The quality or lack thereof in self-published e-books has been the topic of many a forum thread over at the Amazon sites, and many other places on the web. Customers have complained about lack of editing, and general shoddy quality, including bad formatting. When anyone can “publish” a “book” on Amazon’s free digital publishing platform, many bad books will be published, leading most readers to avoid anything that smells self-published – even when the download is free.

Here are five simple steps Amazon could take to improve reader experience with self-published works:

    5. Stop allowing uploads to the Kindle platform using Word. Word is buggy and formatting errors are likely to occur. Most savvy writers are uploading from HTML. Allowing Word uploads is asking for formatting problems. It’s not too much of a hurdle for writers to convert to HTML, or read a formatting guide explaining how to do this. Writers who lack the technical “expertise” can easily find someone (a grandchild perhaps) who can figure it out.
    4. Format Check. Related to above – Have a program that reviews formatting and automatically stops badly formatted work from being accepted for publication. It only needs to be sophisticated enough to differentiate purposeful playfulness from complete messes, including scans supplied by rip-off vanity presses like Publish America and Author House.
    (In fact Amazon needs to crack down on companies like Publish America which publish unproofed and badly formatted manuscripts on Kindle and then charge their authors for “corrections” and to get back their publication rights. These practices don’t simply rip-off authors, they leave Amazon customers unsatisfied, and may turn off customers.)
    3. Use an advanced spelling and grammar check. Sure one would imagine that any manuscript being uploaded has been proofread a number of times, and that  all manuscripts have been through simple automated checks. However, this is not always the case. Amazon is now experimenting with a spell check that gives the author feedback about possible errors after they submit a manuscript to Amazon’s “preview” feature. This may help, but I’m not sure how good it is at spotting wrong words, grammar issues, punctuation problems, and other technical errors. Nor will any automated system work on fiction where authors may purposely use phonetic spelling or bad grammar in dialogue or for other purposes – not to mention sci-fi and fantasy where entire new languages may be created. However, Amazon should continue to develop the feature, and require publishers (whether they are micro-presses or individuals) to “sign-off” that they have actually viewed the feedback, and anything being left uncorrected is intentional.
    2. Book length and pricing: Right now any length is acceptable for a Kindle book, and many bestselling Kindle books would be too short to sell in print as a stand alone book. Recently, many authors have begun uploading single short stories, including short-shorts. Nothing wrong with that, except they’re mixed in with full-length books by genre, leading to some consumers feeling “ripped off” when they discover they’ve just purchased a 1,000 word work. Amazon has introduced a “page count” feature for e-books to help make consumers more aware of what they are getting. That’s great. However, the flood of short works still makes it difficult to sift through if you are looking to buy something that takes more than an hour to read. Here’s a simple suggestion – novels and even novellas and short story collections of at least 20,000 words are books. Anything less than that is a mini-book, or a short, or a single or whatever you want to call it, and should be somehow separated from full-length works, and clearly labeled. Price limits on shorts would be a good thing. Amazon prices its own “singles” imprint at less than full-length book prices, so why shouldn’t independent authors be subject to these controls?
    1. Help consumers find quality self-published work that will appeal to them. Amazon already has many proprietary secrets for targeting products to customers. They also have started several of their own imprints to help promising work get attention. But with so many books being uploaded every day, more filters are needed. A couple of months ago, I wrote a post on how Amazon could use paid readers to find self-published work likely to appeal to target audiences. The short version is that Amazon should offer an option for writers willing to pay a reading fee. The reader should be a consumer who falls into the target audience for the book. The writers would have receive a genuine reader review, and the reader could either “approve” or “reject” the book. Amazon would have a browse feature for approved books, and might promote them in other ways.  (Rejected books could still be self-published without “approval.”) This would give self-published authors a legitimate, objective review at a lower price than Kirkus or other services charge. It would be more relevant to Amazon readers since the reviewer would be one of their own and not a paid review service. It would help readers find books they are more likely to enjoy.
    (Like this post? Why not check out more on this blog, or take a look at Marion’s books?)

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