I seem to be asking a lot of questions lately

… And here’s another one. In multiple parts. But first, the background. I will try to keep it short. (Yes, and I originally thought the Sun Sword was going to be two books…)

A graphic designer I know is between clients, and she is doing covers for my short stories. If I haven’t mentioned this yet, I intend to bring them all out in ebooks as singles, with the first six being the West stories related to the West novels. (I also intend to bring out the six as a single, unified collection, in both a print-on-demand large format paperback and an ebook. If there is enough demand for it, I will also gather the stories and offer them in print-on-demand collections as well, wordcount permitting.)

I asked for simple, minimal covers that were similar in look so that people who saw them would realize they were short stories, not new novels. I’ll be interested to hear what people think of them when they finally see them.

She’s just finished the first six covers (whereas I, of course, have not finished the formatting of the first story, although I only have the Smashwords .doc to go).

For a variety of reasons, most of the stories were originally published under the West by-line.

My husband and my Australian alpha reader both feel — moderately strongly — that the stories should be numbered; my long-suffering husband also feels that, with the exception of the first six, they should be presented in order of publication. So far so good. (I objected to the numbering initially because it implies – to me – a series, and the stories, with the exception of the two Augustine Painter shorts, are not connected. But…they will, in fact, be numbered, because my objections were mild, and as so often happens in marriage, one compromises if one’s partner’s feelings are stronger.)

The graphic designer has finished covers for stories 1 through 6; she’s ready to keep working. I have to give her the stories, with a length (short or novella), title, and … author name.

I’m not sure what to do about the author name.

(a) I originally thought I would separate them by tone: the high fantasy (or original world fantasy, i.e. the fantasy that doesn’t take place in our world) as Michelle West, and the contemporary fantasy as Michelle Sagara. But I’m not sure what I would do with the SF stories (or the few alternate histories).

(b) And then I thought I would just bring them all out as Michelle Sagara stories. (c) But the first six are definitively Michelle West stories. So maybe I should do them all as Michelle West, since that’s how they’re starting, and since they’ll be numbered.

(d) After this thought, I thought why don’t we just bring them out under the name they were originally published under? Because I have already been threatened with bodily harm for not deciding on one name for the sake of bibliographers (it was an affectionate threat. Mostly).

And then I thought I would maybe go revise Skirmish instead of angsting. (I’m almost finished that revision; there was one tricky part and it was only recently that I figured out how to handle it in a way that didn’t give me ulcers, but I really like that part now. The problem with revision, for me, is that frustration breeds contempt, and if the frustration continues, I lose all confidence in any of the words and start rewriting them in a way that doesn’t actually make them better.)

But…the graphic designer can’t do any of the covers without that information, and if I continue to wibble indecisively, she won’t have time to do them later.

Yes, I am finally getting to the question.

Should I:

(a) attempt to group them using either West or Sagara, which is highly subjective

(b) keep them all under one name as Michelle Sagara

(c) keep them all under one name as Michelle West

(d) use the name under which they were originally published

or

(e) some other option which you will explain in the comments.

The one thing I don’t want to do is bring them all out as Michelle Sagara West.

Some facts about self-publishing in 2011

Elsewhere on this site, I’ve mentioned my intention to self-publish (re-publish?) the Essalieyan short stories that have appeared in various anthologies. When I said this, I knew very little about the entire process, but assumed that the text would be the most time-consuming part of it. As it turns out, this was not entirely accurate. Everything else is also time-consuming.

A reader of this blog offered to deal with one of the things I most dreaded: comparing text to the print book for differences, and catching those errors in the text he himself inputed, line by line. When the text comes back to me, I have two proof-readers (not including myself) who will then read it in printed form, to catch anything that he missed.

It’s impossible for one person to catch everything, no matter how careful or competent they are.

The incredibly impressive Courtney Milan has a post on her blog which describes the process of text handling from manuscript to finished product (in this case, ebook, but the steps are derived from the process of shepherding a book from author’s hands to printing press). She is not making this up, and her point – that no single person can catch all errors, is absolutely true in my opinion, and in my experience.

Sometimes readers will assume that because I have the electronic files of the manuscripts for any given work I’ve written on hand, the conversion into ebook should be simple and effortless. I believe there are some authors who do, in fact, do this.

But what can (and in my opinion is likely to) happen in that case is described here, at Dear Author, a romance review site run by a woman who is also, in my opinion, incredibly smart. The part that’s relevant (although the Harlequin news is relevant to me on a different front) is near the end of the column, in which Jane posts two paragraphs of text which contain four errors.

While the text I have on hand doesn’t have that many, it’s entirely possible that some other work of mine could. Most of my mistakes, on the other hand, are touch-typist mistakes; if I’m typing, I can just as easily type “talked” instead of “talking”, which by the way really really really irritates me, as a reader. It looks like a tense change — in the best case. These are the mistakes that a spell check won’t catch; a spell check also won’t catch the wrong name, missed words, or its vs. it’s.

