Back in the dark ages, back when there were “real” books, books with covers and pages, books that you could lend to friends or stick on your bookshelf or set your coffee cup on when you couldn’t find a coaster, back then, every so often when I was reading along, I’d find a boo-boo. A typographical glitch of some kind. The rare misspelling, the double period, something. And it was rare enough – we’re not talking every book or every other book or every third book – that it always gave me a frisson, a little thrill, the sense that I’d tumbled on some dirty little secret.
The rarity of those findings evidenced something, though. They served as testament to the effort that went in to delivering a quality product – the editor, the writer, I’m assuming a proofreader somewhere along the line, a lot of people spent a lot of time poring over the manuscript and then the galleys, sifting through tens of thousands of words to ferret out the mistakes that are legion in any initial draft. If you’re a writer, you know. You know how many times you screw up. You type “there” when you meant “their.” You hit the comma key twice. Hell, I’ve got this bad habit of mixing up characters’ names from time to time – and I’ll tell you right now, I’m a shitty speller. But publishers, since they are in the business of delivering books, they put a lot of effort into cleaning all that up. It’s the fit-and-finish of the book industry, like a car where all the body panels line up just so.
Or at least they used to.
I’ve got me one of them e-reader gadgets now. A Kindle. And I just finished the second book in a row where those occasional little glitches went from providing a secret thrill to becoming commonplace to crossing over into being a major irritant. It’s one thing to run across an error once every few books. It’s another thing when you are finding four or five (or in one case ten, and it’s is a bad sign when you start counting) in a single evening’s reading. You want to be lost in the story, to be caught up in the flow, to surrender to that mental image of time and place and character that the author has gone to great pains to build; instead, you’re constantly pulled back into the banal, pissy, everyday world, and you’re feeling ripped off because you shelled out $9.99 for a book that the publisher couldn’t bother to get right.
It’s spaces usually. Twenty-seven times in a single book, and yes, I went back and counted, and that should give you some idea of how irritated I am. The publisher couldn’t bother to make sure there were spaces between the words. Also, a handful of lines were tabbed in when they should not have been. And in a couple of spots, random words were bolded for no apparent reason. I understand this is a new medium, that the formatting and such for e-books is different than it is when you are dealing with traditional typesetting. But that doesn’t mean you get to blow off the effort it takes to do it right.
Just to be clear, I’m not talking about some self-published title by some author who has tossed a work out into the ether at .99 cents a pop, some do-it-yourself project where the writer proofed his own work and did his own formatting. At .99 cents, I’m gonna give you some leeway. The whole you-get-what-you-pay-for thing. I’ve read a few of those, by the way, and one or two might have been as bad as the two books I’ve just finished in terms of careless errors, but none of them were worse.
But at $9.99 (I’m looking at you here, G.P. Putnam’s, because these last two, the two that pushed me over the edge, they were both yours), I expect better. You’ve saved on the paper, the printing, the distribution and, from what I’ve read, you aren’t exactly bending over backwards to share the higher margins you’re making on these e-books with the folks that actually WRITE them, so you could at least get the fit and finish right. If you’re gonna charge Mercedes prices, then don’t sell me a damn Yugo. I deserve better. The writers’ whose work you are pissing all over with your carelessness deserve better.
When I buy a book, I’m shopping for an author, not a publisher. But that’s going to change, at least when it comes to e-books. From now on, I won’t be buying e-books from publishers who can’t be bothered to deliver a quality product. I’ll get the real book instead.