Post-Publication Quality Control… (Oops)

Voltaire once wrote: “The perfect is the enemy of the good enough.”  (Well, he said something like that — translations get a bit wierd.  And he probably wasn’t the first person to say it, but I couldn’t find anything proving that.  At least it’s not another misattribution, however).

In writing, it is often used to refer to the phenomenon of never being happy enough with your finished work, and constantly revising it, to the point that your manuscript can never be good enough to publish (or submit to an editor, or… well, you get the idea).

The way to combat this is to work out all of the truly major errors, and then to set limits as to how long you take to polish out the rest (for example, “I’ll give myself until (insert date here) to make as many changes as I can” or “I’ll make one last pass and then I’m done.”  You can fudge this a bit — say, you need one or two extra days to complete a pass through, or you want to go back to make some quick changes to one particular scene one last time — but you can’t go over “deadline” too far or you’ll never finish).

There may be a few errors left in such a manuscript, even after a good proofreading, but believe it or not that’s average — in studies done comparing indie publishing to traditional publishing, there are an average of six typos or other mistakes that make it to publication by traditional publishers, even with all of the extra manpower they can afford.  One of the advantages eBooks have over print is that, if the author (or publisher) can catch these errors after the book is released, corrections can be made.

Now that “In Forgery Divided” is released and dozens of new eyes are on it, I put out a call on Facebook for people to track down any typos.  I’ve recieved a few replies, and in those few replies some minor errors (emphasis on minor) have surfaced that need correcting — about two dozen all told; a little more above average than I’m happy with, but not horribly so.  (Note: I haven’t asked permission from these people to use their names, here, but I am very thankful that they were willing to help).

So, tomorrow (or perhaps you could call it the day after tomorrow) I will be uploading a slightly revised version of “In Forgery Divided” to the various online stores where it is available for purchase (this will be happening after midnight, to minimize sales disruption). The book is quite readable as it is, and nothing substantive will change, so feel free to buy it now if you haven’t already.  My understanding is that, once I’m done uploading and the revision is approved, anyone who has already purchased the old version will get the revision the moment your Kindle (and thus far, all of my reported purchases have been for the Kindle) syncs up with Amazon.

If you’re expecting to notice any changes… well, unless there was a particular typo or missing word that caught your attention, you won’t. The changes are all insignificant to the average reader.  The book has already been edited, proofread, etc., so there aren’t even that many of these changes, and I wouldn’t bother mentioning it — I wouldn’t even bother doing it — except for one thing:

I made a mistake in the back matter.

Some of you may not be familiar with this term; it is a technical term writers and publishers use, but is not often used in common vernacular. The term, paired with “front matter,” refers to all of the material which is included inside the (virtual, in this case) binding which is not actually part of the contents of the book. This would include (if the book has them) the title page, copyright page, acknowledgements and dedications, frontispiece (either as an illustration or as a map), table of contents, maybe a foreword or afterword depending on how the book is structured, even things like cut-out coupons (in the old pulp novel days), etc.

I hope you can see why a mistake in the back matter might be a bit… frustrating to have to correct.  In my case, the mistake is the announced title for the (still to be written) third book in the “Law of Swords” series.  I used the wrong version of this upcoming novel’s title, and must swap that out for the correct “newer” (scare quotes for a reason) title.

Now, by now I’m hoping my readers understand the system in place for this novel’s titles.  The forged, from In Treachery Forged, became the Forgery in In Forgery Divided.  The Divided in that title will become “In Division” for the third book’s title… and the word following “Division” will be used in slightly modified for the fourth book’s title, etc.  I made a mistake with the 3rd book title because the title of the 4th book was also changed.

Now, in writing parlance, I am something in-between a plotter and a pantser (a plotter tends to write detailed outlines they try to follow; a pantser starts with little or no plot in mind and develops the story “by the seat of their pants,” hence the name).  While I started writing In Treachery Forged with a “seat of their pants” plot, I made plans for the future as I wrote.  By the time I was done writing, I had outlined the series to its conclusion for an expected total of five books.

