After years of wanting this feature, Smashwords launched (Dec. 2012) a much needed improvement to their system – Smashwords Direct allows the support of ebooks that “contain richer, more sophisticated formatting”.
“Smashwords Direct allows you to upload your own professionally designed .epub file to Smashwords. You can use Smashwords Direct to replace a Smashwords Meatgrinder-generated .epub with your own EPUB file, or you can use it when uploading a new title (simply upload the EPUB rather than an MS Word DOC file).”
I found this news exciting. Having created several professionally and beautifully designed books over the years, I found publishing to Smashwords limited. Now, you can have the best of both worlds – but be careful. Not all epubs will pass the grade – so please read and learn.
Smashwords ran several alpha tests through the program and states: “Some of the sample files we received were beautiful, and contained features such as drop caps or nested NCX navigation that we don’t support in Meatgrinder. This made us happy, and validated our decision to support this.
On the other hand, we observed several .epub files that were no better (and some worse) than what the average Smashwords author is already creating with Meatgrinder. The high rate of EPUBCHECK failures illustrates just one problem.”
NOTE from Smashwords: “Smashwords Direct is currently in open beta. If you’re not sure what this is all about, or if you have any difficulty uploading an existing .epub, we encourage you to simply upload an .doc file instead, and allow our Meatgrinder to convert the book for you. (Of course, please consult our Smashwords Style Guide to make sure it’s formatted properly, first!)”
How it Works
There are two methods of direct EPUB upload, according to Smashwords:
- You can replace your Smashwords-generated EPUB with your own EPUB. To do this, click to your Dashboard, then click “Upload New Version,” then upload your file.
- If you’re preparing to publish a new book not yet at Smashwords, sign in to your Smashwords account, click the regular Publish link, then fill out the publish page as you would normally, but upload your EPUB instead of a Word .doc. Later, if you wish, you can add more ebook formats to your book page by uploading a Word .doc, formatted to the Style Guide.
However, authors uploading EPUB files must still adhere to the formatting practices listed in the Smashwords Style Guide and books are still reviewed by their vetting team before shippping to retailers.
Know Your Limitations to Smashwords Direct
When you uploaded a Word file, it was pushed through the “Meatginder”, which spit out the book “into as many as nine different ebook formats.” This allowed the book to be readable on a variety of reading devices.
In contrast, if you choose to upload ONLY the EPUB file, then it will not pass through the Meat Grinder and you will not get the multiple formats, nor will you get the downloadable samples. At least not yet. Smashwords is planning to add better sampling abilities, with the ability to upload your own PDF and MOBIs.
Best way to Utilize Smashwords Direct
The best way to take advantage of all the Smashwords can offer is to upload your Word doc formatted to the Style Guide through their “Meatginder”, and then replace their EPUB generated file with your higher quality and ‘validated’ epub design. The key is higher quality and validated.
Observations to Take Note
A few observations from their tests:
- Smashwords authors and publishers are using multiple workflows to create their .epub files. Their workflows are as unique and varied as the writers themselves!
- Smashwords authors and publishers are using various (and often multiple) tools to create their epubs. Some of the tools mentioned include Adobe InDesign, Nisus writer pro, OpenOffice, Jutoh, Atlantis, Epubmaker, LibreOffice, Writer2epub, Scrivener, HTML, Sigil and Calibre. HTML, Sigil and Calibre were the most often cited among the suppliers of our first test files.
- Nearly 1/3 of the files failed EPUBCHECK validation</a>. Yikes! The Apple iBookstore requires 100% compliance. None of the other retailers do. This means that a large percentage of people are using non-compliant EPUBs that will need to be repaired by the author (or their service provider) before we can add the files to our Premium Catalog. Because the authors are using so many different workflows and tools to create their files, our support team will be unable to assist with EPUBCHECK validation repairs. Our standard Meatgrinder conversion system, which relies upon Word .doc source files formatted to the Smashwords Style Guide, performs a lot of magic to auto-correct many common EPUBCHECK errors without the author’s intervention, and we’ve long offered an EPUBCHECK help page for how to repair other common sources of problem from within Microsoft Word.
- If the book says “Kindle Edition” or “Kobo Edition,” we can’t distribute it. This is your Smashwords Edition. Similarly, if the book contains buy links to Amazon or other retailers, we can’t distribute it. The Style Guide has a complete set of guidelines, most of which are common sense and will improve reader experience, or as with the above examples, prevent customer confusion.