Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Problem With Updating Your Backlist

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Dyeing Shame smallerLast year I put out an ebook, myself.  When I saw that book produced strong sales, I started immediately looking for other things I could put up online. :)

I decided to re-release A Dyeing Shame as an ebook.  I’d written the book circa 2002-2003ish and it had first released in 2005. 

I reread the book and winced a lot.  The protagonist had definitely evolved during the next couple of books.  And I didn’t feel like my writing was nearly at the level that it currently is. 

I decided to edit the book.  Heavily.

This ended up actually becoming a rewrite…a major revision.

Not only did I add some characters to the book, an important subplot, change some names, and mess with the plot points, but I also added to the book’s length.

Oh, and one more important thing.

I rewrote the book as a sequel, instead of keeping it as the first book in the series.

I’d done this because my current readers were familiar with several regular characters in the series.  These characters weren’t in that first book.  I included the characters in my rewrite and picked up the action from the last of the Myrtle books at that point, Progressive Dinner Deadly.

It took me absolutely forever to clean that book up.  It took me a lot longer than it took me to write a book from scratch. I finally finished it up with great relief, got it packaged, and published it.  It was much better than the previous version.

A couple of months later (December/Januaryish),  I started getting emails from readers…people who’d read the first book in 2005 and were confused about the book order.  Was this a different book than they’d read years ago?

I also got emails from readers who’d read the new edition of the ebook and were confused about the listed order of the books on websites for mystery readers.

One email said that she’d seen on a website (Stop, You’re Killing Me, which is a very popular site with mystery readers) that A Dyeing Shame was listed as the first book in the series with Pretty is as Pretty Dies as the sequel.  She said that she just finished reading both and that she could tell that Dyeing Shame was a sequel, not the first book in the series.

And readers can be funny about reading a series in order.  I try hard to write my books as standalones, but the problem happens when you introduce new characters.  I’d introduced two new, regular characters in Pretty is as Pretty Dies.  Because these characters were also in a book that was listed as a prequel to that book, it confused readers.

So, what to do?

Here are my thoughts on it, but I’m curious to hear yours:

If you radically revise a book and put it out as an ebook, consider putting (revised) or (2012 edition) in the subtitle or listed somewhere in the book description…somewhere that information will show up to a buyer.

If you decide to make an older book a sequel to your more recently released books, consider sharing that information on your website or share it with websites that list book order.

Because readers are paying attention!  More, I think, than I might be. :)

Have you got any ideas to share on publishing radically revised backlist books?  As a reader, do you like reading books in order?

I’m also over at writer Rachel Abbott’s blog today, talking about the Writer’s Knowledge Base.  If you have a chance, hope you’ll pop over.