Bye bye Smashwords

Jeroen Steenbeeke  
Regular readers of this blog know I do not use Microsoft Word. In fact, I tend to stay away from Windows software entirely when it comes to writing (even if I still consider it an adequate gaming platform). I realize I am a bit of an odd duck in this regard, but I'm a Software Engineer, and I like using my time efficiently.

As such, I never was a fan of Smashwords, for the simple reason that it requires your manuscript to be submitted as a .doc file. As I've explained waaaay back in the post about writing tools, I use LaTeX for my manuscripts. For those who are unaware, LaTeX is a document markup language that works really well for typesetting books. It is mainly used in academia, but it works really well in auto-generated formatting for the print editions of my books. In addition to this, LaTeX files are really easy to convert to other formats, and I already have a converter that translates a LaTeX file in a zipped HTML file for Kindle Direct Publishing.

So once I finish a book, the process for creating a Kindle e-book is relatively simple:
  • Package the LaTeX files and images (5 seconds of work)
  • Feed it to the converter (30 seconds of work)
  • Upload and go through KDP wizard

Print versions are even easier:
  • Run PDFLaTeX on document file
  • Go through Wizard at Lulu
  • Upload, finish wizard

And then we have Smashwords:
  1. Run detex on document file
  2. Copy/paste into Microsoft Word or OpenOffice
  3. Fiddle around with the settings for an hour to make sure it conforms to the style guide
  4. Manually reapply all style settings (~1-2 hours)
  5. Upload to Smashwords
  6. Get rejected, repeat from step 3 until it's accepted (~1-2 hours)
  7. File available

As you can see, using Smashwords is somewhat less pleasant. Where I can publish other books and e-books in a matter of minutes, Smashwords takes hours. This would be acceptable if it only happens once for each book, but I have a tendency to release revisions if people complain about typos (which happens despite editing). As you can understand, having to go through the same multi-hour routine is unacceptable to a guy who is used to automating tasks.

So naturally, I went looking for a better way. The main advantage of Smashwords is availability in a multitude of ebook stores, most importantly Barnes & Noble and the iBookStore. But Smashwords aren't the only aggregator for these ebook stores, so I figured I might as well try another.

To my surprise, Lulu, who does the print versions of my books, is an aggregator for B&N and Apple as well. Contrary to Smashwords, Lulu requires you to submit your e-books in the international ebook standard: EPUB, which is a really machine-friendly format. It only took me two evenings of work to modify my LaTeX-to-Kindle converter into a LaTeX-to-EPUB converter. This significantly simplifies my e-book deployment for B&N and Apple:
  • Go through first part of Lulu wizard to get ISBN
  • Package the LaTeX files and images (5 seconds of work)
  • Feed package and ISBN to the converter (30 seconds of work)
  • Upload and finish Lulu wizard

So when my KDP Select period runs out, I will not be republishing my Smashwords offering, but instead stick to Lulu.