First, the good: Smashwords exists. It allows independent authors to publish & sell their eBooks in a variety of formats, all without having to learn how to encode their own eBooks or build their own online store. Smashwords has also partnered with many of the major eBookstores out there, including Apple’s, Barnes & Noble’s, Kobo, and coming soon: Sony, Amazon, and Diesel, putting independent books on all the major eReader platforms. Smashwords takes only a moderate cut of eBook sales, leaving the authors with most of each sale.
Now, the bad/bizarre: I have been fighting with Smashwords for the last two months (and over & over with other issues over the last year or so) over their inconsistent and sometimes inappropriate application of their “style guide” and “Premium Distribution” rules. Currently, six of my eBooks are held up from “Premium Distribution” – all for things that are also “wrong” with my other 18 already-approved eBooks.
What’s wrong, you ask?
Well, when formatting my books, I like to use both an indented paragraph and a small trailing space (less than 1 line-height) after each paragraph. I believe that this enhances readability on dedicated eReaders, and I’ve been doing it for years. When my eBooks started getting rejected for this, I took a look and discovered that the Smashwords style guide explains how to do both, then says you are not to do both, but only to do one. All 23 of my eBooks have the same formatting, in this regard. When my 7 latest eBooks were rejected for this, I emailed support about this, making reference to the 17 others that had already been approved and my personal preference for it, and Mark Coker (founder of Smashwords) emailed me to say that “since this is what you want we’ll let this through.” One of them was approved, the others stayed rejected until I tried re-submitting them yesterday – now they’re rejected again for this and other reasons:
I use page breaks. Apparently (this is a new one to me, so I haven’t checked the style guide again today about it) the style guide advises that “since not all Smashwords formats respect page breaks we recommend you insert two paragraph returns before every page break.” Which I do, everywhere I feel it is appropriate. I’m aware that “not all” the formats respect page breaks! Last time I checked, only 3 of their 8 formats retained my page breaks. At the same time, I don’t feel extra line breaks are always appropriate where a page break would be the best option, and in some of my front matter I only put a single line break, so that -if page breaks aren’t available- the front matter doesn’t stretch on and on with unnecessary space. (ie: if it’s all going to be on one page, let’s try to keep it all on one page!)
Whoever reviewed my eBooks for premium qualification also decided that some of my books need new covers and new titles. They think they might be too confusing. Here, take a look at my books on Smashwords. You’ll notice that the top 7 eBooks have similar covers and titles. If you actually spent more than the briefest moment looking at them, I suspect it would become clear to you that 6 of them are individual short stories from the same collection, and the 7th is the full collection – since that’s what it says in their descriptions. And if you downloaded the preview of any of the individual short stories, so does the Preface to each story, very clearly. So since what I’d like is for people who try one of the individual stories to buy the full collection, I’m doing what I can to keep the stories connected to the collection, both by title and by covers. If you scroll a little further down the page, you’ll see I did the same thing with 7 short stories from my 2009 collection, More Lost Memories. (All 8 eBooks of which have been approved for “Premium distribution” more than once without my being told they were “too confusing.”)
Actually, when I’d originally submitted the first couple eBooks from this new collection, I got an email from Mark Coker asking what I was doing. I replied with an explanation similar to the above & never heard anything back… and now I’m seeing them rejected with this reason included once again in the long list of things “wrong” with them.
Prior to April of this year, when I went through and re-formatted and re-created all my eBooks for Smashwords (because they had their meatgrinder re-process all their eBooks and then decided to reject about half of them from “Premium Distribution” for the following), it was because they were rejected re: their Copyright declaration. At first it was that I used a correct Copyright declaration that said Modern Evil Press was the publisher (it is), but had failed to mention Smashwords. I also wasn’t using their recommended license statement, which I consider excessively informal, because I was using a proper, formal license statement instead. I guess their automatic filter was looking for either their recommended license statement or the phrase “Published By [publisher] at Smashwords” – I opted for the latter. Of course, then I had to go through and do it all again, when a few days later their system started rejecting for including the © symbol on the Copyright page.
You know, because some eReaders might not display it properly.
So I’ve been rejected for properly declaring my copyright. I’ve been rejected for making informed decisions about how I’d like my books to appear on eReaders. I’ve been rejected because my book covers might confuse readers, “especially once these go out to distribution.” (Because people who would spend $hundreds on an eReader are obviously pretty stupid, right?) I’ve even been told I need to change my books’ titles. The audacity.
This is why I am beginning to get fed up with Smashwords. Yes, all my titles are available to customers who go directly to Smashwords.com, and “Premium Distribution” isn’t the end of the story. Yes, if I go re-format all my books (because if I only go re-format the 6 currently rejected, I won’t have consistent formatting across all my titles – I’m trying to be professional and consistent, so if I take out the trailing spaces after paragraphs in some, I’m compelled to take it out of all of them – and resubmit them all, hoping they don’t get rejected for some other, new reason) for the third time this year to accommodate Smashwords’ ever-changing requirements, then it would simply be a matter of them telling me what I can and can’t name my books and what my covers are allowed to look like. Yep.
In other news, I don’t have this problem when selling directly into the kindle store. Everything there just works (once I’ve hand-coded my book into their proprietary format). Ooh, and apparently I can sell my eBooks directly through GoodReads, now? Maybe I should suggest to Mark Coker that Smashwords should partner with GoodReads as a “Premium Distribution” channel. Because (seriously) I’m nowhere near fed up enough with Smashwords’ frustrations to pull my books or otherwise give up on them; I like what they’re doing enough to want to see them do better. That’s why I suggested (to founders on both sides) that Smashwords and Podiobooks (both distributors of independent electronic fiction) should work together – and now they do. That’s why I tell every indie or aspiring author I know about Smashwords. I love hearing about upgrades, enhancements, and new partners… even when they do lead to some of my books going undistributed for months at a time.