Why Do Ebooks Have So Many Typos???

Ever read an ebook that was littered with errors? If you read ebooks at all, I’m guessing the answer is “Several!” It’s easy to think “Good heavens, hire a proofreader.” Oh, if only the problem was that easy. Sadly, the weirdness that looks like typos and poor proofreading is far more complicated. For any professionally written and edited ebook, 99% of all those things that look like typos are actually scanning, coding, and conversion glitches.

I recently learned there’s one more cause: perfectly formatted ebooks can become corrupted even after you downloaded a clean version to the Kindle or Nook. I’ll cover that below in the Advice to Readers, after I explain what causes most problems. But if you’ve purchased an ebook that’s seriously littered with problems, chances are your device or the file on your device is corrupted and you need to fix it on your end. See “How to Fix Corrupted Files” below.

Good News Bad News

I cringe at admitting that the first three ebooks I released, the Pearl Island trilogy, had numerous glitches. Thankfully, *knock on wood* I have fixed all of those errors. So, if you purchased a poorly formatted copy, you can go back to the site where you purchased the ebook and get a corrected file free. What I went through, though, inspired me to write The Ebook Revolution Survival Guide for Authors. (Available at Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords. Coming soon to the Sony Reader Store, and the Apple iBookstore.)

What Causes All those Errors?

1) Scanning

Most of the ebooks that have these errors are backlist novels, so they have been professionally copy edited and proofread. Unfortunately, to turn a print book into an ebook the first step is cutting the spine off a physical book and feeding the pages through a scanner. OCR (optical character recognition) software is not human. It produces a word file based on what its computer brain “thinks” it sees. So words like lips may come out as hps. Since hps isn’t a real word, that’s easy for a proofreader to spot and fix because spell check will put a red squiggly line under it. Others aren’t so easy. Like aim instead of arm. Little ones like that are SO easy to miss. Still, they’re not typos left over from the original manuscript. They’re scanning glitches that the new proofreader didn’t catch. (And let’s face it, even print books by major publishers have a few typos the proofreaders missed.)

2) Coding and Conversion

Random paragraph breaks and whole sections that indent are caused by hidden code the proofreader can’t see when viewing the file as a Word .doc. Chances are the scanned file wasn’t “purged” before the formatting began. (I cover purging and basic formatting in my Survival Guide.) Without doing a purge, a file can look perfect when it’s uploaded, but those codes kick in during the conversion process. So when someone buys the ebook and views it on a device, it can look like a big hot mess.

As for those long hyphens with hooks on the end, those are called optional hyphens. They are completely invisible during the proofing process unless the proofreader turns on “show formatting.” A scanned file will likely have hundreds if not thousands of optional hyphens.

Other errors caused by invisible coding include extra space between paragraphs and words with special characters (like fiancée) that go haywire.

Advice to Readers

So, what should you do if you buy an ebook, start reading, and discover it’s full of glitches? Whatever you do, do not hop onto Amazon or wherever you bought it and post a nasty, one star review, slamming the author for being so unprofessional that they didn’t even bother proofreading their own book. Chances are, the file was diligently proofed but problems snuck in anyway.

The nice thing to do is email the author privately and let him or her know there’s a problem. Include specifics about what you spotted, where you purchased the ebook, and what type of a device you use for reading. That gives the author the chance to fix the problem and upload a new file. As soon as they do that, you can download the new file free since you already own the ebook.

How to Fix Corrupted Files

If the author emails back saying the file is fine, that there shouldn’t be any glitches, then chances are the individual file on your ereader, or possibly even the ereader itself, has become corrupted. According to tech support at B&N, this is fairly common. If you have a corrupted file, the advice from B&N is to try these three steps:

  1. 1) Download the file again for free. If that doesn’t work…
  2. 2) Archive then un-archive the ebook. If neither of those work…
  3. 3) Re-register your ereader.

Advice to Authors

If you uploaded a file that looks completely fine, only to discover it’s rife with glitches, chances are you either didn’t purge the file, or it wasn’t properly formatted. Again, I have instruction for purging and basic formatting in The Ebook Revolution Survival Guide for Authors, along with tips on how to price and market your ebooks. (Available for $2.99 at Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords.)

If you want more detailed information for a higher level of formatting, I recommend The Ebook Revolution Formatting Guide by Pam Headrick, the savvy formatter who was able to take my glitch-ridden early files, clean out all the wonky coding, and add lots of bells and whistles. Her guide is available for $2.99 at Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords.

