When Tweaking isn’t enough!

IMG_1436By Mary Jo

Today I'm happy to have my long-time friend and fellow cat lover Kathy Lynn Emerson here to talk about making an old book new again, and why she's done that in this case.  It's a delicious insight into how authors think, and why we do the things we do.  As for the cats, note the author photo, plus the candid snap below of Kathy and kitty napping together. <G>

First, about Kathy:  Kathy Lynn Emerson (aka Kaitlyn Dunnett and Kate Emerson) has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published others. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. In 2023 she won the Lea Wait Award for "excellence and achievement" as a Maine writer from the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. She is currently working on creating new omnibus e-book editions of her backlist titles. Her website is www.KathyLynnEmerson.com.


Tweaking—'Twas Not Enough!

by Kathy Lynn Emerson

I have written a new historical novel. Sort of. Death of an Intelligence Gatherer was released on Wednesday in e-book and print-on-demand trade paperback formats. But this is a book with a long history and how it got to this point is a complicated story in itself.

The original 1989 version, like this newest incarnation, was a murder mystery set in England and on the continent in 1553-4, when Mary Tudor's succession to the throne forced prominent English Protestants (known to history as the Marian Exiles) to flee their homeland for the duration of her reign and left her younger sister and heiress presumptive, Elizabeth, in considerable danger back in England.

MycondoNeedless to say, this situation bred numerous conspiracies and attempts at rebellion. My mystery dealt with the determination of a young gentlewoman named Cordell to discover who murdered her father and see that person brought to justice. At the same time, she is committed to carrying back to England information he gathered while they were in exile in Strasbourg. There were both romance and political intrigue subplots and I used multiple point-of-view characters to tell the story. Sadly, it also garnered multiple rejection letters.

Then serendipity stepped in. While attending a mystery conference, I reconnected with an editor I had worked with at Silhouette. It Death of an Intellegence Gatherer coverturned out that she had been at St. Martin's when my manuscript was submitted there and she had wanted to buy it but had been overruled by a senior editor. She asked if it had found a home and when I told her it had not, she suggested that if I were to heighten the romance elements and add 30,000 words, she could buy it for Harper Monogram, a new imprint for which she had just become an acquiring editor. I did, she did, and Winter Tapestry was published in 1991 with "historical romance" on the spine and "a romantic adventure in Tudor England" in the cover copy.

To me, it was still a murder mystery at its heart. In fact, it was the prototype for my long-running Face Down mystery series. Cordell has a lot in common with Susanna, my "Elizabethan gentlewoman, herbalist, and sleuth." But I digress.

After the rights reverted to me, I tinkered with the text a bit to put back a couple of things that had been cut from the romance version and published the result as an e-book through Belgrave House. Until 2022, busy writing other things under several names, I pretty much forgot all about Winter Tapestry. 

Then came Covid and I started Indy publishing backlist titles and a few new ones. I created omnibus e-book editions of two of my mystery series. The plan was to do the same with three novels Harper Monogram published as historical romance. All three contained murder and intrigue as well as romance and all three were set in Tudor England. I intended to do no more than proofread and tweak here and there. Back in the 1990s, I thought using 'tis and 'twas gave my dialogue the "flavor" of the times. These days, I find pseudo-Shakespeare-speak annoying. I'd already eliminated most of it from my omnibus editions and planned to follow suit with this one.

And that's where things went wrong. By the time I got to Chapter Two of Winter Tapestry, I had a head full of ideas for making it better, especially if I kept the focus more firmly on the murder mystery. The Harper version isn't awful, but thirty-plus years of writing mysteries has taught me a few things!

The biggie—shifting from multiple points of view to just one—turned out to be relatively easy. Many of the scenes I'd written without Cordell in them weren't really crucial to the story. In those where she was present but I was in someone else's head, shifting to revealing only what Cordell saw and heard (and interpreted, although not always correctly) heightened the suspense and kept the plot moving along.

NappingI did get rid of all those instances of 'tis and 'twas and the like. I also had to get rid of general wordiness, the occasional information dump, and (to my horror) a few cases of head-hopping. I wrote some new material—the first new writing I've done since before Covid. Some of that was to start the story earlier, showing scenes in their proper sequence that had only been referred back to in Winter Tapestry.

Some real historical figures appear in the novel. In some cases, I know more about those people now than I did in 1989, so I had a few corrections to make. And the wholly fictional characters? A lot of them now have different names. The old ones just didn't seem to fit. Cordell's sister, for example, was named Honor in the original version. I changed it to Eleanor. Helpful hint: if you use the "find and replace" function to change a name, make sure you don’t end up, as I did (briefly) with a reference to Lady Jane Grey's maids of Eleanor!

Death of an Intelligence Gatherer is a "substantially rewritten" version of Winter Tapestry. Since the basic plot, subplots, characters, and settings are the same, the result isn't something I could sell to a traditional publisher as a new book, but I could self-publish it as one (with the appropriate author's note at the end).

What I'd be interested to hear from readers of this blog is what you think of the practice of decades-old novels being updated and improved by their authors. How much has to be changed for you to consider it a "new" book? And even if you remember reading the original, would you give the revised version a shot?

Mary Jo here: Kathy will give a free print copy of the book to one person who comments on this blog by midnight Saturday.  (US only.) She has a Death of an Intellegence Gatherer coververy scientific method for doing this:

My usual way to pick a winner is to number the comments and toss numbered post-its onto the floor for the cat. The first one she pounces on is the winner. Most of the time she cooperates!

Mary Jo, thinking she should try this!

22 thoughts on “When Tweaking isn’t enough!”

  1. I would like to know ahead of time, i.e. before buying it, that the book is a rewrite of an old title. That way, if I didn’t like the book the first time, I wouldn’t buy it again…I can’t buy everything!

