Version control, sort of

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Aaron asked, in the previous thread:

A bit off topic, but you don’t have a general “contact the author” web submis­sion page and this may be better suited for your LJ:

Actu­ally, before I get to the ques­tion, let me quickly say this: If you have a ques­tion that I think I can answer, you can leave it in a comment thread, or you can email me at Michelle.​Sagara@​sff.​net. Actu­ally, even if I can’t answer it, you can do either, but it’s less produc­tive.

I won’t answer ques­tions about future devel­op­ments unless the ques­tion is really, really general (e.g. Will there be more about dragons? (Yes)), because some readers are very spoiler-averse. I’m person­ally not one of them, but I try to respect that reading choice (and it drives my husband crazy when I flip to the end of a book I didn’t natu­rally arrive at by reading through all the inter­vening pages).

This is subject to the fact that I am termi­nally under­or­ga­nized, and frequently behind (I’m actu­ally almost caught up. My inbox is only at 348). There is a lovely, funny post at Hyper­bole and a half, titled “this is why I’ll never be an adult which caused me to cringe in instant self-recog­ni­tion.

Speaking of which: the page proofs for Cast in Ruin have gone back to Luna. There is now nothing else I have to do to make this a book, except wait. I am, on the other hand, doing final (edito­rial) revi­sions on Skir­mish. Or will be, once I’ve finished this post.

And now: less PSA, and more answer. The actual ques­tion:

How do you feel about self-published authors or estab­lished publishers being able to retroac­tively copy­edit e‑books and release ‘new and improved’ versions of their texts? Do all future copy­edits have to go through you (the author) for approval? Do you think that there is poten­tial for abuse if people funda­men­tally change the struc­ture? Would you go back and change minor details (e.g. eye color)?

I had to think about this one for a bit.

Henry James revised all of his novels at one point later in his career, and this was well before the time that such a produc­tion would have been effort­less on his part, or the part of his publishers, who were still stuck with moving little slugs around in order to actu­ally print.

Stephen King revised the The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger before he finished the series. He added 500 pages or there­abouts to The Stand. There are other authors who have gone back to do ‘author­i­ta­tive’ editions of earlier works. The differ­ence is, it’s not easy compared to revising and resub­mit­ting an ebook.

Publishers have always had a method for tracking errors in printed books, if they’re aware of them; if a book goes back to press (i.e. they print more), they can fix typos while they’re at it, and this isn’t announced. On the other hand, I’m not sure how many publishers still do this. Publishing has become very lean, and I imagine produc­tion depart­ments are pushed to exhaus­tion merely getting the new books to press.

A major print revi­sion would, of course, require complete reset­ting of every page, and it’s there­fore not done often; when it is, it’s for authors whose audi­ence is natu­rally large enough to include readers who would want or insist on owning a book that is very similar to the one they already own by the same author.

So, it would depend. To a lesser extent, revi­sions to text were done before ebooks. Fixing format­ting errors in ebooks, rife because of the lack of stan­dard­iza­tion in the process, seems like it would be a godsend, frankly.

A major revi­sion done by a self-published author also doesn’t seem an abuse of priv­i­lege, to me, in the sense that s/he is altering his/her own work. I would love to change about four small things, myself, because, you know, making mistakes of that nature in my own books is really, really stressful, guilt-inducing and embar­rassing. In public.

I would have serious, serious qualms about a publisher randomly revising my text — but I cannot honestly bring myself to worry about this on the print side of the equa­tion at least; the publish­er’s produc­tion depart­ments are hugely over­worked, and they’re unlikely to try their hand at secre­tive editing in the middle of their day. In the extremely unlikely event a publisher should somehow decide to hire a copy-editor for a manu­script that has already been printed and published, I doubt anyone would think to ask me first.

But I honestly cannot see this ever happening.

I do know that BenBella did work on the Sundered books after their first release, to clean up the text and the format­ting. At the time, I had no e‑reader, and I haven’t actu­ally seen either the formatting/typo ridden versions or their improve­ments. I have no issues what­so­ever with the clean-up; I think there might have been ulcers had I seen the first release.

