A Do-Over Dilemma

by Miko Johnston

If you had your life to live over, would you change it in any way? And assuming the answer is yes, how – or more to the point,  how much – would you change it?

For me that’s not a philosophical question. I actually have the opportunity to change an entire life, only it isn’t mine. It’s my characters’.

When CAB, the publisher of my first three books, ceased operations, the rights reverted to me. I was fortunate to find a new publisher to accept all four books and after some consideration, decided to focus on getting the new book published before reissuing the previously issued novels.

I received my original publishing contract on July 4, 2014 for the first two books of the series, already completed, and first right of refusal for the next two. Six years later to the day, my new publisher notified me that proof copies for A Petal In The Wind 4 were on order. While I wait, I’m preparing the earlier three books.

I knew of two mistakes in the series that needed correcting: an engagement ring that mysteriously wound up on a different finger and a currency that wasn’t in use at the time the book took place. I felt certain I would also find some spelling, grammatical, and punctuation errors as I reread each book in order, which I did and noted for correcting. I also found something I didn’t consider – signs of an inexperienced writer.

If you’ve read this blog over time, you may recall me saying my writing has matured along with my character Lala, and that statement became abundantly clear as I returned to my earlier works.

As a novice working on my first book, I lacked confidence in my writing and kept many aspects simple. I didn’t understand how to show the passage of time, other than having the characters go to bed one night and wake up the next morning. The idea of carrying a story over weeks, let alone years, felt too complicated, so my first book takes place in the course of a week and has a linear plotline. Very few scenes have more than three characters interacting, and I kept the language simple. One reader, who gave me my worst review ever (two stars), said, “The book reads like it was written by a child.” My protagonist was a child, “almost eight”, so I relied on subtext to convey some plot points. I will admit I found some of it overly dramatic.

By the second book, I felt able to carry the main story over the course of several months and comfortably handle scenes with four or more characters. In it, Lala is a young woman who’s about to experience romantic love for the first time. My reaction was similar to the first book – very dramatic, perhaps overly so. If I were writing it today, I would have been more subtle, but does the heightened drama and verbal hand-wringing reflect the character, even if it no longer reflects my writing?

Now I’m faced with a dilemma similar to what Lala faced in that book, when a ruse she devises backfires and she finds herself trapped. She observes what she fears most “…hadn’t taken place—yet. It could be stopped. She could stop it.” Ultimately she does.

What about me? Should I correct the mistakes and leave the rest as is, or make changes to the book to reflect the writer I am today? I can do it, but it doesn’t mean I ought to.

Have you found yourself in a similar situation? What did you do? What would you advise me to do?

What will I choose to do? Keep posted.

Miko Johnston, a founding member of The Writers in Residence, is the author of the historical fiction saga A PETAL IN THE WIND, as well as a contributor to anthologies, including “LAst Exit to Murder” and the soon-to-be-released “Whidbey Landmarks.”

The fourth book in her series is available now.

Miko lives in Washington (the big one) with her rocket scientist husband. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

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8 thoughts on “A Do-Over Dilemma”

  1. Hi Miko,
    A dilemma indeed and one that I faced with one of my mysteries. After it was published on amazon and I ordered copies I discovered to my horror that two of the chapters began with the same paragraph. It was the editor’s fault, which she freely admitted and apologized for, and she instantly pulled the book, we fixed it, and it went up again on amazon. I think authors should always make the corrections if possible, and I’m sure your publisher would agree. How fortunate you are to have the opportunity to do so. Thanks for sharing.
    jill

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  2. What happened to you is not uncommon. My newest book is on hold as I found several errors in the proof, including one that must have occurred in printing, and I know of another writer…well, I’ll let her tell the story.

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  3. Interesting dilemma. If there are problems like that in any of my books, I fortunately don’t know of them! Will be interested in hearing what you do.

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  4. Hard decision(s), Miko, especially given your great expansive saga. For me, I don’t go back and fix anything. Done is done. I’m sure authors like Agatha and Ngaio had mishaps…but I’ve never heard about? Hmmm…
    Congrats on a new publisher, and much success!!

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  5. With all the changes in publishing, I doubt I’m the only writer who has been in this situation. It makes me wonder how other writers treated the opportunity to make changes to their manuscript, even if only to correct those typos or misspelled words. Thanks, Madeline.

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  6. As for me, I would make the changes because I want the reader to get the most out of my books and if I can update or just correct a few spelling errors, I would do it. I did update one of my books but that was because the edition that came out wasn’t the newest version. I actually don’t know if I inadvertently chose an older version or somehow Amazon kept the prior version that I had used as my galley copy as my finished version. But I changed it. People polish silver to keep it shiny, why not our books?

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  7. So agree, Gayle, which is why I decided to do just that. The mistakes will be corrected, and I will change a few words that weren’t precise enough to make the thoughts and deeds of the characters much clearer.

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