I can hardly believe it but in the past four days we’ve had our first two e-books accepted for sale on Smashwords.com and, better still, both titles have since been approved for inclusion in Smashword’s Premium Catalog (why does it always feel so wrong spelling it the American way?). It means our books will soon be available for sale in Amazon’s Kindle Store, Apple’s iTunes Store and Barnes and Noble, as well as some smaller online retailers.
If you think this isn’t a big deal then you’ve clearly never tried to format an ebook that contains images, numbered lists, sections and fact files. Independent (indie) digital publishing is currently more popular among fiction than non-fiction writers and the last two months have certainly nailed home to me the reason for this… ebook formatting isn’t as straightforward as one would like to imagine and what you see (in Word) certainly isn’t what you get on many devices. If you don’t get it right, the ebook that looks great on, for example, a Kindle Fire, is a horror story on an android, its layout a complete nightmare. It’s true, it’s what kept happening to me.
A week ago it was all looking quite hopeless… the only future I could visualise was one where I’d abandoned all thoughts of writing and hiking and had thrown myself into a life of html programming. All those <> and </> commands, lines of complex instructions to size and centre an image or create a numbered list… with increasing dread, I contemplated enrolling on a part-time programming course at Cardiff Lifelong Learning Centre just to learn the basics.
It was all becoming very scary; perhaps we should just forget about digital publishing and go the traditional route of printed books like the majority of outdoor publishers? But that wasn’t what we wanted to do anymore… not with the carrot of digital publishing dangling in front of us.
What (or perhaps I should say ‘who’) finally prevented me from throwing in the towel was the wonderful Mark Coker, the quietly-spoken and inspirational founder of Smashwords. At 116 pages, Mark’s guide is ever so slightly scary at first glance but if you take a deep breath and follow his instructions to the letter, he promises you’ll get there in the end.
He was right and from this week forth Mark Coker has become my hero.
If you listen to him talking or read his blog, there’s no doubt Mark is firmly on the indie author’s side and will do everything in his power to make the formatting, publishing and distribution of ebooks as straightforward as possible. He’s also got the kind of cultured American accent I could listen to for hours on end… and have done (his online tutorials are great).
These aren’t the only formats we’ll be publishing. Having been introduced to the amazing iBooks Author software in July, I’ve also ‘built’ both books in that software too. The limitations are obvious: potential readers/customers need an iPad or a Mac on which to download and read an ibook built in iBooks Author. That said, unlike the ebook format, with iBooks Author the designer (that’s me folk) retains full control of the design and layout. As well as the usual hyperlinks, iBA also has some snazzy additional features like interactive images, galleries and… you can add film and audio. I haven’t worked out how to do it yet, but watch this space.
I apologise to Mark Coker if I’ve got the wrong end of the stick, but at the moment I don’t think you can use the Smashwords platform to publish a book designed in iBooks Author (which is a shame because it’s a lot easier dealing with one ebook distributor than having to deal direct with individual bookstores).
And that’s not the end of the story either. We have two more castle books nearing completion – Walks from Castles in Newport and Cardiff and Walks from Castles on the Gower Peninsula – if the weather ever stays dry long enough for us to get out hiking. After that, we’ll probably focus on some of the lovely areas and trails here in South East Wales, many of which are well worth visiting/walking but tend to be overshadowed by the more popular tourist areas like the Brecon Beacons and Wye Valley.
It’s funny how life turns out, isn’t it? When I took voluntary redundancy back in 2011, I never imagined that one day I’d be designing and publishing ebooks.
John Lennon was absolutely spot on when he wrote, ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’. (“Beautiful Boy”).