Releasing Imperfect Work

I’m afraid of mistakes. Typos, factual errors, formatting issues, and the like. When asked to read from one of my books, I cringe and flip cautiously, page by page, sure that I’m going to spot something I’d like to fix/change/alter/delete. Even when bookmarks arrive fresh from the printer, I don’t want to look at them too closely for fear that I’ve misspelled something. Usually my own name.

That’s why it’s so hard to let go of our work. We can tweak and revise and polish for months, years, decades, and as long as we’re in that part of the process, our work is allowed to have mistakes. It’s not done yet, we reason with ourselves. When we’re ready to release it, it’ll be perfect.

Guess what? It won’t be perfect.

Last year at Bouchercon Long Beach, bestselling author Barry Eisler told a room filled with readers that he kept a page on his website for mistakes found in his books. And he does. Not the typo variety, either. Honest to goodness factual mistakes. (Mistakes like in SUEDE TO REST where Poly Monroe operates an electric sewing machine while the power is out at her store. Head smack!)

I admit, I’m inspired by Barry Eisler’s mistakes page, but I’m not yet brave enough to add one to my site. It takes a huge amount of courage to release a book from our computers to the world, whether we’re querying, submitting, or publishing, and being the one to point out the errors in that book is not natural.

We see the flaws, but we secretly hope that nobody else does. Right? Or can we feel more in control of the release of our work when we claim not only what people love about a story, but also what we got wrong?

Diane Vallere | @dianevallere

 

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Author: Diane Vallere

Diane is the author of four mystery series. Like her character Samantha Kidd, she is a former fashion buyer; like her character Madison Night, she loves Doris Day movies, like her character Polyester Monroe, she lives in California; and like her character Margo Tamblyn, she has a thing for costumes. Find out more at http://dianevallere.com/.

10 thoughts on “Releasing Imperfect Work”

  1. I like looking for “flaws” inconsistencies and grammar errors in printed work. I do it all the time, both in books and in newspapers and magazines (lots to find there).

    I also take GREAT pleasure in finding grammar mistakes on printed signs, especially on the sides of delivery vans; I mean, come on now, there aren’t that many word on a sign; surely someone could proof read and know the difference between “then” and “than,” “their” and “there,” or the proper use of an apostrophe. (I find those all the time).

    It did not bother me when Polly used “magic” electricity to finish her sewing on page 185!!!!. I just looked it as yet another secret mystery — maybe planted by the writer to see if we were paying attention? Mistakes just prove that the book was written by a human, and not just cranked using spell check.

    I, of course, never make mistakes, at least none that you know about YET.

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  2. Like Theresa, I do my best editing after I hit “send.” I’ve seen Eisler’s mistakes page. I’m not sure I’d have that much courage, either.

    Depending on the writing, mistakes may or may not bother me. I’m usually only perturbed if it takes me out of the story.

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  3. So true! I just finished proofing a manuscript for the umpteenth time–just one more check before hitting send, because it had already been checked by several pairs of eyes–and of course STILL I found several mistakes. Urghhh!

    But honestly, Diane, I got so caught up in your story that I never noticed the no electricity thing!

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  4. Page 185! I should have it tattooed on me. I heard once that every book teaches you something, so I look at things like this as the thing I had to learn. Just like I had to learn that homicide detectives wear suits, not flannel shirts and wranglers. But that’s a different book 🙂

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  5. Ah, that’s what reader suspension of belief is all about. I like to think the readers and I have an inside joke while I’m smacking myself in the head. Oy I won’t admit to what book, but I want you to know that SinC are one of the best groups on the plant. Yep. Plant.

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  6. I’ve filed legal briefs that were so riddle with typos that when I got up to argue the issue, I had no idea what that sentence meant. So I make mistakes, I’m human. It’s a great ego-check.

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  7. I am the worst proofreader in the world. I got a very positive review recently and the only ding was that the reviewer complained about typos in the book. And I was like, huh? There were typos? Totally flew by me.

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  8. Oh, my goodness! Diane, thank you for this post, not only because I loved the post so much, but because the comments have me laughing out loud. We are so hard on ourselves, and so supportive of each other!

    I met Barry, and he’s definitely got that unique personality that supports having a mistakes page; it’s so him! And yes, I could see owning the mistakes making them easier to bear. I don’t mind owning my own–but I hate when other people make mistakes that end up looking like mine! (I had a boss who used to edit my emails, completely destroying the grammar, and then wanted me to send the email to clients. Gah! No!)

    Ellen, I love your comment! Really, all of them. Still chuckling (and feeling quite a bit better about things, too).

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  9. Pamela, your comment about the boss who edits your stuff reminds me of a time I translated a few lines for a friend’s book, who decided to change the way it was spelled, just because this friend didn’t like how the correct way looked. Yes, it changed the meaning, but the book got sent–and published.

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