No, Amazon Will Not Penalize Your Book for a Typo

whoa whoa whoa! Amazon spelling penalties?

Here we go again…

There’s a change coming at Amazon. You know what that means.

Panic! Share the first poorly-researched blog post you can find! Scream! Rage at Amazon’s cruelty until your fury is spent and you’re left crying into your ice-cold coffee.

And now that we’ve gotten that out of our systems, let’s breathe calmly into our paper bags while we examine the facts.

This week, the Good E-Reader blog announced that “Kindle e-Books will have a warning message if they have spelling mistakes.”

Some authors have taken that headline at face value and assumed the worst: that Amazon will brand any books deemed to have typographic errors — no matter how minor — with a sinister warning label.

The reality is far less dramatic.

The Facts

Michael Kozlowski

Good E-Reader’s founder, Michael Kozlowski, has a history of posting inflammatory clickbait.

First, only ebooks that have received specific complaints from readers will be examined. I once filed a complaint like this when an ebook I purchased turned out to be an unreadable mess. Literally unreadable. Gibberish and random characters in place of the headings, line breaks in the middle of sentences, hyphens interrupting every third word.

This is the kind of situation KDP’s new proofing initiative is designed to combat, not the isolated typo that inevitably slips through the most diligent of editing.

Second, complaints are reviewed by actual humanoids at Amazon. The process is not automated, and there will be an opportunity to contest or correct a problem if your book is determined to have issues.

What will Amazon look for?

The errors Amazon will flag include:

  • missing content
  • duplicated content
  • numbers inadvertently substituted for letters, or vice versa (“typ0gr4phic”, “the year 2o12”)
  • punctuation used in place of letters (e.g., “I read bo%ks”)
  • visible or malformed HTML code
  • discretional hyphens (“bad hy-phenation”)
  • missing letters (“m ghty pecul ar”)
  • unsupported characters (e.g., emoticons)
  • incorrect content (as when the publisher uploads the interior file for a different book)
  • blurry or excessively compressed images
  • body text rendered entirely as underlined, bold, or hyperlinked
  • page numbers embedded in the text
  • nonfunctional table of contents or internal links

As you can see from the list, these issues are largely due to formatting problems or OCR errors. Amazon will also remove works that violate Amazon rules or don’t meet basic standards, such as a book designed solely to advertise, or a poor translation obtained through Google Translate.

What will Amazon ignore?

Amazon will not flag:

  • minor typographical errors (“What have you got to loose?”)
  • regional spelling differences (e.g., “favourite” vs. “favorite”)
  • dialogue, accents, or dialects (“I doan’ budge a step out’n dis place ‘dout a doctor”)
  • foreign languages, archaic speech (“leet his sheep encombred in the myre”)
  • proper names (“The Dothraki called that land Rhaesh Andahli”)

What are the consequences?

If Amazon’s screeners confirm that a book has issues, there are two possible actions.

For errors prominent or numerous enough to detract from the reader’s enjoyment, Amazon will place a warning banner on the product’s page alerting customers that the item is under review. Authors and publishers will then have an opportunity to correct the issue and promptly remove the warning banner. (Amazon has already been doing this for years; they’re just expanding the conditions that can trigger an alert.)

Errors that render the book unusable or incomplete or books that violate Amazon’s Terms of Service will be removed from sale.

That’s it, friends. Nothing malign, nothing alarming. Just an improvement to quality control that won’t affect any professionally edited and formatted book.

Update 1/23/2016: Some authors are reporting flags for a small number of typos. This is inconsistent with what Amazon has previously said, and the enforcement appears to be erratic. It is possible that Amazon’s employees are confused about how strict they should be in cracking down on issues. Stay tuned for further updates.

Update 1/24/2016: A KDP representative has informed me that the warning labels will be referred to as CFQIs, Customer Facing Quality Indicators. The first CFQIs will appear on January 27, 2016. The CFQI will read “Quality issues reported”. Hovering over this indicator will display a list of the types of defects reported by customers (and verified by Amazon). The CFQI will also contain a message stating that the publisher has been notified of the issues. Follow-up questions are in the pipeline, and I will report here when (or if) I receive clarifications.

