When Is A Typo, A Typo?

When Is A Typo, Really A Typo?

For hardworking self-published authors, there is hope. It’s only a typo!

You are not alone in trying to perfect your ebook manuscript.

Perhaps, you are working even harder and making a better fist of it than some of the big publishers at removing every single typo.

While reading two separate posts on Forbes and The Verge regarding the annoyance of typos in e-books, it was reassuring in some respects to note that the brunt of the complaints was directed at large publishers.


However, as I read the long list of comments on these posts, a few new pieces of information caught my attention.

Although there was one very important consideration that was missing.

The new information I found interesting was contained in one comment. I quote:

GAP e-books: an explanation for why they are so shoddy.
I’ve just learned that the production AND PROOFREADING for Bantam/Spectra e-books is done…in India. By people who barely speak English. (Apparently this applies to every e-book published by the conglomerate which includes Bantam.)

If this is true, it says a lot about how quality control in publishing is being outsourced to the cheapest contractor.

Another practice being used to convert backlisted manuscripts to electronic files is by using OCR. (Optical Character Recognition).

Anyone who has had any experience with OCR will know it is a process that is far from perfect. A quote from the Forbes article:

Unacceptable or not, that’s what someone has done. Simply OCR’d the printed text and not subbed *sic (sub edited) it through again.

I shudder to think what the result would be, as my experience with OCR has been that the result always contains character errors on every single page.


Poor quality control

While these two areas gained a mention, along with the obvious blame on poor editing, sub-editing and proofreading, the one missing reason for ebook errors is the process itself.

No matter in what form a final text is prepared, be it html, doc, rtf, pdf, epub or any number of other file formats, it will then be converted yet again into the file used by each ebook distributor or retailer.

As Kindle, Apple and Smashwords and all the other platforms use a wide variety of e-publishing formats, even the most perfect text needs to be ‘crunched’, ‘auto vetted’ or ‘converted’ to this new file type.

In other words, the words of the text are converted into ones and zeros, and then back again into text. And rarely perfectly.

This differs completely from the technique used in a printed book, where all text is reproduced using photographic processes and therefore reproduced exactly as intended.


From my own experience, when I have download copies of one of my ebooks from different sources, they are never exactly the same.

The most common problems are changes in formatting, removal of italicised text, removal, replacement or misinterpretation of accented characters and random changes to fonts and paragraph styles.

Quite honestly, some conversions are good, while some I could only call a dog’s breakfast. It also makes a huge difference if a file has been prepared using Apple programmes or Microsoft programmes.

Some ebook conversions programmes may not work with Apple word processing programmes, or if they do, they can still add code and spaces (sometimes seen as Apple Space in code) that can change formatting styles.

So the grand ebook typo debate will continue I am sure. But it is worth noting that many of the complaints against sloppy authors, poor proofreading or lousy formatting could, and perhaps should really be aimed at the ebook process itself, and not necessarily towards those authors who work hard in the preparation of their ebook texts.

E & OE


Derek Haines

A Cambridge qualified CELTA English teacher and author of 18 books with a life long passion for publishing in all forms. I started my working life as a lithographer and spent over 30 years in the printing and publishing business. Originally from Australia, I moved to Switzerland 20 years ago. My days are spent teaching English, writing and wrestling with technology while enjoying my glorious view of Lake Geneva and the Alps.

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