You know what one of the upsides of self-publishing an e-book is?
If you find something wrong in your book — or something that you could obviously improve — you can update your book file and re-upload it to the publishing site. With, say, Amazon, your changes are live in the marketplace within 48 hours.
Having lived in this world of near-instant publisher responsiveness for the past year or so, I’ve noticed my brain has trouble re-adjusting to the world of legacy publishing that many other people are still living in. Thus, I was honestly confused when I saw this Slate article: “Karen Hall’s Rewrites: A thriller writer gets a second chance to revise her novel 20 years after it first came out. Did she make it better?”
My first reaction was: Uh, why is this news?
The gist of the article is, Wowee, this “thriller writer” Karen Hall dared to rewrite her book and re-release it, something that, according to the article writer, “almost never happens.”
Let’s leave aside the fact that Hall’s book is a horror novel, not a thriller (the novel is about an exorcism, for Mephisto’s sake!). I already ranted last time about people’s gross misunderstanding of horror, which probably accounts for why the Slate writer doesn’t deign to apply the label here. Instead, let’s start with this assertion that writers almost never change their books.
A quick glance at indie publishing shows the lie here: self-published authors change their books all the time, going back and fixing up older titles when they feel they have more to offer those books. But the Slate writer has already demonstrated a bias against self-publishing, so in her world, maybe indie books don’t count as “books.”
There’s a more interesting question embedded here, though: why did this book revision strike the Slate writer as heresy? Or at least, as something shocking enough to write a whole article about?
Because this is what happens when people are too precious about books.
Now, I say this as an author. And as someone who maybe made a fetish of books in the past. But just imagine a person gasping their surprise at, say, an extended edition of a movie, or a remake of a video game, or an updated version a song. This happens all the time in other forms of media in the mainstream, and nobody bats an eye.
Books are somehow different, though. Almost, but not quite, “entertainment.” Burdened with this extra baggage of seriousness by many people.
It’s the reason why some people dread reading altogether. And (going back to the snobbery about self-publishing) it’s the reason why some critics feel compelled to draw the line about what deserves to be called a “book” and what doesn’t.
For Preciousness Exhibit B, just look at this other, ridiculous recent Slate article (yes, I seem to spend a lot of time hate-reading Slate). Wherein the writer complains that J.K. Rowling tweeting about rugby ruins the magic of the Harry Potter books themselves. Because, you know, an author is supposed to be removed from ordinary mortals, serious and erect on her throne at Olympus.
Look. George R.R. Martin’s blog entries about football bore the fuck out of me. But they don’t affect my enjoyment of his A Song of Ice & Fire books, because I never pretended that his books were written by anything but a human being.
Once we stop being so goddamn precious about books — and learn to enjoy them as mortal creations — then we can allow ourselves to realize the potential value in updating a book. Changing it for the better.
There’s a reason that developers update software. Nobody gets everything right in the beginning. Not even after extensive bug testing.
And honestly, the more that aspiring writers themselves accept this, the less likelihood there is of them slaving away on their first novel for ten years in agony and isolation (and maybe even chucking the thing in the trash in the end).
I would much rather see a writer put out an imperfect product and revise it later than to have that writer wait in the wings for years, struggling for a perfect draft that not only may never come, but may not exist.
Books are not sacred objects. And authors ain’t saints. We can leave this absolute notion of “canon” to the priests and rabbis.
But hey, don’t take my word for it. You already know my bias; I’m the guy who wants you to ignore the gatekeepers and just go for it. I’m like the democratic socialist of books these days.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to make a few tweaks to Player Choice. I’m writing the prequel now, and it’s helped me realize a few things I could clarify and improve in the original. Who knows, maybe I’ll even make the main character slightly less of a dick. Time to go defile the holy text of my novel!
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