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:
to this (blech!):
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):
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?”