Putting Pictures in your Smashwords EBook

The first thing to remember when building a document to submit to Smashwords is that they have a file size limit of 5MB. And that’s it. If you’re doing a comic, a large children’s book, or anything that may depend on illustrations this can be a very real problem.

The Smashwords Style Guide says, “If your file is greater than 5MB, users of Word 2003 and later can use Word’s awesome Compress feature, which will dramatically reduce the file size without visibly harming quality. Simply right-mouse click on an image, click Format Picture, and then click the Compress button. Next, click the All pictures in document radio button, then click Web/Screen (selects the 96dpi compression), then click OK.”

But even before I came to Smashwords as one of the formatters on their little list, I had found the following:

  1. Compress does work, but it doesn’t compress as much as you sometimes think it should.
  2. Compress can ruin the quality of your images – and it won’t show until after it’s been run through the Meatgrinder or you print it on paper.
  3. Setting your pictures to grayscale in the same dialogue box often can INCREASE the size of your document.

So what do you do when you have a document for Smashwords that’s refusing to lose weight without quality? In this article, I’m going to address how I handle images for a Smashwords document step for step. I may also talk about how I handle images for epubs and mobi outside of Smashwords. Maybe.

Step 0 – Have a good image editing program.

Microsoft Paint won’t cut it, by the way. Smashwords suggests Paint (http://www.getpaint.net/) or Picasa (http://picasa.google.com) because they’re both affordable (read: free). Although I hear it’s no longer being developed, I also suggest Gimp (http://www.gimp.org/), which is also free. I personally prefer Paintshop Pro, which I’ve been using since before Photoshop was emperor. (And if you want to spend money on it, it runs an average of $50 to $80, depending on where you find it at.)

If you do use an open domain (free) image editing program, I highly encourage you to drop a small donation of $5 or so to the developers (if they take them) as a thank you for the blood, sweat and tears they donated so that you can sweat some blood and tears of your own.

Step 1 – Check your image sizes

Okay you’ve got your editing software and you’ve… this is very important… opened it. Good. Now, the next step is to go back to your folder containing the images and look at your image sizes. You can do this in a lot of ways. The quickest way is to right click on each and check properties. I personally like to keep my folder settings on detail; all I have to do then is read the folder.

If all of your images are high quality, full color beauties and your Word document size is still under the limit: great! Skip to step 4.

If this isn’t the case then you have some work to do. I start with the largest file-sized images and work my way down one by one, checking things in the Word document as I go. The less I have to edit and compress, the cheaper the formatting cost for you.

Step 2 – Resize

This next part was common sense, right? Of course it was. Open the largest image in your software and resize it to the following dimensions:

  • 5” width maximum – keep aspect ration turned on
  • 7” height maximum – keep aspect ration turned on
  • 72 dpi

If you don’t understand what that means, I’m afraid I won’t be able to help you much. What I can tell you is the following:

I open my document in Paintshop Pro. At the top of my menu bar I click the tab that reads “Image”, go down to “Image Resize” to open a dialogue window. I make sure the setting “lock aspect ratio” is checked.

I make sure my resolution setting is 72 dpi. (Sometimes I will pick 100 dpi if the images aren’t many. If I were formatting a color document for Nook or Kindle, I’d pick 172 dpi. The higher your dpi resolution, the better looking the picture.)

Then I choose the width first. If the image is less than 5” wide but over 7” long, I will reduce the height and ignore the width. Otherwise, I tell the program to reduce the image to 5” wide. Some programs will then predict how tall your image is going to be under that setting. If so, check it! If compressing your image to 5” wide doesn’t bring its length under 7”, you have to tell the program to change the length to 7” instead.

Set your compression level. In Paintshop, I do that when I hit “save as” to open the save dialogue window. I click a little button labeled “options” to open that dialogue and slide my compression level anywhere from 10 to 20. The lower the compression, the smaller your image BUT the more image quality you lose so don’t go beyond 20! I try to keep my compression as close to 1 as possible, but there are often times I can’t do that.

