Like film actors wanting retakes, writers sometimes want to change a published work. Perhaps they’re unhappy with certain phraseology or maybe it’s something serious like a dropped plot thread, character development, or lack thereof. Turning a raw manuscript into a published book is a tedious process involving not just the author but editors, publishers, agents, and the occasional friend whose opinion is valued. You’d think writers would have every opportunity to get things just right, but other factors can be at work.
Case in point, my historical novel Twelfth Night (1997). The contract required a “darkly erotic” story, but not until that first submission did I fully realize what was expected. My editor sent me back to the drawing board several times, and not until the eleventh hour did I finally give him what he wanted. I ignored concerns that what I wanted the book to say would be lost in that “darkly erotic” shuffle.
When Twelfth Night was published, response was good but my worries were realized when the Jackson (Mississippi) Clarion-Ledger headlined their otherwise positive review with this: “Violence Overwhelms Story.” Ouch. Other critics voiced similar concerns, confirming my gut feeling that the book was not what I wanted to write but what the publisher wanted me to write and was contractually empowered to demand. It’s my fault for not objecting of course. I was too eager to see my first hardcover in print and, frankly, I sold out. It’s a story as old as publishing itself, but this time with a happy ending.
Everyone knows the internet triggered tectonic shifts in publishing, most notably the explosion in self-publishing. Granted it unleashed an avalanche of mediocrity that should never have seen the light of day, but it also enabled writers regaining rights to their work to find new audiences for old works. I quickly jumped on the republishing bandwagon but only after excising certain passages in Twelfth Night I found troubling or excessive. My story remains plenty dark but not so violent or erotic, i.e., the book I originally intended. I’m happy to report the new and improved Twelfth Night is now available on Kindle.