Welcome back readers, to another Monday! Apologies for the lateness of today’s post; I was up late last night desperately trying to secure a Series X console before the hands of scalpers.
I was not successful. Though a bunch of people did get them, not all of them scalpers. The demand on this thing is through the roof … though given that Xbox “surprised” everyone by launching Halo Infinite‘s multiplayer today, it can hardly be that surprising. Have any of you given it a shot yet?
Yeah, I’m really tempted to make today a “half-day” with my quota and try it out myself. Halo was a formative game from my college years, and I’d still count myself as a fan. The campaign (what I’m really interested in) still doesn’t come out until December 8th, but the multiplayer being out today and being free? Well, there’s not much to lose from trying it save time, right?
Anyway, let me move away from the non-writing things and back towards what we’re all here for: Writing! Starting with another 5-star rating left on Axtara over the weekend. She’s got wings, that’s for sure. With luck, her holiday sales will be strong as well. She is an ideal stocking-stuffer though.
All right, all right, let’s get down to today’s topic. Which, I will note, is the last topic of Topic List #18. That’s right, this week will mark another topic call post for list #19. I’ve already got a few topics written down for the list, but as always, reader request topics are encouraged.
Which is a nice segue back to today’s topic, because it is indeed a reader request (sent through Discord, no less). A reader contacted me asking after today’s discussion. Which most of you have probably guessed from the title, but I’ll state it here all the same. Their question was ‘How do you know something’s ready for release? How do you know when it’s time?”
Hit the jump, and let’s talk about it.
Okay, so here’s the answer to the question from before the jump: You just do. It’s never fully “ready.” What you do is get as close to that as you can … and then you let it go.
Okay, I realize that’s not the answer a lot of you are looking for. And I know what the non-writers reading this are thinking. “But of course there’s a moment when it’s ready! It’s when there are no errors and everything is perfect! How stupid do you have to be to not understand that?”
No joke, I’ve actually been told this more than once. By people of course, who’s grand contribution to the world of writing is the occasional Facebook post. Because those people, naturally, haven’t ever written a book, or anything close to it, and don’t know what the process itself is like.
Because when is a book “perfect?” And how easy is it to achieve that? Sands, the other day a reader contacted me about a typo in Axtara. The book still has glowing five-star reviews across the board. It still underwent and extensive, months-long editing process that involved large amounts of people. And yet … typos slipped through.
Does that mean we shouldn’t have released it? Well … no. Definitely not. The book still has glowing reviews. It’s not perfect, but it’s close enough for readers that it doesn’t really matter.
That’s the key here: Close enough. Sitting on my shelf is a paperback copy of Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. You’ve probably heard of it. Opening the front cover to the “about” page on the back of the title will reveal that the specific edition I have is the seventh. In other words, it’s seen six revisions since it’s initial paperback release.
You know what I’ve found in it? Typos. Errors.
Now, I don’t say this as a means of “Why bother then? Just don’t edit at all!” which is usually what those “you release it when it is perfect” folks usually counter with when this is brought up. Nor am I attempting to focus just on typos here. In prepping a book for release, there’s more to it than just fixing typos. There’s tightening up plot lines. Rewriting whole chapters so that information is clearer or more concise. Making adjustments to dialogue and characters so that motivation comes across. The works. It’s more than just “typos.” That’s why so many have the multiple stages of editing process.
But then, why is the book being released when it’s still not “perfect?” Well … here’s why: Because it’s an impossible dream. No, let me take that back. It’s a possible dream. But it’s also a fruitless one.
Let me explain with an analogy. Let’s say you’re a smith making a knife. Rather knives. You make and sell knives. However, you want these to be the best knives ever made. So you start work on your first knife. And you work. And you work. And you work. You sharpen and sharpen, with the goal of making it the keenest edge the world has ever seen. It’s going to be perfect.
So you work, and you work. Any imperfection in the metal is removed, even if that means replacing entire bits of the knife. The edge is sharpened and sharpened as finely as your tools and skill can allow. Days pass, then weeks. Still the knife isn’t perfect.
Finally it is done. After months of setback and constant repeated steps, the knife is at last perfect. You take it to the front of your shop—empty—and put it on display. After a few days, someone comes in and buys it. You get to work on the next knife. Hopefully, the money from that one sale will be enough to support you through the months to come until the next is done!
In the meantime, your neighbor has also started selling knives. They aren’t as perfect as yours, but they’re sharp enough and he can make one a day.
Oh, and that perfect knife you sold? The customer takes it home and puts it to work. In a few days, that perfect edge is already dulling slightly because it’s being used, and they sharpen it alongside the knives they purchased from. And the perfection is gone.
Okay, so clearly this isn’t a perfect analogy. No one “sharpens” books, after all. But the rest of the comparison holds surprisingly true. See, the quest for perfection? The closer you come, the longer it takes. And in a world were getting books out is the only way to make money, well … There’s clearly a point of diminishing returns.
