Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Amazon's Quality Reviews

by L.J. Sellers, bestselling author of  provocative mysteries & thrillers

For today's post, I'm combining one of our most-viewed blogs with a piece I posted recently on my own blog—because they share a similar concern: Amazon's quality reviews.

Here's the core of the original post from Hitch, our ebook formatter.

Two other things have happened this month that are related to this. Which makes me think that this shan't be an isolated incident, and we in the biz need to pay closer attention to what we write, publish and produce. The two events are:

First, one of our top authors received a letter from Amazon, informing him/her that "During a quality assurance review of your title, we have found the following issue(s): Typo/formatting issues exist that may have been caused by an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) problem. An example is mentioned below:
"Don't forger that" should be ""Don't forget that"
Please look for the same kind of errors throughout and make the necessary corrections to the title before republishing it. 

The interesting part is that this book wasn’t scanned, nor OCR’d; and it was professionally edited more than once. Amazon only provided the one instance of an “error.”

Another client, having crafted some rather unique content, had deliberately written scenes that were incoherent, to represent a protagonist in a comatose state. Amazon flatly yanked the title after customer complaints about the unreadability of the text.

What this tells me is that Amazon, having purged innumerable over-represented PD (Public Domain) titles, and every PLR (so-called, "Private Label Rights") book they could find, have decided that they are going to tackle the issue that everyone's been talking about: Curation

Which means one thing: real editing. Not Word's built-in spellchecker; not your Mom; real editors with real experience. Here at Booknook, we like the Twin Lizzies; Elisabeth Hallett and Elizabeth Lyon. Elisabeth Hallett, (Email here) specializes in line editing, as well as proofing and copyediting; Elizabeth Lyon (website here) is a freelance editor with more than 60 books under her belt, and can assist you with revisions and developmental editing, in addition to line editing services.
(And I add our blog member, Jodie Renner's editing services.)

And here's what I posted recently on my blog, Write First, Clean Later:

Sorry, but I need to vent a little. An recent email from Amazon had this to say:
During a quality assurance review of your title, we have found the following issue(s): Typos have been found in your book. For example:
  • "blond hair off" should be "blonde hair off"
  • "teen-agers thought" should be "teenagers thought"
Please look for the same kind of errors throughout and make the necessary corrections to the title before republishing it.

Seriously? Of all the millions of books out there—many of which have never been edited—they find fault with blond instead of blonde? And teen-agers instead of teenagers?

First, editing styles and word-use changes over time. Second, who cares? These are not errors, not compared to some of the stuff I’ve found in my other books. And when I think about some of the manuscripts I evaluated for iUniverse that are now selling on Amazon through KDP, I shudder at the bad grammar, incoherent sentence structure, and lack of punctuation.

So I have to wonder: Why The Sex Club? A book written by a seasoned journalist and edited by a professional? Did some readers complain because they didn’t like the title and content? And did that complaint trigger a “quality assurance review”? Is Amazon just going through the motions to make the complainers happy? For those of you not familiar with my work, the book is a PG mystery.

The upside is that Amazon didn’t necessarily require me to do anything. The email says “before republishing it.” Since I don’t plan to republish it, I think I’m okay to let it go.

But it’s kind of annoying, and it makes me wonder what the heck is going on. I think Amazon is right to conduct quality reviews, and I think it should refuse to publish some of the crap that it does. But its email to me makes no sense at all.

Anyone else had this experience?


  1. This does make one wonder, since Amazon is now in the business of self publishing is it going after other independent writers?

    We should however put quality work out there regardless of whether or not we are with a publisher or self published. Get your manuscript edited professionally.

    Thank you

  2. At least they're now sending letters. I did the unthinkable and uploaded the wrong file to one of my Amazon titles. It was supposed to be a short story, but instead it was one of my novels (and from another series.) Screw up, yes. My fault, most definitely.

    But nothing happened until I got an email from a purchaser (whom I know casually on line) telling me of the wrong file in the short story, since he'd already bought the novel.

    I went to fix it and found that Amazon had simply taken it off sale. Granted, it was a 99 cent short story, and sales were minimal, but I had no clue about the problem.

    Of course I fixed it immediately, and then told Amazon that it would have been nice to have been informed.

    However, LJ, if I were you, I'd simply 'repubish' the book, just in case it's on a 'takedown if not fixed' list. You don't have to fix anything, just reupload the file.

    As for Amazon becoming typo police -- if they're going to do it, it should be all or none. I think they're relying on reader/buyer feedback. I'm sure, despite professional editing on my books, that there will always be something that sneaks through. I find errors in most books I read these days.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  3. “But its email to me makes no sense at all” should be “But it’s email to me makes no sense at all.”

  4. Hair is blond. A woman with blond hair is a blonde. Their "correction" is wrong. How infuriating!

  5. Sorry, John Lovell, but LJ had it right - it's "its" with no apostrophe in this case!

  6. I think some quality control on Amazon is a good thing, to prevent the market being flooded with amateurish writing full of errors of all kinds, which ultimately gives Amazon a bad name and hurts everyone. But the errors you mentioned seem very minor to me. Maybe it's some kind of electronic scanning that's finding them, and they just send a notice about the first few they find?

