E-Books Are Easily Changeable After Publication. Is That Good or Bad?

by | Sep 21, 2011 | E-books | 73 comments

“The village tailor” by Albert Anker

As we endure the angst around the Blu-Ray release of Stars Wars and the fact that George Lucas changed the original trilogy… again, it’s worth pondering how this could also very well happen in the world of books.

Reader Tucker, author of the Sarcastic Creatures e-book series, wrote to me about how he’s seeing tinkering on the rise and authors having trouble letting go of their books: “Just because the book is published doesn’t mean the author is finished with it anymore.”

Tinkering could be a good thing – I would love to be able to correct the typos in Jacob Wonderbar, for instance, but those are stuck in ink.

But could we lose something with authors not letting go of their stories? Should there be a final version? Does the tinkering even help books?

What do you think?


  1. Mr. D

    I think tinkering always helps improve prose, or even adds elements that can make a story better. However, there comes a point, like in all things, that you just have to call a story done.

  2. CourtLoveLeigh

    I work at an e-book publishing house, and I say, once the book is done, LET IT BE DONE.

    Authors are being self-indulgent by tinkering after publication. Maybe it's like painting, and there's always that risk of putting in one two many strokes and ruining the whole thing altogether, and then ze artiste is left frustrated and wondering why the heck he or she didn't just leave it alone. Publication gives authors that final stopping point.

  3. Anonymous

    It is not good or bad, it is just different. Some people will tinker, because that is what they do; others will publish and move on.

    The trick is to make it into something that is a selling point. A reader contributed book for instance, an evolving conversation like a blog.

  4. Zoe Faulder

    I'd like to think the pros would out weight the cons. Yes an author is never truly 'finished' with a book but one would hope by the time its reach publication (e or otherwise) it has reached a stage that any tinkering would be minor at best (fixing typos and what not).

    I guess having a publisher as opposed to self-publishing might help the author accept that a book has reached its 'final stage'. Perhaps with self-publishing the author would just have to have a lot of self-control.

  5. Zoe Faulder

    Just another thought (a fairly obvious one I guess) – when you're dealing with academic texts or something that is re-edtioned regularly the ability to tinker is wonderfully helpful.

  6. Allan Petersen

    Fixing typos is fine. There have been follow up "volumes" since the advent of the printing press.

    But as authors, we need to move on. Let's face it…the majority of readers will read my book once. It's not productive use of my time to keep tinkering. I'm not advancing my craft.

  7. Gerhi Feuren

    Sorry, didn't intend to comment anonymously above. That is what you get for commenting through your Blackberry while lying on your back on the couch.

    To add. Certain books can benefit from fiddling, others will break. Every staging of Shakespeare's Macbeth fiddles a little with the story. The trick would be to know when is good enough good enough and when you are going too far.

    It also depends heavily on what you write. Time sensitive facts can make for a fast publication with updates as more information comes available. Think of writing and publishing a book about a high profile court case while court is in session. The final chapter can be written and added merely hours after the final conviction.

    You'd need to have the discipline of a hard nosed reporter to pull that of though.

  8. Scott Bryan

    I admit the concept of going back and inserting tiny thing that would lead up to future series plot points sounds fun. The question would still remain… "When is done DONE?"

    I agree, there has to come a time to let go and move on.

  9. Matt Larkin

    I think typos tend to stand out even more in ebooks, for me, since I realize the author could have just uploaded a corrected version.

  10. Matthew MacNish

    This is an interesting question.

    Personally, I would like to see enough work go into books before they're published that very few changes would ever be necessary. But I do realize even traditionally published books that are fully vetted still end up with some mistakes.

    As far as authors changing actually story elements, like Lucas loves to do with Star Wars? That would probably really tick me off.

  11. Fiammetta Rey

    I agree with what was said about editions of non-fiction books. People who already have the book wouldn't have to keep checking for a new edition, the information could just get added in automatically.

    But for fiction, I think the author should just do as much as they want before publication, and afterwards, just leave it.

