When Is A Typo, A Typo?

When Is A Typo, A Typo

The world is full of typos!

While reading two separate posts on Forbes and The Verge in the last two days regarding the annoyance of typos in e-books, it was reassuring in some respects to note that the brunt of the complaints was against large publishers. However, as I read the long list of comments on these posts, a few new pieces of information caught my attention. Although there was one very important consideration that was missing.

The new information I found interesting was contained in one comment. I quote:

GAP e-books: an explanation for why they are so shoddy
I’ve just learned that the production AND PROOFREADING for Bantam/Spectra e-books is done…in India. By people who barely speak English. (Apparently this applies to every e-book published by the conglomerate which includes Bantam.)

If this is true, it says a lot about how quality control in publishing is being outsourced to the cheapest contractor.

Another practice being used to convert manuscripts to electronic files is by using OCR. (Optical Character Recognition). Anyone who has had any experience with OCR will know it is a process that is far from perfect. A quote from the Forbes article:

Unacceptable or not, that’s what someone has done. Simply OCR’d the printed text and not subbed it through again.

I shudder to think what the result would be, as my experience with OCR has been that the result always contains character errors or typos on every page.

While these two areas gained a mention, along with the obvious blame on poor editing, sub-editing and proofreading, the one missing reason for ebook errors is the process itself. No matter in what form a final text is prepared, be it html, doc, rtf, pdf or any number of other file formats, it will then be converted yet again into the file used by each ebook distributor or retailer. As Kindle, Apple, Sony and all the others use a variety of e-publishing formats, even the most perfect text needs to be ‘crunched’, ‘auto vetted’ or ‘converted’ to this new file type. In other words, the words of the text are converted into ones and zeros, and then back again into text. And rarely perfectly.

This differs completely from the technique used in a printed book, where all text is basically reproduced using photographic processes and therefore reproduced exactly as intended.

From my own experience, when I have download copies of one of my ebooks from different sources, they are NEVER exactly the same. The most common problem are changes in formatting, removal of italicised text, removal, replacement or misinterpretation of accented characters and random changes in fonts and paragraph styles. Quite honestly, some conversions are quite good, while some I could only call a dog’s breakfast. It also makes a huge difference if a file has been prepared using Apple programs or Microsoft programs. Most ebook conversions programs will not work with Apple word processing programs, or if they do, they add random characters and spaces and totally change formatting styles.

So the grand ebook debate about typos will continue I am sure, but it is worth noting that the complaints against sloppy authors, poor proofreading or lousy formatting could, and perhaps should really be aimed at the ebook process itself, and not necessarily towards those who work hard in the preparation of the texts themselves.


25 thoughts on “When Is A Typo, A Typo?”

  1. Don’t take it the other way, but I felt a little hurt by the first comment. A bad professional is a bad professional. Being an Indian really doesn’t have anything to do with it. What a shame. A globalised world and we still judge people by regions and NOT by abilities. I have no problems with people criticizing bad quality service, but to attach it to one’s region is just plain sad. I pity such people :(

    Also for a little trivia for that person with that comment though, English literary studies was first introduced in India before it became a university course anywhere else in the world. Much before England itself was teaching Shakespeare to its uni students.

    Just an illiterate brown Indian ranting here who just happens to study Shakespeare for college. Sorry.

    1. I can well understand your feelings about this post Priyam, and while I thought about the content before posting, by quoting it, it was to highlight that no matter the county, major publishers are shirking their responsibility to their paying readers. One would rightfully presume that within these large publishing houses, they have their own employed staff to undertake editing, sub-editing and proof reading. That is what they do, and that’s why we pay a premium price.

      I don’t think the ‘slight’ is one directed at India, but rather at the publisher in question for looking for the cheapest price for these services. Whether the cheapest price is from India, Fiji, NZ or Antarctica, it is the fact that publishers are outsourcing their primary reason for being, that is disturbing.

      While they all mostly outsource the actual printing of books to ‘cheap labour’ countries, printing is not their primary role. Marketing and producing high quality texts are.

      1. Actually, I have no problem with the post at all :) It is just that particular comment that I’d take offence to. I know the problems of outsourcing too.

