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.

Revision Hell

This past week, I’ve been reading and revising my rough draft of Owl Riders, getting in shape for beta readers and ultimately getting it ready to submit to my publisher. Despite the post’s title, the process hasn’t been hellish, but it does eat time. Owl Riders is the fourth novel in my Clockwork Legion series and the fun of this process is that I enjoy playing in this world. It’s because I enjoy it that I feel I have a responsibility to tell the story in the best way possible.

I’m a believer that to succeed in writing, you need to sit down and write. As with my other recent novels, I wrote Owl Riders on my weeks off from my observatory job. Typically, I managed two chapters every other week. I didn’t worry too much about getting just the right words the first time through. I wrote from an outline to keep me on track and help me know where I was in the story, but I didn’t worry too much about tracking details. So my job this time around is to assure continuity, make sure I didn’t repeat facts I already conveyed in earlier chapters, and improve the prose so I tell the story in the best way possible.

To do this, I employ a three-prong approach for each chapter. First, I make a pass through the printed manuscript, rereading and making changes. I also make notes of facts I should remember for later chapters. Some of these facts are just matters of maintaining consistency of small details through the novel. Some of these facts are things I’d forgotten I highlighted, but are fun to revisit later in the novel as the characters have grown. I recently acquired a copy of Scrivener, the book writing software from Literature and Latte. It’s been a great help keeping those notes handy so I can check them as needed.

My second pass through each chapter uses a technique highlighted in the book, The 10% Solution by Ken Rand, which I’ve mentioned in other posts. My publisher also recommends following the book’s approach before submission. In short, the book highlights several common overused words (the infamous adverbs, the verb “to be”) and filler words (things like “of,” “about,” and “by”) that are all too easy to drop in your manuscript when you’re writing. The idea is to search for these words and then evaluate the phrase where it occurs and decide if you could find a better way to say it. I tend to catch a lot of this in the first pass, but searching always highlights more of these. The important thing about Ken Rand’s technique is that he doesn’t say you must make changes when you find these things. He just suggests evaluating the sentence and seeing if you can say it better. I usually make several revisions in this pass.

My third pass is to read each chapter aloud. This helps me smooth out prose from the first two passes, helps me to hear where I may have repeated phrases, and I often catch important elements I either cut or never wrote in the first place.

At this point, I’m about halfway through the revision pass. I hope to get more work done during my next break from the observatory. In this fourth novel, the Apaches have built battle wagons and they’ve carved out a land claim in Southern Arizona. Ramon is pulled into the conflict. Meanwhile, the man Fatemeh was once betrothed to in Persia seeks retribution for her decision to run away. If you haven’t already, be sure to read the first three novels in the series. The links below will take you to pages with more information and purchase links. All of the books are available in print and as ebooks. The first two novels are also available from Audible as audio books!

A Week of Editing

My third Clockwork Legion novel, The Brazen Shark is due at the publisher in just under a month. Ten Percent Solution In the memoir, On Writing, Stephen King says, “Your job during or just after the first draft is to decide what something or somethings yours is about. Your job in the second draft—one of them, anyway—is to make that something even more clear. This may necessitate some big changes and revisions. The benefits to you and your reader will be clearer focus and a more unified story. It hardly ever fails.” One of the tools I’m using to clarify things in the second draft of The Brazen Shark is a little book called The 10% Solution by Ken Rand, shown here in front of my keyboard.

Phyllis Irene Radford, my editor on Lightning Wolves introduced me to The 10% Solution and I now see that Sky Warrior Books recommends that all authors apply the book’s methods before submitting a manuscript for publication. In short, the method is to use your word processor to highlight the adverbs, the over-used words, and the wishy-washy verbs and adjectives like “was” and “very” so you can evaluate them, so you can decide if you can say them more clearly or in a stronger way. Lightning Wolves clearly benefited from the technique and I feel The Brazen Shark is getting stronger as I work through it using Ken Rand’s methods.

Not only am I editing the novel, I recently received notes from an editor about a story I’d submitted to an anthology she’s editing. In essence, her notes went right to the same point. She was working to get me to be more clear and precise. I’d written the story before I read The 10% Solution, but after going through her suggestions, I’m guessing the story would have needed less work if I’d applied those lessons ahead of time. Fortunately, she likes the story enough that it’s likely to appear in the anthology. The first moral of the story is that a good story can sell even if it needs work, so don’t worry too much about making it perfect. The second moral of the story is that your chances greatly improve the better the story is the first time around!

Tales10-4-cover

Finally, I’m in the process of editing Tales of the Talisman volume 10, issue 4. This will be the last issue before we take a break. Stories will be going out to the artists early next week. At this point, I suspect we’ll get the issue out in June. Although it’s a little sad to think about this phase of the magazine coming to an end, I have been excited to think about the directions we might take in 2016. Once I get The Brazen Shark turned in, I hope to start making more definite plans. Stay tuned!