Update 1/28/2016: KDP has provided additional information about the number of typos that will trigger a CFQI.

Our Quality team uses a formula based on how many defects it contains out of the total allowable defects for a book of its length. Longer titles are allowed more defects than shorter ones because the overall impact is distributed. Note that “locations” below refers to the internal divisions of an ebook, not pages or chapters.

While we are not able to disclose this specific formula, please be informed that an average sized novel with around 3000 locations will trigger the quality warning with 10-15 typos.

So there you have it, folks, straight from the horse’s mouth: 10-15 typos will trigger a CFQI in a typical, full-length novel.

About John Doppler

Author, cruciverbalist, serial hobbyist... John Doppler blends science, art, and humor into a delicious smoothie of chaotic evil.
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53 Comments

  1. Koslowski is also anti self-publishing and tries constantly to discourage people from doing it. This is just his latest attempt to dishearten fledgeling writers from self-publishing.

  2. If Amazon applies this practice to self-published and trad-published books, it could be a good thing in terms of possibly getting the traditional publishers to fix the terrible OCR on many backlist e-book titles.

    • I’m confident they will. This is a customer satisfaction issue — the key to Amazon’s success — so traditional publishers will not get a pass.

    • Boy! Me, too. But we have to file a complaint. My reading of the notice is: all ebooks. That means all publishers. I have not been filing complaints about the OCR…but I have mentioned the snafus to the authors. The thought is in the back of my mind that legacy publishers use those awful OCRs to suggest ebooks are not well done–so a reader will buy the print edition.

  3. I’m going to ask you the same thing I asked the other blogger.
    Can you cite your sources that confirm this is any kind of change from amazons policies? Because as far as I can see it’s always been this way.

    • Hi CD,
      My info comes from the recently-updated help page (linked in the article) and two discussions with KDP reps.

      Amazon been flagging critical issues for several years, but they’ve stepped up enforcement this week and are actively notifying authors of the flagged issues. That’s a change from their previous behavior.

      They’re also flagging issues that did not trigger notices before, such as missing entries in the ebook’s NCX tables. I suspect this may cause some headaches for authors who haven’t cleaned up their EPUB through formatting software like Jutoh or Sigil.

  4. An indie writer, I am grateful for Amazon’s and CreateSpace’s error check, which has caught a few mistakes that my indie-eyes didn’t catch. As they say, “doctor’s make the worst patients.” I think we all know why the “big brass” are condescending and demeaning toward indie writers and self-publishing platforms: ($$$); however, that attitude will not discourage me or other self-publishing authors from continuing to do what we love – and a majority of my reading library is comprised of independent/self-published works from my peers. Just remember: the notable book, Mark Twain’s, Huckleberry Finn, was once deemed a poorly edited work ~ and we see how that worked out.

  5. I didn’t panic because Amazon has always reached out to me if there was ever any trouble with my books. They’ve been accommodating and polite. Yeah – but it’s still a good idea to make sure your work is clean.

  6. Good Afternoon, John: Well, I blogged on the topic, pretty much along the same thread as you have done–common sense prevails. I have noticed this among indie authors: Many do not read Amazon Terms of Service…One indie author I know moved all of her titles into Select and ignored Amazon’s TOS and emails that her units could NOT be in Select and also on all other sales venues. Oops. Amazon removed all of her books and banned her from Amazon for 12 months. If panic gets indies to proof their books and correct mishaps…I’m for a wee bit of panic. Amazon is merely spotlighting a feature that has long been established.

    JackieWeger
    Indie all the Way

    • I agree: this will certainly light a fire under some of the lazier publishers and self-publishers, and that’s a good thing! Amazon’s click-to-publish features are wonderfully empowering, but they’ve enabled some criminally sloppy work to enter the market.

      The alerts may nudge the amateurs closer to the professional end of the spectrum, and hopefully get them to read the fine print more carefully.

