Draft2Digital Adds Ebook Templates

Draft2Digital templatesFormatting ebooks has always been a challenge for self-publishers. Smashwords, the original ebook distributor, literally wrote the book on universal formatting with the Style Guide that teaches authors to do it in ways that will convert and be readable at any retailer. Their system is all about keeping things simple, using basic structure and avoiding fancy aesthetics for assured conversion. A functioning solution that was perhaps a bit plain, plus the instruction was difficult for many authors to follow.

Years later when Draft2Digital came out as an ebook distribution service, it distinguished itself from Smashwords by accepting virtually anything uploaded and made an ebook from that using the artificial intelligence of its automated system. Big surprise, a lot of crappy-looking indie ebooks got produced.

Now D2D has done a smart thing, adding ebook templates where authors can display more creativity in titles, chapters and more. Obvious question: does it work? Next one: what took so long? Final question: why doesn’t Smashwords do this? Let’s answer those.

D2D Template for Drop Caps

With D2D’s templates you can have extras we thought we couldn’t have in ebooks. Dropcaps, headers, fancy scene dividers and more are now an option. It’s easy enough to do. Just upload your document and then check the Preview tab and choose a Style compatible with the new feature. Then check the Enable Drop Caps button and viola! It will convert the document and allow you to download it in epub, mobi or PDF format to inspect it.  You can use a free program like Calibre or Adobe Digital Editions to view it.

If you find it isn’t perfect, which is likely, you may want to play around with your font sizes and layout in your own document and try again. Or try one of D2D’s other styles: romance, sci-fi, mystery/thriller, etc.

It definitely does work but not flawlessly. In some cases of my experimenting, the drop cap letter overlapped with the 2nd or 3rd line of text beneath it. I had to play around with choices and options until settling on one which looked good instead of being able to use them all without issues. Clearly a work in progress.

Admittedly it’s a nice option and one that will hopefully see improvements in the following months. I doubt Smashwords will implement a similar thing since their model has always been based on teaching how-to-formatting for authors while D2D has always been about automation. In the long run, automation has plenty of advantages for those who are pressed to learn formatting or don’t want to.

For now, I’m sticking with self-formatting and using the basics I teach in my course on Formatting Ebooks.  However, this option from D2D isn’t a bad way to go. And for those who want to embrace the best of both worlds, there are ebook templates where you can copy and paste in titles headers and chapters one by one, even add drop caps one by one, although that is by far the longest way to get there.

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Draft2Digital now distributes to OverDrive

draft2digitalFor authors using Draft2Digital to distribute ebooks to retailers, the outlets just got better. OverDrive has been added to their list of partners. OverDrive currently serves more than 38,000 libraries and schools in over 70 countries, including public, college, and corporate libraries.

If you already have ebooks listed with Draft2Digital, you’ll need to opt-in to get your books sent to OverDrive. Very simple to do, just follow the prompts at Draft2Digital.

The update list of partners looks like this:

  • iBooks
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Kobo (including Kobo Plus)
  • Inktera (formally Page Foundry)
  • Scribd
  • 24Symbols
  • Tolino
  • Playster
  • OverDrive

It’s smaller than the list of partners for Smashwords, a common choice for essentially the same service, but the major players are there.

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Draft2Digital Adds Playster to Distribution Network

Playster

For authors selling books through distribution service, Draft2Digital, the outlets just expanded. D2D has been sending ebooks to most of the usual (non-Amazon) suspects for a while now including iBooks, B&N, Kobo, Scribd and more. Now they’ve added Playster.

Playster is a subscription-based service that allows readers to pay a low monthly fee for unlimited access to thousands of books (or movies, music, and games, if that’s your thing). Their mantra: Everything Unlimited. Your readers (past, present, and future) can get a 30-day free trial, giving them access to one of the fastest growing digital libraries around.

Amazon Prime and Scribd also use subscription-based business models. Smashwords, the main competitor to Draft2Digital, has more distribution channels but presently does not have ties with Playster. For the meantime, D2D may be the only way to upload self-published books to Playster.

Of note, Babelcube is a site many authors use for translating their books into many languages. Babelcube also uses Draft2Digital for distribution to retailers, so hopefully those of us with translated books through Babelcube should soon see our foreign language versions available on Playster.

If interested, you’ll need to log in to your author dashboard at draft2digital to opt into this new distributor, and start reaching new readers right away. And when you do, you may be prompted to add your books to Kobo Plus as well, another new feature at D2D.

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Smashwords or Draft2Digital for Ebook Distributor?

smashwords or draft2digitalThis article by Jason Matthews first appeared on The Book Designer.

You’re selling ebooks on Amazon. Where else? The options keep expanding as a rising global market embraces digital books. There are dozens of potential retailers, but only a few of the big sellers have enabled indie authors to directly upload in do-it-yourself fashion. KDP Amazon was the first to offer that. In recent years, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Google Play have followed suit. Apple iTunes allows DIY uploading too, if you’re a Mac user.

