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Guest Post: The Great Leap Forward by Duncan Milne


It was 1958; Chairman Mao announced that China would enjoy a Great Leap Forward, whereby the Revolution would finally succeed. Success meant that China would enjoy the same modernization as America. It didn’t happen. There was no Great Leap Forward.

China has made economic strides, progress has been seen, but without a Great Leap Forward.

Writing, like cultural and economic development, comes incrementally. Publishing more so. Writing and publishing a book requires patience and tenacity, but also a timeline that is elastic. This underlying requirement of patience and forgiveness of time is supposed to be one of the advantages of self-publishing, because after all you can drive your project at your pace. The Great Leap Forward for authors. A watershed that represents a passage to independence and success and it is. Sort of.

Sort of, because you are (likely) to remain dependent upon various service providers to perform copyediting, layout and design; cover art and e-book conversion. This was certainly the case for me.

Fortunately, I had anticipated certain doldrums where the winds would drain from the sails of my project, but generally planned to have as many things working in parallel such as the cover art creation and copyediting.  To a degree that worked very well.

However, the trouble came at the end, or I suppose near the end of the project, where the attraction to rush always lurks.  The place where one hopes to find the Great Leap Forward, where all the revisions, edits, further revisions and reviews results in a completed journey. A place where my labours would be converted into the rewards I worked so hard for.

My self-publishing experience was no different; I was looking for the Great Leap Forward.  The lesson was, once again, there is no Great Leap Forward. Instead, there was disappointment.

Anxious to publish my novel, to heed the advice of marketing gurus like Seth Godin and resist the temptation to “over polish” and to understand critical paths for the project, I pressed forward. I held my breath and told myself, the Kindle conversion of my book was “ready to ship”. I lied, but ultimately I’m responsible for the quality of the text. The drafting, the creation of the story line, the narrative and the dialogue, all of it comes down to me. Me and The Great Leap Forward.

There was a short error report of potential spelling errors that I reviewed. All of the errors, except for one, were proper names so I moved my toe to the line, ready to leap. After all, the single error spotted was simply a typo, a space inserted into a word that I had created. It was fine. But then…then I thought, “Ok, maybe just a quick scan to be sure.”

First pass – the cover of the book was wrong and when I say “wrong” I mean, wrong cover art, wrong title and wrong author. I contacted the sales rep and said “look I think this needs a closer inspection, don’t you think this is a problem?” Surprisingly, the answer was “I’ll have to refer your comments onto the production team, as I don’t have an e-book reader.” Yes, the salesperson, working for a publisher who has their own proprietary e-book format and devices doesn’t have a reader. Not even the free app that is so widely advertised for use across multiple platforms.

But it was OK, because they fixed the cover, leading me to the second pass. “Thanks for fixing the cover, but it appears that there hasn’t been any other quality checking as the other conversion typos haven’t been corrected.” The reply was “oh, no we don’t do quality checks, we need you to review the text and identify if there are problems.”

OK, so no quality assurance from a well-known self-publishing service. Frustrating. A step back from taking the Great Leap Forward, but ultimately I’m responsible for the quality of the manuscript.

Third pass – moving through the text painstakingly with the e-book version being scrutinised against the physical copy to discover a multitude of errors in the text.  Specifically, over 20 passages in which the text became randomly mixed together, rendering the paragraph meaningless. Something a simple quality check could have caught, especially given that the errors seemed to correlate to italicized text.  So, more delays, more frustration and I had to generate an error report to provide to the publisher.

Fast forward a week later and we end up at the fourth pass.  A pass that I tried to anticipate.

My goal was originally a Thanksgiving launch of my novel. It seemed like a reasonable, achievable goal for a debut novel that I submitted at the end of May for copy editing.  At this rate, Thanksgiving has come and gone, without being any closer. In fact I would say that even Santa Claus won’t be able to deliver a Kindle version of my book by Christmas.  There is no Great Leap Forward.

Try to let go of the deadline based goals, let go of the big finish, focus on those things that you can control.  There is no Great Leap Forward. There are only little steps that we all must take day by day to reach our ultimate goals.

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