3. Quality Control. This is where products and processes are tested for defects.
For all writers, Quality Control obviously includes all of the editing and revision parts of the job; for the self-published, it includes packaging details as well – everything from design (page layout, font/typeface, cover design) to things like the choice of paper and cover materials.
QC isn’t considered a line function, most places, because it doesn’t directly generate sales, but it’s still a vital support function. Even if one’s overall business strategy is to produce vast quantities of minimum-quality stuff, sell them cheap, and make money on volume, there’s still a point below which customers just won’t buy. This is as true of writing as it is of any other field.
A surprising number of beginners think they can neglect quality control at some level – most often, the line I hear is that “it’s the editor’s job to fix my grammar, spelling, and punctuation.” What these folks are forgetting is that editors are their customers too. And as I said, all customers demand a minimum quality level in the manuscripts they buy.
That minimum applies to every aspect of the manuscript, from formatting and mechanics (grammar, etc.) to the more subjective aspects like “is it a good read?” The format and mechanics stuff is easy enough to find out about – check the publishing house’s submission guidelines and/or ask your editor, or get a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style. Fixing the mechanics, on the other hand, can be a long and tedious process, depending on the exact problem (if you don’t know what a comma splice is, for instance, you’re going to have a fairly hard time finding them, let alone fixing them).
This is one of the reasons why so many writers recommend learning grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. really thoroughly, until getting it right is unconscious and effortless. It will save you enormous time and effort in the long run. If you haven’t a clue about grammar, you can try finding a tame English major who is willing to go over your ms., trade proofreading with a writer friend, or in a pinch you can hire your own copy-editor. Hiring one’s own copyeditor is relatively expensive, and not recommended unless you are self-publishing, in which case it’s part of the production costs that a traditional publisher would handle for you.
Many writers spend most of their QC time and effort on the subjective aspects of the story, which is fine as long as they’re reasonably sure that the format-and-mechanics part doesn’t need attention. The subjective aspects are what most revisions are about, and they’re also where first-readers and critique groups come in. Since “is it a good read?” is a subjective question, it’s generally a good idea to get other eyes on the manuscript at some point to double-check that what the writer thinks is “a good read” is coming out as “a good read” for other people, too - and for many writers, getting those other eyes early in the process is better than later. Those who don’t possess a temperament that allows for taking critique/comments from others have to work much harder to compensate for the lack of alternate opinions.
In pretty much all cases, Quality Control is a matter for more than one set of eyes. By this I mean that if you try to do it all yourself, you are highly likely to miss things, whether they’re dangling participles or stylistic problems. The author does get to decide whether or not to take the advice of others to heart, but it is a really good idea to a) find someone to ask for help and b) think really, really hard about rejecting that help once it’s been given.
Quality control is something that can (and probably should) be applied at every stage of the production process, so long as it doesn’t interfere with production. For writers, that means that any early brainstorming sessions, redrafting and rearranging chapters, major structural fixes, etc. are just as important as critique groups and final polish – and that editorial revisions requests also count. The trick here is to remember that quality control is not a line function; production is. That means that if the quality control part (also known as the Internal Editor) is getting in the way of production, QC gets pulled back and put off until later, after the production part has been done but before the product goes out to potential customers (i.e., editors).
It is also common for writers to place too much emphasis on quality control – to demand perfection (or at least a much higher standard of work) than is necessary or desirable. Perfection is not achievable; it is certainly not achievable in one’s very first story or novel. As long as you do your best, you can’t expect more than that. This time. If you finish something and aren’t satisfied – and I know very few writers who are – spend some of your between-books time working on your skills in whatever ways you find useful. After all, QC also includes making sure the production people are capable of doing the jobs they’ve been assigned.
Oddly enough, in writing, quality has very little to do with the absolute speed of production. Every writer has a speed that can be considered “too fast” – i.e., if they write that rapidly, the quality of their work suffers – but how fast is “too fast” varies wildly. I know writers for whom one book every two years is “too fast,” and others for whom a book in two weeks works fine, but twelve days is just too short a time period. It depends on the writer…and sometimes on the story. This means you have to be hard-nosed about looking at the actual quality of whatever you’ve produced, and not get distracted by how fast or slow you produced it. Sometimes, this means not telling your crit group that you wrote the last six chapters in two days until after they’ve made their comments.
In addition to the editing and revising parts of the writing job, QC also includes less obvious things like motivation, confidence, getting enough sleep and exercise, working at one’s writing skills, eating properly, taking a break now and then – all things that make a surprisingly large difference in the overall quality of one’s writing output.
Exercise, food, breaks, and sleep are particularly important because they are things that aren’t clearly part of the production process and that sometimes seem as if they’re actively interfering with it. If you neglect them, however, both the quality and the quantity of your production tends to drop like a rock. This is also an area where you cannot make comparisons with other writers. Everyone has different biochemistry, and the fact that Joe Pro can get by on two hours of sleep a night, four gallons of coffee, and a diet composed exclusively of Twinkies and still crank out high quality prose doesn’t mean you can. Be realistic about what you need, and then make sure you get it.