One of the joys of self-publishing…and I’m using the word “joys” in that sort of ironic, flanked by curly-marks kind of way…is that you and only you are solely all by yourself responsible for every aspect of your book. That means words, pictures, page size, layout, marketing and suicide when the thing inevitably doesn’t sell and you realize your whole life has been a lie (I haven’t completed this last part yet). It’s a simultaneously invigorating, overwhelming, frustrating and possibly…hopefully…rewarding process — if not financially, at least spiritually. As I understand it, accomplishing stuff is good for the soul.
You…at least in my experience…learn a lot of new stuff when self-publishing. For example, because I’m a super-obsessive kind of guy, I wanted to ensure the presentation of Strange Beasts in a Small Town was exactly what I wanted it to be. Seemingly unimportant details (for example, I wanted each section title to have it’s own page) meant everything to me. When crafting an ebook — which can be read on any number of different machines — this meant working with HTML, and I didn’t know squat about working with HTML. Still don’t, really, but I’m better off than I was when I began.
So, after a few weeks of trial and error and cursing aloud, I mostly have the novel looking like I want it to look — at least, that’s true if you purchase it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. If you snag a copy on Smashwords (which I just uploaded this week), Lord only knows what you’re getting. I promise the words will be there, but in what shape or form I cannot say.
I don’t want to dump on Smashwords because I haven’t really played around with it yet, but the process of formatting and uploading a book to that site is wholly frustrating. First, instead of using one of the nice, pretty .epub or .mobi files I’ve already designed and sort-of perfected, Smashwords wants me to upload a Microsoft Word file, which will then be converted en masse to several different formats. The site does this by using a program appropriately designated “The Meatgrinder.” That’s right…the people who created the program used to convert your work is named after its ability to garble up everything you’ve done and spit out a big, bleeding mess. Also, it makes hamburgers.
Using a .doc file would be fine and dandy if I could layout my ebook in Word and then have it translated semi-accurately into a billion different formats. But “The Meatgrinder” has trouble interpreting half of what you input. It doesn’t recognize most of the basic formatting doohickeys Word uses, including seemingly simple things like page breaks. Supposedly, you can trick it by modifying a bunch of different paragraph styles, but — like weight loss shakes and dating websites — individual results may vary. Maybe your book will look like you expected it to; maybe you’ll end up obese and alone. It’s all up in the air.
All this whiny stuff aside, however, self-publishing is pretty neat. As a control freak, just knowing that everything is up to me is extremely liberating. Scary as shit, but liberating.
I think I love it. Or hate it. I’m really not sure.