Beyond those options, other retailers exist that are only available through a distributor. Since 2008, Smashwords (SW) has been the established solution, where authors can upload for sales and also distribution to many retailers that don’t enable direct uploading. Smashwords admits it is primarily a distributor, where most authors will make about 90% of their earnings via the SW distribution partners and not direct sales from the SW bookstore.

Lately more distributors have emerged, some charging upfront for their services and others free of cost with their earnings made on a cut of any sales, usually around 10% of the retail price like with SW. I prefer the no-cost-up-front companies. One choice is Draft2Digital (D2D), and it’s often compared to SW. Each distributor has pros and cons, but is this just a case of apples and oranges or is there a frontrunner? I’ve written on this in the past as have many others, but since e-publishing is an ever-changing industry, it’s nice to reevaluate some of the deciding factors.

Fear the Meatgrinder?

The most obvious difference is the formatting to be done before uploading. SW CEO, Mark Coker, is an expert on formatting that will be compatible for all reading devices. The Smashwords Style Guide, is a 27,000 word manual explaining the majority of requirements for the average ebook. Its length and scope have been reported to cause hair-loss, migraines and contemplated suicides for tech-challenged authors. In contrast, Draft2Digital doesn’t have a style guide. Their goal is “to support your style guide.” Just send them your Word doc, RTF or EPUB file and they’ll convert it.

An intriguing contrast: do we trust D2D’s program as an intuitive ebook formatter or do we buckle down and learn to do it ourselves? Not surprisingly, this factor alone divides the masses. Some writers (like me) appreciate the knowledge to upload with their own personal touches, while others love skipping that learning curve altogether. Would you prefer not to learn how to create an NCX file or even know what an NCX file is? Would you prefer not to be subject to the rigid requirements of the Meatgrinder, the endearing name given to the SW file converter and spell-check software on steroids? You don’t have to worry about that with D2D. Hey, if Google can build a car that drives on autopilot, D2D can probably design a program to format ebooks.

I wonder if quality is compromised. Are aesthetically unpleasing ebooks getting published more by D2D than SW? I believe that’s probably true, but I also think the quality is getting better all the time.

Sales Potential

This is what matters to me: who are the distribution partners? Presently D2D will get your ebook into

  • Apple
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Kobo
  • Scribd
  • Page Foundry

(Recognize that all of those except PF can be done on a DIY basis, though it’s harder for PC owners to get into Apple. Still, there’s value in doing things once and having it relayed to all channels, or after the inevitable updates happen when a reader points out a typo or you decide to add your latest link to the About the Author page.)

Outside of Amazon, those first three retailers are the main players. Apple is now my second biggest seller. But those retailers aren’t exclusive to D2D.

SW distributes to

  • Apple
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Kobo
  • Scribd
  • Page Foundry

In fact, SW has been doing it longer and also distributes to

  • Baker & Taylor Blio
  • Flipkart (India)
  • Oyster
  • txtr (Germany)

plus three channels to libraries

  • Library Direct
  • Baker & Taylor Axis 360
  • Overdrive

Note that India represents a ton of potential readers, and as the digital age matures Flipkart could be a great source of sales. For current ebook distribution partners and sales potential, the advantage clearly goes to SW.

Paperbacks

Want your book in print with the same ease of skipping the format learning curve? D2D also enables a paperback version to be uploaded to CreateSpace (CS), Amazon’s print-on-demand company. Again, I prefer to upload directly, but formatting books for CS can be a Herculean task for newbies, known to drive even pacifists to seek gun applications and home addresses for Microsoft Word designers. Interior templates exist and formatters too, but D2D is offering an attractive option for CS paperbacks. I haven’t tested their system to comment on performance, though I admit being a fan of the concept. Can you envision being chauffeured to a book signing in a Google car while D2D formats your next release in paperback? It’s a nice thought. Fortunately CS has an excellent digital previewer for analyzing results and determining what changes need to be made. Advantage for paperbacks goes to D2D.

(As an update to using D2D for paperbacks at CreateSpace: don’t do it unless you already know how to perfectly format a CreateSpace PDF. And if that’s the case, why not upload your PDF directly to CS? What D2D sends to CS is pretty much a joke from what I’ve seen.)

Small Victories

Another bonus with D2D is monthly payments compared to quarterly payments from SW. D2D also doesn’t stamp their edition with their name as SW does (Smashwords Edition), making it a more attractive copyright page for those who feel the self-publishing stigma is a factor. I’ve also checked my titles at B&N online and noticed the D2D book description displays entirely while the SW description is limited to the short version. Small advantages to D2D.

Leveled Playing Field: Sales Reports, Speed, Preorders

In recent times D2D had much faster sales reporting and speed of uploading to retailers, especially after updates were made (price change, newer version, metadata, etc.), but SW has evolved and caught up in both regards. I believe the speed for updates taking effect at retailers still leans to D2D, but the new sales data from SW is more detailed and appealing.

