The end of my BAP blogging week! I've been following up on Thursday's post on poetry-delivery methods and, rather sadly, am abandoning the last poetry-out-loud post I had originally planned and will instead use this last post to share what I have found on e-books.
I've been exploring Smashwords (thanks, Dave Bonta!), an e-book publishing site which will take your ready-for-publication Microsoft Word doc and convert it free into multiple e-book formats. You may then list and sell them at the Smashwords site, which in turn takes a percentage of all sales proceeds. (You may also list your e-books there as 'free' which is, of course, the preferred method of poetry delivery at Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks).
As usual, I used my own poems as guinea pigs and trotted out the faithful chapbook baobab girl to be once again subjected to weird experiment. (Poor little chapbook - I am reminded of how my brothers would commandeer our Barbie dolls for brutish 'surgery' and to serve as witless victims of G.I. Joe ambush operations.)
It's immediately apparent once you start looking that the central challenge for e-book publishing is achieving correct formatting, an issue which is doubly complicated for poetry. There has been much web-lament over e-book formatting for poetry, as noted in this post yesterday.
However, at the basic poetry formatting level, I did not find conserving line breaks or stanza breaks to be an issue. The key really is in the formatting. The Smashwords style guide (master what it says, or you are wasting your time e-booking) specifically refers to poetry and to the need for line breaks versus stanza breaks.
[Technical note: The key is in the difference between soft returns (line breaks) and hard returns (paragraph/stanza breaks). You must define exactly what you mean by a paragraph in the Word 'Styles' menu, and then use paragraph breaks for stanza breaks and soft returns for line breaks. In reformatting an existing document, the find & replace function will replace your 'hard return' line breaks with 'soft returns' (replace ^p with ^|).]
Generally, then, no issues with line breaks and stanza breaks at the text size I worked with (Garamond 12). I enlarged the published text considerably through various e-readers and because my lines are relatively short, the font had to become ridiculously enormous before the lines spilled over and messed up the format. I can see how this would be an issue for poets who write in very long lines, though.
The formatting is finicky work, but would definitely get easier with practice. I was reminded of html by all the tiny toggles in the background that can operate so catastrophically and sweepingly in the foreground if improperly applied.
I worked an hour or so on the original document to reformat it according to the style guide, then uploaded it. Smashwords runs the doc through what it calls its 'meatgrinder', an automated process which converts it into seven different e-book formats - EPUB, MOBI, PDB, LRF, PDF, RTF and TXT - which together cover the most popular e-readers, including Kindle, iPad, iPhone, Nook, Sony Reader and Kobo.
baobab girl entered the lists as job no. 450 and took three hours to come back. When it came back, the Smashwords auto-vetter said the title couldn't be in all lower case and that I hadn't formatted the copyright page correctly. So I fixed that and resubmitted it for another three-hour vetting process. When it came back the second time it was good to go.
Here's the final baobab girl Smashwords publication page, offering seven kinds of e-reader download, all generated by my single original Word upload. It also lets you add links to sites where your book is already available in print or audio versions, so I happily linked to both the guinea-pig print and the guinea-pig CD versions of baobab girl at the Whale Sound Audio Chapbook store.
Below I review each e-book version produced by Smashwords, in order of descending quality. I graded eight elements of formatting (scale of 0-5) on the degree to which they matched my original Word upload: line breaks, stanza breaks, italics, bold, centering, font, internal links and external links.
[Technical note: If you are at all interested in e-publishing, immediately download the free e-book manager Calibre (thanks, Bill Lantry!) This software has multiple built-in e-readers and allows you to view the different versions of your published e-books as they will be seen by the owners of those e-readers. It will also convert one e-form into another.]
5 stars, which is great, as this seems to be the most widely-usable e-book format. It can be read by iPhone, iPad, Nook, Kobo, and Sony Reader, among others. The conversion perfectly maintained all eight elements of formatting and looks great on the e-reader. Includes the JPEG cover image uploaded along with the Word doc. I liked it so much I have included the EPUB download link from Smashwords at the baobab girl audio chapbook site as a free download option.
4.75 stars, and the .25 is only missing because the PDF version does not include the JPEG cover image. Very nice conversion. I also included this link at the baobab girl site as a free download option.
MOBI (for use with Kindle)
3.5 stars. Disappointing, because my own e-reader is a Kindle. This version preserved all eight elements of formatting very well, with the exception of the first line of each stanza/paragraph. For some reason each first line is indented. I can't work out what the fix would be, since I know the paragraph 'style' in the original doc is properly defined according to the Smashwords style guide, and in any case there is no indentation in any of the other e-versions. Includes the JPEG cover image uploaded along with the Word doc.
PDB (for use with Palm reading devices)
2.5 stars. Maintained the crucial formatting for line breaks and stanza breaks, but converted line-spacing to double-spaced and lost all other formatting - italics, bold, centering, font, internal and external links. It changed the font from the original Garamond 12 to what looked more like Palatino, but that was fine to read. One annoying addition was an asterisk in parentheses (*) which appeared at the beginning of the first line of every poem, no idea what triggered it. Does not include the JPEG cover image uploaded along with the Word doc.
RTF (for 'most word processors')
0.5 stars. Maintained stanza and line breaks but was otherwise quite a disaster. A random mixture of the original font and Copperplate Gothic (?!), which is an all-caps font. Lost both internal and external links, and HTML coding for internal links became visible on the table of contents page.
LRF (for use with Sony Reader) 0.25 stars.
Maintained line breaks, but lost crucial stanza breaks, so each poem appears as a single giant stanza. Blech. Maintained all other elements of formatting, with the exception of the external links, which simply disappeared.
Plain text 0 stars.
Yikes! The whole chapbook is one long chunk of run-on text, completely missing ALL elements of formatting.
If I could, I'd offer readers only the top two or three choices, instead of all seven, but it appears to be all or nothing at Smashwords.
Am I willing to do this again? I might be. I know I still have a great deal to learn about how it all works. And I would need to talk to existing Whale Sound Audio Chapbook authors to see how they feel. It's not as if we can just pick and choose the best versions. We can highlight the great EPUB option by linking to it at the audio chapbook sites, but the other not-so-perfect versions would still be out there (including the stanza-destroying LRF and TXT versions...)
Thanks to you all for reading and to BAP blog management for inviting me to blog here this past week - it's been terrific and an intense learning experience.
Nic's previous BAP blog posts
Poetry out loud: Must-visit websites
Poetry out loud: Group reading
Poetry out loud: Page vs stage
Poetry out loud: Voice as organ of investigation
Poetry out loud: Audio chapbooks & other methods of poetry delivery
Poetry out loud: Singing poetry