Natural Talents and the Nightmare of Getting on Smashwords

Imagine a world in which, some two thousand years ago, every person was given a paintbrush and canvas, after which the result of their creation became the new standard for judging art quality and only those who matched this standard were allowed to paint. The work of people like Rembrandt and Van Gogh would have been repressed from childhood (today possibly with the help of Ritalin), since it was clearly not of equal quality as that of ‘most people’. Would humanity have enjoyed the cultural diversity that it knows now?

It is the same with every other talent; not just artistic talents, but talents like practical handicraft in trades, editing, accounting, technological skills, computer programming and writing. These talents come with a person’s inborn gifts and can be practised, but each of us has some talents and some weaknesses, which are part of our personality. That is necessarily so, because it is a result of how we process information and every personality type does that differently. If we all had the same talents, even potentially, we’d have a very boring world without progress.

In the writing world, writers used to be supported by publishers. A publishing house had some people with editing skills, others with marketing skills, others with illustration skills and printing or formatting skill and the writer could focus on their own natural talent, which usually had to do with the content of the topic they were writing on and not the technical aspects. Writers tend to initiate social change, prevent dogma and come up with novel ideas. Without those insights, the world would rapidly slip into dogma. Homosexuality, for example, started to get serious attention after writers (and filmmakers) started portraying it as normal. Until then the public opinion rejected it. The same applies to all other social issues, no differently than that hard science fiction writers often invent an idea for a technology before it gets developed. Writers, therefore, have a vital role in social progress.

But as a writer (in New Zealand), I am struggling to get onto the market. Not only can I not sell my hard copies outside of the country, because of the cost in postage, but local book shops and libraries go for what is popular, which tends to come from a foreign mass market. The local library will not accept my printed copies, but they have agreed to list my eBook titles. But, as they prefer to take them from Smashwords, I agreed to put my books there. It seemed simple enough.

But Smashwords is made for people who upload a word document (according to certain specifications) and then they make eBooks out of it, although they do have the option of uploading professionally made ePub files. But all my books were already professionally converted to eBook (both Mobi and ePub) by a converter who works to a high standard and there have never been complaints. Yet trying to get those books on Smashwords is an ongoing nightmare. With most of my books, I have to ask my converter to change something in the file, which tends to be explained in techno babble I cannot understand. Not only that, but the rejections seem inconsistent. For example, I have a five-part science fiction series, which all have a different title, but the same series title. Despite entering them with the exact same capitalization and punctuation, one was immediately accepted and the rest came back twice with requirements to change the title format. Now they have all been accepted, the reader might wonder why one of the titles does not match. If I try to change that, I risk it being rejected again. Additionally, the first book in the series, which was converted and created as ePub file, at the same time as all the others and according to the same format, keeps coming back as being faulty, so the readers can buy parts two to five, but not part one.

In short, Smashwords is nice if you have a word document and want to sell it as a book, but if you have already self-published, it is a lot of trouble. Sure, if you are skilled in electronic formatting, you have no problem, but that privilege is personality type dependent. That means that those personality types who prefer genres like hard science fiction and crime can upload their books easily, but not those who naturally lean towards the humanities (and social issues).

And Smashwords is one of the better ones. For one thing, it is trying very hard to make it accessible for all people, and the creators are most likely unaware of the personality types and therefore assume anybody can learn it as easily as they do. Yet it is exactly that understanding of personality types I am trying to promote with my books. So, we are stuck in a cycle: they don’t learn about psychology because those who write about it are less likely to be on the current market and therefore keep assuming that anybody can understand their technology.

In other words, not much has changed from before eBooks, when publishers rejected books for their content; if you expressed the already accepted opinion it was okay, because the objective of publishers was money, which also meant ignoring potential social issues. I have therefore no regret that the industry has changed to give independent writers more chance. But I am beginning to see problems if the new selection process ignores content and grammar altogether and only looks at the technical aspects.

But it gets worse. Contests are traditionally intended to find original and quality books and give the winners a chance to get their name out. Despite biases according to the chosen panel, the size of the contest and the entering requirements, there was the chance that a real-life reader recognized a book’s potential. But I recently saw an advert for a contest that selects their winner according to an algorithm that is created according reader behaviour – thus, no human judges involved – which is therefore outright selecting exactly that which is not original and puts us back at what the publishing houses used to do.

Bittersweet as this may sound, I am happy to give up trying to spend my time on pursuits like marketing, that are clearly not my expertise, so that, no matter how much time I spend on them, I will never stand out.

I am a writer by nature and I need people with other natural talents to support that. As long as our society is solely focused on money and promotes the misconception that everybody has the same potential psychology, it will continue to favour certain pursuits over others. All I can do is keep writing about it and know I have done everything in my ability.

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