I was barely home from my trip when I got an email from Amazon Kindle support, telling me that a reader had contacted them about two typos they had found in the (free) ebook edition of Neptune Crossing. Would I please correct them? Hell’s bells, I thought. There goes my day. And I was right.
There’s this widespread misconception that because ebooks are digital, mistakes can be corrected in a jiffy and the revised edition put up before your coffee has time to cool. Sounds good. And oh, how I wish it were true. Let’s see how it plays out in real life.
First, I checked the ebook, which exists in multiple formats, to see if there really were typos. Sometimes people mistake colloquialisms, or sounds, or alien words, or made-up words, or unusual usage for typos. Alas, the typos were real. They were mistakes, and they had to be fixed.
The first challenge was that I maintain multiple “master source” documents—Word docs that have all the latest corrections and styles and so forth. Docs from which new ebooks, or print-on-demand paper books, can be created. The reason there are several is that there’s different front and end material, depending on the store. For example, “Buy the next book in the series from the Kindle store,” with a link. Or from the Nook store. Each store allows links only back to itself, or to the author website. So when something needs to be corrected, it has to be corrected in all the master documents.
After the source docs are corrected, it’s time to correct the ebooks. In the case of epub books (Nook, iBooks, everything but Kindle), the easiest way to fix something simple like a misspelled word is to open the ebook in a program called Sigil, which lets you edit the underlying text and code. Do a search, fix it, rerun validation checks, and close it up again. Then test it in a few viewers to make sure you didn’t screw something else up while fixing the little thing. (You might be surprised how often this happens.) For a Kindle file, you can’t use Sigil, so it’s easiest to recreate the ebook from the source file in Calibre, another essential program. Then test, retest, etc.
Done? Time to upload the new versions. Easy, right? Maybe. About half the stores have changed the requirements for cover illustration size since the last upload, so you have to go back to your master cover images and hope you have a big enough one to meet the upgraded requirements. Oops, now you need to run the book through Calibre again to incorporate the larger cover image in the book. Then test again.
Time to upload (again). Kindle first, because more books sell there than anywhere else. Also, they also have the most sophisticated checking system. It now presents you with a list of possible typos. See the above list of things that are often mistaken for typos. Most the flagged words are just that. But you need to look at them anyway, to see. Okay, good, upload done. One store out of the way, now on to the next. Oops, Smashwords accepts epub uploads now, but gives a bizarre error from Firefox. Better try again, using Chrome. That works—but with about six other annoying little glitches that cause the upload to take an hour instead of a minute. The Nook store should go faster, right? Maybe, except they’ve changed catalog description requirements, so you have to fix those bits. Finally, Book View Café, which is a simple FTP upload. Yay!
Oops—wait. If the typos were in Neptune Crossing, then they’re probably also in The Chaos Chronicles Omnibus volume, which contains the first three books. Better check. Yes, blast it, they are. Repeat steps 1-60 above, with the omnibus. Go to upload.
The Kindle spell-checker flags something like 200 words, most of them as noted above. But wouldn’t you know it? It finds a real typo in Strange Attractors (Book 2), and two in The Infinite Sea (Book 3). Augghh! These books have been checked over so many times, how can that be? Nevertheless, there they are.
Go through it all again, fixing the typos in the omnibus, and then again in each edition of the individual novels. Check the results. What’s this? Why is the first line of Chapter 19 of Strange Attractors indented, while all the others are flush left? Wrong style applied to that paragraph. Frakkin’, frakkin’, frak. Go fix it. In all the versions. Be sure and get them all. Oh wait—I need a bigger cover image for this book now, too.
Repeat as needed. Try not to go mad.
Those two typos took an entire day, and I still haven’t finished with The Infinite Sea. When that’s done, there’s a typo a friend pointed out in Dragon Space. Aaaeeiii.
Tell you what. The next time you find a typo or two in a book, please consider cutting the author (or publisher) a little slack. It’s harder than it looks to get rid of those things! (If you find more than a few, that’s just carelessness. Go ahead and give the publisher hell.)
I understand that typos happen, and am indeed willing to give slack. 🙂 That said: would you rather not know? Or is it better to drop a line regardless, even knowing it may not be fixed for a while?
Jeffrey A. Carver
(Sigh.) Yes, I'd rather know. Not really, not deep down, but–yes, I'd rather get the books as close to error free as possible. (Sound of deeply drawn breath.)
I am sorry that a typo would bother anyone so much. There is so much to do then worry about a silly small mistake. ( Like reading your Starstreams series is much more important.)
Jeffrey A. Carver
Well, it's all part of being your own publisher, even if it's just for your backlist books. Every once in a while, you just need to vent.
I'm glad you're enjoying the books!
I feel your pain. No, really! Just went through this with one of my titles. I haven't quite gotten the fixed one up outside of Kindle because I've decided to do a deep cleaning on the presentation altogether. Ahhhhhhh!
I think Amazon's response to a reader who will complain about one or two typos in an entire book is extreme. When was the last time you read a paperback book from a major publisher that was totally error free? Do readers get to tell the retailers to stop selling the book until the typo is fixed? No.
To make an author go through what you did for something so minor is ridiculous, Jeff. Sure, we would prefer that there be no mistakes in our books and we work hard toward that end. But once a book is done and published, that should be it. On to the next book and please don't make us waste an entire day – or more – in such tedious work.
I agree with Maryann, as a reader I would never complain to a publisher or writer over two or three typos. As a writer, I do want my books as error free as possible, but also realize this may not be entirely possible. Fixing one can inadvertently cause another.
I usually ignore the occasional typo unless there are a lot of them, or the typo seriously detracts from the reading experience, which would only be during a particularly exciting part of the story.
However, I never realized how much time it'd take to correct one for an ebook! wow!
Jeffrey A. Carver
Truthfully, I don't mind Amazon letting us know when they get feedback about typos–in fact, I appreciate it. But at times, they've been known to threaten to pull a book from sale because of one or two typos, and that's just nonsensical. Striking an intelligent balance is the key thing.
Thanks for putting a smile on my face, even though I know you typed in angst!
I'm a kindle publishing baby – just launched my two books last week!
And despite lots of people proof reading, including someone who did it for a living; still had the classic typo of "side" being replaced by "site".
Oh well I hope my updating goes a little more smoothly, luckily only have one master file for each book in word!
Fingers crossed and all the best.
T R Brown
Jeffrey A. Carver
Good luck, Terry! And sorry your comment took so long to appear. (I don't know why it didn't go right through, but I just found it awaiting moderation.)