Treat Your Digital Fiction Like Software

How You Can Constantly Improve Your Indie-Published Work

When traditional publishing ruled, once a book was printed, it was set in stone. That’s why they employed editors and copy editors to improve the story and ferret out all the mistakes: once the book was typeset and thousands of copies printed, it couldn’t be corrected. But we’re in the digital age now.

If you’re an indie author, you’re responsible for everything: the writing, the formatting, the editing, the publishing, and the marketing. It’s hard to guarantee perfection at every step. The good thing is, nothing’s set in stone. In today’s publishing world your books are tantamount to software. If you didn’t get it right the first time, there’s always version 2.0.

At one point I debated whether this was ethical. After my initial release of a book, should I change it? I was still recovering from the bircks-and-mortar bookstore/paper tome/traditional publishing paradigm. Now I think, If you know it needs to be corrected or can be improved, can you ethically not give your readers the best product you’re capable of providing?

If you discover you need to make corrections to a work already published, you can do so and simply upload a new version to your favorite sales portal. Along with the power of having your own digital Gutenberg comes great responsibility.
Digital book 2.0
As a technical writer 25+ years in the software industry, I adhered to this principle in the millions of pages of documentation I wrote and published: If it needs fixed, whatever the reason, fix it and republish ASAP.

Going the extra mile is in your favor. If you get a less than spectacular review and the reader complains about something you can change, do so as quickly as possible to prevent others from jumping on the bandwagon. For instance, if a number of reviewers (precious few nowadays) bitch about how much they hated the ending, REWRITE IT.

Like the in-house Quality Assurance department, your beta readers don’t always catch everything before you publish. Once your work is in the hands of the public, you become Helpdesk and Support Services, fielding complaints and logging issues for product improvement. Your product.

I’m not advocating changing your fiction at the whims of your readership. If you made a decision that you know is right for your story, stick with it. Yet if it concerns some other issue you can rectify, do so. Reminder: it pays to take your time and ensure you’re putting your best out there the first time.

Sure, some readers will always own 1.0. These are the breaks. But some of your readers getting an improved pub is better than all of them getting version 1.0 with all its bugs. It’s just not necessary with digital texts.

Amazon lets you notify readers that a new version is available. I did this once for a classic I had republished because an OCR scanning error turned into a factual error that I didn’t catch. I don’t recommend you do this unless absolutely necessary. Especially with fiction, once it’s read, it’s read.

But if you get a chance to improve your published work—whether it’s to correct typos, smooth out a scene, fill in a plot hole, or post a new cover—by all means, do it. Constant improvement is the professional stepstool to greater sales.

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E-pubber Advice: Review on Your E-reader

When you’re an independent author or self-publisher, you get to wear all the hats and do all the work, so any advantage is a plus. Here’s a terrific tip to help polish your work for e-readers.

You’re in Charge

I’m a big believer in self-editing. Even if you submit your work to a traditional publisher, you can’t count on a quality in-house edit. So it’s up to you.

Reformat for a Fresh Perspective

I write my manuscripts using Microsoft Word with a template I’ve devised especially for fiction, but I do most of my editing on paper. When I get to the point where I’m ready to publish my work (or submit it to an editor), I import my manuscript to Adobe FrameMaker to format it like an actual book. Then I print it again and do another edit.

It’s amazing how changing the format will help you spot improvements to make that you didn’t catch previously.

You don’t need to import your work to another program to take advantage of this trick. Simply make a copy of your manuscript file and either attach another template with different formats, or select all the text and change the font.

E-format for a Fresher Perspective

Now that I’m publishing for e-readers, in addition to reformatting my printouts for editing, I now send my final manuscripts to my Kindle for a last edit. I urge you to do this if you want to give your work the ultimate spit-polish.
Kindle E-reader

You can send a Word file to your Kindle email account, but the file converted and sent to your device may still look like a manuscript, and you don’t want that. I recommend converting your manuscript to a MOBI file (or EPUB for Nook) using a conversion program such as Calibre.

I save my Word manuscript as Filtered HTML, drop the HTML file into Calibre, and then convert it to MOBI. I send the MOBI file to my Kindle email address and then sync my device to download it.

E-dit on Your Device

On my Kindle, I review the manuscript one final time. I’m always surprised at what I find. Things I’ve read a dozen times on paper suddenly stick out like a sore prehensile digit. The need for shorter paragraphs becomes evident.

I use the notes feature to make comments and corrections. When I’m finished, I copy the MyClippings.txt file from my device to my PC and then consult the entries there to search my Word manuscript file, where I make the final corrections.

As I said previously, I urge you to try this out and see what a difference it makes in your published e-books. It’s a step you won’t regret.

If you found this article helpful, please share it with others. And if you have any questions or tips of your own along this line, please leave a comment. Happy e-diting!