Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Why are there so many typos in self-published e-books?

I began reading a very interesting sample from a young-adult science fiction novel I downloaded from Smashwords. It has fresh ideas, a well-thought-out universe, an exciting and unique plot, vibrant and interesting characters, and an absolutely stunning cover. What's not to love? Well, I hate to mention it, but there were four typos on the first page. In the second chapter there was a bad plot-line error, probably the result of the author planning to go in one direction and ending up going in another. I have continued to find sporadic typos but my interest in the book has not waned. I am anxious to read each new chapter to see what events and adventures will unfold.

Does this mean that it doesn't matter if a book contains errors? That we should be able to pass over misspellings and grammatical mistakes without comment? Of course it doesn't. Despite my enjoyment of this book, I would have liked it even more if I hadn't had to cringe over each mistake, if my concentration hadn't been broken by having to go back and reread an unpunctuated sentence or paragraph to make sure I got the proper meaning.

Those of us who publish our own e-books have a responsibility that traditionally published authors do not have and have never had--to act as not only the book's author, but as its only copy-editor and proofreader. No, your girlfriend or your mother do not count (unless, of course, they are professional editors).

I truthfully don't think that any author wants to be thought of as in any way illiterate. If we are talking about 2 tables, we mean two tables, not to tables. If someone finds a mistake like this in one of my own books and tells me about it, I will immediately--and somewhat shamefacedly--correct it. In fact, in a previous blog post entitled "The world is my editor," I encourage my readers to do just that.

But let's go a step further. Let's make it easier for our readers to let us know that our books contain an error or two. In the example I used above, I tried mightily to find a private email address so I could send the 29-year-old author a few of my comments without having to post them on her blog where everyone could see them. But there simply was no way--not even a message button on the book's facebook page. I regretted it, but I thought maybe the author would feel more gratitude for the comments than irritation that they were made publicly.

Here's my idea. Why not make it possible for readers who have purchased the book to communicate with authors from within the e-book itself? If you are reading along and see the word tomatos, just click on it, bring up an email window, and type, Hey, man. It's tomatoes. Yes, there is potential for abuse, but abuse is more likely to come in the form of a review, which, again, can only be done on Smashwords by people who have paid for the book they are reviewing. As both an author and a reader, I would favor this idea or something like it.

If  proofreading and copy-editing are to be necessary tools for today's authors, then let's see this as an opportunity to learn even more about our craft than yesterday's authors. Readers have new opportunities too; for the first time in history, they have the ability to actually help in the creation of  a work of literature. When I see fine new writing--like I see in the e-book I am reading--I want to do everything I can to help it succeed.

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