Standards and Deadlines: The Balancing Act

Standards and Deadlines: The Balancing Act

(All images taken from Pixabay.)

The phrase is “Minimum viable product.”

Home under construction
Sure, it has wood and rooms, but I wouldn’t want to live here.

There is a sense to the phrase, but people abuse its meaning at times.  The better concept is, “Create the best product you have in the time you’re allowed.”

I probably am more guilty of this very problem then I’d like to admit. While I have people who read this blog and my work, I don’t have droves of fans waiting eagerly for my next book. So what’s the rush?

Well, for me, I try very hard to release four titles a year. That’s simply not happening this year. Even before COVID-19, it was dicey to even try and get Betrayed out. Without making money on conventions and events (let alone book sales), I can’t pay Sara to edit. So that project becomes “stuck.” I can still work on other projects, so that once things start moving again, I still have direction.

So my goal is always to release good stories in a timely manner. It’s been that way since I was a journalist, and I don’t anticipate that viewpoint changing at all. But I have seen people shove out product without so much as a casual proofread. They do so and say, “Minimum viable product.”

So we’re forced to ask ourselves, “what is viable?”

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Just because you did anything doesn’t mean you accomplished anything. 

I suppose that depends on the reader. If I’m cranking out stories devoid of editing and formatted like a blind man with a new inDesign account, but the readers are still buying and giving good reviews, I’d declare I’m doing it right.

What happens though is that people put minimal effort into their work and then want to complain they aren’t selling.

First, sales is way more about marketing and advertising than product.  I have every belief that if I could just find a way to gain attention in this oversaturated filed, I’d do well. I’d offer a hefty percentage of my sales to the person who offers me actionable information on how to do that, but I digress.

Second, I’ll always believe that effort yields results. While I’m not quitting my day job yet, I’ve improved every year I’ve been doing this. It’s a slow, agonizing process, but all the things worth having tend to be that way.

Each writer has to balance his own process. If you’ve edited your story 20 times and paid editors and tweaked that story to oblivion, then you need to release that story.  You’ve put in the effort, now let it go, and let readers decide if it’s good or not (that’s their job). If you’ve cranked out a draft 30 minutes ago, maybe let it sit a few weeks. Read it again. Find Beta (or even Charlie or Delta) readers. Hire and editor. Hire a professional editor. Listen to the feedback.

youtuber-2838945_1920I’ve talked about my writing process a few times. It works for me. I still make a few mistakes, but today’s self-publishing world makes fixing those mistakes pretty easy (and free).  However, I don’t just release anything and think, “Oh, I can make edits later.” I do know I can do that, but I don’t let that be an excuse to be shoddy in my work.

On the other hand, I have to get the product out, and so do you. Sure, I’m going to keep waiting for the next King Killer book, but I might even forget about it if it takes another five years to release. My anticipation is already nearly gone. However, I would still drop what I’m reading now to grab that book if it came out tomorrow. Most of us don’t self-published guys don’t have that sort of loyalty. We need product to be seen. We need to be on the “new releases” page. We need to build a library.

I’ve heard and seen data that says that’s not right. However, there is still a balance. You can’t have follow-on readers if you don’t have follow-on stories. It’s that simple. There is something to be said about taking a break from writing to market the work you have out there, and maybe that is a good option to look into during this crazy time in our life.

So, the factors to balance are: getting the product out, ensuring the product is of good quality, and marketing the product.

I’m not here to tell you how much time to put into which factor; I’m here to tell you what those factors are. I’m not anywhere near where I want to be in this pursuit, but I’m a lot farther than when I started. If you want to even get to where I am, you have to allot some time for each of these. I’m still learning. I’m still figuring my breakdown out, but if you don’t have one at all, that’s the problem.

My advice in this regard:

concept-1868728_1920Write a freaking book! If you aren’t writing or you haven’t finished the book, you don’t have anything at all to do. There’s no point. Now, while you write that book, you should start building a following. Start a blog. Do character interviews. Build an email list. Use the email list. But, don’t stop writing the book.

When you have a book ready, keep building that following and write at least two more books. Again, I understand that more product doesn’t mean more sales in and of itself. However, if a guy buys your book and wants more from you, shouldn’t you have more to offer?

So there are some who only have that one book they want to write. That’s a completely different circumstance. You’re probably not trying to make a business out of it. But if you are, I offer this advice for you to take or leave.

Once you have three books out. Plan out your release schedule and strategy. Make a business plan.

Execute your plan and evaluate how it’s working. Continue developing new product.

Some of that I did. Some of those things are things I failed to do. I’m convinced a large part of my struggles are do to those failings.

Whatever you do, stay at it. Keep working. If you choose to turn away from the goal, make it a choice you’ve made and a choice you’re ok with.

I hope this gives you encouragement and edifies you. Whatever happens, stay safe out there. My prayers are with you all.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Let It Go: The Balance Between Deadline and Quality

Let It Go: The Balance Between Deadline and Quality

Greetings,

The Journals of Bob Drifter Front Cover
The cover is copyright M.L.S. Weech, any redistribution without my consent is a possible copyright infringement. All stock images are from Pixabay (This includes the feature photo).

As I type this, I’m waiting for the physical proof copy of the 2nd edition of The Journals of Bob Drifter. This reminded me of a few things I’ve discussed with others in the field.

