Self Published Authors, Do You Ever Change Your Already Published Work?

This morning I read the 24 Reasons Why George R. R. Martin Is The Biggest Troll in Literature Right Now.  Now, days later, I still say that Julian Fellowes is right there with him (he’s the creator of Downton Abbey).   I haven’t yet decided whether I’ll watch Season 4.  It’s gonna take me a while to get over being bitter.

Went to see After Earth yesterday.  I was kind of meh about it.  The performances weren’t bad, but basically after Will Smith and his son crash on this planet, they’re the only survivors, and then they have to split up (because Will is injured) so that son can retrieve something from another part of the crash 60 miles away.  There was a lot of action but not a whole lot of INTERaction, and that left me bored.  I watch for relationships (romantic and otherwise).  I really enjoyed the parts with both of them.  And the score by James Newton Howard was really nice.  But…eh.  I won’t feel compelled to watch it again.

I reread Forsaken By Shadow over the weekend.  I was struck with a fresh case of epic cringe at the total improbability of how I got them IN.  Which is, of course, the primary criticism of the story by those who are bothered by such things.  And I finally figured out another way.  It would still require some suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader, but not near the level I’m asking now.  For the hell of it, last night I sat down and sketched out how I’d do it, what would have to change.  It would add another chapter.  Change a few other scenes.  I don’t know if I’ll do it or not.  It began as kind of an exercise just to see if I could think of something more probable.  Having thought of it…

This is, I suppose, one of the great benefits to self publishing something.  If you find mistakes, be they typos or misspellings or something larger, you have the freedom to go in and fix it.  When the initial release of Blindsight got poor reactions to the ending, I added a scene that tied things up better.  It was absolutely the right thing to do.  One reader who’d given me 1 star on the initial version changed her rating to 5 stars after reading the new ending.  So sometimes it’s definitely the right track.  But I did that within a month of the initial release.

It’s been THREE YEARS since I released Forsaken.  We’re talking 7,000 copies out there.  Not to mention my audiobook (not that it’s exactly making bank, but it’s there and if I changed anything significant, it would need to be updated and that costs money).  And then updating Genesis and the print edition of that.  Which would potentially require a tweak by my cover artist to accommodate a slightly thicker book…  Then updating the serialization on the blog, the serialization at Wattpad…  It isn’t as simple as that update to Blindsight.  And yet, this is the start to a series I have no intention of giving up, that will, over its lifetime (I hope) sell a lot more than the initial 7k copies if the series ever gains a real toehold in popularity.  And there’s that voice in the back of my mind wondering how many readers didn’t go on to try the next one because I pushed too far beyond their willing suspension of disbelief.

Decisions, decisions.

I read a compelling post about this (or rather NOT doing this) at Dear Author.  And she makes a good point.  The changes I’m considering really don’t impact the series.  The book remains mostly the same.  The characters just end up in the same location in a different way.  Not the sort of changes that would necessitate readers REreading in order to keep up with the series.

Writers, have you done this?  Gone back and made significant changes well after initial publication of one of your books?  Not just fixing typos, grammar, or formatting, but substantive changes?  A “director’s cut” so to speak?

Readers, how do you feel about a new version coming out of a book you already read?  Are you inclined to go back and read it again to see what changed (I don’t think I would be)?

I’m curious what other people’s experience has been.  Discuss.

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16 comments

  1. Kait, while I understand the reasons for re-writing already released works (and if I were in the same shoes, I’d probably do it since I always want to tweak things to amke them better), BUT as a reader that would irritate me to see that a book I bought, read, invested in my time and emotions got an update. I wouldn’t know if the update was just an extra chapter or more crucial/substancial changes, I wouldn’t want to buy the book again and with all the other books I have on my TBR pile I wouldn’t want to reread the whole book just to see what changed. And imagine my disappointment if I went through a 200 or more page long book that I wouldn’t have planned on re-reading at that time (or ever) and seeing that there were only a dozen more/less pages… So as a reader that wouldn’t make me happy :-/

    1. I totally agree (though you wouldn’t be buying it again if it were an update). I probably WON’T do it just because it’d be such a high level pain in the patootie and the vast majority of my readers didn’t seem bothered by it. But I know some authors have, and I legitimately am curious how people feel about it since that’s one of the lauded aspects of self publishing (to the authors anyway). Hence, discussion!

