Slow down there, Tiger!

Great stuff, Max! You knocked out your draft, you managed to find some people to read over it and give you advice. You probably even went back and deleted a bunch of crud, reworked some bits, softened your metaphors. Come on! What are you waiting for? Now you’re ready to publish.

No, you’re not. What? Aw, come on! I’ve got to go through it again?

Yes. Yes, you do.

Don’t Rush It

One of my biggest mistakes when I was fumbling about in the dark, figuring out how to get Adaptation out to the big, wide world, was pushing too hard to see it online. In software terms, I released an untested beta version.

There were spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors. There were issues with names being consistent (true story). I’d even left some markers in there. Wow. Bad. Very bad. Crawl under the bed and hide bad.

I had, as a dummy check, run the word processor’s spell and grammar checker over it. Didn’t pick up everything. I hadn’t managed to get anyone else to help proof it, I had different copies all over the place, and I was reaching the end of my tether trying to get hold of someone to talk to about publishing.

SlowDownIt wasn’t perfect, I knew it wasn’t perfect, and, wait for it… I pushed it out anyway. The reasons behind the rush was frustration, impatience and ignorance. The fact that it was digital meant that pushing out the update wasn’t as painful than if it was a hard-copy, but please, please don’t rely on that. That’s disrespecting your audience and it’s something I regret to this day.

Learn from my mistakes. Being an independent author is hard enough without having to lose sleep over a bungle let loose in the wild. Take your time, be patient and do it right the first time.

Doing it Right the First Time

Spell checkers are great. They can pick up little mistakes here and there. Grammar checkers have come a long way, too. You can tune them to your style and they can warn you about dropped words, poor sentence structure, and all of that cool stuff.

They are not perfect. Just because the spell checker passes, and the grammar checker is only complaining about the silliest of things, does not, NOT, mean that your book is flawless.

Having another reader run over it, either paid or unpaid, increases the likelihood that mistakes will be spotted and weeded out. Increase. Likelihood. We’re talking about probability here. If you’ve given your book to the butcher, do you think he spent his time cutting up meat and serving customers, or kicking around in the back with a red pen correcting your mistakes?

And this is what it comes down to: No matter what technique you use to clean up your act, no matter how fine your digital nit-comb, no matter how many people you pass your paper to, you are responsible for the end result.

There’s no use turning around, after the fact, and pointing your finger at someone else and saying, “You should’ve picked up on that!” Why not? Because your book is out there, being read by a bunch of people all around the world, and they aren’t going to give two hoots whether you or your spell checker or your editor or your butcher didn’t pick up a mistake.

So what can you do? Give your book the best chance possible. The longer the story is unpublished, the greater the chance of finding those little flecks of mud that would spoil an otherwise golden scene. Hold off. Put the book down. Go onto something else. Get some well deserved exercise. Come back to it in a week, a fortnight, a month even, enough time for you to kind of forget about it so you can experience it with fresh eyes.

Another technique I’ve found works really good is printing out a hard copy, bulldog clipping it, taking out a red pen and sitting down to read. I’ll elaborate more about this approach in a future post, since it’s a bit more than just printing and skimming.

Lastly, even when you’re sure you’ve got it just the way you want it, print it out in PDF or create an ePub and pop it on your favourite reading device. You can get programs that will do this for you (Calibre – I’m looking at you), so you get to see a preview, including the front cover, of just how it’s going to be.

Then sit down and read it. If you need to give yourself another fortnight off before you start, do that. The book will be published soon enough, so relax about that, think long term: in six months, you’ll be sleeping easier knowing that you’ve spent some of your precious time giving your readers something you’re proud of.