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Journey into the Lives of Women, One Story at a Time

Oldie But Goodie or Not? Revising Backlist Novels

Revising Backlist NovelsYears ago when I began my writing career, I never guessed that one day my series romances would see the light of day again.

In those days series romances were guaranteed at most 4-6 weeks at bookstores before covers were stripped and content discarded. Reissues were rare and highly prized. Yes, the sales were excellent for that one month that the book was on shelves, but by then those of us who were frequently published were hard at work on the next book which also, would come and go quickly.

Then came eBooks.

Fast forward to today and the digital revolution. My publisher, like many, has chosen to give back the publication rights on many of the books they’ve published in the past. Part of the reason was contractual language, and I’m sure part of it was the ovewhelming task of putting millions (?) of ebooks online. While they’ve kept the rights to some of my favorites, they’ve also given me rights to others. They are now mine to publish as ebooks or even in print.

Okay but is it easy?

My colleagues and I often discuss how best to deal with our backlist novels. Some of them were written at such a different time that putting them online, just as they are, seems unwise. In addition to important considerations like technology changes (no cell phones, no computers, at best a pager or two), our thinking has changed as a society on many issues. Sexual harassment comes to mind immediately, doesn’t it? How many older romances were peopled by alpha males who refused to take “no” for an answer? Yes, by novel’s end women almost always got what they most wanted, but women were less forthright, more apt to depend on the man for help, and often shy and virginal.

My ebook journey.

When I began to consider which of my novels to put online, I’ll confess I really didn’t think hard enough about what I might find. I believed my women were strong and independent, and most of all smart. I assumed I might have to change some background details. In Once More With Feeling, one of two single title romances for Avon, I realized that many of the stores in New York where my major character shopped no longer existed. In The Unmasking, Katrina had not yet changed both the New Orleans’s landscape and culture. I adjusted by pointing out the time period in a reader letter.

This month I’ve been working on another oldie, Lady of the Night. Lady was my first book for Silhouette Intimate Moments. At that time the now-defunct line required larger-than-life novels with something “extra” to set them apart. In this case the “extra” was suspense. I had great fondness for this story, for the New Orleans setting, for the underpinnings of the plot, the conflict between characters, the amnesia. (Yes, it’s an amnesia story because, despite everything editors will tell you, readers and authors love them.) I wanted to resurrect it.

I didn’t know what I was in for.

What I learned.
  1. Hire an editor. I discovered immediately that Lady of the Night was filled with problems. After one read-through I knew I didn’t have time to fix all the issues by myself. So even though the novel had been edited by both a line editor and copy editor when it was originally published, I asked Marsha Zinberg, an editor I knew and trusted, to do the first pass on changes for me. This was exactly the right thing to do. While my heroine had every reason to be terrified, I apparently wasn’t sure my readers understood that. In addition to many other suggestions, Marsha removed at least fifty versions of “terrified” from the book and gave my heroine the spine I always knew she had. The real Maggie began to emerge.
  2. Remove adjectives and adverbs. I wrote this novel when prose was often flowery and yes, deep purple. On my first read-through I winced more than I’d like to admit. Removing “winceable” descriptions was easy. Both Marsha and I struck out most of them right at the start. This cleaner manuscript with a stronger heroine suddenly began to feel like a book I wanted to read.
  3. You can’t change everything. One of the reasons I wanted Marsha to be another eye for me was to solicit her opinion about several parts of the novel. For instance several times I used the point of view of the book’s “villain.” Today I wouldn’t, but Marsha pointed out that doing it my original way worked just fine for this story. Trying to change that one small thing would demand an entire rewrite. Good news.
  4. Sometimes you have to accept the differences between now and then.  While today I never use more than one point of view in a scene, when Lady of the Night was written, authors often “head-hopped.” In a romance novel the relationship is key, and writers believed (and some still do) that being in both the point of view of the hero and the heroine in the same scene gives readers new and delicious insights. Changing this would also have meant an entire rewrite. And once again, Marsha convinced me it worked just fine the way I originally wrote it.

Lady of the Night is now ready for a new cover and a relaunch. I’m delighted with it. I feel that between us, Marsha and I gave new life to a good story that again, I can be proud of. I plan to release it simultaneously with its sequel, Bayou Midnight, sometime in 2018.  Meantime, again with Marsha’s help, I’m off to see how many changes Bayou Midnight will need to bring it up to my new standards.

I’ll be sure to let you know the release dates, and once the new covers are designed, I’ll do a “cover reveal” just for you.

3 Comments

  1. Nancy Lepri on December 6, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    This is awesome, Em!!!

  2. Terry Guerra on December 8, 2017 at 4:46 am

    Interesting! I can’t wait to read them!

  3. Coelle Baskel on January 15, 2018 at 8:20 am

    So interesting to read from your point of view of writing and re-writing. Thanks for sharing some of the details of your process.

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