Should a Previously Published Book be Updated?

This past week I’ve been reformatting and updating Destiny Unknown, a romance published by Bantam Loveswept back in 1997. I’ve been lucky with this one. I had the original manuscript on a 3″ disc and a friend just happened to have a computer that could still read those discs. (None of my computers can.) I’d forgotten I saved books back then not as one file but as a file for each chapter. My first step in reformatting was to get all fourteen chapters into one file and add the necessary front material (Title, Copyright, Acknowledgements, and Table of Contents). The file for chapter 6 was corrupted, so I had to retype that chapter. (Thank goodness I had the paperback for that book here in Michigan and not in Florida.)

Original cover 1997 Created by Mort Engel Productions

Original cover Created by Mort Engel Productions

Once I had a single file for the book, I made the basic formatting changes. One space after a period, not two. First line indent, not a tab indent. Actual italics, not underlining. single space, and Times New Roman font. I then had to go through and get rid of a lot of extra space bar hits I never realized I’d made, change my time breaks, ellipses, and dashes.

I could have left the content as is, but as I read through the ms, I was amazed by how much has changed in the fifteen plus years since I submitted the ms to my editor. In the book, my heroine, Bernadette Sanders has been left in charge of two department stores and is making decisions about a web page. In the original story they don’t even have a web page, and Bern doesn’t feel secure about using the Internet or e-mails. Can you imagine a store manager today lacking that knowledge? I can’t.

I felt I had to bring the stores and Bern up-to-date. And that’s what I’ve been doing, but I had a friend ask if that was fair. The e-book would no longer be the same as the original book.

So I wonder, how do other writers of contemporary fiction feel? When you convert a previously published paper book to electronic form, do you leave it exactly as originally published or do you up-date it?



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22 Responses to Should a Previously Published Book be Updated?

  1. Mia says:

    Tough one. As a reader, if I buy a book then I expect it to be the same in every version. Plus, I think there’s an expectation that the period of time is reflected in the book. However, I find it jarring when something we take for granted today is unfamiliar or unheard of in the book. It doesn’t throw me out of the story, but it does make me flip to the copyright dates to figure out when the book was written.

    On the flip side… a few changes that don’t alter the original story line might make it a fresh new read, while still giving the reader the same ride. In fact, it might help sales if the reader knew the e-version was updated. It’d be like a new book, but with the same familiar characters.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I think a note at the front of the e-book letting the reader know I made some changes will help. I’m hoping these books reach NEW readers. But I’m not sure about that, so a warning about the changes is a good idea.

  2. My inclination would be to update it and to include a preface indicating what, in general, had been done.

    Is the original print version still available, or is it out of print? I’d be more inclined to update if the original print edition was NOT currently available.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Margaret, about the only way a reader would find the original print edition is at a used book store or yard sale. I agree, a preface letting the reader know I’ve brought the story up to date, is the fairest way to handle this…so that’s what I’ll do.

  3. Jane Ward says:

    Not a writer, but as a reader, I think I’d prefer an updating in minor things (like websites, email, cell phones) because I find those things jarring unless it’s a historical novel. I think Margaret has a good point about whether or not it was still in print.
    BTW I saw Lorraine and Barbara who began Harbor Authors and then had to drop out for one reason or another on Monday. They were happy to see me and I was happy to see them. They’re both doing well. I’m on a newly released drug for my leukemia and doing great. I feel like I might get back to “normal” soon!

    • Maris Soule says:

      Jane, so glad you’re doing better. I was sorry Harbor Authors fell apart, but I’m glad to hear Lorraine and Barbara are doing well. And yes, when I started reformatting Destiny Unknown, I was shocked by how much our use of and dependence on the Internet has changed over the years, I felt I needed to update the story or it would no longer be a contemporary romance.

  4. Diane Burton says:

    When I released SWITCHED as an ebook (10 years after the print edition came out), I did all the formatting you did plus updating obvious dated material. I changed one alien’s name so it was pronounceable (a reader complaint). At the end of the description (on Amazon, B&N, etc.) I noted the book had been updated from the original released in 2001. It was worth all the extra effort to bring my book to new readers. Good luck with yours!

  5. Since the novel is supposed to be contemporary, you should update. Let people know it’s a new edition. Even my YA STACY’S SONG (published originally in 2010) which will come out as an e-book from a different publisher the end of October needed to be updated and was re-edited.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Thanks, Jacqueline. That’s what my thinking has been. With an historical novel or one that starts with a date set in the past, I don’t think it would be necessary, but a contemporary should show how things are now, not when it was first published.

  6. This is a tough question, and I’m guessing that every writer will have a different answer. In the Joe Silva/Mellingham series, Joe and his family age through the series, so if I were to make changes in the first book, published in 1993, to bring it up to date, those changes would probably throw off the rest of the series. They can’t all take place within a few years of each other. The challenges are different for a non-series book. If it’s a romance novel, have the mores and general social behavior changed so little that no one would notice a change in the years, or do you have to keep things historically accurate or change parts of the story as well? I wish I knew the answer, but the more you discuss the problem, the more we learn what’s possible.

    • Maris Soule says:

      You’re right, Susan, it would be very difficult to do so with a saga or series. I hadn’t thought of that, especially since this is a stand alone. (Well, it’s linked to an earlier book, but that one could also be changed without too much trouble.)

  7. Melissa Keir says:

    It sounds like you have a wonderful opportunity to bring your book to many new fans. I used to devour the old Loveswept titles. I like the idea of putting a disclaimer in the front whether you update it or not… After all, I wouldn’t want someone to go back and update Shakespeare but if they did, I would want to know that they brought it up to date… as in Juliette sent Romeo a selfie and a text to set the time for the meeting….

    • Maris Soule says:

      From what I’m hearing, I need something right at the beginning (and maybe repeated at the end of the book) that will let readers know the book has been changed slightly to reflect the changes that have occurred since it was first published.

  8. Lucy Kubash says:

    I’ve dealt with similar issues in publishing my short stories as e-books. I’m so glad I kept the original magazines because the earlier ones were only saved on the larger floppy disks! I have made some changes to make the stories more current. Example: heroine used a pay phone to make a call. I changed it to the hero letting her use his cell phone (because she had no signal with hers). I also wondered if I should take out the term “boom boxes,” but ended up leaving it in when I checked at a local Best Buy and found they were still for sale. I think mentioning the book has been updated from its original version is a good idea.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I have the same problem, Lucy. Many of the books I would like to put out as ebooks were saved on the floppy disks. I know I tossed those years ago. I’m glad I have the print copies.

  9. Anna Taylor Sweringen says:

    I think typos, wrong words, etc. definitely need to be updated as well as factual inaccuracies. Harlequin Kimani reprinted a story that mistook Dorothy Dandridge for Josephine Baker. It makes the author look dumb and the publisher lazy.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I am definitely correcting typos, etc., Anna. I’ve also changed a restaurant the couple go to. The one I used in the original book is no longer there (problem of using real places), so any reader who lives in the area would be stopped by that. And I have them using their cell phones rather than looking for a pay phone.

  10. Yes. I reissued my first novel, Bound for Eternity, twice to correct for typos. Although the book is now out-of-date in terms of technology (computer software, cell phones, etc). I did not change the content since the technology is part of the plot.

    • Maris Soule says:

      My last Loveswept is like that, Sarah. If I decide to put it out as an e-book, I will have to indicate it took place in 1998. That book was ahead of its time. The technology that was the main part of the plot is common nowadays.