  7. Your description of Amazon’s possible two actions does not seem to jibe at all with the contents of the letter they’re now sending out. Currently, they can remove a book from sale for critical issues, and that message is posted on the book page. Starting Feb 3. (their words), they will post warning messages for books with multiple verified issues that do NOT warrant removing a book from sale. This is a completely new message and action.

    Here is the letter, as posted by Mark Dawson on Kboards. A careful read of Amazon’s own words should clear up much of the confusion that’s been going around.

    “Our shared goal is to provide the best digital reading experience for customers on Kindle. When customers contact us with quality issues in a book you published, we validate the issues and send them immediately to you to fix.

    “Starting February 3, 2016 we will begin showing customers a warning message on the Amazon.com Kindle store detail pages of books that contain several validated quality issues. We will remove this message for a book as soon as we receive the fixed file from you and verify the corrections — typically within 2 business days.

    “We understand that even with the best quality controls, defects sometimes make it through. That’s why we’ve limited this messaging to books with several issues. Books with more serious quality issues will continue to be suppressed from sale.”

    • Aaron, the post stated:

      1. Books with multiple non-critical errors will receive a warning banner.

      “For errors prominent or numerous enough to detract from the reader’s enjoyment, Amazon will place a warning banner on the product’s page alerting customers that the item is under review. Authors and publishers will then have an opportunity to correct the issue and promptly remove the warning banner. (Amazon has already been doing this for years; they’re just expanding the conditions that can trigger an alert.)”

      I can personally attest to the fact that this has been in practice since at least 2013, but rarely and inconsistently.

      2. Books with critical errors will be removed from sale.

      “Errors that render the book unusable or incomplete or books that violate Amazon’s Terms of Service will be removed from sale.”

      If I’ve missed something, please let me know.

      • What has been in practice is that Amazon would send notices of problems and ask for correction, and that more serious problems would cause the book to also be removed from sale temporarily until they were fixed. I have NEVER seen or heard of Amazon posting a PUBLIC notice of problems without ALSO removing the book from sale. Whether or not it’s a cause for alarm, this is completely new, and Amazon itself has said so. So, in this case, I’m afraid Kozlowski’s account is more accurate than yours.

        • As I said, I can personally attest to at least one title which has received a quality warning without being removed from sale. I’m confident there are other instances.

          If you disagree with this or any other item in the post, you are welcome to show your evidence; I’m not infallible, and I’m happy to consider new information.

    • What will be wonderful is if all of the catfisher books show up with warning flags. I got scammed on one of those things…Author said he was a Greek, book was written by someone in the Philippines. Dreadful.

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  9. Common sense? But we’re not done panicking yet! It’s the end of the woooorld!

  10. Things aren’t adding up here. Books with major problems aren’t even able to make it through Amazon’s publication process in the first place (or, at least, shouldn’t be, if there is any consistency at all). Heck, I’ve seen books that had one instance of a regionalism or slang term get kicked back (and therefore not published) because of Amazon’s automated check, and a real person had to be called in to approve them. So now you’re telling me that there’s nothing for indie authors to worry about, that it’s just going to be major things (which are already addressed)? I don’t buy it. The quotes I’ve read from Amazon indicate otherwise, too.

    Multiple typos or spelling errors will result in a book being yanked and a reputation being damaged. Most books, even those from traditional “Big Five” publishers, have multiple errors of those types. Every author needs to pay attention to this situation, whether or not he perceives it as a threat. I’m continuing to offer my current and new clients editing and proofreading services, and, because of Amazon’s 800-pound gorilla status and very limited notice before this goes into effect, I’m offering indie authors a discounted rate to check all of their previously-published books on Amazon, so they don’t have to deal with warning labels, removed books, and losses to income and reputation. People need to protect themselves, regardless of what anyone says about this or any other change.

  11. Actually that’s not true. I got the new email on Wednesday from amazon kindle about flagging poor quality content with the threat of a warning on my book page for this reason:
    1. Managed to life should be managed to lift
    2. Should he here should be should be here.

