Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

Wikify Me

Okay, this should completely exhaust my ingenious idea quota for the millenium, because I had a helluva good one tonight at the Boston meet-up. Kate Tilton brought up the unfortunate number of self-published books she’s read lately that had a ton of potential but were rife with distracting typos. And like a lightning bolt striking me in the brain (or maybe it was the one beer), I saw the next Kindle update, a magnificent Kindle update. By marrying Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature and cloud storage, we would get the wikified e-book.

Here’s how it works: A reader is zipping along through their latest download. They come across a typo, or what they perceive to be a mistake in the book. Using the already-built-in highlight feature and on-screen keyboard, they mark this mistake and type in their suggestion for a fix, refinement, or improvement. They can even mark what kind of suggestion it is, like “typo”. Here’s the ingenious part: The author can pull up the current e-book on their computer and see all the track changes. They can view “all readers”, sort the track changes by date, by type, by reader, and so on. If they agree with the mistake and fix, they click a button, and the change is made. That change then propagates to the Kindle store, meaning the next person won’t see the mistake.

Here’s the next awesome bit: Any reader who suggested the fix automatically gets points (if multiple readers offered the same suggestion, they all get points). These points go toward buying e-books. This rewards the early-adopters who help clean up works as they read them, and it ensures that subsequent readers purchase cleaner material.

Now, this in no way would be a substitute for sound editorial practices on the part of the author. I don’t think readers will tolerate rough drafts being published, and they shouldn’t be expected to. But mistakes happen, both in self-published and traditionally published books. Readers have pointed out to me that the Random House UK edition of WOOL has a mistake in the header in a later chapter. What we are creating here is one more step in quality control, and why not? We have the technology to make it happen. Why not have a system that rewards those who happen to spot errors? Why not have a system that improves the user experience for future readers?

This sort of thing is already going on, but the process is laborious. I get emails about typos, and I know readers who notify publishers about typos. This allows the process to happen right there in the e-reader device, and it makes it simple and painless for the author to accept or deny a tracked change and implement the change inside the uploaded e-book. It’s the wisdom of the crowds applied to literature. It’s the wikification of novels. I expect you would have a reading subset that bought books close to release and took pride in the number of their suggestions that were accepted. Rank these readers the way reviewers get ranked. And let them enjoy the free e-books they pile up as reward.

That beer has totally worn off, and this still seems like a brilliant idea. Uncle Jeff, are you listening?

57 replies to “Wikify Me”

That is such an amazing idea, Hugh! I think it’d be a much quicker fix for writers and publishers if the changes could be implemented right away rather than having to go through email->Word document->.mobi/.epub file (and that’s just for indies–publishers have a longer process, especially since they deal with such a bulk of content at once) one at a time, as the emails regarding minor typos trickle in.

My only concerns:
1. Would other readers be able to view these “markers”? If so, it might get distracting to read through a story with all these little notations taking you out of the story.
2. What about stylistic choices? Would it be exhausting for authors, especially those writing experimental fiction, to have to wade through notations?

Besides those concerns, I think this is an awesome idea. Crowdsourcing for books! You have my vote!

1. I think readers would be able to turn this on or off, just as they do highlighted passages.

2. That would be up to the author to decide. That’s why “typo” would be one choice. “Plot hole” might be another. You could make it as fun or as restrictive as you wanted.

You could even take your second part to a farther conclusion and put up an outline and get a group of people to do the actual writing of the story. assigning someone to be a lead writer/editor to guide the project of course.

“Typo” and “plot hole” are quite different. You might want to use to also indicate how serious a problem or big a change is required. This will then also help the author wade through the various suggestions, knowing which to focus on first.

If various readers to suggest the same plot hole, it might be quite difficult to see that their suggestions is actually the same thing. It might be easier to have them be able to vote for an already suggested “plot hole”. This then also brings another dimension for the author to know what to focus on.

I think it’s an interesting idea, with this caveat:

Don’t be surprised if you have to parse through about a bazillion editorial comments, plot and (bad) grammar suggestions, etc. in order to glean a few legitimate typo fixes.

