Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Editing published works

This was going to be a completely different post. One of the pitfalls of being friends with a number of writers and reading all of their stuff behind the scenes (primarily in Google Docs) is that I lose track of what they've actually published. A friend was talking about how she's heavily editing one of her novels, and I was annoyed  with her because I thought it was the one she'd already put out. Whoops, no, it's the one slated for later this year.

But back to my annoyance.

Editing works that are already out is something that happens. We see it most commonly with comics, where collected volumes will have extras: these are mostly to get you to buy the same material again, plus bonus sketch or story or worldbuilding. This is established practice, which is evident particularly in popular series such as The Sandman, which has the individual issues, the collected editions, the absolute editions, and the annotated editions. One gets something new and slightly different out of each edition. One needs to buy the whole series four times to get that full experience.

It is also fairly established practice in textbooks, where new information requires rewrites.

But in novels, there have traditionally been few differences between editions: some will have particular illustrations, some will not, and the page count may vary between the hardcover and the pocketbook, but it is essentially the same content. In the case of Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, there are two cover variants, but the contents remain the same. The cover variants are entertaining when next to each other (all of my copies have been of the black cover: my best friend has one with the white cover), but the contents are the same.

Take, for example, American Gods (yes, it is apparently Neil Gaiman day on Author's Refuge). It recently had a tenth anniversary edition! The tenth anniversary edition has an additional twenty thousand words on the original. Twenty thousand. It is also the author's preferred text.

I find this maddening, as it's a larger echo of something I see a lot in indie publishing. I need to buy it again to get the whole experience - to get the experience the author wants me to have, even. This is okay for me with American Gods, as my paperback has gone missing somewhere in the last two countries, and I adore the story.

In indie publishing, I've seen a few authors scrambling to fix typos or plot holes pointed out by first readers - meaning that people who buy the book on the first, second, and third days are generally all buying slightly different books. This is amateurish, and frankly quite terrible: your book should be the best it can be before you publish it. Often, the best it can be requires an editor.

I am firmly of the opinion that, when you learn something new about writing, something that changes the way you write, it is the better part of valor to take that and apply it to something new instead of re-writing something old. Produce new and better things and send them forth into the world, and then produce more that are even better.

But I'm caught - it's been ten years, and it's twenty thousand words. It's a celebration, not a cover-up. I may end up buying the hardcover.


  1. I liked this post a lot. I have feels about it.