    I would hardly call those serious defects, would you? But someone reported them and as we know, the customer is always right. At the moment there are several different versions of what amazon actually meant by instigating this new policy.
    I am all for some quality assurance on amazon and I am certainly not panicking, but the policy is obviously being enforced to the nth degree by some of the amazon employees.

    • I’m hearing a smattering of similar reports, but Amazon’s reactions seem to be inconsistent. I suspect you’re spot on about overzealous employees — this is a change to their usual policy, and it could well be that employees are still trying to find their balance.

  12. In principle I agree with Amazon’s stance, but I have to disagree with the supposition that minor typos won’t trigger a flag.

    A few days ago I got an email from Amazon telling me there were 10 typos in my book (of 102,000 words – so that’s less than 1 typo per 1000 words) and that if they weren’t sorted and a new version uploaded by February 4th there would be a warning applied to my book page.

    (The book in question was mainstream published, so the errors arose when whoever was formatting for the publisher made the e-file.)

    However as I had just bought the rights back it was down to me to sort. It took me almost a day – finding the 10 occurrences was hard enough – Amazon gave me locations, but as they don’t relate to either the pages in the print copy or the system in the e-Pub it wasn’t the easiest job in the world. I’ve also never edited an e-Pub file before, so I had to learn the ropes for that and then convert it to mobi for uploading. All done and dusted now, but I should stress that all 10 of them were minor typographical errors -eg ‘gratitiude’ (extra i) mumuring (missing r) execrement (extra e) arrrogance (extra r) and so on, that according to your assessment wouldn’t be flagged.

    And while I’m happy to have expunged them from my text, I wouldn’t have expected that 10 typos out of 102,000 would constitute errors ‘prominent or numerous enough to detract from the readers enjoyment’. However I was threatened with flagging – so that does beg the question – how few errors will Amazon consider ‘numerous enough to detract’?

    • That is unreasonable! The threshold seems to be wildly inconsistent at this point, and your experience contradicts what I’ve been told by Amazon. I’m wondering if there’s confusion among Amazon employees about how heavily they should be cracking down on these minor issues.

      I will contact them again on Monday to see what I can learn.

  13. I received an Amazon warning message regarding 13 typos in one of my books, all misspellings. Yes, technically, that constitutes multiple errors, but it it seems a low threshold for earning a warning banner on the book’s sales page, which is what the message seemed to suggest would happen. I fixed 11 of the typos but missed two when I re-published. Amazon messaged me back about the two remaining typos, again strongly implying that potential buyers would be warned about them if I didn’t take care of them. There was also language about the possibility of some books (*my* book? It wasn’t clear) being “suppressed” from sale over quality issues. I’m glad to be notified about errors and given the chance to correct them, but 13 typos (or two!) did not make my book an unreadable mess. Yet the message seemed to suggest that it was.

  14. I’m all for the Amazon move. Too much garbage out there!

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  17. What worries me is that malicious troll types will use the reporting feature to their own ends. Many good books have minor typos in them that shouldn’t cause flags. Some books have information I need or want, even if the author isn’t all that good at expressing it and I can overlook that if I’m getting what I want from it. I’ve seen some that truly should be edited better. I’m sure my first books need more than the later ones. Most of the time, though, when I download a free book it’s no big deal to me if the writing is poor or the formatting bad, or the editing absent. I just delete it from my reader. I’m not really put out for a 0.99 trial on an author new to me and if I didn’t like it, I won’t try that author again. I’ll always get a free sample sent to my device before I pay more than that, though, and the problems should be evident in the sample if they’re that bad, and then no harm done. In the end, I’m in favor of letting the readers choose whether to buy or not to buy and everything under the sun being available for judgment. Good, bad, and ugly. Free samples should be available on everything so we can make that judgement.

    • False reports and trolls are always a concern in a crowdsourced effort like this, but I’m optimistic that Amazon’s human verification will eliminate harassment.

      Authors of controversial works can expect to have any defects called out by their opponents, but the cure for that is as simple as correcting the mistakes. At worst, that’s a one-time nuisance.

    • Additionally, only complaints from customers with verified purchases or downloads are being considered. That will help to keep the trolls at bay.

