The Paralysis of Perfectionism

Ahhh… perfection!

What I have to say here is going to be very unpopular with a few folks in the indie community. It will offend those who say, Don’t settle for less than the very best. Spend as much money as it takes for editing, cover design, formatting. Your book deserves your utmost effort.

In truth, the perfect is the enemy of the good. If you live in dread of a reviewer pointing out an errant comma, you will never hit the publish button.

I’m not suggesting that you should publish an unproofed first draft. What I am saying is that indies operate in a different and more dynamic publishing environment than traditional publishers.

It is very important for a trad publisher to polish, polish, polish before hitting the publish button, because when they hit that button, they are going to be running off thousands of copies at considerable expense. They are going to ship boxes upon boxes of those books out to brick and mortar stores at considerable expense. If there is a mistake in those pages, it is a disaster.

Indies use print on demand and digital media. If someone tells me there is an errant comma on page 32, I can go fix it right now at no expense. If my cover sucks, I can replace it. If my blurb is awkward, I can change it. That lightning fast agility is something trad publishers do not have. They are stuck in the past, and mired in their old ways of thinking. Don’t get stuck with them.

When I hear writers talking about readers who won’t give indies a chance because of all the dreck out there, I always wonder who these readers are. Who is saying this? I have never heard a single person outside the business say these words. Those words come from other authors, from the trad publishing elite, and wanna-be trad-pubbers. I will wager dollars to navy beans that 90% of the fans of any given well-known author could not tell you the name of that author’s publisher. People do not care about publishers. Publishing houses are not brands in the same way other corporate entities are. No one says, I only read Random Penguin Solutions books because they are the best.

No matter how much you polish, here are some other things you won’t see in reader reviews:

“The paragraphs were all beautifully and correctly indented.”

“I was impressed that every single word in this book was correctly spelled.”

“The author’s proper application of semicolons was nothing short of breathtaking.”

“The paucity of adverbs illustrates the top-quality editing this book received.”

Not every indie author is surrounded by what I like to refer to as my “protective ring of poverty.” If you have some serious coin you want to throw at editors and what-not, by all means, go ahead. It’s not a terrible idea. But, if you expect the end result of that investment to be perfection, you are bound to be disappointed. Editors are human too. Mistakes will happen. What you’re really buying is an excuse to be angry with someone else instead of yourself.

If you are on a limited budget, my advice is to save most of your money for promotion. That is what will make the greatest difference in whether readers find your book.

So write it, proof it, correct it, read it out loud to someone, correct it again, have someone read it out loud to you, correct it again, then get it to a half-dozen good beta readers. Then correct it again. Then publish. If readers find problems, fix the problems on the fly. When you feel you have it in fighting trim, promote the hell out of it. Your book will be making money while people doing it the old fashioned way are still waiting for a mark-up from their editor.

If you think that’s unacceptable to today’s readers, please do yourself a favor and look at the reviews for Fifty Shades of Grey. Amazon shows 24,985 reviews. The book has an unimpressive 3.4 star average. E.L. James must be crying all the way to the bank. Do you know who’s crying along with her? The pride of the publishing industry, Random House.

It’s a good thing those gatekeepers are doing their job, protecting the public from indie dreck, right? Here are a few snippets from just a fraction of the 6,455 1-star reviews:

This has to be the most appallingly atrocious writing I’ve ever seen in a major release.

I can’t imagine what fans are comparing this to when they describe this as “good.”

I have read Harry Potter fanfiction that is thousands of times better than this… actually, that isn’t saying much. Still, I cannot put into words how stunned I am that these books even exist, let alone got onto the NYT best seller list.

For all of you who think this book is precious and well-written – I’m scared, very scared for you.

First, this is beyond terrible writing. I think the author should stick with TV and stay away from the written word.

At last count, Ms. James was a bazillionaire. Does her book suck? I never read it, but reviews refer to two-dimensional characters, flat, unbelievable dialogue, repetitive phrases, punctuation, grammatical, and usage errors – you know, all the stuff that professional editing is supposed to fix. Apparently, it didn’t.

Here is the take-away: You absolutely should do your best. If you have money to spend on editing and all the rest, then do so. But if you don’t have the money to spend, there are ways around it. People who say you absolutely must spend money on all this stuff are stuck in the past. Don’t let the idea of unattainable perfection paralyze you.

