Conversion Aversion

Okay, I’m going to do my absolute best not to be snarky here.  I’m a fairly technical person — I’m a web programmer when I’m out there in Day Job Land — and I understand that not everyone is as comfortable or conversant with computers.  I do get that.

But I kind of boggled over this post over at The Book Designer, and it really underlines what I was talking about yesterday, about how much of a pain converting my book to Kindle format was.  It’s called “Conversion Journey: My Word-to-E-book Workflow.” This guest poster has been asked to talk about his process for conversion, and he begins by talking about how he starts out in Word, since Smashwords needs a Word file. Fair enough — but then he says:

Word produces (so far) the cleanest HTML file.

That sound you just heard was any other web developers reading this spewing their morning coffee all over their keyboards.

No. Wrong. Nuh-uh. Anti-yes. Word doesn’t produce anything like a “clean” HTML file. Word riddles your HTML with horrible proprietary tags that are absolutely meaningless to anything but itself, and produces output that’s literally about three or four times the size it needs to be, riddled with useless markup like inoperable cancer.  Word is a perfectly decent little word processor, as far as that goes, and it has its uses, but using it to create “clean HTML” is like using nuclear weaponry to go trout fishing.

But, okay, fair enough, moving on:

There is something about the process of closing the text file and reopening it that prevents Word from assigning any extraneous styles.

[….] For some reason, Smashwords does a lousy job of converting the linkable table of contents when those links are created solely in Word.

There’s something about the process. For some reason. Look at the language he’s using here — he’s approaching the tools he’s using in, well, kind of a cargo-cult like fashion — he doesn’t know why they do the things they do, or what exactly they’re doing to his files — he has just figured out, through trial and error, what steps seem to just magically work, no matter how Rube Goldberg-like the process ends up being. (And it really is that convoluted. Go read the linked article and you’ll see what I mean.)  And what fascinates and horrifies me is that he sounds perfectly happy and accepting of the idea that this is the way it should be, this is the way it has to be.

At this point you might be thinking, man, Montoure, go easy on the guy.  He’s just a poor struggling writer like the rest of us, he can’t be expected to know his way around this stuff, can he?  Well, see, no. That’s what kills me. He’s a professional editor and e-book designer. He does this for a living, and he’s happy with a workflow process that ends up like this:

The third workflow stream is to export the Word file as an HTML file. I open that HTML file in BBEdit and spend the next couple of hours cleaning the code and adding additional code where appropriate.

A couple of hours?  To go over “the cleanest HTML file?”

Okay, look, my point here is not to eviscerate this poor guy.  He does conclude, “The process is still far too complicated, however, and I’m excited for the day when we have one or two superior tools for creating e-books.”  My point here is to agree with him on that. The tools out there for making an e-book are in their infancy, and right now, a lot of people are relying on them. They’re out there gamely trying to carve Michelangelo’s David using a flint ax and a butter knife. Something’s gotta change.