crime fiction

The Stark Truth

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Several years ago I heard that the University of Chicago was reprinting some of Donald Westlake’s old Richard Stark novels, both in print and as ebooks. I snapped up one of the ebooks during a heavily promoted “event” where they were offering one of the titles at the low, low price of free.

I’ve been trying to read more ebooks to reduce the amount of clutter in my home. I also like that when I’m on vacation or on the road, I can carry hundreds of books with me on one device.  I was looking forward to enjoying the Stark novel. That series, featuring master thief Parker, is known as the quintessential heist series in the crime fiction world.

But I was shocked by the number of typos I found in that Kindle edition. This happens whenever a publisher scans an old book that has never been digitized, and then uses OCR (optical character recognition) software to convert that image into text. You really have to proofread the resulting text very carefully because even good software will read the original text incorrectly. I went through this on a minor level when I recently scanned one of my old manuscripts—a pre-MS Word manuscript—and found that every instance of the letters “rn” as in “horn” was converted to the single letter “m.” If you squint real hard at the letters “rn,” you can kinda, sorta see how that might happen.

Anyway, the problems I spotted in the Stark novel were so bad and pervasive that I was actually moved to write the hallowed University of Chicago Press. To my surprise, they wrote me back. Here is our exchange. I’ve redacted the contact’s name and email.

From: Joe


Sent: Monday, October 31, 2011 7:40 AM


To: [Publicity, U of Chicago Press]


Subject: Richard Stark novels (problems)



Hi:



I have never written a letter like this.


I recently downloaded a Kindle edition of one of your Richard Stark novels, and was amazed by the number of typos I found in the text. Westlake was a fine writer, and I'm delighted that U. of Chicago Press is reprinting these old books. But someone has to proof them before they go out the door. I’m an author/editor myself, so I am especially aware of these sorts of problems. But still: they were unavoidable and frequent. 

Some of these problems looked like scanning errors. The word “I’ll” showed up several times as “111,” as if the text of an original paperback was scanned improperly into your system but not caught by a live editor. Other times, I’d find words such as “we’ll” written as “well,” and often the first word of sentences was uncapitalized.

This pretty basic stuff, but I don't feel comfortable buying more of the books until I know for sure that this problem has been corrected across the board. I’m told that a lot of Westlake’s older paperback originals had typos but that isn't an excuse. I can’t imagine that U. of Chicago Press is trying to reproduce the texts of these books exactly as they once appeared. That’s ludicrous. It seems more likely that someone was rushing to meet a deadline and didn't proof the Kindle editions. I notice a few other comments on Amazon’s websites that lead me to believe that this is pervasive throughout the series. I wouldn’t consider buying the print versions either, for the same reason.

 Can you let me know when/if the problem is fixed? I plan to buy them all. Just not yet.

 — Joe

On Oct 31, 2011, at 11:09 AM, they wrote back:


Dear Joe, 


Thank you for emailing to bring this issue to our attention. We do very much care about the quality of our print and e-books and I appreciate that you have made us aware of the problems you found. The older titles are more difficult to convert than the newer titles for which we have live files and editors freshly familiar with the text, so it does not surprise me that the conversion process caused errors, but it does concern me that they were not caught. 

I agree with you that the kinds of errors you are describing seem to be the sort that come from the conversion process. I’d like to look into this issue further. Could you tell me the title of the book that you purchased so I can have it reviewed? Once we have looked at the book you emailed about, we will check some of the others to which may have similar errors that were missed.

Sincerely, 
[redacted]

So I wrote back:

 The one I downloaded was “The Score.”

 But by poking around online, I found some other references to typos in at least two other titles. There’s this link, where someone writes:

“After reading another post like this, I reported 7 or 8 typos in “Butcher’s Moon” by Richard Stark. I also mentioned I would not be averse to a store credit for my efforts.”

 I found this comment at this link:

Letting Amazon know about typos/errors in Kindle books works. I pointed out 26 typos in a book and Amazon removed it indefinitely until the publisher fixes it. And they gave me 5$. : kindle

 And then, on Amazon, I found this review of the Stark book entitled “The Seventh”:

 4.0 out of 5 stars Who edited the Kindle edition?!  September 10, 2011

Amazon Verified Purchase

This review is from: The Seventh (Parker Novels) (Kindle Edition)

So many typos. I feel like I’m reading German “die” for “the” and often “w” for “v”. Great novel, but—if we are going to pay $10 for an electronic copy—please take the time to make it readable.

Again, I’m really sorry to contact you about this. I hope you will get this sorted out. I know this is a big effort, re-releasing these old books. I know a lot of fans are watching them closely.

 All best, Joe

That was was all from my end. My last note from the publisher was this:

Dear Joe,

Thanks so much—especially for sending the other comments as well!

 As a warning, it may be a couple months before this is sorted out since we have to work around the schedule of our new books. And, once again, thank you for taking the time to let us know about these.