I agree. Which is why I think it would be crucial for the author to choose a limited window of time, a single reader, etc. You could choose to sort by the “Beta Ranking” of the reader. If other readers found the same mistake and made the same suggestion, they would still get credit, helping them move up the charts.

I think the best phrase here is “or what they perceive to be a mistake”. I noticed that my beta readers would give different ideas on how to fix something. And I had a reviewer send me “mistakes” in my last book, which were nothing more than phrasing. They would have written a sentence differently. That’s not a mistake, but an opinion. It seems sometimes that “typos” are just excuses to pin on self-publishers, to remind us, we are self-publishers.

With your idea, people could see that sometimes mistakes and how to fix them, from time to time, are just opinions and not hard and fast rules.

I love the idea of crowdsourced proofing, but I don’t think that it should happen after the point of sale. To me, if someone is going to read with a more critical eye, it would detract from the overall enjoyment. Those folks should be beta readers, or at least discounted early adopters.

If you can pull books into a more iterative lifecycle, it stands to reason that there will be die-hard fans that will want to be involved from as early a stage as possible. The caveat is that you don’t want to punish first movers by saddling them with a reward system that sours the reading experience.

I have the same concerns. One thing I was thinking was that this could happen in the weeks before release. Readers who sign up for the program get the e-books in the pre-order window. To maintain status in the system, they earn Typo Points. They get books at heavy discounts or free in exchange for looking for errors.

Employees at publishing houses do this already. My boss at the bookstore worked for Algonquin, and they had him read ARCs with an eye for mistakes. The key feature here is that a highlighted error in a Kindle is transmitted to a master copy for the author, who can approve a change and see it go immediately into effect. This makes what is now a very long and arduous process a matter of a few keystrokes. And the technology is there. It just needs to be coded.

Yes. Your comment right there is the way to go, I think. Pre-publishing. I totally agree that the editorial process should be as thorough as possible before the pre-publishing beta readings – no excuses for not having editorial and proofreading done on indies – but the principle you’re suggesting is a good one. Go Hugh!

Kobo immediately seems like a good fit for this (would love it on Kindle too, of course). They seem pretty on top of the user experience game when it comes to their reader app. Plus, you have a fan base that they could use as the test case. Beer inspired or not, you should see what Mark Lefebvre has to say about it.

I absolutely love this idea – in theory.

In practice, I can see potential problems. I’m an editor and get extremely cranky when I purchase an e-book that an author hasn’t bothered to edit. I don’t mind the occasional mistake since they are bound to happen regardless of the publishing method and quality of editing.

My concern is those authors who don’t believe that quality editing is important. They publish e-books that have so many mistakes that they are almost unreadable. Those authors will take advantage of this type of program and continue to put bad writing on the market. Editors like me will be unable to read it without making corrections (my problem, I know) and authors will get a very valuable service for free.

I can see how this would be wonderful for authors who do care about their work and get trapped by those annoying mistakes that we all find later. For those authors, I think this is one of the best ideas I’ve ever heard. I know I would love to have a way to make those corrections afterwards. Way to think outside the box:)

Agreed. I don’t think readers will bother working on books with so many problems. They don’t bother reading them, now!

But imagine a book that does have potential but is RIFE with errors, such as those that Kate pointed out. What are those books doing now? They are going unread. Or they are upsetting the people who do pay money for them. What good are those books doing for the authors?

What if you allow the same books to be improved upon by those who are willing to read and do the work? Again, just because you are coming up with a system to FIX a problem, that doesn’t mean you are a fan of the problem. It also doesn’t mean NOT doing this will make the problem go away. It doesn’t even mean that the problem will get worse. It’s just a way to make the system work better for everyone.

I imagine there will be people who will read, not for the pleasure of the story, but for the joy of finding errors. If you think this sounds nuts, it’s because we wouldn’t spend our time doing this, but some people will. People spend hours doing word-searches and sudoku. It allows them to unwind while their minds work on problems. What if they got paid in store credit to do this?

