Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Once upon a Revision

This isn’t a typical manuscript revision—that was done some five years ago. This is a book revision, a published book revision. Why revise it now? Why not just move on? I asked myself these questions when pondering this task that didn’t appear in my original writing schedule for the next two years. I had planned to correct a few typos I discovered after publication and submit a new file, but feedback from readers had been good. Overall, it had garnered very positive reviews.

Originally, the story was intended to end with one book. As it drew to a close, however, the probability of a sequel emerged. Tying up loose ends would have evolved into a longer novel than I wanted, so the sequel idea took shape in a shadowy sort of way.

A few months ago, I pulled Book 1 out of print and began to write that second story. Yes, it was too long to wait after publishing its predecessor, but I had never made any effort to market the first book and therefore hadn’t sold many copies. Besides, my editing work always took precedence over my own writing. By the end of the sequel’s second chapter, I discovered the first book didn’t go far enough in setting up Book 2. Required details didn’t exist—important details that needed to be added. Still, I thought those additions would be few and far between; that hasn’t proven to be the case. While the changes are not long—often just a sentence or two—they have already multiplied well beyond what I originally imagined—and I’m not finished yet. Page layouts are changing due to the increased word count, and reformatting will be necessary. What started out as a minor fix is now a major redo.


At first, the task seemed daunting, and I procrastinated. Then the creative juices began to flow. Small details with big impact fell into place. I spoke to my brother about the work, and the conversation sparked ideas that blew my mind. Reluctance segued into excitement. Book 1 is maturing into a better, more complete, more compelling story. As a “gentle” thriller (mystery, frightening situations, no sex, no gore), it needs to grip those who enjoy the adrenalin rush and guessing games of that genre. The light at the end of the revision tunnel brightened.

Then I looked at the new cover designed for the revision. It didn’t fit. Oh, the colors were still great, but the primary image had to go. I spoke to my designer, and we came up with a new plan. Colors remain. However, a minor element of the old cover will come front and center on the new one, and the tie to the unfolding tale has increased tenfold. The first cover related only to the short (one page) first chapter that sets up the story. It isn’t mentioned again until the last chapter. That minor element, however, plays a significant role in the updated version. I didn’t see this one coming.

Paying careful attention to details in others’ books is a mark of my editing work, but in this case it didn't extend to my own. As Book 2 marches toward completion, it will be “a better, more complete, more compelling story” than it might have been had I not revised Book 1 and seen its shortcomings. The phenomenal results of all this still have me reeling. For the first time in many years, I am thrilled to be writing!

Have you ever revised a book after publication? If someone else owned the rights to it and ultimately released them to you, did you (or would you) do a revision before reissuing it? Or have you put a finished manuscript aside and revisited it sometime later, only to find gaps or missing details in the story? If so, what did you do?

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at www.denvereditor.com.

19 comments:

  1. I'm doing this right now, too. I put out the Kindle edition of my book in May, and then had further discussions with Debby about some tweaks to the storyline and discovered a point that raised a bit of a misunderstanding. So I'm revising it before I hit publish on the print book. It's minor stuff, but I think it makes the book just that much better.

    I have a manuscript in my virtual drawer that I've been working on, on and off, for 18 years. I shopped it around half-heartedly at one point, knowing instinctively that there was still something wrong with it, despite one major rewrite and six or seven revisions. Now that I have a bit of editing experience under my belt, I know exactly what's wrong with it, and it's an upcoming project to not only fix it, but to also split it into a trilogy. Self-publishing opens up so many options, as you mentioned, but also brings the responsibility to the author-publisher to get the product ready for publication, not just ready for an agent.

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    1. The responsibility of the author-publisher is huge for those of us who choose to self-pub. We alone are accountable for the final draft that goes to e-books and print; but as you note, when our gut tells us something isn't right with a manuscript, we need to listen. The fix may be years in coming, but ultimately putting out a great book is well worth the wait.

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  2. Thanks for an interesting piece, Linda.
    I started off my latest release with the intention of publishing the trilogy as I wrote it. Something stopped me, and I'm glad it did, because, as the story progressed beyond the first book in the series, one of my minor characters grew to become a major force for the story. This meant I had to return to book 1 and effectively rewrite large portions.
    Of course, it also meant delaying the publication until I was satisfied the story worked as a whole. You can imagine the amount of work involved in a fantasy trilogy that has finally emerged as a story told through the interwoven lives of 3 main couples and produced a set of books over 600,000 words long.
    My publisher released the first volume in March and we're currently attempting to get volume 2 out in August, with the last book hopefully available by Xmas.
    It's been a lot of work, but revising that first book proved the most intense, as the story developed as I wrote. Being a 'pantster' I generally write the complete story before undertaking any editing at all, and, in this case, that approach has resulted, finally, in a much better book than I would have had if I'd published book 1 before completing the entire series.
    I have a few self-published books that I may revisit after your experience, to see whether improvements might attract more readers. But, for the moment, I've just embarked on a new sci-fi novel, so we'll see where that takes me.

