Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Is A Book Ever Finished?

The poet, Paul Valéry, said, “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.”

But, what about a book of fiction?

Many authors will admit that they wish they’d done things a bit differently in their already-published books and, at times, a second or revised edition is produced.

But what if an author could change the first edition without readers knowing?

With digital publications, this is a possibility

Does it matter that a certain set of readers have one ending to a story and a latter group have a slightly different ending?

Cleaning up typos is one thing—is changing the meaning of a passage or chapter somehow wrong?

I published a novel in May and immediately read a print copy—realized some things could be changed—decided to leave it as it was published

However, Bethanie Blanchard, a writer for the Australian publication Crikey, has a recent article called, E-publishing and the dangers of malleability.

In that article, she says:

“Taken to its logical conclusion, if it became the norm for authors to endlessly revise their novels with no announcement in the (apparently) same edition, reviewing would become redundant. Why spend all your time reading a novel and carefully crafting an analysis when the text could change at any time? For authors desperate to have their works reviewed, the whole thing seems counter-intuitive.”

And the readers? Is it fair to alter a text behind the scenes, change the thrust of a story, create a readership that could be considered divided into various camps that aren’t clearly aware of their different experiences?

Would it be fair to have one reader, having seen the protagonist hide in a store while his girlfriend walked by with another man, get into an argument with another reader who’d seen that protagonist decide to confront his girlfriend openly (even though the man is the woman’s brother)?

When does a book stop being written?

What are the responsibilities of an author to their readership?

Another quote from Blanchard:

“The importance of books, essays, commentary – whatever their topic or form – is in their status as time capsules. They show us how far we’ve developed, how our thinking has changed and attitudes evolved. To alter texts to suit the current moment is to find ourselves trapped in the perpetual present. Though I don’t think this will be…the ‘future of books’, it’s an interesting reminder of the dangers of covert malleability for online and e-book publishing.”

What are your thoughts and feelings on this issue?
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7 responses to “Is A Book Ever Finished?

  1. grahamwhittaker January 20, 2012 at 10:54 pm

    Perhaps a book is never finished. However, constant rewriting and editing can destroy a book simply because the author is not satisfied. Many authors cannot even bring themselves to give up their baby, ending up with a million words that never see the light of day because the author can never be satisfied. Let’s take a quick look at Stig Larsson. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo stands alone, but coupled with The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest we become aware that this is in fact a single uninterrupted story. There have been instances of Amazon actually rewriting or censoring books you have already bought and downloaded. Great novels like Orwell’s 1984 being an example. They reserved the right to actually interfere with any work they want. (Sorry, we won’t do it again.) In that, and other cases books purchased and downloaded to your kindle were actually ‘censored’ AFTER you had purchased it. There is also the matter of cross media translation. “Pretty Woman” as a novel had a tragic ending. After pre-release screening the distributors decided that the audience were unhappy with it, so they changed the ending to make everyone happy. I’m wandering off-topic but there are so many complexities to the question. I have romance writing friends who write one book, and then using spinning software and rewrites, can churn out an infinite number of titles. One story, twenty books, formula 50,000 words, 13 chapters and a “format’ to follow. In conclusion I think it is wrong and unethical for authors to interfere with a work they have published except for minor errors. I think Alexander you have defined a minefield here. Thank you!


  2. Alexander M Zoltai January 20, 2012 at 11:22 pm


    I’d heard of Amazon deleting books one had purchased but it’s news to me about the “editing”

    Interesting that you consider a covert edit to a published ebook “unethical”—I’m not agreeing or disagreeing, it’s just interesting

    A “minefield”, eh? We shall see :-)


  3. Lynn Biederstadt January 21, 2012 at 2:49 am

    This is a difficult question for me…especially as an inveterate reviser. In fact, I wanted to revise my first published book so much that I nearly stopped talking about it altogether. As to whether revision is “fair” to reviewers, I can’t say…but full disclosure for major revisions seems respectful to readers and critics alike.


  4. Shari Green January 24, 2012 at 12:06 am

    I can see the temptation to perpetually tweak, but honestly I think it’s not healthy, lol. Authors need to let go. Take the time BEFORE publication to revise, revise, revise, get beta readers, and revise again, making sure you’re putting your very best work out there, and then… let go. Once that story is out in the world, it belongs to the readers — time for the author to move on and tell the next story! Just my two cents…. ;)


  5. Pingback: Cleaning Out The Closet ~ for Readers, Writers, and Publishers « Notes from An Alien

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