|“The village tailor” by Albert Anker|
As we endure the angst around the Blu-Ray release of Stars Wars and the fact that George Lucas changed the original trilogy… again, it’s worth pondering how this could also very well happen in the world of books.
Reader Tucker, author of the Sarcastic Creatures e-book series, wrote to me about how he’s seeing tinkering on the rise and authors having trouble letting go of their books: “Just because the book is published doesn’t mean the author is finished with it anymore.”
Tinkering could be a good thing – I would love to be able to correct the typos in Jacob Wonderbar, for instance, but those are stuck in ink.
But could we lose something with authors not letting go of their stories? Should there be a final version? Does the tinkering even help books?
What do you think?
Kevin Lynn Helmick says
It's probably up to the author, however they work, feel, think. They'll do what they want and no amount of discussion or OCD therapy will change that. Someday we might see "remakes" by other writers doing their version of popular book. So what? It won't take anything away from the origonal.
Personaly, I put them behind me and move on to the next. I've never even read the final published copy of any of my books, past the proof copy. I have no desire at this point to keep re-living it. By the time it's got the bar code…I'm sick of it anyway.
I plan to read them again, 10-20 years down the road, it should be interesting to see what kind of a mental place I was at when I wrote them compared to where I'll be at then.
Lauren @ Pure Text says
Being able to tinker comes in handy when an author who self-published on impulse suddenly realizes, "Oh…I should've had this professionally edited."
But, with the hope that those who self-publish consider all the aspects and take it seriously, there should be a point where no more tinkering can be done.
Haley Whitehall says
I think tinkering is good as long as it is ONLY cosmetic. Fix the typos and grammar errors. A few always slip through the cracks. I do not think the storyline or characters should be touched.
Sometimes external pressure (deadline date, Fed Ex cutoff) is helpful, but a writer has to have an internal awareness of when to let a piece go. But boy, is it hard…
Adam Heine says
There are two potential pitfalls here. The first is tinkering, or Lucas Syndrome. Fixing typos and grammar errors is fine, I think, but George Lucas has demonstrated that changing characters or plotlines — sometimes even small telling details — can alienate your existing fanbase.
The second pitfall is patching. PC games are notorious for this. The fact that you can always push out a patch after release has caused many a game developer to release their games too early (especially if the Christmas season is coming up, for example). The results are strong initial sales followed by terrible reviews and a damaged reputation.
But they do it because sometimes it works. The initial sales boost is worth it. And sometimes a poorly reviewed game becomes the next sleeper hit because a patch made it good.
That, to me, is the other danger. I can see a future in which authors release books quickly to grab sales, then edit after the release. But this will only hurt their reputation even more.
Jaden Terrell says
Like most others, I think correcting typos and factual errors is fine. I'm even okay with an occasional phrasing tweak if you're already editing and something jumps out at you.
Unlike the others, I think that if a writer realizes he or she has published too soon and can make the book much better, it's fine to do it, but there should be some clue for the readers, like a different cover or title, so everyone knows there have been edits.
My book was originally self-published, then picked up by a tiny press, and is now being reissued by a larger press in January. Each new publisher wanted edits of some kind, and while we worked to make sure the edited versions were true to the original, I think they're also better books.
Interesting question. I think that if you find typos after the release and can fix those, you should. But changing content – no. I think part of the growth as a writer – like an artist – is learning how to tell when you are done.
I think about some books I love and how they aren't "perfect" but I love them anyway. Send it out with love and be done with it.
Well, I just published my first novel on Kindle and ten days later corrected a ridiculous error. But with prodding I published 50 copies for review purposes and firends without Kindle or Nook and those errors are permanent. The Kindle version has had one revision and will have another within the week.
Net net… the story is the same. Bit it begs the question, when is a story complete because what if we change the story itself? What if we decide the kid with one arm would become a more sympathetic character if he were dying of cancer? Nevertheless, we live within the limitations we're given and for now it is what it is.
KJHowe and Saul Tanpepper says
The idea that once a work is published and therefore out of reach to the creator is an artifact of the old definition of publication. But as we redefine what it means to publish, so we must reevaluate whether keeping a work in suspended animation forever is a good thing and if fluidity is a good thing. Readers will, of course, resist the idea of change because they want assurance that the story they'll reread one, two or ten years from now is going to be the same one they'll remember reading. That's the basis for why we reread, isn't it? But like all such things, that's a mindset that developed as a consequence of the state of things that is no longer relevant. I agree that it's not a good thing for an author to continue to tinker simply because they came up with a new way to deal with an issue or they wish to rewrite a passage because they're seeing their work in the light of a new day. On the other hand, I would hope that a writer makes corrections for spelling and clarity, as well as simple grammatical fixes. And, yes, until someone writes a law that says "Once published, now untouchable," authors will tinker, but out of courtesy to the reader, significant changes should be denoted somehow, perhaps on the copyright page.
