On Revision

I'm not sure if I tackled this issue before, but even if I have, I think it bears repeating. Not too long ago I saw a writer talking about how it was important, every couple of years, to revise your books. Someone left a comment asking if this writer meant updating new covers, and the writer said yes, definitely updating new covers, but also keeping up with technology, like if your book features a pay phone, to nix it because it's so outdated.

That, folks, is one of the stupidest things I've ever heard.

Keep in mind, I don't think any book or story is ever truly perfect, at least in its writer's eyes. There's always something that can be changed, tweaked, made better. Even if a writer claims their story is as perfect as it is going to be, show it to them in a few years, see what they say then. Some authors have revised old work -- Dean Koontz comes to mind -- while others are content to leave things as they are.

And with today's digital age, revision can become quite tempting. After all, just like initially publishing the book or story, it's so easy. That doesn't mean, of course, a writer should do it.

Well, some might argue, what about typos and stuff like that?

Sure, I don't see anything wrong with fixing typos. Why wouldn't you?

What I think isn't a good idea is going back and changing whole passages, or -- gasp! -- entire chapters, just because maybe someone mentioned something in a review, or something's been bugging you. This is an issue of writers worried too much with past works, when they should be concentrating on present and future works.

Worried about a pay phone making your work seem outdated?

Tell me, do you read books? Do you watch movies? Have you seen Die Hard recently? I have, and you better believe they's some outdated stuff in there. Like when John McClane gets picked up at the airport by the limo, the driver makes a big deal about there being a car phone. Or when John McClane gets to the Nakatomi Plaza building, in the lobby, there's this thing where he types in his wife's name and it shows a map of the building, and it looks so old.

Well you know what? That's just how things are. Things get old. Things stay old.

That isn't to say it's not okay to revise works that haven't been published yet. Take my novella The Silver Ring for instance. When I wrote it back in high school, cell phones existed, but they weren't as common as they are today. Every teenager didn't own one. But when I decided to publish it a few years ago, I realized that it would be strange for my character not to carry a cell phone, so I addressed it it in the text. If the story had been published years and years ago, I wouldn't just go back and address the cell phone issue, because that would be silly.

Another example: when I originally wrote Man of Wax, the cell phone Ben used to communicate with Simon was a Nokia, as, at the time, Nokias were a common cell phone. But when I went to publish it back in 2011, Nokias weren't nearly as popular. In fact, I can't even remember the last time I saw a Nokia. So I changed it to an iPhone.

Will the iPhone fade away in the next ten years? Possibly. Will I then go back and change all the iPhones in the book to something more current? Absolutely not.

When something's published, it's published. That means, for better or worse, it's done. If something is really wrong with the text, okay, fine, go and change it. But ask yourself why the story suffered so much before being published.

As for updating the cover every couple of years? I think that's a great idea, if you can afford to do so. Major publishers rebrand the books of major authors all the time. It keeps things fresh and current and not, you know, boring.