Another SW special has been setting up a book for preorders before publishing. The benefit: on the day of release the retailers will count all of the preorder sales as if they happened in one day, which can result in your book showing up at the top of popular charts, thus resulting in even more sales. Recently D2D set up preorders too, and it works in the same way. Just publish your book with a firm future date listed for release.

Price Points

At SW you can create coupons to make your book available at any discount, even for 100% off. This is handy in case you’d like to advertise specials for things like gifting copies or generating reviews. At both vendors you can set your price to always be free, but the coupon option is a bonus for authors who would prefer to charge most of the time. Advantage here to SW.

The Future

Expansion is an important element. SW has been expanding its distribution channels since they began. In the past year SW has added OverDrive, txtr, Scribd, Flipkart and Oyster. Just recently D2D added Scribd and Page Foundry and mentions they have plans in the works to expand. D2D has also seen its titles briefly removed from B&N and Kobo shelves, though they were replaced and that was largely due to retailers taking a stand on adult material. Hopefully that won’t happen again.

I like betting on proven winners, and since Mark Coker has such established history and ongoing presence in the publishing community, my choice is to stick with SW and plan for more expansion.

Decisions

There are a few options that make sense. I recommend always directly uploading to KDP Amazon of course (plus B&N, Kobo and Google Play if you want to).

Option A: Use SW exclusively. Bottom line: it has the most retailers under its belt, and learning basic formatting is good for you and not really that bad, just like eating spinach.

Option B: Use D2D exclusively. It gets you into the most important biggies like SW does, plus it can make CS paperbacks. And it’s as simple as sending them whatever you have.

Option C: Use a combination. Decide which one for Apple, B&N, Kobo, Scribd and Page Foundry based on the personal preferences. Consider D2D for CS paperbacks and rest assured that Smashwords will get you into FlipKart, Oyster, txrt, Baker & Taylor, the library channels and the new set of retailers destined to join the field.

Ultimately it boils down to your skill sets, your time and your needs.

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Ebook Retailers Grade for Upload Process

report cardJust finished an update to stay current with the e-publishing industry (not an easy task), then went to the sales venues to submit ebooks and paperbacks. Here’s the graded list in order of most efficient and user-friendly IMO to the least:

1. Amazon KDP. A+, love the subtle changes to their preview mode, still with the ability to both download the converted document or to view the newly enhanced on-screen version with Kindle options and working hyperlinks–very nice and fast. Available in the Kindle store in about 6 hours. This company has always done the most to sell ebooks and help me do it.

2. CreateSpace. A , the interior digital proof and final proof including cover design are miles better than years past. I love this company for paperbacks. Proofs went through in about 12 hours online and a physical copy delivered to my door in 3 days at the slowest shipping speed (because I chose to order a copy). Used to take a week. Fine quality and price is fantastic, can’t be beat by LightningSource or Lulu. Only wish they did more to proof the cover design online before submitting and perhaps add interior template options.

3. Smashwords. A-, some of this is my familiarity and loyalty but they still do a great job and give LOADS of advice on self-publishing. I wish approval times were faster for Premium Status, but it has sped up to around 24-48 hours compared to several days in the past. Also it can be a grizzly bear passing meat-grinder for newbies, but indies should learn proper formatting. SW is doing everyone a service by keeping formatting standards high.

4. Kobo. B, they have a great way of handling uploads for cover, description and content, but their Previewer needs work to get past the B grade. Don’t like the required download to view on Calibre or some other method–Kobo, keep up with the others and create an online Previewer. Props to them for more monthly sales than B & N, a pleasant surprise.

5. NookPress. B-, my first time uploading since the change from Pubit. Definite improvements with the ability to edit within their system and working links in Preview mode and an improved online Previewer. Still not as sweet as the way Amazon handles TOC but getting better. Needs improvements with the Editorial Review department, couldn’t get that to work right or to just delete it altogether. Now if they could fix their Nook Store search engine and get sales going (a long story), which is still affecting their overall grade.

6. Draft2Digital C+ My first experience with them and mixed feelings. Love how they’re attempting to simplify approval for authors without formatting experience, but does it currently come at a cost to those of us with experience? Maybe, maybe not. I’m only distributing to Apple through them and have been watching my book in Publishing status for a week now, assuming it will be distributed to iTunes soon. Excited for the promise of “real time” sales reports. Jury still out on this company but since they’re new, that’s understandable. Wishing them the best.

Besides the biggies, I upload to my own websites for direct sales (pdf, epub, mobi) and give that an A+ at both Webs and Yola. So easy and nice to sell books via PayPal.

I may update the samples at Scribd and other venues but doubt to upload again to Google Ebooks-Partners-Play, not even sure what they’re calling it theses days.

Your thoughts?

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