Saturday 28 April 2012

Rewriting history

I think it was Angela James of Carina Press who said one of the big things for an author to succeed is to consistently put out quality product and make no shortcuts. (I may be paraphrasing.) Carina is good like that - they run seminars for their authors to make sure they're on the right track.

The emphasis is very much on "quality product". It was heavily implied (or that is how I remembered it), that it's better to not publish something that's mediocre or simply not the best one can make it than to publish it and put off readers who'd otherwise happily devour the whole backlist.

In a way, every book/story by an author might be the "first point of contact", and the job of every first contact is to create a long-lasting relationship. I assume a tweet out of line is more easily forgiven than a weak book. The tweet was free, and Twitter is a casual environment anyway (which is why I've locked down my personal Twitter and created an "official one"), but a book costs money and people want their money's worth. Simple as that.

The longer I've been in the "game", the more I believe that's correct. When I started, I was just playing. You might say I was not taking things quite as seriously as I should have. Funnily enough, I think I've kinda grown up over the last roughly three or four years. I went from an easy-going real life job to the heart of European capitalism. From "oh, I want to be a literary agent when I grow up" to the "fixer" type, and, last but not least, crunching numbers and strategies. Before long, I might expand that business into the country of my birth. Writing might be what I was born to do, but in terms of my real life, financially, it's a side show. There's freedom in that. I *can* play without constantly looking at the bottomline.

However, increasingly, some of my books don't represent the standards I've set for myself. They weren't edited to the same standard, or should never have been published for other reasons. They might be deeply, madly, flawed. I don't want them to be the doors that people take into my work, because they are no longer part of the same house in a number of ways. I don't want my name attached, and I don't want people to pay money for them; it just feels wrong, deep in my guts.

I'm the first to say that top-rate work is worth its money, even if it's more than the $.99 people kick their novels out for to trigger the "hunter and gatherer" instinct in their readership. But I'm also the first to say that a book isn't worth its price because the contents are not top-rate. Sometimes it takes me a few years to see a story in that light. An author's attachment to a piece of work can be irrational and also take a while to weaken and crystallize. It's part of the process overall and the self-examination and self-judgment/evaluation that authors do. Well, at least I do. Pretty much constantly.

What does this mean in practice? I've already made moves to pull two backlist books/stories from circulation. I reserve the right to treat them as scrap metal and reuse the good bits (ideas, possibly a good turn of phrase here or there), but with my schedule, I don't expect that to happen any time soon. Over the next year or two, more stories will be pulled and rewritten and reedited in agreement with the other author involved. A series we killed might still happen under a different flag. We'll see. It's a wide-open space once the quality issue is resolved.

That's the miracle of e-publishing. An author has a totally different level of control over the backlist. We *can* take books from circulation and we *can* re-write and re-issue (or simply pull and lock in the attic).

I understand that some of you will want those stories, and I apologize for taking them away. You can always drop me a line and I can email them to you, or, since I'm being very widely pirated, you have my blessing to dig the "pulled" stories up from whatever source you feel comfortable using. Overall, though, I'm going to disassociate myself from that part of my work. What's worthwhile will be kept or rewritten, what's not worthwhile I hope will eventually forgotten and possibly forgiven.

I think the most important lesson out of this was that, indeed, putting out the best quality work you can is one of the biggest goals, and anything short of that simply shouldn't see the light of day.

I apologize for putting them out in the first place, and chalk this up to experience. Lesson learnt. It won't happen again. Let's move forward. 


  1. Hm. Interesting.

    I agree with the stance of only putting out quality with the caveat that, as you develop as a writer, what's the best and what's qualit, will be different at different points in your career. If you know something is mediocre or not quite top notch the moment you send it in or see it published is a different case altogether from that really having been the top of your game at that point -- the feeling ten, fifteen years down the line might be the same but I think the second is just life whereas the first is something you have a direct influence on (and those are books/stories I'd understand someone wanting to pull out of some twitch of conscience, the other is just a bit of normal human shame at having once been a lot younger and a lot less experienced and I'm not sure if those are mistakes that need to be corrected).

    Interesting choice, I'm sure your readers wanna see the list of what you consider sub-standard now though.

  2. Right now, that's two books that have serious, serious craft issues (which I've taken lightly, I'm afraid), so they go to the scrap heap. The others are books that simply would have needed a better developmental editor, so they will get pulled, reworked and then republished.

    Overall, I'm lucky - I'm still reasonably confident with my backlist, and while my relations with some of them have cooled, there aren't many that I want to see ded. :)

    Yes. It's part shame, part quality control, part worry that if people read my weakest book, they'll pass on the rest.

  3. I'm also curious which two you're pulling. I've been working my way through your backlist and have enjoyed everything so far. Yes I can see that the newer books are better - tighter writing, stronger characters. But that's progression. And there's something nice about seeing someone's talent evolving :)

  4. I remember reading a blog post from a favorite author of mine (I do follow people other than Aleks, promise!) about early work not being up to snuff. The books were/are still out there but not actively published. Her response was to remind all of her fans that every author must start somewhere and more times than not the first novels published aren't the best mirror of talent. That we all learn and grow in our crafts, no matter what they may be. Most of your die hard fans will be the most forgiving for less than spectacular work and the most likely to hunt for everything you have written. I can also understand not wanting one of those works to be the first thing a new reader picks up. Please don't be ashamed of your work due to the possibility of what we as readers may think. If you want to polish something for your own sense of comfort I say go for it. I ,for one, would be excited to see the growing pains of your art ;) Everyone starts somewhere luv.


  5. I wonder...

    As you grow as a writer, will you ever look back on past books and be satisfied with them?

    I've watched you grow for a couple/few years now; the writer I found back then, isn't the writer I read now, but that's not to say the early books are bad. I loved them. They are the books that made you my fave. I can't imagine which you want to pull, I think back over them and can't think of which books are... weak. I understand what you're saying thou. I do it in my own art. What I thought was great early on, I look back on now and want a do over now that I know more, have more skill. *shrug* Maybe it's the way of the artist.