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When Did the Quality of Baen’s eBooks Start Sucking So Bad?

I was planning to take it easy this weekend, but an issue has come up with the ebooks I’ve been reading. I’m irked, and I wanted to share my frustration.

One common complaint about self-pubbed ebooks is the frequency of 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 becauseĀ  first I’m more tolerant, but TBH I hadn’t noticed the issues because I wasn’t reading much beyond my comfort zone. I had a number of authors I liked and since they wrote more than I could read I never tried to find new stuff.

This past weekend I decided to expand my horizons a little, so I bought the monthly ebook bundles from Baen Books. For $18 I got a set of 5 to 7 titles each month, all DRM-free. This is a pretty good deal and I think it’s the best way to find new authors.

Those bundles are where Baen got its start in ebooks over 10 years ago and they are the one marketing idea which I wish more publishers would adopt. Unfortunately, those bundles are also a way to really quickly find crappy ebooks.

I started reading Friday afternoon. I’m now into my 3rd ebook and I cannot take it anymore.

All three ebooks had numerous transcription, formatting, and spelling errors. While I have a moderate tolerance for the mistakes I find in ebooks, these ebooks far exceeded that. They all had so many errors that I remember the errors more than the plots.

For example, in the book The General’s President, there’s a reference to Mount Tamboro, a volcano in Indonesia. A simple Google search will reveal that the correct name is Tambora. How I wish Baen had taken the time to Google the name.

Update: A reader is disputing the validity of my complaint about the volcano’s name, so I wish to replace that with a list of obvious spelling and transcription errors.

  • SubliminaJly
  • felse
  • diagraming
  • manuevers
  • reconnaisance
  • cireumstances
  • videocamera
  • fecial

The above list took me about 5 minutes with a basic spellchecker in Libre Office. These 8 mistakes come from about 40 pages of the 387 page RTF file. Yes, folks, Baen didn’t even bother to run spellcheck before they sold this ebook.

That title is from 1988, which suggests that Baen had to have a paper copy scanned in order to create the ebook. This would explain the numerous other errors in the ebook where the scanning software misread a letter.

When you’re scanning an old book, you tend to get that kind of error a lot. OCR software does a good job but it isn’t perfect. You really have to proofread the output just to catch the mistakes, and Baen clearly did not do that with The General’s President.

And I’m seeing similar errors in the other 2 ebooks I’ve read. Right now I’m trying to read a Keith Laumer anthology called Earth Blood and Other Stories, but I’m not sure I can stomach any more mistakes. One error in particular was so egregious that I was forced to stop and post this rant. It was the 5th error I found in that book, not the first, and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Please, Baen, tell me how someone can "burst into bears"? I would like to know.

I’d also like to find out how long we’ve been putting up with this crap. It’s been some time since I bought new stuff from Baen (my TBR pile was enormous) so I don’t know when they started slacking off. Did anyone notice a turning point?

I would also bet that I am not alone in this. What errors have you found in ebooks from Baen?

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igorsk May 20, 2012 um 2:10 pm

The all-new books are pretty much okay, but the old OCR’ed ones can be pretty bad, unfortunately šŸ™

Paul Durrant May 20, 2012 um 2:51 pm

The old OCRed ones have always been like that. But generally, if you report errors they will get fixed.

Nate Hoffelder May 20, 2012 um 3:01 pm

I would, but this isn’t the occasional error so much as it’s a complete failure to proof the ebooks.

Richard Herley May 20, 2012 um 3:26 pm

I think a zero-tolerance attitude to ebooks is in order: if you find more than, say, five typos, ask for a refund.

As for "bursting into bears", try this

from 1’26" onwards. Everything exists in cyberspace …

jmurphy May 20, 2012 um 5:38 pm

Which "monthly bundles"? If these are ARC’s I’m not surprised.
Report the errors.

Q: Is Bombay spelled Bombay or Mumbai? Is Peking spelled Peking or Beijing?

If there are too many errors, report the specific book rather than specific errors. And demand a refund.

jmurphy May 20, 2012 um 6:07 pm

The first line: "Mount Tambora (or Tamboro) is an active …", which turned up in a simple Google search.

