NaNoPubMo: The Sandbox

For a few days, I thought I was going to use draft2digital to upload my novel(s) in ebook format to all of the leading online retailers. No up-front fees, I can use my own ISBN, and they do the file conversion straight from my .rtf to epub, mobi, and so forth. They even convert to PDF, so you can send the book to the print-on-demand company of your choice, no muss and no fuss. What’s not to like?

Several things, as it turns out. My first discovery was that their PDF conversion stinks. Their software placed the first page of Chapter 1 on a left-hand page, and that’s just not done. Also, the page numbering started with the epigraph page. I asked them how this could be fixed. They weren’t interested. Their email reported, “…we don’t have a way to edit that file (because it is currently not being used by us).”

So okay, let’s talk about the mobi and epub files. My front matter contains a copyright page and a page listing other books I’ve written. I had placed empty line spaces between certain chunks of text there, but those line spaces disappeared during the draft2digital conversion. When I asked if they could fix this, their “support” person replied, “That’s just a limitation with our conversion. A single empty paragraph return is ignored and that isn’t something we can change.”

In a nutshell, they just want to run their auto-conversion software and then sit back and collect a percentage of my royalties. They’re not interested in helping clients produce books that actually look good.

Their “terms of service” make me a little nervous too. The deal is, they can change the terms of service at any time. (You can’t. This is a one-way street.) They will notify you of any changes, and if you don’t like the changes you can terminate the business relationship. That may look reasonable at first glance, but if I understand the process correctly, what happens next is, they pull your book(s) off of Amazon. You can then put the books back up on Amazon yourself (using the same draft2digital files, if you like), but at that point I’ll bet you a nickel Amazon will see the book as a new title. Your reviews and your sales ranking will be lost. I could be wrong about this, but even if an Amazon representative assured me it wouldn’t happen … oh, wait. How am I going to arrange to talk to an actual Amazon representative? Never mind.

Well, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, as my grandmother used to say. The online universe is jam-packed with people who would love to help you self-publish your book. Several factors need to be weighed in choosing a route through the maze.

  • How much do you want to pay?
  • How good do you want your book to look?
  • How comfortable are you learning new technology?
  • What sort of contractual relationship are you comfortable with?

For $20 a month, I can design my own book in Adobe InDesign. The PDF will look great! I’ll have to do a lot of work by hand, but I’m experienced in page layout software; I can learn all that stuff. InDesign will export to epub, in theory, though when I tried it just now it crashed. The export dialog doesn’t include mobi. InDesign is a complex program, so there’s a learning curve — and that $20 per month is for a yearly subscription.

Scrivener, which I already own and use, will export to mobi, epub, and PDF. The results in mobi and epub look nice enough, but the PDF doesn’t put enough space between the page heads (where it says “Aikin / Leafstone Shield”) and the body copy. Nor does it use left and right page headers. I haven’t tried adding my front matter yet, but I’ll bet it will put page numbers on those pages, which would not be desirable.

I can fix some of that by editing the PDF in Adobe Acrobat Pro, which is only $15 per month. Not much savings, and probably not as much power either, but probably easier to use. On the whole, going straight to InDesign for the PDF seems a better choice. I can add drop-caps, adjust the size of the margins, and so on.

If you don’t want to do it yourself, there are numerous online services that will be happy to take away the pain. I found a list at the Alliance of Independent Authors, and looked at a bunch of websites. Some of them claim to let you make unlimited changes in your files; others are “send us your file and we’ll convert it and upload it — it’s easy!!!” Some charge up-front, and others collect a percentage of your royalties. Some are high-priced, others are bargain-basement. Some are large companies, some are small. Some have their own bookshops, some don’t. Some tell you their pricing up front, others say, “We only do custom work. Contact us for a quote.”

Finding the right mix of ingredients may not be easy.

My intention at the moment is to use the Scrivener ebook conversion and put off the PDF print-on-demand vector for a few months. But there are still a few things I need to test in the conversion process. There’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip.

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