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    1. I had never thought of writing and editing all the books in a series before putting the first one out, but I see the value in that--especially now that I am in the midst of correcting the first book in my own series. Also, it allows for release of the following volumes in a timely fashion while the previous book is still fresh in the mind of the reader. Great idea, Stuart. :-)

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    2. Since writing the above, I've had notice from my publisher that book 2 will be available on 16 August - to be launched at Fantasticon, at which I'm making an appearance, so, great!

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  3. I have been tempted to go back to the first novels of The Homeland Connection, not so much for story revisions but because my writing has steadily improved over the course of seven books and the last decade. I have resisted the temptation so far. The one substantial change I might make in the first, Bashert, would be to add time-and-place markers ("Cambridge, 1967" "Haifa, 1972" etc.) to chapters to help the reader with the non-linear storytelling. Many readers have liked the resulting mosaic, but a few have complained about the story being "hard to follow."

    I did not plan these novels as a series, but as I am plunging into writing the last volume of what became a double trilogy, I am surprised at how well the first novels set up the final ones. Luck? Prescience? An unconscious agenda? I don't know, but it has worked.

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    1. The revision of Book 1 grew out of a marketing decision--I wanted to promote the first book when the second one was released. (As mentioned in the article, I hadn't done that after publication because of my editing commitments.) Again, those revisions aren't extensive passages, but rather a small tidbits I had not realized would be needed--especially regarding the antagonist and the surprise but welcome ending that has left some readers longing for more details. The lessons learned from this endeavor, I hope, will bring me to the place where you are--with a book that unobtrusively and thoughtfully sets up its sequel(s).

      Larry, now that I have time to read for pleasure, I look forward to enjoying your double trilogy. :-)

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  4. Actually, Linda, I did just that with my latest release, Doubletake. It had been published a long time ago by a small publisher who did a poor job of editing and rushed the book to print without me seeing galleys. Big mistake. That book and Play It Again, Sam, my romance novel, had lots of mistakes and typos. The publisher was going to charge me to repup clean versions, so I asked for my rights back. When I worked on the romance for Uncial Press, I was only going to fix the minor problems, but discovered there were bigger problems with the story. So that one got a complete rewrite. Then just this year, I did the same with Doubletake. I agree with Larry that we improve as writers - at least we'd better LOL - and earlier works are not as good as later ones. I'm glad I had the opportunity to redo both of these books.

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    1. So if I could edit this comment I'd write repub instead of repup. Sigh....

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    2. Please know that I read "repub." :-)

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    3. One of the perks of self-pubbing is the ability to do revisions, big or small, without major cost. (For me, I think, it's $40 to submit a new file. Two files, content and cover, would then be $80--not a huge price to release a new and greatly improved book.) As for the opportunity to redo Book 1, I am indeed grateful. When it's ready to go out the door and Book 2 is at least half completed. I will republish it under a new ISBN. Then I will rework my first book, published some 10 years ago, and give it a much needed polishing. As you and Larry said, our writing skills improve with experience. :-)

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  5. That was a brave decision that traditional publishing would never have allowed for. I have not re-pubbed anything but I was never happy with my covers until I was able to take over the design myself when Booksurge became Create Space. I would still love to hire someone to make my vision of what the cover should be. I have more Ideas now. Maybe I'll wait for an "anniversary" edition in 2018. I definitely think you should put a story aside and let it brew a while. This is especially important if you don't have a good critique group or beta readers to grill you along the way. And I don't mean cheerleaders; I mean drill sergeants. With a series that you know will be a trilogy, it is probably best to wait to publish until you have all of them done. You can't go back and change things. That is the second thing I would have done differently.

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    1. I love the idea of an "anniversary" edition, Diana. Brewing works, too. Also, I think if I had known during the writing that a sequel would be forthcoming, I would have approached Book 1 a bit differently in doing setups.

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  6. A good story is a terrible thing to waste. Good for you, Linda.

    I've never republished anything, but I have corrected typos--constantly. Little nits that get by everyone. Today I found one in the people's highlights that Amazon adds at the bottom of reviews. I've been accused of being obsessive compulsive. I think if I really were, there wouldn't be any typos to begin with.

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  7. Obsessive compulsive or not, we all need to be diligent about correcting typos. This is one way we who self- or indie publish can stand tall with traditional publishing.

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  8. I didn't do major revisions when rights reverted to me for Finding Sarah, but I did polish it a bit more (was never thrilled with the editor at the original publisher) and included a couple of cut scenes that I'd been on the fence about. Also, that let me truthfully say that the new version was revised and updated from the original--and I did feel that I needed to bring some of the technology more up to date, although I also added a note to readers calling attention to the fact that the book was set before smart phones were the norm, etc.

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    1. My revisions aren't major in the sense that new scenes are added or old ones deleted. Dialogue remains the same for the most part. An occasional word or phrase may be tweaked, but again...nothing that would raise a red flag for anyone who had read it before. Probably no one will note the difference with the possible exception of one small detail in several places that lends interest and depth to the antagonist. Also, I keep having to remember not to use technology that wasn't popular in the year where the story takes place.

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  9. Loved this line - "At first, the task seemed daunting, and I procrastinated." I do that with every thing including my blogs. Super Post

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    1. Thank you, Neil. I think "Procrastination" is my middle name. :-)

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