Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Your Book Is Probably Never Going To Be Perfect (And That's Okay)

Most authors out there are under the impression that a book must be flawless if it is going to be for sale. From plot holes, to spelling errors, to aberrant commas, everything needs to be ship-shape and squared away before the readers lay eyes on the work. Because if they spot so much as a single semicolon where it isn't supposed to be, then that's it for you. You had your chance, and now you've been condemned to the bin, written off as a hack for all eternity.

Ah, but then the twist!
Have you heard of Raymond Chandler? You know, the guy who wrote The Big Sleep, which gave us private detective Phil Marlowe and has been adapted into half a dozen films, and homaged in god only knows how many different works by now? Well, do you know what he said when he was questioned about who killed the chauffeur in that famous novel? The character who was intricate to one of the early plot arcs, and whose actions set several aspects of the case in motion?

He didn't know. He didn't know, because it had completely slipped his mind.

This isn't an isolated event, either. The more books you read (even books considered classics by today's standards, and titans within their genres), the more you realize that even the greats can screw it up. Sometimes it means that plot threads get left to dangle, other times they misspell things, and every now and again an artifact that was meant to be deleted during the editing process remains, sticking out of the rest of the prose like the top of a pyramid jutting out of a sand dune.

These aren't one-man-shows or fly-by-night operations; these are serious creators with a lot of mojo. And even they still miss the mark from time to time. Those mistakes usually get fixed in later printings and editions, but the earlier ones still show that errors were made.

They made mistakes. You will, too. Nobody is perfect.

Had Some Mistakes, But Not Enough To Lower The Rating

This is an actual review someone left on my novel Crier's Knife. They front-loaded it with praise, but added toward the end that though they noticed a few spelling mistakes, it wasn't enough to lessen their experience reading the book. So even though it got me a 5-star seal of approval, it also meant I had to track down those errors and repair them ASAP.

Which sent me into something of a blind panic trying to find and correct them all.
Now, this book was put out through Amazon, and I was working on a shoestring budget for it. Still, these errors made it past several review sweeps from me, and past all of my beta readers as well as the folks who helped with more substantive editing. In case you're wondering, there were 6 mistakes that were found and corrected.

This isn't unique to self-publishing, though. Take my other book, the steampunk noir collection New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam. I did three separate editing passes on this manuscript before I sent it in. It was then accepted by one publisher, whose editors did a sweep, and gave me corrections. My contract got cancelled, and it was then picked up by another publisher, who reviewed it prior to publication.

And there were still a few niggling errors in the text when all was said and done. Hell, in one story a character has a completely different last name by the end... give it a read, see if you can figure out which tale it was.

Stop Sweating: The Little Things Aren't Make or Break

Are there readers out there who won't tolerate a single misused apostrophe, or who indignantly close a book when they find their third grammar mistake? I'm sure there are... but I can also assure you they are a tiny portion of your overall audience.

If you have a good story, compelling characters, and a narrative that will not let go of the reader, they won't notice the occasional bump in the road. As long as those bumps are only occasional, it's even possible that some of your readers won't notice them at all! What's even better is that, in the modern age of publishing tools, you can fix mistakes like this relatively quickly once they're pointed out.

Don't skimp on your editing. By all means, try to make your story the best you possibly can before you submit it to a publisher, or throw it out onto the market. But don't drive yourself mad trying to figure out if you should or shouldn't put a comma before that conjunction; most people aren't here for that. Put the bulk of your effort into the story, the cast, and the experience, and you'll be able to survive a few little missteps.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing installment. For folks who'd like to see more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, and stop by My Amazon Author Page where you can get any (or all) of my books!

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1 comment:

  1. Totally agree. I'm a big fan of Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series. Conventionally published. And at least twice the editors missed that the wrong character's name was used. Mistakes happen. When I worked in publishing, we used to go through books with a fine-toothed comb and yet when the box of new books arrived, I swear it fell open to the mistake that we all missed...