Or, if you’d rather hire a professional formatter, Pam’s excellent. If she can satisfy a picky perfectionist like me, she can format anyone’s ebook. You can contact her through her website.

11 comments

  1. I did not know that the reading devices could get corrupted. That explains why some books I’ve loaded into my Kindle have wonky formatting.

    I do hope readers take your advice about those poor reviews. I had one person give me a one-star review for One Small Victory, because she bought it at the tail-end of a sale and was charged the full price. She was mad at Amazon, but took her anger out on the book.

  2. Cathi LeFleur says:

    This was very helpful to me. As a former English teacher and a voracious reader, I was getting frustrated at the editors’ unprofessional treatment of ebooks. Now I know better and have a few solutions to try as well.

  3. This is useful information, thanks. For the author, it means being extra diligent about removing any unwanted coding before submitting to the ebook distribution sites. For the reader, it means not blaming the author automatically and trying to find an alternate solution.

  4. Grete Evans says:

    That explains sooo much, thanks for taking to time to do that. I found it a minor irritation but wondered if there was something more going on rather than just poor editing.

  5. I love your blog. Thank you so much for inspiring new ideas and sharing hard won expertise.

    Since I’m a terrible proofreader and will be working with a copyeditor on my upcoming self published e-book, I need to sharpen those skills. Thought I’d share the following article: “Preventing goof-ups” at http://www.prdaily.com/Main/Articles/a874b799-2328-430c-922c-1a6b8443f2ad.aspx

  6. Uh…

    One of the most obvious pieces of advice isn’t up here.

    Authors and publishers need to proof their digital files, the same as they do for their print books.

  7. Vickie Taylor says:

    I agree that the formatting/conversion process can be wonky and introduce lots of errors into a fairly clean book. However, some of the errors *are* the responsibility of the author. Also, even those technical glitches could be caught be the author with a little due diligence during the conversion process.

    Here are my rules for those wading into the ebook waters:

    1) Hire a professional copyeditor if you want a professional product. Do not rely on your spouse, your critique partner, or your mother. They don’t know good editing anymore than you do
    2) Do your research before starting (it will save you a lot of formatting rework) and TEST your product. There are ways to look at your files before you make them available to the public. Authors need to take the ten minutes to page through every screen of text and look for those formatting errors, then learn how to fix them.
    3) If you can’t do number 2, hire someone to do the conversion for you.

    It is possible to upload a cleanly formatted book for your readers. And if you don’t, you risk getting those low reviews (whether that’s right or wrong)

  8. Vickie, agree completely about hiring a professional copy editor. Most of the authors I hang out with are all well establish, print-published authors, and the ebooks they’ve been having trouble with were all copy edited. So those are the cases I’m referring to were a file became corrupted on someone ereader and the author got slammed in a review when the file the author uploaded was fine. But yes, absolutely, it is an author’s responsibility to be professional and hire a copy editor.

  9. Lynn Russell says:

    Wow! I have been so frustrated by all those errors in the ebooks I’ve purchased and now I know more about what causes them. Thanks for illuminating this! In the past three years I’ve purchased and read over 2,000 ebooks, so emailing the author for every one that has errors is just not feasible. A better way to dea with this seems to be to hire better proofreaders! I understand the formatting issues, but those seem to be far less prevalant than simple grammatical errors, typos, wrong or incorrectly spelled words – all of which could be caught by a good proofreader. So where do I sign up? LOL

  10. Jerry Guinn says:

    Julie — Thanks much for the comments on what may cause problems in ebooks. I tend to lean toward an OCD personality, and when so many “typos” or formatting items crop up, it really is a distraction for me. Even though it’s aggravating to me, I refrain from doing what so many readers do: post a scathing negative review of the book. Nothing bothers me more than to see a 1-star review of a book just because of editing when the story itself is good. We need to learn to separate our ire over formatting from the writer’s story. I realize it’s sometimes difficult to do, but it’s only fair to the author. I’m still in the camp of those who advocate more stringent proofreading.

  11. Kathy D says:

    This was helpful for me, but I do agree that there needs to be a step added for final proofreading of the e-book before it’s published. Most of the mistakes I have seen are not a formatting error, and even if they are could be caught by an editor. I would take your advice on emailing the author to let them know, but I personally would like to get into the editing field and wonder how to market my services to this particular area.

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