The biggest gain, in my opinion, would be the learning opportunity. Much of what I know about grammar was learned through the editorial process and track changes. This would be an opportunity not just to fix the problems of today but ensure that they don’t happen as often tomorrow.

Let’s take this idea one step further: What if Amazon recorded every typo fixed in order to build up typo-awareness algorithms? Think of all the useful data-points that this system would create. Data points crowdsourced that could lead to major auto-editorial programs of the future.

Damn . . . this just keeps getting better and better.

Great concept!

I also think that the “Beta Ranking” of the reader would be a slick way to separate the wheat from the chaff, so-to-speak, to allow the author to focus his/her editing time. Reddit uses this ‘vote’ based system in their sub-reddit forums which I find really helpful.

I wonder what kind of ‘tech’ would need to be jammed into the .mobi to make this happen? It’s probably not a flick of a switch sorta thing. But hell, it makes sense to invent that switch, I think!

You have to make this happen. I can never remember where an error is to send an email, but something like a highlight would be much easier to mark and send on.

I think this is a great idea for a critique group BEFORE the manuscript is sent to an editor, because as others and you have pointed out it would be unmanageable for the author to have to sort through many bad suggestions before getting to the good one. Additionally, while I like to read books on an ereader, I don’t like typing on them (I touch type)–much prefer a desktop or laptop with a decent sized screen and a keyboard for edit tracking. I also like to show the hidden formatting marks to catch those kinds of errors, such as extra spaces and line feeds (paragraph marks).

I would love for Kindle’s error reporting function to make any difference whatsoever. I’ve reported close to a hundred typos since buying my Kindle last summer. None of them have been considered by Amazon yet.

Fantastic Idea!

After reading the comments, I agree it would be best to handle this mainly in the pre-release phase of self-publishing.

However, to go with the original idea of allowing already-published works to be corrected to improve the experience for future readers, I believe you can allow continued edits to be submitted by “editors” that are in the system that have obtained an “elite” status/rating. Only the best of the best members, or only those designated by the author, can send in future edits, as they would be a more trusted source of finding something that had not been found during pre-release.

As well, these “trusted sources” may even be allowed to provide edit suggestions for works that have already been published in the past prior to this system being in place.

Just a thought.

Again, great idea. See? Beer is the mother of invention! PROOF!

I’m totally on board with this idea! My only problem is that my kindle isn’t connected to the internet all the time. The truth is I only connect wifi every six months or so. There should be a way to do this offline and via USB too.

The ‘points’ system could also be used in a couple of ways:

Maybe the points for the reviewer are increased if the author accepts the fault and implements it.

The author could restrict the comments they see to people over a certain points value.

Essentially, these two ideas combined give the reviewer a “ranking” which can be used to filter off spurious comments and allow the author to limited to “trusted” reviewers (and high volume readers…)

This is pure genious. The funny thing is that it very simple to implement for any half decent programmer. The biggest problem is to convince Amazon to include the tech in the Kindle.

I’ve often dreamt do what could be done if Kindle had an open API and a pluggable architecture. This stuff would fit in perfectly right there. However, there’s some things we can do while we wait for a better world.

Creating a chrome plugin is pretty simple. These plugins run irrespectively of the website the user is looking at. If a reader is reading a book using the web Kindle (reader.amazon.com) the plugin could be used to achieve the first step in this kind of an environment.

What do you say? Shall we take this baby out for a spin?

Yes- and I could finally fix all those books where the writers think that peaked and piqued are the same word, not to mention “there” versus “their” and so many other really annoying little things that spoil a good read. Bring it on as soon as possible!

When I first got my Kindle Fire, there appeared to be an option to submit typos directly from the text while reading. When I highlighted a word or phrase, an option would come up, I forget exactly what it was called, but something along the lines of “submit” or “notify”. I did it a few times, but it wasn’t clear what I was achieving (no explanation was provided) or whether anything was actually happening, so I stopped. At some later point I found the option ceased to exist anyway.

So then I just started emailing typos to authors instead, but that’s a much higher effort on my part, so I only do it occasionally — mostly if I really like a book and so want it to be perfect.