*Cue crying literati*


Author: Stephen Hise

Stephen Hise is the Evil Mastermind and founder of Indies Unlimited. Hise is an independent author and an avid supporter of the indie author movement. Learn more about Stephen at his website or his Amazon author page.

69 thoughts on “The Paralysis of Perfectionism”

  1. Perfect just doesn’t exist because it’s based on individual perception and preference. I love the Oxford comma and so many don’t so right off the bat, they wouldn’t see my writing as perfect. And an extra Canadian U tossed in here and there. But I do think a pro editor is worth the cost, not just to catch spelling/grammar etc but for plot holes and story flow. If more indies put out our best work (50 shades notwithstanding), then maybe ‘dreck’ will disappear from the indie author language.

    1. I don’t think getting some good editing is a terrible idea. I have seen a number of books that were shot through with errors. Some of the worst cases involved an author paying an editor hundreds of dollars to edit their book. If you can find a good editor and can afford one, good on ya. Either way, good beta readers can find plot-holes, critique story flow and catch typos too. Beta readers typically don’t cost anything, and a half dozen pair of eyes will often do better than a single pair.

  2. I’m…not sure I agree. πŸ™ Sure, we never get to perfection, but if we don’t at least /aim/ for it, how much lower down the scale are we going to reach?

    1. I often find that the people who spend the most money on their books pre-publication are so vested in its perfection that they become angry when someone points out mistakes. You are right, perfection is out of reach. We should make it as good as we can before we hit the publish button, but the advantage we have is that we can continue “perfecting” the book post-publication. We have to be willing to do it, though.

      1. I’m never happy with my writing so I probably have issues with ‘letting go’, but I’m not an angry perfectionist. πŸ™‚

        One question though, if we perfect post publication then aren’t we sort of short changing those people who bought our books in a less pristine state?

        1. That’s a good question, A.C. Let’s work through some scenarios, using that premise. Is it fair to change your cover at any point post-publication? I think most people would answer yes. What about the book description? Should you be able to tighten and improve the book description? Again, this is a pretty common practice. What if you just have a couple of misplaced commas you want to fix? What about a few instances wherein search and replace inserted the wrong word? Is it okay to remove an extra space? Is it okay to fix formatting issues?

          Yes, it’s better if those things aren’t in the book in the first place, but they happen. I think the thing to remember is that the book is your creation. You can always offer revised copies to anyone who has bought the book (another practice I have seen).

          1. It’s definitely something to think about. It ought never to prevent us from making those improvements. Many readers won’t care. But I think that if the internal changes are extensive ( meaning you didn’t do your work in the first place) it would be nice to offer buyers the edited version.

          2. The first time your book appears it is a First Edition. Many books then issue subsequent editions, and this is often used to remove or add sections and correct errors. It’s still considered perfectly legitimate as the book is declared to be a second or third edition. So why not do that when you correct an e-book and simply call it a new edition? What’s wrong with that?

          3. You make good points Stephen, and I’d have to agree – if the changes are minor or cosmetic then it probably doesn’t matter. However if the ‘perfecting’ involves large, structural changes I’d be inclined to go with Ian’s suggestion of a ‘second edition’…and free upgrades for those who bought the first edition. πŸ™‚

  3. Thanks, Stephen.

    Although I agree with you on many points, I worry that some indies might use this post as an excuse not to do their very best. I’ve seen some self-published works that I wouldn’t even rate on the current star scales. As Mr. Wonderful on Shark Tank would say, “There has to be a better way.”

    1. People who will do that don’t need an excuse, and I doubt many of them are IU readers. If they were plugged into this community (or practically any other indie writer community) they would know better.

  4. There is much in what you say that I agree with. Achieving perfection is an impossibility and there comes a point, after you have gone through all the hoops to catch what’s wrong and fix it, that you have to write “the end”. and publish. The one exception for me would be editing. We have to know our own weaknesses and blind spots. Editing is mine. I am fortunate in having an editor who keeps her costs very reasonable. Yes, I’m broke and can’t afford even her, but I scrape up that money anyway. The other exception could be cover art. I see far to many cheap, cookie cutter covers that simply turn me off. The bottom line is we want people to read our books. bad covers will prevent that.

    1. Yvonne, a lot of authors exchange services to meet their pre-publication needs. Your covers are great – one of the finest examples of branding I have seen.

      1. Why, thank you. I did pay for the covers as well. I haven’t the skill to do my own. But I’ll need someone new for the next book. And, yes, exchange of services, provided they are up to standard, is and excellent way to go.