However having said that, there were readers who were deeply upset at King’s revi­sion of his own book. I under­stand why. As a reader, I form emotional attach­ments to the books I read and loved years ago. I will return to them. I love them now.

As a writer I under­stand the desire to change finished books, I really do. I feel that I’m a better writer than I was when I started out in 1991. (In 1986, to be fair, but the book wasn’t published until 1991). There are sentences, para­graphs and whole scenes that I would like to nuke down to zero and totally rewrite. There are plot threads I would like to flesh out, and plot threads I feel are enor­mously clunky. I’m allowed to feel that way. I am not the same person as I was in 1986. Or 1991. Or even 1996.

But what I feel about my own writing and what readers feel about it are not the same. I have whole days during the writing of any one of my novels in which I feel like an abject, talent­less failure. I conversely have days where I desper­ately want to be able to imme­di­ately send all my readers the scene or scenes I’ve just finished because I feel so certain they will love them. Both extremes are part of the process of writing a novel – at least for me.

What I hope for, at the end of any novel, is that the finished book will speak to my readers; that it will move them, that it will mean some­thing.

But some of the books I would rewrite, revise or alter have already done that. They’ve moved readers. It’s why I still have any of them (readers, I mean). And if I go back and change those early books whole­sale, I’m destroying some part of the expe­ri­ence of those readers. I’m effec­tively saying they’re wrong to love the work, or that they had no taste because the books were so bad they need to be oblit­er­ated and totally redone.

I love early books by some authors with an abiding and unrea­son­able devo­tion – but I’m aware that their authors, decades later, do not feel any of that same love. At all. Ever. And if one of those authors were to take the books that spoke so strongly to me and demolish them in the service of improving the words, I would feel it to be a tragedy.

So. I do not feel that an author revising their own work is abuse, per se. It’s certainly not illegal. But I still feel that if you wrote the best book you could at the time, it’s better to find the best books you can write Right Now than it is to revisit and change the older works.

The only case in which I feel this would not be true is if you person­ally feel that you butchered the book because your publisher insisted that it had to be cut by 75k works. In that case, though, I think it would be better if you published a second edition — a clear, distinct “author’s preferred” edition.

I’m not sure if that answers the ques­tion, because I’m not entirely certain what you mean by abuse. If it doesn’t, and you elab­o­rate, I’ll do like­wise.

In the mean­time, how does everyone else feel about the idea?

20 Responses to Version control, sort of

  1. Ann Kopchik says:

    » (and it drives my husband crazy when I flip to the end of a book I didn’t natu­rally arrive at by reading through all the inter­vening pages)

    I do this, and it drives some of my friends bonkers. But it’s the journey, not the desti­na­tion… Besides, I’m a compul­sive re-reader. I’ve read the end of multi-book series when only on book two. That usually causes gasps of horror…

    On version control:

    I don’t mind that authors improve their writing over time. I hope and partially expect that the next book is better written than the last. But I do think I would mind if whole swaths of an e‑book changed out from under me.

    However, typo fixes? Sure. Little incon­sis­ten­cies, like eye color or the wrong name? Sure. Deleting a chapter and inserting a completely new one? uh… no. For one… how would I know? What if I read the book, then re-read it a year later and in between, the author majorly revised it? Do those updates auto­mat­i­cally go to my ereader?

    I’d be okay if it was episodic fiction that was reworked into a novel (like how Brandon Sanderson did Warbreaker), but an entire novel that’s been published once? I’d rather the author put out a new version and pay again for the “direc­tor’s cut” or what­ever than discover the novel had been retroac­tively and signif­i­cantly changed.

    Even the writer in my balks at that, though, good­ness knows I under­stand the drive and the need to revise. Espe­cially at the moment.

  2. Even the writer in my balks at that, though, good­ness knows I under­stand the drive and the need to revise. Espe­cially at the moment.

