Our Fearless Leader, Stephen Hise, recently was featured on a blurb.com blog talking about what it takes to be a successful indie writer. Or rather, what it takes to not be a successful indie writer. He points out all the places were a writer might fall short, either in expectation, attitude or in deed. One of the reasons an author might not do well is:
You are big on excuses.
Indie-land is a no-excuse zone. Don’t put out some typo-riddled book with a cheesy, amateurish cover and expect people to overlook its flaws just because you’re an indie. Help is out there. You can hire it or you can learn some new skills. You can even find folks who will help you get it right, or trade their services for something you do well.
This reminded me of something I read, oh, about 35 years ago in a photography magazine. I am a photographer in my spare time, sometimes professionally but mostly not. I had my own photography business ages ago—shot some weddings, shot some portraits, even won some awards. I used to read photo magazines religiously. I don’t now remember which magazine it was or who the author was, but I read this article about being a professional photographer. I will paraphrase what I read, or at least what I remember through the lens of all those years:
Don’t show anything that is not perfect. When people are looking at your photographs, they only care about the image in front of them. They don’t care that the light was absolutely breathtaking just five minutes before you shot that photo. They don’t care that the bull elk in the photo locked eyes with you just seconds before turning away as you took the shot. Your explanation for why that photo is not absolute perfection — your excuse — does not matter to them. If it’s not perfect, don’t even bother to show it.
Harsh as it is, that’s a piece of advice that stuck with me all these years and has served me in more ways than I can count. Any time I put anything in front of the public, be it a photo or a book or even just a blog post, I remember that. Whatever we produce, whatever we put out there, must stand on its own merits. The viewer/reader does not know — does not need to know — and does not care about any extenuating circumstances about why our production is not perfect. Forget all about explaining. Forget about rationalizing. If it’s not perfect, forget about putting it out there.
Now before you start warming up the tar and gathering feathers and start screaming at me about the unattainability of perfection even in traditionally-published books (see Stephen’s earlier post on that), I get it. Perfection is the golden ring that hangs just nanometers from our fingertips. It’s the impossible dream. It’s not realistic. It may be completely and always unattainable. But that doesn’t mean we don’t strive for it.
So how do we know when we’re close enough? How do we know when our work is good enough to put out there in front of the public? Remember that photography article. Remember what Stephen said.
If you’re pushing the “publish” button while thinking, I should go through this one more time but I already blogged and tweeted about the release date and I can’t be late, you’re not done yet.
If you’re pushing the “publish” button while thinking, What was that thing that one beta-reader said about some of my paragraphs not transitioning smoothly? Well, I can go back later and check on that, you’re not done yet.
If you’re pushing the “publish” button while thinking, I’d really like to develop that middle part a bit more but I’m just so sick of looking at this over and over, you’re not done yet.
If you’re pushing the “publish” button while thinking, Oh, no, I just remembered that I never added that part about the main character’s mother that explains why he’s afraid of commitment; I’ll have to do that later on and I’ll just upload a new version then, you’re not done yet.
Your readers don’t want your excuses. They don’t want your explanations. They only want a good book, a great book, a book worth their time.
If you’re pushing the “publish” button while exhaling a deep, satisfied breath, while sitting back in your chair with a goofy grin on your face and the emphatic, heartfelt thought, It’s done, in your mind, then, yes, you are done. Just don’t kid yourself. Remember: if it’s not YES! with an exclamation point, it’s no.