Friday, June 21, 2013

WARNING: In publishing, the pursuit of perfection may lead to imperfection


The book shown above was published a few years ago. It went on sale about three months later than planned. It went through hundreds of on-screen revisions, and at least a dozen printed proofs before I pronounced it "good enough" to be sold.

I said "good enough," not "perfect." I know it has three small errors that few people (or maybe no people) will notice. I also know that it has fewer errors than most books I've read -- even books put out by the big traditional publishers with huge staffs of editors, proofreaders and fact checkers.

Lots of books and other media have easily preventable, inexcusable errors. If you self-publish, you have an extra burden. You have to be better than the "big boys."

  • Orange County Choppers: The Tale of the Teutuls by Keith & Kent Zimmerman has silly geography errors. It's disturbing that three Teutuls plus two Zimmermans plus fact checkers and editors at Warner Books could let obvious errors get printed. On page 11, Paul Senior talks about his parents charging people to park in their driveway on Cooper Street in Yonkers, to watch horse races in Yonkers Raceway or baseball games in Yankee stadium, which were within "walking distance." While the track is just a few blocks away, the stadium is about 8.5 miles south. The 17 mile round trip is not "walking distance" for most people. I hope he calculates more precisely while building bikes. Twice on page 15, Senior mentions his house in "Muncie", New York. Muncie is in Indiana. The Teutuls lived in MONSEY (which is pronounced like Muncie).
  • Principles of Self-Publishing: How to Pub­lish and Market A Book or Ebook On a Shoestring Budget by Theresa A. Moore is one of the most-error-ridden books I've ever read. Theresa  says that Lightning Source “is a full service publisher.” Lightning is not a publisher of any kind. It is a printing house that works for publishers. It does NOT provide services such as editing and page formatting, which a self-publishing company provides. Anyone who is advising publishers should know the difference between a printer and a publisher. Theresa complains that Lightning Source charges an “exhorbitant shipping fee” for a proof. Both her spelling and her assessment are wrong.

However, I learned the hard way that each time I make a correction, there is a good chance that I will introduce other errors. They'll need to be corrected, and their corrections may lead to more errors, and the cycle never ends.

Perfection is elusive, and perfection may even be dangerous.


  • In Greek-Roman mythology, Arachne was a skilled human weaver who bragged that she was a better weaver than Minerva. Minerva was the Roman equivalent of the Greek Athena and was goddess of weaving (and of other things, and the inventor of music). Arachne refused to acknowledge that her skill came from Minerva. According to Ovid, the goddess was so envious of the magnificent woman-made tapestry that she destroyed the tapestry and loom, slashed Arachne's face and turned Arachne into a spider. In biology, "arachnids" are the group of critters that includes spiders.
  • Cathy Thomas, also known as Cat, blogs about quilts. Cat wrote, "A humility block is a quilt block with a mistake in it. Either the quilter didn’t notice the mistake until after the quilt top was assembled, or she intentionally left the mistake in the block, not wanting to take the time and effort to correct it. Over time, some superstitions arose about these blocks. One story says that the humility block must always appear at the lower right corner of the quilt. Another story says if a bride makes a perfect quilt, her marriage will be unhappy. . . .  I have heard that Amish quilters intentionally make a mistake in their quilts because only God is perfect and making a perfect quilt is prideful. This is the classic example I use when justifying a piecing mistake in one of my quilts. However, when I researched the subject of humility blocks, I was surprised to learn that this information is a myth rather than a fact. Quilt historians, who have asked Amish quilt makers about the humility block, write that these women are shocked by such a suggestion. To the Amish, having to make a mistake on purpose suggests that their work is already perfect, which is prideful in and of itself. It’s like saying, “I’m so good at quilting that unless I mess up on purpose, I am perfect.” Obviously, there’s no humility in that!
  • An anonymous blogger wrote, "This quilter's decision to put a deliberate mistake into her work unites her with countless other artisans from around the world. The makers of those meticulous Persian carpets made obvious errors in their rugs to show that no one was perfect except Allah. Some people believe that the Gods might be angry about arrogance of a human effort to produce a work of art without imperfection. Navajos thought evil spirits could escape only through an error in art.
So, I'll live with a few mistakes -- at least until it's time for a major revision. I wouldn't want to be turned into a spider, or a bookworm.

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Rug photo from http://www.willishenry.com/.  I'm not sure of the origin of the Arachne illustration.

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