Scanning Print Books

One of the sessions that I attended at the Northwest Bookfest was taken by Jay Hartman, editor-in-chief of Untreed Reads, an eBook only publisher, on "eBook Publishing: Truth, Lies and Myths Debunked." It was a classic sales pitch speech damning the competition, but one criticism that I have come to realise is all to true, relates to the way in which some traditional publishers treat eBooks. Hartman spoke of his track record of being in on the ebook industry in the early days - he set up Untreed Reads in 2008. I smiled at that comment as I was a consumer right at the actual start in 2001, when Peanut Press first persuaded a few traditional print publishers to let them sell DRM secured ebooks at (slighlty) less than the price of print books. The point that hit home was his claim that those traditional publishers still do not take ebooks seriously, as evidenced by the fact that they often issue poorly edited scans of print books.

At the time, I took that to be yet another example of the marketing hype that he was delivering, but then I had the misfortune to download the Kindle version of David Guterson's multi-million bestseller Snow Falling on Cedars. This was a novel that I was very keen to read as my novel Seattle in Shorts deals with a similar theme of prejudice against minorities and Japanese Americans in particular, and his book in set near Seattle. In fact, he based the main character's father on a journalist from Bainbridge Island, a location that features in my novel. While I still enjoyed the book, I was distracted by the huge amount of typos, especially in the second half of the book. This is hugely disappointing for readers, and for Guterson, and not what you expect from the publisher of a multi-million bestseller. There was a line early on in the book that I read several times and thought that maybe it was a Pacific Northwest colloquialism of which I was unaware. The book revolves around a death at sea that may, or may not, be a murder. There is a courtroom scene in which the defence attorney asks the coroner, "... couldn't I poison the night watchman, watch him die, dub his lifeless corpse over the head with a crowbar ..." I was puzzling over what it meant in the slang of Washington State to dub a corpse.

It was only after the appalling number of typos in the second half of the book that I went back and realised that this was supposed to say 'club' not 'dub.' That is one of several classic pointers to a poor scan of a print text. I owned an early handheld scanner about the time that Snow Falling on Cedars was first published in 1994, and mistaking a 'cl' for a 'd' was a common problem. The typo that made me think that this was a scanning problem was the most common error in those early days, and one that I found ironic, due to my rudimentary knowledge of German. A very common mistake is for the software side of the scanner, the Optical Character Recognition system, to mistake the English word 'the' for 'die,' which is a German translation of 'the' for feminine nouns. The offending phrase that made me realise the scanning origins of dub was "artillery pinged of die LCP's port side."

Without my experience of OCR software I would not have realised the scanning issue until shortly afterwards, when the scanning source of the typos was copper-fastened. This was the phrase "Lois'11 show you." It may not be clear on your browser, but that is not the double LL of the contracted 'will,' but the number 11. The 1 key and the L key are on opposite sides of the QWERTY keyboard, so this is definitely an issue of a very poorly edited scan. Most of the errors, apart from dub, occur from 44% of the text onwards. It is as if the editor got bored and thought the first half was okay, I do not need to bother with the rest of the book. The number of typos reached a crescendo in the second half of the book and did become a distraction from the joy of reading this well-regarded novel. Other examples that I found were "rime" for "time;" "arc" for "are"; "count" for "course;" "feds" for "feels;" "by" for "lay;" and "kin" for "can." Overall, it is appalling that a mainstream publisher could permit this novel to appear in such a shoddy form. So the next time someone complains that indie authors are dragging their colleagues down through insufficient spending on editors, remind them of Typos Falling on Cedars.