Recourse, Refunds, and Redress: When You Buy a Fugly Ebook

Digital book pricing is all over the place, and different vendors have some books while others don’t, and sometimes when you find them, they’re so expensive you just give up and turn on the tv. Or maybe that’s just me.

But Marilyn wrote to me with a bigger problem: what happens when the ebook you buy is so horrible in its quality, so poorly completed that if it were paper, you’d return it?

She writes:

Would it help to write to certain publishers about excetionally poor proofreading in e-books? I recently purchased a 2-in-1 book and was stunned to see page after page of errors that looked as if they had been scanned in with a beta version of Omnipage and left without any proofreading. I would like my money back, or at least a newer, proof-read copy of the books.

This is the worst I have ever seen! It is Madeline Hunter’s By Arrangement and By Possession. It is virtually unreadable in its current form.

Here are a few of the more egregious errors:

die = the
ufe = life (multiple times)
ifour = if our
//1 = if
spht = sped
pxmishing = punishing(promising?)
co?TUption = corruption
pan = part
dissieised = ???(some middle english word with which I am unfamiliar)
aim = arm
hospilaUty = hospitality
sofdy = softly
J = I
/ = I

As you can see, there are many and they crop up on almost every page. I might have had an easier time reading this if it had been written in Edwardian English.

Is there any recourse?

My response: I don’t care if the terms and conditions state that ebooks are not returnable. If the book text looks like Elvish had dirty sex in a blender with Urdu and Basque and you paid for it, you should seek some form of return, at the very least for credit.


Unfortunately, there is little recourse with the publisher directly because it’s difficult to find a customer feedback response form on most publisher websites. You can always pen a polite email to the author asking whom she thinks might be the best person to address – but there’s little to say to the publisher. So many things can go wrong – someone didn’t proofread, but who was it that should have done the proofreading? If you’re asking me, the publisher is responsible, but who at the publishing house? As more out of print and older backlist books come back to life as digital scans, more of this type of text error will become more common.

I think you should contact the store you bought the ebook from, and advise them that due to the poor quality of the book, you would like to have a refund for your purchase. If that’s not granted, you can contest the charge on your credit card through your credit card company. Many if not most credit card purchases come with varying forms of consumer protection against poor or faulty quality. A few screen shots of “die hospilaUty / experienced in my ufe contrasted with the pxmishing co?TUption of my death” should make that hideously clear.

I heard back from Marilyn a few days after I sent her my response:

This is an update on your suggestion to contact the author and the seller about my experience with an extremely bad reading experience. I contacted Customer Service at Kindle/Amazon and explained the problem with the book.

This morning I received an email letting me know that they had fully refunded the price of the book and notified the publisher of the problem. I was astonished to say the least.
I would encourage all e-book readers not to suffer in silence.  Hopefully enough refunds will eventually get through to the publishers of these below-standard books.

Thank you for your suggestions.

Feel free to use my name in any mention of this experience.

One thing about Amazon and the Kindle, if you contact them with a problem with an ebook, and I have multiple times, they are very quick to respond with refunds.

So what else could be done besides seeking redress from the vendor where you purchased the book, or from the credit card you used to buy it? I have the following humble suggestion for the publishing industry:

Put the name of the copy editor, the editor, and the company who did the ebook conversion on the book itself.

I’m not kidding. Increased transparency=win. The copyright information on the book should not only include the names of the folks who designed the cover, who took the photographs, but also the names of the people who edited the book, who copy edited it, and what firm produced the ebook format conversions. Some publishers already tell you who edited a book – and that is most spiffy. But did you know that on many pirated ebooks, there’s a notation in the front as to which person (by user handle, not real name, of course) scanned the file, which person proofread it, and which person checked it for accuracy. It’s not like you can email SP1derzdanz13 and say, “Dude, you suck,” but more likely than not, the pirated copy with user names listed will be pristine in terms of quality when the same book from a publisher may not. Piracy flourishes, among other reasons, because the legitimate product is poor and the pirated version is better.

