The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good


As part of LiberWriter’s marketing efforts, I read various forums to keep up with what authors think about this, that and the other thing, and where it’s constructive or useful, put in my two cents as well.

There’s an interesting discussion on the KindleBoards’ Writer’s Cafe right now:,83185.0.html

It made me wonder…is the relative ease and accessibility of digital publishing allowing some authors to put up works they perhaps know are not ready for prime time, with the thought that it can always be fixed later? But in the meantime, let’s make the rounds of the blogs and ring up some sales…

This is a  very interesting discussion because it highlights one of the big differences between traditional publishing and digital.  With a traditional book, you’d better get a lot of things right for your first print run.  The cover, editing, formatting… everything, because once all those books are out there, you can’t go out and fix them.  With digital publishing, you can go back and fix things as you find problems.

We’ll come back to that in a minute, but someone on the forum mentions that software is the same way, which is certainly true.  The reason is purely one of economics:

It’s possible to build software in a very solid way, but it is extremely expensive compared to a more incremental approach, and most people, voting with their wallets, will opt for the cheaper software that’s “good enough” even if it’s not perfect or has a few bugs.  The other tradeoff is time: one person with a given amount of time can either release the system they’re building to see if people are actually interested in the product, or spend 10 years perfecting it, at which point it will be out of date, and have no hope of earning back the time sunk into it.  In other words, “the perfect is the enemy of the good”, or as the old saying goes: “fast, cheap, good: pick any two”.  For a lot of software, then, a more fluid style of development makes sense: it may be aggravating for users who find bugs here and there, but it keeps costs down, and it also allows developers to better concentrate on what people are actually interested in.  Better to release a feature early, and then discard it if there is no interest, than to spend months making it absolutely perfect, and *then* discover there is no interest.

Back to the world of writing, I think a similar approach is not mistaken for self-published authors, especially those working on their first book or two.  If you put it out there and see that it’s just not a subject that’s of interest to people, or the writing or story are so bad that it’s just never going to sell, why bother fixing it up?  The phrase that comes to mind is “polishing a turd”.  Chalk it up to experience, and move on to a new project! Keep writing and your persistence will pay off, but sometimes you need to know when it’s time to let something go.

If, on the other hand, you see some interest in your writing, and receive positive feedback, at that point you can confidently start investing in it – get a nice cover, spend some money on editing, and of course, make sure the formatting and conversion are good!

Naturally, the exact balance can be tricky to get right: if you do want to kick off your book’s launch with a big splash, you’re going to want to make a good first impression, and should therefore invest more time and money up front.  If you’re content with a soft launch to see how things fare before going all-in, you can hold something in reserve to invest when it seems like it’s going to be a worthwhile use of your resources.