Sunday, May 19, 2013

Revise and Republish?

The Increasing Fluidity of Books & Publishing

by Jodie Renner, fiction editor and craft-of-fiction writer   

If you’re an indie author with e-books on Amazon, have you revised and re-uploaded any of your e-books, in response to negative reviews or other feedback? Or even just to add improvements or additions you thought of yourself? I do, quite regularly. And it seems to me that many authors, including high-profile ones, who are receiving similar negative reviews for a book should be considering doing this. What do you think? 

With more and more authors publishing their own books as e-books, and even publishers releasing increasing numbers of e-books, which can be updated as often as the author/publisher chooses, how does that impact the content of the books? I’m thinking that using this privilege can’t help but improve the book, and the overall quality of e-books available.

Can and should we use reviews and other feedback to constantly (or occasionally) update or revise our books? Why or why not?

Would you or do you alter/tweak/revise/change your book because of many similar reviews?

And if you do revise your book because of negative reviews, what do you do about the fact that the reviews are still there, even though the issues have been addressed and hopefully fixed? Would you respond to the well-thought-out ones you felt had a good point and tell them you’ve made some changes based on their review?

And will more and more traditional publishers with digital imprints start tweaking their books based on informative, thoughtful reviews? Or on many negative reviews with basically the same objections? Will individual e-books then be in a constant state of flux, based on feedback and current trends?

I’ve heard of authors changing the ending to please a majority of readers who objected to the way their book ended. What about changing other aspects of a book that would require more extensive revisions? What if a lot of faithful followers found one of your protagonists too hard-edged or whiny or sarcastic or whatever? Would you go back to that book and tweak your characterization and their dialogue, etc. to make them more sympathetic and appealing? Or what if lots of readers complained about a major plot hole? Would you go in and fix it, in hopes of stopping the flood of bad reviews?

If your novel is solely an e-book at this stage, it’s quick and easy to upload a newer, better version after making the revisions. But then you have some people who have the original version and others who are buying the improved product. 

I’ve published two craft-of-fiction e-books on Amazon-Kindle (with more to come) and have updated and expanded both of them several times, which is a wonderful feature and option/privilege, I think, especially for writers who are still honing their craft and learning from their mistakes.

Since I published my first e-book, Writing a Killer Thriller, in July 2012, I’ve added two chapters
and revised the whole thing. In the last few days, I added another chapter and deleted one near the end that was too repetitive, a summary that basically reiterated points made in the rest of the book. I just republished this most recent version, and a new cover, and am working on two more new chapters for the book. This approach would have been unheard of ten years ago, but I’m grateful to have the control to be able to do this with my “learning” first book.

Then I’ll ask Amazon to notify earlier buyers so they can upgrade for free. I’m also publishing the new chapters on the blog of my new, author website, so people who’ve bought earlier versions of the e-book can just read the new chapters there. And I’m planning to publish the new, expanded version in print soon. And I assume I can keep the same title...?

(As an aside, when I first published this e-book, I enabled Digital Rights Management and have since been told that was a mistake so I didn’t do it with my second book. Does anyone know if there’s a way I can disable that? It doesn’t seem possible.)

And what about if your book is already in print? Say you’ve published with a POD house like CreateSpace, like I did, for my Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power book (available as an e-book, too). Do you consider re-issuing a second edition? All my comments for Style that Sizzles have been positive (29 reviews to date, with an overall rating of 4.9 stars out of 5), but I’m considering publishing a newer, improved second edition. Am I getting carried away here? When do you say, “Enough, already,” and move on?

*Update, February 2014: I updated Style That Sizzles and retitled it Fire up Your Fiction.*

Writers - Do you revise your e-books to address issues that readers feel detract from the overall positive impact of the book?

Should we embrace increased reader involvement/interaction? Or would that just be opening a can of worms?

Readers & Reviewers - Do you appreciate it when writers revise based on your input? Do you enjoy the extra involvement of being a beta reader or active reviewer?

Do you even check back occasionally to see if writers have revised their book based on similar negative reviews by you and others? Would you like to see authors comment under your review if they've addressed your concerns?

Jodie Renner has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller and Fire up Your Fiction (Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power), which has won two book awards so far. Look for the third book in the series, out soon. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, her other blogs, The Kill Zone and Resources for Writers, or find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. And sign up for her newsletter.



  1. Jodie, good points and good questions. Of course, writers revised stories based on reader-response before the digital. Perhaps especially endings. (Fragment intended, one (former) English teacher to another.) Perhaps most famously, Dickens revised the ending of Great Expectations, at the behest of "It was a dark and stormy night." And Henry James revised everything after publication.

