A Shot to the Foot — Or the Head? (Cautionary Lists for the Self-Published)

Cover art by Lars Huston.

Cover art by Lars Huston.

This is a sad story about self-inflicted damage to my recently published e-book, WAS IT A RAT I SAW, a psychological thriller involving split brain research, animal rights, and a love quadrangle.

I’ve always been a decent copy-editor, but things went terribly wrong with RAT. I thought it would be my easiest e-publishing experience. After all, I have the hardcover version, published by Bantam-Doubleday-Dell after mind-bogglingly extensive editing by their professional crew. All I had to do was retype it; and typing is easy for me.

Yeah. Well. My first e-version had hundreds of typos that I failed to notice. Not an exaggeration and not a … typo. Hundreds. I thought I had reviewed it carefully: professional-quality self-delusion! Below I itemize what I think went wrong, in case it helps another self-published writer avoid a similar nightmare.

It turns out that there are readers who ignore typos, and readers who are personally offended by them. My first several reviews were from the former group – so warm and enthusiastic! Five stars and raves from strangers – awesome! I started to get a steady trickle of sales. Then the latter group of readers posted reviews. All those typos opened the door for some nasty attacks. My trickle of sales stopped on the day the bad reviews appeared.

(Don’t get me wrong – I hate typos and don’t blame readers for hating them also. Probably because I support indie writers, I would never write an attack review because of typos, though … especially when I got the book for free. But if I didn’t absolutely love a typo-riddled book, I would avoid other works by that author.)

RAT’s problems may yet worsen. More than 2000 patrons of Amazon and Smashwords downloaded the typo-riddled version (mostly during free promotions). My initial elation about all those potential readers has mutated to fear of typo-phobic reviews, and misery that I created a situation where I may have attracted then repelled so many readers.

I’ve now spent the last couple weeks doing nothing but proof-reading and contacting reader-reviewers who were about to read the typo-riddled version and exchanging emails with Amazon and Smashwords to find out whether they can notify their patrons that a new, cleaner version is now available. (With Amazon, the answer is maybedepending on whether Amazon thinks the changes matter; with Smashwords the answer is no.)

I see sentences from RAT when I close my eyes. I induce insomnia imagining that the newly uploaded version is still full of typos that I somehow still missed. I yearn to return to editing FRAMES, my fantasy detective series. The FRAMES manuscript is dusty now, and covered with paw prints because this fellow has taken to sleeping on it:

A nice soft stack of papers makes an excellent nap site.

A nice soft stack of papers makes an excellent nap site when you don’t care about typos.

I can only hope that I will be able to restore trust and momentum with the newly uploaded, corrected version of RAT. Tune in later to find out whether I have shot RAT in the foot, or the head.

Many things seem to have gone wrong during the creation of  that first e-version of RAT:

  • Software conversion glitches? I used the Apple word-processing software Pages initially, then converted to Word. At some point, one of these stripped away certain “end paragraph” markers and adjoining dialog quotation marks.
  • Rogue auto-correct? Auto-correct is a headache-inducer so I always keep that “feature” turned off, yet some of the substituted words in RAT were so bizarre! Makes me wonder if an auto-correct got engaged, clandestinely, for a time.
  • New glasses prescription needed? Many of the typos were invisible to me until I magnified the text above 300%: for example, single quotes where double quotes should be; sign instead of sigh, i where l should be.
  • Past my bedtime? In some chapters there are clusters of typos in sections that I recognize as places where I pushed myself to do just one more page before I stopped for the night.

Here is what I will do differently from now on:

  • Stick with Word. It pains me to type that. I so hate Word. However, a Word doc is a required step to prep a file for Smashwords and Amazon, so that format cannot be avoided. And with every format change, problems can multiply. If I only use Word, I limit the number of format changes.
  • Remember, humans are the real spellcheckers. The spell- and grammar-checking functions of word processors only catch easy, obvious problems. Most of my typos were subtle punctuation errors, or mistakes that produced words that were real, but wrong.
  • Save the most careful read-through for the end. I did my most careful read-through early on. I’m still uncertain how many problems I missed and how many I introduced later.
  • Blow it up. To do a serious typo hunt, I need to magnify the text to 400% zoom, then resize my window so I can only see a couple lines at a time. This minimizes the chances that my eyes will bounce, jump, or slide past overly-familiar text.
  • Learn patience. Damn, I thought I would sneak through this life without it. When I finish a book I am so eager for people to read it! But if I can get myself to set the book aside for several months, I will regain perspective and a fresh set of eyes.
  • Print it on expensive paper? At the office this works like gangbusters: nothing like printing a “final” document to spot mistakes in it. This technique may only work when racing to meet a deadline, however.
  • Read it aloud? Other writers suggest this and it sounds like a great idea — maybe to evaluate the flow of sentences rather than copy edit? Anyway, the technique didn’t help me. When I read the words aloud I missed punctuation and syntax errors.
  • Read it backwards? This is another great-sounding idea that I couldn’t get to work for me. I found fewer mistakes when I severed the words from their context by reading backwards. Maybe I failed to select the right length of prose to read backwards.
  • Hire somebody? In principle this sounds good. Of course, one must check the checker (Horror stories abound regarding hired-gun mis-fires.) Anyhow, for the foreseeable future, I do not have the $800+ that a copy editor charges for a full-length novel.
  • Offer readers a free ebook if they report typos back to me? I have made this offer to a group of LibraryThing reviewers. Maybe they will like the offer, maybe it will piss them off and guarantee more bad reviews. Sign. (<- joke typo)

Indie authors and indie readers, I would love to get your input about any or all of this!

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6 thoughts on “A Shot to the Foot — Or the Head? (Cautionary Lists for the Self-Published)

  1. I’m a typo-hater, and an indie-author-lover. I hate that anyone gave your work a bad review, and I can’t imagine how hard it must be to take those comments constructively. I feel like finding the writers of the bad reviews and yelling at them. Probably, that’s less constructive than your ideas.

    If you ever want to hire a free copy-editor with zero actual experience, good eyesight, and a whole lot of patience, I’m your gal!

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  2. noooo! I had such an encouraging and thought-provoking response all typed out before WordPress ate it for breakfast.
    Boo.
    I’ll summarize : You’re right. Patience is probably key. Maybe stick to a few pages per night? Also, remind me to ask you about the app “Scribd”.
    There was more…
    *sign*

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    • Having the digital dog eat my work was one problem that did not arise. At the moment I’m not sure whether that was good or bad news. Well, thanks for the comment you posted, as well as the one you intended!

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  3. Thank you for the advice. Something that works for me is changing the margins and fonts in Word on proofs. It looks fresher reformatted and makes errors more obvious.

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    • Hmm. Interesting. I can see trying that before I do all the special margin and font formatting required by each on-line distributor. It would help catch “real” typos (vs. those created during re-formatting glitches.

      Like

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