        1. Andrew Claymore

          I was tempted to take offense at first, but you have to admit that India, like any country, produces a dialect of English that has it’s own idiosyncrasies. If I want to publish to the US market, I wouldn’t go looking for proofreaders or editors from the UK, Australia (sorry Derek), New Zealand or India. Even Canada can be a stretch, and Canadians grow up saturated in American English.
          Actually, Canadians make a good example of all the things that a foreign proofer will miss on a manuscript intended for the US audience. Grey vs. Gray, Recce vs. Recon, Cheque vs. Check. Teachers in commonwealth nations are very zealous about teaching UK English. We don’t notice the US versions but Americans will notice the commonwealth spelling and it can jar them out of the story.

        2. Andrew Claymore

          OK, granted, the ‘Barely speaks English’ line was written by someone who obviously doesn’t have a clue about India. There are more English speaking Indian citizens than there are Canadians.

          1. Lorinda J. Taylor

            It’s not the country of origin that’s at fault. It’s the fact that the publishing houses are willing to
            hire unqualified people just to get cheap labor. Of course, if they extensively tested everyone
            they hired, that would add to the expense and defeat the purpose. I’m sure someone as well
            educated and familiar with English as Priyam would make a great proofreader. There are
            many Americans and British citizens who would make lousy ones.
            Derek, your comment box is running off the right edge again.

  2. I agree that Smashwords are one of the most thorough Rick, however they then convert into about 10 different file types that all reproduce differently when viewed on a screen. In particular epub and mobi, which rarely look the same. That’s the essence of the ebook quality problem. There are just too many formats.

  3. I have to agree with your comment Andrew about differing ‘dialects’ of English and their acceptance. As I’m Australian I probably use Australian English, although I do try to keep it with good British English bounds.

    But I was surprised when I received a review not so long ago that complained about all my continual typos and spelling mistakes. When I finally contacted the reviewer, it was a US reader, who was labelling my correct UK English spelling as incorrect. So yes, my writing and my English ‘jarred’ the reader.

    1. I am pretty new to publishing… as in one novel, but even as an Australian I decided to opt for American English spelling for my novel because I believe it is the biggest market for my work. Australians are used to putting up with the differences found in American novels, but Americans don’t seem to be able to adapt as well. I even used miles, inches and pounds so as to not confuse the (US) reader.

      1. Athough I am a South African writer and we use British English, I have used American English for my novels, including measurements etc and elevator instead of lift etc. So far have had only one complaint, from an Australian reader. But I agree the American market is by far the biggest one at the moment. Perhaps one day it would be viable to produce a UK version and a US version of an ebook. We can only dream.

        1. Not wanting to be inflammatory Niki, but are you inferring that US readers are really that dumb? I just can’t believe that Americans don’t understand and enjoy reading in British English. I know I can read US English and enjoy every single word. I would really be interested in knowing what US readers think about this. TLS Clarke’s comment before yours runs along a similar theme that US readers can be ‘confused’ by using British English vocabulary and don’t adapt well to it.

          I realise, or realize that there are differences, but not enough to color, or colour the ability to read in English.

          I like any other writer would love to sell more books, but I would never change my English to do so. It’s not just about spelling and vocabulary, there are changes in grammar that need to be used to be able to write well in US English. I don’t possess that knowledge, so would only end up making an ugly ‘mixture’.

          So would ‘I write my mother’ or write to my mother’? Would I use ‘did you ever’ or have you ever’? Plus a hundred other grammatical differences.

          Perhaps if I had a a competent US editor I would have my books edited into US English, but sadly I don’t. So I’ll stay with the form of English I know how to use.

          Sorry Niki. I know we normally agree on most things, but on this one I think we’ll have to agree to disagree.

          1. Hi Derek, I see your viewpoint, but I don’t believe for one minute that US readers are dumb or easily confused. However, as I’ve stated before in comments on an earlier post, I believe that words and grammar are just the vehicle to tell the story. The reader must not be aware of the vehicle, only of the emotions and pictures the words are evoking. If the reader keeps noticing words that are spelled differently (not wrong) it pulls them out of the story. And if that happens on every page, I think it would seriously affect the reader experience.
            As for being qualified to write in US English, I have read books written in US English since the age of ten. I have been raised on a steady diet of American TV programs and movies since the age of six. It’s not a foreign language they are speaking, so I feel quite comfortable writing for the American market. And any oddities that may identify me as not being born and raised in the US, I will ascribe to my own unique voice. And English, whether American or British, isn’t my first language. I am equally comfortable writing in Afrikaans or English.
            My books are all ebooks, and we all know that at this point the American market is the biggest market for ebooks. So yes, I will write to please my biggest market. But if enough readers ask me for a British version of my books, I will gladly comply.

