I love me some Smashwords. You know that, right? I'm strongly in favor of self-publishing, of non-DRM'd ebooks, of pricing flexibility, of wide distribution of artistic efforts in general. I'm not too fond of the Meatgrinder it uses to format the books--there's problems with any instruction manual that says "if you have X problem, you can probably fix it by doing Y, but if that doesn't work, scratch everything and start over and you should be okay." But I love the Smashwords business model, and its promotion of self-publication as a viable creative and business outlet.

But sometimes... I'm just baffled at how much LACK OF PROOFREADING goes into things. I'm not even talking about the books themselves. I have a rule: if the promo blurb makes me wince, or jars me with bad phrasing or lack of punctuation, I don't even consider getting the book, no matter how fascinating the plot sounds. If the author can't be bothered to get their basic ad copy coherent, I don't trust their editing skills either.

Examples under the cut. You have been warned. )
Smashwords is having its July Summer/Winter Sale, and thousands of books are available for free or discounted. (Another week! Stock up now!) I ran across one that looked interesting (Tribes, by Carmen Webster Buxton, which I'm buying after trying the sample… if I'm engaged enough to care what happens next after four pages of real text, that's enough for me to spend $1.50 on a book), and decided to look at the rest of the sale.

I've looked at the freebies and 100%-off coupon-codes a while ago, and picked up some of those; now I was willing to look at the ones that weren't free. But where to start? Smashwords lists in publication order, which is useless for finding The Good Stuff. Aha! Maybe it's time to look at the "highest rated" sort option that I've never figured out!

I made an interesting discovery.

Since the interesting discovery includes multiple quotes and lists and such, it's going under a cut tag. )
Part of PayPal's statement:

First and foremost, we are going to focus this policy only on e-books that contain potentially illegal images, not e-books that are limited to just text. The policy will prohibit use of PayPal for the sale of e-books that contain child pornography, or e-books with text and obscene images of rape, bestiality or incest (as defined by the U.S. legal standard for obscenity: material that appeals to the prurient interest, depicts sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, and lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value).

In addition, the policy will be focused on individual books, not on entire “classes” of books. Instead of demanding that e-book publishers remove all books in a category, we will provide notice to the seller of the specific e-books, if any, that we believe violate our policy. We are working with e-book publishers on a process that will provide any affected site operator or author the opportunity to respond to and challenge a notice that an e-book violates the policy.

You can see Smashwords' response here.
The more I look at Mark Coker's announcement about the Smashwords changes to comply with PayPal's demands, the more annoyed I get. The EFF posted their obligatory rant about free speech, but I'm focused on a different aspect: Coker's semi-apologetic, semi-defensive post.

He does a terrific job of implying that these are reasonable, sensible new rules, and that it was just kind of an oversight that he didn't have them in place all along--while *also* implying that he's so, so sorry about how this affects authors and readers, but he just has no choice. I hate this kind of duplicity.

The new rules (or possibly, new enforcement of existing rules; PayPal's always been anti-some-sexual-content, but may not have been so specific in the past) require ebook stores to not carry books that contain "bestiality, rape-for-titillation, incest and underage erotica." Of course, none of those are actually defined; this is another case of "all DECENT people will know it when they see it, and agree that those are Horrible Things that all DECENT people should not want to write or read."

Coker supports this approach to censorship.

What he says about each of those points )
Smashwords' blog has a linkspam post about How to Self-Publish an Ebook with Smashwords: 31 Authors Share Their Tips and Tricks

All of them that I've read so far have a strong nod to the Style Guide. While authors pretty much universally insist that following the style guide gets good results, they don't point out the nuisance level involved: in order to follow the guide *exactly,* you have to *strip all formatting from your book,* then use Word's Style functions to put it back. This gets faster with practice, but authors who are used to thinking of the edited-and-proofread version as "finished" are likely to be annoyed at the extra few hours (for a novel) of formatting time.

Also. No matter how excellently well you've followed the guide, the RTF version is likely to be lousy. Tolerable at best. (I assume the guide itself was formatted with the guide; its RTF version is unpleasant to read & needs a lot of reformatting to be suitable for print.) And the Meatgrinder only allows those features supported by the simplest format ... no tables, no drop caps, limited image placement options.

Still, though... 31 authors being enthusiastic about Smashwords. None of them, AFAIK, are on the Konrath path to wealth & internet power, but they're all *happy* about getting their ebooks at Smashwords. They're not saying, "Do this and become rich!" They're saying, "This was definitely worth doing, and it could be for you, too." Some of them are making money. Some are making connections. Some are just learning new skills, and happy with that.
Sale at Smashwords until July 31; hundreds of free ebooks, lots of discounted ebooks. (Use the tags at the top to filter for 100% off, 75% off, 50% off or 25% off.)

Hmm, I should download a cluster of the free short stories and post mini-reviews to [community profile] sps on the theory that I'm willing to read up to 5000 words of just about anything, and it'd be nice to find good unknown authors.

Anyone up for the idea of a read-and-review fest at some point, where a bunch of us download a given collection of free ebooks and post thoughts about them?


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