  12. Cathy Yardley

    Other than typos, I think fiction authors should steer clear of tinkering, both for the good of the work and their own good. Otherwise, you're continually looking backward instead of moving forward.

  13. Ava Jae

    I understand tinkering to fix typos, but that's about it. Once you get into anything more it starts to become dangerous territory–if you rely on being able to change it after you publish it, what stops you from publishing it before it's ready?

    If you're going to publish an e-book, make sure you've edited it to your best ability, then release it and don't look back. Musicians can't change their songs once the album has been released and print authors don't make a habit of changing plot points after their book has been released, either, and that's a good thing.

    Changing the product after it's been released implies it was never ready to begin with. How can you expect your readers to trust you if you don't trust yourself?

  14. A.L.

    There is two types of tinkering.

    If there is a massive and confusing typo (i.e. he sh#**ed on the ground vs. he shifted on the ground) then fixing it might be fine.

    However, once a book is done you should let it go. If you are changing plot points, or bits of dialogue, then I don't think you should do it.

    If nothing else, it can lead to the patch mentality that has given the video game market a lot of issues at times when a game will ship with game-breaking bugs but the publisher just shrugs and goes "we'll fix it later."

    Let the book you published stand on its own as it is. Write the next book; it's time better spent.

  15. Anonymous

    I did not know this. I've asked my publishers to change a few things after my e-books have been pubbed and they told me it can't be done. Copy edits, basically. Like the mispelling of a character's name…which reviewers love to get their claws into…or things that went wrong during conversion.

    Is this another way of publishers telling me they don't want to do it? Because I know nothing about the technical aspects of e-publishing.

    I've also seen quite a few mistakes on Amazon in blurbs and book descriptions. If it's so easy to change, why isn't it done?


  16. Rick Daley

    The benefit of tinkering depends on the extent of tinkering. Fixing typos is a benefit, although one that may not be recognized by all readers depending on how glaring (and frequent) the typos are.

    Releasing an unabridged version of a book with content that was cut from an original version can benefit readers by adding worthy new material to a beloved world / character, and it may provide a sales bump for the author after the initial inertia subsides. Kind of like a director's cut of a movie.

    Other changes, like Greedo shooting at Han first, or the new "Nooooooo!" in Return of the Jedi, are not well received because they seem to take away from the original material, or change it in ways the fans see as unnecessary (or over-the-top melodramatic).

  17. Maria

    Typos should be fixed. That's all. Even if you discover a huge plot hole, continuity error or whatever. Better luck next time. If the standard of e-books becomes put it out there, and then revise the book based on the negative reviews it receives, the e-book market is going to be flooded with crap.

  18. D.G. Hudson

    Authors, especially those perfectionist types, will keep on tweaking if allowed. It's in our nature.

    The downside of this is that readers might get annoyed if an ebook they've already purchased has yet another 'update'; it's like the 'new, improved, (fill in the blank) ad lingos from past decades. Or, the readers may think it's another bid for another sale by the same author.

    IMO, the author should get on with the next book and let printed dogs lie. A typo or small error won't bother me much –if they aren't abundant–but unless the updates are free to previous purchasers, what's the point for the reader?

    My prognosis – it's not good or bad, but seems counter productive. I personally don't think it's a good practice. Writers need to write, and edit, but not ad infinitum.

    An author friend of mine has just done that tweaking of her ebook, but I didn't buy the new version of the book. It's not that much different. Maybe it just makes the author feel better – hmmm?

  19. Josin L. McQuein

    Tinkering is one thing, but I could see potential problems if an author made significant changes that had nothing to do with correcting mistakes. Changes to plot or character that could mean an early reader and a late reader had two different endings.

    Verword: Entride — When Merry and Pippin tagged along with Treebeard.

  20. Bryan Russell

    Tinkering can be good… sometimes. Just look at Peter Matthiessen's Shadow Country.

    One of the things it highlights for me, though, is that a lot of writers are publishing their book before it's ready. There's a lot of editing, copyediting, and proofreading hoops to jump through in the traditional publishing process. Likely what comes out the other side will be professional and clean. And the process itself continually asks the writer to better themselves, to push themselves, to ferret out just the right word combination or use of punctuation.