I’ve always thought there should be a way to directly notify authors of typos especially. Unlike poor phrasing or plot holes, with a typo, all the effort is in the noticing (the fixing is automatic). And “noticing” is best done by putting as many eyes on it as possible.

No, it’s a brilliant suggestion, and you’ve really fleshed out how it could be made to work. It does seem that, based on that submit feature I once had, that Amazon at least toyed with the idea of something remotely like this at one time (maybe I was in a test group or something). So who knows, it could be in development right now. Amazon’s a smart company, the question is whether this would be worth the (probably significant) development cost.

I once found an entire scene that was meant to be edited out! I wrote the author, who thanked me to no end. I knew it was a mistake because all of a sudden the characters were in another location talking about another topic! LOL!

This is a fantastic idea! Misspelled words, missing words – I find them often in my e-books, and this is a great way of helping both the author and fellow readers. I know I would appreciate it from the reader’s standpoint.

I’d love for this to be a thing. And personally, I would have started with 50 Shades. It’s sad when you’re reading something that’s theoretically titillating, but you want to attack it with a red pen.

This sounds like a great idea – until some American who doesn’t know that English spelling and grammar are not universal. I see it now, a tug of electronic war between colour and color.

Seriously, I think this has promise.

I think this is a wonderful idea, though my personal preference would be to limit it to typos and copy-editing/proofreading types of glitches. A reward system would work, but I wonder if it might be better to have the first person to raise the flag be the one get whatever points are offered. That way, people are encouraged to dive in sooner, and works are cleaned up and tweaked faster. Perhaps the voting system starts at the fix level, where others can vote up or down on a suggestion, which serves as a filter for the author. Users who receive more up votes are given a higher status, and if the author accepts the change, they go higher still.

Anyway, just my two cents, and someone may have covered that stuff already, and I missed it. I haven’t sipped any caffeine yet this morning, so my mental state is comparable to having a six of Mickey’s grenades right now.

I think this already exists on the newer Kindle. It is a superb idea but turning it into a game with levels and awards for being a super reader word and grammar sleuth? Now we’re talking viral.

I am pretty unenthusiastic. It may have to do with the fact that my historical fiction receives criticism that is simply mistaken, whether it is the guy who insisted (wrongly) that I misused the word “slithered” or not recognising the many Scottish and medieval words in my novels (which are in the glossary).

I prefer to stick with beta readers and editors. Sorry, Hugh. I just can’t manage any enthusiasm for your idea. If it were implemented, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but I would also hope that I wouldn’t be forced to use it.

For those who don’t need it, you just ignore the program altogether. No harm done. It doesn’t show up anywhere; you’d have to go to your Author Central page and pull up the suggestions. And even then, you could pull up just the suggestions from your trusted beta readers. Perhaps you would be one of the authors who did this in the pre-publishing phase.

Nothing about this is compulsory. For it not to work, you’d need for it to be a bad program for everyone. Which, perhaps, it is.

Was discussing the same idea with a friend a few months ago and sent a suggestion in to Amazon but never heard back. Amazon actually has the makings of a system to do this already — the Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing service. It’d only be a matter of integrating it to work with Kindle. Even just Kindle Cloud Reader if they don’t want to muck around with the actual devices. I hope hearing the suggestion from folks they’ve actually heard of might help get something going! :D

Points are good but what do points mean exactly? One could also just use money through pay pal or amazon credit instead of said points. Let’s face it money talks. If people think they could earn money readng your book they might be all about it. But, what would be reasonable. 25 cents to the first person who finds a typo or gives you feedback you use for better structure? Or perhaps more 50 cents, 1 dollar? I personally could go broke if I did any more than that? This all could lead to a referral program. You tell 10 people about my book and they buy I give you money for that too?

A wonderful concept, definitely worth tweaking. I agree with several of the previous posts and think one of the biggest concerns would be over-zealous ‘Indie editors’. But, provided there was a system in place to sort through the feedback, that wouldn’t pose a huge issue.

