I finally got around to publishing on Smashwords. And it’s only a month and a half later than planned!
Here’s what happened. I spent several hours yesterday reading Smashwords’ free style guide, and following the directions. If you want to publish on Smashwords, you definitely should do the same thing.
I write in Scrivener, so I had to export my file so I had a .doc file to upload. But sometimes the formatting ends up all weird, so I exported the document as a text file. Then I opened it up in LibreOffice, because I’m too cheap to pay for Word. Following the instructions in the style guide, I customized and assigned style settings, created bookmarks, and built a linked Table of Contents. But finally, around ten p.m., I had my file ready. I saved it, closed it, and uploaded it to Smashwords’ website. Then, still following instructions, I opened the book up in the web reader to make sure it looked okay. And it didn’t.
I had selected the wrong file. I could have sworn that I saved the file several times, and that I knew exactly where I’d saved it to. But I had the template I had downloaded, opened up, and decided not to use. I don’t know if I saved the template with the same file name after closing my Smashwords file, or if I deleted it or just put it somewhere really strange. Maybe it went to join lost socks and Lego men. Who knows?
The good news is that almost all of that time I spent on formatting last night was really spent learning. This morning I started over, flipping through the pages of the style guide to find the details I couldn’t remember for sure. This time, it only took twenty minutes until I was ready to start uploading. I used another ten minutes to upload, download the published copies, and check various formats to make sure they didn’t look weird. Pretty easy stuff.
I learned two lessons from this experience. The first, most obvious lesson is always make sure you save your files. The second lesson is that it really does help if your first self-publishing project is a small one, like a short story or a flash fiction collection. I found the first time around stressful enough as it was. I can’t imagine how much worse it would be if I’d been trying to re-format and double-check a 100,000 word novel. The same was true of the Amazon process. Thank goodness I started with such a short book! And yet, I feel like I learned so much, and I will be better prepared and faster the next time I do this.
I know that some of my writer friends are set on traditional publishing, for various reasons. They’re not wrong. For instance, I really can’t afford to spend money on a professional cover or a professional editor yet. Those are both things that a traditional publisher would do for me, IF I could get my manuscript accepted by one. But to those friends, I would say, try self-publishing a short story, or a collection of short stories. Even if you only sell a copy to your mother, and maybe another one to your best friend, you will still learn enough from the experience to make it worth your time and effort. And nothing beats the thrill of being able to say that you published something.