Perfectionism versus Practicality

by | May 21, 2023 | General | 1 comment

Like most writers, I’m a voracious reader. I’ve also edited a dozen or so anthologies by other authors. Hence I’m pretty sensitive to problems in other people’s prose: grammar errors, misspellings, typos, missing or inappropriate words, and so on. Even when I’m deeply engrossed in some fabulous story, I can’t completely ignore this kind of issue. It’s frustrating to encounter these slips. I’ll admit that they affect my evaluation of the writer. Indeed, more than once I’ve given up on books because of their persistent errors.

It’s a lot easier to see nits in someone else’s story, though. We tend to be a bit blind to typos and such in our own work, partly because we’re not just reading the text. We know what we intended to say, and all too often that’s what we see on the page.

Back before self-publishing, our publishers supplied dedicated editors to help us find and fix this sort of issue. That was part of deal – the publishing company supplied editing, a professionally designed cover, maybe even some marketing, in return for a significant chunk of the profits. Of course, these editors varied in their level of skill – I remember arguing with one woman who insisted that passive voice was ungrammatical – but it was still extremely helpful to have another set of eyes scrutinizing your prose. (On the other hand, now that I am reclaiming the rights to many of my traditionally published tales, I’m noticing nits that the editors missed.)

When you move to publishing your work directly, though, you’re on your own. Obviously you can pay for a professional editor, but given that I am unwilling to go into the red with my writing business, that’s not something I can afford. So I read, and re-read, edit and re-edit. When I can, I run my works in progress through the Storytime critique group, where we have a number of very sharp-eyed members. I think my books are fairly clean. (In terms of errors, not the sexual content!)

But I can’t claim they’re perfect.

Ignorance is bliss. As long as I don’t know about the errors, I can pretend they don’t exist. The other day, though, as I was preparing an excerpt for a blog post, I noticed two ugly typos in the same paragraph. I fixed the problems in the post, of course. Now I’m wondering what I should do about the book itself.

Since the title is self-published and only available as an ebook, it’s not a huge amount of work to upload new manuscripts to Smashwords and Amazon. There will of course be a lag before the new version is available. And anyone who bought the book before the correction may notice the error. Still, I tell myself that this is what I should do, that I owe it to my readers.

Suppose, though, that after I do this, I happen across another nit. Should I upload yet another version? When do I stop? Is it feasible for me to aspire to a perfect manuscript (from an editing perspective)?

Do other readers notice these bugs?

I’m in a quandary here, balanced between perfectionism and practicality. I have more than sixty self-published titles currently available. I also have a very demanding day job. I can’t spend hours every day editing and uploading.

But I hate the idea that readers are reacting the way I do when I hit errors – shaking their heads and thinking that I really don’t care.

Lisabet Sarai

Sex and writing. I think I've always been fascinated by both. Freud was right. I definitely remember feelings that I now recognize as sexual, long before I reached puberty. I was horny before I knew what that meant. My teens and twenties I spent in a hormone-induced haze, perpetually "in love" with someone (sometimes more than one someone). I still recall the moment of enlightenment, in high school, when I realized that I could say "yes" to sexual exploration, even though society told me to say no. Despite being a shy egghead with world-class myopia who thought she was fat, I had managed to accumulate a pretty wide range of sexual experience by the time I got married. And I'm happy to report that, thanks to my husband's open mind and naughty imagination, my sexual adventures didn't end at that point! Meanwhile, I was born writing. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, though according to family apocrypha, I was talking at six months. Certainly, I started writing as soon as I learned how to form the letters. I penned my first poem when I was seven. While I was in elementary school I wrote more poetry, stories, at least two plays (one about the Beatles and one about the Goldwater-Johnson presidential contest, believe it or not), and a survival manual for Martians (really). I continued to write my way through high school, college, and grad school, mostly angst-ridden poems about love and desire, although I also remember working on a ghost story/romance novel (wish I could find that now). I've written song lyrics, meeting minutes, marketing copy, software manuals, research reports, a cookbook, a self-help book, and a five hundred page dissertation. For years, I wrote erotic stories and kinky fantasies for myself and for lovers' entertainment. I never considered trying to publish my work until I picked up a copy of Portia da Costa's Black Lace classic Gemini Heat while sojourning in Istanbul. My first reaction was "Wow!". It was possibly the most arousing thing I'd ever read, intelligent, articulate, diverse and wonderfully transgressive. My second reaction was, "I'll bet I could write a book like that." I wrote the first three chapters of Raw Silk and submitted a proposal to Black Lace, almost on a lark. I was astonished when they accepted it. The book was published in April 1999, and all at once, I was an official erotic author. A lot has changed since my Black Lace days. But I still get a thrill from writing erotica. It's a never-ending challenge, trying to capture the emotional complexities of a sexual encounter. I'm far less interested in what happens to my characters' bodies than in what goes on in their heads.

1 Comment

  1. Larry archer

    I believe your angst is one that most of us self-published authors suffer from.

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