Friday, May 13, 2011

My Beef with the Meat Grinder

I just formatted and submitted When Cthulhu Met Atlach-Nacha to Smashwords for the third time. I am getting––frustrated. So let’s talk this out.

First, let me say that I think that Smashwords is great, and I think they’ve done a lot for the indie author in this changing publishing landscape. Smashwords makes it very easy to get an ebook into a lot of retailers that are otherwise difficult or impossible to get into as an indie, including Kobo, Sony and iBooks. And I think that the company acts as an advocate for the indie whenever possible.

from Yes I know my title says "beef" and this clearly says
"pork." That's just one more reason why it's so fucking funny.
And I also think the Meat Grinder is kind of great. The Meat Grinder is the loving term given to the chained e-beast that smashwords uses to chew up .doc files and s[p]it out everything else, including epub, mobi, html, pdf, etc...  Not every writer knows HTML, and I don’t think they should have to. It’s a super useful thing to know. It’s easy and––between my blog, forums and my ebooks––it comes in handy every day. But someone could say the same thing to me about desktop publishing programs and Photoshop, and yet I have no interest in learning those things right now.

(If you do want to learn the basics of HTML, Head Start HTML will give you more than enough for formatting ebooks.)

So the Meat Grinder helps ensure that writers don’t get taken advantage of. If writers could only choose between leaning html to format their books and paying someone to do it for them, the people who provided that latter service would be able to charge a lot more. As it is, as long as a writer keeps a simple manuscript, they can just upload it into the meatgrinder and get every format they need. It might not be the prettiest, but it’ll be satisfactory. At least with fiction.

A stage play is a different story. A play has certain formatting requirements, especially because the Kindle has a small screen. I think that the small screen and the inability to choose where the page breaks necessitates the use of the UK play format. It’s a bit more complicated than the US format, but it’s more space efficient. If you’re going to print your play, it saves paper. It also ensures that on a reflowable, small screen like the Kindle the character’s name always appears with at least the first line of their dialog.

Wow, that’s a lot of setup for this:

I think Smashwords should also allow at least the uploading of html, and preferably also the uploading of mobi and epub files.

Both mobi and epubs are built from html. So if you wrote the html directly, you’ve got a really good idea of what those files will look like. If I could upload the mobi and epub, I’d know exactly what they would look like because I could test them before uploading them. Instead, what is happening is that I’ve got this .doc file, which is incredibly stupid and bloated (I prefer openoffice, but even that is pretty stupid bloated since everyone complains about needing every feature Microsoft offers). It then gets converted by some mysterious process that I can’t see into HTML and then to epub and mobi which usually work surprisingly well.

But even if I weren’t dealing with a play, I’d just rather not hope and guess. I’d rather know what my file is going to look like before I upload it. Instead, I’m just uploading every other day and crossing my fingers.


I haven’t played D&D since THAC0 went out of style. I got the 3rd edition but never played it. I have to ask why you'd represent tabletop roleplaying with the only dice commonly used in mainstream games. Maybe D20 doesn't have the same rhyming possibilities. And so shouldn't they be playing Shadowrun, which only used D6s? Still, this video is a hoot and a half and the song is actually pretty awesome.


  1. I can totally relate to the Smashwords annoyance--I also REALLY wish they'd just take an html file.

    And the video was awesome. Although we never used a board in tabletop. But whatever. That song's going to be stuck in my head for days.

  2. The only board I've seen like that came with the simple Dungeons & Dragons kit I learned to play D&D with around 1990 or 91. It was like D&D lite, and the board allowed you to play by yourself with these cards.

    Playing D&D by myself. Wow.

    It was a good way to learn though, before graduating to AD&D and human interaction.

    Seriously, I just listened to that song one too many times, and now it's got its hooks in.

  3. Indeed! Most people already have a happy mobi or epub file. Why would we want to grind it?

    p.s. My kid plays WarHammer . . .

  4. I always liked the look of warhammer, but my goodness so expensive.