Today we fulfilled that commitment with the launch of Smashwords Direct.
This new capability allows our authors and publishers to upload their own professionally formatted EPUB files for sale at the Smashwords store, and for distribution to the Smashwords retail distribution network.
This first iteration of Smashwords Direct supports two methods of direct EPUB upload:
- You can replace your Smashwords-generated EPUB with your own EPUB. To do this, click to your Dashboard, then click "Upload New Version," then upload your file.
- If you're preparing to publish a new book not yet at Smashwords, sign in to your Smashwords account, click the regular Publish link, then fill out the publish page as you would normally, but upload your EPUB instead of a Word .doc. Later, if you wish, you can add more ebook formats to your book page by uploading a Word .doc, formatted to the Style Guide.
Smashwords Direct has some important limitations compared to our standard Meatgrinder workflow. For example, when fed a Word .doc file, Meatgrinder converts the book into as many as nine different ebook formats, making it readable on any e-reading device, and ready to be sampled both through our two browser-based formats or a downloadable file. If you upload an EPUB instead of a Word .doc, you won't get the multiple formats (PDF, MOBI and browser formats are most important), nor will you get the downloadable samples. At least not yet. We do plan to add better sampling later, plus the ability to upload your own PDFs and MOBIs.
To overcome this limitation, you can upload your book as a Word .doc file first, formatted to the Style Guide, and then replace our EPUB with your own (assuming your EPUB is higher quality). This way, you'll have the major formats covered.
You'll find the latest documentation for Smashwords Direct here: https://www.smashwords.com/swdirect This is a public beta, so we invite interested Smashwords authors and publishers to begin using it and reporting their feedback direct to the email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the weekend, we sent out a call for sample files over at our Site Updates page to assist with our internal alpha testing, and multiple authors helped out. Thank you!
A few observations from our tests:
- Smashwords authors and publishers are using multiple workflows to create their .epub files. Their workflows are as unique and varied as the writers themselves!
- Smashwords authors and publishers are using various (and often multiple) tools to create their epubs. Some of the tools mentioned include Adobe InDesign, Nisus writer pro, OpenOffice, Jutoh, Atlantis, Epubmaker, LibreOffice, Writer2epub, Scrivener, HTML, Sigil and Calibre. HTML, Sigil and Calibre were the most often cited among the suppliers of our first test files.
- Nearly 1/3 of the files failed EPUBCHECK validation. Yikes! The Apple iBookstore requires 100% compliance. None of the other retailers do. This means that a large percentage of people are using non-compliant EPUBs that will need to be repaired by the author (or their service provider) before we can add the files to our Premium Catalog. Because the authors are using so many different workflows and tools to create their files, our support team will be unable to assist with EPUBCHECK validation repairs. Our standard Meatgrinder conversion system, which relies upon Word .doc source files formatted to the Smashwords Style Guide, performs a lot of magic to auto-correct many common EPUBCHECK errors without the author's intervention, and we've long offered an EPUBCHECK help page for how to repair other common sources of problem from within Microsoft Word.
- If the book says "Kindle Edition" or "Kobo Edition," we can't distribute it. This is your Smashwords Edition. Similarly, if the book contains buy links to Amazon or other retailers, we can't distribute it. The Style Guide has a complete set of guidelines, most of which are common sense and will improve reader experience, or as with the above examples, prevent customer confusion.
Smashwords Direct will allow us to support ebooks that contain richer, more sophisticated formatting than is supported through our standard Meatgrinder process. That's the idea, at least. Some of the sample files we received were beautiful, and contained features such as drop caps or nested NCX navigation that we don't support in Meatgrinder. This made us happy, and validated our decision to support this.
On the other hand, we observed several .epub files that were no better (and some worse) than what the average Smashwords author is already creating with Meatgrinder. The high rate of EPUBCHECK failures illustrates just one problem.
Meatgrinder has been vilified and demonized over the years, despite its proven ability to produce high-quality ebooks. Although Meatgrinder's not perfect, some of the criticism has been unfair. Many authors have needlessly avoided Smashwords out of misplaced fear.
One author volunteered that they'd heard such horror stories of Meatgrinder from their publisher that they kept their books off of Smashwords for that reason. That's really unfortunate, both for the author and Smashwords, because the vast majority of Smashwords authors have received professional-quality results with Meatgrinder. Our Meatgrinder-generated Premium Catalog books are pleasing millions of readers each month with rarely a complaint. Our retailers have told us in the past that our books have dramatically lower failure rates (measured in the fraction of a percent) compared to others. This tells me many authors who have avoided Smashwords out of misplaced fear have unnecessarily missed out on up to five years of sales and platform-building opportunity. I suppose if there's a silver lining to the launch of Smashwords Direct, it's that maybe we can help writers do the right thing (achieve full Smashwords distribution) for the wrong reason (availability of Smashwords Direct).
Another author, upon us presenting him with the list of EPUBCHECK errors (these errors read like gobblygook to anyone who's not an HTML expert!) decided he was going to go back to Meatgrinder, even though the name unnerved him.
We have never claimed Meatgrinder to be the be-all, end-all of ebook publishing tools. We created Meatgrinder as a low-cost automated means to the ends, where the ends are to help any writer, anywhere in the world, publish a quality ebook at zero cost. The only tool they needed was a word processor. If they couldn't afford Microsoft Office, a free word processor works great too.
I still expect that most authors will continue to choose Meatgrinder over the Smashwords Direct option. Meatgrinder does great for the vast majority of books readers are actually buying, and the Style Guide shows how to incorporate sophisticated styling for those who need it. For the books that require even more sophistication, we now have a solution in Smashwords Direct.
In the end, we don't care which option our authors and publishers choose. We want our authors and publishers to have the freedom to choose what method is best for their book.
Our #1 interest has always been to facilitate the release and distribution of indie ebooks, and do it at the lowest possible cost for our authors and publishers. We're excited that Smashwords Direct will enable us to better support the distribution needs of current and future Smashwords authors and publishers, and we're excited that many of these books will contain professional-quality formatting that is above and beyond the capabilities of Meatgrinder.
We also look forward to working more closely with the community of professional ebook designers. We view them as valued service providers who can offer authors an upgrade path for the books that need it.
The next step is up to you!
Smashwords Direct documentation: https://www.smashwords.com/swdirect
Smashwords Style Guide: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52