Revising Old Work — Why or Why Not

This is a short Sunday morning rant inspired by a discussion on Kindleboards. A member asked whether he should revise a “book,” knowing that it would affect his ranking. The “book” is actually a 30-page short story, hence my quotes. Why is he considering a revision? Because it’s full of typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors, and was poorly formatted. It was his first published work and now he wants to add it to a series of which two parts have apparently already been published.

His only concern is ranking and sales number. Acknowledging that the story was a mess implies his understanding that quality matters, but he doesn’t address that in any way.

Why would a writer even ask whether he should revise something that basically cheats any reader who paid for it. (Let’s hope no one did.) Why would he be more concerned about his ranking on Amazon than about his readers? Why did he publish it in the first place? Ignorance? Laziness? Whatever his reasons, he produced something that supports the continuing negativity that surrounds indie publishing.

When I decided to revise Privileged Lives, it wasn’t because it was a shameful mess. It was spell-checked, proofread, and edited multiple times. I obsessed over word choices and sentence structure. It wasn’t a mess; it wasn’t even a bad novel. But it wasn’t the novel I would be able to write now, with more experience under my belt. So that’s what I’m doing. Turning it into the novel I’m capable of writing now.

Anything we publish should be the very best we can do right now. Most early work isn’t worth revising and republishing. Some of it is satisfying enough to readers that it isn’t worth the effort. But if it sticks its hooks in you because you know it deserves better, then revision is the way to go. Because your reader deserve better.

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15 thoughts on “Revising Old Work — Why or Why Not

  1. I completely agree, we should publish the best we can – at that moment. As writers we learn, progress and improve over time and practice, hopefully. So anything written when we first started could always be improved upon.

    1. I’d love to revise and republish my first two novels, but I know I’ll never be able to find the time. At least, I’m not ashamed of them, even if they could be better.

  2. I’ve never published published something, but even back when I wrote and posted a lot of fanfic I either checked it over a lot or ran it by a beta reader before posting. Gotta have standards, man. It was my best writing at the time, and that was a matter of personal pride. It’s weird to me that anyone would publish something full of typos and grammatical errors and not be deeply embarrassed about that. You’re ruining your brand!

    1. Probably some of them don’t even know how terrible their books appear to others. Some don’t care or aren’t interested enough to do anything about it. The smart ones learn and improve.

    1. There’s been quite a bit about it. People are getting pissed off because it’s pretty random. One person can make a complaint and Amazon will pull the book for something that’s so minor it’s hardly noticable.

      1. I read they pulled one guy’s novel right in the middle of his 5-day promotion. Anyway, I don’t think you or I will ever have problems on the editing score. That’s one less thing to worry about.

  3. I need to find time to do a cover for a short mystery which never had one (published in an anthology), and to create a new one for a popular short I have on Wattpad (I can’t use the cover from there), and I LIKE to do things like that – but it all takes time.

    I think what you can do with older work is make sure the copyright date is in there, showing that it is not new work, and don’t change it much otherwise. If you are going to do a lot of updating, you can create a new edition – and update the copyright date.

    I need to do so many things – the first one is sleep – but a major logjam just cleared a tiny bit, and my brain can move on to the next step there, and it has been preying on my mind.

    You can’t rewrite everything. I was reading my debut novel last night, extremely tired, and I was not able to see why I had put a few things in (they’re to connect to in the second and third books of the trilogy), and my mind just wanted to slash and burn. I had a snack and put socks on my cold feet, and eventually went back to bed instead – at 4:30 am. Not good. Next time I look at those pages I’m going to make sure I’m at a better place. I KNOW they’re fine, and were revised billions (okay, I exaggerate – only millions) of times before I published.

    1. I’m sure that’s the only novel I will ever rewrite. Just not worth it since I have so much unpublished stuff waiting. I’ll probably put it out as a second edition.

      I hope your logjam stays unjammed for a good while. My current one is one of my days-long periods of heavy fatigue and pain. Would love nothing better than to stay in bed, but that makes the pain worse. So I’ve been gritting my teeth and concentrating on getting to the end of Camp Expendable and then starting another round of edits. Only two chapters to go.

      1. My sympathies; I’m going through same – plus the logjam just jammed up again and I need to be coherent to deal with it. So nap (I take a nap – mental dialysis – for a half hour out of every three), then deal with it.

        Perfection is not attainable.

        And there WAS a feeling of resolution when I put it out – not ‘good enough,’ but GOOD. I was not putting something out unfinished, subject to later revision. I’m horrified that I found ONE typo that’s actually typographic – a quotation mark after a dash was put by itself on the following line. ONE. Even in my supreme nitpicky state I haven’t found others. Choices, yes. Those are sometimes compromises.

        It’s just that the complaints against indie work so often center of stuff like that. And the reputation is hard to fight against.

        1. ONE typo! That’s amazing. I’m pretty fanatical about proofreading, but I doubt I’ll ever match that standard. Sometimes I wonder if a truly clean copy is even possible, but every so often I’ll read a book that doesn’t trip me up anywhere. Rare, but it does happen.

          Feeling somewhat better today. Two days of that misery is enough. I’m going to start tracking those attacks to see if there’s something I do to bring them on. Was exhausted Monday from a big shopping trip, but that usually passes by the end of the day. Maybe I crossed some threshold of physical stress.

          Down to one chapter, but most of it remains to be written. Fingers crossed.

          Stick a pike in the log jam.

          1. With me, there is the crash for several days if I overdo on ONE day. This is typical for us CFS folk.

            Plus we’re getting older.

            EXTRA rest before and after can help. Sometimes even that isn’t enough – and I already take 3-5 naps a day, so ‘extra’ is hard.

            And they trivialize it by calling it Post-Exertional MALAISE (PEM), when Post-Exertional COLLAPSE is more like it. Malaise is a terrible word choice.

            Pushing through only leads to a bigger and longer collapse for me. I’ve learned either not to, or to expect the crash and hope it isn’t too long.

            And sometimes you have to do something – you’re stuck.

            But if you have choices, ‘exhausted Monday from a big shopping trip’ is something you may have to look into ways of minimizing, shortening, spreading out over more days (I thought I read you don’t have a car, so that’s not easy).

            I rest in various places as I go if I need to be out. Hard to do if the milk is getting warm!

            1. It’s about six blocks to the grocery store and back, plus the equivalent of another one or more inside, since the store was recently expanded and is now a regional shopping center. No place to rest in between, and spreading the shopping out just means more trips. But you’re right about resting afterwards. I can’t nap (never have been able to) and resist even a lie down during the day. Guess it’s time to adjust to reality.

              1. You don’t HAVE to adjust to reality; but you will always pay the price – consequences can be managed but not avoided.

                As I told someone at a support meeting who didn’t want to do the things we suggested: Your choice – but you might want to think about that.

                Maybe having something ready that’s special (to watch, to eat, bought at the store to enjoy) which will make you WANT to reward yourself for a task well done – and take a bit of time.

                I have learned to take all those naps. I fought the last one because stuff is happening – went an hour past the deadline. When I finally took the nap, IT went a lot longer, but I needed it, and I’m better, and I can deal with stuff I couldn’t when I finally put myself down for the nap.

                ‘Mental dialysis’ cleans the junk out of my mind so I can think. Sigh – but at least something works a bit. Off to try to actually write today!

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