PJ Sharon here. Last week I blogged about the changes in the new age of publishing and the virtues of going Indie. For those of you who were inspired by the post and feel ready to jump in with both feet, I wanted to offer a peek behind the Indie curtain to one of the ugly realities. There is a learning curve to EVERYTHING! And with the constant changes happening in the industry, it’s more than a little challenging to keep up. Since my most recent DIY debacle involved formatting, I’ll share the details here to assist your decision making process. If you haven’t run for the hills by the end of this post, you just might be cut out for self-publishing.
For some SP authors, formatting is the easiest part of the job. It’s generally a one-time event per book, there are VERY detailed instructions via the Smashwords Style Guide, Amazon’s Formatting instructions, and any one of the other individual e-retailer’s step-by-step guides, and it gets easier each time you do it—or so I’ve heard. For me, not so much. Since there are always several months between releases and there may be some new tweaks to the formatting guidelines from one effort to the next, it feels like I’m learning all over again each time I do it.
Fortunately, I have an assistant (my brilliant and handsome engineer husband) who is willing to take the chore off my hands. He’s walked me through it a few times, but clearly he is better at it than I am, and I’m happy to delegate. I did the formatting for WANING MOON and nearly pulled my hair out. He seems to have mastered the art and brought the completion time down from sixteen hours with my first book to about three to five hours for my recent release, which was our fifth endeavor. He is well-suited for the task since it involves extreme patience and an eye for detail. But since he spent the entire month of June in Malaysia on business, I was forced to make a choice. Do it myself amid the chaos of preparing for my release date, or hire someone to format the book for me.
Many authors choose to hire out this tedious and daunting task, but the down side is that any time you want to make changes to your book—say, put in a new excerpt, change your back matter, or correct an error or two that some reader was kind enough to point out—you have to go through your formatter. It might cost you a few extra bucks and you’re on their time table.
Being that I was in the midst of a computer crash catastrophe in the weeks before my release, I chose to hire out the job. Now let me preface what comes next with stating the obvious. I SP because I like being in control of my product, my business, and my schedule. I’m a person who knows what I want and I have difficulty trusting that others will do the job to my specifications. After all, it is my name on the book and ultimately my success or failure depends entirely on me.
So here’s the problem. In today’s market, there are a ton of new opportunities for editors, cover artists, and formatters. The trouble is, how do you know which ones are legitimate and how do you pick the best person for the job? I belong to several writer’s loops and have access to lists of dozens of these entrepreneurs, but I still had to make a choice. I chose wrong!
It would be unprofessional of me to bash anyone publicly, so I’ll keep my ire in check, but I was disappointed to say the least. The woman/business owner was very nice, quick on meeting my deadline, and inexpensive for the job I wanted done. She also came recommended on one of the loops. Formatting can cost anywhere from $50-$200 depending on what services you need, and I was happy to find someone at the lower end of that scale. I’m once again reminded that you get what you pay for.
Because I was in a time crunch, going insane with last minute details for launch, and sans my regular computer, I took for granted that the formatting was done correctly and went ahead and uploaded to each of my distribution channels without doing a strict quality control review. Each retailer requires a different format, so I had different files for Amazon, B&N, Smashwords and Create Space. Amazon and B&N didn’t kick anything back, so as far as I know, those are okay. (Please contact me if you see any formatting problems with WESTERN DESERT on your Nook or Kindle).
The Smashwords edition, however, came back with auto-vetter errors. If you haven’t heard about what a pain the Smashwords “meat grinder” is to conquer, let me tell you, we have had issues almost every time. It usually has to do with the TOC (table of contents), also known as the NCX. The formatting guidelines tell you specifically NOT to use your Word program’s automatic TOC generator. They want you to build your own by individually bookmarking your chapter headings and linking them back to your manually created TOC using Word’s bookmark feature. My husband has also discovered that you have to go into your document and find all the hidden links, a mysterious phenomenon that I don’t fully understand. Apparently my formatter didn’t either. She “fixed” it three times and it still wasn’t right. I finally told her to forget it and waited for tech-spert hubby to return from his trip to reformat the document for Smashwords. It was accepted with no auto-vetter errors (yayyy!) but whether it is accepted for Premium distribution (to be made available for book stores and libraries) remains to be seen. This review process often takes a few weeks. I still depend on Smashwords to aggregate to Apple i-Tunes, Kobo, Sony, and a handful of other retailers. In the near future this will change and I’ll upload directly to i-Tunes and Kobo.
As if this isn’t enough to have you turning tail, I’ll tell you about my Create Space nightmare. Again, I trusted that the formatting was done correctly (huge mistake). I wondered why the page count was so high, ignored my instinct to double check the formatting, and didn’t notice that the trim size was set at 6 x 9 which is the standard book size. Since my husband usually does my uploads, I forgot that all of my other books had been custom sized at 5.5 x 8.5 inches. My cover artist didn’t mention the discrepancy and I overlooked it when I uploaded the book. It was midnight when I was doing all my up-loads (note to self: don’t try to do anything technical when you’re tired).
Since I had a book signing the first week after my release, I needed print copies fast. Without my usual due diligence of ordering proof copies, I went ahead and ordered thirty copies of the book. Grrr…it came back double spaced, not right justified, and it had a funky header with page numbers in the right upper corner. The book turned out to be HUGE and twice the cost of my other books to print. Really! So much for saving money on a cheap formatter.
I’ve since corrected the problems myself and ordered new copies, but will think long and hard before hiring someone again. And just to let you know, once you choose a trim size and have a specific page count with Create Space, they cannot be modified. I had to re-upload an entirely new version of the book including a new ISBN number and will have to wait a week or so before “retiring” the first edition. For some arbitrary and unknown amount of time, WESTERN DESERT will have two paperback editions and two description pages—just to confuse readers and make life interesting with Amazon. The silver lining, according to the senior customer service rep, is that I get to keep my reviews.
Oh, and the thirty copies? I sold two—yes, two—copies at the signing. So I have a couple of dozen first print copies of WESTERN DESERT I will use as review copies or giveaways with a disclaimer attached in the front of the book to ignore the crappy formatting.
Lesson learned! Buyer beware, or as my husband likes to remind me, measure twice, cut once.
Have you noticed formatting errors in e-books? Does it drive you crazy or can you overlook it if the story is good? Would you hire out the formatting or do it yourself? Feel free to share any other publishing nightmares, SP or Trad, that made you want to kick some butt and take names.