Monday, October 10, 2011

Are You Risking Your Reputation With Your eBooks?

Neal Hock is my guest today. He's smart. He's detailed, and he knows editing. Be sure to say "Hi" and check him out on Twitter, @bookhound78 and @HocksEditing, or follow his blog. He's going to challenge authors in regards to the risks self-pubbers are taking in the digital age of epublishing.

Take it away, Neal....

Regarding e-books, my belief has always been that the marketplace will balance everything out in the end. You know, the whole “cream rises to the top” viewpoint. I still hold to that position, but yesterday a friend pointed out an interesting blog post at Crime Fiction Collective to me. According to this post, it seems the Amazon Quality Police are going to start getting involved, and they’re not going to wait for the market to make the final decision in every case. 

Amazon has been pulling e-books with content issues, typos, errors, and formatting problems, and it appears they will continue to do so.

In the past I’ve advised a number of clients about the importance of putting out a quality e-book from the get-go. If an author receives the dreaded review that points out a number of typos and errors, it’s tough to shake. Even if the book is proofed or edited at a later date, that review sticks with the book and haunts it for the rest of its life. However, it now seems the dreaded review will do more than haunt a book. Such a review may well jump up and down and alert the Amazon Police to come over and take a look.

So where does that leave us? 

Well, from my perspective, not a lot has changed. I’ve always advocated that authors put out quality products. From an author’s perspective, the stakes are now higher. 

Not only does an author run the risk of receiving bad reviews but there’s also the chance an author’s book could be pulled altogether. In this new digital age, readers expect the same quality in e-books that they experienced in many print books. And Amazon’s reputation is on the line since they’re at the forefront of the digital revolution. Amazon is running a business, and no business wants to be known for putting out subpar products. Whether you like how they’re handling the issue or not, Amazon is the big kid in the sandbox, and they get to say who can stay to play.

The good news is that there’s a feasible solution to the problem. 

There are a number of freelance editors and proofreaders out there who are already working to ensure the quality of self-published e-books. Yes, that may mean money out of a self-publishing author’s pocket up front, but an author who is serious about self-publishing needs to understand that’s part of the cost of business. Authors need to ask themselves, Is it worth the risk? Is it worth the risk to e-publish a book with typos and errors in it? Is it worth the risk of receiving bad reviews that will haunt the book throughout its lifetime? Is it worth the risk of possibly having Amazon pull the book and lose sales opportunities?

My advice? Don’t risk it. These are controllable issues that Amazon is reacting to. I strongly urge anyone who is going to self-publish to do everything in their power to make sure they are putting out quality books.

Is it worth the risk not to?
# # #

I'd like to introduce you to my personal editor and friend, Neil Hock from Hock's Editing Service. He's a great guy and an advocate for indie authors. 

Neal did the final proof read for Reunion, which after five months, is still on the Amazon-bestseller list in the ghost category. He has done a great job for me and has worked for bestselling authors like Scott Nicholson as well. What's really amazing is, he's VERY affordable. 

Be sure to follow The Bomb, comment, sign up by email, and buy Creepy, my new collection of scary stories so I can send my kids to rock camp. BOOM!


  1. This post is very stirring! I am an Indie author one that started off with an editor. However even with my lack of expertise in the editing field was bewildered to see it in an expert. Even under the weighted input of another I had to go back and change not only my own mistakes, yet the errors of an editor.

    If grammatical could be put in lament terms, I would say it is my misery among a great pleasure. On a few incidents there have been those who have pointed out a comma was overlooked or an apostrophe missing. I don’t mean to dismiss these for content is of value to me. However, after lengthy hair pulling sessions I was approached by a friend. His caliber to me is beyond compare, so it’s with no question that I always find myself valuing his opinion. He who had a publisher and all the perks that perhaps go along with it, said “you’ll never get every grammatical mishap out of your book”. Even with our perception of perfection there will always be that one or the visions of another who will disagree with your interoperation of excellence.

    As of late one particular review spoke volumes to me on this very subject. Even this said review now sits at the very top of every other great review of my very first book. Swaying its words to point out how my style is peculiar and how the sea of grammatical was hard spent to wade through. This point of opinion pushes me to toss the whole of my work aside. Lay down my five to six works of fiction and just walk away.

    With every positive comment that one negative beckons me to weigh on self doubt. With my sixth edit done and endless computer programs to help in editing, I still feel lacking. Perhaps eventually I will walk away from writing as to now, I am just undecided.