Best wishes,

[redacted]

There you have it. I should note that I’m a terrible copy editor and proofreader of my own work. (Go ahead and look. I’m sure there are typos in this very post.) And I have been as long as I’ve been working in publishing, which is knocking on three decades at this point. That’s why I hire editors to review my books before I self-pub them. But here’s something people don’t like to admit: Even my traditionally published books have typos.

I once visited the offices of a friend who happened to be a literary agent. He was aggravated that week by a disaster that had happened with one of the books he repped and sold to a Big Five publisher. It was a nonfiction book about rock music. He flipped to a page and held up the volume. Near the bottom of the page, where there was supposed to be a photo and caption, there was nothing but a caption and a thin border where the photo was supposed to be.

“How did that happen?” I said.

He shook his head. “But they’re pubbing thousands of books a year and they apparently can’t bother to give a sh*t.”

Humans miss stuff all the time, even the experts. When people point out those typos to me, I try to have them fixed. It’s easier in the case of my self-pubbed books, trickier in the case of books pubbed by major publishers.

But here’s a highly touted line of books put out by the people who invented the freaking Chicago Manual of Style that appears not to have been proofread very well across the board. If there are shocking errors in three Kindle editions, as suggested by the notes above, they’re probably pervasive throughout the series.

In the long-running and by now uninteresting debate of traditional pub vs. self-pub, indie authors have been urged to be as professional as possible. Have someone edit your work, they’re told. Get a professional cover done. Have the book professionally formatted. And so on. Some of them do, some of them don’t.

I gotta say: I continue to be impressed by the work of authors whose books I’m proud to recommend to friends and even buy for family members.

Based on the Stark incident and a few others I’ve encountered in traditional publishing, I’m now convinced that a conscientious indie author can produce a better product than publishing professionals, who are routinely “swamped” and not personally invested in the final product.

It’s been seven years. I wonder if they’ve gotten the typos sorted out by now. I’ve been meaning to circle back and read those, but there’s always other books to read.

What do you think?


* This post first appeared in slightly different form on my old blog, November 16, 2011.

Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

I have a post appearing today on EQMM's blog

Today I'm up on Something Is Going to Happen, the official blog of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, talking about a childhood obsession of mine that led to my fascination with mystery and crime fiction. You can check out the article here.

In other news:

* I actually have a story appearing in the March/April issue of EQMM, out on newsstands next week, February 23. I haven't seen a copy yet, but I'm definitely excited. It's my first for that magazine.

* My children's book, Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci, is finally appearing in stores with a cover medallion announcing its selection as an Honor Book in the Mathical Prize for math-themed children's literature. Yay! Cool to have one of those award thingies on your book cover.

* My local bookstore, Malaprop's, is now officially carrying copies of my self-pubbed fiction and nonfiction.

* If you're reading this via my Tumblr blog, please take a moment to reroute your reader to my official blog at: http://www.josephdagnese.com/blog. I will most likely discontinue the Tumblr feed in the near future. It would be smart to make the move now.

 

 

My Poem's Up Today on The Five-Two

For those who are interested in such things: A short work of mine is the featured Poem of the Week at The Five-Two, an online poetry weekly devoted to poems about crime. This offering is squeaky-clean and suitable for readers of any age. My thanks to editor Gerald So and reader Joe Paretta, whose reading of the poem (available on the site) imbue this piece with far more gravitas than I’d ever be able to muster. Thank you, gentlemen.

James Ellroy: Adroit Motherf*cker

My buddy Neal Thompson interviews James Ellroy on the occasion of his new book, Perfidia.

I’ve been fascinated with Ellroy for years. Listen to the way the guy speaks. It’s almost as if he’s quoting his own blurbs, or speaking of himself in third person. I can’t imagine talking the same way about my work. I can’t imagine calling myself adroit.

The Marshal of the Borgo now on sale

It’s a long story, but when we were first married Denise and I lived overseas in Italy, where she worked covering soccer for sports organizations like ESPN. We first lived in Rome, then moved to a small town an hour north. The countryside was exactly what the travel magazines depict: olive groves and vineyards as far as the eye could see, and quaint thousand-year-old villages filled with fascinating characters.

One day, as we were talking with one of our neighbors, he cautioned us about thinking we had landed in paradise. “The town isn’t exactly squeaky-clean,” he said. “Some of our kids have died of drug overdoses. Mostly heroin. That’s why we just got a new marshal. He’s supposed to clean up the town.”

In small towns of this size, the police function was performed by the carabinieri, Italy’s colorfully dressed paramilitary force. The word marshal in their tongue is maresciallo (MAH-ray-SHAH-lo).

Needless to say, our neighbor’s news came as a shock, but in due time I began imagining a story around these meager facts. The result is The Marshal of the Borgo, the book I’m releasing today. I set out to write a mystery novel, but things took a turn toward the weird and paranormal, just as they did with The Mesmerist. The result is a blend of two or three genres.The book is now available on Amazon, iBooks, B&N, and Smashwords. (Kobo coming soon.) I hope you enjoy it.