    Still, we now have an opportunity to have organic books. I made a slight change in one my novella "Rampage on Rogers Avenue" because a reader pointed out that a phrase was an anachronism. (The story/series is set in 1958 and the character used an expression common to the 90s or later.) That kind of accuracy check can only help.

    On the other hand, re-writing the book seems to defeat the purpose of writing it. Still (I'd say on the other hand, but I've only got two. That I know of.) interactive fiction has been doing this for years - giving readers choices of plot lines and endings. In SF (actually modern physics/cosmology) the idea of the multiverse is very real. (Zelazny's Amber series, lots of comics.) So the kind of revision you're asking us to discuss can fit into that process.

    I can imagine someone writing a story not just from multiple viewpoints, but with multiple directions. After all, if a clue doesn't turn up, someone else has done the crime.

    I do think we have to be careful, though, that we don't lose sight of the story that needs to be told. Revising retroactively from reader reviews may unravel the very fabric of the story.

    This applies to fiction. To non-fiction, the kind of thing you write, Jodie, I think revising based on reader response is now imperative. It makes the next edition better. (There are always revised and updated editions of books such as yours. And textbooks.) That you allow previous purchasers to upgrade at no cost speaks of your integrity. More power to you! (And those who read your books.) Thanks.

  2. Thanks for another detailed, thoughtful, informative reply, David. We always learn from your posts! I'm glad it's considered okay to update my nonfiction books.

    Good luck with all your writing (and revising)!

    1. Another thought: Software programs are continuously upgrading and updating. They offer free upgrades for a while, until there's a major change in the program. Why shouldn't books - particularly non-fiction books - be just as interactive? It helps build audience. I think you are, if not ahead of the curve, on top of the wave here. (If that was a mixed metaphor, I'll have a tossed salad.)

    2. Good points, David! Thanks again!

  3. Jodie, both of my indie ebooks are nonfiction, and I agree that new or corrected info or clarifications do justify a revision. I provided better links to download the printable sheet music files for my song book, for example, and Amazon notified previous buyers that an update was available.

    I'm fortunate that all reviews have been 5-star, with one notable exception. Songs for the Lord got a one-star rating from a Goodreads reviewer who got it on free promo. She objected to the campy humor in 2 of the 24 songs (fair enough; everyone's entitled to their own taste in music and religion), but also claimed it was impossible to navigate from one song to the next. Turned out she thought she had to use the hyperlinks I'd inserted to let readers jump between each song's sheet music, text, and Bible verses. I politely explained in a comment that she could simply use her Kindle's page-forward button, and she responded she couldn't give the book a better rating. (I hadn't asked her to, though obviously it would have been nice.)

    I added the page-forward instruction to my "How to Use This Book" intro. Considering that reviewer's reaction to my two tongue-in-cheek songs, I revised the introductory song notes to emphasize the humorous intent. I might omit those songs altogether if/when I release a paperback edition. No point in offending the conservatives in my market audience--it's small enough already! I can always offer those songs as a bonus download or something.

    I enjoy being a beta reader and appreciate seeing my suggestions incorporated. I wish many otherwise excellent fiction writers would issue better-edited revisions for the benefit of future readers. I don't expect them to change their storylines, though. Just move on to the next book.

    1. Thanks for your comments based on your own experiences, and your opinions, Linda!

  4. I believe you are right that you can't remove DRM, at least on Amazon. But maybe you could release a second edition -- not just update the old file but publish a new book -- and get it linked to the first edition in order to keep those reviews. Some people still might wind up buying the old edition, though.

    1. That's a really good idea, Kris. But I really like my title - Writing a Killer Thriller. Do you think I'd be able to keep that?

  5. Jodie - a very thoughtful and thought-provoking case you've laid out. As a voracious reader though I am concerned that a author will change a story beyond punctuation and sentence structure, to suit reader reviews. If the author intends to re-write his/her tome based on poor reviews all the way around, should that first edition be pulled completely and a re-written version be offered in it's place? I don't know. Many authors who step into my studio say they write first for themselves and hope that readers enjoy their story. Others have said that negative reviews are a part of writing and are subjective in nature,it's interesting to hear what a reader has to say but does not mean their book isn't well-crafted. I'm not sure that as a reader I wouldn't feel a little duped by an author who fiddles with their product just to make more people like it, although I recognize that this is a business too. (This does not apply to non-fiction work, which IMHO should be updated and kept timely, as with your editing business and should include best available information and practices).

