Thursday, September 22, 2011

Copyediting And Amazon: Update

Update to my last post: Seems more and more folk are coming forward with similar emails from Amazon about grammar issues. Anecdotal comments from the authors as well as cited comments from Amazon that are surfacing imply that Amazon is:

  • Performing spot-check quality control
  • Responding to customer complaints and acting on them
  • Pulling books from sale if errors aren’t corrected
The onus is on the author/publisher to either correct and reupload the book or to write to Amazon, explain WHY the punctuation in question is being used or how the word is proper dialect in spoken dialog (using “ole” for example). In two cases at least, an email back to Amazon with explanation (such as the errors in question conforming with generally accepted style manuals) resulted in Amazon dropping the matter.

Some of the errors, of course, are founded: duplicate words, an extra indent, a misspelled homonym. Still, if what seems to be a litmus test of 3 errors found in a book means it must be pulled, corrected and republished, then Amazon QA personnel are going to be working overtime and traditional publishers will need to hire extra staff to deal with all the error-handling and reuploads.

A Google search indicates this has been going on for the past few months. It does, however, seem to be more prevalent now than before.

An unsubstantiated claim is making the rounds that Amazon has offered a bounty to readers who find and report errors. The bounty has been cited in various venues as $5, the purchase price of the book or, in some cases, both. I think we can agree that in a land of grammar gray and where the idea of editors following a little manual called The Chicago Manual of Style seems a surprise to the Amazon QA team, this could become a real issue. Ebooks are not so difficult to correct and reupload, though the time investment is annoying. But books where the print run could be in the thousands? This one’s going to be interesting.

Also, has anyone else noticed an increase in Google + invitations since Facebook launched its revamped News Feed yesterday? :o)


Sarah Laurenson said...

Love leaving comments, but this morning I seem to have nothing interesting to say. :-)

Phoenix Sullivan said...

LOL Sarah! That's OK. I was hard pressed to find something new and interesting to write about. Nothing much on the update today we didn't already discuss on Tuesday, I'm afraid.

vkw said...

I don't know how I feel about this.

On one hand, cleaning up ebooks and offering a high quality product on Amazon, is good for authors and readers and Amazon.

On the other hand, I remember the critique you recenty received and the grammar mistakes and misuse of words you were accused of making. The specific mistakes mentioned were unfounded and the other complaints were vague. Because of this, I felt the reviewer was petty and unprofessional.

I think the compromise here on quality control would be for Amazon to hire a few editors to edit ebooks, therefore, fairly using one standard and not taking the complaints of random people. I see an opportunity for sabotage and maliciousness otherwise.

Whirlochre said...

We inhabit the internexus between gatekeepers and park wardens.

I'm all for error-free literature, and with novels printed by established publishers I presume much of what you pay for is a typo-fee script.

With self-pubbing indies, you don't have that luxury — but c/o Amazon, you have the luxury of self-pubbing indies.

So I'm wondering to what extent Amazon's role as a distributor remains pure when they insist on jumping in editorially — in the same way that some lit agents are now assuming publishing duties.

Or is this just another case of terra firma morphahula?

Whirlochre said...

typo-fee script

OK — kick my backside for letting that one past the sensor.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

@vkw: The interesting thing is that the people who are talking about this (for obvious reasons) are ones whose books are selling really well (as in 1000s sold) and who have dozens of reviews that are overwhelmingly 4 and 5 star. I'm sure there are many more books being turned in by readers whose authors don't want to air the news publicly and who do need to go back in and make corrections. I don't know what the most cost-efficient option is for Amazon at this point :o(

@Whirl: I wish I could say we're paying for a clean book when we buy from a recognized publisher. I'm reading Zoo City right now, which has won tons of awards since its release earlier this year and it's riddled with typos and formatting issues. A few mistakes will always make it by even the sharpest eyes.

I can see Amazon as a distributor insisting that products be cleaned up or they won't carry them, but there has to be a standard threshhold, IMO. I'm not sure they should be the arbitors as to whether a book is "good enough" typo-wise but there should, I think, be a weighting between a single person's complaint, length of time the book's been out, and number and quality of reviews or else, as vkw notes, people with agendas can make life miserable for authors they don't like, for content they don't agree with, or even for books competing with theirs.

And someone could jump on YOU thinking "sensor" wasn't the word you meant and that it should be "censor" when either could be correct. :o\ Slippery, slippery slope...

Sarah Laurenson said...

I believe one of the space programs used to run with software that had less than 1000 bugs in it. And when it was reel to reel software a certain large country with a frozen north would not even put on a take up reel.

Somewhere you draw the line and say "Good Enough"

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Hey guys,
Wanted to let you know I submitted a new query to Evil Editor for an airing out.

AND Carradee is going to be my guest interviewee on a post I'm doing in the next day or two on the value of a professional proof reader before your ms is put out there. (Pre copyediting but the functions can be combined.)

I posed questions and she's demystifying and clarifying what a proof reader can do for a ms.

Hope you don't me butting in Phoenix, thought you and your readers may want to take a gander at my absurdist query and then read about the serious business of getting the polish on correctly.


vkw said...

I was thinking about this today. Amazon is asking authors to edit the books who have sold 100s plus books.

Well, that kind of makes sense. If you sell 100 books, you are more likely to get complaints than the person who sold 10. It's a math problem.

Also, the more books you sell, the more likely you are to get a bad review.

another math problem.

If Amazon is just addressing concerns by the number of complaints they are receiving, then that's bad management. If Amazon has a formula where complaints are addressed based upon how many complaints vs. books sold then that's a complicated math problem.