Reworking Those Old Works

by Meredith Bond

Congratulations! You’ve finally gotten the rights to your book back!

Okay, maybe it’s been a few months or years since you did so, that’s all right. The important thing is that your creative work is yours once again. The only thing is… what to do with it?

You probably wrote that book years ago, perhaps even ten or more, and your writing has improved a great deal since then. Times have changed. Writing styles have changed. Technology has changed (if yours is a contemporary, that could be significant – do you remember what sort of technology we had ten years ago? Wow, talk about change!)

But don’t worry and certainly don’t just shove that book into a drawer or file folder on your back-up drive. That old book can be money in your pocket for relatively little effort and time.

The hardest thing is rereading it. Honestly! You could be happily surprised (“Hey, my writing was really good back then. This is a lot of fun!) or not so (“I can’t believe I wrote this!”). But the important thing is to face your old work head on and with a practical mind.

Yes, that means taking notes as you go through your book (it’s easier if you’re working with a Word file (Open Office, Pages, whatever your word processor of choice is) because then you can put comments right into your document). And it’s time to pull out all of your writing tools—character worksheets, plot structure worksheets, etc (looking for some new ones? You can check out mine here). [Editor’s note: This is a superior collection of worksheets. Make sure you do check them out!]

If you like what you read, you may only need a few cosmetic changes here and there—update your technology, change a word or a phrase—do some basic editing. On the other hand, if it’s not up to your current standards, you may need to do a full breakdown of that baby. Tear it apart, plot out your character arcs, your plot arc, etc.

I went through this process not long ago with a Regency romance series of four books I published with Zebra Regency/Kensington Books. All right, a little bit of hubris here – three of the four books were actually not bad and didn’t need a lot of editing. I made a few corrections and republished them with new titles and covers. No problem.

But then came the fourth—actually, the second in the series, but they were originally published out of order and they can each be read as stand-alone books. But, yes, that fourth one was awful. No, it was worse than awful.

The heroine was a nasty, rude, and all around a horrible person. I couldn’t see how anyone could have liked her. The hero was all right, if a bit stuck up. The story itself really needed a lot of work to make it more fun and interesting.

I worked on that book for three months recreating the heroine into someone nice who I’d want to read about. I tweaked the hero and, while I kept the main gist of the plot, I reworked most of it to reflect the new hero and heroine. I’m proud to say that that book is now my top seller.

There is no reason why you can’t do the same.

An unpublished novel by the poet Walt Whitman was found not too long ago. In an NPR interview with the person who found the work, the interviewer quoted Whitman.

[H]e was not proud of his early writing. At one point in his life he said that he wished to have ‘all those crude and boyish pieces quietly dropped into oblivion.

As a writer I understand this feeling thoroughly, and yet there is something that draws us back to our earlier writing. So, don’t just put away those old books, work on them. They were your babies once and they deserve a second chance at life.

[Editor’s note: You may also like Elements of a Story or Plot line Potholes or Creative Tactics in Writing.]

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3 thoughts on “Reworking Those Old Works”

  1. I am currently going through this process with my Teen Wytche Saga. The best thing is having the opportunity to rework the third book in the series. Reviewers of the original YA novel rightly wondered if they had picked up the wrong book, because the characters from the first two books didn’t appear until the end. I have added new beginning chapters with a carry-over character from the earlier books, setting the stage for her appearance at the end. When the new version is released, readers will no longer be disoriented. So glad I can finally correct this mistake!

  2. I’m with you on that, Ariella. I’m in the last stages of reworking the 1st book in my Starmada series so that it will fit better with the sequels in the series and the short story I wrote to give away free that has some background. People who read the short story will know why 2 of my characters look exactly alike only there is a hundred years between their births. I, too, am glad to get this fixed. If I had not got the copyright back from the publisher, I couldn’t have done this 🙂

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