    I never under­stood it so clearly as when I was trying to put up Chapter Ones of my back­list on this web-site. Then? I under­stood it completely. Because the chap­ters are in elec­tronic format. They’re being formatted on the same computer on which I write. I compul­sively change small words when I’m re-reading my books before they go out to the publisher — and a sure sign that I have done too much page proofing for the day is when I start to do the same thing on the printed page. It’s the drive to do some­thing. It’s not substan­tive, and tomorrow, I’d prob­ably fiddle the words in the other direc­tion — but but but…

    It drove me insane not to be able to do the same for, say, Hunter’s Oath once I opened the elec­tronic version of Chapter One. I wanted to drop and rearrange para­graphs. I wanted to smooth out the opening so that it flowed better. And because it was elec­tronic text — that was the natural impulse. I can’t actu­ally scribble on a printed page and expect it to make a differ­ence to anyone but me.

    I was mostly good.

  3. Genna Warner says:

    » (and it drives my husband crazy when I flip to the end of a book I didn’t natu­rally arrive at by reading through all the inter­vening pages)

    I can honestly say that I have done this for one book and one series. The series being The Sundered where I was in the middle of the second book and so engaged in Erin and Stefanos rela­tion­ship I just had to know they were together at the end because if they weren’t well I wasn’t going to finish the story, :) I did a lot of crying through that series.

    As for the a readers perspec­tive on version/re-versioning a book already printed:

    If i read the orig­inal story, and it was engaging enough, I would be curious enough to want know what the author changed that I would want to re-read it. But I am also the type that like to watch the deleted scenes and alter­nate endings to movies and all the asso­ci­ated direc­tors cuts. I realize that writing is an art and as such I can enjoy the different aspects of the works. But I would not want the orig­inal book touched so if we are talking about an eBook, I would want the orig­inal eBook to stay as it is and have to pay for the new eBook. If the author is just fixing typos and format­ting issues then adjusting the orig­inal eBook would be best but then there is the logis­tics of how do you as an author make sure that people get the corrected eBook that have the older one.

  4. Emily says:

    I don’t mind, so much, but I like to be able to see both versions. On the other hand, in some cases a major re-edit on the author’s part has moved a book into a more acces­sible realm for me (Patricia Briggs’ “Masques”, for example — there was no way I could find a copy because it was such a limited run at the very begin­ning of her career, until she re-did it and re-released it as a best-selling author. I think her fans would have been disap­pointed to see the novel as it first stood, because from my under­standing it was nothing like the polished author she is now).

    I think Briggs’ Masques actu­ally has been the deciding factor for me on this topic — I just want to read a compelling story. I’ll read the first one you wrote, and the rewrite, and prob­ably enjoy both as different stories.

  5. David Youngs says:

    I object to books getting changed signif­i­cantly between editions. Terry Pratch­ett’s The Last Hero had art added for the paper­back edition. Then there was the reissue of Stranger in a Strange Land with an extra 30,000 words you didn’t realize were missing from the orig­inal.
    I have no objec­tions to correcting typos/misspellings/lapses of thought. I enjoy errata slips (for “pheasant” read “peasant” throughout).

  6. Jennifer says:

    »(and it drives my husband crazy when I flip to the end of a book I didn’t natu­rally arrive at by reading through all the inter­vening pages)

    Add me to the list of wives who’s husband can’t under­stand them reading the end first. Though mine at least toler­ates and is some­what amused that I do it. I try it with the Cast books, but often, the end just doesn’t make sense without the context of the rest of the story!

    I too have no objec­tions to typo/spelling correc­tions and that sort of thing. Adding back in scenes that might have been caught due to length worries wouldn’t bother me either.

    Edits that would change the essense of a char­acter or a plot might bother me. I guess it would depend on how happy/attached I was with the thing that was changed!

  7. Joey says:

    I don’t flip to the end. It’s a journey and if the author wanted the ending known before­hand s/he would tell us before the end of the book/series/whatever.

    On the subject of rereading: I do it, but most of the time I can only read a book “for the first time” once and for me there is a special plea­sure in all the discovery that comes from the first time that is never the same in a reread, so I’m usually not one to rush through a book to get to the end and then reread it right away.

    » But I still feel that if you wrote the best book you could at the time, it’s better to find the best books you can write Right Now than it is to revisit and change the older works. «

    As a reader I totally agree with this. Fix the typos for sure, but other­wise … move on.

