Is Perfection an Art … or Author Sabotage?

by | Aug 16, 2018

By Judith Briles

Are you fiddling while your book-to-be does a slow burn? Are you working on creating the perfect book? Yes, we all hate typos, dropped words, grammar hiccups, or writing something that is incorrect.

Hmmm …

Super Heroes are perfect. And they aren’t real.

Unicorns are perfect … and they aren’t real.

Fairies are perfect … and they aren’t real.

So why do you believe that

  • every word
  • every sentence
  • every paragraph
  • every page
  • every chapter
  • every book
  • every, every

must be perfect?

And do you really, really think that every edit and editor is perfect?

Nope is the answer. I can give a manuscript to 20 different editors and can guarantee that I will get 20 variations back.

Perfection? It’s a myth … as super heroes, unicorns and fairies are.

My advice:

  • do the best writing you can
  • get coaching and editing
  • get the best cover and interior you can for your budget

Then, go for it. Get your work out there.

Publish It—Even When It’s Not Perfect

Oh-Oh … I can feel the heels digging in, even some pissed off responses coming my way. But stop, take a minute to just breathe from here.

I get it … you want to become a better writer, a better author. If that’s you, you have to be willing to put stuff out there that isn’t perfect. I’ve already said it: get editing (and no, that doesn’t mean your friend or a relative reads the book—a real life editor needs to get his or her eyes and fingers on it). Sure, have beta readers … it’s a yes, yes, yes to other eyes and feedback. You want your book-to-be as good as it can be … but as good as it can be for RIGHT NOW.

But here’s where so many authors-to-be get into trouble. The perfection bug hits …

  • procrastination …
  • more tweaking …
  • more tinkering …

And what happens? Paralysis enters. You stop. And time marches by. Possibly the “hot window” that your book could have entered has become lukewarm.

There isn’t a time when I haven’t looked back at some of my own books and thought—

Jeeze, what were you thinking Judith. Why did you write it this way? You could have said this better … blah, blah, blah.

Stop it. Let it go. For me, it’s a “yes” to all of the above thoughts that have gone through my mind and what I have said out loud. You are an evolving writer and author. You will get better. I know that how I wrote 30 years ago is so amateur when compared to how I write and express my thoughts today. You are no different.

I get it and I know how hard it is to let your words out and expose them (and you) to the world when you feel they aren’t quite ready. I so know.

Do the best you can … it’s all you can ask of yourself. Know that you will grow as you continue your journey in the wonderful worlds of writing, authoring and publishing. When you compare yourself to other writers and authors who “have made it,” understand that they’ve been in the writing game far longer than you have. They, too, were beginners at one time. Amateurs.

Here’s your “to-do’s” for your journey:

  1. Set aside time to write and complete your book.
  2. Get your book out and available to buyers. Yes, published—it’s a happy dance.

Then …

  1. Create your Author Central page on Amazon.
  2. Stop hiding … create a Contact page that has “contact” information on it on your website. Look at mine on
  3. Use the right social media platforms—the ones where your potential buyers are.
  4. Market your book to your targeted readers … you do it until you no longer want sales.

It’s a start. A commitment. A deal with yourself and a small circle of supporters that you are going to get this baby done, out and then market it. Errors that pop up, fix them. In the print on demand world, this becomes a no-brainer.

Many wannabe authors practice the art of one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, three to get ready, three to get ready … and they never go. They keep reaching for

  • one more thing
  • one more read-through
  • one more re-write
  • one more piece of information
  • another interview
  • another who knows what

Sometimes, it’s just another excuse. Their book never gets completed or good enough, much less published. Their quest for the perfect book has become the enemy of creating a good book, even a great book.

Perfection and procrastination go hand-in-hand. Break the bond and move forward today. Get your book published.
Photo: BigStockPhoto

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. W. M. Raebeck

    Cool! The new one will create a whole new momentum, with all you’ve learned since then. And all in his honor. (my last response so as not to hog your comment section!)

