Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Is Amazon's Punctuation Punctiliousness Persnickety?

By:  Kimberly Hitchens is the founder and owner of Booknook.biz, an ebook production company that has produced books for over 750 authors and imprints.

(The second part of this post appeared in the Booknook.Biz newsletter, newly renamed The Booknook Beacon [sorta]--yes, I'm a sucker for alliteration--so if you've read the newsletter, feel free to skip that bit.  If you skipped the Newsletter--for SHAME!--then read on.)

Amazon Attacks

No, sorry--if you're awaiting a single-breasted woman with a quiver full of arrows to come out swinging, you're to be sadly disappointed.  For those of you earning your filthy lucre by writing, however, nose up:  we had another one of our clients harangued by mega-publisher Amazon about "errors" in her book--with a politely-worded demand that the book be taken down, fixed and re-uploaded.

The history?  We're speaking here of a widely-respected woman author, Edgar-nominated, legacy published, who's put up a handful of her backlist titles on Amazon, as well as on Barnes & Noble's self-publishing platform, PubIt, with our assistance.  Over the past few years, she's put these books up one at a time, each taking some effort, as all of her backlist had to be scanned and OCR'd (have Optical Character Recognition run) first, then proofed,  then edited a skosh (oy, none of you are immune from the rewriting addiction!), and then converted and magically (ahem) made into ebooks.  Her titles aren't wee shorties, but hefty, good-sized books.  We recently received an email from her which contained the Amazon missive, which instructed her as already related, for--wait for it--a whopping TWELVE (12) missing periods (and one word with--gasp!--a space in it).  Yes, Virginia--missing periods, and, no, you're not pregnantTwelve missing periods in 90,000 words

Now, the part that slays me is--where is this editorial oversight when it comes to other titles?  Heavens, I wonder, am I the fool to bite the hand that feeds me?  But--I'm compelled to ask:  if editorial oversight and curation is to be imposed by Amazon, then what about titles like these?  Broken Bones, Cheryl Taylor and this beauty:  JFK VIP2RIP .  Twelve missing periods, compared to these, just as two exemplars?

My Theory, however, is:  

My theory runs like this, and I doubt it's an earth-shattering epiphany:  only those who get read, and who have fans, actually get audited.  In other words:  only those of you lucky to be talented enough, who have worked hard enough, have studied the craft enough, to write well enough to attract readers who care about your work, get these types of letters from Amazon, because it's your readers that send them the correctionsThe truly awful don't get read; don't attract readers; don't have fans that care about the quality of the work--and thus, slip through Mighty Amazon's Gates.  However, all that being said, the inequity of one author--who's paid a  lot of good money to get her (backlist) books up on Amazon, and in fine format, if I do say so myself--being told to "fix" the book and republish it, when books like those I've pointed out run about freely, like varmints gamboling on a newly-turfed lawn, seems grossly unfair.  I'm all for some curation--heavens know, you've all heard me whinge about it often enough--but if Amazon's going to police well-respected authors, then I think she needs to spend a little time looking beneath her own skirts, as well.   Self-publishing is self-publishing, regardless of whether it's Neil Gaiman or Cheryl Taylor, and inequitable enforcement seems a gross miscarriage for those who've done all the necessary heavy lifting, versus those who have not.  Why the discrepancy?

That's my primary note for this week; for those of you still equivocating about whether to spend that money on an editor, or whining about how "critique groups are mean," pay attention--suffering those crits may just save YOU a letter like this some day--and yours might be warranted.  

1st Annual WNBA National Writing Contest

No, guys, that is NOT the "Women's National Basketball Association," but, rather, the Women's National Books Association, and it has recently announced its first annual Writing Contest. The WNBA is a 90+ year old venerated organization of women and men across the broad spectrum of writing and publishing. Membership includes Editors, Publishers, Literary Agents, Professors, Academics, Librarians, Authors, Book Marketers and many others involved in the world of books.

Works may be submitted now until September 15th, and include unpublished fiction (short stories or novel excerpts) and poetry.

Interested?  They want only your "highest caliber work!"  Click here to find out more information.  

 Until next time, to mooch a phrase from someone worth mooching:  Good Night and Good Luck.  


  1. Of course, you're right. I got one of those letters for The Sex Club, my most widely read book, and the two errors they pointed out weren't really even errors. On the other hand, I know I have typos in another novel (that I intend to fix) but I've never heard a word from Amazon about it. Still, books with horrible grammar and formatting should never be published. I hope that Amazon eventually does a better job of screening.

  2. I agree with LJ about Amazon improving their screening process. Someone else I know received a letter from Amazon telling her to improve her grammar or take the book down. The grammar however, was in dialogue and character-appropriate.

    I don't want mistakes in my books. Period. Or lack thereof. I know these things are irritants to readers (they often are to me) so I'll work hard for that not to happen. Unfortunately, these things get by even the most deligent copy editors.

  3. I can't read an NYT bestseller without seeing at least 7 or 8 obvious errors - and I'm not talking about missing periods!

  4. Hi, guys:

    I guess my weakness for alliteration got the better of this blog--it's just us girls! ;-) In any event, my issue is not with 10 periods, missed or otherwise--for the love of heaven, we're all human. But making someone like my client "fix" her book when those other two are up there--that's HEINOUS. That's "selective enforcement," and in law, that's illegal. I'm not saying Amazon is doing something illegal--but they should make sure that their boat ain't leaking before they worry about patching up periods! Periodically speaking...like blogging. (Hitch, STOP IT!). Ban puns, crappy alliteration--haven't I convinced you broads to fire me yet as a blogger?

    Sheesh, I gotta try harder.

  5. Yeah, I think it's all down to who gets reported. The more books you sell, the more likely you are to have errors reported to Amazon.

    Honestly, I don't see the injustice in having errors reported. In LJ's case or in the case of the book whose "errors" weren't mistakes at all, that's one thing, but if there were 12 mistakes in the book, surely the author is grateful someone pointed them out so she can present a flawless experience for future readers?

    Yes, some books are worse, but if someone feels ripped off by a purchased book's errors, then report it rather than just saying "well my book has mistakes, but not as many as this one, so therefore I shouldn't have to fix mistakes in mine."

    There are errors in just about every book I've read, I think. It doesn't usually bother me enough to want to contact the author, but I'm always grateful when someone tells me about an issue with one of mine.


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