Everyone wants their novel to be perfect, but how many novels have you read that contain absolutely no errors? Even novels by well known authors published by major publishing houses contain errors. Nothing major, perhaps a small typo, a transposed letter, or word. It does happen. Human error is inevitable. We just have to do the best we can. As a technical writer, I can speak of that first hand.
Although we would like technical manuals we produce to be perfect grammatically, as well as technically, it’s never going to happen. Our customers understand that in several volumes of text consisting of hundreds of pages each, errors will occur. Our job is to get the manuals to the point that they are good enough, not necessarily perfect, but good enough. The process for writing a technical manual is little different than that for writing a novel. An author writes text, the text is edited, and then it is reviewed, and revised. The cycle of editing, review, and revision continues until the text is good enough for sell off (customer acceptance). No matter how complex, the text only gets so many cycles of editing, review, and revision. If the text gets caught in an endless cycle of editing, review, and revision either the very life will be edited out of it or it will simply die in the cycle, judged as unpublishable. So care must be taken as we try to achieve perfection.
The opposite side of good enough is style slavery. When I was a grad student, one of the requirements for my master’s thesis was that it strictly complied with the APA Style guide and other requirements from the university. In this case, good enough was not good enough. Good enough had to be perfect. Any misspellings, poor grammar, or format issues resulted in not graduating, so the stakes were very high. The stakes for your novel may also be high if you want writing to be your primary source of income.
Those stakes can be raised once your novel is formally reviewed. What effect the reviewer has on your perception of the stakes depends on two things, who the reviewer is and how important the review is to you. It should go without saying that, especially on the internet, all reviewers are not equal. There are professional, credentialed reviewers, self-appointed reviewers, and customer reviews. Furthermore, there are those who review your novel using very ridged grammatical and format criteria (like my professors), while others reviewers put the reading experience (plot, character development) first. No matter what, the potential impact of reviews (assuming they are read) shouldn’t be underestimated. I don’t know if bad reviews can break a novel or not. The default assumption is that they matter. Personally, the only reviews I place stock in are reviews of hardware and software, because those are technical reviews, either the thing reviewed works or it doesn’t.
Reviews of books, like movies, are subjective. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone to see some movie panned by reviewers, only to find it was really enjoyable. Books are no different. Typically the criteria I use for a good book or movie doesn’t match the criteria of the reviewer. So does a bad review, either formal or informal, justify a revision? Maybe. We’ll have to consider that on a case by case, review by review basis. Take what you can from the reviews, learn from them and do better next time. Just don’t stop writing.
Speaking of revisions, here’s something else that you may find useful, versioning your manuscript. Versioning your manuscript is easy. Every day when you open your manuscript to work on it, immediately do a “Save As”, renaming the file with the current date (i.e., mynovel_032911). After you save the file, move the older file to an archive file. The archive provides you with a history of the development of your novel and an earlier version to access in case the most recent version gets corrupted and can’t be recovered. It’s also a very good idea to have a backup drive to store your data on, not just a USB flash drive. Nothing could be more disheartening than having your hard drive crash and losing several years work in a moment.
If you have any comments about this or any of my posts, please feel free to click the comment link and let me know what’s on your mind.