Is It Worthwhile to Create New Editions?

This question has come up a couple of times in recent weeks, so I thought it worthwhile to address the reasons I decided to revise some of my novels for new editions and the way I’m going about it. In May 2017, the publishing rights to my space opera novels—The Solar Sea, The Pirates of Sufiro, Children of the Old Stars, and Heirs of the New Earth—reverted to me and I faced the decision about whether or not to republish them as they originally appeared, or update the novels and publish them in new editions. The Pirates of Sufiro was my first novel, originally published in paperback in 1995. Children of the Old Stars followed in 2000. The Solar Sea was the final novel of this set. It was published in 2005 and was a prequel to the other three.

The Old Star/New Earth Series in 2017

In the ten years between 1995 and 2005, I made a lot of progress in finding my “voice” and honing my writing style. In 1995, I hadn’t yet taken Stephen King’s adage “the road to hell is paved with adverbs” to heart. I wasn’t using the strongest verbs and I had a tendency to add in unnecessary hedging or distancing words. Also, while some readers seemed to honestly enjoy these novels, I noticed a few common themes cropping up in reader reviews in places like Amazon and Goodreads, where the novels hadn’t quite lived up to reader expectations. What I realized about those reviews as time passed was those points were, for the most part, fixable. They came about because I rushed certain scenes or didn’t describe things fully. Sometimes emotions weren’t quite genuine or characters didn’t seem quite fully formed. What’s more, the worst issues were in the earlier books, which is a great way to keep people from continuing on to the later, better books. It seemed important to bring the entire series up to a consistent level.

So that’s why I thought of this as a worthwhile exercise.

Executing the edits is a multi-stage process. The first part involves re-reading each chapter with both my own critical eyes and with reader reviews in mind. I start by making some notes on the manuscript as a whole and then I go through chapter-by-chapter. Followers of my Patreon page are familiar with my posts that include an original version of a chapter headed by my notes and impression of the chapter. I then make a first pass and revise the chapter according to my notes. In my second pass, I follow the guidelines recommended in Ken Rand’s book, The Ten-Percent Solution. The book presents a method of looking for common problem words and evaluating whether you can make the sentence they’re in clearer by tightening the language. Finally, I read the chapter aloud, doing my best to keep my critical mind engaged. “Would people really say that?” “Does it make sense that a character took a particular action?” “Is it clear why something happened when it did?” Finally, I pass it to my wife for one more round of proofreading. At this point, I post the updated chapter to Patreon.

But wait, there’s more! Once I get the whole book done, I read the whole book one more time to make sure everything still holds together and that I didn’t miss something between one chapter and the next. I’ve even started using text-to-speech as yet another tool. This allows the computer to read the book to me, which has helped me catch errors I’d miss other ways.

So, is this a worthwhile exercise or should I have spent my time writing something new instead? At a personal level, it has been worthwhile. I feel like each book is significantly improved. I’ll have a better sense whether this was lucrative after I finish both Children of the Old Stars and Heirs of the New Earth. If most people who read Firebrandt’s Legacy and The Pirates of Sufiro are sufficiently intrigued to keep following the series, then this experiment will have been an unqualified success. If you want to join me as I continue this experiment and see how it turns out, sign up over at https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers. There you can see me put these steps into practice and get some fun reading the books along the way.

8 comments on “Is It Worthwhile to Create New Editions?

  1. Jack "Blimprider" Tyler says:

    Good day to ye, laddie, and I hope it finds you well. Great article. Our friend Bryce Raffle recently gifted me a stunning set of new covers for Beyond the Rails, and I’ve been wondering whether it’s worth going to all the hassle to reissue the books just for a cover change. This is a very good argument for why I should; it would give me a priceless opportunity to tone down Gunther’s German accent (the chief complaint of reviewers) if nothing else. Thanks for this splendid bit of insight!

    • Things like showing accents can be tricky. As you seem to know like I do, what’s accepted has changed. Traditionally, “non-standard” or “foreign” accents were shown by misspelling words which, nowadays, is sometimes seen as being offensive and insulting to the depicted group.

      Sometimes I wonder if something I write that seems perfectly acceptable now will be viewed negatively 50 years from now.

      • Jack "Blimprider" Tyler says:

        So true! I write steampunk, which has a heavy Victorian flavor, and Victorian books were often meant to be read aloud to the family in the pre-TV and internet days, so the spelling of dialects was specifically meant to prompt the reader in that activity. I failed to make that modern adjustment, and boy did my reviewers let me know about it! Lesson learned, whether I fix my old books or not.

    • Thanks for dropping by, Jack, and I’m glad you found my post useful. Yes, Bryce does good cover work and if I used one of his covers, I’d definitely want to put the best version of my words between those covers! I think an important thing to realize is that you’re not likely to win back any readers you already lost. You’re goal is to win — and keep — those readers who haven’t discovered you yet.

  2. The obvious solution is to write books perfectly the first time.

    Seriously, I’m glad the rewriting feels worthwhile to you. I have an issue that, if I’m writing something for a publisher with a deadline, I have it in on deadline. That’s built into me from years of writing for newspapers where being late more than a very few times means getting fired. But if I don’t have a deadline, I can find myself rewriting indefinitely.

    I’m fortunate with my current book, which is a roleplaying supplement. It’s getting playtested/peer reviewed in January, so others can point out my goofs before it gets published.

    • One of the reasons I deliberately chose to do this rewriting exercise through Patreon is that it gives me a sense of deadline to finish this work and to keep from falling into the infinite revision loop. I have paying customers who expect to see updated chapters on a reasonable timescale. They also serve as something of a beta audience, though I suspect because most of my patrons are friends or already fans, that’s not been the channel where I’ve received the most feedback.

      Congratulations on the roleplaying supplement. That sounds like fun!

  3. I don’t think I would have the patience, really. I wrote the best book I could, back in 2000 or so, and it was published 2004 by Dragon Moon. But I’ve written about ten books since then, each one a little better than the last. If I went back to revise The Magister’s Mask, I might not finish the stories I still want to tell.

    • As I mentioned to Alden, I think if one embarks on this kind of exercise, one should set a fairly stringent deadline. I use Patreon as a tool to do that, but it can be whatever works. One should not get into a cycle of endless revising, or bringing out new editions every single year. My new editions are happening largely on milestone anniversaries. The Pirates of Sufiro is 25 years old. Children of the Old Stars is 20.

      It’s also worth noting that I haven’t been working exclusively on these books. I’ve been editing and writing other things as well — which may make this exercise seem more protracted and time consuming than it actually is. The new editions are a “background” task while working on new stuff. That said, the new stuff is often for publishers who want to keep things under wraps until close to release, so the revisions are the “current” stuff I can talk about.

      It also occurs to me that because science fiction and fantasy had a long history as “pulp” fiction, the industry often treats it as “disposable” fiction. This isn’t helped by bookstores who have to circulate stock to keep new items on the shelves. The upshot is that many writers and readers view genre fiction as having a “freshness date.” Much more than 2-3 years after something’s first released, it’s often looked at with the disdain of lumpy milk. I’m not sure there’s necessarily a problem with this attitude, but I think it’s a prejudice that exists and must be considered as part of the equation.

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