I took my car in for an oil change yesterday, and it took about five times longer than it should have. If I wasn’t trying to cut down on the amount of stuff I own, I would have given it up as a bad job, bought a set of ramps, and changed the oil myself.
Alas, I took another reluctant step toward stereotypical suburban wine-mom-hood (the very idea sends shivers down my spine; I’m fighting it, but that’s a whole ‘nother story), and paid someone to poke under my car while I sat in their office. On the plus side, waiting for almost two hours gave me time to think about maintenance and whether the concept applies to writing.
I think it does (duh; if it didn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this), particularly in indie publishing. We authors create a book, edit, and put it up for sale, then usually forget about it, but this isn’t always the smartest plan. Smart authors periodically go back and look at their older published works, and make changes when needed.
Why, you ask? A couple of reasons. Trends change, you might discover errors that your editors missed, and if the book is part of a series, you might want to tweak certain things to make it look like later books. There’s a flip side to this, of course.
But first, consider trends. This mostly applies to cover art. A few years ago, everybody wanted slightly obscure covers, usually depicting an object on a plain background; it started with the Twilight series and got weirder from there. Nowadays, most covers show a person. Headshots also were in vogue for a while; lately, we seemed to have backed off a little on that score. Since cover art isn’t really about depicting the contents of the book, but rather, signaling the genre and perhaps a general feel of the book (dark, comedic, etc.), you might want to update your covers to reflect the current trends in that particular genre. If you don’t, potential readers get mixed signals and pass over your book on their way to the next one. You might also want to update your blurb if it’s very old; words can change in meaning, and you don’t want your ‘two gay friends’ to be interpreted as a pair of homosexuals, when they are in fact a comedy duo who have no romantic interest in each other. Don’t make yourself crazy about it; no need to encourage the SJWs in their quest to make us all speak IngSoc.
Errors in the text are cause for alteration, sometimes. We all grow as writers, and it’s usually a waste of time to re-write your book because it’s a little choppy or amateurish. But typos, missing words, and the occasional clunky phrase can be corrected without annoying the readers too much. If you do this too often, or make material changes to the story, the readers may try to beat you with sticks. We make fun of TV screenwriters for retconning; don’t follow in their footsteps.
This is a hard line to walk if your book is part of a series. It’s very easy to write yourself into a corner, and just as easy to ‘fix’ the bit of the earlier book that’s causing problems. Don’t do it. Write around it; write a different part of the story; end the series if you have to. Remember the incident, and plan your series more carefully next time. You can also purposely keep some things slightly vague in early books if you’re not sure where the series is going to end up- things like character ages, distances, and so on. This depends a little on your style and genre; use your judgment. But you can and should swap out cover art so all the books in a series look similar; it helps the readers find you. They can’t give you money if they can’t find your books. You can also tweak blurbs slightly, to give continuity to a series.
The most important thing is to avoid annoying the readers, and it’s also the most difficult part of maintaining your booklist. You can’t please everyone, and some people will never be satisfied. But you can avoid irking most people by giving them covers that look familiar and consistent, using language that fits with the genre, and not making major changes to the content of a book. By occasionally tweaking small things, you can avoid having to make major changes down the road.
This post was partially inspired by Sarah, who was kind enough to make me new covers for five of my books, including my newest release, A Small and Inconvenient Disaster.
Everywhere she goes, Maria Mason is plagued by little catastrophes. Getting caught in the rain, running from the friendliness of a muddy dog, tripping over her own feet at the worst possible moment- she has been subject to all manner of accidents, and to fend off the worst of them, she has learned to be silent and still.
Until she accompanies her friend Miss Gordon to London for a season of gaiety and pleasure. Life in Town is full of wonder, and soon Maria has new clothes, new friends, and the attention of the amusing and clever Mr. James Callahan. She begins to wonder if she has outgrown her propensity for falling into disaster, only to find herself embroiled in the worst sort of catastrophe when she is obliged to mediate between her feuding friends. One wrong word, one false step, and she might lose the regard of her friends- or worse, the love of a good man.