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  19. 1. I have been self-pubbing on Kindle since Feb. 2013 and have yet to receive even one “excessive typo” warning email. Because my books are perfect? Well, probably as close to it as humanly possible, but I also take the time to evaluate KDP’s reported spelling errors during the e-book upload and conversion process. In my case, the KDP spell-checker mainly reports foreign words and dialectical terms, which I then choose to “ignore.” I’ll be willing to bet a week’s royalty earnings that if other publishers took the time to look at the spelling issues KDP reports to them, a whole lot fewer nasty-grams would have to be generated.

    2. I find it ironic that the =most= unreadable Kindle titles I have ever tried to read have ALL been produced via Createspace’s print-to-Kindle conversion process. This is why I code my own e-books; I used to program conversion software, decades ago (nothing to do with publishing), and I know firsthand how questionable the output can be. Either way, it still falls squarely upon the author-publisher to verify the quality of whatever output s/he is given by whatever source, be it human or machine.

  20. Yipes! What can we poets expect regarding word creativity and formatting? As an “everyday poet” I often deliberately misspell words, such as “pomes” for “poems.” Kindred spirits would understand, but what about the trolls that Madison Woods mentions? Can Kindle employee decisions be appealed to a higher authority if there is one?

    • While it’s possible that someone might report that as a defect, and it’s possible that a KDP employee might not understand that it’s not, you’ll still have the opportunity to clarify it and explain that it’s a deliberate choice on your part.

      Amazon has gone out of their way to exclude stylistic and dialect choices. As their help page spells out:

      “Sometimes improper or dialectic spellings are intentionally used by the author. These are not considered errors.”

      So it sounds as if they’ve got the right idea, but we’ll have to wait and see how the implementation works out.

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  23. Sandra Cifuentes Dowling

    “Amazon will also remove a poor translation obtained through Google Translate”. At last!

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  27. I have over 400 titles on my Kindle. I have complete collections of some authors and almost complete collections of others. Some of the authors are conscientious about editing and others could care less about accuracy. For example, there is an author who writes a continuing series about a female private investigator. In the first book, she meets an individual in a chat room with the screen name including the numbers 950. However, in book 2, I think it is, that individual’s name changes to use different numbers, in later editions the name goes back to include the 950. And that is the least of the errors I found in his books. Being required to rewrite a book as you read it so it makes sense is not a good way to have to read a book. I’m all for making sure books are proofread and edited better.

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  32. So this new dispensation has apparently been in place for over a week now. Anybody have any idea how many books have been removed for defects?

    I was actually expecting mine to jump up in rank a bit, when loads of other books were removed from Amazon en-masse, for defects. This hasn’t happened… or if it has, it hasn’t affected my ranking. 😉

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  35. Hello! Found this article on Google and thought I’d chime in with my experience. On the 15th of February, my title was flagged by a customer for having missing text. Amazon pulled the book and sent me an email. I immediately checked the location indicated and saw that it wasn’t missing text, that was just the end of the chapter. Yes, there was a page break. Within the hour, I replied with what I’d found and received a response that they would look into it and have it resolved by the 19th. The 19th has come and gone and not only have I not been reinstated, I haven’t even received an answer on why it’s still unavailable. I’d say that this is some cause for alarm as it’s been nearly a week and after multiple emails and messages, I still haven’t received anything other than “We’re working on it” responses and I’ve lost six days worth of sales.

    I don’t have a problem with their quality control system. We all know that there are books uploaded to Amazon that aren’t truly fit for publication or that sometimes there are editing issues and/or formatting mistakes that slip by us. We, as authors should be held accountable and have to fix these errors. I just feel it would be much better if authors were told of the error and then given a small window of time to fix the mistake before pulling the title. Either that, or have much faster response times in looking into these quality control notices. After hounding KDP on social media, I’ve just been told I’ll have a response from the technical team by the 23rd. That makes it over a week that my title will be unavailable.

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  38. I have yet to buy a kindle book that hasn’t got multiple typo and grammar issues including classics. None bucks or more for junk. No more for me.

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