    With self-publishing that isn't guaranteed. Certainly some authors will push themselves, put their books through the ringers, and get that book as far along down the path as it can go.

    But other writers won't. They'll feel "It's done!" and then put it up for sale. And then they'll realize all sorts of things about the manuscript that could be made better. This is only natural. I mean, send out a simple query, and you'll probably realize half-a-dozen things that should be changed in your manuscript. The key thing is, in the traditional publishing process this mechanism is repeated over and over again – before publication. Most of this will be worked out before a book sees a reader's hand.

    But, with a lot of ebooks these days, that won't be the case. And thus the urge (and maybe the need) to tinker. On the other hand, though, at least these problems can be fixed now. With a print edition, the author would just have to swallow the gaffes and move on (or pay for expensive reprinting).

    But it may make things confusing, in terms of codified knowledge, if texts are constantly shifting (particularly if these changes aren't noted as new editions, different versions, etc.).

    But maybe no one will notice if I just change a typo or two. Or three. Or four…

  21. Griffin Asher

    I think changing little things, like typos and spelling mistakes, is fine, but once the book is done, it's done. I would be seriously annoyed with an author who kept going back and changing the book after I read it. Unless I absolutely LOVED the book, I'm not going to go back and reread it and I couldn't recommend it to someone later because it's changed.

  22. Kaitlin

    I don't know. I'd probably no to just tinkering for myself. I'd need a good place to stop and move on. Otherwise I'd never write anything new. 🙂

    But on the other hand, I can see some possibility of getting creative with it and maybe doing extended editions like movies do or alternate endings or something that's harder to do with a bound book.

  23. Anonymous

    It always surprises me when I come across typos in traditionally published books. (It is usually not a spelling mistake but rather the incorrect use of a word: they're for their, etc.) A few weeks ago I was reading a book where a line was missed.

    I self-published my book, checking and re-checking many times but I have found 2 errors since publication. Of course, you're always left wondering how you missed it all the other times.

  24. Jan Cline

    Wow, I had never really thought this issue through. Im not sure, but I think that once it's done, it needs to be done – flaws and all. This will be a good question to pose to the professionals at my writers conference in March. It could be good panel discussion material.
    Jan Cline

  25. Roger Floyd

    It seems most of the comments by the time I posted said the author should move on and not tinker with the book, other than to correct typos. I'm not so sure. Changes could be okay if the author sets up the changed book as a new edition. "Second edition 2010," "Third edition 2011," etc. In other words, make it clear that changes have been made.

  26. Darley

    It's an opportunity to do something that wasn't possible before. But I think if you're doing much more than correcting typos and syntax then you'll drive yourself crazy trying to achieve perfection.

  27. Anonymous

    I think tinkering in order to make corrections is fine. No one wants typos, incorrect grammar, or other structural mistakes in their book, whether it's the writer or the reader's copy. Formatting mistakes also fall into this category.

    Another form of tinkering I think is permissible is adding special content or bonus features. Giving the reader more than what they originally paid for.

    But, I think the line should be drawn at those types of revision.

    Who wants to come back to their favorite scene and find that it's no longer what it was, because it's been changed by the author.

    The scene in Star Wars where Han no longer shoots Greedo first, is one of those annoying types of changes. It adds nothing to the story and only functions as a way to try and change meaning and character.

    The rule should be, you can put more in, but you can't take anything out (unless it's an error).

  28. Hiroko

    There has to be a point where the author says, "Ok. I've had plenty of editing done. This book is ready to go into the world." Technically it's not so bad that e-books are easy to edit if the author is planning on releasing newer editions or something of the sort, but not letting go of that work will show the author's insecurity (and a myriad of other traits, I'm sure).

  29. Reagan Philips

    There comes a time to let it go. You can tweak a story, movie, sketch, painting, etc to death. (*ahem* HanShotFirst)

    Be proud of what you've done, of knowing it was the best you could have done, and that you have learned through that experience.