  2. Author Derek Haines talked about this in his tongue-in-cheek article, “So What Did You Expect for 99 Cents”. He says, “I hear many complaints from readers about errors, typos and poor formatting in ebooks they read. I have seen these errors for myself in e-books I have purchased from major publishers as well as independents. One aspect of e-books that is overlooked by many is that there are so many different e-book file types and formats, that no matter how careful the preparation, errors will occur simply due to file conversion. It is impossible to prepare an e-book, even in the just the eight most popular formats, and attain error free files unless a lot of time and money is spent.”

  3. @Eri - Thank you for your honest comment. I'm sorry to hear about your experience with an editor causing more problems for your work. Every author-editor relationship is unique, and just like in real life, not all pairings work out.

    But I would encourage you not to walk away from your craft. Grammar is something that can be learned, and I do not believe authors need to be grammar pros in order to write compelling stories. If grammar is something you desire to learn more about, there are a number of good resources available out there. I strongly encourage you to keep pressing forward if writing is your passion.

    @Chicki - Thank you for that quote! I agree, every possible mistake is not usually caught before publishing (I find plenty of errors in traditionally published paper books). And I acknowledge there are errors that could be introduced during the conversion process. However, there is a difference between errors introduced during the publishing process and errors in the manuscript itself. Consistency, spelling, word choice, and grammar are all things that can be controlled by the author (I'm not assuming control = 100 percent error-free). If a character's hat is red on page 4, blue on page 12, and yellow on page 24, that's a consistency error, not a conversion error. I'm simply encouraging authors to control what they can control in order to give their e-book the best possible chance.

    And from the article I read that spawned this post, it seems Amazon may be getting involved no matter what the source of errors may be.


  4. This is such an important point. And not only for typos and the like. I read a book the other day that I really enjoyed, but I kept having to skip chunks because the author kept repeating himself. And occasionally he'd have a character draw a conclusion that he hadn't set up so it just sounded impossible. They were understandable and really easy-fix mistakes that all authors make when writing. And it can be hard if not impossible to catch all these things yourself.

    This is also the first of a trilogy, so even if he learns from his mistakes in this one, now he's tainted the next two books. And as a fellow author I'm conflicted about recommending it. I enjoyed the story, and I want this author to succeed, but I don't want to associate my professional name with a sub-par product.

    This is IMPORTANT people. The "even pro-edited books have errors in them" argument is just a cop-out. Yes, no product is ever perfect, but don't you want it to be the best it can be?

  5. This is great news for self-published authors. Let's face it. Some authors release books that haven't been thoroughly edited. They're basically releasing first drafts. If Amazon pulls most of these, it can only add credibility to the indie authors who put out quality work.

  6. A friend hired not one, but *three* editors for her e-book. And yet, when I purchased it from Amazon, I found it full of typos, wrong words, and appalling formatting issues. I have a hard time spending thousands of dollars on a gamble that some freelancer will do a better job than I could do for myself. I'd like to see a freelance editor association that screens out the stiffs and posts a list of qualified editors, complete with genre preferences.

  7. I would NEVER consider self-publishing without an editor. I think that every independent author should interview editors before committing to them. A credible editor should agree to edit a sample of your work and you can take the samples and compare them. Remember, just because an editor knows how to copy edit, it doesn't mean that they will work well with your personal writing style.

    I was lucky enough to find my editor, Jim Thomsen, with my first manuscript, Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes, which was released in June and has been on the top 100 of Kindle Romantic Suspense for almost a month. I truly believe this is because it's a quality book. (It's been on the top 50 Mystery>Women's Sleuths and RS for a week.) I've had many readers tell me it was as good, or even better, than many traditionally published books they had read. This is because of my editor's input. He could see things I couldn't and helped with pacing. He is currently editing my fourth manuscript. A good editor is invaluable.

    I think many authors think they can write a book and slap it up on Amazon. This is a business and it has start up costs. With self-publishing those include editing, cover design, eBook formatting. You have to be willing to invest in yourself and your work to stand out in the glutted Kindle market.

  8. Unfortunately, "editors" are like "agents"-- to be one, all you have to do is call yourself one.

    Good to check out the people, ask for credentials and references, the same as you would anyone you hired. I vouch for Neal here!

  9. @Leah - Thanks for your comment! It's difficult to create the degree of separation from one's own work needed to catch things like that. A second set of eyes is never a bad thing.