  5. On a tour of the Toyota main factory in Japan I saw a notice which said: “Don’t strive for perfection, it’s not good enough.” To some extent the same applies to writing.
    But perfection is subjective, and what an author may think is top quality a reviewer may shred – because that’s what they do, and their definition of perfection will assuredly be different from yours. So judge for yourself, and when you are satisfied that you have told your story in the best way you can, put down your red pen and pass the manuscript on. Learn from comments and your next may be better. It’s like climbing a staircase, and each step gets you nearer the top.
    The trouble is that this staircase keeps growing new steps and every time you surmount one you become aware of more above you. Never mind, just keep trying and enjoy getting better at what you do.

  6. Stephen, I agree it’s unrealistic to hope, when we do push the publish button, that the book has zero flaws and is totally perfect. I go over mine with a fine-toothed comb, but a few things always slip through. The good news, as you say, is that I can fix them as soon as I learn about them. What I think people forget is that with something as subjective as story-telling, there is no quantifiable standard of perfect. A stunning book is still going to get some off-reviews. Whose idea of perfection are we going to strive for? All we can do, all I do, is work to the point that I know I can hand my book to anyone and not flinch, that I can sit back, exhale and know that I have done my best, I’m proud of it and I’m confident enough to release it to the world. In a sense, that could be my own description of perfection, but the kicker is: I could read the same book again tomorrow and want to change something! The book is not different but my perception of it might be. It’s a moving target. Which just brings us back to your original point: striving for perfection is fine; expecting to reach it is something else. Do your absolute best, do everything within your power to produce an excellent book but don’t obsess over perfection. It doesn’t exist in the real world of publishing.

  7. I like this on so many levels. Part of this search for perfection is a total lack of faith in our own abilities. We have this driving need to know how bad we really are that we seek out and pay money to have someone (an editor, a therapist, what have you) tell us where we fail.

    Paying through the nose or not, you will always find someone who doesn’t like what you wrote or what you do. EL James found over 6000 who were willing to leave her a review of how much they hated her work.

    In the end, it comes back to you. How do you feel about your work? Taking pride in your craftsmanship, in your words, is ok. It is ok to accept your the praise for the work you have done. And when you run across the detractors, take em with a grain of salt. Learn from them if it warrants, but everyone has an opinion.

    1. True, Jon. I do think we have to accept that there may be room for improvement and make changes when it makes sense. Maybe we don’t pull everything down and upload all over again every time someone finds a single misplaced comma, but we do have to be open to making changes that are warranted and legitimate. Thanks for the comment.

    2. Jon, unfortunately you are right about the lack of faith, which is exactly what the scammy publishers and editors prey on. We hear so often: you need a PROFESSIONAL to help you. You can’t do it alone! Well, guess what? You CAN do it alone, and do it well. It’s been done. I just think that most writers need to slog that long road until they reach this point of enlightenment.
      And you’re dead on about your last comment–it all comes back to us in the end.

  8. As a British Paratrooper, our tactics were totally different from the traditional methods of battle and dealing with adverse situations: quick, mobile, strike without warning, from behind mostly; one company of Paras, in most situations, was more feared than battalions and even brigades of standard troops.

    I agree with you, Stephen, as indies we fight a different fight to the trads. We should definitely be as ready as we can be but we can, as you say, β€˜fix the problems on the fly,’ constantly.

    Excellent article, Stephen.

  9. Great post, Stephen.

    Regarding editors, I’ve found it’s all about how good they are. Anyone can hang an e-shingle–and anyone does :-). I’ve had excellent, and not so good editors. The excellent was worth every dime plus more, because they didn’t just catch typos, they made my story better.

    I’ve also corrected my published work on the fly based on comments I’ve received in Amazon reviews. But it seems that not too many indies take that path. I’ve reviewed 50+ indie books for “Big Al’s Book & Pals,” and only once has an author contacted me and asked if I had kept track of the typos I mentioned in the review (I do).

    I guess the bottom line is: it depends on the skill of the people involved and how much they care about the work.

    1. Thanks Pete. You are so right about the widely varying skill of people providing editorial services. Some are genuine book doctors and some appear to do nothing more than run your manuscript through spellcheck, often causing more problems than they fix. I’m not sure if people know it is okay to ask a reviewer for a list of errors. The reviewers I have worked with have always been exceptionally good about that and I really appreciate all the extra effort. πŸ™‚

      1. This looks like the perfect place for me to jump in and do my crying literati thing. :'(

        I’m sure this will be a post sized response.

