2021 February Author to Author: Brutal Trial And Error
2021 February Author To Author
I just published and republished the same title to Smashwords 21 times. I just iterated through the same title 8 times on Amazon KDP. I just tested the same title 5 times on Rakuten Kobo. Each time finding something wrong. Each time seeing a new glitch. Each time needing to tailor the Word document source further to suit a specific retailer.
This whole process sucks.
While I had hoped there would be a better convergence over time for retailers supporting self-publishing, I'm finding the opposite it true.
Time Consuming Repetition
Rakuten Kobo seems to be the cleanest transformation from Word doc to EPUB, but somehow they glitched the configuration so the conversion throws an error if the cover isn't in JPG format or another image exists in the Word doc. Even though Kobo Writing Life supports PNG formats for covers. Even though there is not supposed to be any issue with embedding another image in the Word doc. None of this seems to be documented. I wonder if they even know.
The folks at Smashwords know. Boy, do they know. I had links vanishing issues - because I missed a warning on formatting that says all Word doc hidden links need to be deleted before uploading. I still have Table of Contents menu order issues because Meatgrinder is putting my Table of Contents link after all the book contents links. We've bounced it back and forth, but the Smashwords engineering team isn't sure what's going on and neither am I. I'm ignoring that Meatgrinder adds a second Table of Contents to the eBook content in MOBI format. It's annoying, but probably unavoidable.
Of course, Amazon KDP is the worst offender of random conversions because they are so well-funded. *headdesk* I found out the hard way that Very Dirty Stories #201 to Very Dirty Stories #259 didn't properly generate device navigation menus. By hard way, I mean that Empress told me how frustrating it was to get to the Table of Contents and navigate to stories. Much reading later, I figured out what chicanery the Amazon KDP developers had done around expecting specific heading types to map to the Table of Contents, and their intention for every book to have a Word autogenerated Table of Contents for them to consume for the navigational Table of Contents. Stabbing in thte dark, I thought I had this sorted out. Nope. Many frustrating attempts later, I figured out that if you style the Table of Contents text at all then the Amazon KDP transformation processor doesn't consume and convert it. So my whole Word doc for a title is styled, as anyone who uses Word professionally does, EXCEPT the Table of Contents because that breaks Amazon KDP's engineering team's transformation assumptions. How annoying. And undocumented. Amazon Kindle University has an entire video pretty much dedicated to showing people how to copy and paste sections in a Word doc, but left out that styling the Table of Contents will break generating device navigation? WTH.
Then... because we're not done yet... tack on dealing with Amazon KDP's Print On Demand format. Their downloadable template files are great for the margins and gutters, but they don't use styles properly. There must be a note somewhere in their documentation, but I'll save you from making the wrong assumption I made about fonts being used as provided in the Word doc. What actually happens... is your Word doc fonts are converted to something else - I have no idea what - which means your pagination for your interior Table of Contents will need to be checked against the PDF proof they provide. And then update your Word doc to match the Proof page numbering, save the changes, and reupload the doc because there is no way to predict in Word what the pagination shift will be. Their cover creator is no less difficult to work with. Sometimes my changes stick, but sometimes they don't. It's very difficult to get the cover image aligned well, and I'm going to have to live with the best I can do since they have no mechanism to specifically fit the cover image I upload to the printable area on the book cover. Or even center align it. Pigpile onto that the Amazon KDP description HTML coding doesn't work for Amazon KDP Print On Demand because Print On Demand requires explicit line breaks in the coding. Having done HTML coding for Print On Demand in a way that does work, it appears it only works on Amazon's site and not their distribution channels for Print On Demand books. *ugh*
All told, this has been a crazy frustrating exercise in trying to get things right and finding out how many things are undocumented and poorly supported across all three retailers. If you need Word document samples for KDP, Rakuten Kobo, or Smashwords though - I have ones that largely work now.
Until they change stuff again.