If you do read the Milan blog, you’ll know that the substantive editorial work has already been done. The manuscripts I have have all gone through editorially requested revisions. But the manuscripts I have have gone through none of the other stages. In order to get them into shape, I have to consider the rest of the editing process. It’s difficult when dealing with short fiction, because Amanda Hocking aside, collections or short stories are not likely to sell in huge numbers. Paying for cover art work, paying for copy-editing, paying for formatting, and paying a proof-reader can quickly make short fiction a money losing proposition. Jim C. Hines, on his blog, has posted his numbers for the two books he’s released on his own (one is a mainstream novel, and one is a short story collection of stories associated with his Goblin Books.) Although his collection is shorter (mine is about 100k words – everyone act surprised), I’m realistically assuming similar numbers for what is a similarly themed work.

I can check the manuscript I have on hand against the printed book; I can change what needs to be changed to reflect it. A line-by-line comparison can be done, by me, at the cost of only my time. (At the moment, it is being done by a reader, at the cost of his time, my gratitude, and my attempt not to feel enormously guilty). It’s one way of dealing with copy-editing, because the text on the page has already been through a copy-edit. But the resulting text still has to be proofed, preferably by someone who is not me, because someone else will have natural sensitivities to errors that I don’t have. I print out the stories in a font and format that is very close to a printed book page, because changing the format changes the text and the way I read it.

Garfield Reeves-Stevens said to me, after my first book was published, that it’s inevitable: the book will arrive, you will open it with excitement and joy, and the first thing you will see will be the typo that everyone missed in every pass of the book. (He was right, and I am actually good at proofing the galleys of my own books; one of the several people who missed that mistake was me).

But the alternative – publish what I have – produces something that’s not as close to a book’s reading experience as I can possibly make it, and that gives me ulcers. I have some of the best readers in the world; they are certainly some of the most forgiving about my various delays. But I think they deserve the best effort I can make (which is often the cause of some of the delays). Forgiving me for making the book better* is not the same as forgiving me for being cavalier.

However… it’s not just the text. Once the text is as perfect as it can be made (and I’m absolutely certain something will escape uncorrected into the wild), there’s more.

What I have discovered so far:

1. Covers are necessary. Even for a short story. No one uploads a book without a cover, these days; at least one service will not offer the book for sale without one.

2. I have no visual acumen whatsoever. I spent twelve hours of time I could have spent in revisions (I wrote first, before I started) looking at stock images and at deviant art. What I discovered is that I know when I like a piece of art or a photograph – but that I have no ability to gauge whether or not an unadorned image will work as a cover. In the sink or swim world of the self-starter, I had an anvil tied to my ankles. So: covers clearly are never, ever to be done by me.

3. Formatting is not entirely trivial, and at the moment, for only ebooks, three different formats are required: an epub (which as far as I can tell is mostly html/css), a mobi file (for the Kindle), and an MS Word .doc file for Smashwords. The latter is the only way I can make the book available for the Nook. If I had a business address in the US, I could upload directly, and that would make this a lot less painful because I can upload an *epub* directly. At the moment, however, I get to play with MS Word style sheets in order to format the book.

4. A print book – even a print-on-demand book – requires an entirely different format, and print-ready typesetting, or as print-ready as someone who has no native DTP experience can make it. There is no automatic generation of, for instance, a table of contents, among other things.

5. The last round of proofing. Some of this can’t easily be done by me, some can. The last round involves downloading the finished books, or sections of them, to see what the formatting glitches are for each venue in which they are available. I assume, because I haven’t done this on anything but my own computer yet, that the glitches are format only, and not in the text.

Having said all this, I do intend to bring out the Essalieyan short stories. I intend, at the moment, to re-release all of my short fiction as individual short pieces over time. But because I’m still working out what has to be done, and because I’m in the process of doing it and the learning curve is highest, and because the bulk of the writing day has to be given over to writing (War and Cast in Peril), it’s not going to be as fast as I would have liked.

* better, of course, being a subjective term

Version control, sort of

Aaron asked, in the previous thread:

A bit off topic, but you don’t have a general “contact the author” web submission page and this may be better suited for your LJ:

Actually, before I get to the question, let me quickly say this: If you have a question that I think I can answer, you can leave it in a comment thread, or you can email me at Michelle.Sagara@sff.net. Actually, even if I can’t answer it, you can do either, but it’s less productive.

I won’t answer questions about future developments unless the question is really, really general (e.g. Will there be more about dragons? (Yes)), because some readers are very spoiler-averse. I’m personally not one of them, but I try to respect that reading choice (and it drives my husband crazy when I flip to the end of a book I didn’t naturally arrive at by reading through all the intervening pages).

This is subject to the fact that I am terminally underorganized, and frequently behind (I’m actually almost caught up. My inbox is only at 348). There is a lovely, funny post at Hyperbole and a half, titled “this is why I’ll never be an adult which caused me to cringe in instant self-recognition.

