Perfection in Publishing: No Excuses

noexcusesOur 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.

No excuses.

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.

No excuses.

Author: Melissa Bowersock

Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres. She has been both traditionally and independently published and lives in a small community in northern Arizona. Learn more about Melissa from her Amazon author page and her blog.

22 thoughts on “Perfection in Publishing: No Excuses”

  1. Amen! Perfection isn’t the point. The question I always ask myself, whether I’m wiring a light, modifying a recipe or finishing a piece of writing is “can I live with the consequences?” If I think I’m going to regret something, it’s not good enough. Damn right, no excuses!!

    1. John, exactly my point. If you’ve got any reservations, any misgivings, any little niggling doubts, you’re not done. The work may never be perfect in a real sense (i.e. typos happen), but if you know you’re putting something out there that is not your best effort, why bother? I think your benchmark, “Can I live with the consequences?” is an excellent one. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I think some self-published authors have the idea (incorrectly) that they can always go back a “fix it later”. Yes, many of us CAN fix things after the fact. But that ought only to be necessary in rare instances where we find an error we and our editor missed. When we push that “publish” button it should be with the confidence of knowing the product is the best it can possibly be. The impossibility of achieving perfection must never be an excuse to do less than our absolute best. As you say, the reader doesn’t want to know out excuses. They want to read a good book.

    1. You’re right, Yvonne; it’s easy to think we can fix it later. Recently I helped a friend publish his first book, and after reviewing the proof online, he was ready to push the button. I cautioned him about that, said things often look different when you’re holding that physical book in your hand, and luckily he held off. We found many, many more errors in the print proof. The urge to rush to publish is strong, but we have to hold back until we know it’s ready. Pushing the button too soon only makes us look lazy and unprofessional.

  3. This is asking far to much! There’s a reason we prefer scoreless soccer or why everyone receives a trophy and congratulations. It’s the thought that counts, not the result. Having to compete with others who are more talented or willing to work harder is outdated. It’s far more equitable to just give recognition to the thought and not focus on the actual product.

    Ideas should even have to be shared, how am I supposed to come up an idea for my next book on my own. My vampire cat series is just not winning critical acclaim. I need access to something better, like maybe vampires and werewolves in a remote Washington town!

      1. LOL. It took me about half a sentence to know Marc was pulling your leg. You don’t have to know him very well to know he’s going to agree with this post completely.

        Add me to that same list, Melissa. A few years ago an indie author who happens to be a friend made the comment that indies (at least some, including him) were hobbyists and shouldn’t be held to the same standards. I jumped all over him and, since this was on the Amazon forums I’m sure you realize I wasn’t the only one. The point I made then was that once you put your book up for sale the game changes and expectations are different. No excuses is right. I especially like your explanation of how to tell if it is close enough.

        1. Thanks, Al. Unfortunately, there’s a bunch of writers out there who might think Marc was serious, and would be nodding their heads in agreement. The idea that indies should have a separate standard is ludicrous. Can you imagine readers picking up a book, looking to see how it’s published, and then reassessing their expectations? If anything, I believe we indies need to do everything BETTER than traditionally-published authors. It’s the old adage that we need to do everything twice as well in order to be thought half as good. At least by some. We know better *wink, wink*.

  4. What applies to writing and editing also applies to production. Years have passed since the appearance of the first eBook. Decades have passed since the appearance of the first paperback. Readers now know how to separate the grotty from the passable, the slap-dash from the professional, the nearly-there from the highly finished.
    Giving readers value for money goes beyond writing a good book. It includes all production details.

    1. I agree completely, Rosanne. The entire product has to be the best it can be. We’ve all seen horrendous book covers and rambling book descriptions, things that just make us go, “Huh?” Writing, editing, formatting, packaging, promotion–it all needs to be top drawer. Anything less just won’t cut it. Thanks for adding that.

  5. Hear! Hear! Preach the good word, shout it from a mountaintop, and other expressions of support and agreement.

  6. “Don’t show anything that is not perfect”–is not harsh to me. I find it sound advice. We cannot take our book back from that first reader who found the errors we missed or did not bother to search for. I have myself and an editor with an eagle eye and we go over the book twice before I tick publish–and in proofing I always find another few errors–a capitalized letter on a word in the middle of sentence, a dropped quotation mark or a pair of words run together. And often a reader will alert me to some small error we still missed. Within two minutes I am in the process of correcting that dropped quotation mark or whatever was pointed out to me.
    Hobbyist, indeed. Was that guy hung by his toes?

    1. The hobbyist came to a fairly quick understanding as to why that was the wrong attitude. Funny thing is, I read his book and it was not only well written story (with one minor pet peeve of mine), but didn’t have any significant proofing issues. Really, he was selling himself short with that description.

  7. Whilst running a training programme in a Japanese car factory some years ago I found an interesting poster pasted on a wall by the entrance door. It said, in Japanese and English, “Don’t strive for perfection: it isn’t good enough for our cars.”
    It is one of life’s lessons I’ve always tried to support.

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