Another poster wrote, “Soooo, we buy books for the fun and honor of editing them for free?” and although that is one way of looking at it, isn’t that what most of us already do? Since the inception of Kindle’s highlighting capabilities, I highlight every typo I find. And even if I didn’t, I still notice them. (Maybe my daughter is right and I am OCD), but typos do distract. And if there was a system in place to eliminate typos during the early stages of any work, wouldn’t we all benefit? No one would be forced to share their reading experience with an editing experience, but I’m quite certain there would be no shortage of volunteers.

Again, wonderful idea, Hugh. I hope you can help to make it happen!

Yes! We need something like this! (Or at least, I do – peeks around the corner). That’s a great idea. I’d love it if readers could help me create the best book possible. :) Would love to see this happening!

This idea reminds me of the Zooniverse, online mass community science projects, for example Moon Zoo where anyone can log on and look at massively zoomed in images of the moon. The aim is to go from picture to picture identify potential points of interest, such as craters. These projects work because your not limiting your “pool” of helpers to short time period or number. Over 800,000 people take part and it doesn’t matter if one of them is rubbish and identifies the wrong things because your not looking at individual responses but community responses. For example 89% of people that saw image X of the moon said that there was a crater located here. The idea is that the scientists at the univeristies don’t have the time to sift through 2 million images and just need telling where to look to identify and map areas of interest on the moon.

So although i agree that your idea is a great one, i disagree that it should be a pre-release or beta reader job. As this limits your “pool” of helpers and in these cases peoples own opinion may come through to strong. You may get things like. “You should of killed them off like this….” or “i;d have done the grammar this way” maybe simplifying it to become less like an editor and more like a identifier would work better. So your told 75% of voting readers said this highlighted section contained a typo and/or this section according to 61% readers displays a plot hole. This way only things which needs changing are identified and your not inviting people to comment on your use of grammar throughout your entire book when they may have a different style to their use of grammar. This also means you dont have to sift through 300 different versions of the same correction.

Anyway just my thoughts, i thought Zooniverse straight away when i read your post as i think it can be seen how similar it is to your idea although obviously it isn’t for books.

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to respond to this, when I was sitting beside you in Boston as you voiced this idea… maybe I’m just waking up after all that beer! (No, really, I didn’t have any beer.)

I’m seeing it as a program where people could edit a book in “preview” stage — though of course with your books, you might get ten or fifty thousand readers who are eager to preview. The problem of people disagreeing on spelling is one you can’t do too much about. A side effect might be that readers would learn to understand and appreciate the differences between spelling of English in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, etc. and not waste energy fuming about “errors” which are not errors. I grew up reading a lot of British authors, and it took me while, as a young person, to figure out if I should write colour or color….

I do think it might distract from the reading experience, but as a writer I am always aware of grammar, typos, misspellings, and, of course, plot points, anyway. Especially in my own books! Push “publish,” and the next time you look at it you see that tiny little error you couldn’t see three days ago.

Right now I’m republishing my four Karma books and one kind reader pointed out a typo in each of the final two books. And I found a spot in #2 where I had quotation marks in the wrong place. Horrors! For those of us who are perfectionists, it’s always a process of refining more and more. Picking up the next grade of sandpaper to get to max smoothness.

Wait. I just got an idea for a new character. Max Smoothness.

P.S. Your presentations in Watertown were awesome, Hugh. I learned a lot, and I’ve been doing this for a while. Thank you for your continued generosity to writers and readers.

Just to play devil’s advocate, there is often a lot of backlash when artists change something that has already been published. High profile examples :

1) Star Wars : Han Solo shot first
2) ET : Yes, they did look like terrorists in their costumes.

I’d lent one of my favourite (I’m Canadian, that’s not a typo!) books to someone and never got it back. I saw it on sale a few years later and snapped it up. When I went to re-read the book, the author had edited it making “several minor changes to reflect the political climates of the time”. It won the Hugo and Nebula awards in it’s original state you moron. Leave it alone.

Yes, getting rid of typos is a good thing. Changing the story is a recipe for disaster. I can’t image buying an e-book, then re-reading it a year later only to have parts of the story changed, even in a very minor way.

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