Revising Published Work

Hey, SE Readers. Joan with you today. This post is one I never thought I’d write because it involves an undertaking that I never saw myself doing. Revising published work.

“I hate writing, but I love having written.”

Dorothy Parker

I can’t say I agree with Ms. Parker. I love writing. I also love when the finished product is published. There was a time when I disliked editing, but there’s something satisfying about taking that first draft and revising it once, twice, three times, or more. It’s gratifying to see your story evolve from a raw, sometimes convoluted mess, into a published “work of art.”

No matter how much I love a story, by the time it gets to the publication stage, I no longer want to look at it. Why? Because no matter how many times I edit, I always find something that I would have done differently or written better. But there comes a time when we must let something go.

Paper, pen, edits

Recently, I read an excerpt for my first full-length novel. I cringed after reading only a few short paragraphs. It was then I decided I would revise the first two books of my Driscoll Lake Series.

As writers, we should strive to improve with every publication. If we continually make the same mistakes with each new story or book, we’ll never grow. The more we write, the better we should get. That’s not to say a self-published author can’t go back and edit our older works.

There are several reasons why an author would want to revise. Here are a few.

  1. You’re considering publishing a series of books as a boxed set.
  2. You have a stand-alone novel that you’d like to turn into a series.
  3. You’re updating the book covers.
  4. You see flaws in your writing and want to make the books better.
  5. You don’t want a new reader to judge all your work on those early books.

Have you considered revising earlier works? What are some other reasons or benefits you can see to revisions? Please share in the comments.

84 thoughts on “Revising Published Work

  1. Great post!! I agree with each of the reasons you’ve provided and would only add emphasis to the notion of learning from each composition, each revision, each experience. I’ve come to love the #process of writing, which is a really great thing to be able to say. I agree with your notion that we should strive to get better every time we write something new. Perspective matters. 🔥💜🙌🏻

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very good points, Joan. I think all of us cringe a bit when thinking of our first attempts at writing. Thank you for bringing this to our attention and to mine especially. 🤗

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I relate to this so much. It feels like the work is never done! But at some point, we (writers) all have to step back and decide we are good enough where we are. I’m curious- how many times do you usually edit a manuscript?

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    • I agree. At some point we have to let go. As far as editing, I tend to edit as I go, so I might have four or five “edits” before I send a section to my critique group. After that, I review and make suggested changes. When a book is completed, I’ll read through and edit again before sending it to my editor, then comes the final edit. Short answer – I’d say a minimum of four, but more often it’s 6-7.

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  5. Great post, Joan 🙂 Yes, I have thought about reediting some older work when I redo the covers. It’s hard not to apply what we learn as writers to our previous work. Like you though, once I’ve finished a book I don’t want to reread it again anytime soon. Would I do this with all my books? I’m not sure but its tempting.

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  6. I haven’t published any of my novels yet, however I have gone back and revised some of my first books. There are a couple I’m thinking of taking back up again, but instead changing them a lot and leaving the core premise. I think it’s fun to go back and revisit old work and see how you have improved and if there is anything you can do better!

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  7. I write now, i used to paint. I’ve ruined more paintings with ‘just one more brush stroke.’ Writing is the exact opposite. You write, and revise by pruning, eliminating unnecessary parts, excessive fluff to drive the word count up, chopping away the distractions. You have to be ruthless, and you work so hard writing it in the first place, every word is sacred BUT are they all needed? Such is the process, for me.

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  9. A timely post for me, even though, ironically, I’m late getting here. 🙂 I have been considering this, Joan, and still can’t make up my mind. I’ve had beta readers, a proofreader, an editor, and lots of re-reading myself going on for each one of my books, but I still find the occasional typo or missed word when I go through parts of them. And I do believe my writing has improved since I began my first novel 8 years ago. So, yes, I’ve thought about going back and revising, at least the typos, if not the actually writing, itself.

    My problem is, I’m slowing down considerably these days and I’m having trouble l with the concept of going backwards when I could (hopefully) still get a few more books written before I hit the ol’ rocking chair. I’m aiming for at least three more years, though I’d happily take more if I was still feeling up to the task. With that in mind, I think I’d rather continue creating new stories than re-edit old ones. Of course, I do leave the possibility of changing my mind on that open, based pretty much on what the future holds for me in the way of age-related health issues, etc. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be able to do both. Guess I’ll play it by ear. 😀

    Thanks for posing the question and making me give it some more thought. Sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  10. That is exactly what I am doing right now. After my first published book, I decided to re-read it and there is so much I would change (pretty frustrating). So, I have gone back and done major edits on my second, and will do that for my 3rd and 4th. Every edit I find something else I would change. However, I think I pretty happy with it now… 🙂

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  12. This is an interesting post. I’m still in the writing/editing phase, so what you’re suggesting is beyond the horizon. Still, it was comforting to know that others find things to change every time you read a book. That’s the stage I’m in.

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  13. I feel like there is a fundamental problem with these rewrites. If I learned so much in the last four years that I want to rewrite, shouldn’t I assume that I’ll learn more over the next four years and become dissatisfied with my rewrite again? Meanwhile, I could be putting that effort toward new work.

    Like any writer, I completely understand the impulse to want to “fix” those old projects, but I worry that it would ultimately just be tail-chasing.

