Monday, 5 September 2011

Three Stories, Three Days, and a Technical Nightmare


I decided a while ago that I’d like to try out the Kindle Singles market. It seemed a wonderful idea to be able to publish short stories, flash fiction and novellas for people to sample like a newspaper or magazine. So I put together a small collection of short stories. The title story Three is an unpublished story about three characters in three parts - too long for most short fiction outlets - and I included two others which had either been published in anthologies or broadcast on Radio 4. Three stories.

My partner and I put them all together in one file as required and, with all the experience gathered from e-publishing our previous non-fiction book, A Passionate Sisterhood,  we uploaded the file onto Kindle. And that’s where our problems started. Somehow between the computer and Kindle site, the file became corrupted and two (rather crucial) lines were missing from one of the stories. The culprit turned out to be a long (double hyphen) dash inserted by Word in place of a hyphen.

Luckily we bought a copy of the Kindle edition straight away just to check it out, picked up the error and were able to correct it within hours. But two copies had already been sold and the buyers will have to be compensated. However, the collection is now back up on Kindle UK and waiting for approval for inclusion in the Kindle Singles list and is as clean as we can make it.

Smashwords hasn’t proved as accommodating. Because they have to provide text downloads in a number of formats - Kindle, Nook, PDF, iPad, phone apps etc - their requirements are very strict. The file has to be stripped of all formatting and only specially approved formatting can be added. The instructions download as a hefty E-book. My partner ploughed through it, reading me sections that seemed to need another interpreter. Some of the instructions are clear; others are baffling.

There are two options for formatting - one is block text where you can have spaces between paragraphs but no paragraph indents. The other is paragraph indent with no space between paragraphs. The guide forbids using a mixture of both styles, though the guide itself does so.   It is also very ambiguous in the way it's written. At one point it tells you that you can use up to four paragraph breaks to create extra space - perhaps to indicate a section break - but when we tried it the book was rejected because it contained extra paragraph breaks!

This needs to be clarified in the instruction booklet because it creates a problem for section breaks, chapter breaks and anywhere you need space in a story or a book that requires blank lines to separate bits of text. If you opt for the block text option, then every line of dialogue is treated as a new paragraph with double spacing. If you opt for paragraph indent the text can look crammed up on the page. You really do need a mix of the two to create an authentic looking book.  Anyone who has any wisdom to share on Smashwords, your advice would be very welcome.

E-publishing is as exact a science as computer programming. Just one character in the wrong place can send the whole file haywire. But perseverance from my IT savvy partner who refused to be beaten, and repeated, exhausting, proof-reading and editing from me (it took three days!) have finally paid off and Three and Other Stories is now available for a mere £1.14 on Kindle (99p plus VAT) and $0.99 on Smashwords.com. Talk about a learning curve!! 

Further information about Kathleen Jones' books at www.kathleenjones.co.uk





2 comments:

Susan Price said...

Well done, you two! I found using mobipocket a nightmare - this makes me feel I'll stay well away from Smashwords.
For proofing, I email my book to my kindle, and then proof-read it on there. You can see all the mistakes and alter them before loading the book up to digital publishing.

Debbie said...

I proof read on kindle too - the typos jump out at you when the words are in different places on the page. I found calibre the best software for converting to .mobi as it's relatively straightforward. I'm not sure I can be bothered with the faff of smashwords, though - nobody I know sells much that way and I'm only considering it as a way of getting my IRS tax letter as amazon refuse to give me one at present.