    Then, get out there and do something new with your improved skills.

  30. Berinn Rae

    From an author perspective, I'd like to see any minor typos fixed.

    But, from a reader perspective, changing the content after someone paid for it is wrong using the same ISBN. I found out one self-pubbed author did that to a book of hers I bought, which made me feel like I paid for a rough draft (and it read like it, too). I'll never buy that author again.

  31. gordonzola.net

    Corrections for factual error and typos aside, I'd say leave it be. I was super happy to get to a second printing of my book so I could correct a mis-spelling of someone's name who I thanked in the acknowledgements (awkward!). And I admit, I changed one sentence because — while doing a reading — I realized a word had been left out.

    But the thing is, if you are a writer, you should be working on something new by the time the book is published. That goes for traditionally published or e-published equally

  32. Sierra McConnell

    I find once I'm done with a book I run screaming from it with my fingers in my ears until the muses tackle me to the ground with a new idea.

    That's a /new/ idea, for a /new/ book.

    Why would we want to spend anymore time in the same place we just spent as much time as they did having the original adventure? I could have saved the world myself in the time it took to write the book!

    No thanks. If I ever get my gumption up to publish, it's "over done with gone" as they say.

  33. MT Nickerson

    Seems I'm too late for anything other than to jump on the bandwagon. Move on, hit the next project and tinker that way if you want. Many writers have a general theme in their writing, anyway, themes that pop up over and over. A new project allows the writer to explore themes from fresh perspectives, and readers appreciate freshness over incessant tinkering within a familiar framework.

  34. kerrimaniscalco

    I think as writers we LOVE tinkering around with our ms, always wanting to improve it a little bit more. A little bit more…a little…

    BUT…I definitely believe there comes a time when we have to let it go. Accept what we've put out there, and move onto the next thing.

    I think it boils down to confidence in our stories. Sure there may be a few typos, chapter five could have started out with a more visual scene–but by the time it's in readers hands, we have to love it anyway. Blemishes and all.

  35. Valerie Rieker

    Goodness. I look forward to the day when my tinkering will come to a forced ending. Stamp it, send it out, move on.
    Writer-health aside, it seems like continuous tinkering would lower the readers' confidence in the story. Readers come to a story already trusting that the author has brought them something whole and finished, and if the author's confidence in their own story is shaky at best, a reader might not want to invest their time and energy into it.

    In short: if the writer can't move on, the reader will.

  36. M.R. Merrick

    A lot of great points in the comments here. I think fixing the odd typo isn't a huge deal, but don't change the story.

    It's just my opinion, but if you're re-uploading your eBook to add and/or remove content that you decided post-publishing, makes the story better, I spot two red flags right away.

    One, you're truly doing a disservice to your audience. Both those that purchased the original copy, and those that are going to purchase later copies. They're both getting different products.

    Second, if you need to go back and add/remove content of the story – a story people are paying you to read I might add – you probably weren't ready to publish in the first place.

    I have no problem with fixing a few typos, but again, in excess, publication might have been premature.

  37. dcamardo

    I covet typos! It's the sign of a first edition. Then I'll pull that bad boy off the shelf and be like "Behold, I was one of the first to read this book!"

  38. funny in the 'hood

    Once a book is published I think it needs to be left alone aside from correcting minor typos which can be found in any book. In the case of ebooks, when you upload it should only be after you've gone through the manuscript with a fine tooth comb and then passed it on to a copyeditor so they can catch whatever you didn't. I'm surprised at the number of glaring typos I sometimes see in ebooks.

    However, changing content to make the story better is not a valid reason to tinker. Uploading your story before it's done is like querying agents before you're ready and readers will not be happy if there's another version floating around that they weren't told about.

    I'm self-published and I understand it might be tempting to make changes. But once I sent the manuscript off to the digital formatter I knew I was done with it and that made it easier to dive back into my current WIP.


  39. Vinny

    Tinkering to correct a typo of formatting mistake is one thing but you should never change plot elements or characters.

