Edits Ahoy! Are You Onboard?

This post, by Kimberly Hitchens, founder of Booknook.biz, originally appeared on the Crime Fiction Collective site on 10/4/11, and is reprinted here in its entirety with that site’s permission.

For those of you who’ve missed the latest, Amazon initially yanked and wirelessly replaced, and then removed entirely from sale, a book (Neal Stephenson’s Reamde) after a reader posted a scathing, virulent review of the errors she found in the book. Her review, calling for a 75% price refund, said in part: 

“This level of carelessness is inexcusable on economic grounds. I’d expect to find format errors and mangled content in a pirated ebook, not in a $17 Kindle edition. When I purchase an ebook at a price point so close to the print version, the publisher rakes in far more profit than from a print title. To then turn around and offer shoddy, incomplete text in that pricey Kindle title shows an arrogant disregard for economics, the reader, and the distribution channel.”
Click here to read the entire review, which is worth reading, in my opinion. The Awl reports that Amazon had, as of Thursday morning, gone so far as to remove the title, which was #36 in books overall, #6 in SciFi on Kindle and #4 in print/audio. Clearly, a significant financial decision by HarperCollins.
Now, normally, I’d just report this as an odd bit of news, and not dwell on it; but two other things have happened this month that are related to this. Which makes me think that this shan’t be an isolated incident, and we in the biz need to pay closer attention to what we write, publish and produce. The two events are:
  • First, one of our top authors received a letter from Amazon, informing him/her that "During a quality assurance review of your title, we have found the following issue(s): Typo/formatting issues exist that may have been caused by an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) problem. An example is mentioned below:
    "Don’t forger that" should be "Don’t forget that"

    Whereupon Amazon then advised him or her to: "Please look for the same kind of errors throughout and make the necessary corrections to the title before republishing it." (Italic emphasis added). The interesting part is that this book wasn’t scanned, nor OCR’d; and it was professionally edited more than once. Amazon only provided the one instance of an “error.”

  • Another client, having crafted some rather unique content, had deliberately written scenes that were incoherent, to represent a protagonist in a comatose state. Amazon flatly yanked the title after customer complaints about the unreadability of the text.
What this tells me is that Amazon, having purged innumerable over-represented PD (Public Domain) titles, and every PLR (so-called, "Private Label Rights") book they could find, have decided that they are going to tackle the issue that everyone’s been talking about: 


Which means one thing: Real Editing. Not Word’s built-in spellchecker; not your Mom; real editors with real experience. Here at Booknook, we like the Twin Lizzies; Elisabeth Hallett and Elizabeth Lyon. Elisabeth Hallett,
(Email here) specializes in line editing, as well as proofing and copyediting; Elizabeth Lyon (website here) is a freelance editor with more than 60 books under her belt, and can assist you with revisions and developmental editing, in addition to line editing services.
I know that this has been a long (and NOT funny!) first column for me (originally appearing on September 30th, 2011, in our Booknook.biz newsletter), but the import of these events should not be overlooked. Lastly: learn to use Track Changes (if you use Word), or its equivalent in WordPerfect or Open Office. I am really surprised at how many authors don’t know how to use it, or mistake tracked changes for Word’s built-in spellchecker, but it’s a simple tool, and one that can help you work competently with an Editor. A good editor can work faster in track changes than without it; if you know how to use it, it will save you money, not only in editing hours and in the number of revisions you’ll end up paying for, post-production, in ebooks that you create, but also in keeping your book from being nuked by Amazon and badly reviewed, which will cost you sales.
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