Wednesday, September 7, 2011

eBook Authors: Errors and the Dreaded Stigma of Self-Publishing

Self-publishing and ebooks have carried a stigma from day one by naysayers and the traditional publishing world. They forecast the book publishing pipe filled with poor and unreadable digital content because of the self-publishing ebook author.

There has been an increase in errors and poor formatting introduced by the new digital books compared to their pbook counterparts to be sure. So what has gone wrong? And why are these mistakes happening?

Are the self-publishing newbie authors, with their lack of experience, to blame? Does the new digital creation process introduce a new level of errors? Should traditional publishers share in the ‘error’ stigma? What lessons can self-published ebook authors learn to help fix the errors?

With these questions in mind, I took on the task of trying to figure out what is going on here. To me there is more to this than meets the eye.

If done correctly there should not be a problem. If we can spell a word correctly and have the correct tense in a traditional book, we should be able to get it right in an ebook. Formatting should be just as easy. We have been structuring the content of books for a very long time. Let’s break this down and see what we have.


Generally speaking, ebooks fall into four categories.

1. Legacy: Traditionally published paper books that are converted from paper to a digital form using OCR technology or a retyping procedure to create the ebooks. In most cases there isn’t a digital version of the book available for the source of the ebook. So the book is scanned and the spelling and grammatical problems begin.

2. Modern: Traditionally published paper books that have a digital source that can be used to create the ebook. Basically these are the books that have been published since the increase in popularity of the ebook and ebook reader.

3. Self-Published: Individual authors take it on their own to produce a paper version of their book, followed up with an ebook version. There is a level of errors added here because of the lack of resources and expertise.

4. Ebook Only: Individual ebook authors are creating content and publishing directly to the ebook format, bypassing the paper version altogether. This process is a total digital process. No paper version required. This will become more of an issue when enhanced ebooks start to take off in popularity.

The Cliff

So where do we fall off the cliff with ebooks?

1. First of all the publishers of the Legacy and Modern versions have a ‘get it out the door’ mentality. They are working the system. If they can take advantage of the new ‘ebook’ phenomenon at a small cost, the results go right to their bottom line. Why not?

“Yes we have an ebook version available of that new release but it will cost you more than the paper version until the traditional book is available. We got it to you fast, didn’t we?”

You would think the traditionals would get it right.

2. Next, the self-published version has error problems because of the lack of experience and resources to produce a quality product. Most self-publishers do not seek help from outside sources to improve the quality. This is a fatal mistake.

3. The Ebook Only version has the same problems as the self-published version plus they can be published on Amazon in a heartbeat. I can sit down today, write a 100 page ebook, upload it without any editing, with a typed-faced cover, and it will be for sale in less than a week. No need for an ISBN or copyright filed here. And there is no gatekeeper to clean up the trash. Scary.

Errors and Poor Formatting

Many mistakes occur in the writing process. This is a manual process and you will have spelling errors, grammar errors, formatting problems, incorrect line breaks and page breaks and so on.

Many mistakes occur in the conversion process. The traditional’s lack of quality control and effort and the self-publisher’s lack of knowledge is responsible. Both seem to be getting better at this however.

Retailers like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks and Smashwords do enter into the error equation. Each has their own proprietary software which produces the formats readable by our current ebook devices.

However, there is one thing to keep in mind. The retailers do not change the spelling, grammar or tense. They do not create the cover. They do not create the content. So to pass the blame or responsibility to them is a mistake. The actual publisher should take the responsibility for the quality of the ebook.


Publishers and self-publishers need to learn lessons as their experience increases in the world of ebooks. Here is a list of lessons you should consider.

1. You need a quality control process in place. Get help if it is needed.

2. Each format you publish should be handled like it is a new product for sale.

3. There is no perfection. You must anticipate problems. For example, inserted pictures should be reviewed on a reading device. If the picture is too large, they will create an unwanted blank page on the device.

4. Proof read your ebook on a reading device and the ‘For PC’ software for each format.

5. Use the same digital file used in your pbook for the source but create a separate file for each published format. They will be slightly different for each retailer.

6. When you send/upload a file to Amazon or BN, the file should be as close to the finished product as you can get it. For example, when I published my ebook, ‘Call Off the Dogs,’ I uploaded a file in the ‘mobi’ format to Amazon and an html format to BN. Both formats required only a slight adjustment by their software to be accepted.

7. When you add value to your ebook with links, audio and video, test the add-ons on each device you will be publishing on. Trust me. Some work and some don’t.

8. Don’t forget to modify the copyright page on each edition you publish. This is a major error made by almost everyone who publishes an ebook, including the traditionals.

Food for Thought

Here are some ideas you can take away from this blog.

1. Publishers of ebooks have the advantage of correcting their mistakes after their ebooks are published. The ebook is not cast in concrete. If you find a significant error or omission, create a new version and upload the corrected copy.

2. The first two chapters (sample) must be error free. One or two title authors can get by with poor quality if their message is of interest and the marketing is superb but repeat business will drop off dramatically if the ebook is riddled with errors.

I don’t care if you have to read and re-read the first two chapters a hundred times, the sample chapters must catch the reader’s attention and they must be error free. In many cases this is the only chance you have to close the sale. Get help on this one. The more eyes the better.

3. If your fiction or non-fiction ebook just doesn’t work out structurally, it may require a complete re-write rather than ruin your reader’s opinion of you.  

4. Your ebook should not be just a copy of the paper version but should be viewed as a complete new product for each new format you publish.

5. If you can’t create a good cover, get someone that can. If you can’t spell, don’t rely on a spell checker to catch your mistakes. Seek someone with the right experience that can edit your ebook for you.

6. Create a quality ebook file. At the end of the process, the file being converted by the retailer must be properly formatted for the target ebook. There should be a different file for each retailer.

7. At the end of the day, sales will be decided by customer purchases and honest reviews. Take for example, J. A. Konrath. He must be doing something right. He has published 20+ ebooks and has been quite successful. If his editing and formatting was poor, his sales would diminish drastically on each title.

Money is made by building an audience. If your ebook’s quality is poor, you will only be a one-time Charlie.

As an ebook author, what can you do to clean up your act and create better quality ebooks? Do traditional publishers have to put more effort into their ebooks? Should you get help for someone with experience or just wing it?

I have referenced below several articles I found interesting on the ‘error’ topic along with their blog sites.

A. In the Face: eBook Errors by Rich Adin – 9/16/2010 from his blog: An American Editor

     8/23/2011 from the blog: PUBLISHING PERSPECTIVES

C. Ebook Madness: Don't Confuse Ebook Conversion With Ebook Formatting! by April L. Hamilton      - 10/20/10 from her blog: Indie Author

View my website: HBSystems Publications
Or EMAIL at:
Author: Call Off The Dogs, a rendered ebook
LinkedIn Profile: James Moushon

1 comment:

  1. Even though I think I'm a very good writer, I still hired an editor for my self-published novel. I did this after I had re-read it a few times and had two friends read it. The editor still caught several typos. She also re-worked paragraphs in several places. I also hired an artist to do the cover because I have negative artistic talent - not only do I have none myself, I probably drain artistic ability from other people.

    Self-publishing a book is cheap (almost free) and easy. Doing it well and marketing it is a lot of work . That's why I just signed a contract with a traditional publisher for my second book.