3, 2011

In Praise of Simple Ebooks

I attended the PublishersLaunch eBooks for Everyone Else conference in San Francisco on Wednesday. It was a great conference. I enjoyed meeting with authors, partners, agents and even competitors.

I gave a short presentation that explored the benefits of keeping ebook publishing simple. I embedded the presentation below.

My message: The myriad e-publishing options can sound intimidating for first-time ebook authors, agents and publishers. I urged attendees to not make their e-publishing adventure more complex and expensive than necessary. Complexity limits accessibility and availability. Expense limits profits and increases the price for readers.

I shared how we approach publishing at Smashwords. When I look at what's selling at the major ebook retailers, 80-90% of the ebooks readers purchase are what I call "simple books." Simple books, by my definition, are straight narrative (like fiction or narrative non-ficition), or narrative plus images. Simple books offer well-formatted reflowable text that easily shape-shifts across multiple e-reading devices and formats.

Simple books are inexpensive to create. As any Smashwords author can tell you, a word processor is an incredibly capable ebook creation tool when you marry it with the Smashwords Style Guide and our automated Meatgrinder conversion technology.

Simple, however, does not mean substandard. Smashwords ebooks support good design with custom paragraph styling, intra-book hyperlinks, NCX navigation, glyphs and images.

Meatgrinder, because it's an automated conversion system, has always drawn skeptics who question our ability to create high quality books with automated conversion. Some of that skepticism has diminished over the last couple years as we've improved the technology, though critics remain, especially among those who offer paid conversion services. I've got nothing against these professionals, and I agree they're well-suited for more complex books for which Meatgrinder was not intended.

To accommodate the books from these ebook design pros, we'll offer a Meatgrinder bypass option called Smashwords Direct by the end of 2012. That means it's coming but it's not immediately imminent. Even when we offer that service, I expect most authors will still choose the Meatgrinder route because it's faster, cheaper and, well, simpler.

If you're considering Smashwords, I invite you download the Style Guide and learn for yourself how easy it is to create and distribute a high-quality ebook with Smashwords. Learn more here: How to Publish and Distribute Ebooks with Smashwords.


Unknown said...

Bless you, sir. I await Smashwords Direct with eagerness.

Anonymous said...

Thumbs up, man. Your Meatgrinder has always got the job done for me. I think it's an amazing piece of software.

Maria Romana said...

Meatgrinder's an amazing tool, but I have non-fiction books I haven't been able to publish through Smashwords, because it can't handle the complexity of the layout. I, too, anxiously await the arrival of an alternative.

Meghan said...

The Meatgrinder has worked great for me, since I write fiction ebooks with simple prose. Smashwords has done nothing but impress me since I first published in July. Keep up the great work!

BFuniv said...

I enjoy a simple read for fiction, I expect my readers appreciate the same.

I've read some of the criticisms of Meatgrinder, but since I've learned it's demands it's been nice to have. Someday I will delve deeper and then resubmit my earliest works, a nice benefit of Smashwords.

Scot said...

As interactive ebooks become more and more popular and mainstream, Meatgrinder will become less and less useful. For Smashwords to keep up with the trend, Meatgrinder must become and *option* rather than a requirement. I await its ouster with great eagerness.

Simon Haynes said...

This new Direct option will save me a ton of duplicated effort.
I generate epub and mobi files direct from the source in yWriter: Export to ebook, double-click a batch file.

To publish on Smashwords I have to manually export my project to RTF, load the result into a word processor, reformat/rejustify/tweak the whole document to satisfy MeatGrinder ... just to generate an epub and/or mobi which I already had.

River said...

I am indebted to Smashwords, the meat grinder was a little rough on me at first, but once I caught on to what it wanted it was easy and it does a fair job.

Keep up the good work, I have had over 3300 downloads without a single complaint about the format.

John Dee said...

In 1900 "Eastman Kodak" created a camera called the "Brownie."
The "Brownie" was not the best camera nor was it the worst.
What it provided was the first step for many a famous photographer.
Thank you Smashwords for providing a first step for many.

octospark said...

Hey, that Meatgrinder was very kind to me, especially considering that my book, a collection of fiction, had short stories + poetry + plays + screenplays, all of which have very different formatting requirements. I managed to make them all work in one mellifluous document that Meatgrinder said YES to! I was thrilled. No easy feat to mix and match such different style and formatting. Thanks Mark and Meatgrinder!

* *

J. A. Buxton said...

Four of my E-Books are now on Smashwords, and I had no problem following the instructions in the style guide. I did spend quite a bit of time editing them beforehand, and people who have bought them told me they are an "easy" read.
The following is an unashamed plug for my books:
If you click on the link below, you can activate or deactivate the Adult Filter on my four E-Books. You don't have to worry, though, since they never go beyond mild R ratings. Well, maybe "Home of the White Dolphin" and "Seraglio of The Gods" do. (smiling sweetly)

M Pax said...

Smashwords does make epublishing simple. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I'm also looking forward to Smashwords direct.
E-books are definitely a growing trend - I've just run across Michele Gorman who, despite being a best-selling writer in the UK, decided to self-publish in the US through an E-book. She's blogging about her experiences of moving to an eBook on I think writers like this are changing the game.

Wendy.b said...

I correspond with a lot of authors, so I hear all the floating criticisms of the Meatgrinder approach. But my experience, formatting three novels over the past year suggests that those people are simply not following the guide carefully enough. It works, it works well, and it produces professional-looking books consistently, in all formats.
Thanks, and thanks again!

Anonymous said...

I prefer the simple approach. I like your take on what readers want - 95% words (great stories) and 5% foo-foo.
Doing my best to accommodate that :-)

Ross Beresford said...

Smashwords Direct can't come soon enough: right now, the perfectly-formatted EPUB files we create can't be uploaded to Smashwords, so we end up with two somewhat different EPUB versions of our books in circulation.

Unknown said...

Two points I need to correct. There is way to delete your file once it is uploaded to Amazon. Check the checkbox then open the "carrot" that read "Action". "Delete is an option"

No one is being forced to do anything at Amazon Select. The opt-in and out is available from day one.

I have several books listed. One of my books has received 1243 downloads.

Nothing is all bad and nothing is all good. There are pluses and minuses to everything.

Unknown said...

To accommodate the books from these ebook design pros, we'll offer a Meatgrinder bypass option called Smashwords Direct by the end of 2012.

There are two more weeks of 2012, and we still can't upload epub files.

It would be great to be able to come to your platform with properly formatted ebooks in the New Year.

Is this going to be possible?