“Real artists ship”
Around Apple, that sentiment is attributed to Steve Jobs. It makes perfect sense. After all no device or piece of software or book makes a difference unless it is released into the world.
Sometimes it’s easy to know when it’s time. Early in my career I was working on a contract book and I kept coming up with little changes and tweaks and additions. Finally, an exasperated editor looked me straight in the eye and asked: “Do you want it perfect, or do you want it published?”
Naturally, I wanted it “published, but.” The editor held her ground. She told me to choose right then. If I chose perfect, they’d get someone else to finish the book. Otherwise they would move the manuscript into the publishing pipeline.
After I chose “published,” the editor congratulated me on my good sense. Then she said something that’s stuck with me ever since.
“If you’re serious about writing, the only work that counts is the work you complete.”
Since that time, I’ve learned that it’s pretty easy to tell if a book is not ready for prime time. It’s much harder to know when it’s time to let go and push your book out into the world. For that you have to look at your work differently. You have to put on what Jason Fried calls your “shipping goggles.”
Put on your shipping goggles
“One of the biggest challenges of shipping a product is knowing when to put on the shipping goggles. The shipping goggles make you less sensitive to little nits and scrapes and things that might be able to be a little bit better, but really don’t need to be right now. Stuff that we could tweak, but really shouldn’t be grabbing our attention given all the other high value bits we need to hit.”
Jason goes on to describe the importance of learning when to pay attention to small details and when to push a perfectly useful product out the door. My own way of thinking about that comes from another editor who had his “Second Edition Rule.”
That editor thought that that most of the things that authors (like me) wanted to tinker with after they’d finished a solid manuscript were inconsequential. They were worth fixing, but they weren’t worth holding up publication to fix. So his response to request for those little changes was always the same: “Don’t worry about it. We’ll fix it in the second edition.”
That book you never finish because you want it perfect will never boost your reputation or your fees. The only book that will make a difference for you is the one you finish and publish.