Rather than submit a Word DOC file for conversion via the Smashwords Meatgrinder, authors and publishers can now submit an Epub file which will be sold by Smashwords and distributed to the various ebookstores:
Smashwords Direct alpha testing underway. We're preparing to launch Smashwords Direct, our direct .epub upload option. One year ago in my 2011 annual year-in-review over at the Smashwords Blog, we made a commitment to launch SWD in the second half of 2012. We're working to fulfill that commitment. We're nearing completion of a beta version of SWD. The first iteration will enable those of you with professionally designed .epub files to replace your current Smashwords-generated .epub with another .epub. It'll also allow authors to upload .epub files instead of Word .doc files. We're inviting people with custom epubs to email them to us at email@example.com. In your email, please tell us your process for creating the file (did you use a tool such as Calibre or InDesign, or did you hire someone?). We will perform internal testing with these files, though we will not publish them or go live with them (after we launch, we'll let you do this yourself). Once we receive a critical mass of testing files, this request for testing files will disappear. Thank you!
Speaking as someone who has prepped ebooks for submission to Smashwords, I must say that I danced a jig when I heard this bit of news. I recall that Mark Coker promised this was coming sometime this year, and even though there are only a few days left in the year it's good to see it finally happening.
As much as I like the option of having a low cost ebook distributor, the MeatGrinder process which Smashwords uses to convert from a DOC file to a half dozen ebook formats is something else. The MeatGrinder is aptly named in that it takes a DOC file which no one would want to read for any length of time and grinds it up into a sausage-quality Epub or Kindle ebook. Like any sausage, you don't want to look at the guts. Also like a sausage, the general quality of MeatGrinder output falls far short of what can be done with an ebook made from scratch.
But even if you leave aside such professional complaints like the fact that prepping a DOC for Smashwords takes as much time than creating both the Mobi and Epub versions of a title, there's a whole other reason for why this is a good idea:
The Meatgrinder was conceived at a time when ebooks were rarely more than text and images. Even the base Epub2 format is not that much more complicated than the Kindle format - not when compared to Epub3.
The MeatGrinder can't handle the extra features, so if Smashwords wants to continue to be relevant then they'll need to offer a way to bypass the MeatGrinder.
Smashwords Direct is the first step in that direction, and it cannot come soon enough.