    It is a valid discussion that I shall consider having with my guests in the studio. I'll be sure to let you know what they think.

    Thanks for a very well done blog, as per your usual.

    Pam Stack
    Radio Talk Show Host

  6. Thanks, Pam. Great to hear the views of a voracious reader and someone who chats with and interviews authors all the time! And please do let us know what authors think of all this!

    In fact, it was one of your radio shows that got me thinking about all this again - the one with CJ Lyons, where she said she and St. Martin's Press decided to revise and republish one of her books after a lot of readers expressed disappointment at the ending for her secondary character.

    I don't think authors should revise content based on individual reader preferences or whims, of course, but maybe they should consider it if they're getting the same kinds of negative feedback from a lot of different readers / reviewers.

    When I'm deciding whether to buy a book on Amazon, if I see a lot of negative reviews basically saying the same thing, like the plot was unbelievable, had a huge hole, or just didn't make sense in some way, I won't buy the book. And as the similar negative reviews pile up, if I were the author it would seem a smart move to address that problem - if not in this book, then the next one.

  7. Great post, Jodie.

    I think there's a huge distinction between fiction and non-fiction, and certainly encourage updating non-fiction books as things change. So far, Amazon is good at updating/correcting existing ebooks without charging. When you make those changes, maybe just add 'Second Edition' to the title on both your ebook and paperback.

    With fiction, I've gone in and made minor proof corrections. My question about major issues with the story or characters is where was their editor? And what if there's a 'silent majority' who would then become unhappy with an abrupt change?

  8. Thanks for your great points, Peg. I like that "Second Edition" idea.

    For fiction, going in and making minor proof corrections is easy and free, so why not do it?

    And in my opinion, if a new author has written a great story and foolishly didn't get it edited or proofread before they self-published it, and many reviewers are complaining about the grammatical and spelling errors, it would be a good idea to pull it down, clean it up, and republish it, to salvage what they can of their reputation.

  9. I can see making minor changes for clarity or professionalism, but I hope I never have to change a major element, such as the ending, to make readers happy. It seems, that for fiction, if you send your book out to beta readers, then to a content editor, and a copy editor, and the time it's ready for publication, the major issues should be resolved.

    The fluidity of ebooks is kind of scary for novelists, who have a tendency to obsessively revise anyway. At some point, you have to let it go.

    Nonfiction of course, is another category, and I can see how it could be revised repeatedly.

  10. You make an excellent point, LJ. And a seasoned, prolific writer like you, who has experienced various ways of publishing your novels has undoubtedly lots to add to a discussion like this.

    And when you have deadlines to meet or just want to keep producing books, I can definitely see the wisdom of "at some point, you have to let it go" and move on to the next one.

    And it seems there's a general consensus about nonfiction and how periodic updating would be more appropriate and desirable.

  11. I think it's fine to revise small errors that weren't caught in the editing after publication, but if an author changes major plot lines or an ending based on negative reviews, I agree with Peg and think it should be re-released as a new edition and made clear to the reader.

  12. The obsession to improve and rewrite is something that haunts me and many other writers--and digital publishing only seems to enable the compulsion. Having said that, one has to draw the line somewhere. I try to keep my obsessiveness confined to minor changes when necessary, specifically, typos that might have gone unnoticed. Anything beyond that goes into the What's Done Is Done file.

  13. Thanks, Jenny and Drew. Your comments seem to echo the rest, when it comes to fiction. And Drew, I could take a few lessons from your excellent "What's Done is Done" attitude for my nonficton books as well! And others have expressed pretty much the same thoughts here.

    I do hope, though, that those brand-new writers who published a short story or book on Amazon full of typos and spelling and grammatical errors will take it down and get it edited and proofread and republish a cleaner copy before all those glaring errors do even more damage to their budding reputations!

  14. As an author, updating a book is easy. As a reader, not so much.
    I had bought your how to write a thriller book last fall. Kindle even puts a banner at the top of the book's sales page to remind me of this fact. But it seems the author has to request a notice sent out AND Amazon has to deem the revision significant enough. Otherwise, as is the case with your book, I received no email about an update being available. And to make matters harder for obtaining one once I know it exists, there is no obvious way, as a reader, to request an update. I had to email Amazon asking how to do it. Am waiting for a response.

    1. Ann, please email me at and I'll send you a PDF of the updated book.

      Thanks. - Jodie


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