  2. I did it. Rewrote a book. Not in it’s entirety, and I didn’t change anything in the plot, but I schmoozed the story and added some scenes that benefitted the plot, enhanced the characters and, I believe, made it a stronger book.

    I wrote a six-part serial novel, and the first four parts were released as a single book in February 2011. There were problems with getting the last two parts of the serial completed. Now, just to explain, what I released was a complete story, I didn’t leave my readers without an HEA because the book has two heroes and the original version wrapped up one of their stories.

    As it happens, when I was able to finalize the serial as a whole, I went back to the original and rewrote, edited and added. It was absolutely the right thing to do. I think at that point I had about 6K books in the wild. I did NOT change anything to the point that a previous reader couldn’t pick up the story at part five and keep going, but what happened next was amazing.

    My readers loved my guys so much, they started the journey over with me. I rereleased It in it’s serialized form, and they read along as the book came out AND LOVED IT. It really was a shared journey, and a great experience. I’m extremely happy I did it, and hearing from my original readers, I know it was the right decision.

    I made sure there were poignant scenes added in such a way that rereading, (and repurchasing) was a rewarding experience. I think that was key to the success. I don’t think a re-edit is worth a mention, but if you choose to rewrite, I would honestly make substantial changes (without altering the plot, etc.), and make sure everyone knows what’s happening, and make sure you’re readers know they don’t HAVE to reread if they don’t want to- but if they do, you have made it worth the effort.

    I know many writers that have retrieved their rights from big houses and decided to self-publish and “fix” things that they weren’t happy with, or their readers didn’t like. It ended well for everyone I can think of.

    I haven’t read Jane’s piece, but will now…

    Good luck in your writing!! I’m looking forward to seeing what you decide!

    Jenn

  3. I’ve made updates to correct mistakes. (At some point, one particular book somehow had the pre-proofreads version uploaded. I’m still finding problems from that, too this day, which I fix when I find them.)

    But to say that once something’s published, it’s published, isn’t strictly true. I know of multiple authors in the speculative fiction world who published an initial version, then later on, released a revised version—sometimes with the same publisher, sometimes with another publisher, sometimes self-published.

    So I’d say it’s fine to update, but I’d clearly mark it as a new edition.

  4. I have been a beta reader. I enjoyed it and hope I was helpful to the authors. :) However, I did not pay to be a beta reader. If I get the feeling that an author is using customer reviews as feedback for rewriting their already published book, well, I get this twitch in my eye and my brain shuts done until all I hear is “No.” It’s a dealbreaker for me.

    Now, fixes to formatting or similar issues, that is fine by me.

    I get wanting to change the book – you are a more experienced writer now than when you first published, but that’s just the way it goes. I’d rather see that drive and creativity go into new projects.

    Of course, I also hated when George Lucas went back and altered the original Star Wars movies. South Park actually had a pretty good episode on this (it’s been years since I watched that show, but this ep always stuck with me). The gist I got from it is that yes, as the content creator, you own your work. However, once you release it to the world, your audience now owns their own piece of it (their reaction). When you go back and change it, you muck with the experience that is partly owned by the audience. That can backfire big time.

    Just my 2 cents.

    1. That’s definitely my inclination. I don’t have any huge drive to go back and mess with old stuff. Too many new stories to be told. My mind was kind of boggled by the author mentioned in that Dear Author post–I can’t fathom taking all the criticism from readers in reviews and THEN applying it. That’s crazy making!

      1. Yeah – if I wanted a choose your own adventure, I would buy a choose your own adventure. I want to read the story the author wants to tell. Yes, I’ve beta read and given my input, but always with the knowledge that perhaps the author would agree with my comment, perhaps not, but ultimately, it was their story to tell.

