Thursday, March 8, 2012

Quality Control in Self-Publishing E-Books

Quality control in publishing is extremely important, and there are some nightmarish aspects to it. It really doesn't matter whether it's a print on demand paperback, an e-book or a small print run at a custom printer. Anything involving quality control at this end of the spectrum can be scaled up for a bigger operation. Otherwise the information would hardly be valid.

Yesterday, I decided to publish 'Selected Poems' on Amazon, which is a Kindle version. Their preferred file upload is an html file.

What I did was to get the original file, which is a .doc file for uploading onto the Smashwords platform. Then I changed the front matter, which is only polite to both Amazon and Smashwords, and uploaded the file as a saved html version. There is a process where you fill out all the information for the book, and of course quality control is important--typos are kind of 'verboten,' and that's fine.

After uploading the file, I first checked the book in the preview feature, and things didn't look good. Then I clicked on the 'download file' button and brought a Kindle version (so far unpublished) onto my desktop. Clicking on that, which opens up in a Kindle 'Whispersync' sort of interface, I found that every poem seemed to be set in about three to five spaces from the left-hand margin, and there were no spaces between the end of one poem and the next title, and then no space between the title and the text of the poem.

There are plenty of irritants available to the average writer in the course of a busy day, and this was one of them days! So the thing was parked in 'draft' mode for a while.

Then of course I thought of the versions, all frickin' eight or nine of them available on Smashwords...

We all know the obvious thing to do, right?

Right. I went to Smashwords, and unpublished the thing as a precaution. It's Read An E-Book Week, March 4-12 on Smashwords. The thing is marked for free, and a couple of people have been kind enough to download a book. A few people have sampled the book.

Much to my surprise, the thing looks fine in all formats, bearing in mind once 'unpublished' I can't check out the online viewing options. However, the Kindle version looks very good in my Mobipocket Reader, which I also keep on the desktop. It is a free download, and it has its limitations.

So, either the html upload simply failed on Amazon, in which case I should try again, or it is barely possible that I accidentally uploaded the .doc file, which doesn't seem very likely as I made the html file right on the spot for that sole purpose. That would tend to explain the wonky formatting though.

On the bright side, I guess I have learned quite a bit--for example, the Palm and LRF versions can be read on Mobipocket as well, although they have a strange 'AE' thingy with some curves that look distincly foreign. This is probably an idiosyncracy of Mobipocket Reader, which is only meant to simulate certain devices. It doesn't replace them. I check every page, and for good reason. Mistakes kind of hurt the ego.

The irritation has gone away, and so has the sort of self-flagellation that goes with really pooching it badly...which apparently I didn't do. This is why I always download the Epub and Kindle versions as soon as I publish anything on Smashwords.

As to what exactly the problem is on Amazon, that one falls under the 'trouble-shooting' category.

Having unpublished the book on Smashwords, the product requires re-submission even though it's the same file, and it sets it back in the Premium Distribution Catalog process, but I would rather be sure about it and not have to worry.

Other than the fact it is not published on Amazon, no serious harm has been done and it was probably a valuable exercise.

Just for the record, Smashwords' Meatgrinder and Auto-Vetter do not catch all errors in formatting, and neither do the human reviewers on virtually any platform, although I'm sure most of them are very good, 'statistically speaking.'

In other notes, I have ordered a proof copy of 'Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery' from Createspace and expect it to arrive about March 22. Only after proofing it does Createspace allow the book to be marketed. I will be using the two free distribution channels. You can get three more for about $25.00 but it's not vital at this point in time. The reader's circumstances may be different.

That book is a 6 x 9 paperback, 216 pages, and retailing for $8.99 plus S & H. This same product is marked at $10.99 on Lulu, due to the terms of service and various other factors including their pricing policies.

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