Quality in e-books: is it really so hard?


I think anyone who has bought some 99 cent ebooks off of Amazon or even bought these books while they were offered free for a weekend has noticed a disturbing problem with them: often times, the formatting/grammar/spelling – in short, the quality of the books – has left something to be desired.

Now, I think it’s a good marketing gimmick to offer them for a short time for free. I look through the free ebooks I can find and purchase ones that look interesting to me. However, if I finish the first or second chapter of the book and have been groaning inwardly because I’m finding spelling and/or grammar errors in every other paragraph, I will delete it off my iPad app and move on to something else. If the person writing the book didn’t feel it was necessary to put in the time and effort to proof their writing, then I don’t feel it’s worth my time to read it.

Joanna Penn wrote in a blog post on her blog, The Creative Penn, “The #1 criticism of self-published books is that they are not professional enough and I believe quality is in direct proportion to the amount of editing you have. Seriously.”

Google “quality control AND self publishing” and you’ll find a lot of posts and messages complaining about the lack of quality control in self-published books, like this one:

“Ebook sellers such as Amazon and Smashwords make no attempt to control the quality of the ebooks they sell,” Tony on ebookanoid wrote, “so we are confronted by ebooks that have been put up for sale without any attempt to edit them, correct typos and other stylistic mistakes, or in any other way been through any form of quality control.  This means that a lot of the time we are buying ebooks that are basically junk in every respect.”

While in most industries quality control doesn’t directly influence increased sales, it’s still a vital item in anything that’s created. My husband is a manufacturing engineer for a company that builds skid loaders, and quality control is being pushed this year. Why? They want the people purchasing their product to purchase it again. If the skid loader doesn’t live up to what the customer expects, or if it constantly needs parts replaced within the first year and it keeps breaking down, that customer will not buy that same brand again.

It’s the same for any product, including books. As an author, you are your own brand. If one of your “products” (a.k.a. your book) isn’t up to snuff, people will not buy your next novel. (I certainly won’t.)

“A surprising number of beginners think they can neglect quality control at some level,” Patricia C. Wrede wrote on her blog. This applies to everything from the bigger picture – is it even a good story – to the mechanics (grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.)

If you know you aren’t very good with the mechanics, you can always get an English major to proofread your work for you (cost will be minimal), trade manuscripts with another writer you trust, or even hire a copy editor (cost will be higher here). It will benefit you in the long run to put out a quality product, because quality will contribute to other sales.

“Self-publishing has always lacked quality control, and this is why the industry seems biased against it,” Renee Miller from On Fiction Writing wrote. “It doesn’t mean that there are no quality self-published books out there. It means that now, instead of the agents and publishers going through the slush pile for that gem, the reader must wade through heaps of crap to find it. If more writers focused on craft and on putting out a product of the highest calibre, then it wouldn’t be as hard to find quality in the self-published shelves, and more readers might return to buy future books and to try new authors. Perhaps I’m crazy, but wouldn’t that benefit all of us?”

I'm a lover of writing and books. I graduated from South Dakota State with a master's degree in communications in 2011, the same year I was first published. I'm a wife and mom, and I work in marketing in Sioux Falls.

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Posted in Grammar, Intrigues
4 comments on “Quality in e-books: is it really so hard?
  1. tcabn says:

    This is a great post and continues to be a major conversation within the social media book niche and industry at large. You are exactly right about quality control with the vendors – there isn’t any quality control. I would offer that as the technology changed and allowed more people to self publish, so too must the readers change with that technology. I’m not remotely suggesting we accept less than quality work but I am suggesting that we leverage the tools that have made the 99 cent e-book possible.

    Review! Even people that don’t have a blog can make their observations known and Amazon makes it possible. Whenever I order something to have shipped to me and it shows up behind schedule or poorly packed, you can believe I’m going to post my thoughts; same with quality packaging and timely service. We can, and should take this approach with e-books regardless of who publishes the work; large press, small press, or indie.

    You’re right though, the 99 cent moniker carries with it a perception of inferior quality and in some cases it’s deserved however, I’ve found a ton of really great stories – professionally written and edited – in that same price range. A couple things I do is look at the reviews carefully and see what bloggers like yourself or the Kindle Book Reviewhave said about them. It’s really helped me find some really good work.

    My pick for the To Read list

    @TCAbn The Motley Chronicles

  2. brwesterberg says:

    Thanks for your informed comment! Reviews are one of the better ways to tell others whether the novel you’re looking at getting is worth it. However, I’ve had a couple examples of books that I was quite disappointed in after reading good reviews on Amazon and elsewhere. Perhaps it was just my personal preference – different people will like different things – but I still think you have to take reviews with a grain of salt. I like it when I see books that have a bunch of mixed reviews, some rating it at 5 stars, some at 4, some at 3, etc. That tells me that the reviewers are true and gives me a better feel for the book before I buy it.

  3. […] Quality in e-books: is it really so hard? (brwesterberg.wordpress.com) […]

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