  4. Funny thing Derek but of all the complaints(critiques) I receive on Amazon, most are from our American cousins complaining about my English English spelling, for which I make no apology. After all it is the original form of the language.



    1. I write in British English too Jack and occasionally in Australian English. But if I was forced to use US English I’m sure I would make a million errors because I don’t know it well enough and not because I have any bias. I’m quite happy to read in any form of well-written English.

  5. Oh yes. We have our own idiosyncratic dialect. All of it has been mixed up with American and what we had inherited from the Colonial Brits. Our generation, for instance, uses ‘ske-dule’ for schedule; yes, the mixture of the American ‘ske-Jule’ and English ‘she-dule’.

    And yes, I have no problems with someone going hammer and tongs at bad editing and worse, publishers not caring about the cultural context. But as you have mentioned, it is that ‘barely know English’ tone that irritates, indeed infuriates me. Have seen that in many shapes before.

    1. I think the ‘barely know English’ part of the quote is offensive but I had to quote accurately. But it is also quite telling Pri.

      I can’t speak for the author of the comment, but I have a inking that ‘did you ever’ would count as use of the Present Perfect and rarely would a ‘u’ would appear between an ‘o’ and ‘r’. Nor would an ‘s’ appear very often after a vowel and then followed by an ‘e’.

      But then again, ‘arvo’ is a perfectly acceptable word for me when others probably prefer afternoon.

      I don’t want to pick on anyone’s form of English, but understanding that English does come in varying forms and not just one, is one of the beauties of the language and should be appreciated and not scorned.

  6. My American two cents are, write the way you write. :)

    I have read books by British authors most of my life, cutting my mystery teeth on Dick Francis. We Colonists are certainly able to decipher the Queen’s English in movies and tv, and we have plenty of them (see how well Skyfall does when it opens next week!). So I don’t think for most people it’s an issue, esp if your story is set outside the US. It might be confusing if it’s set in the US and the nationality of the characters aren’t explained, but I can’t see you doing that! I’m from the South, and use Southern dialect when appropriate (I wrote a Civil War romance so most of the dialoge there is “southern”). A Bahamian read it and and had no problems at all. Our Southern is probably at least as “strange” as your Queen’s English.

    1. Thanks for your comment Jennings. I’ve been to the ‘South’ quite a few times, and yes, it’s certainly a different dialect of English. But I had no problem communicating. However I certainly wouldn’t try to write in the vernacular of Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia. No matter how much I loved the sound of it. :))

  7. Lorinda J. Taylor

    I’m an American with a couple of academic degrees in English lit, so I must have read scores of books written in British English, and I can’t remember ever being bothered. In fact, it enlarges one’s experience of the language! In my books if a British character is speaking, I will throw in Briticisms like “whilst” and keep the “Midammerikens,” as they are called in the 30th century, using “while.”

  8. Britt Vasarhelyi

    Glad I stumbled on this conversation via Twitter. My current read is “A Game of Proof” by Tim Vicary, a British novelist. I also read his “A Fatal Verdict.” Mr. Vicary is a literate, thoughtful writer who uses his share of British colloquialisms. Since I read on Kindle I’m able to easily look up anything I don’t quite understand. For the most part, I find British expressions charming and It’s only when they overwhelm the work that I have a problem with them. Ian Rankin has proved a bit difficult for me in this way.

    In my first book, “Message from Panama,” which goes up on Amazon next week, I have an Australian character in a bit part. It was great fun researching colloquialisms from down under and they were so colorful I wish I could have used more than I did. The challenge was finding words and phrases that were authentic and that could also be understood through context by an American audience.

    As far as spelling, one of my proofreaders flagged anaesthesia and a couple of other words I rendered in the British idiom. I was surprised I hadn’t realized I was using the British spelling and attribute this to extensive exposure to British authors in school and a love for books in general. We readers and writers of English are lucky that we have so many separate cultures that produce books which can be understood by us all. I suppose Spanish would be the only other language that achieves this.

