We love to write. Editing, not so much. Revising what came before is, at best, a pain. For some of us who cycle – who start the writing session by going back 500 or 1000 words and reading ourselves back into the story, doing light touches of smoothing word flow as we go, it’s not that much of a pain… until we finish the book.
For all of us, when we’re going back through and making sure character’s names, hair colour, car, what have you didn’t change, that everybody was where they needed to be without being in two places at once, that the foreshadowing is in there at least three times so the reader won’t be blindsided, that the plot actually makes sense and the worldbuilding detail made it out of our heads and onto the paper… much les the ever-frustrating typoo-hunt… is a pain.
And since we only practice it once per story, it’s hard to get much better at the infrequently used skill, so it takes longer to level up than our writing.
But then there’s a second form of revision afforded us indies… the ability to go back and edit a book already published.
A few days ago, a friend who has entertained many, many people with his stories was talking about going over an old collection of shorts as part of getting ready to republish it. He burst out, in sheer frustration, “I was a terrible writer!” (okay, he used a different word than terrible, but it meant the same)
I blinked at him in confusion. “Dude. You’re way more popular than me. People love your stuff.”
“But I’m going back over, and these sentences are awkward, and the delivery is terrible, and…”
“Oh! No, dude, you’re awesome. You’ve just gotten a lot more awesome and skilled since your early work. You were awesome even back then, and people loved you for it.”
…and this brings us to the crux of the problem: just because you can edit your early work better… does that mean you should do it?
I personally used to side with Heinlein’s rules on this side, and feel that in general, focusing on the next book is far, far better than bringing your early game up to current standards. In part because you can be more productive and lucrative by putting new work out there for your audience instead of changing what you already wrote. Also, in part, because focusing on the past is a losing game where it doesn’t mean you’re not growing in the present…
And on the gripping hand, because ideally we’ll all keep getting better, book by book, so editing past work to your current standard is always going to be a rearguard, losing action. After all, if you get everything as good as you are now, when you get better, none of it’s going to be as good as your new level. How many manhours are you going to throw away by constantly trying to drag all your backlist up to current skills, over and over?
But there is a very good argument for it: in the world where things went out of print and were hard to find, readers understood that if they put all the effort in to hunt down your early works, they were early. In an ebook environment, it’s much harder for readers to differentiate your earliest from your latest. Therefore, if you have 25 books out and they pick up your first, they may go “Ugh, this is terrible” and not stick around to see how much you’ve grown.
I know of romance authors who’ve unpublished early work, and sometimes entire series, because it detracts from their current branding either by being too rough or by being in a subgenre they’ve determined was a failed experiment.
I know they’re doing better than me, so they have a point, but I couldn’t go that far myself.
However, there is a case for, at the same point at which you’re looking at doing a cover and blurb update to bring things up to current marketing standards, doing a quick editing pass to tweak things better.
Not a rewrite, because it’ll update on everyone’s ebook readers, and L-rd knows, if you change or cut a character, you have a chance of cutting someone’s favourite thing (and woe betide you if you do that). But smoothing wording, tweaking scenes and sliding in a little more foreshadowing, filling in that plot hole that is mentioned in 15 reviews as really annoying that was caused by not getting this bit of relevant info out of your head the first time… that’s not a bad thing.
AS for me personally, I started off strong on the “don’t touch it” side. Due to circumstances, I let Shattered Under Midnight alone a few years and a few books. When I finally came back to get the print edition out, I did an edit pass because I always felt I released that one too quickly, without the final edit it needed. It turned out it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought; Once the rough edges were filed smooth and the plothole filled in, a bit more foreshadowing braided in and a bit more worldbuilding grafted onto existing scenes… it wasn’t bad, just rough.
And once I released the edited version, the ratings improved, and a lot of the reviews were happier. Since we write for whatever reason we write, but we publish to entertain the readers, this was definitely a success.
But revision still sucks time and energy out of my brain. How about you? Where do you fall on going back and touching published things?