I finished my first real ebook yesterday. Wait a minute, I hear you saying, you’ve been using an electronic reader for more than a year now and must have read a lot of ebooks. True, but this time I’m talking about a dedicated ebook, published through Amazon and offered as a $2.99 Kindle download. The book doesn’t have an ISBN number, just a catalog number assigned by Amazon, and you won’t find it on any bookstore or library shelf. Oh, you can get a paper copy if you’re willing to pay almost $20 … it’s called print on demand. I suppose the day will come when certain books will be available in electronic form only and you can’t even get print on demand, but for now, the novel I just finished is as close to a pure ebook as it is possible to be.
When Amazon and B&N started selling ebooks, what you got was a scanned version of the original print book. Customers quickly began complaining about poor editing … too often, books converted into electronic format were filled with formatting and pagination errors. Booksellers and publishers took their time responding, but eventually came to realize that customers expect ebooks to be as error-free as print books. Just recently, so many customers complained about errors in the Kindle version of Neal Stephenson’s new novel Reamde that Amazon recalled and replaced copies after the publisher made belated corrections.
Sadly, this is unlikely to happen with dedicated ebooks. It certainly didn’t happen with the one I just read.
The most common errors in my ebook come from the scanning and conversion process. Words that in the print version are split and hyphenated at the right margin retain the hyphens in the electronic version, even though they now appear elsewhere on the page. More galling were the typos and mistakes that would have been edited out in the normal publishing process. This book, alas, apparently went straight from the author to Amazon and then on to customers.
It’s a damn shame. If, like me, you mentally stop and regroup every time you come to a formatting glitch, error, or typo, you’re not going to enjoy reading the book.
I guess the new rule, at least for authors who self-publish through Amazon, is to ask other writers to read and edit your manuscript before you send it in, because no one at Amazon is going to do it for you.
My new rule? At least for now, no more $2.99 ebooks. I read for pleasure, and don’t need the aggravation.
Here’s an ever-so-slightly related footnote: clearly, if Lieutenant Colonel Davis had asked anyone in his chain of command to edit his paper, it would have come out saying something entirely different.
So perhaps it’s good he bucked the system, because no one in power is willing to speak the truth about Afghanistan. Sorry about your career, dude, but you did the right thing. We all know you’re going to be retiring soon; I just hope they don’t do to you what they did to Scott Ritter.
Update (2/8/12): A friend who recently published a Kindle/print on demand book left a comment (see below) pointing out that the POD version is just $7.99 from Amazon. That is true and I apologize for my error. The POD version sold by B&N, however, lists for $19.18 … quite a markup!