Thursday, November 6, 2014

On the Ethics of Making Substantial Changes to Already-Published Books

So I'm still hoping to get a couple of my publications into hard copy (via Amazon's CreateSpace service) by early next year. This has caused me to go through another round of deep-comb editing, even above and beyond what I did for the initial publication. Typos in hard copy are forever.

Of course, this also has me thinking about the quality of the books themselves. I stand behind everything I've published - I think they're good stories that lots of people would be perfectly happy to spend money on (else I would not have published them). But reading through Twixt Heaven and Hell I've come face to face with a couple issues that I badly, badly want to fix. The problem is, they aren't just typos. They are story issues, structural issues, and occasionally self-awareness issues.

The odds are that many readers woudn't notice them. For obvious reasons I am hyper-aware of any extant criticism of my own books, and also of criticism I think could be fairly leveled. Currently, the representation of women and minorities in speculative fiction is a very hot topic. I have been aware of it for some time even before it reached the level it has now. The problem is, I wrote Twixt at a time when my awareness, appreciation, and understanding of said issues was fair less advanced. And now I'm feeling a bit ashamed of that, because it shows.

On one hand, there are plenty of instances of writers who've felt this way about past works. Quality or content-wise, we always improve and always look back on our past works with a hint of resignation that they don't measure up to our current abilities. It's natural and inevitable, and nothing to be ashamed of if you are capable of (and do) better work in the current day.

On the other hand... very few people have read this book yet, and it only exists in electronic form as yet. The thought has sneaked into my head that I could fix it. But somehow, it feels vaguely dishonest to do so. Furthermore, if the problems are truly fundamental, it may be a better use of my writing time simply to work on the NEXT book rather than constantly trying to fix an old one.

On the THIRD hand, maybe being able to sneak in "improvements" is just a little boon of being an as-yet unknown author with very few readers.

Chances are, I will try to address some of these issues before I put it in print. I have the feeling some of the "fixes" will be relatively easy and will increase the quality of the book enough to be worth the time. In reading through the book again, I still feel good enough about it that I'm not ready to abandon it as a relic of my early career. A bit of maintenance may well be in order.


  1. It's a dilemma, isn't it? On the one hand, it's perfectly acceptable to fix typos and errors, even plot holes. On the other hand, it would be outrageous to change the ending - the bloke the heroine ends up with in a romance, or the murderer in a murder mystery, or the outcome of the climactic battle in fantasy. In between - it's a grey area.

    Personally, I've never been the sort of writer who worries away at something indefinitely. I get to the point where I'm so thoroughly sick of it, I never want to have to look at it again. :-) So for me, once it's published, that's it. I'd fix typos and the like but otherwise, no. I'd rather be writing something new.

    I can see that attraction of 'fixing' something that's no longer aligned with your current capabilities as a writer, but honestly, I never felt that 'Twixt Heaven and Hell' had many problems. It certainly never came across to me as a beginner's piece; I thought it was a very accomplished piece of work. And (from a purely selfish point of view) I'd rather you were writing something new for me to enjoy. :-)

    1. Hah! Many thanks Pauline, it does me good to hear you say that. And I'd agree that changing the ending or anything central to the plot is going too far. Anything that fundamentally changes the story, such that any summary of the story would also need to change.

      None of these changes will be like that. It's more about the flow of the book as a whole or its treatment of characters becoming slightly more sophisticated. Nothing a casual re-reader would be likely to take much notice of, but would hopefully leave a somewhat better impression on the mind.