  2. W. M. Raebeck

    Thanks for your reply. It must’ve been both heart-wrenching and healing to write your way through that loss. My sincere sympathies. I think with that deep emotional writing, we are cleansing and fasting and purging and loving and forgiving and understanding and exploring. The process is probably more important, for the time it takes, than any publishing. And then comes the clear sky when you’ve fully scoured the unknowns of the journey and the invisible forces at work. That’s when, I think, all the time and writing can become something valuable for someone else. But it takes objectivity we don’t possess for some time. Nice though when we’re truly ready to move forward with something new. And publishing is a great way to do that.

    • Judith

      So agree. I spent 30+ years on the speaking platform after the book was published. It was ongoing bestseller at conferences … and if any book was going to “walk” from our table, it was this one. Always interesting–used to irritate me when people would just take something … then I let it go … they needed the book. I’m doing the revision and update because of constant requests to get it back out … so back to work.

  3. W. M. Raebeck

    I totally agree, Judith, and striving for perfection can also be masking fear of all sorts of things. The key is to know the difference between making a book better and feeling great about it, or prodding and poking something indefinitely because we’re uncertain or fearful about its merit, what comes next, or the whole process. For my second book, “I Did Inhale—Memoir of a Hippie Chick,” it really TOOK a few decades to get it right. It was a soul-wrangling memoir that continued to unveil itself to me with each edit. It wasn’t about perfection in that case, but making ‘my story’ really work for readers, as well as feeling my own psychological work was complete. It took many years, and even 6 months before publishing, I came up with an epilogue that totally sealed the deal. So, although perfection is a total illusion, I don’t see any reason to rush to publish if one isn’t ready. On the other hand, it was hard to finally let it fly! I had to pull the plug.

    • Judith

      Love the title! And, I do get it that some things need more time than others. When I finally wrote about the death of my 19-year-old in When God Says NO–5 years before I could do it and get it to the publisher. That was in 1988. Now, I’m in the process of rewriting it, do an update and makeover. You are right … at some point, you’ve got to pull the plug.

  4. Judith

    Linda — thanks for your comments. I purposely split up the numbers one and two followed by a sentence and then three through six. Does your Copy show that?

    There isn’t a book that I haven’t picked up in the last five years that there isn’t some type of error—sometimes so multiple, I put it down and don’t bother reading further. It usually happens by page 20.

    One of my favorite errors involved a children’s book where the author somehow omitted 4-5 pages from the middle of the book. Yikes, 6000 were printed. The kid fans—and teachers who recommended them—were chomping at the bit for it. What to do? He created a contest telling his young readers that if they could discover what his character meant to do and say; then write it to him, the winning entry will have a character created in his next book using their name. the kids loved it and all the books were sold.

    Another classic happened when a publisher screwed up and no one caught it on the book cover. Including the author. It was bold and blatant and no one caught it. Upon discovery, the Publisher blew up the cover -Took it to tradeshows and created a contest for visitors to its booth to see if they could discover what the error. was.

    Minor errors are going to happen. For the POD crowd it’s an easy fix. For regular print runs, just work on sales and move the books, fixing the error st the next printing. Of course e-books can be fixed right away.

    With big ones, like the ones I shared, need to be fixed—cleverness helps.

    And, this was written on my mobile— not the best editing device.

    Thrilled that you are a new fan. Judith

    • Linda Lee

      You wrote this on your mobile? Forget the Mensa test, you are clearly a genius!

      • Linda Lee

        Oh, please forgive me, I was so blown away by the thought of you writing this amazing post on your mobile phone, that I forgot to answer your question. Yes, everything is fixed to perfection, as far as I can tell.

        You are right, it is rare to find even a traditionally published book by a bestselling author without at least one error. And too many of the self-published tomes are ridden with typos. I am particularly astonished when a glaring error is smack dab in the middle of the first paragraph, or even in the first sentence. But I love the contest idea for missing pages and a cover error. Brilliant!

        So far, in my 60+ years of living, I have published only one novel. This was nearly 20 years ago. But I never promote it, because: 1) it has the ugliest book cover ever created, 2) there are errors!!, 3) both my writing style and my beliefs have evolved so much, that I really don’t want to claim the book as mine anymore. Luckily, it was written under an entirely different pen name and published when the internet was just getting started, so it is well under the radar.