        FWIW, I suspect I mostly agree with what I think you meant. I don’t with a few of the things you actually said. πŸ™‚

        If you want names of readers “who won’t give indies a chance because of all the dreck out there,” I can give you lots of names. Those readers exist. FWIW, I think with *some* of those readers there are other things involved.Often that is a reader version of the same elitist attitude you see among authors and publishing professionals involved in traditional publishing. Many of those readers aren’t going to read indies until the balance between indie and traditional shifts so much that they have no choice. So you’re right in a way, attempting to satisfy those readers might not matter.

        The bigger issue, IMO, is those readers who will read indies. Just last night I was chatting with a friend about an indie book that fell short in the editing department who is a good example. She reads a ton of books. I’m going to guess in excess of 300 a year. A large portion of those are indie books, but a lot aren’t. She knows if the book she’s reading is indie or trad published, but doesn’t care either way, as long as the book is good. If she reads your book and likes it, she’ll read everything you’ve written and everything you write in the future. Some authors she’s even willing to read despite what she describes as an atrocious job of editing and proofreading, because that author has gotten her invested in the world they’ve created. If the story is good enough, she’ll over looks some issues, but won’t be happy about it.

        Much more common is she’ll sample a book that sounds interesting and, if it doesn’t meet a reasonable standard, won’t buy it and probably won’t give your future books a chance either. If the sample seems okay, but when she starts reading beyond that the quality takes a downhill turn, she’ll abandon it and file that away in the back of her mind. You might have gotten one sale, but you’re unlikely to get any future sales. As she’s told me multiple times, “life is too short to read bad books.”

        I *think* what you’re trying to say in this post is the cliche that perfection is the enemy of good enough. There are some things that readers expect as a given. All those in the list of things you won’t see a reader comment on in a review are among those. Every word spelled correctly, for example. Yes, publishing is a business and like in any business there is a point of diminishing returns in many of the things you might do for quality control of your product. This is why every book, regardless of pedigree, probably has some errors whether a misplaced comma, misspelled word, or other flaw. A small number of these readers are going to be fine with.

        The most successful indie authors I know realize they won’t achieve perfection, but they aim for it anyway. That doesn’t always mean that they pay someone for all the things they might hire out, but they make darn sure those functions are handled and it is done well.

        My contention has always been that in the quest for the eyes of readers indies are competing with all the books out there. Price is often pointed to as one area where indies have an advantage. This is true, to a point, but the biggest investment a reader makes in a book isn’t the purchase price, it’s the time spent reading. If your book’s quality is obviously lacking in relation to the others available, a reader isn’t going to invest the time or money in your book.

        Regarding asking reviewers for their notes on typos, etc … every reviewer is different. Not every reviewer is going to take notes on everything they find (for the review, they might need examples, but if they see the same issue many times noting every one of them isn’t always needed for their purposes.) Some things, like typos and grammar problems, I track all I spot. But I’ll rarely volunteer my notes. If asked, it depends on the situation. If the number of issues was low and I’m not concerned that it might backfire in some fashion, I wouldn’t object. Those where there were a lot of issues, I’m much less likely to agree because of a concern the author, who in my mind didn’t do his or her job to begin with, is only looking for evidence to argue and nitpick over what I found. (IMO, I have ample examples of actual events to point to to justify this concern.) I’m also not willing to be an unpaid proofreader for someone who, IMO, didn’t try upfront.

        1. BigAl,
          I would not suggest that indies should toss out unproofed first drafts (though I have seen some that look as if that may be what happened). If you say you know of readers who snub indie titles, I’ll cede the point insofar as to admit their existence, but I don’t know if their opinions should govern the process. There are always some readers who will read every book as if they are grading a term paper.

          Let me draw a further distinction between reviewers and other readers, though. The most important thing for the great preponderance of readers is that they are able to immerse themselves in the story. Reviewers read each story with a more exacting and often scholarly approach. The opinions of each is valuable for different reasons, but the reading public decides what is commercially successful. I see the scathing criticism heaped on Fifty Shades as justified from a critic’s point of view, but the public trumped that by buying the books by the truckload.

          I suspect this means that something can be quite technically perfect and still not capture the public imagination as well as something flawed but intriguing.

