26 June 2007

REPOST 10/28/2006 Re-edits and re-issues: delight or disappointment

It's what many indie press/e-published authors dream of... Your series, started in indie, gets picked up by a NY publisher, the original book/s re-edited and re-released in mass market and e-book alike...along with the rest of the series. With NY delving back into e-books, it seems the best of both worlds.

No, I'm not announcing that I've been offered or have accepted such a deal, though that would be nice. I'm actually working my way to a point that I've been ruminating over for a bit.

A few times in recent months, I've heard that these bought-out books have been gutted, sometimes renamed, and definitely made to toe a different set of rules and conventions with the new publisher/editor than they ever have before. I don't mean that the author was requested to add 20,000 words to the length how she chose to, like Mary Janice Davidson is reported to have done. I don't mean being asked to write a novella or short that fits with the original to flesh out the page count for the print version. No...both of those seem imminently reasonable to me. I mean literally gutting the plotline, adding new characters the author didn't want to write, completely revamping characters... You name it, I've heard it.

More distressing even than the fact that it happened, I've heard complaints from reviewers/readers (and the authors) that the new versions don't review as well, that the readers don't LIKE the changes made...the readers who have read both versions to make a comparison between the two.

Hand-in-hand with this are authors being asked by NY to change pen names, for whatever reasons they have for it. I'll get back to this in a moment, because it really does tie in.

So...this is the path my mind took. If anyone sees a fault in this logic stream, let me know it.

NY publishers state that they are adopting new lines that have proven successful in indie press/e-publishing. They are signing authors and series that have an established fan base, a following in the indie/e circles already. So far, this all makes sense to me. It's good business tactics; it's solid marketing. Let's move on, though...

Now, the logic falls apart.

They signed these books and authors FOR their following in indie/e, with the intent of building upon their prior successes.

First...the name change... You have a following we want you to bring with you, but we want you to change BOTH your name and the title of the book? That creates a ton of confusion and frustration for readers who have to track down the author and book by a new name...to connect the two, old and new. And, as if that confusion isn't bad enough, they throw more confusion into the ring by THEN advertising NEW TITLE by NEW PEN NAME with an OLD review quote that lists, in the publisher's advertising, the OLD TITLE and OLD PEN NAME. No, I am not making this up.

Let's pick that apart. They force an author to change the name and title on the book...then they USE the old name and title in the advertising designed by the marketing crew at the publisher. Does anyone else get a headache when thinking about this? IMO, humble though it may be, KEEP the old name and title in the first place.

Of course... Now we move on to the changes made to the book itself. Think about this. The book isn't the same book it once was. The characters have changed; the plotline has changed. It's almost an insult to the original reviewer to use the original review, because the offered book is no longer the book that GOT that review. Then again, when the original got 4 stars and the new version 2 or 3... They're going to want to use the original review, I would think.

They signed these books and authors FOR their existing readership... Then they demanded changes to the world and characters that readers and reviewers fell in love with, in the first place, making them LESS palatable to the readers and reviewers. Does THAT sound like solid marketing to you? It doesn't to me, but I may be missing something, so let's keep delving into this and see where we end up.

Why adopt books that HAVE an established audience then change them so those same readers are put off by the changes made? Why sign an author and not show respect for the voice and vision you SAY you want?

I've always said that edits were polishing the gem...cutting off rough edges...not dismembering the baby. Part of that, I learned from my first editor, who has NEVER asked me to gut a book in my life. I've always told people who've asked to talk to the editor and decide what is reasonable and what isn't. Gutting the book doesn't sound reasonable to me.

If they are trying to cookie cutter what they bought into what they THINK their own established audience wants, I think they've missed the boat.

Kate Duffy said at RT 2006: "If it ain't broke, I don't fix it." She was talking about edits. Kate is a smart woman, and if I may be allowed to take her comment a step further...

The books, as they were BOUGHT from indie/e, are NOT broken, folks. You wanted the audience. You wanted the breakout books that indie/e is putting out. They are putting out those breakout books and gaining audience, because they don't ATTEMPT to force the square peg into the round hole or the e-book cross-genre into the cookie cutter.

Edits, traditionally, are hailed as a way to make a book stronger. They are supposed to make a book sing. They aren't supposed to hack a book into a bloody pulp that now fits in the heart-shaped bit of metal. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

I'm sure someone is going to ask me if I'd accept a contract where I had to gut my world. Being a character-driven author, I don't think I CAN. And, considering how much of my future books are already written, changes that affect them are unwelcome. I've always accepted reasonable edits; I hope to every god I've ever heard of or not that I always will. But, there comes a time when what is asked isn't reasonable. That is where I may lose out to someone who is willing and able to be what they want.

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