by Louis Bertrand Shalako
All Rights Reserved
Since publishing my first two ebooks back in September 2010, much has been learned.
The most recent questions revolve around the use of pdf download files as free giveaways or retail products.
The problem is that while a pdf can be a beautifully formatted document, for flowing-text devices or the desktop reader equivalents, it is not only unnecessary, but right justificaton stretches or 'squishes' the text when there are few words in a line. Oddly, the tag end of a line composed of a few words is unaffected.
A half-baked solution is to simply tell the people looking at the product, 'This version suitable for PC viewing using Adobe,' or 'This version intended for mobile devices.'
The pdf's on Smashwords have ragged right margins for two reasons, the first of which is that they are derived from your original .doc file, which also has ragged right edges for conversion to Epub and Mobi, etc. They have ragged right edges to be read in a portable device. Pdf's are supported in virtually all devices, portable and otherwise.
A question arises when someone buys a pdf copy from Smashwords.
What if they read it on a PC or laptop?
"Can't this guy format a simple document file?" they may ask.
On Lulu.com, I have pdf's of products for giveaway purposes. I did this for two reasons. On other platforms, I would be giving away Epub or Mobi, and I would prefer if people buy those. At $0.99 I don't see a problem with my attitude! But if someone downloads a free pdf from Lulu and it has right margin justification, and if they try to read it in a mobile device, the text may be 'squished' for that reason in some places.
The problem is one of labeling. None of these platforms really allow a lot of space for extra product description. Of course, it can't be too long to begin with. A lot of potential customers would find the explanation boring, and educating consumers is time consuming.
So the obvious answer is to dump pdf's altogether. This brings up another issue.
How to give stuff away for free without having it become a time wasting process of shooting e-mails with attachments back and forth. There are some issues of privacy and other risks on both sides involved here. To give stuff away on Smashwords goes through all distribution channels. This seems pretty logical, and why in the hell didn't I do it that way before?
On Smashwords or Kindle, and on other platforms, it is possible to set the price for 'free.' The logical choice would be Smashwords, as it puts the product out in a number of formats. Only one problem--no right hand justification is possible. Because they might read it in a portable device...right? And if they read on a home PC using Adobe, they'll wonder why I didn't justify the right margins. This is no-win for me.
As time goes on, some platforms will become more flexible with an eye to gaining a competitive edge. Using Smashwords as an example, it would be nice to use the system to sell Epub, Mobi, and other formats, and to give away pdf's, all nicely formatted for reading in Adobe without having to worry about 'customer experience' issues.
Virtually everyone has Adobe on their computer. Convincing people to download Kindle for PC, Android, or whatever, (free downloads from Amazon,) or Mobipocket, or any one of a hundred other possibilities, and then read the product in that interface, is part of the job.
I say that because on my home PC, the product, when used as intended, (but maybe not as instructed,) seems all right.
Should I just put a short explanation in the front matter of every edition? But why tell anyone in the first place?
I've had one book returned for unknown reasons. None of these platforms seems to give this kind of feedback. That would be priceless. I don't ever want to argue or try to convince a disappointed customer. But it sure would be nice to have this vital piece of data.
What is surprising is how long it takes to figure some of this out. I am working on my own, and simple time factors come into play.
Right now I am managing at least five learning curves that immediately spring to mind. These are writing, editing, publishing, marketing and the whole tech side.
The sensitivity training is going pretty well too. We sell a book once in a while, and that's important.
It shows us what is possible.