Pig in a Poke, revisited: Amazon Shenanigans

The first version of this post went up in January 2013. I’m revising and reposting it because Amazon is bungling editions, in a rather deceptive and (to me) infuriating way. The update is followed by the original post.


Amazon has a newish feature I actually like, called Kindle Match. If you bought a hard copy of a book from them in the past — and it can be way, way past, fifteen years ago even, you may be able to get the Kindle edition for anywhere between nothing and ten bucks. Most of the titles seem to be at $2.99 or less. 

So I was looking through this list and I come across the fact that I bought the Norton Critical Edition of Price and Prejudice in 2006. Why I did that is a different question — I can’t remember why I wanted yet another copy. But as you see here  I did indeed buy it in 2006: 

Kindle Match
Kindle Match

A critical edition is the queen of all editions for any book that is considered classic, and the subject of study by academics and scholars. Wikipedia provides a concise description of how critical editions come to be: 

Textual criticism is a branch of textual scholarship, philology, and literary criticism that is concerned with the identification and removal of transcription errors in texts, both manuscripts and printed books. Ancient scribes made errors or alterations when copying manuscripts by hand.[1] Given a manuscript copy, several or many copies, but not the original document, the textual critic seeks to reconstruct the original text (the archetype or autograph) as closely as possible. The same processes can be used to attempt to reconstruct intermediate editions, or recensions, of a document’s transcription history.[2] The ultimate objective of the textual critic’s work is the production of a “critical edition” containing a text most closely approximating the original.

Critical editions almost always have additional materials: essays by the editors and/or other scholars, about the book and its history, the author, the time period, and anything else you can think of.  There will also be footnotes to clarify terms that may not be familiar to a current day reader.  Given all this, it probably won’t surprise you that a critical edition costs more than the run-of-the-mill edition.

To clarify what I mean by ‘run-of-the-mill’ edition (or see this post, in which I was totally cranky, but still on target):

Because P&P is long out of print and copyright, anybody can put out a new edition without paying the author or the author’s estate anything. The result is many, many hundreds of editions of P&P put out on cheap paper, with little or no attention to the quality or accuracy of the text, all in the hope of a bit of a profit. You can find new copies of this novel for a buck, and then used copies of that same edition for a penny. 

Do I want the Norton edition as a Kindle book? Need you ask? So I click on the “Get Kindle Edition” button  you see, and this is what comes up:

Not the Norton Critical Edition
Not the Norton Critical Edition

Here is what the page for the critical edition actually looks like:

This is the real Norton Critical Edition
This is the real Norton Critical Edition

 

You see that the critical edition has an editor (Donald J. Gray) and also that I bought it in 2006. But what I was offered as a part of Kindle Match was a crappy movie-tie in edition, one I never bought in soft cover. 

To take this one step further (because it gets worse), if I click on the “Kindle Edition” tab on the Norton edition page, this is what I get:

Still not the critical edition
Still not the critical edition

Note that this was not published by Norton, but by “Top Five Classics” — one of the many companies that specialize in run-of-the-mill cheap editions.  At this point it occurs to me that there may not  even be a Kindle version of the Norton Critical Edition, so I pop over to the Norton website and have a look at the P&P page. And in fact, it’s only put out in trade paper format.  (Click on the link if you want to see what all goes into a critical edition.) 

In a nutshell: if I pay for the critical edition, I want it. I want it for all the reasons touched on above.  If another reader doesn’t care about the edition, s/he won’t even notice the switch. But people should care, because the practice is (a) deceptive and (b) wasteful. I hate to think of all the paper that has gone into crappy editions of this particular novel, one of many.  My guess is that you could repeat this process I’m showing you for everything from Gulliver’s Travels to A Room with a View.

Here’s the question: Is Amazon just tremendously sloppy and unwilling to pay attention to something as simple as an ISBN, or is this a way to lure in less-than-attentive buyers?  

One of the first things you learn in graduate school is to never walk into a seminar where a particular novel is going to be discussed  holding a movie-tie in edition rather than the critical edition. You will not be treated kindly. Also, it’s disrespectful to the editors who put in years of work to make sure the edition is as authentic and error free as possible.

So I’m done venting. I doubt anybody at Amazon will pay attention to my squeaking, but I’m going to keep an eye on this. 