If you name names, there’s personal accountability for both the production side and the consumer side – and knowing that someone verified the accuracy of the digital file speaks volumes as to whether that product is valued by the entity producing it. It’s about time the author stopped taking heat for shitty looking ebooks – and well past time that readers knew who to whom they might address their complaints.

In the meantime, if you get a shitty ebook, ask for your money back. Complaining about the prices is one thing, and believe me, I do it. But the idea of paying higher prices for a complete absence of editing and proofreading? Oh, Hell No.

Any pricing model can kiss my ass if the publishing house can’t be bothered to run spellcheck before they publish a file. And I’ll put my name on that statement any time.




General Bitching...

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Marguerite says:

    I have had similar problems with e-books from Amazon before, and have also gotten quick refunds from them when I’ve pointed out the errors.

    I completely agree with your recommendation that the conversion information also be included with the e-book version. I’ve been compiling my own personal list, and can see some patterns starting to emerge in terms of publishers, but ultimately it comes down to the conversion and e-book copyediting choices by those publishers.

    I do have a question (or five), though, and I mean it (them) seriously. What format are the books in when they are sent to the printer? Why is it so difficult to get a properly-checked e-book when such errors would rarely happen in print? Why are conversion methods still so error-prone – are they working from a digital file, or scanning a print copy? In fewer but still notable cases, why does it seem that the earlier drafts of books are going out in the e-format, rather than the final draft?

    I don’t expect you guys to have all of the answers, although you do seem to collectively know everything ever asked on the site (:p), but any information at all would be really appreciated.

    anti-spam: tax62. Coming up with these 62 questions has really taxed my grey matter!

  2. 2
    Shae says:

    I think my favorite mistake in a ebooks is the word “anus” instead of “arms.” Then you have a sentence like “He held her in his anus.”

  3. 3
    HeatherK says:

    Fortunately, I’ve not come across an ebook with errors that bad—yet (knock on wood). I’m not saying they were error free, because they weren’t but they weren’t so bad I couldn’t ignore them. And is it bad that the worst offender was from one of the bigger publishing houses?

    There are options out there for instances like this, unfortunately, they aren’t widely known or easy to find options. Of course, it would help if people (general term there) would start seeing ebooks as REAL books and not a medium that takes away from the “real” paper/hard cover books.

  4. 4
    Cassie says:

    I agree, in theory. There should definitely be way to contact publishers and let them know that this level of errors is unacceptable.

    However, what you suggest would be very difficult in practice. Most editors are hesitant to put their contact information out there, because then they would completely swamped with people pitching them books, sending them unsolicited manuscripts, etc. It would make it hard for them to actually do their jobs—which is the edit the books that they’ve already acquired.

    Also, a lot of these errors could have been the fault of the production staff—it’s very difficult to know who, exactly, is to blame. The only solution I can think of is for publishers to have a dedicated email address for ebook concerns and complaints, but then the problem becomes who is responsible for reading and responding to those emails? Editorial? Production? A new person, whose salary would have to be paid, therefore potentially increasing the price of ebooks?

    Something should be done, absolutely. I’ve had issues with poor quality ebooks myself, and I know how frustrating it can be. But I don’t think increased transparency of the editorial staff is the answer.

  5. 5

    I’m happy to report that one of my publishers, Ellora’s Cave, includes an e-mail address for reader comments right in the ebook itself and they invite people to report any typos they find. That said, EC’s a primarily electronic operation, so it’d be rather sad if they weren’t ahead of the curve when it comes to those sorts of issues.

  6. 6
    SB Sarah says:

    @Marguerite: “I do have a question (or five), though, and I mean it (them) seriously. What format are the books in when they are sent to the printer? Why is it so difficult to get a properly-checked e-book when such errors would rarely happen in print? Why are conversion methods still so error-prone – are they working from a digital file, or scanning a print copy? In fewer but still notable cases, why does it seem that the earlier drafts of books are going out in the e-format, rather than the final draft?”

