Publishing imperfectly – why having a publishing standard matters

Books are rarely – if ever – perfect. Most publishers release imperfect books. However, they do have a publishing standard they work to, and self-publishers need to do the same.

During my 12-years in publishing, I was responsible for publishing hundreds of books and despite the time and attention bestowed on each book by competent and expert editors and proofreaders, I can safely say that not one of them was error-free or perfect.

Editorial correction process
Most books take around 50-100 hours to produce and that’s because they are constantly being read, corrected and re-read for errors.

Yes, that’s right, not one!

I don’t say that with pride, I say it with honesty, because perfection does not exist. It is also the enemy of action and the barrier to results. Perfection is the thing that will trip you up and halt your projects in a heartbeat – if you let it.

Does that mean that eliminating errors doesn’t matter? No. It means you need to find a different approach, and that approach is to set a publishing standard. A standards sets a goal and helps you achieve what you are aiming for so you can work with purpose. When you have achieved the publishing standard you have set, you will know that you are ready to release your book into the world.

Find a balance

When I worked in publishing, I had to find a balance between the need to meet deadlines and the requirement to publish to a high standard. You notice I said “to a high standard”, not “perfect”. That’s because getting each book published was also of high importance (you don’t get far if you don’t get the book out into the market).

Can you imagine having to tell 30,000 people that the cookery book they planned to buy for someone at Christmas (or enjoy themselves) was not available for sale because the editor was reading it for the hundredth time in an effort to eliminate even the most innocuous of errors? No, of course not.

Let’s get our heads screwed on about errors in books. Of course you want to have an error-free book. Yes, it’s everyone’s goal. And as an editor and someone who cares deeply about the quality of published writing – and especially books – I dislike errors as much as the next person. But let’s get some perspective here. Two typos in a 30,000-word book is not something to get distressed about.

The problem arises when there are two typos or grammatical errors on every page of a 30,000-word book! Now that is something to be concerned about and to take action to remedy. And that’s what is important. Your goal should be to get rid of as many mistakes as possible and the way to do that is to hire help in the form of editors and proofreaders. It’s easy! Set a standard and decide to take action to achieve it. When you know your standards you can work to meet them.

Why do standards matter?

Your reader wants to know that you value them. When they see errors, they wonder if you have you taken sufficient care to produce a book that is worth their investment of time and money or whether you have skimped and just thought, “Heck, I’ll just market the pips out of it and sell loads that way. Who cares?” Whether your book look slapdash or caringly produced matters to your readers. Does it matter to you?

Here’s the thing: when someone buys your book, it isn’t often the decision of a moment. When someone pays you the compliment of choosing your book over and above all others they could have selected, pays you money to own it and has the intention of spending their valuable time reading it, the least you can do in return is to give them a product that matches the trust and commitment they have shown to you in buying it. Standards allow you to do this.

Let’s face it, a book that is full of grammatical errors and typographical mistakes is going to do little to enhance your reputation or raise your profile. Is this harsh? Yes, it is. Is it true? Undoubtedly. Publish poorly at your peril. It will definitely be a decision that comes back to bite you.

Instead, set a standard. Be honest about the investment of time and money you will need to make to achieve that standard and be committed to achieving it. Your book may not be perfect, but it will achieve the publishing standard you have set it. Just make sure that the standard values you, your business and your reader.

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