The Curse of OCR

November 1, 2015



I’m a little hesitant about criticising books for having typos, as I’m sure that – despite my best endeavours to weed them out - my own are not entirely error-free.   So having a pop at William Boyd’s publishers over the numerous typos in the Kindle editions of some of his older novels could be seen as mild hypocrisy on my part.  Someone with higher moral scruples might conceivably agonise about this for several paragraphs – perhaps even whole pages.  But a couple of sentences is enough hesitation for me.  So without further ado, let’s just get on with putting the boot in:

The worst case I’ve come across so far was “Armadillo,” which seemed to have been converted to a Kindle file via optical character recognition (OCR) without anyone having bothered to run any checks at all on the output.  Both capital “I” and lower case “l” were frequently rendered as the number “1,” separate words ran into one another, vast amounts of punctuation were missing and there were numerous other mis-transcriptions.  All this suggests that no one had even bothered to run a spellcheck, let alone proof read the text.  It was far worse than any self-published book I have read (and I have read a fair few).  I can only agree with the reviewer on Amazon who described the Kindle conversion as “a monument to illiteracy, lack of proof reading and indifference to the basics of written English. In short, an insult to its author.”   There are no such complaints about non-Kindle editions, so it does look as if the publisher is to blame.

With “A Good Man in Africa”, which I’ve just finished, a spellchecker does seem to have been used (hurrah!) – but alas, it wasn’t clever enough to spot mistakes like a description of a boy having “a look of hair” falling down over his face (presumably it should have been “lock”).  Again, I suspect the culprit was OCR again (as with quite a number of other similar mistakes).

I know publishers are not having the easiest of times right now, but William Boyd is an author who must have repaid their initial investment in him many times over, based on hard copy sales alone – so you would have thought that resources could have been found to do a more careful job of converting his older titles to ebooks.   It’s certainly one to ponder the next time you hear someone talking up the value that publishers supposedly add.  

I’d also like to know why these books had to be OCR’d in the first place.  Word Processors have been around for some time - can it really have been the case that no electronic files existed of these novels?  Perhaps someone out there will enlighten me.   In the meantime, I will return to wrestling with my rather feeble conscience….

UPDATE 5.11.2015:  a little Googling around this topic has not turned up much beyond a suggestion on a discussion forum that many publishers didn't bother keeping electronic files of the final edited text (hence their reliance on OCR).  It's good to see that publishers have been thinking ahead to the probable future of their industry.....  But I did find this article about a fairly common and particularly unfortunate OCR-induced error, which sort of sums up the whole thing for me.

 

Taking Candy from the Devil

October 10, 2015



For me, this somewhat quirky novel by Robert P Kaye falls into the category of what Graham Greene used to call “an entertainment” – it doesn’t take itself too seriously, although it does touch on some satisfyingly serious issues along the way.  Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Here’s what it’s about:

Chris Bly is returning to the family home in the Washington Cascades with his tail between his legs, having tried but failed to make it big in the unforgiving world of West Coast tech...

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Falling down the cracks in the genre map

September 10, 2015


So, peer review site Authonomy is to close.  The cynic in me is inclined to say that this is just further evidence that major publishers (the site was backed by Harper Collins) aren’t particularly serious about new ways of discovering writing talent.  I gather that over the site’s 7 year lifespan, 47 manuscripts were chosen for publication.  That’s hardly earth-shattering, although it seems to be a better strike rate than a similar UK-based site, YouWriteOn, which I have reviewed here (...

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Facebook, pen names and "lack of integrity"

August 29, 2015


Like many authors, I write under a pen name.  But because it involves pretending to be someone other than I really am (in name at least), I did hesitate a little before I took the decision.  After all, in some situations, using a false identity would be regarded as a bit of weird thing to do, if not downright creepy (e.g. middle aged men pretending to be teenage girls etc).  But then I told myself to get a grip, because there’s nothing particularly weird about using a pen name – lots of a...

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Ted Chiang: sci-fi or something else?

July 12, 2015



As previously noted, this blog does not have its finger on the literary pulse of our times.  And so it is with Ted Chiang, a multiple award-winning author who I stumbled across only recently from The Economist blog.  In fact, he has been publishing stories since 1990, when I gather his first one appeared in the now sadly defunct Omni magazine.  This biographical detail made me feel a little nostalgic, because as a teenager during the eighties I was an avid consumer of Omni (pocket money permi...

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Day Gazing by Carla Herrera

May 27, 2015



I first read this collection of short stories a while ago and had been meaning to do a review of it for some time.  But in a way, I’m glad I waited because it’s meant that I ended up re-reading the collection in full – and there were a number of stories that I got more out of on the second (or even third) reading.

Anyway, the first thing to say about this collection is that, although it’s subtitled “Weird Shorts”, all the stories are written in a very accessible way – so don’t ...

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The Fifth Lectern

March 31, 2015



With the UK general election campaign underway, now seemed a good time to review "The Fifth Lectern", a self-published novel by Andy Cooke about what might have happened if the 2010 UK general election had turned out slightly differently.  The key change that the author has made is to have the surge in support for the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) occurring not in 2014-15 (as it has in real life) but back in 2010.   The background to this is recounted in a novella-length prequel to "Th...
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The Inelegant Universe

January 31, 2015



This collection of short stories by Charles Hibbard is thought-provoking, varied and beautifully written.  And if short stories aren’t really your thing – although in this case I would urge you to make an exception - the author has a number of other longer-form fictions available on Smashwords (discussed briefly below). 

But getting back to “The Inelegant Universe,” what can you expect from this collection?  Well, here are some examples to give you a flavour:

  •  “Fare ...

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Confessions of a sexist reader

November 9, 2014

They say you should never judge a book by its cover.  But when, in my last review on this site, I said that I hadn’t really expected “Pedalling Backwards” to be my kind of thing, that was exactly what I was doing.  Here’s that cover again – it doesn’t really scream “Men! Buy this book!”  does it?



And just to reinforce my prejudices, it was also categorised as “women’s fiction” on Smashwords.  But of course, when I actually read it, I enjoyed it.  Which means that my preco...

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Pedalling Backwards

September 28, 2014



“Pedalling Backwards” by Julia Russell is a very well written literary novel which has attracted an impressive haul of positive reviews on Amazon, and two five star reviews (including mine) on Smashwords. 

Lizzie, her husband and her parents have rented a holiday cottage on a bleak, muddy island in the Blackwater Estuary.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, for starters, Lizzie has recently lost a baby.  Her husband thought it would be a good idea for them both to get away from things fo...

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About Me


Paul Samael Welcome to my blog, "Publishing Waste" which will either (a) chronicle my heroic efforts to self-publish my own fiction; or (b) demonstrate beyond a scintilla of doubt the utter futility of (a). And along the way, I will also be doing some reviews of other people's books.
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