eBook Authors: Errors and the Dreaded Stigma of Self-Publishing

Self-publishing and ebooks have carried a stigma from day one by naysayers and the traditional publishing world. They forecast the book publishing pipe filled with poor and unreadable digital content because of the self-publishing ebook author.

There has been an increase in errors and poor formatting introduced by the new digital books compared to their pbook counterparts to be sure. So what has gone wrong? And why are these mistakes happening?

Are the self-publishing newbie authors, with their lack of experience, to blame? Does the new digital creation process introduce a new level of errors? Should traditional publishers share in the ‘error’ stigma? What lessons can self-published ebook authors learn to help fix the errors?

With these questions in mind, I took on the task of trying to figure out what is going on here. To me there is more to this than meets the eye.

If done correctly there should not be a problem. If we can spell a word correctly and have the correct tense in a traditional book, we should be able to get it right in an ebook. Formatting should be just as easy. We have been structuring the content of books for a very long time. Let’s break this down and see what we have.

Generally speaking, ebooks fall into four categories.
1. Legacy: Traditionally published paper books that are converted from paper to a digital form using OCR technology or a retyping procedure to create the ebooks. In most cases there isn’t a digital version of the book available for the source of the ebook. So the book is scanned and the spelling and grammatical problems begin.

2. Modern: Traditionally published paper books that have a digital source that can be used to create the ebook. Basically these are the books that have been published since the increase in popularity of the ebook and ebook reader.

3. Self-Published: Individual authors take it on their own to produce a paper version of their book, followed up with an ebook version. There is a level of errors added here because of the lack of resources and expertise.

4. Ebook Only: Individual ebook authors are creating content and publishing directly to the ebook format, bypassing the paper version altogether. This process is a total digital process. No paper version required. This will become more of an issue when enhanced ebooks start to take off in popularity.

The Cliff
So where do we fall off the cliff with ebooks?
1. First of all the publishers of the Legacy and Modern versions have a ‘get it out the door’ mentality. They are working the system. If they can take advantage of the new ‘ebook’ phenomenon at a small cost, the results go right to their bottom line. Why not?

“Yes we have an ebook version available of that new release but it will cost you more than the paper version until the traditional book is available. We got it to you fast, didn’t we?”

You would think the traditionals would get it right.

2. Next, the self-published version has error problems because of the lack of experience and resources to produce a quality product. Most self-publishers do not seek help from outside sources to improve the quality. This is a fatal mistake.

3. The Ebook Only version has the same problems as the self-published version plus they can be published on Amazon in a heartbeat. I can sit down today, write a 100 page ebook, upload it without any editing, with a typed-faced cover, and it will be for sale in less than a week. No need for an ISBN or copyright filed here. And there is no gatekeeper to clean up the trash. Scary.

Errors and Poor Formatting
Many mistakes occur in the writing process. This is a manual process and you will have spelling errors, grammar errors, formatting problems, incorrect line breaks and page breaks and so on.

Many mistakes occur in the conversion process. The traditional’s lack of quality control and effort and the self-publisher’s lack of knowledge is responsible. Both seem to be getting better at this however.

Retailers like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks and Smashwords do enter into the error equation. Each has their own proprietary software which produces the formats readable by our current ebook devices.

However, there is one thing to keep in mind. The retailers do not change the spelling, grammar or tense. They do not create the cover. They do not create the content. So to pass the blame or responsibility to them is a mistake. The actual publisher should take the responsibility for the quality of the ebook.

Publishers and self-publishers need to learn lessons as their experience increases in the world of ebooks. Here is a list of lessons you should consider.
1. You need a quality control process in place. Get help if it is needed.

2. Each format you publish should be handled like it is a new product for sale.

3. There is no perfection. You must anticipate problems. For example, inserted pictures should be reviewed on a reading device. If the picture is too large, they will create an unwanted blank page on the device.

4. Proof read your ebook on a reading device and the ‘For PC’ software for each format.

5. Use the same digital file used in your pbook for the source but create a separate file for each published format. They will be slightly different for each retailer.

6. When you send/upload a file to Amazon or BN, the file should be as close to the finished product as you can get it. For example, when I published my ebook, ‘Call Off the Dogs,’ I uploaded a file in the ‘mobi’ format to Amazon and an html format to BN. Both formats required only a slight adjustment by their software to be accepted.

7. When you add value to your ebook with links, audio and video, test the add-ons on each device you will be publishing on. Trust me. Some work and some don’t.

8. Don’t forget to modify the copyright page on each edition you publish. This is a major error made by almost everyone who publishes an ebook, including the traditionals.

Food for Thought
Here are some ideas you can take away from this blog.
1. Publishers of ebooks have the advantage of correcting their mistakes after their ebooks are published. The ebook is not cast in concrete. If you find a significant error or omission, create a new version and upload the corrected copy.

2. The first two chapters (sample) must be error free. One or two title authors can get by with poor quality if their message is of interest and the marketing is superb but repeat business will drop off dramatically if the ebook is riddled with errors.