  40. Katherine Hyde

    I think there should be a definite cut-off point beyond which the only changes are to correct typos or blatant errors. Dickens changed the ending of Great Expectations between the serial and the printed book in response to public demand, and he weakened the book in the process. If that can happen to Dickens, it could happen to any of us.

  41. Sommer Leigh

    I would say most of the time it should be done and left alone.

    Except in the case of Susan Andersen who posted about the horrifying typo on page 293 of her book Baby, I'm Yours. I wouldn't stop her from fixing that typo for anything in the world. She's been very funny and sweet about the typo and has apologized for anyone who thought that she actually meant what she accidentally wrote.


  42. Dave

    Not a good concept for the mental health of those of us who are perfectionists 🙂

  43. DearHelenHartman

    While I'd love to keep fixing and fixing, in the process of preparing backlist for ebook-dom it seems best to let it be BUT I can totally see how a mega blowout bestseller phenom like J.K. Rowling could squeeze out a lot more mileage by tinkering with the series and re-issuing (not that she would, just the first example that came to mind)to grab new readers who weren't even born when the book first launched and also the fans who would love anything more.

  44. Maya

    I say let the typos go. I don't want to worry that I have version 6.03 of the novel and you have 6.05.

    And then there was the-self-published-author-who-shall-not-be-named who insisted a mediocre review was unfair because she had uploaded a newer version with less typos (and then took her frustration out on the reviewer).

    I know we are all OCD, but just Let. It. Go.

  45. Marilyn Peake

    I absolutely love that typos can be corrected in eBooks. As for significant changes to the story, I prefer when buyers have a way to know that they're purchasing a new version. For instance, if I love the old version of a book, I want to know if the old version's no longer available or if I can still purchase the old version in a different place. I think it's kinda cool if you can read different versions of a book.

  46. Jennifer R. Hubbard

    Personally, I don't put out a book until I've thoroughly written it out of my system and I'm sick of looking at it. I can't imagine wanting to go back and change things, unless they were factual errors or typos.

    On the other hand, a person could have a lot of fun with changing things–could even make a game out of it, where readers would participate by identifying the changes.

  47. Simon Haynes

    Smashwords allows you to download any version of an ebook uploaded after your purchase. If you really wanted to, you could read an earlier version.

  48. Trish

    I would only tinker with an eBook if there was a really bad mistake, like a blank page, but then I move on to write the sequel or another book. How many authors have time to tinker? The more books the better.

  49. Suzann Ellingsworth

    Tinkering is writing backward. The story has been told, possible warts and all. Move on. Writers write–forward. Learn from potential, perceived errors and apply to a new project.

    Slim caveat is corrections to nonfiction, be it an ingredients measurement, etc., in a cookbook, a misquote, an error of fact or citation.

    Tinkering post-publication serves no purpose whatsoever for fiction. Tinkering before publication is the leading cause of never finishing the project. There are a million ways to tell a story. Pick one. Do your best. Finish it. Move on.

  50. Kevin Lynn Helmick

    It's probably up to the author, however they work, feel, think. They'll do what they want and no amount of discussion or OCD therapy will change that. Someday we might see "remakes" by other writers doing their version of popular book. So what? It won't take anything away from the origonal.
    Personaly, I put them behind me and move on to the next. I've never even read the final published copy of any of my books, past the proof copy. I have no desire at this point to keep re-living it. By the time it's got the bar code…I'm sick of it anyway.
    I plan to read them again, 10-20 years down the road, it should be interesting to see what kind of a mental place I was at when I wrote them compared to where I'll be at then.

  51. Lauren @ Pure Text

    Being able to tinker comes in handy when an author who self-published on impulse suddenly realizes, "Oh…I should've had this professionally edited."

    But, with the hope that those who self-publish consider all the aspects and take it seriously, there should be a point where no more tinkering can be done.


  52. Haley Whitehall

    I think tinkering is good as long as it is ONLY cosmetic. Fix the typos and grammar errors. A few always slip through the cracks. I do not think the storyline or characters should be touched.

