Should You Ever Rework Previous Novels?
I'm in one of the best Facebook groups for horror authors I've ever seen—Get Writing Horror—and I saw a topic a few weeks ago that really made me pause to reflect. The topic was whether or not authors should ever go back to the novels they wrote at the start of their careers and rewrite, re-edit, or just enhance the stories.
My initial knee-jerk reaction was to say authors should absolutely do this, but other than the fact I was doing the exact same thing right at that time, I couldn't really come up with a good reason why I felt that way. However, I'm now in a better place to articulate my perspective in this regard and wanted to share it with all of you.
As authors, we're taught the best way to sell our books is by writing the next one. The implication of this is that a reader is going to read our newly published novel and then move to our back library while waiting for our next novel to be published a month, three months, or a year down the line. If you write stand-alone fiction, the reader isn't necessarily going to choose their next read in a chronological fashion. The reader might decide your first novel's blurb is more interesting. Keep this scenario in mind; I'll be going back to it.
The argument behind not reworking any of your previous novels is because it effectively destroys published proof of your progression as a writer. One can't look at your first novel to your most recent work and see how far you've advanced your craft or what you now do differently. Going back and making substantial revisions to previous stories does also take a substantial amount of time away from current projects, plus an additional investment to have the story edited.
Despite these concerns, I'm a firm believer you should rework the novels in your back library if there is a noticeable disparity between the quality of your current work and what you produced at the start of your career. My reason behind this is simple—maintaining reader expectation. If you are a career-focused author, your work is your product, and your back library is the culmination of your business. Your reader experience should remain consistent from book one through to book fifty, whether you write in series or stand-alone. Readers are not under any obligation to give authors leeway if the book they chose to read is not up to the standards of one of the author's other books. What if that previous book makes no sense developmentally? What if the narrative arc has plot holes and substantial inconsistencies? Is it worth possibly losing a future reader? I advise authors to always err on the side of caution and the positive reader experience.
This also comes into play with paid advertisements. When we run BookBub featured ads, Amazon ads, or Facebook ads, the sales for that first book might look like a loss when compared to costs of advertising that book alone. However, if the other books in your back library are of the same quality, the sales from those advertisements extending into your other novels make those ads more profitable. The efficiency and profitability of your paid advertisements should always be protected.
For instance, go back to the scenario I said to keep in mind. In this example, I've received a BookBub Featured Deal. We all know these are hard to get and are usually fairly expensive but entirely worth it. Let's say I've invested $700 on that BookBub Featured Deal, and a reader has received my free book because of it. I have ten other books in my library. Obviously, if my book is free—which most are for BookBub Featured Deals—I'm relying on read-through to those other ten books in order to make my money back and earn a profit. That reader loves my first book and chooses an earlier novel from my back library as their second read. Only, I haven't reworked or revisited that earlier novel, and it's in it its original state. If that reader has a negative reader experience during that second novel read—especially when compared to their read of my current book, where I've incorporated everything I've learned to make my writing stronger—the chances of them choosing a third book are diminished because I have not shown consistency and reliability. Now, instead of possibly earning ten sales from one reader to help toward offsetting the expected costs of advertising, I've only earned one sale. Across multiple readers, that is a substantial loss.
From a career-focused mindset, which would you choose? Looking for a self-editing resource to help keep your novels as professional as possible while you work toward strengthening your brand, building your author career, and eventually hiring an editor? Check out my new book, How to Self-Edit Your Novel.
Interested in more writing and editing tips? Check out these blog posts!
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