If your image is in color, you can try keeping it in color to start with.

Save your image under a different name. Do NOT save over your originals! You may have to revisit them to try compression again. Never compress the image you’ve already compressed, or you’re likely to end up with a very ugly mess.

You can save as jpg or png. Smashwords states that png seems to have the best results. If my image has words on it, I might save as a tif with layers turned on or a PSD because of the following step.

Step 3 – Does your Image have text on it?

If your image is a comic or just something simple that reads “feel good about yourself,” the next important thing to ask is if it’s going to be readable on a tiny screen. They’re making ereaders bigger and bigger these days, which makes me think we should just go back to reading giant tomes written by monks at this stage. Despite that many people read eBooks on a 4.5” wide screen or – gasp! – their smart phone, which has an even tinier screen.

To test, tell your image editor to view the image at a small size such as 20%. When you get your image looking about 4” wide on your screen see if you can read it. If you can’t, chances are it won’t be able to be read on an ereader. You’re going to have to fix that.

I can’t tell you how to do text without writing an entirely new article. If you’re someone who has put the text on your images, you’re hopefully someone who already has a glimmer of how to fix it. My advice is: make the font a big bigger Try a different font: some fonts are easy to read at one size and just impossible at another. Increase your kerning: spacing out your letters can also help.

Save your image as per the instructions in step 2.

Step 4 – Reinsert into Word

Go to your Smashwords document, find the image in question or where you want it to be, and insert your new image. From the Smashwords Style Guide, “No floating images: Do not use floating images (if you can click on the image and drag it, it’s floating) because your image may appear in unpredictable places after the conversion. To anchor floating images, right mouse click on the image, then click Format Picture, then click Layout, then click In Line With Text, then click save, then click Word’s center button.”

If you remember the old html web pages from the early 90’s with divider bar pictures in-between paragraphs, that’s the style we’re going for. It’s crude, but it works. And it can be very pretty if done well.

To have your image take up as much of the screen as possible, insert at at 5” wide or 7” tall in your document. The smaller you tell Word to insert your image, the smaller it’s going to be through the autovetter. Keep in mind, however, that some ereaders like the Kindle may ignore the Word command and put the image up as large as possible – so if you want your images to be smaller compress them at that size originally.

Step 5  Check your Word document size

Save your Word document. Go to the folder it’s contained in and check it’s size.

Are you below the limit already? Congratulations! Move to Step 6.

You’re not below the limit? Alas, it’s time for you to pick the next biggest image in the folder, go back to step 2 and go through the process all over again.

If you’re done the process to all of your images and your document is still above the limit, check to see how far above the limit it is. If it’s VERY far above this next step may not work and you’re going to have to decide if you need all of your images or if there’s a way to break up your book into sequels without breaking Smashword’s guidelines.

If it’s not that far above, then the next step is to turn your images Grayscale.

Step 6 – Grayscale

I don’t recommend going Grayscale for the following reasons:

  1. Color looks better on my black and white Nook screen as well as my husband’s BeBook. It  stands to reason it looks better on other such screens.
  2. Furthermore, a lot of the newer readers have gone to color.
  3. I was fighting to keep things in color before that happened, as a matter of fact, because some people have turned their notebook laptops into large ereader machines (I know I did), and those are color.
  4. Some people just read while sitting at their desk.
  5. Not to mention the color of smart phones.
  6. There are a lot of reasons to try to stick to color.


If you do have to make the grayscale choice, I recommend you pick and choose various images that might already look grayscale but are compressed in color first. Then decide if all of your images have to be grayscale or if you can stylistically get away with just a few.

Reopen your compressed image in your image editor and tell the editor to make it a grayscale document. In Paintshop I do this by clicking the Image tab and selecting grayscale from my dropdown menu.