        2. It’s your last statement that jibes with what I said earlier. It’s not a reviewer’s job to act as a proofreader or editor. A reviewer does not owe a writer a ‘free’ edit. That’s why I have never thought to ask for a list of errors if and when some were mentioned. I certainly appreciate those that do but I feel they have gone above and beyond.

    2. I have not thought to ask if reviewers kept track of typos because I think that asks too much from them. I certainly appreciate when they send me those, and I do correct them, no that I know how. Is it common for reviewers to keep track? I don’t, when I review.

      1. Yvonne, I keep all my notes when I beta-read (or read a book of someone I know), but I would not have thought to ask a reviewer for their notes, either. Good point!

      2. I keep the typos as notes on my Kindle, because Big Al gives us a tolerance number under which the author gets a “too few to mention.” If the typos are too numerous that will affect the review. I can’t speak for other reviewers, but I’d have no problem sending them on if asked.

  10. It’s taken me a long time to break away from the traditional mode of thinking on this. I was always scared to death of putting something out with even one error, because in the olden days, as you said, it was out there like that forever. There is a kind of freedom which comes with being able to “fix on the fly” and that doesn’t encourage me to put out lesser quality work. I still put all my stuff through the same rigorous process. However, I can now write without that paralyzing fear, knowing that if someone does find something wrong – or if a cover isn’t exactly working well – I can make those changes easily and quickly. That makes writing a lot more enjoyable.

    On the subject of editors, I am all for using them. I was lucky and had two I trusted. That’s not so easy for everyone. The problem becomes even more complex as what you say is true: many people and/or services who are not qualified are touting the the title of editor. I know a young woman who paid a TON of money to have her book edited. I was shocked that it had been edited; it was written like a teenage girl’s stream of consciousness. The author didn’t know any better, since English was not her first language. She had trusted the editor to make it right. Then, of course, you have the author who hires an editor and then does not implement their advice. I feel badly for that editor – whose name ends up on a piece of work that is riddled with errors.

    Nothing in this industry is simple. In the end, if an author strives to do his or her best and is open to constructive criticism – and wants to learn – that will hopefully result in a good quality product.

    1. Excellent comment, Kat. Thanks very much. I do think it is harder for writers who are coming from the mighty oak of trad publishing to the reed of the indie paradigm to realize the flexibility is not a weakness.

      1. My first 5 books were trad-pubbed, and I learned from the inside about that lack of flexibility. That’s one of the things I now love about being indie!

  11. Pete, I guess I was writing my comment while you were posting yours. Our last paragraphs are basically the same. Jinxies. πŸ˜‰

  12. Stephen, you put into words, feelings, and thoughts, what a lot of us indies have long surmised but were afraid to voice. The most important points you made are: 1) Yes, we have to do our best–edit and revise until our eyes cross; 2) We don’t have to pay other people to “perfect” our writing, if we are will to take responsibility for ourselves; and 3) No book is ever perfect, traditionally published or otherwise. Thank you.

  13. This is strange. Here’s what I’ve learned. And it is not perfection. Indie author egos get in the way of their book’s success. Suggest to an indie author a title needs better formatting…they refuse. Say it needs a soft edit–they refuse. An author might use jumbled formatting to make a point–but reader’s eyes don’t grasp the point. They want to read the story. It is hard for me to read a Kindle book that double spaces between paragraphs. My eyes don’t like it. Space breaks to me indicate a change of VP or a new scene. Stranger reviews tell the tale. You either have a book or you don’t. I am impatient with blog topics such as these. I write my books. Send it to Big Al’s reviews and if by chance it comes back with a 3,4, or 5 star, I promote the thing and put it in front of thousands of readers on free or paid. On one corner of the spectrum I’m a story teller. On another, I’m the publisher, and at the peak of the triangle, I’m the promoter. I hear from indie’s often, “I can’t afford to buy promotion.” When the truth is, they don’t want to afford it. It means stepping out of their comfort zone. As a footnote about the mention of Fifty Shades. If some guy tried that with my daughter, I’d shoot him with my snake gun. If the guy had been a day worker he’d have been arrested as a pervert. Lastly–it is dang hard to write a book that can maintain a review average at 3.8 or 4.3 on hundreds or thousands of reviews. Scary, ain’t it?

