Hi Friends! This post has been a long time coming. Ms. SonomaLass was actually supposed to take place last year, but SL actually had wrist surgery, so we rescheduled. So everyone give her a warm welcome! She has a really interesting post with a question I’d love to hear you answer too.
Last month over on my blog, I reviewed Robin Lee Hatcher’s Kiss Me, Katie for the TBR Challenge. The thing that everyone who commented, either on the blog or Twitter, seemed to find most interesting was that this book was rewritten and re-released by the author eight years after it was originally published. Hatcher shifted to publishing with a Christian publisher, and she chose to “redeem” (her term) some of her books for that market. The conversation got me thinking, and talking to other readers, about the larger picture of re-released romances and what, if anything, the author does to the book before setting it before a new audience.
Re-issuing books is not a new phenomenon. Nora Roberts’ publishers, for example, love to put out her older titles again (and again), sometimes with new titles and covers, so that she developed the NR logo to distinguish new releases from re-releases. But as digital publishing platforms make it easier and cheaper to get books into the hands of readers, we’re seeing and will continue to see an increase. Authors whose book rights have reverted to them, in particular, can re-package and -release those books, rather than leaving them to the used book market.
An author who chooses to re-release an older work faces choices. She needs a new cover, for one thing; cover art and cover copy usually belong to the original publisher. And depending on the age of the book, and the author’s own writing habits, she may not have a digital version of the manuscript, which means that one will need to be created. The technology for doing that results in numerous errors, so even a previously proofread and edited book will need to be proofed again. All of that can be outsourced, and the book can then be released in a new edition that is essentially the same as the older one, at least between the “covers,” if that’s what an author wants.
What happens, though, if the author doesn’t want that? If she looks over her older work and cringes, seeing how much better (in her own mind, anyway) she’s become as a writer? Or what if editorial decisions were made about the book that she wasn’t happy with, or the author has become aware of errors she made when writing the book? Should the author release the book “as is,” or rather, “as was”? Or should she rewrite/revise/improve it?
Most authors seem to be happy just releasing the books repackaged but not revised; this is the logical economic choice, because the time spent revising the older book would be time taken away from writing a new one, and it represents even more investment (cover art and proofreading aren’t cheap services) that needs to be recouped to make the re-released title profitable. And most readers seem fine with that; as long as they know they are buying an older book, they tend to be reasonably forgiving if it isn’t quite what they’re used to from the author more recently. I admit, I’m interested in the exceptions to that.
One exception, of course is Hatcher — she says on her web site that “Many of my earlier novels contain elements that are contrary to what I hope to share with readers today.” She goes on to say, “I have “redeemed” some of my earlier fiction, giving them a second chance to become the books I wish I’d written the first time around.” While Hatcher’s case is an extreme one, I wonder how many other authors will take the opportunity of re-release to make the books ones they “wish” they’d written.
Another exception is Pamela Clare, whose perspective is the opposite. Her second historical romance, Carnal Gift (2004), was cut by 100 pages to fit the publisher’s length requirements. When her rights reverted in late 2010, she says on her blog, “I was so excited because it meant that for the first time I would be able to share with you the story I had written. The story that was published has never felt like my books. How could it with more than 20 percent of the pages gone?” Her approach was simple: “I opened up the original, uncut manuscript, gave it a fresh edit, and made it available to my readers as an ebook.” Clare’s “author’s cut” is, in her mind, the book she DID write the first time around.
Clare and Hatcher are both pretty straightforward with their readers about their changes; Hatcher changed the title to Catching Katie, while Clare clearly identifies the new version of Carnal Gift as the “author’s cut.” I think that’s very important, so that readers know they’re getting a different book. Of course the work is the author’s, and she has every right to make changes, but I do think it’s good to be clear with readers about the differences between older and newer editions.
Just as I’d be troubled by a freshly edited re-release that wasn’t clearly labeled as such, I don’t like it when an older title is released without being clearly identified as such. If readers are mostly pretty understanding about the differences they’ll encounter in an older book, they might be upset to purchase a “new” title by a favorite author, only to find that it’s a re-released title. One recent example I encountered (hardly unusual) is Barbara Hambly’s Open Road Media re-release, Bride of the Rat God. When I received it for review, I didn’t know that it had originally been published in 1994, and it wasn’t clear in the edition I received. I mentioned it to a friend who recognized the title, and a quick look at reviews on the book’s Amazon page confirmed it, but it still wasn’t mentioned in the book’s description.
So what do other readers think? Do you want authors to revise their backlist works before re-releasing, or would you rather read the book “as was”? Have you had any surprises, pleasant or otherwise, now that there are so many re-releases available digitally? I’ve just scratched the surface with these examples, and I think it’s a really interesting aspect of where we are in publishing today.