“Pirate” booksellers

There are a number of websites out there that have been selling digital versions of my self-published book, Castle Falcon.

I discover these because I have a general Google tracker set up for the book title, in the fond hope that some review or other reader response will someday show up. What usually shows up is some obscure website that is selling my book in PDF or ebook form.

The most recent one is a site called KissLibrary, which is more sophisticated than most. My book, nicely presented, was for sale for five bucks. I did a quick check to make sure it wasn’t one of the Smashwords channels (it’s not).

I dithered over how to deal with it. The site has a DMCA form available, which at least shows a willingness to be corrected on their placement. I wondered: should I leave the book site up? It’s no real skin off my nose since the book hasn’t been selling anyway, and if someone buys it, at least it might get read.

I finally decided to file the DMCA form. I’m no legal expert, but it seems to me that if you let too many of these “bootleggers” go, it might actually put a legal crimp in your own copyright. Kind of like brand names that aren’t aggressive enough about other people using them generically, and then wake up one morning to find out that their brand actually has become legally generic.

I’m not sure how these books get into the “wild.” Smashwords is the only distributor I use that routinely offers a PDF format for books sold by them. I suspect it would be easy for someone to buy it legally from Smashwords and then reproduce it at will.

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.

Smashwords update

Castle Falcon was approved by Smashwords for inclusion in their “premium catalog,” and has been shipped to six new markets so far, including Apple and Kobo. I “opted out” of Amazon and Barnes & Noble, where I already had the book set up.  Again, not bad results for no fee and not much work.

The Apple version is up on iTunes already.

Smashwords: Invisible Goofies and Blue Meanies

(Part One in previous post)

Okay, so there I was. Smashwords had simultaneously translated my book to multiple e-book formats and put it up on Smashwords for sale, and I discovered that all of the text in the book was bright blue. Not just text that’s okay in blue, like the links in the table of contents–everything.

Now when you publish at Smashwords, you get put up in the “new book” section on their main page, held up in front of all the rest–for about a minute or two.  Forget “fifteen minutes of fame,” I had maybe ten, and my e-book was printed in blue ink.

If I fixed it, I could upload a new version immediately. But what was wrong?  None of the styles I was using in the document said “blue color” on the font. It was the usual “automatic” for color, which for years has basically meant “black.”

I changed the font colors for all the main text styles I was using from “automatic” to “black,” trying to force it, and uploaded the file again.  When the Meatgrinder translation came back, the text was still blue.

A frantic search through the Smashwords FAQ got me this question: “My entire book is in red font (or some other unintended color) in HTML, EPUB and MOBI. Why?” Their answer involved digging deep into the Style menus, to where the “all styles” list hangs out. I discovered there was a whole bunch of weird styles stuck in my document, many of which I wasn’t using at all.

One of these unused styles was “Body Text,” and the color was blue! I deleted it. I also deleted a red one just to be safe. This time when I uploaded the Word file and downloaded the e-book translations, the text was the proper black color. Whew.

Just another example of the infamous “Invisible Goofy,” my name for a setting or formatting glitch that never shows up in an original document, but causes havoc when you convert the file to another form or transmit it somewhere.

Minus ten points to Smashwords for making me fix this mess while my book was already “live.” Although I understand why they do it that way, it’s like standing up on a billboard fixing a big typo while everyone’s down below looking up at you and taking pictures.

But, plus fifty points to Smashwords for some really robust customer support documentation. I found out all sorts of things about formatting Word for EPUB that I never knew before, and they seem to have answers for even the most obscure issues.

Castle Falcon is awaiting review for wider distribution to other markets, but I’ve already sold one copy off the Smashwords page. Since I didn’t have to pay a nickel to do all this, I’m already money ahead!

Invisible Goofy and Blue Meanie

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.