Smashwords Kind of Sucks Lately

The buzz used to be that the best place to publish your ebook was Smashwords, as they would rapidly and faithfully push your book to the big retailers such as Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Sony, but it seems that the company has been damaged by its own success, which has made them slow to respond (if you can get support at all) and sloppy in their practices. I originally began publishing Night is a Shadow Cast By the World at Smashwords, expecting to let them distribute it to all the aforementioned channels, but I quickly ran into a few hitches with the epubs that Smashwords’s notorious Meatgrinder produced, such as:

  1. inability to set the text on a page labelled “Part One” down slightly from the top of the page; it turns out that the Meatgrinder uses the Calibre engine (if you dissect the resulting epub, you’ll find styles named “Calibre1,” “Calibre2,” etc.) to convert files to various formats, and Calibre by default invokes a TOC entry for and inserts a page break immediately before certain terms, as defined in their Xpath expressions: “chapter|book|section|part|prologue|epilogue”; Calibre allows you to refine these choices; Meatgrinder does not. After a ton of experimentation (17 uploads, conversions, and test downloads from Smashwords) I solved this issue by converting the words “Part One” into a graphic element. See, spammers do have something to teach us.
  2. consistent insertion of a blank page in front of every page break when the epub is viewed on an iOS device like an iPhone and iPad. The book has 56 chapters, which means iOS readers would be required to perform 56 superfluous screen swipes to get through the book – unacceptable.
For the second issue I found that I could run the resulting epub through Calibre and have it bump out a new epub – and this one was flawless. (I subsequently donated $10 to the Calibre team – if you’ve ever used this fine program, you should do the same.) Because I could get no traction at all dealing with Smashwords staff (several emails to their support department remain unanswered even today, ten days after I sent them) I decided to forgo Smashwords for iBooks distribution, and deal directly with Apple. It took a week to get my iTunes Connect account approved, and I just uploaded the book this morning and am awaiting approval. I expect this will take at least another week.
I figured while I was at it why not have a go with Kindle Direct Publishing, and that proved to be even easier than Apple. I signed up, uploaded my book, and in under four hours the book was live and on sale at the Kindle Store – astonishing after all the trouble with Smashwords and the long wait time to get iTunes Connect approval. Whatever bad things you might have to say about Amazon (and there are a lot), they aren’t the king of book distribution for nothing.
I decided to keep the book in the running at Smashwords to get into some of the smaller and more difficult markets: Kobo, B&N, and Sony. Today, a week after I submitted the book for Premium Channel approval at Smashwords, I got this response:
Well I’d already done the Ctrl-A method, in fact, I had run the book through the Nuclear Option, with excellent results, and the epub looks spectacular – exactly the  way I want it to look (and I’m a professional typesetter, with over 60 print books under my belt). Is this some uninformed newbie employee, who saw that I used various font sizes for the title page and chapter headings, and is fanatically following some Mark Coker rule-of-law rule in the Smashwords Style Guide? I think so, or at least I hope so. If there’s some Coker edict that will only let you use two font sizes throughout an entire book, I give up on Smashwords. I’ve since resubmitted the book without any changes at all – let’s see how far it gets. In the meantime, I’ve started investigating selling directly through Kobo, for starters, as dealing with Smashwords thus far has proved to be deeply unsatisfying.

Update: On December 27th, I received an email from someone named Raylene:

Thanks for the email. I took a look at your book and everything looks great. I went in and approved your book! 🙂

It took awhile, but Smashwords eventually came through. Thanks, Raylene!

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