    @Leo - I like that Amazon is getting involved with quality. My only reservation is the possibility of them pulling things that are "outside the box" and not true quality issues.

    @Marie - Thanks for the comment! Unfortunately, there are a number of folks out there that prey on others. It's vitally important to check references and get a sample of someone's work before hiring that person. I agree, it's a major investment. However, even if it's beta readers, getting feedback from other people is critical to catching things our own minds miss.

    @Denise - Well said! Congratulations on the success of your book, and I wish you much more in the future.

    @Scott - Thanks for stopping by!


  10. What an awesome conversation. When I published my first book, I didn't know jack shish-ka-bob about any of this. I thought my eyes and a few proof readers could polish my masterpiece. The truth was, I had poor writing skills at the time and I needed a well-read reader to tell me the truth.

    I can honestly say that hearing the words, "Poor writing skills" has left their mark on me. I will never go without a professional editor again and I will never stop learning to improve. Editors are not only there to splash down the red ink, they are also teachers. Check out Neal's blog, it's loaded with excellent writing tips.

  11. If I start reading anything that is full of errors, I can't take the content seriously. This goes for everything from brochures to books. If the grammar or punctuation is sloppy, I don't trust that care goes into the rest of the work. Nobody's perfect, and I often cringe at errors I find on my blog (and then I correct them). But nobody's paying to read my blog.

  12. I have despaired of authors holding themselves to an acceptable standard. Too many (not all!) think editors are 'optional'. Telling them it's not is like beating one's head against a brick wall.

    As a writer, I am unsure how I feel about Amazon's approach, though I have no intention of self-publishing in the near future. As a reader, I can only applaud it. I have seen too many errors in self-published books (some of them way beyond a mere misplaced comma or misspelt word) to have any faith left. I would rather spend $20 on a quality book than buy 20 poor ones at $0.99 each. If writers won't hold themselves to a standard, maybe someone else needs to. It is a sad truth that self-regulation often fails.

  13. That is an excellent post. Thanks for your advice! :)

  14. Thank you for a great post and good advice. I decided to self-pub my first novel in March and began devouring e-books and self-pubbed books about that time. I have found some really good indie books that are just about error free, but I've also found a lot of books that I think needed about 2-3 rounds of editing (both copyediting and proofreading) before they were ready. This helped me see that I needed to spend the $$ and time to hire professionals. Hopefully that will translate into not getting the dreaded reviews that talk about how many errors there are.
    As a reader, poor grammar, typos, consistency errors and redundant language makes me crazy. I see more and more of this in traditionally published books these days too. In general I think we need more excellent editing in every sphere of publishing.

  15. Hi Sharon, You're right; we want our blogs to shine, but there's definitely a greater pressure to make it great when someone is paying to read your work.

    Ciara, I hope you still give .99 indie authors a chance. Many of them write excellent fiction, but they are pricing at .99 as part of their business plan to grow readership ( a necessary evil in a world formally ruled by big publishers).

    In my experience running The Kindle Book Review, I've found many over priced eBooks that have received horrible reviews...and I'm out there looking for books with high ratings. I think if the author can produce an excellent experience for a reader through quality writing AND cut them a deal, everyone wins.

    Hi Dave, Glad you enjoyed the post. Please sign up by email. We do this often.

    I have said before that there needs to be a sort of author bootcamp for anyone who publishes ebooks because it's way too easy to toss junk out there. The real problem is, in my opinion, many of these authors are clueless that they can actually miss their mistakes and that the cost to pay an editor is far less than the pain/hurt feelings/discouragement that comes with getting smacked in the face with the truth...and the truth is, even the best writers get edited, because they know better.

    Thanks for visiting everybody. This has been an excellent discussion.


  16. So cool to see you here, Neal, on Jeff's blog. I worked too long and hard on my books not to get an editor. Years ago, in a fortuitous turn of events, Chris Roerden referred me to Scott, who has no trouble telling the truth...thank God. That was before he also formatted mss for ebooks. Although my ebook looked professionally formatted on the Kindle to PC, when I uploaded it on Amazon, the Kindle converter made my pages look like Picasso had formatted them. I did not want my name on that mess. I sweated ink for a couple of days while I went back and applied each step of Derek Canyon's book on Kindle formatting and it all worked out. I find that typos and formatting problems in ebooks pull me out of a story, and that's sad after all the work the author put into the book. I have been recommending Neal to people asking about an editor. Neal, is there a way for me to grab your Hock's Editing widget for my website? Seems like I saw that somewhere, but can't find it now.

