Perhaps I should clarify: this is not about self-publishing per se. And it is not intended to bash any author or any book. This is more about what I call republishing: the power that self-published authors have to tweak or rewrite their own books after “publication” (especially e-books); how this power impacts readers, and whether this is good or not.
I don’t have answers. This is just a rant about some problems I have seen or experienced. Proceed at your own risk. Thank you.
“Publishing” doesn’t seem to have the same meaning anymore. A published book used to be fairly final. Maybe there would be some typos fixed in later printings, or perhaps a second edition or whatever. But it was more of a complicated process, involving lots of people, and therefore used somewhat sparingly.
With self-publishing, particularly with e-books, the author can change the book any time they want, and in any way. Which makes it easier for fixing typos, of course (huzzah!).
But what about more than that?
It seems to this reader that many self-published books this reader has run into, were published by a youngish author (not even necessarily young; maybe just less experienced) awhile ago… and even could have been a very good book… and then the author decides they’ve improved as a writer and decide to majorly tweak or rewrite said “published” book.
This is what I call republishing, and I am a victim of it.
I’m not naming names or titles. There’s doubtless always a reason for such things being done, and often I even agree with them. This is not for any person(s) or book(s) in particular. I’m not bashing anyone! Anyone who may have done this… I still love them. This is just an accumulation in my mind that requires this reader to rant.
So rant I shall.
What if you’ve bought the old version…
…and haven’t read it?
If I’ve bought a book and haven’t read it yet, and then hear it’s being rewritten, or has been, since I bought it… well, that makes me not want to read the version I own. Why should I bother? It’s an old version. It’s no longer current. It does make me feel rather depressed — I bought this book, but it’s no longer a “real” book so I’m not going to read it… or if I do, I’ll know it’s not “real” any longer. And if I’m not going to read this version, that I bought, why should I bother buying and reading the new version? It rather puts me off the whole idea, which is a sadness indeed. Especially when I really wanted to read that book!
If someone sends me a copy of their unpublished work-in-progress to beta-read, and I’m busy and don’t get around to it right away, and then they send me an updated version before I’ve read the first… am I going to read the first version or the new one? The new one, of course.
It’s like that, except that it’s unpublished and is expected to change.
A published book is supposed to be finished, right?
What if you’ve bought the old version
…and HAVE read it?
Oftentimes it seems that authors who do this republishing are very aware of what they’re doing, and very kindly put their republished book up for free for a time, so that buyers of the previous version (read, or unread) can have the new version and won’t be victims. This is very considerate of them, and I appreciate the sentiment. Maybe it works for most people.
I for one have never managed to make this work. Allegedly you can delete your version on your kindle or kindle app, and re-order the book from amazon, and it should be the new version. For me, that’s never worked. It always keeps the original version, no matter what I do. Again, this may just be me.
But, along that line…
What if it does work?
What if the e-book of the old version is whisked magically (scientifically; whatever) away into the nether-ness of deleted data, and replaced with a shiny, new, updated version just as the author wishes it to be.
What if you have the new version, but…
What if you liked the older version better?
This has happened to me. I’ve read books that the author has later rewritten or changed now that they’re a better writer… and I have infinitely preferred the previous version. Fortunately, the particular one I’m thinking about, the old was a physical copy, and the new version an e-book. So I could compare the changes, read both versions, and realize that I preferred the old… and still had it so I can still read that version. Happy day!
But. If I had preferred the old version, and it had been a replaced e-book (if it had worked), then the version I liked better would have been gone.
Something about that idea makes this book-loving reader’s heart bleed and this reader’s word-devouring eyes cry.
(It also reminds me of, in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, how Mr. Norrell made all the copies of Mr. Strange’s book on magic disappear, because he didn’t like Strange’s take on things. Granted, that’s someone else getting rid of it, which is not quite the same as the author doing so. But still.)
True, it would be the version the author liked better.
But what of the reader?
Isn’t the reader important too?
Aren’t books for readers?
Who is right: the author, or the reader?
Well, I believe both are right. That’s why things get complicated. (This could easily trail off into a discussion of Tolkien and the Tree of Tales… but that’s a ginormous topic for another day.)
But if I read a book and love it and recommend it to everyone… and then the author changes it… how will I know if it’s still the book I recommended? What if it isn’t? How can I recommend it? What if I want to recommend the old version but it’s not available anymore?
As I said, when beta-reading an unpublished manuscript, you know it’s not the final product and will change. Sometimes I prefer an earlier version to the final one, personal reader preference versus author-decision; author has the final word, which is as it should be since it’s their story. But at least, then, I know it’s subject to change. It’s not finished. It’s not finalized. It’s not PUBLISHED.
Now, it seems that “published” doesn’t necessarily mean anything anymore.
Self-published books seem to just mean it’s available for people to read.
But it’s not safe. It could change at any time.
From a reader’s point of view, this is frightening.
From an author’s?
Well, from an author’s point of view, it’s wonderful. You (this is a generic “you”. It doesn’t mean you who are reading this or anyone in particular) can publish your book, people can read it, everything can be great… Then if you decide that you’ve grown as a writer and hate your old version or think it needs a lot of tweaking, if you’re self-published and especially with e-books, you can just go in and fix it — easy-peasy — and feel that all’s right with the world and whoever buys it from now on (and whoever successfully downloads the copy you put available for free for awhile) will have the new, the updated, the REAL version that’s the version you like.
. . . For now.