January 2013 Post:

I love all things electronic, but when it comes to buying and selling books on the internet I see room for improvement. To be fair, that improvement is coming along nicely. In most areas.

Don't make Jane angry. You wouldn't like her when she's angry.
Don’t make Jane angry. You wouldn’t like her when she’s angry.

I’ll demonstrate with (what else?) Pride & Prejudice. There must be a couple hundred editions of P&P in English alone. Poorly done editions, leather-bound editions (and sometimes those two things aren’t mutually exclusive), editions on paper so cheap it makes your fingers itch just to turn the page, critical editions (put together by academics with special care to detail and authenticity), abbreviated and illustrated and annotated editions. Most people don’t realize how different editions can be, or that one might be better than another. If you’ve read one copy of Pride & Prejudice you’ve read them all, is the general belief. This is a widely held misconception, and one that technology is not doing anything to rectify. Just the opposite. Continue reading “Pig in a Poke, revisited: Amazon Shenanigans”

Here’s the letter you get when your novel is at the starting gate

This email was waiting for me this morning, from one of the production people at Berkley (actually now Penguin/Random House — who can keep up with the mergers and splits in publishing? Not me.) It gives you a sense of how things work, when you come down to it. Note that I haven’t edited out the serious tone or admonitions.  This is my tenth go-round, and it still makes me nervous.

Subject: The Gilded Hour for author review

Here for your review is the fully edited manuscript for THE GILDED HOUR, as well as additional style sheets for your reference.

Please read through it carefully, noting the changes, comments, and corrections. Track changes is already turned on and the file has been protected. You will not be able to “accept” or “reject” changes, so if you want to stet anything you can either retype the words as you want them or insert a comment telling us what to stet. We ask that you please respond to all queries and please do not change or delete any of the copyeditor’s comments.

Please note: this is your last opportunity to make editorial changes to the manuscript. The next time you see the book it will be in the form of typeset page proofs (“galleys”) that you will read for proofreading purposes only. We can only correct typos, grammatical errors and production errors at that stage. We cannot accommodate editorial changes, so it is important that you review these copyedits carefully and ensure that you are happy with the manuscript you return.

The managing editor asked that I have the manuscript back by 3/25. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.

At this stage I pull up this graphic which helps me hold on to perspective:

 

hg-wells-quote

To say nothing of the dog: on proofreading

via buzzfeed
via buzzfeed

I’m almost finished with the first-pass page proofs for The Endless Forest, and I hope to hand it over to FedEx late today or early tomorrow. As I am at the hair-pulling stage, I’m taking a break to tell you about this process and how I handle it. Or don’t.

I believe I can pinpoint the very moment when my proofreading phobia started.  Writing a dissertation is never easy and everybody who has ever written one will have horror stories to tell.  I think those of us who defended more than twenty years ago, when word processing was in its very quirky infancy, probably have more horror stories than more recent doctoral students. Usually, though, the horror stories don’t happen after the fact.

It was the day after I defended my doctoral dissertation. A beautiful late spring day, and I was free. FREE.  I was so full of energy, I was almost floating. Three years of hard work in which I often doubted that I could ever finish — much less defend  — my dissertation, but I had done both. I can still recall that feeling. It ranks up there with the first sight of the Girlchild’s little new-babies-look-like-monkies face, and seeing the Mathematician down there at the end of the aisle smiling at me, and getting the first copy of the first published novel delivered. It’s that good.

Then the phone rang, and I made a mistake. I answered it.

On the other end was a very earnest librarian from Princeton’s library, who was holding a copy of my newly minted dissertation in his hands.

Librarian: Dr Lippi, I have a number of questions regarding your dissertation.

Me: Huh?

Librarian: Before I can add it to the library’s collection there are number of … infelicities that need to be addressed.

I remember my gut rising into my throat, which explains why my voice came out like Minnie Mouse on steroids.

Me: I defended it yesterday. I’m done.

Librarian: I’m afraid not. Do you have a copy so you can follow along as I ask my questions?

Me:

Librarian: Dr. Lippi?

What I wanted to say: But you don’t understand, I swore last night that I would never, ever, open my dissertation again. In fact, my plans for today include embalming my copy in a barrel of wet concrete. In short: no, I don’t have a copy to follow along, and no force on earth is going to compel me to go get one.