The main reason I wanted to do a 2nd edition was to gain more control over the price and make it easier for people to purchase. I also wanted to be able to have electronic e-sales. Making this decision allowed me to do another editorial pass. In truth, I did three.

By my count, that means I’ve done about 41 total passes on this book. This isn’t to say I’ve rewritten it, I’m proud to say I only did about three “full” revisions. These were drafts where I changed or rearranged content. The rest were proofreading drafts, and that’s where I want to focus my attention.

There’s this term, minimum viable product. I’ll be honest, I hate that term. To me, it connotes, “get it printed as quickly as possible, and don’t worry about the quality.” Perhaps I take that term too far, but I’ve read work completed under that banner, and to be frank, it never works out well. The typos and issues pull me out of the story and away from the plot.

However, the other side of that coin is even worse. You see, at some point, you have to let it go. This is why I hold so firmly to my process. It’s the balance I’ve found between ensuring the best product I can get to my readers while ensuring I actually release something.

Too many people ever finish a book or never publish it because they want it to be perfect. Here’s the brutal truth: You’ll never be perfect. Of the 41 times I’ve read Bob Drifter, I’ve never failed to find a rather significant number of issues. It’s simply going to happen when one writes 133,000 words. Now, this version is FAR cleaner than the last, and it should be. I’ve been told that the industry standard for “number of errors” in a book is 3% (author and editor friends, I’d appreciate confirmation of this). That means I could theoretically have more than 3,900 typos in Bob drifter, and I’d still be “within standard.”

horizontal-2071304_960_720I never counted, but even after paying my editor to do a pass on the book, I found an embarrassing number of grammar errors and typos. I even noticed a minor continuity issue. (It appears Richard used to own a house that changed color. I fixed that.) I assure you, my editor did a fine job. I promise I gave my best effort the other 40 times I went over the book. The simple fact of the matter is the book will never be “perfect.” I have to give you readers the best, high-quality product I can in a timely manner. That means taking a breath, and letting the story get out into the world at some point.

I don’t in any way agree with the philosophy of “just get the product out.” Those who disagree with me are welcome to, and you can even comment if you wish. This is simply my opinion on a common topic of discussion in the industry.

What I do support is the idea that you have to, at some point, release a book.

What I recommend:

editing-1756958_960_720Develop a plan, and hold to it. I’ve mentioned my plan a few times in a few different blogs, but because I can’t think of any one to refer you to, I’ll just go over it.

Discovery draft: get the story written.

First draft: Fill in holes. Flesh out the plot. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors. (This usually takes me between 3-7 “passes.”)

Alpha draft: Get alpha readers’ feedback. Take information under advisement and address concerns. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors. (This time it usually takes me 2-5 “passes.”)

Editorial draft: Sara gets her hands on the product and provides her developmental edits. I take those recommendations into consideration and make appropriate changes. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors. (The remainder of these “read-throughs” usually take between 1-3 passes.)

Beta draft: Send the draft out to the target audience. Apply their feedback. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors.

Copyediting draft: This one goes back to Sara. She looks at the structure and grammar. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors.

Proofreading draft: The last draft before I send it to publish. Simply read out loud until I can’t find an error.

Proof draft: When I get my proof (digital or physical), I read it out loud, making any changes I catch. I don’t repeat the process, I simply correct what I catch.

Is this too much for you? That’s OK, you can’t minimize. I wouldn’t be angry at someone who doesn’t do “read out loud” passes until the copyediting draft.

Arguments against my way: “What do you pay an editor for?”

I’m glad you ask. I pay Sara to catch what I miss. The more errors I blatantly ignore or don’t bother to look for, the more likely she is to miss something. I’m sure Sara would much rather I send her my best than if I send her a group of random fragments for her to polish into a book. If I did that to her, I may as well give her credit as a co-author. She’s the editor, but I’m the writer. It’s my job to give her my best product, and her job to make it better.

ElelefinalHowever, once I finish my process, I let the book go. I haven’t even looked at Sojourn, even though it’s not even scheduled to be turned in until later this winter. I followed my process, and I trust it. I’m sure people will note errors, and I’ll note them and offer my thanks to any who tell me about them, but I did my best with the time I gave myself to develop the story.

This is the process that works for me. You can use it, use your own, or use mine to develop something new. The point is, give your best effort. Don’t expect your editors to take your “least” efforts and make it stand out, but don’t edit a 30,000-word story 30,000 times and take years to release what should come out in a matter of months. (I’m delaying my releases because of a marketing and momentum plan, but those products will be finished well before my “deadlines.”)

A note: Please don’t feel insulted. Perhaps you have a different definition of “minimum viable product.” I’m happy to hear it, though I’ll probably still disagree, it doesn’t make you wrong any more than it makes me right. Like I said, find what works for you. The point is, give your products the love you want your readers to give those products, but remember they can’t love the books at all if you never publish.

What I hope is this post motivates you to publish that book you’ve edited 40 times. Get that story out in the world because you worked hard on it. If you’ve just finished the first draft of a product, do the story a favor and give it a few passes to make sure it’s the best it can be. Perhaps if they called it “most timely viable product,” I’d be more willing to accept it, but that’s not the case.

I hope this motivates you either way. I’m very eager to hear editors’ and authors’ opinions on this matter.

Thanks for reading,

Matt