I self-published a book last March. I decided to correct a couple of typos and an bad sentence structured missed by my editor. Not touching the story or anything else. I'm satisfied with this one major typo fix. It reads just fine. Working on getting the next novel in order.
Simon Haynes says
There's another reason to tweak: I've published four novels in the same series, and the first is (was) the weakest. It contained passages from the late 90's, when I was a fairly new writer. All the others were written post-2003 when I had a lot more credits under my belt.
It made sense to give the first a light edit for the Kindle release, otherwise people might read it and assume the rest of the series was similar. I didn't change the plot, just smoothed some of the writing.
I'm all for it, in moderation.
As we drag ourselves along our writerly learning curve (hopefully in an upwards direction), we're bound to look back on what we wrote a year or two before and find ways to improve upon it – if not, we're either already perfect or we haven't learned much in the interim. It's only natural to want to tweak our old ms to bring it up to 'current' standards.
I'm traditionally published (albeit with a small press).
The e-version of my book came out last June. A year later, the company decided it had done well enough to warrant a print version. They kindly alloewed me to make a lot of minor changes. These included some typos, but for the most part, they were little things that changed the sentence a smidge, rather than grammatic corrections.
Mind you, I don't think I'd like to be allowed to do that again.
Rufus Dogg says
Endless tinkering does not force us to hone a craft. Imagine if a plumber could get your pipes done good enough to build the house and then come back in a few weeks and fix something he didn't get right. Or a bricklayer can just fix that wall later.. or a concrete guy can pour that footer better next spring… why do we view writing in less earnest? Why is the "artistry" of writing celebrated more than the craft?
Good writers — like all good artists — are exceptional craftsmen first. Otherwise you are just slinging words around hoping to make a few stick together into sentences. That is not writing; that is a monkey with a loaded typewriter.
Measure twice, cut once. Move on.
Ishta Mercurio says
Fixing typos is one thing, and in my mind, there's nothing wrong with that.
People evolve. We grow as individuals, and as writers. We become better and better at practicing our craft.
But a book, like a film, is not an evolving thing. It is a moment. It is what that author (or director) wanted to say in that one moment in his life and career. And as a representation of that moment, a book, once published, is complete. It is whole. It is an entity unto itself.
To tinker with that months, years, decades after the fact, when the author has moved on to different ways of thinking and writing, when the world has moved on to different technologies and ways of communicating and being, is to take away from the essence of what a book is. It becomes something that is no longer a working whole, no longer a representation of that one moment, but a mish-mash of different places and times and attitudes and styles. It becomes a lesser thing.
I like Rick Daley's idea of releasing extra chapters that the editor didn't like, akin to the "director's cut" of a film. It is a way of acknowledging that books, like films, are not the sole creation of the director or the author, and that there are different – and occasionally contrasting – attitudes and ideas that come into play. But the original work, the entity that is the original version of the book, should remain untouched.
Rachel Neumeier says
a) Yes. I would love to get rid of typos, repeated words, and that dratted scene where a character stands up twice. I would love to be able to fix these things without waiting for a new printing or new edition.
b) NO! NO! NO! By God, there needs to be a point where you call it done and put it aside and quit worrying about it! How could you ever move on to the next project?
c) What if the author changes her mind about something big and makes an important change, only you as the reader loved the original version?
Daniel McNeet says
Particularly with ebooks and POD, the author can make changes as he or she sees fit. Just needs another ISBN. I believe the author has the right to do with his or her property as he or she wants. Reminds me of people who colorize black and white movies over the objections of the director.
Wow, what a good question and the comments are interesting, too. I really hadn't thought of this before.
I guess I side with the ones who say typos and grammer, and maybe even smoothing out the writing is fine, and might be a very good idea. I would have a terrible time, personally, not playing around with that. But changing the story content, that could shake the reader's confidence in the author. There's also something to be said for announcing that changes have been made, and allowing for updates. I'm not so worried about people publishing too soon and adding patches later – I guess I feel the embarrassment factor could discourage that, because writing is very personal.