        By the way, I would never have presumed to point out the two tiny errors I noticed in your article, if perfectionism leading to procrastination hadn’t been the topic of this post. And, like I said, I really needed to read this now. I have been driving myself nuts, trying to make my next book PERFECT. Twenty years between books is waaaay too long. And you are exactly right, there will never be a second book if I don’t let go of my paralyzing perfectionism!

        • Judith

          Oh yes … way too long. Remember Frozen … time to let it go. Judith

  5. Linda Lee

    Oh… THANK YOU for this. I really needed to read this right now. My perfectionism has gone beyond procrastination to total paralysis. And I had no clue about what was causing my writer’s block, until I read this great post just now. Wow — happy tears!

    P.S. My perfection-obsession eye caught two tiny typos in this wonderful, illuminating, and inspiring post. The first is in your numbered list of “to-do’s” for the journey. You start with numbers 1 and 2, setting aside time to write and complete your book, and getting your book published. Then you go to number 2, Create your Author Central page on Amazon, and on through number 5. I’m thinking that the Author Central page should be number 3, with a total of 6 numbered items?

    The second tiny typo is in the paragraph immediately under your numbered list:
    “It’s a start. A commitment. A deal with yourself and a small circle or supporters…” I believe you meant to say “a small circle of supporters”.

    You see what I mean? Perfectionism is the bane of my writing existence! Argh!!

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this life-giving post! I feel like you just gave me Writer CPR. I don’t even care about the two tiny typos, they do not take one thing away from the great value of this post. If anything, those insignificant errors enhance the value — proving beyond any doubt that total perfection is so not necessary. You can write something absolutely awesome, even with an itty bitty mistake or two. Wow!

    THANK YOU, Judith Briles. You have a new Fan for Life.

  6. Ernie Zelinski

    I don’t strive for perfection and never will.

    These words of wisdom from one of my favorite writers have guided me through the years.

    “It’s better to do a sub-par job on the right project than an excellent job on the wrong project.”
    — Robert J. Ringer

    My international bestseller “The Joy of Not Working” had over 150 spelling errors when I first self-published it in 1991. It wasn’t until three years later when the book sold over 30,000 copies and when I did a spell check that I discovered those spelling errors. Did this impact the sales of this book? Very little, near as I can tell. For the record, the book has now sold over 300,000 copies and still sold over 5,000 copies in print and 2,000 in eBook editions last year, over 25 years after it was released.

    I am not saying that a writer shouldn’t correct obvious grammatical and spelling errors. I do believe, however, that great content is much, much more important than having a book perfectly edited and proof read. Also, there are times when it pays to hurry and get a book out in the shortest time possible at the expense of excellence. I once wrote a book in three weeks and had it in print two months after the day I started writing it. It ended up selling over 50,000 copies and earned me a tidy sum.

    This has been my motto ever since I self-published my first book in 1989:


    These words of wisdom relate to the motto:

    “Perfection is a trifle dull. It is not the least of life’s ironies that this, which we all aim at, is better not quite achieved.”
    — W. Somerset Maugham

    “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.”
    — William Shakespeare

    “It is far better to know too little than to know too much.”
    — Samuel Butler

    “A lot of disappointed people have been left standing on the street corner waiting for the bus marked Perfection.”
    — Donald Kennedy

    For the record, in the last two weeks I did a total of the number of my books that have sold worldwide and it came out to 1,001,730 copies. I am extremely happy and satisfied that I have always aggressively questioned the experts, particularly those claiming that editing, proofreading, and cover design have to be done to perfection. What a bunch of crap! I have proved them wrong over the years and will continue to prove them wrong as I create more bestselling books.

    • Judith

      Ernie—I’m with you and love the quotes. And bravo for your tenacity and success with Your Books. Nitpicking and perfection are are physical and mental drains. Of the thousands of published authors I’ve met—there has never been one that has not said in some form: it could have been better. Yet the book is out. They did it. yes, they did. And so did you—congrats. Judith



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