Wherein I Self-Publish a Short Story and Get Somewhat Thwarted

I’ve been announcing my impending entry into the brave new world of self-publishing e-books for some time now but, as with everything, it was taking much longer to get organized than I had originally hoped. So last weekend when a couple of friends independently ask me for my feedback on publishing with Smashwords, I decided, “Eff it, I’m going to self-publish this weekend or cough up blood trying.” Okay, maybe that’s a little melodramatic, but I made a vow and stuck to it. Last weekend I uploaded my short story “The Mailbox” to Smashwords.

“But, wait,” you cry, “how come this is the first I’m hearing about it? Why haven’y you blogged, tweeted, or facebooked about this if it’s been up for a week already?!?”

A fair question, sailor. Well, the first thing I noticed is that the mobi file (the format used by the Kindle) created by Smashwords had a glitch in it, a blank line like an extra return in the middle of a paragraph. I tweaked and retweaked my specially formatted Word document, uploading it over and over, but no matter what I did that blank line kept appearing in the same spot. The epub version (used by Apple and others) and the pdf, generated from the same Word doc, looked fine. I emailed Smashwords support about the glitch and am waiting for a response.

Next I was going to assign an ISBN to my story. You have to have an ISBN to be sold by Apple, Sony, and Kobo. But I got an error message when I tried to assign the ISBN. Turns out Smashwords has run out of them. They’ve ordered another batch, and should get them soon. Okay, another small annoyance, but I’ll just have to take care of that issue when they get the new lot of numbers in the system.

Next I noticed another speed bump. Although Smashwords creates a Kindle file that readers can buy directly from Smashwords, due to some technical gobbledygook with Amazon, the files aren’t listed there. Ka-what? Amazon is practically taking over bookselling but my story won’t be for sale there? Never fear, however, you just have to deal with them directly. So today I clicked over to Kindle Direct Publishing to upload “The Mailbox.” I figured it would be easy, because I’ve already got the text and cover file I created for Smashwords.

Turns out I was counting my unhatched chickens before the horse, as they say. I uploaded the file and, being new to the Kindle Direct process, realized too late that I’d already published it before previewing the results of the file conversion. I finally figured out how to preview it and discovered all my paragraph indents had disappeared for no apparent reason. Yay. So I unpublished the Amazon version and now have to figure out what went wrong there. At least that damn blank line in the Smashwords Kindle file wasn’t there.

This might sound like I’m bashing Smashwords, but that’s not my intention. These are just some bumps in the road. Keep in mind that the Smashwords service is free and gets you a free ISBN and uploads your story to several retailers; it’s a great deal. I’m going to stick with them and handle Amazon separately. I’ll get the bugs worked out and let you all know what happens. Meanwhile, I’m considering this blog my soft launch of “The Mailbox.” Click on over to Smashwords and check it out, it’s only 99 cents. 

6 thoughts on “Wherein I Self-Publish a Short Story and Get Somewhat Thwarted

  1. Getting things right can be frustrating, but don’t give up. Your problems are entirely with your formatting. If your file was properly formatted, it would show up equally well on all the sites. If you use Word, that’s the source of your problems. Just be grateful it’s a short story, not a novel. The first one is the hard one. It does get easier as you go along.

    I wish Smashwords would remove Amazon from the list of channels they distribute to. They’ve spent a couple of years negotiating with Amazon and it’s pretty clear by now that they’re never going to come to an agreement. All the listing does is confuse newcomers who think their books will be on Amazon.

    1. I used Word because that’s what Smashwords requires, but I might use something else when I reupload to Kindle Direct, which takes more file formats. I followed Smashwords’ formatting instructions to the letter, as far as I can tell, which led to perfect-looking epub and pdf files. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that it’s the Kindle platform that has problems in both instances–maybe mobi just does not play well with Word. It will take some experimenting, but I’ll get it right.

      I know it’s stated somewhere on Smashwords that they don’t have an agreement with Amazon, but last night while writing my blog I couldn’t find it to quote from. Which just goes to show that for such important information it’s gotten a little buried among all the information Smashwords supplies.

      1. Smashwords doesn’t require that you use Word; they only require that your book be saved as a .doc file. There are many ways to achieve that without using Word. This is important because probably 75% of the complaints I see about formatting for Smashwords are rooted in the way Word adds invisible code to files. And this is true even when you follow Smashwords’ instructions to the letter.

        The usual advice given when problems show up is to use the nuclear method, zapping the file down to basics. That zaps all internal formatting like italics, which has to be done again. This shouldn’t be necessary and isn’t, if you use a different word processor. There are excellent word processors that allow you to save .doc files. There’s even a free one, Open Office, or its clone, Libre Office. For Mac users, there’s Neo Office.

        There’s no way for me to know what your problem with .mobi is, but it helps to read the KDP instructions very thoroughly. There are two possibilities–either you did the formatting incorrectly, or there’s some hidden code from Word. I’ve uploaded books formatted in either Scrivener or Neo Office, and they looked just as I intended.

  2. Thanks for the tip; I’ll try Neo Office, which I already have.

    I use Word at my day job as well, so I’m painfully aware of its propensity to makes stuff up on its own!

    1. I hope you’ll report back on how that works. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mac version of Word throws in some different monkey wrenches from the Windows version. The other thing that I’ve found helpful is to turn on invisibles when you’re formatting. It will at least show you where something isn’t exactly the way you thought it would be.

      1. I had invisibles on, and it didn’t show anything out of the ordinary. But as we both know, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything in Word . . .

        I will definitely continue reporting on my progress.

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