Working backwards from rules

Understanding why a rule exists can help you decide to break it

When it comes to writing and self-publishing there are many so called rules. Some of them are worth heeding, but some deserve to be broken. How can you know when to break a rule and when to follow it?

We’re in the process of replacing a gas log fireplace in our house. A valve failed on it a few years ago and it was so old they couldn’t find a part needed to repair it.

I wanted to installed a wood burning stove but when the guy from the stove shop showed up we discovered a surprise. The gas fireplace insert wasn’t in a fireplace. A wooden alcove was built next to the chimney and made to look like a fireplace.

To get a wood stove installed that met fire code would require a major multi-story renovation. That was an expense we hadn’t planned for so we decided to replace the gas log.

Even that turned out to be problematic. The gas insert that was in there didn’t meet fire code. The previous owner likely installed it themselves and were comfortable with their safety. It probably would never have caught the house on fire, we’re talking an inch or two variance here, but burning the house down is not a risk I feel like taking.

Part of me knows that there is bureaucracy and over engineering in the clearance measurements. If a stove company says 4 inches is enough clearance and someone meets that and has a fire, the company will get sued. So they make it 6 inches or whatever to be safe. The fire code requires that you adhere to manufacturers clearances, that way the town is covered.

So I thought about the fire code. Lots of people have wood stoves and gas inserts in my small New England town. In the center of town stands the “Always Ready Fire House” reminding us that a house fire has a major impact on the whole community. Breaking the fire code rules would not just affect me and my family, it would impact the whole town. These are not rules I want to break.

It feels like we have so many rules these days that people break them or follow them blindly. Decisions are made based on the existence of the rule, not on what the rule was intended to enforce.

As an indie-author the rules are more flexible and violating them won’t cause physical harm, but it could negatively impact your business. It makes sense to understand why people continue to point the rules out.

For example your book needs a thorough edit is a common rule. This is for readability. If readers can’t understand your sentences it doesn’t matter how interesting your story is. Poor punctuation and sentence structure will bother readers and have a negative impact on your indie-author business.

For me editing means paying a professional. I know I have errors that could be distracting and I don’t want to put readers off with my mistakes. This is a rule I follow.

If you love language and grammar and are confident that readers will never find more than a handful of minor errors then you can make a different choice. Maybe your best friend is an English junkie and they love red-lining your work, that’s awesome. Don’t just pay for an edit because that’s the rule.

This is true for covers, layout, marketing copy and more. Think about and understand why the rule is there. If you understand the why, feel free to break the rule.


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