Risky Business? Revisiting & Revising a Backlist Book

indexRevisiting an old story intent on revising it can be a scary journey full of rocks and potholes. I’m deep in the throes of revising my old Signet Regency, The Magnificent Marquess, and I have to tell you, the process isn’t pretty! It’s not just the mess of annotated pages scattered over my dining room table and all the handwritten notes that are keyed to them, but also my precarious state of mind.

What do you think about “new and improved” versions of older books? Have you ever picked up a new version of an old favorite and read it to see if you liked it better? And did you? If you write, have you gone back to previously published work and significantly changed it? I’m not talking about just a minor tweak or correction here or there. Were you pleased with the result? Please let me know in the comments!writers-block21

While I am firmly convinced this original book can be greatly improved, I am also terrified I may make it worse rather than better.

There seem to be two schools of thought about reissuing backlist books. One is that old books are like old friends and should just be sent back out again in the same lovable form they originally presented to the world. The other is that reissuing them offers an opportunity to improve them –to fix mistakes, enliven the writing, or even indulge in the deeper surgeries (or expansions) required to improve plot, character, or motivations. What’s your experience with this, as a reader, or a writer, or both?

writing_as_professionalMost of my old Signets packed a lot of plot into a relatively short book format –the length was a requirement of the publisher’s line. I believe that by expanding The Magnificent Marquess, I can tell the story more effectively. Too much had to be left out of the original version. But one of many dangers then becomes losing the pacing, not to mention the challenge of keeping the writing tight. All the same problems of writing any original version!

I just keep reminding myself that even though these characters and their story are old friends of mine, for readers who never read the first version, this revised one will be brand new. I’ll let you know when it’s ready!! happy reading 2 peeps

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About Gail Eastwood

Gail Eastwood is the author of seven Regencies that were originally published by Signet/Penguin. After taking ten years off for family matters, she has wobbled between contemporary romantic suspense and more Regency stories, wondering what century she’s really in and trying to work the rust off her writing skills. Her backlist is gradually coming out in ebook format, and some are now available in new print editions as well. She is working on the start of a Regency-set series and other new projects. Stay tuned!

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9 Responses to Risky Business? Revisiting & Revising a Backlist Book

  1. Nancy says:

    I feel cheated when an old book is changed too much unless that is made clear in all the publicity and even the front of the book– New and Expanded or Revised magnificent Marquess– not that I remember anything being wrong about the original. I don’t want it published under a different title because I don’t want to buy it again unless it is a new story.
    However, changing things that don’t change the story is Ok for any author would want to correct flat out mistakes. If the correction means you can no longer have a bastard son inheriting the father’s title, then best just lay that book to rest. ( Not that I think you have such a book )

    • Nancy, I agree with you about the need to be clear about what’s going on, and also about not changing the title –I’ve bought books thinking they were new stories only to discover I’ve read them. I think I like “newly expanded version” or some language like that –I will want people to know it’s not the same. I was never happy with the mystery/suspense subplot in that book, and am going to try to make that work better in the new version. 🙂

  2. Elena Greene says:

    My answer to your questions, as a writer, is a big “it depends”. I heavily revised my first book, Lord Langdon’s Kiss, before reissuing it. I didn’t make big changes to the plot but I did tweak some of the characterization and motivation. For example, I made the hero just a little younger, because I thought it made some of his mistakes more understandable. Mostly I cut a lot of redundant introspection–and it went from about 80,000 words to 65,000. I like it much better and it’s getting better reviews than the first time around so I don’t think I botched it.

    Other books I’ve reissued with minimal changes, because I felt pretty good about them already.

    As I reader, I’ve rarely read reissues. The only one I can remember is Mary Jo Putney’s The Rake and the Reformer, which was reissued as The Rake. I was interested to see what changed, but it turns out I’d read them too far apart to really be able to judge. I’d have to read them back-to-back but as much as I love the story, I haven’t had time to do that.

    I do think it’s important to state that it is a revised reissue just so people know.

    • Thanks, Elena! It’s encouraging to know you were pleased with your end results on revising Lord Langdon’s Kiss. I just hope the fact that TMM is going the other way, from 75,000 words to something longer, won’t hurt it! 🙂

  3. Sharron Massey w/a Sharron Gayle Beach says:

    I am revising a self-published book for the third time, mainly to fix formatting issues and the like. But I personally love my favorite traditionally published books just as they were, with the usual “if”. If the author expands the book- hooray! If the book has glaring Regency mistakes, then yes, fix them. But if the book simply feels outdated or unpolitically correct, I would prefer it the way it was written.

    • Sharron, thanks for your thoughts –especially for the “hooray!” on expanding the old trads!! 🙂
      Best of luck with your third-time revisions –hope the old “third time’s a charm” will be true for you.

  4. This is a fascinating topic, Gail. Especially as so many authors are getting their rights back an revising and rewriting to send their babies back out into the world. I definitely agree the author needs to let the reader know this is a revised version of an older book. Many readers will read simply to see the author’s new take on the book. And added material always seems to be a hit. I have proofed some books for authors in which a novella was expanded to a novel and it always interesting to compare the two.

    • Louisa, thanks for the encouraging words! I’m glad to hear that added material goes over well. I certainly am enjoying the chance to deepen my characters, and I do think the story is going to be improved. Fingers crossed!

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