eBooks: Is it the Editor in Me?

Anyone who has looked at my On Today’s Bookshelf posts will see that I buy a lot of ebooks. And as I noted in the last On Today’s Bookshelf, my to-be-read pile of ebooks keeps growing, now numbering more than 500.

But that doesn’t mean I am not reading ebooks; rather, it means that even though I am reading ebooks as fast as I can, I am replenishing my stock faster than I can read. This would concern me if, in fact, I was reading every word of every ebook; but I’m not.

One of the “talents” I have developed over my 28+ years of professional editing is the ability to tell within a few sentences whether a manuscript is going to be particularly troublesome; whether the author has done a basically good job in writing and preparing the manuscript or is a terrible writer, prone to amateurish mistakes, and uncaring about how the manuscript is presented.

This “talent” doesn’t seem to be laid aside when I read an ebook for pleasure, which means that it doesn’t take many pages to decide whether to keep reading or hit the delete button, and much too often, I hit the delete button.

First, I need to dismiss, with a wave of the hand, the idea that the more a book costs, the better it will be. “It ain’t necessarily so!”

From ebook purchases I have made, it is clear that price is not an indicator of quality, especially not of editorial quality, as we have discussed on An American Editor any number of times.

Yet I have also discovered in discussions with other ebookers that quality has no universal meaning. eBooks that I have deleted after a dozen pages because of runon sentences, homonym miscues, and other annoying editorial matters, ebookers without the editorial eye have praised. It is not that they didn’t notice many of the same errors; they did. Rather, it is that they were more tolerant of the errors; they were able to look beyond the editorial problems to the story itself.

So this makes me wonder if I am not missing out some real gems — not necessarily literary masterpieces, just good storytelling — because of the editor in me. It also makes me wonder whether we will eventually devolve into two reading publics: one that cares greatly about the editorial quality of a ebook and so is unwilling to spend much money to buy an ebook and a second that cares little about the mistaking of hear for here and is focused on the story itself and thus willing to pay a higher price for a book as long as the story is interesting.

I also wonder whether American English is changing so rapidly that what editors today would declare error will tomorrow be declared acceptable or correct.

In any event, the problem for me is how to control my editing tendencies so that I can relax and enjoy the underlying story. How do I put aside my editorial hat for the reader’s hat? Should I do so?

The problem was less acute before ebooks. Before ebooks, traditional publishers took some pride in the quality of what they released, although the pride seemed to be diminishing in recent years. But once ebooks made the reading market open to all, the scramble publish pushed aside the need to ensure editorial quality. Part of this is the economics of ebooks; it is hard to justify spending $2000 on an editor for a book that will be sold for 99¢ or less.

Even recognizing the financial considerations, I struggle to read a book that makes me pause every few sentences to say: “The author meant whom not who” or “The author meant your, not you’re.” My neighbor says I’m too fussy. Am I really? Is it too much to ask that at least the basics of grammar and spelling be applied by an author?

What should an ebooker expect from an author, regardless of whether the author gives the book away for free or charges $9.99? Do not most readers have certain basic expectations? Or has the Age of Twitter hardened readers to accept anything goes?

I suspect that I will never be able to set aside my editorial hat when reading a book and so my delete button will continue to get a workout. Are you able to set aside your editorial hat?


  1. Nate Hoffelder28 March, 2012

    I think readers have learned to be tolerant because even traditionally published books aren’t as well edited as they used to be. Take Baen Books, for example. For the past 4 years or so, the copyediting of their books is hit or miss and most of the time they miss. And I’m sure they’re not alone.

  2. William Mize28 March, 2012

    As someone whose novels are on amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. and as someone who is a prolific reader of ebooks, my own pet peeve is FORMATTING.
    Capitalization. Punctuation. And of course, indentation.
    I am a big user of the “Look Inside Now” or downloading the free sample.
    If it’s a self published book and it looks like crap, it’s going to be an uphill struggle to get me to read it.

  3. PA Wilson28 March, 2012

    I agree with Nate, this isn’t an issue of self publishing v traditional publishing. I see errors in both.
    My writer eye is more difficult to put aside than my editing eye. I am always wondering why the author is doing this or that with with their story.
    If the story starts well and carries me along, I can forgive a few grammar errors.
    It has occurred to me when I’m editing and revising my own books, that I am not writing my book for an editor, or an English teacher. I’m writing it for the reader.

  4. the rodent28 March, 2012

    Likewise, I can’t set aside my editorial eye. When a book is full of run-on sentences, spelling/grammatical errors, confusing details, I feel the writer (or publisher, shame on them!) should not have pushed it out for public consumption in that state. I seriously resent paying for a book that is more poorly edited than my own. Part of the “real” publisher’s contract with the reader is to make sure it meets basic editorial standards.

    Those standards are dropping, even in trad publishing, and especially in journalism. Self-publishing is worse, perhaps because not all writers have good editorial skills; they *need* to be edited. But the amateur author who is making no money probably can’t afford to hire any editor, let alone a good one. Sometimes I think: Honestly, didn’t they have one English-savvy friend who could have helped, even a little?

  5. Common Sense28 March, 2012

    I certainly notice all of the formatting and editing errors, but have learned to ignore them in order to enjoy the story. One book I read, by a now very successful indie author, had 75% of the text in italics! I got through it anyway, but it was a serious distraction.

    Authors who are not self-published should verify that their ebooks are presented professionally, it is their reputation on the line, not the publisher’s. I think most self-published authors are already aware of the issues, I generally find their books to be OK. If they do have mistakes, they are a lot quicker to fix them than traditional publishers.

  6. Lynn R31 March, 2012

    I, too, have trouble reading an shook filled with spelling, grammar and punctuation errors – to the point that I simply can’t read a book if it has too many errors. I find myself rewriting the book in my mind as I am reading it. In my opinion, whether a book is digital or print, costs $20 or is free, the author has an obligation to the readervto ensurevtheir book is as error-free as possible.

  7. Becki4 April, 2012

    I’m not a professional editor, but I am literate and I help my husband edit his self-published novels. It’s bothered me for some time that I can pick up a book from one of the Big 6 publishers or a very popular author and find many mistakes that I would never miss in my husband’s books. This has been happening for years, long before e-books became popular, but I noticed it much more after I started editing his works.

  8. […] errors. This is something that has annoyed Rich Adin, and he’s posted about it several times (here, here). It hasn’t bothered me much because  first I’m more tolerant, but TBH I […]


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