Will Digital Backlists Bring “Author’s Cut” Novels?

I was struck by a thought that I can’t quite let go of about traditionally published authors choosing to self-publish digital reissues of their out-of-print books. I think it was a crashing together of that trend with all the speculation about what “extra content” ebooks will start adding to either justify a higher price or entice some of the print holdouts into the digital market.

Specifically, I’m wondering if any of these reissues will be done, not as “published novel plus author notes” or “published novel plus new epilogue” bundles, but rather as the book equivalent of a director’s cut DVD.  And I don’t mean the lame director’s cut that every DVD now has, where it’s like one extra scene just so it can be marketed as something different and worth an extra $10, but the serious director’s cuts that represent a substantively different vision of the film, such as the Bladerunner director’s cut, or the redux of Apocalypse Now.

I would not have wondered this six months ago.  Before I started keeping up with the online communities of authors/agents/editors/self-publishers, I assumed, naively perhaps, that an author wrote a book, their editor made sure it was as tightened as it could be and free of errors, and that the final published version was roughly commensurate with what the author originally wrote and intended the book to be.  In some–maybe even most–cases I’m sure that’s true. But I think there are also plenty of books out there which were changed to please an editor’s aesthetic or a perceived market appeal.  I wonder, do the authors of those books still have their original drafts, the first version that was closest to what they wanted the book to be?  And will those begin to make their way into the world, at last, as digital backlist reissues?

I know of at least one case where a publisher actually published the original version of the novel when it was reissued some 30 years later–Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, which had a rewritten middle section in its originally published (and reprinted till the reissue) form–so it’s hardly beyond the bounds of possibility that many such “compromised second drafts” (as Jeffrey and I like to call them) exist.

Personally, I think the creative freedom now open to authors is absolutely beautiful.  I don’t mean the idea of creative freedom to be an argument against editing, revising, or rewriting a rough draft to better capture the author’s intent. Those things are different from being asked to change part of your book in order to sell it.  I have elements in a couple stories in my To Be Written file that a publishing house editor would probably ask me to remove because they don’t fit the common bounds of romance. If my only avenue for publication was through that editor, I can see the appeal in giving in–otherwise, this story that I had put my heart and soul into writing would never be seen by anyone. I think a lot of writers over the years have given in. I wonder how many regret it? My guess is, many to most.

I hope that all of them get their rights reverted and choose to share their original vision, either as a package with both editions of the book (theatrical cut on one disc, director’s cut on the other bundle style) or as standalone works that are clearly marked as being the author’s original intent.

If any of you know of authors who have done this with their backlist, please let me know. I’m quite curious to see how widespread this kind of editorial bullying really is, and if most authors, after time to forget the work and come back to it almost objectively, agree with the changes or feel they betrayed their own story by giving in.

This is the fifth in a series of articles about the digital revolution in publishing.  I welcome any comments, links, dissension, and, of course, if you liked the perspective please check back for future installments!  I plan to blog about this at least once a week for the next couple months.  Thanks for stopping by! ~Lily 

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10.29.11

I just saw this post at Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog that supports my sense of how much this compromising HAS happened. Now we just have to find the authors who are *actually* pulling out their original visions and putting them up for sale!

http://kriswrites.com/2011/10/26/the-business-rusch-believe-in-yourself/

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