Could I have held off the release of Axtara – Banking and Finance to make it even more “perfect.” Yes, I could have. Another month or two of editing might have even found one of the rare typos that came to light after its release.
But did those few typos affect Axtara‘s reception from the public? Well, looking at its reviews and how loved it is … No. Not at all. It would appear that many of them didn’t even notice them, or if they did, didn’t care in the slightest compared to the rest of the book and how much they enjoyed it.
Meanwhile, what would have been achieved by delaying things until Axtara was “perfect?”
Well, for starters, there’s no guarantee that any of that additional editing would have found what few typos made it out anyway. So those extra months? They might have amounted to nothing in the end. The result then would have been those readers who loved the book not getting it for months—maybe not even finding it at all—only to get the exact same experience.
But even if they had found a single typo, would it have mattered to the audience? After all, with all the editors who missed it, how many readers skimmed right over it as well? And of those readers, how many reacted with utter horror and left the book a single-star review as punishment for not being flawless?
What I’m getting at here is that the quest for “perfection” follows a trend of “diminishing returns.” Clearly few want to release a book that’s full of plot holes and misspellings. Few want to read that book. It’s like the old saying from Shigeru Miyamoto about how a delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.
We don’t want to release a bad product, and clearly we should not. It’s okay to delay our book for editing. However, Miyamoto’s comment about a game delayed does still mean that it comes out. And it’s good!
Notice that he doesn’t say “great.” One could argue (and many would) that most if not all of Miyamoto’s games have been great, but there’s something else to that: They’ve been delayed sometimes, yes. But they do eventually all come out.
Clearly, there’s a line somewhere between “good enough” and “endlessly seeking perfection.” That line is where you want to release your product.
Could I have continued editing Axtara? Yes, I could have. I could be editing it to this day. However, it’s extremely doubtful that I would have accomplished much—if anything at all—during that time. What would I have to show for delaying Axtara in the pursuit of “perfection?” Possibly one or two typos across the whole of the book fixed. Maybe a rewritten scene or two … neither of which is guaranteed to be any better than what they replaced.
What would I have gained? I’d have lost almost a year’s worth of sales for … maybe finding one of those typos. Typos which have since been found anyway and reported by readers who, and I will stress this bit, loved the book anyway.
In other words, I would have gained nothing. I’d have actually lost a year’s worth of sales.
So then … what does this mean for us as writers? Or for future writers? Those of you sitting on your first book?
Well, it’s pretty straightforward. At some point, the baby bird—or in my case, dragon—has to leave the nest and fly on their own. Every day you spend editing is a day that prospective readers aren’t checking out your book. Now, if each of those editing days is finding error after error, well then yeah, maybe you don’t want those prospective readers looking at it yet. Maybe you need to be polishing and perfecting a bit more.
But when you’re not finding anything, or your editors, or when it appears that maybe you could rewrite that scene, but you can’t say what you would do any different … Maybe it’s time to let the book fly?
I realize this isn’t the cut and dry answer that many of you may have hoped for, least of all those of you that have never released a book and were hoping for a “No no, once you’ve done this, you’re good” moment. There really isn’t one because a lot of that comes down to your editing process.
Instead, each author and editor needs to look at what is being accomplished with the editing. Is the team simply pouring over the same pages without finding anytime new? Is the author rewriting the same scene over and over again to no net effect? Perhaps it’s time to pass the book on to the waiting hands of the public.
Will it be perfect? No, of course not. Editing is massively complicated work. The average book can have over half a million characters. That’s over half a million places to have mistakes. This is why a book like Jurassic Park can be on its seventh printing and still have errors.
How would history have been different if Crichton had panicked and demanded “perfection” before the book was released? Well, Jurassic Park released in 1990. The movie in 1993. Would we have had the movie if the book hadn’t released when it did? How many years might it have taken to still not be “perfect?”
Ultimately, that is where I must leave you with today’s post. There’s no “line in the sand.” There’s no “magic bullet” of an answer. The best I can offer as to the question of “When is enough enough?” is “When you’re not gaining anything but the miniscule improvement the average reader will never care about.”
And that’s not really a line. It’s a guideline at best. Ultimately, the only way to find it is to push that book out of your nest. To force it to spread its wings and fly.
Granted, you don’t push a baby that doesn’t have wings yet out either. There’s a clear line there. EDIT the book.
But as for the endless quest for perfection? Well, in a way it’s almost another form of the Death Spiral. It’s something that can drag you down and prevent you from ever releasing anything.
Find your line. Polish it, yes. Edit it, yes. But eventually, our baby bird, dragon, spacecraft, whatever it may be, must spread their wings and fly on their own. The endless pursuit of perfection is indeed endless.
Let your story fly.
Good luck. Now get writing.
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