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Saturday, 7 July 2012

Moving the goalposts - why I don't like amending published work

I'm seeing an interesting trend now by authors to amending already published works. Not fixing spelling errors, punctuation or formatting (oy, formatting. So very much my weak point) but actually changing the story itself. Changing plot points, rewriting character arcs, in some cases changing the ending to something completely different.

Some of this has been in response to reader feedback. Some authors feel this is a good way of inter-acting with readers, and some of these readers agree. This was  bound to happen; in a world where you can publish - and unpublish - at the push of a button, the real surprise is that it didn't happen earlier. But I can't say I like it.

There's a couple of reasons for that, and to lay them out properly I'm going to come at from two perspectives, both as a reader and as a writer.

From a reading point of view, this would annoy the holy hell out of me. If I've invested time and energy (not to mention money) in a book, changing arcs, story lines, character behaviour and endings is going to flip out of that universe at the speed of sound. By all means release an expanded edition - King did this with the Stand, and I loved it - but don't mess with the story itself. It makes me feel cheated. It makes me wonder why the hell you published the first version to start with. If you don't believe enough in your world to hold to its inner core, the truth of the vision you initially put out there for the world to see, how can you expect me to this as a reader?

The books I love I really, really love. The books I enjoy I will come back to; it's rare for me to really like a book and never read it again. And if I come back to it and you've changed integral parts of the story line, you've destroyed that world for me. That's it. The trust I had in your world is gone, it's shattered, and not all the comments of "but this is better" is going to restore that. For one thing, it's condescending, for another, it's whiny, and lastly, a part of me will always feel that justifying what you wrote should remain in the precincts of school reports and keeping your teachers happy. I'm not your English professor.
The odds of me picking up another story from you? Nil. (And if you do this to me while I'm in the middle of the book - which recently happened - this Lil Constant Reader is going to go nuclear. 8 amended versions in 3 weeks. I no longer visit that site, and reminders from it go straight to my junk mail, with a muttered "bugger off" from yours truly.Ugh.)

From a writer's point of view, I can understand the wish to make it better and keep your customers happy. Guess what? There will never be 100% happiness from your readers/customers. Never. That only happens in very cheesy adverts.
There are parts of WolfSong I'd love to go back and re-do or eliminate all together. If I did that, I expect I'd get lynched by the people that read the book and liked it, and rightly so. I write a book, I polish it as best I can, and once the beta-reading and editing is done, it gets published. I've republished Wolfsong previously as edition two in an effort to eliminate formatting issues, but I made it very clear there were no changes to the story itself.

My paying customers are not beta-readers, and treating them as such in both unethical and rude. It's like handing someone a bowl of cornflakes, yanking it away just when they've gotten used to the taste, and replacing half of it with granola. Do that to a customer, and odds are you'll end up wearing a bowl of badly combined cereal on your head, with milk dripping slowly onto your shoulders. And if you're still wailing "But it's better!!!" at this point, you deserve all the karma you are going to get.

The other thing, purely from a practical view-point is - when do you stop writing the bloody thing? Once it's published, you need to move on. Move onto the next story, the next world, the next universe, otherwise you will still be re-writing the first book in thirty years, rocking gently and mumbling to your cats. If you need to rewrite, you need to do it before you push that publish button, because if you intend on rocking your readers world, you want to do it in a good way, not in an OMG if they change this frigging thing ONE MORE TIME kind of way. Your readers trust you to build them a world they can step into and enjoy with the security of knowing that world is fixed. Changing that world - breaking it apart and remaking it into something new - upsets its evolution, both for the reader and for the author. Make it interactive by all means - add pictures, links, and sound-files - make it entertaining, make it exciting, but most importantly, make it trustworthy.


J H Sked is the author of WolfSong , Basement Blues , Die Laughing , and Quarter the Moon  and a contributor to Sweet Dreams , all of which are on Amazon and enrolled in the Kindle lending programme.