    From what I understand, it depends on the publisher and the company they’re using for the format conversion. It’s difficult to get a properly-checked ebook for a myriad pile of reasons, not the least of which is sheer unmitigated giant crapload of work. There’s simply not time for one editor to re-read every digital file before it’s sent out. Just not possible. I’ll be frank: Pirates check their work because they’re working on that one book voluntarily. It’s not like they’re getting paid. As far as error prone files, some are scanned print copies that aren’t checked once the scanning is complete – which leads to crazy errors like being held in his anus (like a gerbil?).

    @cassie: “Most editors are hesitant to put their contact information out there, because then they would completely swamped with people pitching them books, sending them unsolicited manuscripts, etc.”

    It happens already – most are not difficult to find if you apply some rudimentary Google-fu.

  7. 7
    Angela James says:

    Though you know I’m not against editors being listed in the books, in this particular situation I think it would be incredibly unfair for the editor/copy editor to be held responsible for what are conversion errors. Their job was done when the print book was done, and once the publisher decided to go back and convert a previously print book to digital (probably by OCR—Optical Character Recognition. Ie: scanning) they don’t send it back to the editor and copy editor so the editor/copy editor have no responsibility or recourse in this process, any more than the author does. In some cases of books being converted years after they were first put in print, it’s entirely likely the editor/copy editor might not even work for that publisher any longer!

    Hopefully, as publishers start moving backlist to digital, they’ll learn that readers don’t just want A digital version, they want a digital version that has the same care put into it as the print version, and that includes hiring a quality conversion company and hiring proofreaders to look over the converted files before sending them out into the wild.

  8. 8

    Marguerite: that’s a good question. When you have multiple errors like anus for arms, it would seem to indicate that they scanned a print copy. E-first publishers like Samhain and EC wouldn’t do that (she says as if she knows what she’s talking about). When I sub a manuscript to Samhain it’s in electronic format and then they do….whatever they do…to put it in the various e-formats.

    Maybe the NY houses just scan their stuff? That would really surprise me, but who knows.

    Samhain lists the editor of the book, as well as the cover artist, on the verso (or what would be the verso, if it were print) along with all the other bibliographic information.

    When we’re talking about primarily e-pubbed books – i.e., books that begin their lives in electronic format, not print books digitally scanned into eformat – I think the ultimate responsibility for errors has to rest with the author. You gotta proof. You gotta proofproofproofproofproof.

    Which is why the author whose book almost got released with “lathed” instead of “laved” is scarred for life.

  9. 9
    SB Sarah says:

    @angie: So who should be held responsible, then? With whom should the consumer communicate? The party responsible for the production and release of the book? That would be the editor, then.

    If the content is inconsistent, has faulty character development or a plot that I can drive a tractor trailer through with ease, I hold the author responsible.

    If the book itself is ridden with errors that are the result of production flaws, who is the person at the helm of that process? The editor, right? So what’s with whom the buck stops.

    My point about adding names is that transparent accountability will likely yield improved production. (ETA): I didn’t just say the editor’s name should go on the file: copy editor and conversion firm as well. If the quality is that freaking poor as the example above, the author’s name shouldn’t be the only one on there.

  10. 10
    SB Sarah says:

    @kinsey: I got your lathe right here, yo.

  11. 11

    The person responsible for a bad scan was the beancounter who said “Hell no, I’m not paying a proofreader, the book was already proofed when it went to print. When I scan a document on my scanner here, it comes out looking like an exact copy of the book, whaddya need proofreaders for?”

    That guy’s name is never going to be public.

    But “contact the publisher at this address” should really be the minimum standard in this day and age.

  12. 12
    Angela James says:

    I’m not talking about all books, I’m talking purely about this situation and any situation that involved books that started life in print years ago and are now being put through the digital conversion process. In this particular case, if you look at the original copy of this book, published in…2000? I’m going to bet those errors aren’t in there. Why should the editor/copy editor be held responsible for conversion errors that take place ten years after they last saw the original book? Why would you even want to hold them responsible for conversion errors?