  53. photospire

    Sometimes external pressure (deadline date, Fed Ex cutoff) is helpful, but a writer has to have an internal awareness of when to let a piece go. But boy, is it hard…

  54. Adam Heine

    There are two potential pitfalls here. The first is tinkering, or Lucas Syndrome. Fixing typos and grammar errors is fine, I think, but George Lucas has demonstrated that changing characters or plotlines — sometimes even small telling details — can alienate your existing fanbase.

    The second pitfall is patching. PC games are notorious for this. The fact that you can always push out a patch after release has caused many a game developer to release their games too early (especially if the Christmas season is coming up, for example). The results are strong initial sales followed by terrible reviews and a damaged reputation.

    But they do it because sometimes it works. The initial sales boost is worth it. And sometimes a poorly reviewed game becomes the next sleeper hit because a patch made it good.

    That, to me, is the other danger. I can see a future in which authors release books quickly to grab sales, then edit after the release. But this will only hurt their reputation even more.

  55. Jaden Terrell

    Like most others, I think correcting typos and factual errors is fine. I'm even okay with an occasional phrasing tweak if you're already editing and something jumps out at you.

    Unlike the others, I think that if a writer realizes he or she has published too soon and can make the book much better, it's fine to do it, but there should be some clue for the readers, like a different cover or title, so everyone knows there have been edits.

    My book was originally self-published, then picked up by a tiny press, and is now being reissued by a larger press in January. Each new publisher wanted edits of some kind, and while we worked to make sure the edited versions were true to the original, I think they're also better books.

  56. Natalie

    Interesting question. I think that if you find typos after the release and can fix those, you should. But changing content – no. I think part of the growth as a writer – like an artist – is learning how to tell when you are done.
    I think about some books I love and how they aren't "perfect" but I love them anyway. Send it out with love and be done with it.


    Well, I just published my first novel on Kindle and ten days later corrected a ridiculous error. But with prodding I published 50 copies for review purposes and firends without Kindle or Nook and those errors are permanent. The Kindle version has had one revision and will have another within the week.

    Net net… the story is the same. Bit it begs the question, when is a story complete because what if we change the story itself? What if we decide the kid with one arm would become a more sympathetic character if he were dying of cancer? Nevertheless, we live within the limitations we're given and for now it is what it is.

  58. KJHowe and Saul Tanpepper

    The idea that once a work is published and therefore out of reach to the creator is an artifact of the old definition of publication. But as we redefine what it means to publish, so we must reevaluate whether keeping a work in suspended animation forever is a good thing and if fluidity is a good thing. Readers will, of course, resist the idea of change because they want assurance that the story they'll reread one, two or ten years from now is going to be the same one they'll remember reading. That's the basis for why we reread, isn't it? But like all such things, that's a mindset that developed as a consequence of the state of things that is no longer relevant. I agree that it's not a good thing for an author to continue to tinker simply because they came up with a new way to deal with an issue or they wish to rewrite a passage because they're seeing their work in the light of a new day. On the other hand, I would hope that a writer makes corrections for spelling and clarity, as well as simple grammatical fixes. And, yes, until someone writes a law that says "Once published, now untouchable," authors will tinker, but out of courtesy to the reader, significant changes should be denoted somehow, perhaps on the copyright page.

  59. historywriter

    I self-published a book last March. I decided to correct a couple of typos and an bad sentence structured missed by my editor. Not touching the story or anything else. I'm satisfied with this one major typo fix. It reads just fine. Working on getting the next novel in order.

  60. Simon Haynes

    There's another reason to tweak: I've published four novels in the same series, and the first is (was) the weakest. It contained passages from the late 90's, when I was a fairly new writer. All the others were written post-2003 when I had a lot more credits under my belt.
    It made sense to give the first a light edit for the Kindle release, otherwise people might read it and assume the rest of the series was similar. I didn't change the plot, just smoothed some of the writing.

  61. jongibbs

    I'm all for it, in moderation.