Nate Hoffelder May 20, 2012 um 6:12 pm

I wouldn’t mind if they put it in italics to indicate that it’s a different language. Note, though, that both Google and Wikipedia show Tambora as the correct name.

jmurphy May 20, 2012 um 7:33 pm

No, Google simply shows the more common usage. Google ranking algorithms have no concept of "correct". And nothing in the wiki indicates which usage is "correct". Does wiki normally list typos as alternate usage? I don’t know, but I doubt it. I think the specific typo you called out was a deliberate artistic choice and not a typo.

Nate Hoffelder May 20, 2012 um 7:51 pm

I still disagree, but I am more than happy to replace if that strengthens my point.

Nate Hoffelder May 20, 2012 um 6:33 pm

These weren’t ARCs.

And both spellings of those cities are valid – depending on the circumstances. Using the correct one can date the character and setting properly.

Mike Cane May 20, 2012 um 8:48 pm

I have yet to see "Beijing Duck" served instead of "Peking Duck."

Richard Adin May 20, 2012 um 11:50 pm

Mike, yes, the food dish is still called Peking but the correct name for the city is Beijing. Peking is the name that Europeans gave to the city; Beijing is a more accurate transliteration of the name as given to the city by the Chinese.

In editorial circles, Peking is acceptable only in older books; it is expected that authors writing new works will use the correct name and it is expected that if an author does not use Beijing, that the editor will question it.

The British Empire is now extant.

Andrew May 21, 2012 um 4:40 am

"The British Empire is now extant."

You mean it still exists?

Mike Cane May 21, 2012 um 6:38 am

>>>Mike, yes, the food dish is still called Peking but the correct name for the city is Beijing.

Wow, pedantic much?

the rodent May 20, 2012 um 9:10 pm

Hahaha. They should crowd-source their proof-reading.

Nate Hoffelder July 16, 2012 um 6:03 am

Apparently they did.

Karl May 20, 2012 um 9:16 pm

Yeah, I hate error-riddled ebooks, and you see a lot of them, including ones that come from big-name publishers. Friggin' makes me burst into bears sometimes.

Nate Hoffelder May 20, 2012 um 9:48 pm


Richard Adin May 20, 2012 um 11:56 pm

Nate, you can’t rely on spellcheckers for accuracy either. For example, a spellchecker will find "your" in this sentence to be correct: "Your the sunshine of my life." As for videocamera, this is a tough call. The dictionaries agree that it is a noun and should be video camera, but increasingly English usage combines the words. It is like the transition from non-negotiable to nonnegotiable. The dictionaries often prefer the former but modern usage prefers the latter.

This doesn’t take away from the problem, however. Just that the solution is really not running spellcheck; it is to use a professional proofreader/editor who is familiar with the current state of the language.

Nate Hoffelder May 21, 2012 um 12:04 am

Rich, I do know that you cannot rely only on spellchecker, but it is still a decent first step. Baen didn’t even do that.

Nemo May 21, 2012 um 2:33 pm

Ummm, Nate, one thing I haven’t mentioned: "General’s President" was part of a big personal project I did back in 06 as a gift to Mr. Dalmas, who, at least in my opinion, is one of the High Ones as authors go. It was a personal project, done on mine own time for my own reasons and I gave it the best I had. Baen had nothing to do with the glitches in the source text. They merely published what I gave them.

Mea culpa. Errare humanum est.

Nate Hoffelder May 21, 2012 um 3:05 pm

Okay, but how long has Baen had the source file? And is there a reason why they couldn’t have treated it like any other manuscript and proofread it?

Nemo May 21, 2012 um 3:39 pm

I can’t speak for them. Many of the Dalmas electronic reprints were my gifts both to John and to Baen. (John himself pointed out to me some errors with character names in Orc Wars when I did it that were real doozies.)

Please remember that General’s President was an electronic reprint of an out-of-print book and Baen must, of necessity, concentrate on the new books, which are the ones that keep the lights on. Proofreading is time and labor inten$ive, and proofreading an electronic reprint costs just as much as any new book.

I’ve been earthlighting as a freelance proofreader for Baen since mid-2004, with well over eighty books to my credit, and I swear I do the best I can every time. That doesn’t mean the work is perfect. Perfection is the (unachievable) goal. And I’m sure if you asked every editor, copyeditor, and proofreader in the business about it they’d sign off on that statement.

