Friday, June 10, 2011

To Smashwords: An Open Letter


First of all, let me say: You're pretty cool. Easy distribution to a bunch of different markets, well-organized site, good accounting and payment, I get $0.59 out of $0.99? Good stuff. That's why I care about this one thing so much: Formatting for your Meatgrinder is obnoxious and my books still look kinda ugly after it all.

Let's break my problem down:

One, DOC format. I shouldn't have to own Microsoft Word in order to format an eBook. It not only complicates the process (see Two) but it also makes it more difficult for me to work on multiple computers with different operating systems (see Three). It's limiting, and unnecessarily so.

Two, Meatgrinder limitations, most egregiously 'Linked Table of Contents' & Space After Paragraphs. Creating a linked table of contents in Word is a time-consuming and annoying process fraught with peril, especially considering that properly formatted EPUB and MOBI files will create one automatically (see Three). Then there's the matter of restrictive formatting: I read a lot of eBooks while preparing to format my own, and the ones that looked best (to my taste) had indented paragraphs and a little (.2em) space after each paragraph for easier reading. When I put that space into the DOC for Meatgrinder, it rejects it for Premium Distribution. This makes my product look bad, unnecessarily, and I'm tired of dealing with Premium Distribution errors.

Three, HTML. It takes 15 minutes to format an eBook from plain-text into HTML, and that eBook will convert, via Calibre, to pretty much any format and look good doing it (and have a Linked Table of Contents appended in EPUB and MOBI, the two main formats). Doing it via the Smashwords Style Guide takes much longer, especially considering creating a Linked Table of Contents.

Four, Pictures. All those combined means that there is no way that I would ever put pictures in a file going to Smashwords, unless it was only for PDF distribution. Which is, again, unnecessarily limiting.

Solution (for you):
First of all, I love that you've focused on expanding distribution channels! Keep it up, that's one half of your selling point. But I need you to upgrade focus on upgrading your Meatgrinder to accept HTML (or at least EPUB) and convert it from that file. Let people continue submitting via DOC if you want, but let those what can handle it submit via a method that's both more convenient to prepare and looks more professional.

Solution (for me):
All this really only applies to longer fiction where more complicated formatting is necessary. I'll certainly still use Smashwords for short story distribution. I write a lot of short stories and I sell lots of short stories through your distribution networks, so you earn your 10% there (and I get more than the Amazon 35% Great!) But! Until Meatgrinder is upgraded, I'll upload my books (and short story collections) directly to my three focus sites: Amazon, B&N, and Kobo, so that I can be sure of my formatting and the quality of my product.

Thanks for your time,
David Barron

Update: November 3, 2011, Mark Coker announces "Smashwords Direct", "a Meatgrinder bypass option", to be available "by the end of 2012". I await developments.

feel free to comment


  1. Epublishing is so over my head... I need to get into the game, eh?

    Good luck with smashwords.

  2. Also, I'll check out your books as soon as a cave and buy a kindle. :D

  3. Hear, hear! I write non-fiction and want to have mobi formatted books with block paragraphs. I can do that by uploading directly to Amazon, but have never been able to get the meatgrinder to create a mobi book without indents on every paragraph.

    Note to CNHolmberg - Amazon has a free Kindle for PC program if you want to buy David's books.

    Jan Hyatt (

  4. Although the 'Must Own Microsoft Word' part of this letter has been made obsolete since I've successfully used LibreOffice to create the DOC file, the rest of it (that is, Must Create DOC File) is still in effect.

    Just hire the calibre guy and let him make your Meatgrinder 2.0.


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