  17. Editing is crucial to any author, indie or legacy, and it's vital to find an editor/proofreader with some professional chops. I'm probably preaching to the choir here, but I'd like to give a big thumb's up to Neal. I found Neal as a result of a recommendation from Scott Nicholson and I can't thank Scott enough. Neal edited my debut thriller Deadly Straits and he did a superb job. He's thorough, fast, reasonable, and keeps his commitments.

  18. While I do agree that having a properly edited book is important, I think it's worse to have a book that is just a bad book than it is to have some typos. You know, the traditional publishing world has been keeping us scared forever with the mantra of "you can't do it yourself... we have to do it... you don't know what you're doing... we're the experts... you'll fail". All that b.s.

    As a consultant I find that fear of doing it perfectly is what stops the majority of people from doing anything at all. This is a perfect example in the world of self-publishing. Worrying so much about a few typos that you don't write your book.

    That's hogwash. Just write a great book, and the snobs who buy your book and write a bad review because of typos are idiots who want to pee in your cheerios because they're mad at the new way things are going in the publishing world. Or they just feel like they want to crap on someone who actually did something. Who knows why they do it.

    The publishing world has changed. People want good, solid, helpful, entertaining information and they're willing to put up with some bumps in the road (typos) to get it. Look at YouTube. Before YT if you didn't have a professionally edited video that sounded amazing and looked amazing then you weren't taken seriously. People want authenticity now, which means that was once not accepted before is now more "real".

    The same thing is happening with self-publishing now. People, and readers, are more interested in getting a solution to their problems or being entertained, as opposed to worrying about typos.

    Just my opinion on the future.

  19. I have to admit I'm glad that Amazon is pulling, what we all hope are the worst offenders. Some of the conversations above seem to be talking like they are pulling books for missing a comma or something equally minor?

    I'd like the editing quality listed up front. Maybe even in a standard way. Something that lists Word count. ( so you know you are buying a 41 page story or a 400 page novel ) AND some sort of STANDARD Editing grade would be really nice. Like an A or F or something that lets the reader know if they are getting a five star story, that's edited to a B or a C level, or something like that. Then if the author fixes the story they can then the audience knows. Oh, that book I tried to read, that was a D or and F for editing is now graded at an A. etc... just saying If we all requested some sort of a editing quality standard maybe, then the above fears about books pulled or passed over can be fixed with the editing.

    P.s. I'm a writer not an editor. I got help from friends beta reading from my blog and then hired a professional because I knew I couldn't do it all by myself.

  20. Drat! my comment needs editing :( I grade my above comment at a D or C at best.

  21. @Sharon - I'm the same way. I find small mistakes in things I've posted and I have to fix them. If not, they drive me batty! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    @Ciara - Thanks for stopping by! I've been lucky to come across a number of books that have been priced 99 cents but were of very good quality. I think the market is still trying to find an equilibrium, and many self-published authors are still trying to work out the best way to market and sell their work. All that said, yes, there are still some stinkers out there.

    @David - You're welcome, and thank you!

    @Natalie - Thanks for your input. I agree; I have a hard time getting into a story when I'm distracted with errors. And you're right--I'm seeing more of them cropping up all over the place.

    @Brenda - It's great to be here! Thank you for all of your support. Yes, formatting is another biggie that's controllable. Shoot me a quick e-mail (hocksediting (at) gmail (dot) com)and I'll send you a small logo. I appreciate it!

    @Bob - You're making me blush. Thanks for the kind words, my friend.

    @Jim - Thanks for sharing your opinion! Perfection is quite elusive and probably unattainable when it comes to books. There's always going to be someone who says "That comma doesn't go there" or "You should have used this variant spelling." But I do believe a book full of easily fixable errors can lose readership, no matter how good the story is. And that's a travesty when the problems can be fixed, whether by hiring editor or seeking out the input of some eagle-eyed friend.

    I'm not a believer in trashing a book over typos (I usually just set it aside and keep my opinions to myself), but there are folks out there who do just that. And now it seems Amazon is listening to those folks. So that's why I think it's valid to ask "Is it worth the risk?" Each author has to make that decision and then go with it. Life's too short to live in fear!