Nemo May 21, 2012 um 4:44 am

I’m posting this anonymously because *I* am the person who did the eBook and I AM a professional proofreader.

Thank you for reporting the problem(s).

Keep in mind that I hate errors too. But spellcheckers? Spell check will not fined words witch are miss used butt spelled rite!

As for the other errors, I recently proofread for paper publication a book for which I’d provided text from a scan-and-OCR of the original paperback. I found four errors in my own work.

Nemo May 21, 2012 um 4:56 am

One other note: The source file for General’s President was done in early 2006. I certainly hope I’ve gotten better since then.

Peter May 21, 2012 um 5:32 am



Tyler May 21, 2012 um 4:58 pm

It seems that most of these mistakes that you mention Nemo should have been caught with one read. The Mount Tamboro (if it is a mistake) isn’t that earth shattering but misspelled words should be caught. Especially, if they are many misspelled words in one book.

That saying, I have only purchased one book from Baen (Invasion) and didn’t have any problems. I have also downloaded and read a few of their free books and didn’t see anything wrong.

Nemo May 21, 2012 um 2:14 pm

It’s a lot harder to catch stuff with one read than you think, sir. I’m not sure when I switched to using the Project Gutenberg font in projects, but the ability to differentiate between "I" and "1" or "0" and "o" (they look different in that font) was an enormous help.

I’ve done both first-pass (I’m first in the door behind the editor and copyeditor.) and second-pass (Somebody else proofread it first.) and still found errors, though fewer of them than first-pass, in second pass material. For example, I once did a mass market edition (the text had already had two proofreaders for the hardcover), and found the word "conotations". Think of this reading as THIRD-pass. And still there were errors.

As I said, I do the best I can. I spent my lunch hour running a spell checker over the Baen RTF of General’s President(got to chapter 32, ran out of time), and found some more errors Nick didn’t mention. Spelling checkers have at least one major drawback when being used on a book: anything unusual, such as character names like "Haugen" will be flagged at least once. And using them is enormously expensive in time and effort because of the astronomical false positive rate, particularly in many science fiction and fantasy stories.

Tyler May 21, 2012 um 11:55 pm

It sounds like that all three of you are doing a poor job then. Since it is your job to catch these mistakes it is obvious that your standards should be raised. Accepting poor performance is not really a good excuse. Complaining how hard it is when that is your job, also is not a great excuse. It seems to me that they should hire someone that can do the job.

Also, in this economy, plenty of people work through their lunch hour all the time. If that is what it takes to fix your mistakes, then that is what you should do.

Next time you go out and buy something. Let’s say a McDonald’s Big Mac. You look at it and realize that every Big Mac they are selling does not have lettuce on it. No one tells you that you are missing lettuce. They just made a mistake and are selling it to you that day. Then you complain about it and the employee just says, "Do you know how many Big Macs we sell? It’s impossible to make sure all of them have lettuce on them." That is what you are telling us. People expect something, they pay you for it, that payment pays your salary, and you want to tell us how hard your job is?

There are people across this country that have a tougher job than proof read and get it perfect every day. I bet if you were told that if the mistake rate in the next book you proof is greater than .005% of the word count you will be fired, then you would be far better at your job.

So when you go to work tomorrow, why don’t you think about that. Realize that the customer is why you are in business. They pay you not the other way around. If there were no Baen books tomorrow, most people would not care. If Baen books did not have customers, I am sure they would care.

Gary May 23, 2012 um 2:17 am

Comparing Big Macs to eBooks? Seriously? If so, your argument should be that dozens of the sesame seeds aren’t properly oriented. Leaving out lettuce is like leaving out a chapter. Bad example! Bad analogy!

That said, I remember purchasing the eBook of Starrigger by deChancie. I already possessed a copy downloaded from… never mind. I was Doing The Right Thing and replacing ersatz with legitimate. The paid-for eBook had all the same scanning errors in all the same places. It lacked only the revision notice at the end.