Note: Desaturate does not do exactly the same thing. If you’re tempted to use this command to get a grayscale image, your image will still retain a lot of information that using Grayscale won’t keep. Grayscale produces a smaller image in size.

Now save. When you save, your editor may tell you that it has to save the image with so many bytes of color. That’s okay. Hit yes, move on.

Now go back to step 3. Do this until you have a document that’s the size you want it to be. When that happens, you’re either ready for me to format the rest… or you’re ready for uploading to Smashwords if you have the rest done yourself.

Step 7 – A tip for when you upload to Smashwords:

From the Smashwords Style Guide: “If the images are critical to your book, then when you publish your book uncheck the checkbox eBook option for “Plain Text” because photos and charts don’t translate into plain text. If the images are a nice-to-have but not a need-to-have, then go ahead and allow the Plain Text option.”

If you don’t know what that means, you well.

It should also be noted that the4 PalmDoc format is really another format for plain text. I’ve yet to put a file through Smashwords and have the PalmDoc feature keep the illustrations within. But if that works for you, you have my envy and blessing.

Good luck with your image editing!



Metronome (Click to listen)

[mp3j track="metronome-compilation.mp3" autoplay="n"]

I uploaded this song to Grooveshark, and the silly thing made me choose a band name and an album this belongs to.  So I am now Viking Kitteh and this is track one of the album Sock Monkey. Which may remain a nonexistent album with the way I record.

The story behind this song is a bit on the sappy side, a bit on the pathetic side, and all on the shoulda-done-it-sooner side.

There are times when the music enters my head and the songs come out complete. When I wrote down the words for this song, this was one of those times.  I wanted to see it complete, but I didn’t know how to do it. So I turned to someone who I thought was a friend of mine for help being as she was getting her Master in such things.

At first she told me I couldn’t write such things and didn’t have the talent for it and she didn’t want to waste her time on silly things like that. That should have been my red flag. When she saw the words she said she was surprised that it looked like a pretty good little song. But it never went anywhere, and these days now that I’ve thankfully broken ties with her I remember all of the other times I’d be singing something ad hoc and she’d think whomever wrote it was a fabulous composer until she realized it was mine. And I think of other subtle ways she discouraged me and what I did while at the same time taking ideas I had, and I understand that I was standing in the shadow of jealousy.

Even so, I put the song away and told myself I’d never be able to do this. But as you get older you form regrets, and one of mine is that I never have been able to pursue music the way my musical soul wanted to. Then I had a short conversation with Leslie Fish, who essentially told me I was being silly.  Which convinced me to haul out this song and work on it again.

This meant trying to figure out how to add musical accompaniment even though I don’t play a musical instrument. I have tried repeatedly to find people to play with. That also has never worked out. So I tried to join the SCA bard’s group for the kingdom I’m in. I was flat rejected.

People I talk to can’t seem to understand I’m interested in playing music not hearing their life story or hearing about what degrees they have.

And my last attempt, who has a wonderful singing voice and a keyboard and could do the simple things my type of music needs, told me she had to learn how to play everything perfectly so that she could finally join me after the first time I asked her to play with me 10 years ago. Yeah. As if I have another 10 years to wait. I’m already pushing 40 here.

So I realized: gotta do it alone. Maybe it’s fate. Who knows. It isn’t like I haven’t tried at least 100 times or more. And so this song has been born by itself, wrapped in the swaddling clothes of voice, in the manger of no trumpets, with sheepish notes bleating on the side.

When I made it up, it was mostly a violin piece with no words. Which is why the lyrics are as they are. It began as a love song to the man I had not met yet. I presented it to him finally this past Valentine’s Day.

There are a couple of places that make me wince, but I can’t get them better even though I’ve tried. So I hope you like it anyway.

If you do and you download it, please consider sending me a donation. Such things will help me make more music. And maybe buy that xylophone I’ve been coveting.