    A final note, going back to typos in ebooks, Knowing how hard it is to produce a clean manuscript, I cringe when I read derogatory comments from readers. I know they’re right, there are a lot of typos, but we’re in a new era of publishing that offers readers a tremendous number of inexpensive books, a whole tableau of options never before available. If readers of a 99 cent book only understood how difficult it was for that author to proof — and many new writers can’t afford a copyeditor — perhaps they would be a little kinder. I don’t mean to excuse typos (there are a couple in the first post in this discussion); I suppose I’m just asking for leniency.

  9. Hi Derek,

    You’ve been nominated for the Liebster Blog Award. You may accept or not. :)


  10. I’m strictly a reader and have just a couple of thoughts. As for hiring a good proof reader, there are thousands of retired English teachers here in the US who would love the extra income and I’m sure would be available for what you could pay Derek, or anyone else on this forum. They’re looking to supplement retirement or Social Security income and are thus limited to a certain amount of dollars per month/annually by law, not to mention how much they would love to have the chance to be useful again. I’ve talked to some of them in my own town so I know for a fact this is the absolute truth.

    I am disabled and I beta-read, give reviews just for the love of the books and to stock my library. Would I like to make income from it, sure, but since my income is so low and I can’t physically go to the library for books, this allows me to have books of all kinds available to read which I could not afford to do otherwise. Without books, life would have very little meaning for me.

    As a reader, reading British or Australian “English” can take me out of a story, you are correct, but only if I can’t figure out in context what the word means. Before the advent of the Kindle when reading physical copies I would post to Yahoo Groups asking people from the area where the book was set to “translate” for me. Its how I met Kealan Burke, and a few other people: I’m interested in people and only recently realized Mr. Burke is himself an author. It just never came up in conversation.

    I thing that reading books outside one’s comfort zone, depending on how the reader chooses to react, can be a great experience. I choose to further my education and meet new people. I find it sad that a lot of fellow Americans will moan and while to the author rather than take the time to learn something new, somehow that is becoming representative of us/US and it saddens me.

    If anyone who is not US based would like ideas on how to contact retired teachers for the purpose of proof reading I can offer some suggestions and you can email me at: sewcraftyme at gmail dot com I’ll respond as I am able.

    Ila in Maine

  11. Hey, just thought I’d add in my thoughts, too.

    First, this reminds me of when Harry Potter came out, and I had a couple friends who were bothered by J.K. Rowling’s writing. (Oh, I’m US American, by the way.) And it was kinda funny to me because they simply thought it was poor writing on the author’s behalf. Given, this was when I was sixteen/seventeen. Still, when they were told it was British English, they were more open to the books (and why they couldn’t understand). Though, one friend still didn’t enjoy it (I think mainly because of the different phrasing of British VS American).

    However, I don’t think people should jump on the throats of authors (or proofreaders) for “bad English” when they don’t get what English it is (American, British, etc). I have seen a lot of Americans (I don’t interact much with any other English speaker in person) who simply assume that everyone who speaks English speaks it “their” way. I don’t assume it’s because they’re dumb, just not well taught in other country’s English (I mean, after all, our schools only teach us that one English).

    When I review a book, the only time I note errors is when it obviously looks as if the book simply had no editor beyond spell check (as few books on Amazon by indie authors seem to do). I even read a book by an author who boldly said that she only self proofed. Suffice to say, she needed at least a friend or anyone to go through her works!

    I didn’t know that when the files are changed to the ebook format that it’ll be sold in, that it would change or delete the things you mentioned. It makes me wonder–because I haven’t had anything published–are the authors, publishers, or whoever able to then make editions to the ebook? Or is it a done deal at that point?

    1. Thanks for reminding me about Happy Potter, Lacy. I’m Australian, and J.K. Rowling’s use of the old English reporting verb order really had me shuddering at the time. I recall writing a blog post about, ‘said Harry, and Harry said.’

      And as for updating, changing or modifying ebooks, this is one great advantage of electronic publishing. An ebook file can always be updated to a new version. I’ve done this many times to my own books.

      1. I’ll have to read more of your blog then, lol!

        ok, thank you. Duh, lacy. I didn’t even think of the updated versions…

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