Books and Pals had just passed its one-month anniversary when I noticed a spurt of traffic coming from one particular site. I tracked the link back to an internet forum where current and wannabe authors, primarily Indies, hung out. In that discussion, an author had linked to a review of one of his books. He was mostly pleased (he’d spun a good yarn and the review was largely positive), but he wasn’t happy with the portion of the review that indicated his book had “a small number of typos and proofing errors.” I should hasten to add that he didn’t question whether they existed; only that he was disappointed he hadn’t eradicated all of them before publishing.
One of the other posters wondered why my reviews had this section and initially thought the intent was anti-Indie. Others made the point (or claim) that few books are error free, including traditionally published books. Someone else said that, “Big 6 books have errors too, but nowhere close to a random sample of indie books. I say this as a fan – we need to improve our proofreading, it’s hurting everyone.”
My intent when defining the format for our reviews was to tackle one of the legitimate gripes about Indie books head-on, that they receive insufficient editing and proofing. My experience to that point had been that this problem existed; however, it was not as widespread as those who brought it up claimed (an explanation I gave to those who were wondering why our reviews addressed that issue).
I set arbitrary and somewhat lenient thresholds. If I spotted up to seven errors in a novel length work, I would indicate “no significant issues.” I’d seen numbers between five and ten bandied about as what a publisher would consider an acceptable number of errors in a book. I didn’t have any hard evidence that this was fact, although it felt about right based on what I’d seen in traditionally published books. More than that and less than twenty errors, I would say “a small number of errors,” but it would not influence the review rating. This acknowledges that there is an issue, but I didn’t feel that an error every ten pages, on average, should be enough of an irritant to most readers to be a problem. Twenty or more errors, I would indicate in this section that the book had a large number of errors, possibly indicate the nature of the kind of problems it had either as part of that section or in the analysis section, and in most cases it would influence the ranking.
If this were a novel, I’d complain that the author did an info dump with too much back-story in the first scenes. However, I think the history is necessary background for the rest of this two-part post where I’ll discuss three things: why I think this matters, how those books we’ve reviewed have stacked up when compared to the error thresholds I established, and last, in part two, I’ll look at traditionally published books: how do they compare to the Indies and the error thresholds?
I’ll give my opinion and plenty of data, but I’m interested in hearing what you think, too. Readers, how much do typos, missing words, incorrect word usage, homonyms, and other proofing issues effect your reading enjoyment? What kind of errors are the worst? How do you think Indies compare, on average, to traditionally published works? How about those who are authors: what do you think on these same questions? Does being an author make you more sensitive to these issues?
Why does it Matter?
While I think readers vary in their tolerance for these mistakes, every time they trip over a sentence or have to interpret meaning, the reader is jolted out of the story. Too many of these take what should be an experience as smooth as cruising down the highway and turn it into an off-road adventure of the worst kind. An author who neglects adequately polishing their book prior to publication is doing a disservice to the reader. They are also doing a disservice to their fellow authors and to their own book.
I’ve seen some authors argue, “What do people expect for less than three bucks?” My answer is that the cost of a book is a very small part of a reader’s investment. The biggest part is their time. If your book isn’t up to snuff, it doesn’t matter what the purchase price was; the reader is going to feel ripped off. Although the correlation is far from perfect, I also think authors who don’t do all they can to account for this part of the process while readying their book for publication are more likely to have other significant issues in their writing.
How have Indies Stacked Up?
Before I discuss the numbers, a disclaimer is in order. My sense has been that the books I’ve received for review are better in every respect, on average, than a random cross-section of Indie books. I’ve attributed this to two reasons. The first: that the author who has invested the time and effort to make their book as good as it can be is more likely to put forth more promotional effort, including submitting review copies to blogs such as this. The large deluge of submissions in the wake of The Greek Seaman fiasco, which dominate the books reviewed, has probably caused what insurance companies call self-selection. An author not confident about the quality of their book is much less likely to have submitted it for review.
Looking at reviews either published or slated for publication at the time of this writing and excluding those not evaluated for typos and proofing errors (beta or pre-release versions), we have evaluated 195 books. Of these, 71% met the highest standard of “no significant issues.” Only 10% were in the worst category with the remaining 19% falling in the middle with “a small number of issues.”
Sometime next week I’ll address traditionally published books, how they compare, and give some closing thoughts.
<Click to go to part 2>