I have been using Smashwords to publish and distribute my eBooks for yonks. For Iris of the Shadows, I decided to try something different. I went with Draft2Digital. I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t really like to change around if I can help it. Too many links to consider and sign-ons and all of that. Be that as it may, I believe that it’s always a good idea to look around once in a while.
I’m glad I did. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think the work Mr Coker at Smashwords has done has been essential for independent writers across the world, without exaggeration, and that without the kind of vision that Smashwords has brought forth, we would see a monolithic ‘Amazonian’ ruled landscape… and that’s it. The ease of access to publishing, the quality assurance, the distribution and promotional periods – they’ve all helped build a rich and liberated author community. Amazon still rules the eBook world, it seems, but it’s not without competition and that’s something I wholly welcome.
That being said, let’s get down to Draft2Digital, or D2D. No, not Dungeons to Dragons. Draft2Digital. This is the same mob behind Books2Read (B2R). How is it? In a word, impressive.
Ding-ding! Let’s get ready to rumble!
There’s a lot of good to go over. First, there’s the website itself. It’s a modern-looking site. My care level is about a 3 out of 10. I’m more of a function-over-form dude. If it works good but looks clunky, so be it. In this case, though, it works good and looks good. It’s easy to navigate and see just where you need to be. There is no store front, which is a bit of a shame, but that’s neither here nor there. I don’t really believe the majority of people will venture out from their mainstream sellers like Amazon and Kobo to get books. So, as far as looks go, D2D wins the SW <> D2D battle. Call it a flesh wound.
What about making the damn book already? I’m getting to that. Creating a book is as easy as signing up and clicking the ‘Add Book’ button. You fill in the meta-data, set the cover image and you’re ready to go. The image has recommendations, but the little description says ‘so long as it’s rectangular in nature, with the height greater than the width’ you’re golden. This is fine, but I’d prefer a stricter structure. Knowing what I know about all the various requirements from different distributors, I like the security of knowing my cover won’t be pixelated or bloated or whatever. Still, it’s nice to have the freedom.
Like Smashwords, you can set a release date, so that your book can be pushed to publishers before the go-live. And, as you can see, there’s a lovely little banner telling you all about when it’s going to drop. SW <> D2D trade blows here, nothing really substantial. Think of it as functional parity.
Then you upload your manuscripts. Word doc is fine. You can have your own title, and own links, but there’s a kind of cool feature here: You don’t need a title, copyright or contents page. That’s right. Just write your book, with Chapters and upload. There’s an option to automatically add these things, along with ‘also by’ and ‘author bio’ pages:
At this stage, you can see just how your book has been broken down. If it looks good, you head to the next step. If not, you figure out what you’ve done (ohhh… I mucked up the chapter naming) and re-upload. And if there are any issue, there’s a big red button you can use to ask for help. I didn’t use that, but it’s there. Anyway, upload, check, click next. It’s that easy. D2D <> SW, D2D lands a quick jab to the shnozz.
Where D2D really shines is the uploading and – wait for it – previewing. That’s right, there is an online previewer. Wait, let me get a picture for you:
What – what is that? Did I add those drop-caps? No. Did I add that scrollwork? No. Did I add the arrows as a break? No. That comes with the style on the right. Watch:
That’s real-time previewing right there. What really saved my bacon, though, is that the previewer showed a lot of weird formatting in my original upload. Cue groaning. Why? Because Smashwords has this thing called the Meat Grinder. It’s a way of taking a Word doc and converting it to an eBook. For what it’s worth, I liked to use Calibre for that, but that’s neither here nor there. The Meat Grinder worked very well – if there was nothing too wrong with the formatting. That said, I did have my own issues with some documents where Word had slipped in some invisible elements that screwed things up.
To troubleshoot, I downloaded the epub format file and tried it on Freda and Calibre to make sure and, yes, there were some very strange formatting issues. I went back to the Office Libre and looked at what was going on. Turns out, because I had written Iris of the Shadows in softback format, I had left in the margins on the left and right pages, and the headers as well. It took a couple of uploads and a bit of trial and error – in the end I selected all and set the page to A4 for everything – and that did the trick. Upload, preview, approve. Boom. That’s a solid 1, 2, 3 from D2D to SW. The crowd gasps.
ISBN! I forgot to mention that. SW and D2D both offer free ISBNs as part of the deal. Block -jab – counter -jab. Necessary, and welcome, and with both I’ve found that there’s a kind of lag between asking for an ISBN and it being set on the system. With Smashwords, the ISBN is delivered immediately, but it isn’t updated in their system for about half an hour. With Draft2Digital, it was displaying as ‘No ISBN’, even though I had requested one, but then, after half an hour, it appeared. This was a bit annoying as I wanted to include this in the KDP submission. Not a huge hit, but a chin-dusting from SW there.
Then it’s a matter of pricing and distribution services you wish to opt into. There is the option of Amazon, but I’m going to be doing that myself, only because I’m used to doing it with Smashwords and, hey, I don’t really trust that it’ll go smoothly. Amazon can be a bit thingy, you know.
Also, the short-link appears directly under your Books2Read account, so that’s a bit of a shin-kick (snicker). Price wise, the commission rate for D2D is comparable to SW. SW does have a store-front and takes a higher commission rate, though the author gets more in their pocket because there’s no middle man (so that’s positive). Bit of a muchness there. I have read that returns are higher on D2D but I have no evidence of my own to back that up.
Distribution comes next. With Smashwords, once you’ve submitted, you can opt to go in for Premium Distribution. The ebook is quality checked and then, after a few hours, your book goes to the distributors you’ve nominated. Thing is, you have to check yourself when they actually arrive (B&N is especially slow, it seems). D2D comes with a swinging upper-cut:
The state of the publishing is displayed, along with the time when it was sent to the stores, and when it was received. I don’t know if it’s an acknowledgement style service, or a polling or scrape, but it works. Not only that, you get emails to alert you to when your eBook has hit the shelves! A winding body blow.
It took about the same amount of time to publish to Kobo and Apple (just by gut feel) which was only a few hours. So there’s no great advantage there.
Both Smashwords and Draft2Digital have a partnership with Findaway Voices (which I can definitely recommend) which entitles you to a waving of the $50 casting fee. No contention there.
Lastly, Smashwords has a greater reach beyond D2D at the moment, in that it can distribute to more stores than D2D so – here’s the thing – I’m going to use BOTH. That’s right. I’m going to upload to Smashwords for their distribution to the stores D2D doesn’t do, along with with their own storefront, and KDP, and Google Play. Don’t you love options?
So, the winner? You are! The independent author. While Smashwords might have copped a licking, it’s still the front-runner in terms of pure numbers, and it has every reason to expand and improve. Draft2Digital has brought the game up to a new level and shown just how good publishing can be. Something tells me, though this fight goes to D2D, there are going to be further battles in the future.
I got to writing the good then, I was about to publish this when I realised… I hadn’t done the bad. The bad? The bad… let me see. Um. No, really. Um.
Hmm… there’s nothing bad so far. It’s a breath of fresh air into the indie author scene and, while the ISBN took a while to appear, I can’t really fault it in any way. I will be keen to see how the Marketing Module works, and I look forward to walking through the Reporting engine, but, until then, I really can’t complain.
I guess… I guess if I really want to complain, I would like to see some kind of ‘pseudo-storefront’ that would link out to the various stores, but that’s a nice-to-have.
Apart from that, I’m annoyed that I didn’t try D2D earlier.