This week, I spent a few hours updating a couple of bits and pieces in Abendau’s Heir. I fully intend to do the same for Sunset over Abendau and Abendau’s Legacy once I finish re-reading them (and taking my world building notes. Note to self – get proper worldbuilding software.)
Firstly – why did I do it?
Well, it’s been three years since I last looked at Abendau’s Heir, there’s been a lot of (writing) water under the bridge and, this time, I was able to read it more objectively than I ever had. And a few – and I do mean a few – chapters stood out as not quite working as I’d hoped they would. Specifically, in just a few places Kare, the main character, wasn’t quite who I wanted him to be. A case in point is one chapter where people have died (they do that in my books) and he’s muttering about having a headache. That headache is gone. It wasn’t a plot point, it wasn’t important, it was just a filler, and it was weak in terms of the characterisation.
In addition to those little quirky bits, a good friend on a forum gave me a list of nits in the book – places where though instead of through had got past, that kind of thing. All books have errors in them, none get through the proofing with everything nailed. I passed those nits to my publisher, but nothing got updated and they kind of niggle at me. (In fact, in book 3 they more than niggle, one downright irks me. Basically, Lichio’s character arc changed dramatically in the last write-through, when my editor hated the original arc, and rightly so. But there is one single paragraph that relates to the old arc and is not in line with the rest of the book. It’s a mistake. And I hate it being there.)
So I did it because I wanted to change tiny aspects to make a better whole. In some places, that’s a pacing thing (the first line has been simplified a little as I always felt it was a little overworked, and lots of people hated the semicolons I used in it). In some, it’s just the most subtle character stuff. In no places is it a plot change, or a theme change, or a substantive change. Of the 125000 words in the book, 124850 are probably the same. I did one single cut and paste.
Secondly, how did I do it. Well, we’re in the digital age now. I went into the word document, updated it, ran it through Calibre, made it into a mobi document and uploaded it. Dead easy, even for me. I didn’t change the formatting, so it was super easy..
And this is the key. In the past, people really didn’t do this sort of thing. The book came out, mosty through a publisher, who had no interest in going back and changing a released book. (Also, in the old days there tended to be more proofreading and what not – that’s one of the big corner cuts in modern publishing where one copy editor tends to also be the proofer. I was very lucky my friend carried out a second proof for me – and he’s good enough to proof for a living.) It came out, mistakes and all, and was left as that version.
Except that, sometimes, it didn’t. The Stand by Stephen King is an example of a book that has more than one version. I’ve read them both and, as it happens, I prefer the original – but I accept there are some scenes in the second version, King’s preferred version, that give additionality. (This, by the way, is different from what I did – the book is still the original with a few tiny parts updated, not a new version with additional scenes, or changed scenes). Many self publishers I know have released multiple versions of their books. Perhaps the editing wasn’t quite right, or the story became more acomplished later on. The Martian has been changed many times, if I recall correctly, and changed again when picked up by a trad publisher.
On a similar note, one of the things I regret leaving in Inish Carraig is the bots. I liked them at the time. I thought they were quirky and cute. My main sci fi beta reader at the time warned against them, they don’t fit in the wider IC world, and I could have acheived the book’s resolution without them. Nonetheless, they are staying. I will not revise to remove them; because they are, integrally, part of Inish Carraig, the novel. I don’t want some people mentioning them in relation to the world and others not knowing about them, and losing out on some context (because they do have a place in the characterisation).
So – to the third. Given the changes are so minor, was the day and a half spent on it worth it?
For me, yes. Flow is important. The character changes felt very important. I doubt anyone but me will ever notice I removed a headache (except you all know now. Shhhh.) but I do. Consistency is important. And typos a writer knows about and can fix, but doesn’t – there’s really no need for it in the digital world. (I can do nothing about the paperbacks floating around, though)
If I didn’t plan to return to the world, then, I’m not sure anything outside the typos would have been worthwhile. Then, it may have been a historical project that could sit in stasis, an example of my writing and thoughts at a particular time and place.
And that’s the reason why I didn’t do a full rewrite, and make Heir a new, sparkly book. Apart from the fear of my copy editor haunting me if I made changes to her careful work. I don’t want it to be a new book. That wasn’t the point of the process. I love the book, as it is. But I did want it to be a book that didn’t have a couple of bits that irk me. And, because we live in the digital age, I could do that. So, why not?