On the other hand, it's possible people will experiment with how a story evolves.
Should be very interesting!
Gabrielle D'Ayr says
No! Bad writer ~ bad! No! And for emphasis, NO!
Fixing typos to me is not tinkering anyway, these are things that should (in a perfect world) never make it into the book. I personally find them distracting so I'm fine with fixing the typos.
Changing the story? Oh God, No, PLEASE no! Writers, when you create for your readers, it's like weaving a tapestry or casting a spell. The exact colours/ingredients you choose to put in the story make it what it is and we, your readers cherish this. Knowing why you chose one word or phrase over another is a luxury most of us never have, and often a point of speculation and discussion. What is supremely important though are the words you ,did choose. They created a picture in our minds and hearts and led us on a journey ~ and you want to change this?
Personally I find it very difficult to watch films adapted from books as my brain throughout offers commentary and corrections(wrong; wrong; it was blue not red; there was no pet bird in this story). Please let's not do this to the books themselves.
By the way, I am tinker myself. I can't pick up a piece I've written without wanting to change something. So I don't. Other people can edit, copy edit, review ~ just take it away from me. The story is done, the tapestry finished, the spell in effect ~ don't break the spell.
I'm afraid I haven't yet read all the comments – but a story exists only if it has readers, and, in the end, the author is just another reader. The readers create the story as they read it. If we authors cannot let go and let the story exist as an artifact, outside ourselves – well, it will never exist.
I certainly do understand the temptation to keep fixing, keep tinkering, keep making the book "better". But I also believe that, after a certain point, we have to let go and give the story to the world.
My two cents!
S. Kyle Davis says
The point-in-case is Whitman. He wrote and rewrote and edited and deleted and prettied up Leaves of Grass until he died. Which one is the "definitive" one? It's a matter of huge debate. Some say the deathbed edition, because it was the last. But then, Whitman took out a bunch of stuff on his deathbed that he didn't want in there, because he didn't want to die offending people. Was it the first one? It's hardly the mast polished, and doesn't have some of the most memorable passages.
Leaves of Grass a big jumble of mess, and it had definitive editions, because it was still print. Can you imagine the debacle if Whitman had access to Microsoft Word???
It's hard to let go, and having or not having the ability to change on the fly doesn't make that go away. At the end, it's the author's job.
I think that the ease of change in a digital world is NOT a good thing for art.
Art is an artifact of its time, and writing is a snapshot of the writer. Sure I'll be better in five years than I am now, but any changes I might make to my book then will mean that it's no longer the same book.
Moreover, I think a lot of what allows us to move on, to improve, to change, is our ability to let go of what we've done. Once it's released into the wild, lets go onto the next thing.
I'm posting anonymously to protect the not-so-innocent…
I design ebooks, and I had to fire a client once. He had me working on an hourly wage, unlike my other clients. He would finish the book, send it to me, I would design all the ebook editions, and then he'd call me with a few changes. A few. As in, 95% of the semicolons he would want changed to emdashes, but not ALL of them. I would spend hours upon hours hand-correcting the programming file, and eventually it would take longer to do the corrections than it would have to have just done a new file in the first place. Then, he would change a bunch of wordings and quotes, and I would have to go back to those changes. We'd upload to Amazon and everywhere else, and then he'd call with MORE CHANGES.
Then, he did the math and realized how much money he was spending, then chewed me out saying that every version was costing way too much. No, really? I can't imagine why! The sad thing was is that there were several upcoming books to work on, too, but we couldn't get started on those due to the changes. Even worse, I wasn't the only one he did this to – the paper book designer had to do all the same changes by hand. He worked with like 4 or 5 different ones, because they all kept being unwilling to rework the same project repeatedly. I finally gave up on the book and told him that I was going to get out of the business. Which I haven't. I just don't want anyone he would suggest to me as a client, for fear he will send me people like him.
I really endorse self-publishing, but this is the sort of trap that can claim the life of an author. Move. On. Or be like this guy and waste thousands of dollars and months of time rehashing the words and design on the same book.
I have other clients who have come to me to fix small errors, such as typos, a repeated sentence, etc., and I am more than happy to fix those. But I'll never do fixit work like that again. It damn near put me in the mental ward.
Bonnie McKernan says
Thank you for introducing this topic. The above answers have reinforced what I probably knew all along: the book is published; I did my best; time to let go. I cannot let the self-sabotaging itch of perfectionism stop me from moving forward!