Speaking of which: the page proofs for Cast in Ruin have gone back to Luna. There is now nothing else I have to do to make this a book, except wait. I am, on the other hand, doing final (editorial) revisions on Skirmish. Or will be, once I’ve finished this post.

And now: less PSA, and more answer. The actual question:

How do you feel about self-published authors or established publishers being able to retroactively copyedit e-books and release ‘new and improved’ versions of their texts? Do all future copyedits have to go through you (the author) for approval? Do you think that there is potential for abuse if people fundamentally change the structure? Would you go back and change minor details (e.g. eye color)?

I had to think about this one for a bit.

Henry James revised all of his novels at one point later in his career, and this was well before the time that such a production would have been effortless on his part, or the part of his publishers, who were still stuck with moving little slugs around in order to actually print.

Stephen King revised the The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger before he finished the series. He added 500 pages or thereabouts to The Stand. There are other authors who have gone back to do ‘authoritative’ editions of earlier works. The difference is, it’s not easy compared to revising and resubmitting an ebook.

Publishers have always had a method for tracking errors in printed books, if they’re aware of them; if a book goes back to press (i.e. they print more), they can fix typos while they’re at it, and this isn’t announced. On the other hand, I’m not sure how many publishers still do this. Publishing has become very lean, and I imagine production departments are pushed to exhaustion merely getting the new books to press.

A major print revision would, of course, require complete resetting of every page, and it’s therefore not done often; when it is, it’s for authors whose audience is naturally large enough to include readers who would want or insist on owning a book that is very similar to the one they already own by the same author.

So, it would depend. To a lesser extent, revisions to text were done before ebooks. Fixing formatting errors in ebooks, rife because of the lack of standardization in the process, seems like it would be a godsend, frankly.

A major revision done by a self-published author also doesn’t seem an abuse of privilege, to me, in the sense that s/he is altering his/her own work. I would love to change about four small things, myself, because, you know, making mistakes of that nature in my own books is really, really stressful, guilt-inducing and embarrassing. In public.

I would have serious, serious qualms about a publisher randomly revising my text – but I cannot honestly bring myself to worry about this on the print side of the equation at least; the publisher’s production departments are hugely overworked, and they’re unlikely to try their hand at secretive editing in the middle of their day. In the extremely unlikely event a publisher should somehow decide to hire a copy-editor for a manuscript that has already been printed and published, I doubt anyone would think to ask me first.

But I honestly cannot see this ever happening.

I do know that BenBella did work on the Sundered books after their first release, to clean up the text and the formatting. At the time, I had no e-reader, and I haven’t actually seen either the formatting/typo ridden versions or their improvements. I have no issues whatsoever with the clean-up; I think there might have been ulcers had I seen the first release.

However having said that, there were readers who were deeply upset at King’s revision of his own book. I understand why. As a reader, I form emotional attachments to the books I read and loved years ago. I will return to them. I love them now.

As a writer I understand the desire to change finished books, I really do. I feel that I’m a better writer than I was when I started out in 1991. (In 1986, to be fair, but the book wasn’t published until 1991). There are sentences, paragraphs and whole scenes that I would like to nuke down to zero and totally rewrite. There are plot threads I would like to flesh out, and plot threads I feel are enormously clunky. I’m allowed to feel that way. I am not the same person as I was in 1986. Or 1991. Or even 1996.

But what I feel about my own writing and what readers feel about it are not the same. I have whole days during the writing of any one of my novels in which I feel like an abject, talentless failure. I conversely have days where I desperately want to be able to immediately send all my readers the scene or scenes I’ve just finished because I feel so certain they will love them. Both extremes are part of the process of writing a novel–at least for me.

What I hope for, at the end of any novel, is that the finished book will speak to my readers; that it will move them, that it will mean something.

But some of the books I would rewrite, revise or alter have already done that. They’ve moved readers. It’s why I still have any of them (readers, I mean). And if I go back and change those early books wholesale, I’m destroying some part of the experience of those readers. I’m effectively saying they’re wrong to love the work, or that they had no taste because the books were so bad they need to be obliterated and totally redone.

I love early books by some authors with an abiding and unreasonable devotion–but I’m aware that their authors, decades later, do not feel any of that same love. At all. Ever. And if one of those authors were to take the books that spoke so strongly to me and demolish them in the service of improving the words, I would feel it to be a tragedy.

So. I do not feel that an author revising their own work is abuse, per se. It’s certainly not illegal. But I still feel that if you wrote the best book you could at the time, it’s better to find the best books you can write Right Now than it is to revisit and change the older works.

The only case in which I feel this would not be true is if you personally feel that you butchered the book because your publisher insisted that it had to be cut by 75k works. In that case, though, I think it would be better if you published a second edition – a clear, distinct “author’s preferred” edition.

I’m not sure if that answers the question, because I’m not entirely certain what you mean by abuse. If it doesn’t, and you elaborate, I’ll do likewise.

In the meantime, how does everyone else feel about the idea?

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