You’d think that Smashwords would’ve come up with a less grotesque name for the system used to convert .doc into the various formats they sell, but here we are with Meatgrinder.

If you joined us last week, you read all about Smashwords and how we think it’s a good idea to diversify your eBook distribution outside of Amazon. While there are other services you can use (such as Draft2Digital or going direct to the vendors themselves), we’ve stuck with Smashwords. Inevitably, that least to the following question:

How do I deal with the Meatgrinder?

To avoid the Smashwords Meatgrinder, upload a finished ePub fileBack in the olden days (read: 2014), Smashwords only allowed authors to upload manuscripts in .doc formats. Then they used a proprietary conversion software to turn that Microsoft Word file into a .mobi (for Kindle), .epub (everyone else), .pdf and more. The problem was this software required the .doc file to be clean and formatted properly.

Now, if you’re someone very familiar with Word, you know all about paragraph settings and headings, and how to create a table of contents. If you’re not, the Meatgrinder was a huge barrier to entry.

Nowadays, Smashwords allows authors to upload an .ePub file directly, which is what SGR-Pub does when we have a tricky manuscript with difficult formatting, such as the Razia series. Since most vendors accept ePub, this makes it easy. Our recommendation for those authors who have their manuscript in .ePub format is to just upload that, making sure that it passes all ePub checks. Most files created with Scrivener will pass this with flying colors.

(Need a formatter? Check us out.)

What if I want a .Mobi?

Smashwords says that .mobi (Kindle) is one of their most popular formats on the Smashwords direct store, so some authors may still want to deal with the frustration of the meatgrinder in order to have .mobi file available for sale. Smashwords has a Formatting Guide that you can download, but here’s our top trip-ups that we’ve encountered.

  • Tables: For our Razia series, we have tables for bounty posters and whatnot. For both the .ePub file and the .doc files, we have to create “images” where the tables are. Luckily, our formatting program of choice, Scrivener, allows us to create images from tables in the Compile settings. Otherwise, you’ll have to individually create the images from your tables.
  • Paragraph settings: Many authors add 5 spaces or a tab in front of each line. There are a few reasons why this is a bad idea, but the biggest is that it doesn’t pass Meatgrinder specifications. Check out this handy article for how to create paragraph settings in Word.
  • Table of Contents: Related to paragraph settings, the Meatgrinder wants your table of contents to link to Chapter Headings. Therefore, instead of making each chapter title 24pt and bold, you’ll create a new Heading Style, and apply it to all your chapter headings. Then, you’ll be able to create your Table of Contents.

The Style Guide has more in-depth discussion of all these topics, so download it!

Why All This Formatting Stuff?

Think of your manuscript like a web page and the Meatgrinder like your web browser (Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, etc). In order for the browser to render the web page correctly, the back-end coding has to be correct and free from extra spaces and errors. The same goes for the Meatgrinder: In order to render the book the right way, the back-end code needs to be right.

What back-end code, it’s just text, right? Well, not really. Line spacing, tabs, and weight, italics, and size of font are all coded into the Microsoft Word document. You don’t see it because Microsoft gives you buttons and pop-up windows, instead of expecting you to know all the coding. So when Smashwords asks for a clean manuscript, they want all of that to be system-generated, instead of user-generated.

Other Things to Know with Smashwords

Smashwords is a great distribution service, although it is persnickety. Take care in your front and back matter to not mention Kindle specifically (i.e.: if another book is available through Kindle Unlimited) and also to not link to other stores. Back matter sells books (we’ll write a blog about that soon), so it’s important to use verbiage that won’t trigger a flag on your book. We recommend something like “This book is available for eBook, paperback, and hardcover” and a link back to the book page on your website.

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