    The editor and copy editor have absolutely zero control over the production of the book from print to digital when we’re talking about backlist conversion. None. They’re not involved in any step of the process. That’s the production/digital team. How is having the editor/copy editor (and the copy editor is most likely a freelancer) name on the book going to improve transparency in this situation? It only gives readers, such as yourself, a false target and a belief that the editor/copy editor somehow even got to see this digital file ten years later. No one who sees a file like that really believes that ANY editor, copy editor or proofreader saw the book. Editors and copy editors get enough crap for the errors they are responsible, I don’t think it’s necessary to now tell them they also get to be responsible for errors inserted by the conversion process ten years later.

  13. 13
    Brian says:

    Amazon’s been great for me the times I’ve had major book formatting problems.  Refunds were very prompt.  Fictionwise on the other hand can’t even be bothered to respond the emails lately.

    Of course refunds are fine and good, but I bought the book because I wanted to read it.  If the book is DRM free it’s not such a big deal, sometimes, to fix it yourself if the errors aren’t huge.  Since all the big pubs insist on DRM it’s good that uninfecting those files is fairly trivial (even if it is most likely illegal).

    At this point most pubs don’t seem to be concerned with quality in the least.  Even a pub like Samhain doesn’t seem to care that much when there are errors in their books.  I emailed them a few errors and while they were quick to reply with thanks I notice that the book still has those errors when redownloading from MBaM.

    One problem I’ve noticed with epub files from some e-publishers seems to be a formatting decision, as opposed to an error that slipped through, but it bugs me none the less.  They seem to insist on having the book’s title in huge print at the start of every chapter (maybe some folks like that?).  I usually end up getting the mobi file and converting that to epub instead of using the publishers epub.  They must either all have the same company making the epub files for them or all be using the same software to make them.

    I know the big guys are trying to get out lots of backlist titles to meet demand and such.  And I know that most of those are being made from the scan/OCR method or from converting a PDF used from the print edition (which can provide worse results than scan/OCR). But they if they’re going to insist on pricing the ebook like the pbook then they need to try and make the ebook a quality product.

    One thing almost all publishers are missing, especially the biggies, is an effective way for consumers to communicate things like this to them.  For most of them ebooks are still an afterthought and the individual consumer isn’t considered their ‘customer’ by them.

  14. 14
    SB Sarah says:

    So looking specifically at this situation, then, how is a reader to know that there is a “digital team?” I know there is one at HQN, for example, and I’m pretty sure there’s on at HarperCollins/Avon, but there’s one at every publisher? I have no idea. I have a crappy ebook. Sorry. A C&appy; eboo|. Now what the hell do I do?

    My point is: if it’s not the editor/copy editor, and, as you say, clearly not one person looked at the book before it was sent out for distribution and sale, what’s the recourse? Who makes the decision to digitally release backlist? Production? Random person in charge of rights long held for books that might sell?

    Fine, then. Bring on the accountability. A person or persons is accountable for the poor quality. To sell a digital book file that poorly created is unacceptable. And most people don’t know they can return an ebook, much less bring it to the attention to the publisher.

    I’m not after assigning blanket blame to editors or setting up false targets – most editors I’m acquainted with are overworked and understaffed due to rampant layoffs and contracting editorial departments. But looking at this situation in particular, and the general errors that are so frequently found within digital books, there needs to be accountability and redress. It’s someone’s job to ensure quality of print. The same should be applied to digital regardless of where in the history of backlist the book emerged. “It’s not my job” is not going to help the situation any more than blaming the night cleaning crew for the production errors.

  15. 15
    Angela James says:

    Brian, I don’t know if it will make it “better” for you or not, but I’m sure it’s not that Samhain and other pubs don’t care that the errors you report are in the books, but it’s actually not that easy to change the files. I know it seems like it should be, because they’re digital, but the publisher actually has to go back to the original file, change the errors and then reformat to each format, and then reupload to everywhere the book has been sent. It’s a pretty time consuming process and when the publisher is also trying to get new content formatted and out to customers, it leaves little time for going back and correcting immediately.

