Geetanjali Mukherjee

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Should You Revise A Published Piece?



I have been working on a project that I am embarrassed to admit, and I am not really sure if I should be working on. I have been editing, well actually completely overhauling, one of my published books.

The reason I am ashamed to admit it is because presumably when it was published it was good enough, and wouldn't really need an edit. Well, it was the best I could do at the time yes. I had spent months writing it, and since it was based on my Masters' thesis, months before that doing research and writing the core on which it was based. It had gone through a lot of iterations and was presumably good enough. It may have been, and yes, I was proud of parts of it. At the time I was actually proud of all of it.

But then I came across this book - Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors and Publishers by Scott Norton. And the book completely changed the way I looked at structuring a book, and profoundly informed the next book that I published. But then I started to think how I could apply the ideas to my previous work, and I could see many flaws in my book on arms control, structural issues that I just hadn't seen before. Presumably I could have solved this problem by hiring a developmental editor, but aside from the expense involved, I believe in doing things myself as much as possible. This may be a minority opinion and controversial in the world of book publishing, where every aspect of producing a book is assigned to a different person, but I reasoned that I was in this for the long haul, and I would need to learn how to do this myself, even if later I was in the position to hire someone.

I jotted down the ideas I had for improving it, and went on to work on other projects, because at the time I wasn't sure I should invest the time. The book was at the back of my mind though, and I kept thinking, when I have the time, I will go back to it, and revise it. It seemed like a large undertaking, so I just put it on the backburner.

One day while meditating, the idea for the revised outline just came to me - so I wrote it down. It seemed like a simpler structure than I had used before, and just getting that idea got me excited. I decided to start working on it a bit at a time, alongside my other projects. Initially, I made little progress, but the other day, I set aside a chunk of time to finalize the outline and assess how much I would really need to rework. It took a while, but having done the hard work of planning, I now think it won't take too much time to go through the actual editing and re-writing. I don't plan to change too much - it is less an entire re-write, more like writing the second edition of a textbook - where most of the book remains the same, but a few chapters are broken apart or combined together. The only difference is, that I am revising it not because the content has changed fundamentally, but that my own thinking has changed, its become clearer and more ordered.

This book hasn't really sold a lot of copies so far, which means spending a lot of time on it isn't commercially justified or pragmatic. In fact, I have been advised against wasting my time on this. I get the point - I probably won't make a difference to the sales of the book, and I could be using that time to write a new book. But then I asked myself - why am I writing? I write because I am compelled to, because I want to share things that I am obsessing about or intensely curious about with others. I plan to write many books, and although each of them won't be perfect, any of them won't be perfect, I must try to make each one as good as I can. And I couldn't live with myself knowing that I know how to make one of them better, more readable, more useful, and am not doing it.

So that's why I will be spending some time in the next few weeks, revising a book that I published last year. I will update here when the new version is out, and I would of course appreciate any feedback.

Have you ever gone back and revised a previously published work?
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