I am a perfectionist. I know anyone who has seen my messy house would take issue with that statement. I’d better qualify it. I am only a perfectionist when it comes to writing. In all other areas I have too much of a laissez-faire attitude. But when it comes to writing, I want my work to be as perfect as possible in appearance and with regard to grammar and punctuation.
Yes, yes. I know there is far more to writing than the formal elements of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and formatting. But I also know that carelessness about those things can turn off a potential reader. Of course I do the best I can with regard to content. But success in that regard is subjective. A story that one person loves and can’t get enough of will leave another reader unimpressed or even disgusted. Readers have vastly different tastes. I know that no matter how hard I try, I can’t please everyone with my stories. I don’t expect them to be read and enjoyed by people who dislike fantasy and science fiction. Even avid fantasy fans will have diverse reactions to my fantasy novels. Some will enjoy them; others will find them not at all to their taste. It doesn’t disturb me when someone tells me they just “couldn’t get into the story.” Of course I regret it, but at least they gave it a try before finding it not to their taste. What I don’t want is someone picking up the book, glancing through it, seeing it poorly formatted or spotting errors in spelling and grammar, and putting it back down as being “amateurish” and unprofessional.
I’m self-publishing my books now after being published by a major publisher and by small presses. I don’t feel that self-published works have the stigma attached to them that they once had. Nevertheless, because it has become relatively easy to self-publish, many books are being put into print that are not ready for publication. They have not been edited and are full of grammatical, spelling, punctuation, and formatting errors. Those are the books that give self-publishing a bad reputation.
I do not want my books to fall into that category. I want them to look as professional as possible. I edit them myself, and then have my critiquing partner and other beta readers read through them to catch errors I’ve overlooked, both in form and in content. I take those critiques very seriously. If I disagree with some (and there are always some I disagree with), I still look carefully at the critique and ask myself whether I’m right to disagree. I try to see the scene or sentence or word from the other person’s viewpoint. I may then not change it the way the critiquer suggested but change it in a different way that I hope will resolve the problem.
When I upload a book file to CreateSpace, I go through the online reviewer carefully and inevitably find things that need to be fixed. It may be a single word or group of words from the previous page orphaned alone on the top of the next page. It may be a missing quotation mark, or a paragraph that didn’t get indented. I fix those errors and resubmit the file. Then I go through it again. When I’m satisfied, I approve the file, and when it is ready, I order a printed proof. I have found that no matter how many times I’ve gone over a file on line, I see things in the printed work I never noticed on the computer screen. So I make corrections to my file and resubmit. I may then order a second printed proof, or I may download a pdf file or use the online reviewer. The chances are that no matter which I do, I will find something I want to change. I have resubmitted a file five or six times, maybe more, before I’m satisfied with it.
I went through that laborious process with my newest novel, Deathright. I kept finding things I wanted to change, not because they were incorrect but because I saw a way to make them read better. Eventually, I felt that it was ready to be published. I approved the file and ordered books I needed for an upcoming event. I then went on to prepare the file for electronic publication through Kindle Direct Publishing. I uploaded that file, which should be identical to the interior file for the print edition. The differences are technical, such as removing headers and footers, adding a table of contents, and putting links from the chapter titles in the table of contents to the chapter in the text. When that file was uploaded, I again went through it using the online reviewer. And of course I found a paragraph that needed revision, not because it had any grammatical or spelling errors but simply because it was awkward. So I revised it, and the Kindle version was published with that correction. However, now that single paragraph differed from the one in the print version. So I have now made the revision to the print file and re-uploaded it. That takes the book out of circulation for a brief time while the change is being approved and applied.
Is it worth it? Most readers would probably not notice the difference, but I would. That unrevised paragraph would nag at me. Is that being a perfectionist? Maybe it’s just being professional.