  5. Definitely, I keep it to fixing typos–once it’s published, it’s off my plate, even if I know a few stories later that there were things I could’ve done to make an early story better. Based on the benefit of my additional experience. I wouldn’t publish anything that hadn’t been through several rounds of vetting (including paid editing!) and that I wasn’t proud of at the time, because that’s my name on the cover… And I’m not all wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey with how experience helps authors develop over time. ;)

    1. Yes, I agree. I all my published work was thoroughly edited before being put out there. I definitely don’t believe in putting out crap for the sake of having something out there, and I don’t believe in readers being the new editor. That’s not what this is about.

  6. I can’t think of the authors’ names now but there have been several updates to e-books on my kindle ap where these authors change/rewrote or updated the original story and edited and it didn’t cost me a thing. I don’t have a kindle so I don’t know if that works for the actual device or is a perk of using the kindle for pc ap. With the updated version came a note in the front matter explaining the update. I remember one of the books made changes in order to make the original story into a series so the changes involved spinning out threads the first edition sort of glossed over.

    I’ve changed a non-fiction book but adding illustrations. It didn’t make a huge difference but sales did improve a bit. And,of course, I did it when I was first learning formatting and would spot something that was off or that had been missed.

    I think the thing to consider here is your intent for the series. If a rewrite makes it better and makes you joyously look forward to writing the next books then there’s your sign. It isn’t unprofessional to change books, it’s a perk of being able to self pub. Think how many trad published authors discover typos, story errors, description errors and could NOT fix it. That had to drive them wild. We don’t have that problem and, because we’re in relationships with our readers, they often love the idea of changes, especially if they’re included in the process via prizes, games, inclusion in a future novel in some way…so it isn’t a bad sale tact for future books in the series either.

    Just thoughts.

    1. As long as the author is updating an existing listing (at any vendor) rather than publishing a new version, then no one who has purchased the book would have to buy it again. They would simply be deleting the book from their device and downloading the fresh copy.

  7. Wow, great question. As a writer I want to say, “do what you want!” As a reader, I say “do what you want IF.”

    IF it’s a typo, a mangled sentence or a wonky paragraph that needs clarifying, I say go for it.

    IF it’s something like what you describe that clears things up and makes the story more appealing to new readers without affecting continuity for previous readers, I would have no problem with it. As a previous reader, it wouldn’t affect me. As a future reader, it might make my experience better and make it more likely that I’ll stick with the series.

    If it’s something that changes how people see characters, how the story progresses and how the future of the series develops, I would say no, just out of respect to people who would have to re-read. It doesn’t sound like you’re doing that, I just thought I’d add it in there. :)

    I’m going to have to go read that article now. I can see myself being tempted to do this, but I don’t think I would go through with it (other than typos, of course).

  8. I’m with those who add the IF.

    There’s a series I love that had a terrible ending. And on GR, a lot of other people mention the same problems, even some of the ones who gave that final book a high rating. So, I would be thrilled if that author came out with a new version that addressed those issues. But I would definitely want it done as a separate edition. (Still ticked that George Lucas didn’t give an option for those of us who wanted to see the original Anakin at the end.)

    However, I’m also of the mind that it’s far too easy for an author to “fix” things only to end up breaking a perfectly good story. Plus, “fixing” can take time and energy away from new creations. So, overall, I think it’s better to leave a story as is.

    Also, I didn’t know that when an author makes changes to a book in Kindle, whoever bought it receives an email announcing it. So, thanks for the info.

    1. I’m pretty sure that’s not an automatic thing (as people will often just update things like a typo here or a missing comma there). You have to contact Amazon to tell them and ask them to email those who’ve purchased it.

  9. I’ve only fixed typos. I wouldn’t go back and change a book. Because, really, would we ever be satisfied, or would we think about yet another thing to change later? And I CERTAINLY would never change a book that is already in print. Instead of changing what’s already out there, time and energy well be better spent on new work.

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