Why I Don’t Have Kindle Versions of My Books on Smashwords Anymore

Legends of Lasniniar By the Light of the Moon screenshot

The final Vellum-created product for Legends of Lasniniar: By the Light of the Moon ePub

So this is just more of an informational post for anyone who might be checking out my books on Smashwords and wondering why I only have ePub versions available now…

First of all, this is nothing against Smashwords. (Or Kindle owners, for that matter, since I am one.) I think it’s cool that Smashwords has their own storefront for writers, with the ability to generate coupons, as well as to take part in site-wide promotions, like the Smashwords Summer Sale. All good stuff. And I’m all about having my books available as widely as possible. Readers can purchase a variety of ebook formats on Smashwords (ePub, Kindle, PDF, etc.), assuming the author/publisher has made this possible.

So why limit myself to ePub format?

Back in the day, Smashwords only had one manuscript format for writers/publishers to upload: a painstakingly formatted Microsoft Word document. (Seriously, the learning curve for figuring out all the background stuff that goes into the final output format is steep. Even after reading the Smashwords Style Guide backwards and forwards, I had several issues I had to iron out through trial and error.)

This very manually created file gets uploaded to Smashwords’ Meatgrinder system. Meatgrinder takes the Word document and converts it into a variety of outputs (ePub, Kindle, PDF, etc.). Out of necessity, the file that gets uploaded to Meatgrinder has to be very bare-bones in terms of formatting. Anything fancy might mess up one of the output types. (Even when you think your file is clean, there might still be issues with a particular output format. Even with lots of Smashwords formatting experience, I encountered a chronic issue with the RTF output, where some of my manuscript would end up in random strings of all capital letters, like I was yelling, lol. I made sure RTF wasn’t an option I included for purchase.)

And of course the formatting requirements for Smashwords aren’t the same as the ones for uploading directly to Amazon, and both can be drastically different from the paperback format files. So for those of you keeping track, this means three differently formatted files for each manuscript. Three different files that have to be separately updated and maintained (for changes in technology, typo correction, adding new titles and links to the Other Books By section, etc.).

Now I’ve formatted and maintained all my own book files manually for years. I had gotten to the point where I was comfortably competent at it, and had even designed some macros to help automate the process. But it was still a total slog that took up precious time I could have been using for other things. (Y’know, like writing.) Yes, I could outsource and hire someone, but I have a fair amount of titles (~50), and I’m always looking to add more. Not only that, but I like to keep the front and end matter of all my existing titles current when I publish a new book, which means constant updates. All this would end up getting pretty pricey if I hired someone else.

Enter Vellum.

I started hearing about Vellum sometime last year. I have to be honest, a lot of it sounded almost too good to be true. Vellum is a book formatting software program for Mac. Basically, you throw your manuscript into Vellum, and it generates beautiful output files for ePub, Kindle, and print. And everything stays in one file. Only one master Vellum file to create, and one file to manage. They even have the ability to generate a large print version for paperback now, which is awesome. (And I’m definitely planning on taking advantage of it.)

You can try Vellum for free (which is what I did). The trial version allows you to work with as many manuscripts as you want and get all the formatting the way you like it for whatever formats. The only limitation is that you won’t be able to actually generate output files until you pay for the software licence.

I used the trial version on all my books. It’s pretty easy to use, and they have online tutorials as well that are helpful. Even without being able to create output files, you can see a preview of how your formatted output will look on a wide range of devices. It’s probably the most generous trial version of any software I’ve ever tried. There are no time limits, file size limits, or anything. So I got to preview just how everything would work and look for each of my titles before even buying the software. Amazing.

One of the things I like the most about Vellum (in addition to its streamlining), is how the output looks. I can have drop caps in my ebooks now, and an option of styles for chapter headings and scene breaks. These tools have taken my bare-bones ebook formatting to the next level, giving them a much more professional look that not even some of the traditional publishers have seemed to figure out how to do yet for their own ebooks.

And I can upload my Vellum ePub file directly to Smashwords.

This is an option Smashwords brought out in late 2012, due to author/publisher demand. People wanted to have more control over how their ebook files were formatted. Smashwords introduced the option, but still pushed for most people to continue using Meatgrinder (which kind of makes sense, since most people are going to be more familiar with formatting a Word document than an ePub file). They also mentioned that they were working on a method of direct upload for PDF and Kindle (mobi) as well.

It’s 2019 now, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of the direct PDF or mobi option coming along. So authors/publishers can either use Meatgrinder with their simple Word document, upload a pre-formatted ePub file directly, or both.

In case you haven’t guessed, I’m going with the pre-formatted ePub file option.

Now I could just leave my Meatgrinder versions of my existing books up alongside my pretty, new ePub files. But since one of the main points of me switching over to Vellum was to streamline my workflow, I have no interest in maintaining those now-antiquated Word documents to keep them current in terms of what titles I have available, changes in technology/formatting, typo fixes, etc. And I don’t want to have what I now consider to be a sub-par ebook file available to purchase, especially if I’m not intending to maintain it. (The only current exception are the original Kat Irwin versions of my crime fiction, which I haven’t bothered to create updated versions for, and will be coming down eventually since I have updated versions of these available under my own name.)

So even though I would really like to have a Kindle version available on Smashwords for each of my books right now, it’s just not making sense for me. But if Smashwords ever does get that direct upload for Kindle/mobi up and running, I’ll be all over it. Hope that makes sense!


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Posted by Jacquelyn

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