Since I embarked on this whole self-printing craziness back in March, I’ve learned a few lessons. Among them: self-publishing a book – even with POD – takes way longer than a weekend, it does matter if sometimes you write email and sometimes you write e-mail, and that if your books are printed in North Carolina, you should order them sooner than a week in advance of your book launch to avoid volcanic ash clouds giving you sleepless nights.
But last week, I learned my first harsh lesson.
You may recall that uploading Mousetrapped to e-book site Smashwords was a pain in my ample rear end. Formatting is the name of the game and the losers get stuck with migraines. Instead of taking out extra pages – as I thought formatting for e-book conversion would entail – I had to remove all formatting: standardize the text and size (sticking to a simple font and point 12 the whole way through), delete all tabs and make sure there was never more than two empty lines at a time. It took a long day and a chunk of my sanity but I got it done, and afterwards I uploaded the file to Smashwords and (a slightly modified version of it) to Amazon’s Digital Text Platform (DTP), for Amazon’s Kindle store.
Smashwords converts your MS Word document into multiple e-book formats. Once my conversion was complete, I clicked on the one at the top of the list – a PDF – and quickly flicked through it. It looked okay. Then I got out my mother’s Kindle and downloaded a free sample of Mousetrapped. That too looked okay.
Fed up with all things e-book, I decided to do no further investigating and assumed that everything else – the other formats Smashwords had converted my book to – were a-okay too. An email from Smashwords informing me that Mousetrapped had passed the entrance exam for inclusion in their ‘Premium Catalogue’ was further confirmation. I had read their Style Guide, followed its rules and now my e-book was looking good.
That was in March. I soon forgot about my Smashwords edition because it’s Kindle equivalent was outselling it by a ratio of 20:1. I knew it was available on Barnes and Noble’s e-book store and (rather excitingly!) Apple’s iBooks, but I hadn’t seen any sales data, so I just assumed no one was buying it from there.
Then last week – five months later, almost – I got a comment on my Mousetrapped site from someone who had purchased the B&N e-book. He was enjoying my writing but not the book. Something was awry with the formatting and his e-book version of Mousetrapped was 1,300 pages long. I thought this was odd and unfortunate, but didn’t – yet – recognize it as being my fault. I emailed the comment’s author and offered him a free download from Smashwords (thinking this would solve the problem) and, honestly, thought no more about it. As far as I was concerned he was the only person who’d ever bought Mousetrapped from B&N, and it wasn’t anything to worry about it.
A couple of days later, I logged into Smashwords and found that my sales numbers had jumped. As I investigated why, a sick feeling crawled into the pit of my stomach. It turned out that as third party retailers, sales date from companies like B&N and Apple was on a major delay and only updated every 90 days or so. Turns out I’d sold 6 copies of Mousetrapped on iBooks and – uh-oh – 27 copies on B&N.
That meant 27 people had paid $2.99 for a book that was 232 pages in paperback, but 1,300 pages in electronic. This meant that while reading it on their e-reader, they’d had to press ‘Next Page’ 1,300 times.
The edition B&N was in ‘epub’ format: the standard e-book format. It was the same one iBooks used. I downloaded iBooks to my phone, followed by a free sample of Mousetrapped and then… Damn! Another 1,300 pages.
Now I really felt sick.
In the self-publishing world, my greatest fear was having a bad cover – nothing says Amateur at work here! like a cover that makes your eyes bleed. In the self-publishing e-book world, bad formatting says the same thing. I was mortified.
I emailed Smashwords – who have the fastest email response of any online service I’ve ever encountered, even though all emails seem to be signed by Mark Croker, Smashwords’ founder – and was advised that Apple’s Pages application caused a bug in the converters that inserted a page break after every new paragraph. (Pages has a feature that lets you ‘Save As’ as a MS Word document; I’d used that.) I emailed the document to myself, got on the family PC, saved it in Word and uploaded it again.
Then I did what I should have done the first time: downloaded a free copy of Adobe’s Digital Editions, and downloaded the epub version of Mousetrapped.
It was 156 pages. Problem solved.
But it was solved too late. On Mousetrapped’s e-book B&N listing, someone has left a review saying (I’m paraphrasing), “I’m about half way through. Enjoying the content but the format is terrible. The book has over 1,300 pages and is – as you can imagine – very annoying to read. Most pages have just one short paragraph on them, and some have only one sentence.”
Do you think anyone else will ever buy the e-book version on B&N’s website again, with a review like that for them to read first?
The sad part is the problems have been fixed. The version you buy now will be formatted correctly. But I can’t go on there and say that; there’s no way to let B&N customers know. Or iBook customers, for that matter. The damage has been done, and it’s likely permanent.
So learn from my mistake. Be meticulous. And for fudge sake, when you’re publishing an e-book, download Adobe’s Digital Editions and check the page count.
On the off chance you’ve purchased Mousetrapped from B&N in the last couple of days (i.e. the new, correctly formatted version), please consider leaving a review to let other readers know the formatting errors have been addressed. I’ll love you forever. Well, at least until next week.
If you’re one of the people who purchased the 1,300 page edition, email me a screen shot or photo of the book on your e-reading device – showing the page count, so I know it’s not a sample – and I’ll send you a coupon for a free download.
If you’d like to save both a lot of hassle, just buy the paperback version. I know that has 232 pages!