Hey, gang! The full title of this post is actually "The UnDone Book Paradigm Shift and Why It Will Kill Your Authoring Career Faster Than Carbon Monoxide," but Google gets cranky about really, really, reeeeeeeeeaaaallly long blog post titles, so...it is as you see it.
Some of you may remember a blog post of mine from February, entitled "Amazon Ain't EBay, Folks," at which time I discussed the epidemic of "good-enough-itis." That being, a sea change in the minds of people who are currently typists, who decide to become writers, and from there to authors...without stopping along the way to be absolutely sure that what they are publishing isn't merely "good enough," but is, rather, the very best that they can write. Today's blog post is about this also; it's about the phenomena of rewriting your books, after they've been published, which is part and parcel of this illness.
While I Was Minding My Own Business...
...playing hooky on a geek forum, I was involved in a discussion that started out as a request, from a new user, to "make light modifications onto mobi [A Kindle book] while [she was] reading them on [her] Paperwhite." Now, mind you, this wasn't the author; this was simply a reader.
The discussion went back and forth a bit, with some of the geekier folks talking about how it would eat the battery, etc., even if it could be done, but the gist was, this was a reader who wanted to make changes to the author's original text.
The net result was that she was told that it couldn't, realistically, be done. However, another member piped up, saying:
"What would be good would be a mechanism (in the Kindle software) to report errors easily back to the publisher anonymously.
"Amazon could easily do this. Publishers wishing to join could provide Amazon with a 'typos' email address, and any reported typos could be automatically sent to the publisher with the exact location of the error.
"I would use it! Reporting typos to publishers is a tedious process. To be able to do it quickly and while reading would be splendid. And then if I ever re-read the book, the publisher will have (I hope) issued an update from the crowd-source proof-reading.
"But I don't see that happening either, although it would be almost trivial for Amazon to implement." [Italic emphasis added]
When I Picked Myself Up Off The Floor...
...after having nearly fainted, I decided to compose a reply. Now, I know this poster, fairly well; he's an intelligent, thoughtful person. I'm quite sure that any contributions he would make to a book would be of value. However, after giving this some thought, here was my reply:
"Oh, PLEASE, please, please, do not suggest that to Amazon, or even promote it as a good idea.
"Nothing against you, my friend; I'm sure your edits would be great. But as someone who often receives these little billet-doux from (authors who have received them from) Amazon, please don't encourage this. I can't tell you what it's like to get notices from Amazon to fix two 'typos' (one a British usage, BTW), in a 226K-word book. Or, to make changes because ONE letter is missing from a backlist book of 140K words, that was scanned and OCR'ed.
"I've ranted about this, privately, to Amazon, because it's the worst possible scenario--the dreadful books, those that are unreadable, receive no notices, no edits at all. Why? Because nobody reads them, thus the reading public doesn't submit errors, and Amazon doesn't (essentially) forward them. The amazing irony of the situation is that it's the popular books, the best books--the books that were edited in the first place, carefully constructed, formatted, etc.--that get read, and thus get these 'helpful hints' from readers.
"So, the books that need it the most, don't get it at all, and the books that need it the least, do. Authors feel compelled to make the edits right away, and so end up remaking books more than once a year. And I'd point out: this never would have happened a mere 10 years ago; hell, not even five. The 'immediacy' and instant gratification of the digital age seem to imply that authors and publishers need to make those edits right away. Ten years ago, publishers would have taken any letters that they'd received about typos, stuck it in a file, and made the edits--if ever--when a second edition was published. Not even a second print run.
"While I see the advantages, to some publishers, of essentially 'crowd-sourcing' the proof-reading for a book, the change in the publishing world about 'instantly fixing typos' seems to me to be absurd, for, as I say, merely a decade ago nobody would have had their knickers in a twist about a few typos in a book. Now readers submit them as if they are the beta readers or proofreading personnel for a publisher--not the consumers. It's a paradigm shift, and I'm not sure it's a good one.
"It's contributing to new phenomena in which the book is never done. We see books being updated, re-uploaded, authors imploring Amazon to send notices to the people who've already bought them--it's contributing to an environment in which Indy authors, particularly, have begun to think of Amazon as their critique group; that it's okay to put up a book that's not "really" done. It's not serving either the authors or the buyers/readers well.
"I can see the point in sending notices to Amazon about a book that's rife with errors. But the types of notices we see, at least, are as I described above--1 or 2 errors in books of over 140-220K words. It's ridiculous. And as I said, I think it's contributing to a mindset that isn't serving either side of the equation very well, because when a reader buys a book, s/he should not be expected to contribute to the perfection of the book; it should be a complete work. That's what we thought ten years ago, and it's what we should think now. Amazon and Nook, Kobo, Diesel, et al, should not be Wattpad, and when an author/publisher puts a book up for sale, it should be polished, complete, and DONE."
Now, the poster to whom I was replying responded, saying he'd seen some good points my response, indicating his clearly superior intelligence (ha!), but I'm deadly serious about this. At our shop, we see a plague of rewriting. An absolute plague. I mean, hell, we're easy--we'll take money to remake books all day. But this mindset--that the book is never done--is a real detriment to authors. An author should be working on her next book--not rewriting her last one. Certainly not over and over.
Nor should authors and publishers be falling prey to a mindset in which instant gratification needs to be indulged over a handful of typos. It's simply not warranted. We wouldn't be republishing a book in print, over those same typos, and it's flatly ridiculous to keep making changes of this nature just because a book is available digitally. Why be held hostage to this? A reader doesn't expect you to make changes today, if the book is in print, so why would you do it just because you are selling a book on Kindle?
When that baby is done being birthed, authors need to stop trying to stuff it back into the womb. If the baby is full term, great, give birth. But if it isn't, stop pushing. If all the labor is over, and the kid is out in the world, then get pregnant with your next. Don't keep trying to re-birth that last book.
So what's the message? Deliver the very best book you can--but deliver it once. Not twice, or three times, or more. Don't expect paying customers to be your beta readers, and don't rewrite the book once you've published it. If you polished it enough before you published it in the first place, then you are doing nothing but distracting yourself from your real work, which is writing your next book. If it's so awful that it warrants rewriting, you shouldn't have published it in the first place--and there's no excuse. As discussed in my February blog post, there are tons of critique groups that are perfectly free, and plenty of sites like Goodreads and Wattpad upon which you can publish works-in-progress and get feedback.
My blog post in short? A book is not a Word document. It's a BOOK. The faster you think of it as a book--as something that will be in print, immutable and stamped forever in history as your contribution to literature--the better an author you will be.