I don’t care if you have to read and re-read the first two chapters a hundred times, the sample chapters must catch the reader’s attention and they must be error free. In many cases this is the only chance you have to close the sale. Get help on this one. The more eyes the better.

3. If your fiction or non-fiction ebook just doesn’t work out structurally, it may require a complete re-write rather than ruin your reader’s opinion of you.

4. Your ebook should not be just a copy of the paper version but should be viewed as a complete new product for each new format you publish.

5. If you can’t create a good cover, get someone that can. If you can’t spell, don’t rely on a spell checker to catch your mistakes. Seek someone with the right experience that can edit your ebook for you.

6. Create a quality ebook file. At the end of the process, the file being converted by the retailer must be properly formatted for the target ebook. There should be a different file for each retailer.

7. At the end of the day, sales will be decided by customer purchases and honest reviews. Take for example, J. A. Konrath. He must be doing something right. He has published 20+ ebooks and has been quite successful. If his editing and formatting was poor, his sales would diminish drastically on each title.

Money is made by building an audience. If your ebook’s quality is poor, you will only be a one-time Charlie.

As an ebook author, what can you do to clean up your act and create better quality ebooks? Do traditional publishers have to put more effort into their ebooks? Should you get help for someone with experience or just wing it?

I have referenced below several articles I found interesting on the ‘error’ topic along with their blog sites.

A. In the Face: eBook Errors by Rich Adin – 9/16/2010 from his blog: The Digital Reader

B. Error-Free E-books Will Come “When Cars Can Drive Themselves” by Olivia Snaije –
8/23/2011 from her blog: PUBLISHING PERSPECTIVES

C. Ebook Madness: Don’t Confuse Ebook Conversion With Ebook Formatting! by April L. Hamilton – 10/20/10 from her blog: Indie Author

View my website: HBSystems Publications
Or EMAIL at: jrm@hbspub.com
Or goto my blog: The eBook Author’s Corner
Author: Call Off The DogsCall Off The Dogs, a rendered ebook
LinkedIn Profile: James Moushon

  • James, I appreciate your advice on the need to keep our books, in whatever form, as error-free as possible if we hope to achieve anything significant or lasting as writers.

    It often seems to me, though, that the majority, if not the vast majority, of writers in the Internet age view such advice as if it’s coming from a fussy school teacher who doesn’t live in the real world — where, of course, anything goes. They’ll eventually learn, however, that their unwillingness to take the time, make the effort, and/or pay the price to correct their productions will get them what they deserve: endless obscurity.

    When, as a reader, I find myself asking again and again, for example, which character is saying the words within these quotation marks, I also find myself concluding that since the writer didn’t care enough to let me know, why should I care enough to figure it out? And that’s the end of that book for me.

    It’s not just the current profit-making marketplace at work but the broader market that includes reputation, name, and legacy. So why shouldn’t we welcome our competitors to be as careless as they wish to be?

    I refuse to believe bad writing doesn’t matter anymore.

  • Thanks Ron for the comment as always. I think new ebook authors should make a decision right up front? Am I going to put the time and effort into writing this ebook to make money or is it just a lark? Am I going to do it right or am I going to put ebook trash out there?
    Unfortunately the traditional publishers are falling into the same trap. Get the ebook out the door no matter what. Maybe they can make some additional profit without much effort.

  • I’ve found that the story blurb is often a good indicator of what’s inside, as far as grammar and spelling go. Once I stick to the stories with good blurbs (that use proper grammar), most of the self-published books I’ve read have had fewer errors than even some of my favorite traditionally published books.

    So many people ignore the importance of proofreading. I’m even a proofreader, myself, so I know exactly how important my position is. But it often seems like we’re dismissed as unimportant, or as a job anyone can do. Despite my experience at a company that what chronically understaffed in the proofing department because nobody was passing the proofreading test.

  • I’ve been reading a lot of books aloud to my son on the Kindle over the past year or so – mainstream children’s and young adult books from ‘traditional publishers’, including such wonderful writers as Roald Dahl, Lemony Snicket, Pseudonynmous Bosch and Trenton Lee Stewart. Each and every one of those books has contained typographical and/or grammatical errors. Do I give a flying f***? No, I don’t. I enjoy the books and don’t whine about this small stuff.

    On the other hand, almost every review of my own, self-published, books, from 5 star to 1 star ratings, contains some mention of one of their trivial editing errors (“than rather than then, for instance”). This kind of critique has become a ‘thing’ with self-published works. It seems people feel obliged to bash the self-publisher. My books are also free, which seems to doubly require the critique. As Walter Cronkite used to say, “that’s the way it is.” It’s a double standard that’s taken hold and won’t let be letting go any time soon.

  • Tom. Thanks for your comment. I am like you. I buzz right by problems in a paper version but I do tend to look for problems in an ebook. I guess because that is the business I am in.

    Just yesterday I was reading a popular authors new novel and one of the character said something with ‘a tongue in check’.

    Spellcheckers probably won’t catch the mistake but Word does highlight as a problem.

    I think this will be with us for as long as there are authors but I do find issue with ebook authors who show web addresses in their content with no link and things that can be avoided by just reviewing their work.