Okay, I admit it; with 10 books available at all online book stores, I’ve been a little slow in joining the e-book revolution. I did have most of my books available for Kindle, but obviously I’ve been just playing around in the tide pools while the tsunami of e-publishing is crashing onshore all around me. So, time to get with the program.
Although I’ve been traditionally published in the past, most of my books are now self-published, which means all the decisions about when and how they are sold are up to me. In order to reach the full audience of e-reader owners (Nook, Sony, etc.), I went to Smashwords (smashwords.com) and started uploading my books one by one. It’s been a painstaking process, but aside from having the books available as e-books, I found it also had an interesting side benefit.
The Smashwords process of getting a book ready for e-publishing is pretty straight forward, but does require some very specific steps. The book must be uploaded with very little of MS Word’s famous formatting (you know, all that stuff that happens when Bill Gates tries to read our minds). There’s an extensive 72-page guide you can download from Smashwords, and it’s strongly recommended that you follow it exactly. After all, you want your e-book to look good, read easily, and not confound the reader by appearing jumbled. Doing any less than the guide tells you risks having your book come across as (at least) unprofessional, or (at worst) as unreadable.
The crux of the Smashwords de-formatting guide is what they call their “nuke” process. To completely nuke the Word formatting, they recommend you copy your entire manuscript, open Notepad and paste it there. This strips out all the Word “gunk.” From there, you copy the entire thing again, then paste it into a NEW blank Word doc. From there, they have very specific recommendations for your style settings so your book will convert to all e-readers with minimal problems. It’s a rather painstaking process the first time around, but well worth the time and effort.
What surprised me was the fact that my newly nuked manuscript, back in Word, was suddenly peppered with spelling alerts. You know, those wavy red lines under suspect words? I was stunned to see many more than I had ever seen in previous proof readings. I can’t imagine that I had commanded Word to ignore all those misspellings (would I really have told it to ignore “moutain” when I meant “mountain?” [which, in all fairness, is possible]), so I assume it was some vagary of Word that decided to ignore those things all on its own. Maddening. One of my biggest bugaboos. (I ranted about typos in my November 2, 2011 blog post.)
But, as irritating as that was, I realized after I’d gone thru and corrected multiple misspellings that this was actually a good thing. No, I’m not happy I have misspelled words in my book, but I’m thrilled that I actually had a new method of double-checking Word instead of just trusting my own, and my proof readers’, eyes. It never would have occurred to me that Word might flag a word in one document but not in another. (Interestingly enough, when I typed “moutain” above, Word automatically corrected it to “mountain,” and it put the red wavy line under it when I changed it to the misspelled word. So how the heck did it get a pass in my MS?)
Once I’d corrected the obvious errors, then it was just a process of going through the book and checking for any undetected formatting errors that occurred in the conversion: inconsistent line spacing, dropped returns, single or double dashes instead of m dashes, straight quotes instead of smart quotes.
Re-reviewing a manuscript is always difficult. Many of my books were written years ago, and re-reading them at a later time always brings up the old issue of second-guessing myself. I blogged about this, too, on November 3, 2011. It’s really difficult to not make changes when I think I could word something a little better, but in the spirit of respecting my decision whatever day I pronounced the book “done,” I do my best to keep my hands off. As I said in that blog, it’s not unusual for me to change a line one day, then change it back the next, so better to trust in my earlier judgment and keep the book consistent with its other forms.
The really good news about self-publishing is the fact that now I can go back and fix the misspellings in my original files and upload a new, clean version for the paperback format. In traditional publishing, I doubt you could ever do this. I had one book published by PublishAmerica (a scam outfit if I ever saw one), and when I discovered some mistakes and asked if they could correct them, they actually sent me a contract to sign saying I would never ask for any more changes, ever. So much for the desire to put out a clean, professional product.
In any event, I feel like I am now ready to catch that surfboard and ride the tsunami of e-publishing. I still love physical books and will always have my work available that way, but there’s just no denying the migration to e-readers. I have a Kindle myself, and it really is a great way to take books with me when I’m traveling. Vive la difference!