dianeduaneOn her blog “Out of Ambit”, Diane Duane has written a post partly in response to my e-book quality rant of the other day, talking about her own experiences preparing new editions of some of her e-books.

Duane had been using Smashwords to distribute her Middle Kingdoms series, and had no complaints. However, she found that if she wanted to do something about the territorial restrictions preventing most of the world from buying her Young Wizards books without violating her contract terms with the publishers (who own the US and Canada e-book rights), she was going to have to set up her own e-book store that could invert those restrictions and sell to everywhere except the US and Canada. Which meant learning to do professional-level e-book formatting from scratch—a fairly complicated process, as Duane describes it.

Another problem was where to get electronic versions of books that were written well before such things as standardized word processing document formats came about. But for this, Duane had a novel solution:

And then of course there’s the issue of where to get electronic texts to correct for books that were originally, you know, typed on paper. …What, scan them? In my thousands of hours of spare time? I don’t think so. Why do that when various well-intentioned people have over time scanned my earliest books, sometimes even run them through several people to proof them, and then made them available via P2P? So I borrowed those texts back, thank you very much, and used them for my basic documents. (And in all cases, they still needed to be corrected. Sometimes the people doing the original scanning were none too sure of what a word meant, or how to spell it. I fortunately don’t have this problem.)

She discusses the process of editing those books, and from there bridges into her own discussion of the e-book quality issues I raised in my own post. She got a Kindle to use for quality-control purposes in producing her own e-books, so as to be certain of how they looked on a real device screen, and has been noticing many of the same sorts of problems there—not just in her own books, but in others’.

I picked up a Kindle copy of Mosse’s Labyrinth last week, and while some parts of it look very nice, there are recurring formatting errors that I know perfectly well would be easily corrected. But no one took the time. I would never have allowed a book to leave the house in the state that Labyrinth‘s in. And this is a book that spent umpty days on the NYT Bestseller list and made somebody or other buckets of money. Could they not have spent enough of all that lucre to get the HTML proofed? Seriously?

She concludes that it is extremely important that something be done about this issue—in an era when it is hard enough to get people to read as it is, authors can’t afford to have their readers get yanked out of the reading experience by egregious errors in the e-books they read. I heartily agree. But the problem is getting publishers to do anything about it. (Since e-book sellers aren’t allowed to do anything, it’s really up to them.)

On a related note, her new “Author’s Cut” editions of the first four Young Wizards novels will be coming out in a month or so, and will be sold DRM-free world-wide. I’ll be looking forward to reading those.

I find it interesting how Diane Duane is taking on the mantle of self-publishing and republishing her older books, to the point of hosting her own web store for needs that contractually can’t be met by Amazon. This puts me in mind of self-publishing authors like Henry Melton who has also written about the occasionally thorny process of creating high-quality e-book files. I wonder whether down the road self-creating e-books will become one of those skill sets that most successful authors dabble in, just as most authors today use word-processing software instead of typewriters?


  1. It’s interesting to me that a lot of the discussion here and elsewhere is about rights for epublishing. I don’t know if that’s new or it happens every time a new technology comes along.

    The other point about quality – oh yeah it bugs me when there are typos, even in my own books. But, it’s not an ebook or a self publishing thing. I see typos in print books, and in ebooks that are clearly just an e-version of a print book. I read a book a week ago where the word ‘then’ was used instead of ‘than’ – through the entire book, how did that get missed?

    So, we all strive for quality and many of us miss. the benefit of a pure e-book is I can upload a corrected copy.

  2. Jerry Pournelle also went with “pirate” editions of his books as the source material for getting his backlist into coomercial-grade ebook form.
    He still had to do a round of editing and formatting but a lot less than if he were relying on whatever OCR software Google uses. 😉
    It seems to me that this kind of effort is perfectly suited to Amazon’s Turk service; all is take is a publisher (or, failing that, an author) who actually cares. Which seems to be more common among genre authors/publishers than the Bestseller-obsessed BPHs.

  3. I find it a little irritating that she did not say anything in this article to address when and how whomever is in charge plans to correct the book and get a new version out to the people who have already paid for this error-filled offering.

    Of course, I couldn’t buy it anyway since I don’t buy from Amazon, and I am in Canada so I can’t get it from B&N either. It sounds like the rights-holders for Ms. Duane’s ‘North American’ version aren’t doing anybody favours on a variety of fronts!

  4. I find this fascinating, and encouraging. CJ Cherryh, my favorite sf author, has ganged up with some other writers and formed their own “press” to epublish their backlist (http://www.closed-circle.net/WhereItsAt/) – and as a reader, I’m thrilled. Sometimes I’ve waited years to read a book that was out of print and difficult to find, and the legacy publishers just don’t care because they won’t get a return on republishing those works.

    As for formatting skills, I don’t know. Maybe if it becomes easier. My own self-pubbed book was a pain in the @ss to format, and I’m fairly computer literate. I think it is more likely that authors will be nominally knowledgeable about it as a process, but will prefer to leave it to consultants/freelancers who will do it for a fee; similar to how most authors treat websites/blogs now. /2 cents.

  5. Coming from a graphics and web background, I found formatting my books to be relatively easy… though Smashwords’ “meat grinder” has driven me up the wall more than once. Some simple tools and basic steps seem to solve most of the formatting issues, not to mention some of the services like Amazon’s Kindle Store and Barnes & Noble’s PubIt! Store that are much better at converting digital files.

    For most self-publishers, I’d recommend, at the very least, to get used to using an HTML editor that you can paste your text into from its native format (Word, OpenOffice, whatever). If you can manage that, you can pretty much do it all. If that’s too much, find a freelancer.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail newteleread@gmail.com.