Until you decide to change it again.
Published doesn’t apparently mean “finished” anymore.
Am I judging anyone?
If I had anything published and — horror of horrors — found a typo, I’d go right in and change it.
If I had self-published my first finished novel back when I was thinking about publishing it, I’d be in the exact same boat as all these republishers. I look back at that fourteen-or-however-old-I-was writing and I cringe and am very glad that I was not prevailed upon (as the pressure was) to publish right away, back when I felt like it was “ready”. (Ha.) Otherwise I would be rushing right in to republish an updated, rewritten version. Probably multiple times. Especially since my first finished book is now in the middle of a series, and will require massive rewrites and perhaps a complete overhaul by the time I get the other books written.
Which brings us to another aspect of this discussion…
Continuity in series
I will admit that Tolkien himself ended up changing part of a chapter of The Hobbit, after its publication, before The Lord of the Rings was published. Without it, maybe The Lord of the Rings wouldn’t have made sense. *shrug* Or maybe it would. But it was a fairly big deal and he even went to lengths to make the change fit in within the story-world itself (i.e., the old version was the version Bilbo wrote in his book, since The Hobbit was his memoir, and it was different than what truly happened and was published later, because the Ring was already working on him and he didn’t want to tell the whole story about getting it, and Gollum, and everything).
How about the Redwall books by Brian Jacques. The first book, Redwall, was published almost without the author’s knowledge; he had just written it to amuse the blind children at the school he delivered milk to, and had no real plans to publish it, but somebody just basically did. Huzzah! Consequently, when he began to write more stories there were a lot of continuity errors between Redwall and the later (and earlier) books, and also between them as he was writing them. Did he go back and rewrite/edit them to fit together better? No, he did not. Do readers sometimes complain about this? Yes, they do. But I for one am glad of it (the not-changing; not the complainers). They may not make entire sense all together, but they’d be different if they did, and I like them how they are, and I’m much happier that he went on to write many other delightful Redwall adventures instead of mucking about trying to make the published ones all seamlessly fit together.
Authors are human. There are errors, especially in huge series. And that’s okay.
Also, I can’t let a discussion of republishing end without mentioning the republished versions of Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys series. The original versions (Hardy Boys books started in 1927, Nancy Drew in 1930) were “modernized” in the ’50s and ’80s and also since then, and basically entirely rewritten AND PUBLISHED AGAIN UNDER THE SAME TITLES. What even is this nonsense.
Now, I positively loved the original Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys stories (though the Rick Brant books were my favorites of those kind of old series. SCOTTY. <3). They’re so much fun and just… yes. Awesome. But the newer ones, edited to be more “socially acceptable” or some rubbish, are ick. Like, the original characters were awesome and noble and heroic and fun. The old books are wonderful and the new ones are awful and TOTALLY different. And yet they’re hailed as the real versions these days because the old ones are old and rare and… the new ones are masquerading as the old ones and pretending to be the actual books but they’re NOT. This really bothers me…
So there is a case of a “real” publisher republishing things… It’s not just self-publishers, I know… But any version of this can be annoying is all I’m saying.
Also on that note… Abridged. JUST… NO. I do not like books being abridged! It feels just… so so wrong. -_-
My rant is trailing off down several rabbit trails, as rants are wont to do…
I can see the point of editing a book so that it will make sense with the later books in the series, or editing it because otherwise there can be no sequels at all because the story doesn’t fit.
But that doesn’t mean, as a reader, that I have to like it.
And maybe the first book should have waited to be published until the later ones were finished if continuity is that big of a concern.
Yes, I suppose it’s somewhat cool that anyone can publish their own book; freedom and all that.
I can see a certain benefit to being able to go back and redo a book one wrote as a teen, or even as a generally younger person who was not yet as advanced of a writer as one currently is.
But maybe one shouldn’t have published it yet if it wasn’t ready.
William Goldman said that The Princess Bride and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (movie) were the only things he wrote that he can look back on without humiliation, because he dislikes his own writing. But he didn’t go back and try to fix them.
All writers grow as they continue writing.
And as long as their work(s) is unpublished, they should feel free to write and rewrite and tweak to their heart’s content. But it’s quite possible that once it’s published it should be finished and done with and largely unchanged, aside from minor things like typos (yes, my perfectionist self will make allowances for that) and, yes, there can be a second edition or maybe a tweaked this or that… Traditionally published books do seem to sometimes do things like that. But it’s purposefully slow and difficult.
Because published books are supposed to be basically finished.
That’s why they’re published and not still manuscripts.
Ignore this post or disagree with it or argue with it or hate it as you will.
I don’t have answers.
I’m not pretending to.
This is a rant of a confused victim of self-publishing and consequently republishing, who no longer knows what to think.
I’m torn because, as a writer myself, I see the author’s point of view, and I know if it came right down to it and I was published (fortunately, I am not) I would probably be doing the same thing, and be glad about it.
But as I said, I’m torn. Because as a reader, I want my books to be just that. Books. Not ever-changing manuscripts. I want BOOKS.
I may never be an author.
I’ve been a writer for a long time and hope to be for even longer, as long as I have stories to write down.
But I’ve always been and hopefully always will be a reader.
And with so many writers and self-publishers in the world today (this can be both good and bad; again, I don’t have answers) I feel like it’s time that a reader’s opinion is heard.
This reader had something to say, decided to embrace free speech, whether or not it was a good idea, and has now said it.
Do with it what ye will.