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    • You have a good point, and it’s something each writer as an individual must decide. However, if we haven’t learned enough in four or five years that we’re still making “rookie” mistakes, we need to take a step back and reconsider why we’re writing. Granted we always want to strive to get better, but I personally see no problem looking back at our early work.

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  14. Hi Joan, I can see why you are doing this and I can also see the benefits, but I don’t envisage myself ever doing this. The reason I don’t think I could is because as soon as I finish a book it sort of dies for me. I turn to a new project and the old one is more or less forgotten. This is the reason I write my marketing posts and create my adverts as I do the last edit of a book. It is just so hard for me to conjure up the interest in it after the publication event. Is that strange? Are other writers different?

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  15. With my publisher and I parting ways, I know rights will be reverting to me eventually. If I want those books published again, I’m going to have to follow through and do it myself, so I would definitely glean through them and clean them up first. I actually hate the thought because there are so many of them! The other reason I would do it is because my first few releases were steamy romance with mystery woven in. I planned to tone down the romance considerably when I tackle reworking them!

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    • Another great reason for revising – change in the genre (so to speak). Revising is an undertaking. I did a “soft” edit of Unseen Motives, and I plan to go back and make a few changes. If I really wanted to get serious, I could probably do a complete rewrite, but I won’t put myself through that.

      Thanks for weighing in on the discussion, Mae.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I’m currently re-editing my early books, Joan. You’re so right that we get better with practice and some of our earlier works lack the polish of our later ones. I’ve heard advice before saying, “don’t go backward,” but honestly, I’m in line with your opinion. As long as we don’t get stuck and keep moving forward too. 😀

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  17. What a wonderful post, Joan! Re-writing a published work is not easy. Three years ago, I pulled down my first book and re-worked it. I hated the process and hated the thought of going back over old stuff, but the end result was rewarding. I commend you for taking this on. And I know it will be equally as rewarding for you and you can re-market it to new readers!! Kudos to you and thanks for sharing!

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  18. Interestingly, I am currently rewriting my very first book. My publisher is happy with that idea. The only problem is that it’s out as an audio book. I’m unsure what will happen there.
    But thanks for the encouragement to rewrite.

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  19. Thank you so much, Joan. My first book needs to be rewritten as well! My issue is whether to just rewrite what is there or to reword the book in its’s entirety. I definitely need to make some decisions. I love the story but I’m not sure how to move forward. Thanks for sharing your experiences. ❤️

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  20. I don’t have that ability, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t “update” some of my earlier books if I could. I think we all have a few cringe-worthy paragraphs out there. Like you, I pick my manuscripts to death and once I’m done, I never want to read it again. Well, not anytime soon anyway. 😀

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  21. Joan, thanks for this helpful post! I only have two full length novels so far, and the first one is with a “hybrid” publisher, so changes would cost me quite a lot. My second one is easy to change, and I did recently make three minor typo-type changes. Making major changes to a published work is brave, but I’m sure is worth the effort, so kudos to those who do this. The ability to have total control over this is what makes being an indie writer so valuable. You call all the shots! It must be more complicated if you have a traditional publisher. Either way, making our writing the best it can be is always worth the effort.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Going with a traditional publisher does limit the author. But with the added benefit of having an editor who hopefully knows their stuff.

      I don’t think I would ever stop revising, but there comes a time when we have to let go.

      Thanks for visiting today, Maura Beth.

      Liked by 2 people

  22. Terrific post, Joan. My first book was traditionally published, and since I was very new to the process, I didn’t realize that the editor assigned to me did not have the skills to help make the book as high quality as possible. It was a three-year struggle to get it nearly okay. When my contract was up, I took the book back, did major revisions, and then hired an editor to finish the clean-up. Today I am as proud of that book as the subsequent ones since then. I think every author ought to go back to revise those published works with which they are not totally pleased.

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  23. I also had this experience, Joan. While I was writing book four (or five) of my series, I needed to reread the earlier books to confirm some events, and I cringed at my writing. I realized I had grown as a writer and didn’t want those earlier books to deter anyone from reading my series, so I revised all of them again. I didn’t really have typos, but I had a lot of head-hopping. I’m happy I went back and took the time to make the stories better.

    The more we write, the more we grow as authors, and we should want all our work to represent us well. Still, there comes a time we need to let go and let be. Otherwise, we won’t have time to write new stories. Lol!

    Great post, Joan! 😊

    Liked by 5 people

  24. I’ve revised (lightly) my first ever book, but I just haven’t had the time/energy/motivation to do the others. I do worry that new readers will get to them first and fall away. The same with readers who come to my newer books and then hit the back list, ugh. I have learnt so much since starting out, and at the moment, I have to be happy with that much. Great post, Joan, and one to give us all something to think about 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • We all learn as we go. I just finished a “soft” edit of Unseen Motives. While it wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it would be, there’s lots of room for improvement. I’m letting it “cool down” for now and moving on to Unknown Reasons.

      Like you, I fear readers seeing those first and thinking “meh.”

      Liked by 3 people

  25. I want to revise all of my early works. I know they all need love. I don’t sound like that anymore, and anyone who becomes a fan of my recent work who then looks at my backlist will be disappointed. And anyone who starts with my backlist might never become a fan. It’s just a matter of finding the time. Great post, Joan. And good luck with your revisions.

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  27. I started writing nearly eighteen years ago, and my early works were definitely a little on the terrible side of awful. I have since begun to edit them and enjoyed the process. I know I am improving all the time, which is a great feeling…

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