    What some pubs do is store up the errors for a batch change at a later date. Also, for publishers who send their files to be converted out of house, getting errors changed would mean paying for the conversion process (thousands of dollars) all over again. So, I hope you can see, it’s most definitely not a matter of not caring, but more a matter of balancing time and money resources against correcting several typos.

  16. 16
    Kinsey Holley says:


    If only JR Ward had had you when “penile colony” went to print.

    Word: suddenly23.  That doesn’t sound so appealing. Suddenly33, on the other hand…

  17. 17
    SB Sarah says:

    Wait, “penile colony” wasn’t a mistake?!! THE DEVIL YOU SAY.

  18. 18
    Kristina says:

    It’s definitly an adventure to read some of the older books that are now available digitally.  My favorite word switcheroo is still in the Lynsay Sands books the heroine being “wrapped firmly” in the hero’s anus.  I kid you not. 

    The first sentence it appeared in talked about how the heroine had seen a man’s anus before, “of course” but his bare thighs scandelized her.  The author being Lynsay Sands I was like WTF??  but ok, it’s Lynsay and she has a twisted sense of humor sometimes that I love.  Maybe I just didn’t get the joke or something.  Then when the heroine was wrapped firmly in his anus I got a little worried but figured (hoped) it was supposed to say arms and the scanner just burped at that word.

    Still I whole heartadly agree that proofreading needs to step it up quit a bit.  I’ve heard the excuse, but the books are old and that would mean re-reading them…ohhhhhh woe is me, the man hours that would entail.  Ummm excuse me, you’re charging me for this book, the same price as the paperback usually, get off your ass and proof-read!  Reading is part of the job title for craps sake.

    security word = force 77 – don’t force me and 77 of my bitch friends to come over there and deal with you publishers, it won’t be pretty.

  19. 19
    Kalen Hughes says:

    I think you should contact the store you bought the ebook from, and advise them that due to the poor quality of the book, you would like to have a refund for your purchase.

    Good luck if you bought it at FictionWise. They never responded to the numerous emails I sent about a fugly book. They have the worst customer service I’ve ever encountered.

  20. 20
    Jusy says:

    Before Fictionwise went into its current mess with publishing houses and prices, Fictionwise always answered my ebook problems promptly. They always offered two resolution paths—they will ebook fixed or give me a refund.

  21. 21
    Brian says:

    @Angela, I know what it takes to make a change, I make ebooks for myself all the time.  With a basic workflow it’s really not that hard.  I can fix a book and re-create 5 or 6 formats in about half an hour.  If I as a consumer, with admittedly a pretty good amount of ebook tech knowledge, can do it then surely the publishers can too.

    The real problem comes in when I get a reply (from Laurie Rauch) saying thanks and she’ll see about getting it fixed.  Which I guess implies to me that it’ll get fixed fairly soon (say a month or two).  Months later (this was in October) the book’s still the same.  In fairness these weren’t huge errors or anything and I’m sure are lower priority than others might be (although calling a character by the wrong name sure pulled me right out of the story). Another error with em dashes is consistently present in a certain authors books.  The author’s newest title came out and it still has the same problem (em dashes actually show up as the fraction 3/4 in some places).  The problem in the coding and how to fix it was even provided.

    I know they have a lot of things to balance, but surely someone is tasked with quality control?  It’s not like these are books for a buck or two.  Pub’s like Samhain, Loose ID, Siren, etc. charge in the neighborhood of the same big pubs do for mass market books so I guess I hold them to the same standards for the most part.

    As far as Fictionwise goes, it’s been going downhill since the Pendergast’s sold to B&N.