    As we drag ourselves along our writerly learning curve (hopefully in an upwards direction), we're bound to look back on what we wrote a year or two before and find ways to improve upon it – if not, we're either already perfect or we haven't learned much in the interim. It's only natural to want to tweak our old ms to bring it up to 'current' standards.
    I'm traditionally published (albeit with a small press).
    The e-version of my book came out last June. A year later, the company decided it had done well enough to warrant a print version. They kindly alloewed me to make a lot of minor changes. These included some typos, but for the most part, they were little things that changed the sentence a smidge, rather than grammatic corrections.
    Mind you, I don't think I'd like to be allowed to do that again.

  62. Rufus Dogg

    Endless tinkering does not force us to hone a craft. Imagine if a plumber could get your pipes done good enough to build the house and then come back in a few weeks and fix something he didn't get right. Or a bricklayer can just fix that wall later.. or a concrete guy can pour that footer better next spring… why do we view writing in less earnest? Why is the "artistry" of writing celebrated more than the craft?

    Good writers — like all good artists — are exceptional craftsmen first. Otherwise you are just slinging words around hoping to make a few stick together into sentences. That is not writing; that is a monkey with a loaded typewriter.

    Measure twice, cut once. Move on.

  63. Ishta Mercurio

    Fixing typos is one thing, and in my mind, there's nothing wrong with that.

    People evolve. We grow as individuals, and as writers. We become better and better at practicing our craft.

    But a book, like a film, is not an evolving thing. It is a moment. It is what that author (or director) wanted to say in that one moment in his life and career. And as a representation of that moment, a book, once published, is complete. It is whole. It is an entity unto itself.

    To tinker with that months, years, decades after the fact, when the author has moved on to different ways of thinking and writing, when the world has moved on to different technologies and ways of communicating and being, is to take away from the essence of what a book is. It becomes something that is no longer a working whole, no longer a representation of that one moment, but a mish-mash of different places and times and attitudes and styles. It becomes a lesser thing.

    I like Rick Daley's idea of releasing extra chapters that the editor didn't like, akin to the "director's cut" of a film. It is a way of acknowledging that books, like films, are not the sole creation of the director or the author, and that there are different – and occasionally contrasting – attitudes and ideas that come into play. But the original work, the entity that is the original version of the book, should remain untouched.

  64. Rachel Neumeier

    a) Yes. I would love to get rid of typos, repeated words, and that dratted scene where a character stands up twice. I would love to be able to fix these things without waiting for a new printing or new edition.

    b) NO! NO! NO! By God, there needs to be a point where you call it done and put it aside and quit worrying about it! How could you ever move on to the next project?

    c) What if the author changes her mind about something big and makes an important change, only you as the reader loved the original version?

  65. Daniel McNeet


    Particularly with ebooks and POD, the author can make changes as he or she sees fit. Just needs another ISBN. I believe the author has the right to do with his or her property as he or she wants. Reminds me of people who colorize black and white movies over the objections of the director.

  66. Mira

    Wow, what a good question and the comments are interesting, too. I really hadn't thought of this before.

    I guess I side with the ones who say typos and grammer, and maybe even smoothing out the writing is fine, and might be a very good idea. I would have a terrible time, personally, not playing around with that. But changing the story content, that could shake the reader's confidence in the author. There's also something to be said for announcing that changes have been made, and allowing for updates. I'm not so worried about people publishing too soon and adding patches later – I guess I feel the embarrassment factor could discourage that, because writing is very personal.

    On the other hand, it's possible people will experiment with how a story evolves.

    Should be very interesting!

  67. Gabrielle D'Ayr

    No! Bad writer ~ bad! No! And for emphasis, NO!

    Fixing typos to me is not tinkering anyway, these are things that should (in a perfect world) never make it into the book. I personally find them distracting so I'm fine with fixing the typos.

    Changing the story? Oh God, No, PLEASE no! Writers, when you create for your readers, it's like weaving a tapestry or casting a spell. The exact colours/ingredients you choose to put in the story make it what it is and we, your readers cherish this. Knowing why you chose one word or phrase over another is a luxury most of us never have, and often a point of speculation and discussion. What is supremely important though are the words you ,did choose. They created a picture in our minds and hearts and led us on a journey ~ and you want to change this?