Midnight Browser May 25, 2012 um 1:49 am

It’s clear that you’ve never been a proofreader, professionally or otherwise. Let’s assume you honestly want to improve the quality of ebooks, since if you’re just venting, I should be out teaching swine to sing. I suggest that you do some volunteer proofing yourself. Find some old favorite books that are in the public domain, but out of print and out of mind. Scan them in your spare time, and set out to make them letter-perfect. Make a gift of the "perfected" files to the author(s), or to your favorite publisher.

Eventually, one of your efforts will be released to the public. You’ll read it, and cringe when you catch each of the half-a-dozen places where something eluded your notice. This is simply life — it happens to all of us. But if you’re really lucky, those little "misses" will be brought to your attention by someone as gracious as…you. Enjoy.

While I’m at it — Nemo, I suspect that I know who you are. If I’m correct, you’ve rescued quite a few of my old favorite books from oblivion, for the pure pleasure of reintroducing them to a new generation of readers. Thank you for doing it, and keep up the good work.

Nate Hoffelder May 25, 2012 um 8:10 am

No, I’m not a professional proofreader. But that is irrelevant.

It’s all well and good that volunteers are rescuing previously published works from oblivion, but once they hand a manuscript over to a traditional publisher it should be treated like a manuscript. At the very least it needs to get some basic error checking before the publisher puts it out for sale. That doesn’t appear to happen with the backlist titles published by Baen.

If this book had been free I would have been happy to assist the author in fixing the mistakes. But it wasn’t. I paid for this book. In this case I expect Baen to treat this title like any of the other ebooks they’ve published. They should have hired a professional to double check the work of the unpaid amateur.

Stephen M. St. Onge May 22, 2012 um 12:53 pm

Corrected files have been published at Baen. Try downloading again.

Nemo May 23, 2012 um 4:48 am

Gary: It’s not just older books. The eBook of Riordan’s "Son of Neptune" is rife with errors to the point I wanted to sue the publisher for fraud. Words were either jammed together or inappropriately split. The phrase "trus thim" for "trust him" is burned into my memory.

The publisher’s response to my complaint? "Go away. Not our problem."

You Should be So Lucky as To Know Pirates Such as This – The Digital Reader May 26, 2012 um 2:03 pm

[…] PDF was the top search result (if you add ebook to the search terms).It is surprisingly well made. I’ve bought ebooks which had more errors, poorer formatting, and thatĀ  were clearly shown less love while being made. […]

Attack of the Amateur Editor – The Digital Reader June 1, 2012 um 3:23 pm

[…] couple weeks ago I posted a rant on some badly edited ebooks I had bought from Baen, thinking that they were unique examples of how publishers don’t do […]

Nemo July 15, 2012 um 11:35 pm

You may be interested to know that the suggestion about a spellchecker has borne some interesting fruit. They remain useless (or worse) for detecting mis-usage, as in "Your right about what I said." However…

Combine a spelling checker with a program that generates an alphabetized list of the individual words in a text, and it becomes a VERY powerful tool for finding things like inconsistent name spelling and occasional problem words. Thus, if you see a listing with Harkin followed by Harkins, and the latter is used a dozen times and the former only once, a quick confirmation and correction can follow with a minimum of time invested. I plan to employ the technique on all future scan-and-proof or other proofreading projects.

Thank you for inspiring the investigation.

FYI, I just noticed that the link at the bottom of your page here is "Privcy Policy", not "Privacy Policy."

David Huie Green December 26, 2013 um 2:28 pm

not no mo' ' tain’t

At least you got that cured.

I just nearly finished a fairly good Daniel Leary series book when I got to a part in which the unconscious Daniel was speaking rather than Adele Mundy.

I wish there were a way to flag these errors on the fly and send them back to Baen people. Usually sufficient reward would be the improvement itself, although a free book every now and then . . .

W. Morgan August 2, 2012 um 2:25 pm

I read a fair amount of online fiction and have been a fan of Baen’s ebooks for some years. I appreciate the way Baen makes it easier to satisfy my addiction without having to pay through the nose for prose.

Thanks to NEMO and all the others who have donated their time and effort to bring back to us some of the wonderful science fiction of the past. Phooey on intolerant pedants. If you’re so disturbed, stop buying; it’s a free country.

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