    Lastly, when the Author has “time” it would be nice to have the “Upcoming Appear­ances” section updated.

  8. Joey said: Lastly, when the Author has “time” it would be nice to have the “Upcoming Appear­ances” section updated.

    Because you asked: I have updated the Upcoming Appear­ances section to better reflect the fact that I am not being a hermit this year. Or rather, not being as much of a hermit as I some­times am.

  9. Aaron says:

    I’m consid­ering attending a ‘con this year, espe­cially now that I don’t have school or work dead­lines hounding me. I gather that the smaller ‘cons are more inti­mate and you have a better chance of connecting with a partic­ular favorite author or two. Even so, it’s hard to try to plan for a weekend or more if you don’t know more about their sched­ules…

    Are you presenting at any focus groups during this year’s sequence of events?

  10. Even so, it’s hard to try to plan for a weekend or more if you don’t know more about their sched­ules…

    Are you presenting at any focus groups during this year’s sequence of events?

    Science Fiction conven­tions aren’t really very formal in struc­ture compared to, say, a physics sympo­sium. They’re entirely volun­teer-run, even the largest. (I’ve never been to a comic con, so anything I say here really only reflects my personal expe­ri­ence).

    Panels are (gener­ally) composed of random authors, between three and five (usually five, but it depends on how large the conven­tion is). They have a general topic, say: Making It as a Full-Time Writer. They’ll list the panelists for that topic. Panels are gener­ally one hour long, and there are usually at least two tracks. We’ll have a general idea of what we start out saying, but panels frequently go off the rails, depending on the moder­ator and the audi­ence itself.

    Outside of panels, there will often (but not always) be read­ings, sign­ings, and some­times kaffeeklatches (which are struc­tured smaller groups of people who go to have coffee with an author for an hour; those usually involve sign-up sheets at the start of the conven­tion).

    But. I have two panels in the tenta­tive Worldcon schedule which just arrived in email. The only reason I have those is because a Worldcon is a logistic night­mare for the people in charge of program­ming; you need to find some­thing for 400 – 800 people to *do*, and you need to make certain that they’re not in over­lap­ping events, and that they don’t have conflicts you (the planner) didn’t know about. So a rough draft is done of the authors they *know* are attending, it’s sent out for approval, and it’ll change by July, which is when it’s pretty much final.

    For small conven­tions, you’ll get your final schedule a week before the conven­tion (some­times two); with some, you will get your final schedule when you show up at regis­tra­tion.

    I am not on panelling at World Fantasy. It’s an enor­mously pro-heavy conven­tion, pros are allowed one panel/reading (if there’s space for a reading) each, unless they’re the GOHs. Knowing this, I don’t even try (I mean, Neil Gaiman, Connie Willis (!) as head­liners, but even some of the atten­dees are fabu­lous). World Fantasy gener­ally has *one* mass signing on Friday evenings in a large ball­room; you pick up your name tag and find a place to sit.

    I will be on panelling at the Worldcon, but as of now, I’m not sure which panels, how many, or when for certain, and won’t know for certain until July.

    I will also not know what my Conflu­ence schedule is like until closer to the end of July, and might well get the final Worldcon and final Conflu­ence schedule at the same time.

    But there’s a lot of hall-time at conven­tions — where hall-time is exactly what it sounds like; I find a chair and chat with people (some­times after-panel discus­sions spill out into the hall and take root).

  11. Michael says:

    Game conven­tions are a very different feel. While there are many volun­teers, there are also staff employed by the conven­tion. The focus there is on the dealer room, where game designers of all stripes and levels try to convince people to try their games. There are also games of all types happening at all hours all over the place.

    When my wife and I started going to literary conven­tions (like Balticon and Conflu­ence) it was quite an adjust­ment for us. Fun, but very different.

    Conflu­ence is a very small conven­tion (when compared with others I’ve been to), and I find myself at a loss as to what to do when I am not stalking a certain fantasy writer through the conven­tion asking her ques­tions as only a fanboy can and chortling at her lengthy and colorful rants. It was the hall time that made this conven­tion one of my favorites, despite dearth of program­ming rele­vant to me person­ally.

