Friday, October 7, 2011

"Typos Have Been Found in Your Book" - Questions About Kindle Quality Control

Anyone who reads many Kindle books has had the experience of getting a book with multiple typos, unintended line breaks, and formatting errors. That's annoying. Many customers are calling for quality control. And apparently Amazon has responded. But in a rather strange way.

Along with many Amazon KDP authors and publishers, I have recently received a couple of "Dear Publisher" emails from Amazon KDP. Here's one:

"During a quality assurance review of your title, we have found the following issue(s):

Typos have been found in your book. Examples:
*loc; 578; "I wouldn’t you to bust a blood vessel" should be "I wouldn’t want you to bust a blood vessel".

Please look for the same kind of errors throughout and make the necessary corrections to the title before republishing it."

KDP was correct about the missing word. But another proofreading of the book did not uncover any other missing words. We did find the word "willing" spelled with three "l's" and a couple of places where periods were outside quotation marks. We didn't find any formatting errors or unwanted line breaks. In fact, our book wasn't perfect, but it was pretty clean. Not surprising as the book had been carefully proofread before its original publication.

So I began to wonder about this "quality assurance review" of our title. How did Amazon happen to find this minor error that we had somehow missed. Have they hired an army of skilled proofreaders to go through all the Kindle books? I decided to do a little internet research.

Here's what I found. According to a post on reddit, some Amazon customers have discovered that if they complain about typos in a book, Amazon will refund their money and in some cases give them an extra $5.00 credit. Amazon makes it easy for the complainers by offering a feedback box at the bottom of every book page, where customers can click to report "poor quality or formatting in this book."

I know Amazon is proud of its customer-focused culture. But crowdsourcing as a way of identifying errors in books only works if the crowd members know what is an error and what isn't. And some Kindle readers don't know the grammar and punctuation rules in the major style guides. Unfortunately, Amazon is now sending out quality-control emails identifying "errors" that are actually correct useage.  

Author Robert Bidinotto reported on Kindle Boards that Amazon wanted him to remove "unnecessary commas," which turned out to be commas following the next-to-last item in a series. Bidinotto, a professional editor, replied that this usage of commas is consistent with the Chicago Manual of Style guidelines. Amazon backed off.

Author D.D. Scott received an email telling him his book contained "hyphens, underscores or other unreadable characters." When he pointed out to KDP that his "unreadable characters" were his use of the "en dash," which is grammatically correct, they responded that a reader had complained of finding his book difficult to read because of too many hyphenations and punctuation errors.

So far, Amazon has not pulled many books from sale because of customer complaints, and they have been responsive to authors/publishers who point out the reasons for the useage that has been flagged.

But this crowdsourcing system of proofreading is scary. It's hard to know what readers will mistakenly identify as errors. And it's unlikely that Amazon staff have the time to do detailed follow-up on customer complaints. This raises issues such as:
  • What if an uneducated character in a novel speaks with poor grammar, or writes notes that are misspelled?
  • What about dialects and slang?
  • What about foreign words or words the author makes up?
  • What if the book is a novel, written as a series of emails (as is our book referenced above)? Writers of email often ignore spelling and grammar rules. If in the interest of authenticity, the author puts spelling and grammar errors in the emails, will Amazon ask to have them corrected? 

Don't get me wrong. I love being able to publish ebooks through Amazon KDP. And I'm happy that they care about quality. And I appreciate being notified of errors in my books. In both cases, we corrected those errors and republished.

But I'm a little nervous about where this will go. Amazon may believe that the customer is always right, but I don't necessarily agree.


  1. Great post, Lynne. I Think that indie authors need to be VERY aware of these sorts of editing mistakes in their books. As an author, you know if your grammar skills are a weakness. Maybe you can't afford a professional editor inthe beginning of your career, but can certainly find a handful of readers, who collective skills will sniff out most of your errors.
    Greg Carrico

    Amazon will do what is in its best interest, which it should! If their editing and proofing system is less than perfect, then it at least seems that we can back them down if it is a style issue, or artist license. Personally, I'd rather have them catch nonexistant errors, than miss the real ones.

    The biggest problem I see, if this is accurate, is that if Amazon is going to reward customers for leaving negative reviews and being hyper-critical of formatting errors and typos, then it stands to reason that customers will respond by repeating the rewarded behavior. I guess the best we can do is hope that someone in their customer service management realizes this.

    Thanks for this article. It is very thought provoking.

    Oh, one more thing, for the record: D.D. Scott is a woman, and very charming one, at that.

  2. The Amazon Typo Police are scary if only because they are so incompetent.

    My latest release contains numerous deliberate misspellings, plus a character who speaks in heavy dialect. To prevent a reader who dislikes the book (it is a controversial political satire) from complaining about these typos, I decided to write to Amazon Kindle Quality to "register" these misspellings in advance.

    That way if someone complained, Amazon could just say, oh, no, we have a note on file from the author, it's supposed to be that way.

    Check out the idiotic response I got from Amazon Kindle Quality:


    We received your statement about having deliberate typos for your book and notifying us in order to prevent title from being suppressed.

    I suggest that you please mention this in the Product Description of your book and also if you can make a note of it in the beginning of your book's content. This will help our Quality team to take note of it and not unnecessarily suppress your book in future.

    I hope this helps. Thanks for using Amazon KDP.


    John Rajan
    Kindle Direct Publishing

    What are these people smoking???

    J.M. Porup

  3. Well that's disheartening. I wonder what system Amazon has in place to prevent 'trolls' from abusing this and, by extension, indie authors?

    So far I've only had one book refunded on Amazon and no notices from their QC department yet. I assumed it was a mistaken order, since the return was filed shortly after a purchase. Now, I suppose, I'll be keeping a far more wary eye on those returns.

    Y.K. Greene