EPUB progress

I had a number of kludge approaches to creating EPUB versions of my books (largely documented on my blog, particularly during 2012. Look under the “Self-Publishing” tag). Mostly, I was converting from Adobe InDesign to mobi with the Kindle InDesign plug-in converter, and from mobi to EPUB with the Calibre e-book management program.

The resulting files were good enough for many applications, but routinely failed the EPUB Validator check on a few issues.

After my Smashwords publishing experience, I began trying to perfect my technique for converting from Word files to EPUB. Unfortunately, outside of Smashwords, this still required an intermediate HTML step to make an EPUB file on Calibre, so I was still getting some bugs.

Now, Calibre has come up with an update that allows direct import of Word .docx files for conversion. When I combined this new tool with the techniques for building easy-to-convert Word documents that I learned from the Smashwords Style Guide, the result was a nice, clean EPUB file that passed validation with flying colors. And about frigging time, too.

This is all probably a big yawn for the HTML wizards out there who already do a great job by grinding through the actual code, but for code idiots like me, it was a godsend.

I’ve updated my buggy Nook file and sent it off to Nook Press.  Now I could probably do a direct upload for iBook too, and finally pass their strict checks, but I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble to chew through the whole Apple Author program and everything when I’ve already got iBook access through Smashwords.

As usual, a lot of the hassle for me was making sure the table of contents worked right, as well as the endnotes. Then there were annoying bugs like a missing blank line under one (and only one!) chapter heading, or two chapters that had no nice gap between the end of one chapter and the start of the next (chapter heading shows up in the middle of a page). This was all particularly bothersome since I had to submit the Word file to Smashwords and their “Meatgrinder” converter, and then make sure all the file types were readable. If all the formats worked except one (usually the mobi), I’d have to tweak the Word file and upload the whole thing again.

It’s much easier when I’m doing all the conversion work locally. I can debug before I send the final product out.

And now, Smashwords

At the suggestion of a fellow writer, I decided to look into Smashwords to distribute Castle Falcon to some venues I don’t have yet (like iBook and Kobo).

The Smashwords site was simple enough. They have an e-book conversion engine they call “Meatgrinder.” It translates a Word file (.doc, not .docx) into multiple versions, including EPUB, Mobi, LRF, PDP, and others.

The annoying catch is that you have to sign up with them to publish before they let you use it. I’d gotten used to being able to tweak my conversions at places like Amazon before actually tossing the book out there for publishing, so having the “conversion” and “publish” step be simultaneous was a little sporty for me. I’m guessing this is because Smashwords doesn’t like the idea of their fancy conversion engine being used to create all these nice e-book files and then have people download and run off with them.

The first step was creating a Word file that was formatted properly as input for Meatgrinder. This was new for me, because I’d used Adobe Indesign and special plug-ins to generate all my previous printed and e-book files. I won’t go into the details, but the free Smashwords Style Guide was immensely useful for someone who’d never created a Word e-book file before.

I spent an evening on the Word file, tested the hyperlinks for Table of Contents and Endnotes, grabbed a .JPG of my cover (a requirement), and then filled out the online form to sign up for Smashwords.

I uploaded the Word file and cover file, and watched as Meatgrinder did the translations in front of me. It was kind of cool to watch each file version in the list turn green and say “completed.” I was done, and published. All in one go.

There were a few more things to clean up. I priced the book the same as my Kindle and Nook versions. I added some information to my Author Page, like a bio, my website links, and a couple of other things. I went to the Channel Manager link on my Dashboard, and opted out of distribution to Amazon and Nook. I added an ISBN number, which is required for distribution to Apple and Sony (I still have a supply of my own, but Smashwords will supply one with them as publisher for free).

When things settled down, I downloaded samples of the various files from my new book page to put in my reader software and make sure everything worked. The formatting on EPUB and Mobi was just fine, except for one thing:

All the text through the whole damn book was blue.

Next time: Invisible Goofies and Blue Meanies.