    Personally I find it very difficult to watch films adapted from books as my brain throughout offers commentary and corrections(wrong; wrong; it was blue not red; there was no pet bird in this story). Please let's not do this to the books themselves.

    By the way, I am tinker myself. I can't pick up a piece I've written without wanting to change something. So I don't. Other people can edit, copy edit, review ~ just take it away from me. The story is done, the tapestry finished, the spell in effect ~ don't break the spell.

  68. mary-j-59

    I'm afraid I haven't yet read all the comments – but a story exists only if it has readers, and, in the end, the author is just another reader. The readers create the story as they read it. If we authors cannot let go and let the story exist as an artifact, outside ourselves – well, it will never exist.

    I certainly do understand the temptation to keep fixing, keep tinkering, keep making the book "better". But I also believe that, after a certain point, we have to let go and give the story to the world.

    My two cents!

  69. S. Kyle Davis

    The point-in-case is Whitman. He wrote and rewrote and edited and deleted and prettied up Leaves of Grass until he died. Which one is the "definitive" one? It's a matter of huge debate. Some say the deathbed edition, because it was the last. But then, Whitman took out a bunch of stuff on his deathbed that he didn't want in there, because he didn't want to die offending people. Was it the first one? It's hardly the mast polished, and doesn't have some of the most memorable passages.

    Leaves of Grass a big jumble of mess, and it had definitive editions, because it was still print. Can you imagine the debacle if Whitman had access to Microsoft Word???

    It's hard to let go, and having or not having the ability to change on the fly doesn't make that go away. At the end, it's the author's job.

  70. Ulysses

    I think that the ease of change in a digital world is NOT a good thing for art.

    Art is an artifact of its time, and writing is a snapshot of the writer. Sure I'll be better in five years than I am now, but any changes I might make to my book then will mean that it's no longer the same book.

    Moreover, I think a lot of what allows us to move on, to improve, to change, is our ability to let go of what we've done. Once it's released into the wild, lets go onto the next thing.

  71. Anonymous

    I'm posting anonymously to protect the not-so-innocent…

    I design ebooks, and I had to fire a client once. He had me working on an hourly wage, unlike my other clients. He would finish the book, send it to me, I would design all the ebook editions, and then he'd call me with a few changes. A few. As in, 95% of the semicolons he would want changed to emdashes, but not ALL of them. I would spend hours upon hours hand-correcting the programming file, and eventually it would take longer to do the corrections than it would have to have just done a new file in the first place. Then, he would change a bunch of wordings and quotes, and I would have to go back to those changes. We'd upload to Amazon and everywhere else, and then he'd call with MORE CHANGES.

    Then, he did the math and realized how much money he was spending, then chewed me out saying that every version was costing way too much. No, really? I can't imagine why! The sad thing was is that there were several upcoming books to work on, too, but we couldn't get started on those due to the changes. Even worse, I wasn't the only one he did this to – the paper book designer had to do all the same changes by hand. He worked with like 4 or 5 different ones, because they all kept being unwilling to rework the same project repeatedly. I finally gave up on the book and told him that I was going to get out of the business. Which I haven't. I just don't want anyone he would suggest to me as a client, for fear he will send me people like him.

    I really endorse self-publishing, but this is the sort of trap that can claim the life of an author. Move. On. Or be like this guy and waste thousands of dollars and months of time rehashing the words and design on the same book.

    I have other clients who have come to me to fix small errors, such as typos, a repeated sentence, etc., and I am more than happy to fix those. But I'll never do fixit work like that again. It damn near put me in the mental ward.

  72. Bonnie McKernan

    Thank you for introducing this topic. The above answers have reinforced what I probably knew all along: the book is published; I did my best; time to let go. I cannot let the self-sabotaging itch of perfectionism stop me from moving forward!


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Hi, I’m Nathan. I’m the author of How to Write a Novel and the Jacob Wonderbar series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and I’m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams. Let me help you with your book!

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