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Is it done yet?

In some ways, having an unpublished novel or short story is like being pregnant and never giving birth. If you think about it, until your work sees the light of day, you can keep changing it. But once it's published, it's done; it's out there for the world to see, and except for corrections made in later editions, it doesn't usually change.

The rise of ebooks has the potential to change all that. Older book contracts usually had publications rights reverting to the author after the book went out of print— and most books do go out of print. Which means that a lot of authors are free to republish their backlist, and now that ebooks are becoming popular, it's actually economically feasible for them to do that themselves. An interesting post on the e is for book blog makes that point exactly. Author Laura Ruby points out that in editing her out-of-print book Lily's Ghosts, a middle grade ghost story, she was happy with most of the edits her editor had made, but she wanted, based on adult-reader feedback, to change one scene that described how a person died.

Her writers' group advised against the change because the book was “already out there,” but based on how she feels now, as the author, she wants to change that one thing. The comments on her blog post are interesting, and mostly relate to the nature of what is being changed. Some folks seem to feel it's okay to update outdated cultural or technological references, so why not hone a specific scene? Others argue that the book earned reviews and awards and it's not fair to readers to give them something different from what was reviewed.

As Mr. Spock would say, fascinating! If if continue my pregnancy analogy, I would say that digital publishing give authors a way to do genetic engineering and tweak an already existing work's DNA. Personally, I consider that if the author puts a note at the front (and in marketing copy) that slight changes have been made, I think she should change whatever she feels needs to be changed.

What do you think?

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( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 18th, 2011 06:16 pm (UTC)
I think the same why not ake the changes but you have to make a note so the reader can know!
Mar. 18th, 2011 06:28 pm (UTC)
exactly! like when they show a movie on TV, they warn you if they shorten it.
Mar. 18th, 2011 07:03 pm (UTC)
Beware! Down that path, there be dragons!

While I do appreciate the ability to change something you're not exactly happy with, I do question the wisdom of actually doing so. Where does it end? If we can eternally go in and tweak our stories, where will we stop?
Mar. 18th, 2011 07:20 pm (UTC)
True! Which is why I think the author needs to be upfront about it. But on the other hand, I do think the we should take advantage of the technology. I can recall, in particular, a science fiction novel where the protagonist mentions moving the entire ship Titanic forward into the future, right before it sank; I happened to read the book shortly after they found the wreckage of the Titanic, and it totally threw me out of the story to read that. If I were the author, I would want to be able to take out that sentence.
Mar. 19th, 2011 12:24 am (UTC)
I don't know. I'm kinda of a once it's done, it's done kind of person.
Mar. 19th, 2011 03:11 am (UTC)
Don't you think it might depend on WHAT it was that you wanted to change? I kind of think there would be only a small set of things that would be big enough to bother you, as the writer, but small enough to make you feel that it was OK to make the change without making it into a whole other book.

But the important thing is, since she is self publishing an out of print book, she gets to decide herself!
Mar. 19th, 2011 04:06 am (UTC)
yes, if you want to change a walkman reference to an mp3 reference 30 years later...sure. but if you are changing a scene...giving it a different vibe...a scene potentially vital to the original understanding of the story...i don't know.

like i said, i tend to be a ..."it's done it's done." even references to older technology don't bother me. i find it kind of fun and nostalgic. then again, i try to limit pop/trendy references in my stories.
Mar. 19th, 2011 06:39 pm (UTC)
Sounds fair to me :)
Mar. 19th, 2011 06:52 pm (UTC)
Me, too! It is, after all, HER book!
Mar. 21st, 2011 07:16 pm (UTC)
I think it will change the way backlists are managed. You're absolutely correct on that front. What worries me is still the "new book" quandary: how will we, if everyone published their own work, know what to avoid? Much of the SP work out there today is simply unreadable, and if every work is self published in the future, we'll need someone to tell us what is good and what simply isn't...
Mar. 21st, 2011 07:22 pm (UTC)
Oh, I think you'll recognize the unreadable on the first page. And most ebooks stores offer a free sample chunk, so you will know in a matter of seconds. The free sample is extremely useful because even if a books is well written, you don't know if you will like it until you try it. I use it all the time for traditionally published books. I think in a self-publishing scenario, the tricky part will be the good but lazy writer who only polishes the beginning of the book, so that you don't find all the typos and sloppy writing until you have already clicked the Buy button.
Mar. 21st, 2011 08:13 pm (UTC)
LOL. Both good points. The free sample will help weed out the true trainwrecks, though.
Mar. 25th, 2011 10:01 am (UTC)
Interesting posts about writing – w/e March 25th 2011
User jongibbs referenced to your post from Interesting posts about writing – w/e March 25th 2011 saying: [...] (Kenneth Mark Hoover)   Is it done yet? [...]
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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