Here’s the pitch for the book:

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THE MARSHAL OF THE BORGO: Matteo Scarpone is a man more sinned against than sinning. Once a cool-headed logician and the pride of Rome’s carabinieri, he’s devastated when disaster rocks his world. He’s a lost man: Beaten. Shaken. HAUNTED.

Shunned as an embarrassment, he is exiled to a tiny village in the sticks—a hamlet, a burg, a borgo. But in this land of vineyards and olive groves, life is far from idyllic. Murder, witchcraft and hate taint the soil once tread by the Etruscans. Now the young captain must unravel a series of murders that pit him against a cynical evil and force him to use a power that he has long denied.

The Marshal of the Borgo follows in the tradition of Italian mysteries by Magdalen Nabb, Andrea Camilleri, and Donna Leon—but with a powerful twist.

Part whodunit, part ghost story, The Marshal of the Borgo makes for a very unusual paranormal mystery by a recent Derringer Award finalist.

Italian detective Matteo Scarpone first appeared in a short story in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

Available:

Amazon (US) ebook & paperback

Amazon (UK) ebook & paperback

iPad

Nook

Smashwords

 

Free Copy of My Derringer Finalist

If you’re curious about reading “Bloody Signorina,” that story of mine which made it to the Derringer Award finals, you can download it free at this Smashwords page.

You’ll be able to choose the format that best fits your device—epub, mobi, or plain old PDF. Heck, you can also just read it on the screen.

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If you are a Derringer Group voter, you should probably read the RTF  version of this story via the official Derringer Voting Group site.

The story will remain free on Smashwords until midnight of March 31, the last day of voting.

Read it online.

Download a free PDF.

Download a free mobi file.

Download a free epub file.

My Paperbacks Are Out!

My Paperbacks Are Out!   Took me long enough, but paperback copies are finally available of my three fiction titles. For now, you can snag them via  my Amazon page . If you buy a paperback via Amazon, you’ll get the ebook for free.  If you’d rather not deal with Amazon, or you don’t want a paperback, well, have I got a celebratory deal for you:  I  can  offer you a free e-book of any of these titles. Snag the correct file for your device via  my Smashwords page , using one or all of these coupons, which expire April 1, 2014. You’ll need to enter the coupon codes when you checkout, then download the file that’s right for your e-reader. And don’t forget: A mobi or epub file will work with whatever reading device you have, whether a Kindle, Nook, iPad, or Kobo. If you don’t have a device at all, you can still read ‘em with the right app on your computer. Ask me if you need help.   Arm of Darkness  (short stories): CM87N   The Mesmerist  (novel): MJ34Q   Jersey Heat  (novel): KH57T  I’m told that these paperbacks will migrate eventually to Ingram and thus be available to indie bookstores. I have no experience in that arena, but I’m curious to see if that actually happens.  If you’d like a signed copy of any of these titles, just  contact me via my website , and we’ll make shipping and payment arrangements as soon as my first shipment comes in.  My thanks to those of you who reviewed these books in the past. A belated thank-you gift is on its way.   * * *   Other news: Denise is on the road for three weeks doing talks and conferences, and I’m home alone listening to the creaks of a settling house. Her paperback and audio book are out March 11. If you think you’d like a signed copy of either of these, contact our local bookstore,  Malaprop’s ,  by phone  and they’ll take of you.

My Paperbacks Are Out!

Took me long enough, but paperback copies are finally available of my three fiction titles. For now, you can snag them via my Amazon page. If you buy a paperback via Amazon, you’ll get the ebook for free.

If you’d rather not deal with Amazon, or you don’t want a paperback, well, have I got a celebratory deal for you:

I can offer you a free e-book of any of these titles. Snag the correct file for your device via my Smashwords page, using one or all of these coupons, which expire April 1, 2014. You’ll need to enter the coupon codes when you checkout, then download the file that’s right for your e-reader. And don’t forget: A mobi or epub file will work with whatever reading device you have, whether a Kindle, Nook, iPad, or Kobo. If you don’t have a device at all, you can still read ‘em with the right app on your computer. Ask me if you need help.

Arm of Darkness (short stories): CM87N

The Mesmerist (novel): MJ34Q

Jersey Heat (novel): KH57T

I’m told that these paperbacks will migrate eventually to Ingram and thus be available to indie bookstores. I have no experience in that arena, but I’m curious to see if that actually happens.

If you’d like a signed copy of any of these titles, just contact me via my website, and we’ll make shipping and payment arrangements as soon as my first shipment comes in.

My thanks to those of you who reviewed these books in the past. A belated thank-you gift is on its way.

* * *

Other news: Denise is on the road for three weeks doing talks and conferences, and I’m home alone listening to the creaks of a settling house. Her paperback and audio book are out March 11. If you think you’d like a signed copy of either of these, contact our local bookstore, Malaprop’s, by phone and they’ll take of you.