  12. Joey says:

    Aaron, if you plan to attend this year’s Worldcon in Reno, I’d be willing to (help) coor­di­nate a “Michelle Sagara West” gath­er­ing/meet-up or two, either as part of the formal con schedule or not.

    Assuming, of course, The Author is willing to partic­i­pate.

  13. Auraya says:

    I tend to read the end of a book when it’s becoming a DNF. Not knowing how a book ends keeps bugging me, no matter how bad the book is. Some­times the ending makes me curious enough to keep reading.

    On a totally different note, I finally got my hands on a (reason­ably) priced copy of Riven Shield. It’s used, but at the moment I want to finish Sun Sword so badly I don’t care. Your books are slighly addic­tive. I knew that about the cast books, but with those I didn’t have a back­list. It’s been only 3 weeks since I started Hidden city and I’m already halfway through the Sun Sword eries. I have the good luck I didn’t have exams, other­wise I would have been in trouble.

  14. Auraya says:

    May I ask what your comment has to do with this post or these books in general. I’m looking but I can’t find some­thing your post would be rele­vant to. Did you perhaps post this on the wrong website?

  15. @Auraya: my husband feels it’s polit­ical comment spam, which is appar­ently not uncommon. I’ve never seen it before, but I’ve sent email to the user to let him know that his essay on geopo­lit­ical land claims seems to have gone astray and dumped the comment in pending. We’ll see.

  16. fyreink says:

    Finished reading the Sundered series and really liked it. I was at the iBook­store on my iPod Touch and it showed that Into the Dark­lands was on sale for $2.99 and that Lady of Mercy was only 99 cents!!! Is Cast in Ruin also going to be avail­able of the iBook­store like Cast in Chaos?

  17. Finished reading the Sundered series and really liked it. I was at the iBook­store on my iPod Touch and it showed that Into the Dark­lands was on sale for $2.99 and that Lady of Mercy was only 99 cents!!! Is Cast in Ruin also going to be avail­able of the iBook­store like Cast in Chaos?

    a) Thank you! Can I ask you *when* the prices were 2.99 and 0.99 there? I know that Dark Lands was avail­able as part of the Summer promo­tion on Amazon for the first half of June — and that really pushed them up the charts. Well, pushed that *book* up the charts. So I’m curious about the iBooks pricing and when it occurred. In theory, Amazon has auto­matic price matching, but I don’t think the Amazon prices ever dropped like that, which would mean there’s a distinct differ­ence.

    b) I honestly don’t know. Initially, Harle­quin and Random House books were *not* avail­able in the iTunes store because they weren’t Agency publishers. I was really, really surprised to find that Cast in Chaos was avail­able — but I assume, since it is, they’ll be avail­able in the store going forward. I know that initially Apple told publishers they had to guar­antee that their books would not be on sale at lower prices anywhere else. The only way to guar­antee that was to become Agency publishers — some­thing Harle­quin and Random House refused to do. As Cast is — in Canada — higher in the iBooks store than it is on-line, some­thing must have (quietly) changed.

    However, I can only see the Cana­dian iBooks store — and it is a trav­esty of empti­ness that echoes the Cana­dian iTunes store in its early incar­na­tion — but worse. Far worse. The *only* one of my ebooks avail­able to iBooks readers in Canada is… Cast in Chaos.

  18. fyreink says:

    I believe that Into the Dark­lands has been on sale for a few weeks now, and the price change for Lady of Mercy is very recent and that it happened in the last couple of days, as yesterday was the first time I saw it. I check often, waiting to see if Cast in Ruin is avail­able for pre-order yet.

  19. hjbau says:

    About the initial ques­tion. I say fix typos, of course, but i also wouldn’t mind fixing things that are what i would consider minor incon­sis­ten­cies. Like Jewel has a lamp in the opening of Hunter’s Death and a candle in City of Night. Or Jewel goes in to pull Teller off of his mother and in the other book he comes out to her. These are what i would consider very minor incon­sis­ten­cies and some­thing that could be fixed with a few words and would not in anyway change the story.

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