  22. 22
    Joy says:

    I’ve worked on digitization projects and the degree of accuracy of scanned OCR stuff will depend on the degree of accuracy the publisher is demanding.  Is it scanned, OCRed, and run through spell check?  That’s where the errors like “hero’s anus” or “Soviet Onion” come from.  Is it keyed? That will give you better results even from a data entry sweatshop in India. Double keyed? Even better.  What degree of accuracy is specified in the keying contract?  If the accuracy is 99.5% then you would expect about 500 mistakes in a 100,000 word novel. Is it going to be proofed, then?  I’m gonna bet if you have noticeable mistakes on every page it hasn’t been proofed and possibly not even keyed.  Words like “co?TUption” seem to imply no one even ran a basic spell checker.

  23. 23
    SB Sarah says:

    Pardon the ignorance @Joy but what’s “keyed?” What does that mean/accomplish?

  24. 24
    Brian says:

    Keying/Double Keying refers to data entry.  Keying would be someone typing everything (as opposed to OCR) and double keying would mean it’s typed twice, once each by two different operators and then the files are usually compared via software.  At least that’s my understanding of it.

  25. 25
    Kinsey Holley says:

    Soviet Onion is awesome.

    In another lifetime, when I was a legal secretary and, later, a word processor, whenever I ran spellcheck I always did a search for Untied States because that seemed to be my most frequent typo – my fingers just always typed Untied.

    Had a friend who let a contract go out with provisions pertaining to offshore rights in Whales.  Her attorney was really pissed, but couldn’t quit laughing long enough to yell at her.

    I can’t imagine publishers will pay for double keying when they’re digitizing backlists. But they should pay for proofreading, or else not bother. A product as shoddy as the one Marilyn bought is worse than no product at all.

  26. 26
    Kalen Hughes says:

    Before Fictionwise went into its current mess with publishing houses and prices, Fictionwise always answered my ebook problems promptly. They always offered two resolution paths—they will ebook fixed or give me a refund.

    This problem was last year, so no dice on that excuse from where I’m sitting. They have got worse since though (which is amazing).

  27. 27
    Joy says:

    Soviet Onion … Fart Knox… there are a number of entertaining OCR errors if you are digitizing several hundred years worth of material :)

    Keying is as Brian described.  You can’‘t rely on OCR entirely, it can only get you close.

  28. 28
    Joy says:

    I think keying is faster and cheaper than proofreading. That’s why one might do it, epecially if one is working from a text that has already been proofed.

  29. 29
    Gwynnyd says:

    Also, for publishers who send their files to be converted out of house, getting errors changed would mean paying for the conversion process (thousands of dollars) all over again.

    But… but… if a publishing company paid for a conversion that was riddled with errors to the point of unreadability, why wouldn’t the conversion firm fix them as part of the original contract price?  I mean, once they were pointed out?  Did the original contract read, “we agree you will OCD the file and understand you take no responsibility for all the myriad of known scanning errors we accept will be introduced by the process”?  That’s, that’s … well, words fail me. 

    Why shouldn’t the original contract cover x number of arms/anus types of changes?  Maybe they should pay a good software developer to write something where they plug in the mistaken word and it automatically goes through the book’s files, fixes it up and spits out the multiple-formats of cleaned up file ready to go.  The cost of something like that could be amortized across all the books and not born by any single title.

    With all the rampant unemployment, surely, there must be some one/some company willing to do an OCR of a book and proofread it and do a search and replace on the egregious errors – for whatever sum they are paying now.  [facetious] Maybe all the book pirates who care enough to clean up their scans can sell their pristine copies back to the publisher and get some extra income.  Perhaps that would be cheaper for the publishers than what they are doing now. [/facetious]

    Still glad I am not yet an adopter of this particular technology.  Paper, give me paper until all this sorts out!

  30. 30
    Angela James says:

    @Gwynnyd I was responding to Brian’s post about sending a few typos to a publisher that didn’t get corrected by reformatting and republishing, which is a bit of a different conversation and not about typos that occur during the conversion process. That’s a whole different subject!

Comments are closed.

↑ Back to Top