This was back in 2007, before the industry changes which made self-publishing practical (yes, In Treachery Forged is that old.  Stick around and you’ll hear why it took so long).  I started reading guides on making pitches to agents, attending conventions where editors were present (at a Marscon one year, my mother went around following Toni Wiesskopf, the publishing editor of Baen Books, from panel to panel taking notes.  I, meanwhile, was tracking down all the other authors and editors at the convention — there were too many of these panels for me to attend by myself), etc., etc.  Basically, while I was revising and polishing In Treachery Forged, I was educating myself on just how to “Get Published!” in the traditional way.

A certain conclusion was reached from all of this:  Most publishers wanted to know that you had sequels planned before buying your book.  Many publishers would ask to see your outlines for these plans.  Few publishers at the time would buy an unknown, debut author’s proposed five-book series, however — with some exceptions, they were looking for trilogys, and the longer you planned it to go beyond that, the less likely a publisher would take it.

An axe was taken to my outlines.  While I couldn’t cut it back to trilogy-length, I was able to cut the length down by one book.  The story elements in Book Four were divided between books Three and Five, so book four no longer existed (and, incidentally, the final book’s title was changed as well).  I thought the plot was weakened, and that I’d still wind up with absolutely massive tomes for the new books three and four, and it still didn’t bring be down to that ideal “trilogy” length, but I’d cut out as much as I could.  “In Division Imperiled” was re-named “In Division Deceived” (the errant title in the backmatter).  I wasn’t happy about it, and saved my original plans while I started submitting to publishers.

Fast forward about six or seven years; while I’d originally expected it to take two-three years to find a publisher in that climate (as I’d been warned about through my research), I wasn’t published yet and hadn’t even gone through a quarter of my “submit to these publishers” list.  I started with the bigger names, of course — Daw, TOR, Baen, Pyr — and had a number of smaller presses on my list as well.  I knew some took longer and others shorter to reply, but I was expecting an average turn-around time for a rejection of 3 months, and an acceptance of 1-2 years.

The numbers I had read about were wrong.  Every single submission I made took longer, by far, than the “3 month average” I had read about.  One publisher held the manuscript for six months, one for a year and a half.  A third held onto it for over four years… and I had to pull it from them because they still hadn’t made a decision!

During those years I was waiting, a game-changing revolution was going on in the publishing world:  A practical system of self-publishing had been introduced.  And better yet, authors were having success at it!

I had my head in the sand.  I really wish I’d considered the idea before; trying to get myself published the traditional way was interfering with my ability to write new books, and it might have even been more profitable had I released “In Treachery Forged” just one year earlier.  Ah, well — playing “what if,” while a good way to come up with a plot for a novel, is not a viable life strategy.

At a Marscon, one year (several years after the Toni Weiskopf one), I arranged a one-on-one sit-down discussion with the editor\publisher of a small press publishing house.  It was that editor (who later shut down the traditional publishing wing of her publishing house and became a self-publisher herself; curiously, many of the authors she’d published also went the self-publishing or similar route) who talked about how the self-publishing revolution was changing the industry that finally got me to see what I was missing.

It took a while to get everything I needed together (cover art, editing, etc.), but by December of 2013, In Treachery Forged was out.  A little after that, I released Kitsune Stratagem, and started the process (which has been discussed here, before, ad nauseum) of getting the still-delayed “The Merrimack Event” ready.  Then, FINALLY, I was ready to start writing the sequel.

I found the old file with my outline.  Both versions of the outline, in fact, with both sets of planned titles.  And even though I’d had several years of seperation to detach myself from my original plans and to think about it all, the five book outline was still MUCH better than the four book outline.

And so “In Division Deceived” went back to being “In Division Imperiled.”   Just not in the back matter.

In case you were wondering, Book Four went back to being “In Peril Revealed,” instead of the four-book outline title of “In Deception Betrayed.”  I’m still undecided about the ultimate title of the fifth book (or even whether the series will stay at just five books; new plotlines have arisen that weren’t planned for; while I’m hoping to keep to the gist of the outlines I have already made intact, I’ll have to completely revamp them to account for these new subplots.  If enough new material gets added, I may have to plan on a sixth book)

And, like I said earlier, don’t worry about buying it in the meantime — you probably won’t even notice the changes.