Every writer learns early on that writing is also rewriting and revising—revising, revising, revising. No mss goes out to a publisher without lots of revision, and then the editor sends the mss through another series of edits. Once the mss is published, it becomes a book, a physical thing to be held and passed around, or used as a coaster for that huge cup of morning coffee, marked up and dog-eared and forgotten in the glove compartment of a car. It is what it is and whatever was wrong with it will be wrong forever. If you misspelled a street name in chapter 7, it will be misspelled for eternity, or at least until every copy of your book falls apart. If you wince every time you recall that Aunt Matilda swore a blue streak in chapter 11 because you forgot to change the dialogue tag, you just have to learn to live with it. But that may be changing.
It is very easy to put a book up on Kindle or Smashwords or any of a number of sites that help writers publish their own books. And it’s very easy to review the text and make sure that all the tabs have been removed, the paragraphing and spacing are correct, and the chapter headings are in place. Even after an eBook is live, if the author notices the paragraphing is off, she can take down the eBook and make a correction. So, what does this mean for revising?
I have never seen a contemporary novel revised from format to format, such as hardcover to paperback, or paperback to large print, with the exception of the occasional typo being corrected. But that may be changing. If a book is published only as an eBook, almost anything is possible. I can imagine the time when a writer decides a character should change his explanation of an alibi, and the writer takes down the eBook and rewrites the passage. The new version is uploaded, and this is now the eBook. There is no record of the earlier version unless the writer keeps multiples records of the mss. Let’s take this another step. Suppose the writer changes the ending, and the villain in the first version becomes a bystander or innocent victim in the second version. Is this the same book? How many changes can the writer make before the book is a different book deserving of a different title?
I am new to the world of self-publishing, or indie publishing as some now call it. I have had eight books published commercially, both fiction and nonfiction, with another one due in May 2014. I have put all my out-of-print books up on Kindle and other eBook sites, and self-published one book in the Mellingham series. Last Call for Justice is available in both eBook and paper format. Does that mean that I can never make a change if I decide the murderer should have a different motive? Suppose I want to change the opening scene? How much can I change before the buyers of this book should be told that this version is different from an earlier one, and therefore not the book that another reader has recommended?
In November 2013 I achieved another first—I self-published a mss that had never been published before in any format and was not part of a series. Love Takes a Detour is a novella about a woman who lives and farms in the back woods of New England, living an isolated existence until a new family unexpectedly links her with a lost love and a forgotten past. After I posted the story I thought about other incidents in Zellie’s life that I could add, but I have held them back because I considered the story finished, since it’s now published. But is it?
Could I take down the eBook and add scenes and subplots and characters, and then repost it? How many, and what sort of, changes can a writer make before the story must be considered a different one? When does the book belong to the reader and not the writer? And what about reviews? When does the review of the first version become irrelevant for the second or third?
I don’t know the answer to these questions, but they intrigue me. If you have dealt with any of these questions, let me know. I’d like to know how others are approaching these issues.
To learn more about Last Call for Justice: A Mellingham Mystery, go here: http://amzn.com/0983600074
To learn more about Love Takes a Detour, go here: http://www.amazon.com/Love-Takes-Detour-Stories-Backwoods-ebook/dp/B00GYDXBOO/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1388752240&sr=1-7&keywords=Susan+Oleksiw