Me: Just go ahead.

Librarian: On page 223, chart 27a is not titled.  And on 275, chart 55 is titled ‘Distribution of Marked Phonemes by Generation’ but in the index, the title is given as ‘Distribution of Marked Phoneme by Generation.’

I think I went into shock at that point. I simply stood there listening as he droned on with his list of missing commas, reversed index numbers, and other details I did not care about. Not one bit. A long time later  I realized he was waiting for some kind of reply.

Me: I’m sorry, I didn’t get that last bit.

Librarian: These problems will have to be corrected before your dissertation can be officially logged.

Me:

Librarian: Dr. Lippi?

Me:

Librarian: If I might make a suggestion, I could make these corrections for you —

Me: You could? Really? Oh, bless you. Bless you. Please go ahead and change things as you see fit. No need to run things past me, no sirree.

And I hung up.

Ever since that day, I cringe when a proofreader makes him or herself heard. Which happens a lot while you’re doing the first-pass reading of a manuscript. Don’t get me wrong, the proofreader is crucial at this point because I don’t see half the small things she catches, and those things do need to be caught. For the most part there will be a couple of marks on a page — a comma added or a semi-colon changed to a period, for example. More serious and important are the small errors in continuity, so the proofreader will write “Do you mean Nathaniel here instead of Daniel?” And 99% of the time she’s right.

But every once in a while I flip over a page and see a long paragraph in the margin in dark blue ink, and my heart leaps into my throat. The proofreader has found a major problem in logic or a large inconsistency in backstory, and attached to those observations is a list of pages on which the fact in question has come up and has to be compared to the current page, so that corrections can be made all around.

Today I’ve run into more than the usual number of those marginal blocks, which explains why my heartbeat is galloping along and my lip is bleeding where I’ve been chewing on it. I think it was especially bad today because of the dog.

There is a dog in this story, as you probably would have guessed if you’ve read any of my stuff.

Here’s the problem: the dog is mentioned and described as a puppy, belonging to a young couple. From its first appearance, the proofreader is obsessed — obsesssed, I tell you — with this dog. Wherever the couple shows up, there must the dog be also or the proofreader is unhappy. I stopped counting the ‘where’s the dog?’ queries after ten or so. By that time I was ready to slash right to the heart of the problem and instruct her to take out every reference to a dog, anywhere. Everywhere. In everything I’ve ever written. Please, just don’t ask me about the dog anymore. And you know how much I love dogs, so things have to be pretty dire around here just now.

So now I  have to go back to proofreading. Light a candle, would you? I need all the help I can get.

——

Creative Commons License photo credit: Valentin.Ottone

get out the vote: writers of fiction, unite!

Michael Stelzner’s weblog for writers is called Writing White Papers. I don’t stop by there very often because the focus is primarily (as you would guess) on white papers, defined as

A white paper is an authoritative report; a government report outlining policy; or a document for the purpose of educating industry customers or collecting leads for a company. White papers are used to help people make decisions. (Wikipedia)

I had a quick look at Michael’s blog this morning and I saw an interesting post. He’s asking his readers to nominate the top ten writing weblogs. There are a lot of nominations, but almost all of them have to do with websites that promote freelance writing, copy editing, and other kinds of non-fiction. Which struck me as a little one sided, so I nominated Paperback Writer as an excellent source of information and the occasional belly laugh, not to mention all the useful bits and pieces she gives away. I also commented on the fact that so many of the nominations pointed to Deborah Ng’s Freelance Writing Jobs. Which shouldn’t be a surprise if the target audience is primarily non-fiction writers, because that is an excellent resource. Long story short: I should have said that to start with. So now that I’ve taken my foot out of my mouth, my original concern still stands:

Why are the fiction writers not participating? Go on over there and vote for the website/oldweblog which is most helpful and/or interesting to you as a writer of stories. Here are some sites that I like:

Paperback Writer
Tess Gerritsen’s Blog
Smart Bitches Trashy Books
Alison Kent
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind

You will note that I do not list this website. That’s because I would prefer you don’t nominate it, lest I end up again on the authors behaving badly list. Nominate some other weblog that focuses on providing support for writers of fiction. Go forth, and be counted.