It’s been a while since I had anything of deep technical interest to my fellow authors, and today has changed that. Today, I discovered just what a pain it is to try to make your eBooks available to your readers. I’m going to walk you through the tools I deployed today to make She Only Wore a Shirt to the Funeral available to my readers today.
First, I presume that you want to be a direct source for some of your books, like me. I’m just fine with letting the big content aggregators handle the hosting for me in general, but it’s kind of nice to have a direct connection to the readers. And most importantly, you’ve got no restrictions against putting in all the commercial links you want, when you do a direct eBook. Most companies seem to think they’re the only place you might possibly publish, and they’d really prefer that you manage that in a Smashwords book (distributed to Apple and everywhere) that you only have links to THEIR site. Kind of not possible when Smashwords distributes the same book to each site, so you can’t actually create a set of links on each book which guide the reader to that site’s instance of your other ebooks. The Smashwords style guide says to use Smashwords as a central site to link to, but I’ve had book rejected at Apple because (contrary to some agreement they have with Apple) Apple considers that a competitive link. Anyway, I’ve tried something new recently, which is setting up a separate page on this site for each book, then linking from that page to every site I’m aware of which sells my books. I think that this approach might be deemed acceptable by the Powers Which Be in publishing-land (and not be considered a competing link, since their link is in fact included), but I’m not sure.
Getting your content ready for hosting
The first thing is that you’re going to want a version of your book that you can host on your site. That leaves PDF – which folks tend to look down on these days – or ePub, which is what all the cool kids are doing. Amazon and Smashwords both frown on it if you decide to just save the ePub they generated for you and rehost it on your own site. That means you’re now in the position where you need to be able to generate an ePub yourself. So, I found writer2epub, which integrates with openoffice or libre office and allows you to basically export to ePub. There are quirks to getting it running, of course. One of them is that instead of asking you where to save the file, it just writes it into your filesystem right next to the doc file or odt file you were editing on earlier. But, I found that it did a nice job of getting an ePub document ready, just in time for me to smash into the next hurdle.
By default, WordPress doesn’t allow you to upload most file types
When I tried to upload my .epub file, I was rejected by WordPress security. It said that the file type I’d tried to upload was not permitted. Looking around, I didn’t see any setting in WordPress for it, and it seems that this is one of those hard-coded things which you need to either crack the WordPress code open for, or just use an appropriate extension. I chose to go the extension route, because I’d rather not worry at each WordPress upgrade about whether my changes got blown away or not.
Specifically, I added the “Upload File Type Settings Plugin”, which does a wonderful job of letting you actually specify your own mime types. There are other things which just expand the list of mime types, but neither of the two others I tried actually let you specify your own; they all just added more types to the list. They’ll take care of you if you’re wishing that you could upload movie files, but if like me you just want to add .epub files to the “yes, I can upload this” list, those other plugins will not help you.
When you add the file type settings plugin, you’ll get a new “Upload Settings” configuration screen under your “Settings” tab. You’ll want to add this into the mime types configuration box:
Once you’ve done this, you’ll be able to upload .epub files to your library.
Tracking Your Downloads
Of course, it isn’t very fun to only host your downloads and never know if people are actually downloading them. That’s why I also installed the Simple Download Manager plugin. It lets you handle downloads via something kind of like the media library, and you get a new “Downloads” tab right under your “Comments” tab in the dashboard. You can then actually see how many times people have downloaded your various works, as long as you use SDM links to link to them (the helpful Download buttons like the one below). The Download below uses everything I’ve talked about in this article, wrapped up into one. Feel free to try it out, just keep in mind if you stumbled upon this during technical research, that I am an Evil Dirty Erotica Author, and you will in fact be downloading very-NSFW text content (but with no particularly incriminating pictures).