  2. I do like the rewritten ones. The author’s writing has usually matured, the book/plot is more complex. And as you said you have more information about the historical characters. Some of the old ones are really”bodice rippers”. The newer versions are more nuanced and complex.

  3. For me it depends on the quality of the writing. If the revision was done to correct errors, I’m okay with that, but if it was done to change the mood or simplify the language or content, then I find that offensive. When the language is changed and modernized I think the feeling of being transported to another world, another time is lost. When the content is altered to fit the attitudes and prejudices of the present day, I think the work loses authenticity. It often loses its energy and passion as well.
    If there’s an original and a rewritten version of a novel, it’s usually the original version that I’ve kept.

  4. Tell me up front! I’d like to see a reference on the cover, in small but not minuscule type. In this case, where so much has changed: “A mystery based on the historical romance Winter Tapestry” There may be better ways of putting it, but I could be drawn by this wording in one or more ways. If not on the cover, then in a Foreword (not an Author’s Note at the end), but an alert on the cover (even the back cover) would work best.

  5. I hope that’s true of this one. I’m definitely a better writer than I was in the 1980s and 90s! Some of what was in the old version now struck me as filler, rather than text that advanced the plot. Nothing was lost by cutting it.

  6. In general, I agree, although I haven’t read enough revised versions of old novels to judge how I feel about them. In the case of this book, I think I enhanced what was already there rather than changing it, but readers will have to decide. An ebook version of the original is still available, so anyone who wants to compare can have fun picking out what’s different and whether or not it’s an improvement.

  7. Since I did put it in the author note, it’s too late to change that, although I understand your reasoning. To be honest, the main reason I didn’t mention that it’s an updated version of WINTER TAPESTRY in the introduction is that Amazon has a nasty habit of blocking Kindle versions of Indy books they think already exist, especially if they find a pirated version somewhere that violates their available-elsewhere-for-free rule. I’ve had this happen with reissues of two of my children’s books and with my updated edition of HOW TO WRITE KILLER HISTORICAL MYSTERIES, so I wasn’t willing to take any chances.

  8. I think a lot depends on how long ago the original was published. Unless it is a book I have reread recently, I know that I will not remember the details of a book I read 20+ years ago. Therefore, if it is an author I admire, I will trust that the author has rewritten the story to improve it.

  9. What a fascinating post, Kathy; thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us.
    I have no objection to rewritten versions of books being made available, Kathy, though (as others have already mentioned) I’d like to know that information before buying the book. My temptation would be to read them both to see how they differ!
    Mary Jo, do you see your experience with ‘The Rake and the Reformer’ and ‘The Rake’ in a similar light? I enjoyed both of them at different times.

  10. I am very interested in reading this new book-I never read the original. I’ve enjoyed some rewritten and expanded works, like MJP’s “The Rake”.

  11. Great question, Kareni! The circumstances were different for my rewrites. My publisher, NAL, liked my sales figures so they were happy to have my rewrite several of my traditional Signet Regencies as historicals, meaning longer and more sensual. (I think I redid five of my Signet Regencies as historicals.)
    Like Kathy removing her ’tis and ’twas’s, when I did the revising I took out some of the Regencisms and tightened some of the writing. The characters and the plots didn’t change, but I did develop some story threads more. Traditional Regencies often used omniscient points of view, and again, I narrowed that down to stricter POVs.
    The Rake and the Reformer is interesting because when I rewrote it, it actually ended up being a little shorter in THE RAKE version because of tightening my sometimes excessive verbiage. The original version was long because it was published as Super Regency so it could spare some words. *G* In most cases, I don’t think most readers would notice a difference unless they were reading both versions side by side.

  12. One of my fav authors, Elizabeth Lowell/Ann Maxwell rewrote some of her romances from the 80’s & they were released under new titles in hardcover & nothing saying in the first couple (at least) that they were rewrites. I found them in the store, no way to check, bought because, hey! EL stories! Hooray! Then reading them & realizing I’d read them before, but slightly different. They were good but the originals were fine for me & there wasn’t enough difference in some of them to justify hardcover cost. After the first couple, I started checking before buying. Fires of Eden (Hawaii volcano & drumming/dancing); Summer Games (1984 Olympics & horse competition); Danvers Touch (photographer & sailboat designer) are ones that immediately come to mind.
    I have the original pbk copies as well as the more recent (originals aren’t available in ebk format) and will hold onto the pbks as long as possible. But I read the ebk formats as well. And now I have a terrible urge to go open an EL story…oh I miss her coming out with new titles!

  13. I synpathize. I’ve done the same thing–bought a “new” book and then realized I’d read it before. Another place authors can let readers know it’s an old title is the copyright page, but that only helps if we check the copyright before buying ANY book. I’m not sure what the solution is, other than the suggestion Mary M gave in her comment: put the fact that it’s a new version of an old book right on the cover.

  14. Kathy, the problem with depending on the copyright page, besides, who looks at it for the most part–I’m a retired librarian & I rarely look at that page!–but ebook releases of older titles rarely show the original release date of the title. Instead, they list the release date for the ebk format copy. Does the same in the Amazon listings usually.
    So anymore, I rely on a website like Fantastic Fiction, where I can check the publishing info for the author. Not perfect, I’ve had a couple times where titles weren’t listed under an author but for the most part, it’s quite a tool to have available!
    I agree, love the idea of the notice on the front cover–except people walk right by signs telling them something & go ask about it at the front desk. We just aren’t very observant–bit scary when I think about the driving public. Ah well, humans! What can you do?

  15. Yes, I would give the revised book a shot again but only if it was a story worth re-reading.This book sounds interesting and I would read it!


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