    And anyone who wants to write needs to accept that typos and errors just come with the territory. We're humans, so we're going to make mistakes. I agree with you. Folks need to just sit down and write the best story possible. All those other things are fixable.


  22. @Uva - I find that all my comments need some sort of editing! I definitely agree that a word count would be a good idea for all e-books listed at Amazon. I love the authors that let use know in their product descriptions. As to an editing standard--while I would love something like that--I'm not sure how feasible it would be to have something like that from Amazon's perspective. I have a feeling they're going to stick with kicking the books back to the authors/publishers and letting them be their problems. But, who knows . . .

    Best of luck with your books!


  23. Editors are essential to any piece of writing. Enough said.

  24. Great post, Neal. Everything you say makes sense and I hope it hits home with more authors. I've read a LOT of indie books and I must say, some of them need it. Heck, I'm still finding little things wrong with my own. You are absolutely right; we all need an editor.

  25. There is a paradigm that is being broken down in regard to self-publishing and it is, without a doubt, a benefit to the reader. Just as the breakdown of the music industry's paradigm has benefited listeners. However, that said, there are fewer gatekeepers in terms of quality and poor quality supports the old paradigm that says that self-publishing is nothing but an act of vanity, akin to paying to have a poem included in an anthology.

    To self-publish is, by far, no longer strictly an act of vanity. Most that self-publish are quite serious about their work but quality is important in any consumer product or service. To look down your nose at self-publishing is to be no better than the dinosaurs in corporate music production and marketing who refused to see their little kingdom melting away.

    There is also a brand of snub that comes from those who broke into paper publishing, by luck or not, that is kind of like pulling the curtain between first class and coach so as not to have to "see the peasants".

    In addition to just looking old and stuck and precious, what about the "green" factor? Get on board, folks it's the way of the future. But HELP break down the paradigm. Be a part of the solution to what is surely coming.

    And self-publishers? Listen: please do us all a favor and make it right. Use an editor or not, but make it right. The rest of us in the vanguard of this new movement are counting on you.

  26. Self publishers who are serious and take their writing seriously, will not put Kindles and other self-published books out there without an editor. The industry needs to develop an expectation of these self-published authors using a galley or pageproof prior to publication, and at least a proofreading of that, if not a copy edit.

  27. Hi there!

    Well, this was an interesting and enjoyable post! I haven't had any conmplaints about spelling errors in my self published books and I edit them myself. Maybe I just got lucky. But I got over my work soooo many times.

    Honestly though, I'm thinking about leaving Amazon altogether because I really don't find their platform attractive...personally. For example, this rule they have that we can't have lower prices on another platform or we're forced to lower our prices on Amazon to that price point forever (even if we decide to have a promotion somewhere else).

    And then it seems like if you're self published Amazon customers expect you to be priced at either 99 cents or $2.99 or they generally won't touch your book (of course there are exceptions to this). We get .35 cents or so for each 99 cent book sold and then pay taxes on the .35 cents, so in essence, we're getting nothing. The amout of volume you have to sell to make .20 cents add up just isn't sustainable for the long haul. Idk.

    I've added so many bonus features to my work but on Amazon I still feel like all I can charge is maybe $2.99. I think I want to go somewhere where the customers are used to paying more for products and leave Amazon behind.

  28. P.S. In the 1st paragraph I meant to say I "go" over my work so many time. Sorry.

  29. A great post and discussion thread. I am not a author, but book blogger with years of mgmt experience in the retail book industry. Just a couple of points, IMHO:

    * There might be room for a well reviewed indie book at the $4.99 price point. This is about the price point for paperbacks that are discounted in many big book stores, however $2.99 might become the standard for a quality ebook.
    * Readers don't stop reading a book they are enjoying because of a few errors. Content is key and will overrule a few errors and formatting issues.
    * Obtaining reviews (10+ and good ratings) might be one of the biggest bricks that hit authors in the head at the start of this journey. A book must be professional edited and be a quality story to obtain reviews.

    Authors, are getting reviews as tough as it seems? My daily interactions with new authors seem like they are pulling their hair out trying to get reviews.

    Stat of the day: 3/13/2012 - 495 "free" books were added to Amazon today. Only 22 books had 10+ reviews and a rating of 4.0+ stars.

    Consumers are swimming in a sea of ebooks, but many want to be told what to buy. The is the reason why a bestseller display is a successful requirement in every bookstore.

    Did you know responding to authors makes a non-author nervous? Have a great day and good luck.

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