    1. Good points, Jackie. We do see some authors get a little snippy in response to our vetting process. Many others are grateful and responsive. Thanks for the comment. πŸ™‚

  14. I didn’t realise “50” was quite that bad. Glad to see my gut-reaction wasn’t ignorance fueled by jealousy. Some 40% of reviewers fall into the “dislike” end of the spectrum (adding half the 3 stars to “like” and to “dislike”).

    My concern is the 60% who did like it – those who just paid EL 50 million bucks last year. If the book is so badly written and they still like it… how bad does a book have to be to fail, these days, if it’s got one really hot hook?

    1. I think it just underscores the lack of correlation between literary merit and commercial merit. It’s something to remember when deciding how to allocate resources between pre-publication and post-publication phases. As Jackie said, save something for promotion.

  15. Great post and comments.

    Perfection is an impossible standard. In ballet, a dancer will practice a step hundreds of times. The goal is that the dance, when performed, should appear effortless. But, a dancer always thinks there is room for improvement.

    Literature is, in my opinion, quite similar. A beautiful sentence flows, moving the story along without the distraction of typos, grammatical errors, et cetera. Sometimes, the words are breathtaking on their own.

    I read the first two Fifty Shades, at $9.99 for each ebook. The story and writing fell short for me, and I was annoyed to have spent that much.

    As you point out, there are certain areas that are critical. I adore my cover designer. I have come to appreciate the polish of a professional formatter. I desperately need a good editor as a final check. Your point about spending a little on promotion is a fact I am beginning to appreciate. When I advertise, I sell books. When I don’t, I end up in the Amazon dungeon.

    I considered it a gift when two writers sent me the few typos they found in my books. Far from being annoyed, I am thankful they read my book and thought it worth the time to fix a few things to make it better. πŸ™‚

    1. I guess a lot of people are shocked to discover that perfection itself does not attract. You have to market. If you market something that is very professionally done, it should make your job easier. Ultimately, a great book is a good story well told. If you fail in that, all the perfection in the world will not help. You’ll make more money selling a flawed diamond than a perfect pebble.

  16. Sex sells! That’s the answer and kinky erotica, available to read on an e-reader where no one can see what you read, is going to sell. But it’s the first. Others won’t sell as well. Thank god!

    We’ve found that advertising our books as edited, proof read and professionally designed means they sell. And yes, I have read reviews from people who commented on adverbs and layout and appearance. Try the new Zealand groups at Goodreads sometimes. I am glad they help me pick up problems my proof reader missed.

    There are readers who won’t touch free books unless they know the books are a new release or promo special. We only do freebies on launch and for celebrations. Those are good reasons in readers’ eyes or seem to be ‘cos the books ‘sell.’.

    In New Zealand Indie still = rubbish and not good enough for a ‘real’ publisher. Frankly a proof reader, Beta readers, and a pro cover and interior designer are vital for a good product.


    I hear you! Aiming for Perfection can be a wonderful excuse not to publish and not to get your work out fo rjudgement from readers.

  17. Full disclosure: my Mom was an English teacher and my Dad was a professor of literature. I’m one of those grumpy old bastards who gripes about atrocious spelling and abysmal grammar amongst the young. And don’t even get me started on what they do in texting…

    I suspect I take good grammar, spelling and punctuation a little more seriously that most of you. I’m a devotee of paper and paper is permanent. More than half of the sales of my book, limited as they are, have been print. That means I don’t have the luxury of correcting on the fly. As it stands, it’s not flawless, but I would be appalled if it were in the condition of some of the stuff I’ve seen electronically published. That’s one of the reasons over 90% of my own reading is still hard copy. That, and I just don’t care for the Kindle experience.

    Big Al has already said most of what I had in mind, so you’ll be spared the full diatribe. (By the way, what the heck is FWIW??) Like Al, I could give you a list as long as my arm of dedicated readers who will rarely if ever touch an indie book. I haven’t done a scientific analysis of the reasons, but my sense is that it is split roughly 50-50 between poor story telling (plain bad writing) and poor mechanics (grammar/spelling/punctuation/syntax). There are far too many examples to simply dismiss these assertions.

    I think the review thing is a bit of a red herring. There will always be bad reviews simply because people don’t like your story for any of an infinite number of reasons. Poor mechanics should never be one of them.

    I understand that those you who are trying to make a living from your writing need to get your books out quickly and with as little overhead as possible. However, I think it is incumbent on us all not to give any more ammunition to those who decry indie publishing. There are already far too many examples of what, in my more charitable moments, I can only regard as carelessness.

