Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Smashwords Formatting Fiasco

I’ve been tweeting bitchfully all week about how I’ve been having some trouble getting the third volume of SuperMegaNet approved for premium distribution over at Smashwords. The problem? I’ve (intentionally) defined multiple paragraph styles in my source document, which is something I’ve done since the beginning. But as of this month it seems the new unofficial Smashwords policy is one paragraph style per document. No more, no less. And, apparently, using paragraph returns / blank line insertions instead of trailing spaces designated in the stylesheet has come back into fashion—which is where I’m most confused. The note from the screener recommends using this method to create space between paragraphs, while the most recent Smashwords Style Guide still strongly recommends against using blank line insertions for the purpose of layout. So…huh?

Judging by the days-long conversion times and spotty site performance, the Smashwords staff is no doubt focusing all its attention on meeting the server demand caused by this week’s Read an Ebook Week promotion. And a recent site update mentioned that they’ve hired some new team members who are probably still learning the ropes. So, I won’t start going apeshit for at least another week. In the meantime, I’d be really interested to hear from anyone who might know: Is Smashwords taking on a new one-size-fits-all policy?

My heart’s broken if they have. The one-paragraph-style-per-document rule is helpful for beginners, but what about those of us who are comfortable enough using Word (or OpenOffice, in the case of Linux users such as myself) to actually implement multiple paragraph styles responsibly?

My books basically have four styles:

  • Front Matter
  • Chapter Titles
  • Body Text
  • Scene Breaks

When done right, having different paragraph styles actually increases readability: Front matter text is centered, with trailing space defined beneath each paragraph; chapter titles are formatted similarly to front matter text, with the addition of bolding and / or a slightly larger font; body text is justified, and first-line indented, just like you’d see in any good fiction novel; scene breaks are almost identical to chapter titles, without the bolding. But if multiple styles are outright banned, it would mean having my front matter pages going from a neatly-spaced title / copyright page like this:

smashwords-front-matter-block

to this (blech!):

smashwords-front-matter-1st-line-indent

You tell me which is more readable and more professional-looking.

Meanwhile, my body text looks like this (note the stylized first paragraph, a popular alternative to drop caps):

smashwords-body-text-1st-line-indent

See? A paragraph style for every occasion.

As mentioned on my Twitter page, I’ve e-mailed Smashwords asking for clarification on the matter, but have yet to receive a response. For the time being all I can do is twiddle my thumbs and entertain my worst fears while repeating my formatting mantra and rocking slowly back and forth: Properly-formatted book files should define multiple paragraph styles where appropriate.

Smashwords is a great service, offering a convenient way to get multiple e-book formats to a variety of online retailers—but forcing a single style for an entire document is not only oversimplification, it makes for some very amateur-looking books. And not the good kind of amateur where you have a really hot couple banging in front of a camcorder on a nude beach. No, the kind of amateur that gets people wondering out loud, “Why didn’t this doofus use multiple paragraph styles where appropriate?”

Read an Ebook Week

Smashwords‘ annual Read an Ebook Week promotion kicked off this morning. That means tons of severely-discounted or free e-books for you to download, now through March 12. Naturally, I’m bringing this up because I’ve got a dozen or so novels, anthologies, and short stories over there, all of which are available for FREE as part of this week’s dealie. Visit my Smashwords page for the lowdown—and remember to tell all your Kindle-wielding friends. That’s what the “Share This” links below are for, though personally I prefer to use a carrier pigeon.

On the subject of e-books, Mark Coker, the Big Cheese over at Smashwords, has posted an editorial on the imminent downfall of the traditional publishing monopoly. A choice quote:

Authors are losing faith in the institution and religion of Big Publishing.

Indeed, the only authors I’ve ever heard from who had positive stories to tell about their publishing experiences were those who’d inked a deal with a smaller house, or an indie.

Farther down the HP article, Coker lists several of the nails in Big Publishing’s communal coffin. In a nutshell: Traditional publishers are asking more from their authors while giving less. “But Big Publishing,” you say, “is the only way to get your books onto store shelves!” What store shelves? All the major brick-and-mortar book retailers are gone. Borders is being shown the door; Barnes & Noble is pretty much all that’s left of the glamorous book mega-store days. If you get a traditional-print book deal today (and if you’re not Stephenie Meyer or J.K. Rowling), your distribution is going to be B&N for a short while, small indie stores for a while longer, and online-only shopping carts once your book’s been out for a couple of years. All the while you’ll be asked to do most of the legwork as far as promotion goes. You’ll have to book your own signings, make your own trailers, host your own parties—why not self-publish to begin with and keep 70% of each book sale for yourself? It might take the edge off the realization that you’re standing in a Wal-Mart parking lot dressed as a giant Kindle with the URL to your new book site printed on the fake screen. Then again, it might not.

Yeah, you blow into the cartridge.

Batsly Adams, an electrical engineer, has coded and constructed an actual 8-bit breathalyzer game. You blow into a modified game cartridge that’s connected to an NES controller input. The best part: You get to enter your initials into the “Alco-Hall of Fame” afterward.

This just goes to show that the greatest home video game console ever made can be used for more than just gaming. My brother and I used to hide M&M packets in the cartridge slot (Mom, if you’re reading this, I swear we never spoiled our appetites—we merely enhanced them). The cartridge slot can also be used as a makeshift sandwich warmer. The only reason we made this discovery was because The Legend of Zelda wouldn’t work right (fuck the ZIF socket) unless one of us held the cartridge down during gameplay. We tried stuffing several household items into the slot; finally, someone suggested using a sandwich, and it worked like a charm—but only if the sandwich had been made with white bread.