I’m working on a “second edition” of Slices already, even though it only came out last October. There are a few reasons for this:
Let’s talk about that last one. One of the main criticisms leveled against self-published works is their lack of editing. (Well, really, right now I’m just talking about proofreading, but more on that distinction at a later date.) And sure, it’s a fair criticism. Encountering a ton of spelling errors and grammar mistakes in a self-pub book is enough to jerk the reader right back out of the story, and remind them that what they’re reading isn’t a “real” book after all.
I’m a very good proofreader, generally. I mean, I’ve done it professionally for years. After three good hard passes over the text, I was reasonably convinced that it was as error-free as I could make it on my own before I rushed it into print in time for Halloween.
But I knew I couldn’t have caught everything. It’s a truism that you can never really properly proofread your own work — you know what you meant to say, and you’re just as likely to “see” those words as the ones that actually made it to the printed page.
It definitely needed someone other than me to take a look at it — but who? Hiring a professional proofreader could cost me hundreds of dollars, and asking my friends to do it would be an imposition, and time-consuming — they have day jobs and lives of their own, natch.
I got to thinking yesterday, well, maybe it wouldn’t take so long if I could break the task up into smaller pieces — give each person a small chunk of it to proofread. Hell, if I could somehow find a couple hundred people who were willing, I could hand each one of them a single page to edit –
And that’s when a little cartoon light-bulb appeared over my head. (I have a box full of them in my closet at this point. I don’t know what else to do with them. Are they recyclable?)
Enter Mechanical Turk, a service run by Amazon. It’s kind of like — well, here, I’ll let them describe it:
“Amazon Mechanical Turk is a marketplace for work that requires human intelligence. The Mechanical Turk service gives businesses access to a diverse, on-demand, scalable workforce and gives Workers a selection of thousands of tasks to complete whenever it’s convenient.
Amazon Mechanical Turk is based on the idea that there are still many things that human beings can do much more effectively than computers, such as identifying objects in a photo or video, performing data de-duplication, transcribing audio recordings, or researching data details.”
That sounded perfect. I took the PDF of my finished book and split it apart into single pages using a program called PDFsam, uploaded the pages to my webserver, and wrote up a description of what I wanted done, how much I was going to pay for it — I set the rate at ten cents per page, which looked to be about standard — and uploaded a file of links to the pages, and flipped the switch.
About seven hours later, the book was completely done. I’m entirely happy with the results. There were, as I expected, a ton of “false positives” — people had flagged “grammatical errors” that I had used intentionally for effect, and there were a couple of people out there with some strange and baroque ideas about comma placement — but the Turkers had also found a bunch of typos and other legitimate minor mistakes that I had never, ever noticed. And the whole process only cost me about twenty bucks.
A lot of you out there reading this are probably thinking, well, they can’t have done as good a job as a professional proofreader would have, and that might be true, but I think they did a damn good job. I feel a lot more confident in the text now, knowing that I had not just another pair of eyes looking at it, but a couple hundred pairs of eyes. If you’ve got a book that could use some scrutiny, and you want it fast and cheap, then this is for you. Give it a try.previous post: The Three Sisters | next post: Caught in Public