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.


When Is A Typo, A Typo?

26 thoughts on “When Is A Typo, A Typo?

  • 03/11/2012 at 3:04 pm

    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

  • 13/06/2013 at 4:28 pm

    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?

    • 13/06/2013 at 4:36 pm

      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.

      • 13/06/2013 at 4:55 pm

        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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