    There will always be lots of room for improvement of the aesthetic quality of my writing. There is no excuse for not striving to have the mechanics as close to perfect as is humanly possible.

    1. John,

      Most of the print book production indies use is print-on-demand technology, so you can fix a problem if you find one. I do agree authors should put some effort into making sure their books are ready before they hit the “publish” button, but beyond a point, one encounters the law of diminishing returns.

    2. Thanks, John. FWIW is, if not that txt spk u dnt lk the yng usng, then at least a common internet abbreviation that means “for what its worth.” Possibly (but probably not) a nod to the classic Buffalo Springfield song. At least that’s the answer IIRC (if I remember correctly).

  18. I really enjoyed the serious humour of this one, Stephen. I have experienced the protective ring of poverty and it saved me from the clutches of sharks and charlatans and left me with a a lot of hard work, I made sure my homework was up to scratch. Patience and honest friends who enjoy a good read, and know me well enough to tell me when I fouled up have been valuable assets.

    Perfection can be paralysing; sucked into the hunt for that final glitch where everything grinds to a halt and then you’re crushed by frustration; convinced there is always another final elusive correction to be made.

    T D Mckinnon’s analogy is a good one, as Indies we do have the flexibilty and mobility to outmanoeuvre the traditonals, but that doesn’t give any of us the excuse to give less than our best. We owe that to oursleves and each other.

    Brilliant piece, thanks Stephen.

  19. The title of this cost my eye, and I have to say that being an indie does offer many freedoms, which I LOVE.
    But is having the flexibility to edit published manuscripts a good thing? Yes, to a certain degree. I think it would save everyone time and possible headaches to have a polished story uploaded on the first try.

    Yes, maybe I am living in a dreamworld, because I know that perfection is difficult to attain – for most people.
    In fact, I laughed so hard when I read this:

    β€œThe paragraphs were all beautifully and correctly indented.”

    β€œI was impressed that every single word in this book was correctly spelled.”

    β€œThe author’s proper application of semicolons was nothing short of breathtaking.”

    β€œThe paucity of adverbs illustrates the top-quality editing this book received.”

    Spending a few dollars on an editor can prevent many hassles down the road.
    Yvonne has the right mindset; spend the money even if you can’t really afford it, because it’s an INVESTMENT in yourself and your future.

    By the way, I wish the above quotes were things people would actually say in book reviews! I think I’d have a higher rating for my debut book. πŸ˜‰ (I’m a perfectionist to the nth degree.)

    1. Thanks, Lorraine. I hope no one believes I meant to suggest authors publish an unpolished manuscript and just fix problems as they come up. Authors should put out good work – whatever that entails. They should also understand that no matter how much they polish (or pay others to polish), it will still be imperfect. Sometimes, fixing one thing breaks another and we can be pulled down into a never-ending cycle of perfecting. Make it as good as you can and then let it go. Be prepared to deal with it if someone does find mistakes. That is all.

  20. Any tendency I may have had toward perfectionism was beaten out of me by my first career. Radio journalism requires that unedited first drafts be put in front of the public ear. “Good enough that it won’t totally embarrass me” was my goal back then. My standards are somewhat higher now. πŸ˜‰

    But I agree with your main point, EM. Perfectionism can cause the sort of paralysis that keeps an author from pulling the publishing trigger. If “it’s not perfect yet” is keeping someone from uploading their work to KDP, they need to step back and consider whether their roadblock isn’t an internal one.

  21. Another thing to consider is that the language is continually evolving and also what is correct in one country – I’m an Englishman living in England – is not always accepted as being correct in another. Time and geography can change a lot. I’ve been criticised for my grammar and word usage in dialogue too. Sometimes you it’s better to be real rather than right!

    1. I’m going to dive in with my opinion on this one, Mark, because you bring up a very good point. Essentially, what is *right* can vary. On my review blog we have a section where we’ll indicate that the author is from the UK, Australia, or wherever, and that they use their native spelling conventions. This isn’t done, as some have felt, because the US spelling conventions are right or wrong, but because that is what the majority of my readers see most of the time. I point it out to raise awareness that that a valid alternative was used instead. It shouldn’t matter which flavor (or flavour) of English an author uses, as long as it is consistent.

      In dialogue, IMO, improper grammar makes perfect sense, as long as that is true to the character.

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