As soon as the news came that Amazon will start paying a lot more attention to poorly edited books, panic ensued among the various forums. Thankfully, as John Doppler explains on Words on Words, things aren’t quite that bad.
It all started when Good E-Reader blog announced that “Kindle e-Books will have a warning message if they have spelling mistakes.”
Some authors took that headline at face value and assumed the worst: that Amazon will brand any books deemed to have typographic errors — no matter how minor — with a sinister warning label.
As is often the case, the reality is far less dramatic.
First, only ebooks that have received specific complaints from readers will be examined. As it happens, I have received a few complaints about my books in the past, and the most frequent complaints turned out to be in relation to my choice of British English spelling. This was so frustrating, that in the end I dropped that in favor of American English (or should I say, in favour of it?)
Regardless, KDP’s new proofing initiative is designed to combat not British imperialism or the isolated typo that inevitably slips through the most diligent of editing, but gibberish and random characters in place of the headings, line breaks in the middle of sentences etc.
Also, it turns out that complaints are reviewed by screeners – actual people at Amazon. The process is not automated, and there will be an opportunity to contest or correct a problem if your book is determined to have issues.
The warning labels are referred to as CFQIs, Customer Facing Quality Indicators. The first CFQIs appeared on January 27, 2016. CFQIs read “Quality issues reported”. Hovering over this indicator will display a list of the types of defects reported by customers (and verified by Amazon). The CFQI also contains a message stating that the publisher has been notified of the issues.
What will Amazon look for?
According to Doppler, the errors Amazon will flag include:
- missing content
- duplicated content
- numbers inadvertently substituted for letters, or vice versa (“typ0gr4phic”, “the year 2o12”)
- punctuation used in place of letters (e.g., “I read bo%ks”)
- visible or malformed HTML code
- discretional hyphens (“bad hy-phenation”)
- missing letters (“m ghty pecul ar”)
- unsupported characters (e.g., emoticons)
- incorrect content (as when the publisher uploads the interior file for a different book)
- blurry or excessively compressed images
- body text rendered entirely as underlined, bold, or hyperlinked
- page numbers embedded in the text
- nonfunctional table of contents or internal links
As you can see from the list, these issues are largely due to formatting problems or OCR errors. I should note here that the latter are quite frequent with republications of older works, so it doesn’t look like it’s Indies that are somehow targeted, as some have alleged.
According to KDP, 10-15 typos will trigger a CFQI in a typical, full-length novel. More specifically, this is what they have to say:
Our Quality team uses a formula based on how many defects it contains out of the total allowable defects for a book of its length. Longer titles are allowed more defects than shorter ones because the overall impact is distributed. Note that “locations” below refers to the internal divisions of an ebook, not pages or chapters.
While we are not able to disclose this specific formula, please be informed that an average sized novel with around 3000 locations will trigger the quality warning with 10-15 typos.
Amazon will also remove works that violate Amazon rules or don’t meet basic standards, such as a book designed solely to advertise, or a poor translation obtained through Google Translate.
What will Amazon ignore?
According to Amazon, they will not flag:
- minor typographical errors (“What have you got to loose?”)
- regional spelling differences (e.g., “favourite” vs. “favorite”)
- dialogue, accents, or dialects (“I doan’ budge a step out’n dis place ‘dout a doctor”)
- foreign languages, archaic speech (“leet his sheep encombred in the myre”)
- proper names (“The Dothraki called that land Rhaesh Andahli”)
However, some authors are reporting flags for a small number of typos. This is inconsistent with what Amazon has said, and the enforcement appears to be erratic. It is possible that Amazon’s employees are confused about how strict they should be in cracking down on issues.
What are the consequences?
If Amazon’s screeners confirm that a book has issues, there are two possible actions.
For errors prominent or numerous enough to detract from the reader’s enjoyment, Amazon will place a warning banner on the product’s page alerting customers that the item is under review. Authors and publishers will then have an opportunity to correct the issue and promptly remove the warning banner. (Amazon has already been doing this for years; they’re just expanding the conditions that can trigger an alert.)
Errors that render the book unusable or incomplete or books that violate Amazon’s Terms of Service will be removed from sale.
The aim, then, is to offer an improvement to quality control that won’t affect any professionally edited and formatted book. Then again, you already know how important professional editing and proofreading is, right?