    Let's hope Amazon doesn't get carried away with their "grammar police" thing here!

    Hiring a professional freelance editor before self-publishing is indispensable. Even if your English skills are excellent, you're too close to the story and will be reading for content, so your eye will often skip over small typos and missing words. And a second set of eyes will also catch logistic and continuity errors and other content discrepancies - not to mention big-picture craft of writing issues like "head-hopping" (ping-ponging POV), stilted dialogue, cardboard characters, slow pacing, overly wordy writing, not enough tension, etc.

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  9. LJ,

    I'm intrigued. This post reminds me of my post about two months ago when I suggested that Amazon could use their algorithms to recommend books. A little Deja Vu for me.

    Self-published writers get knocked hard by all sorts of people in the industry. I've seen more turned up noses when I use the word self-published than any other time in my life. I'm glad to see Amazon doing something to control the quality of books. I'm not surprised that the success at first might be hit or miss.

    I hope they continue these efforts. I for one would be glad if Amazon told me about an error in my work. It's pretty easy (and free) to upload corrections.


  10. CJ, part of my point was that using "blond" is not necessarily an error. Gender-based adjectives (and nouns) are sexist and subjective.

    Also, uploading corrections isn't necessarily free. For those of us who pay a professional formatter, it takes time and money to get the corrections done.

    But the flexibility to make corrections myself is motivating me to develop the skills I need to do so. :)

  11. LJ,

    I got that blond was not necessarily an error. I've always thougth that gender based adjectives were descriptive, not sexist. I'm not a woman, so I don't understand why they would be considered so. I appreciate the fodder for thought, though.

    I have always formatted my work myself, so uploading a correction is a matter of minutes for me.

    As I said, I don't think this solution by Amazon is perfect, but I'm glad they are doing something to address the heaps of drek in their catalog. It is no surprise that we will get swept up once in a while too.


  12. Oops! Those two deleted comments are because I somehow posted the same comment 3 times! I have no idea how that happened, but thanks to LJ for letting me know! Hope this apology doesn't print 3 times! Happy New Year, everyone!

  13. I'm supporting a lot of crime fiction authors that I'm learning about on various lists and forums. I may have said this here before. I start a lot of .99 cent books but finish far fewer because they're just not finished.

    Jodie Renner did an excellent job editing my second mss but I played around with it after it was "done" and have employed two (costly) proofreaders since then.I divided 14 long chapters into 51 shorter chapters, thought I'd done it perfectly,and was horrified when I saw the formatted file.

    I'm considering another proofing and adding up the cost. I want and need the mss. to be perfect but, oh my gosh, I'll have to sell a lot of books to pay for perfection.

    Yes, there's dreck. I don't want to add to it.

  14. That's the dilemma for many authors. Paying for editing and proofreading can be a thousand-dollar investment that some authors may never recover. Still, it needs to be done. Even then, errors still happen. I'm glad Amazon is concerned though.

  15. I get irritated by errors. Plain and simple. It's rare for me to read a book—electronic or paper—without finding at least one error, and I'm secretly delighted and impressed when I do. I'm likely to get an ulcer over that part of it when the time comes.

    A well-edited, well-proofed and well-formatted book is an investment in a writer's career. The story can be worth telling, but if in the telling your reader is lost, what's the point?

    I appreciate some diligence on Amazon's part, and suspect they will be refining it just as they've refined customer service.

    And the blonde who has blond hair is new for me. So thank, L.J.!

  16. Jodie and others said it best - the use of a professional editor is priceless. But the author controls the work, and there's a lot you can do make sure your manuscript goes out as flawless as possible.

    Spell check works to a degree, so use it as you go along, when you make revisions, and when you're ready to submit for formatting.

    Make use of your beta readers and reading groups to help spot both glaring and subtle errors.

    Put your manuscript aside for a couple of weeks, then print a copy and read it fresh. Reading a print copy helps a lot; you can miss stuff on a screen.

    If you use Create Space or similar publishing models, ask for galley proofs before publishing.

    A lot of indie authors are careless when it comes to basic writing and editing skills (as are a lot of web publishers). And nothing looks more unprofessional. Heck, even known authors and heavyweight, big-boy publishers are guilty. I can't count the times I've been pulled out of a story by misspelled words, missing words, missing phrases, or even entire paragraphs left out or transposed. You ask yourself, "Did they do anything other than spell check?"

    Use an editor, keep a hard-copy on your desk to mark up errors you may find later (or your fans find and let you know about!), and then correct those errors in your next edition.

  17. Excellent tips, Richard! Another idea is to change the font, then read it again on-screen or print it up in the new, different font.

    Also, read it aloud. Not only will you find typos that way, you'll also see where the flow isn't as good as it could be or your dialogue sounds stilted.


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