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Baby Got Back(list)

An author’s backlist is her fortune. It’s also her taskmaster. And maintaining it sometimes brings up deep questions that go straight to the heart of storytelling. When it comes to backlist, what do you change? Do you change anything at all? Or is it all sacred and untouchable?

I’m not as prolific as I once was, but I’ve written and published something like 74 stories so far, for several of NY’s major publishers. Then I took a sharp left in 2014 and “went indie.”

Slowly but surely, with my constant vigilance and prodding, the publishers have relinquished the rights to all but about 12 of my books, and it looks as if I’ll live long enough to get those too.

Last summer, Harper Collins reverted rights to my most beloved series, Wings in the Night, a 24-book vampire romance epic, born before vampire romance was even a thing, and I took on the task of re-releasing 24 books in 12 months. So I had a crash course in backlist management.

Here’s what I learned, and how I solved the dilemma of what to change.

Scanners are stupid

If you don’t have the original files (and some of mine would’ve been on floppy disks) the first step in re-launching a previously published novel is to have the book scanned. You can ask the publisher for the electronic file first, as that would be a lot easier since they could drag and drop it into an email to you in about 3.5 seconds.

Go ahead, ask. I’ll wait.

Scanners have to guess at words when the letters are too close together for it to tell for sure. And scanners always guess wrong. They turn your "barns" into "bams," your "burns" are now "bums," and your "faces" have all become "feces." Many instances of the word “the” have transformed themselves into "die," which can really mess with the tone of the tale, and myriad instances of "I" have become "1." Sometimes “I’ll” becomes 111. So that’s fun.

Takeaway: Multiple proofreads are required.

To Change or Not to Change

That is the question. As I went back through these books, I found lots of things I wanted to change, but for the most part, I opted to keep the books pure, even when they waxed a little purple.

You could make a drinking game out of how many times the word “utterly” was peppered throughout the books, and I admit, I cut a few of those. But I also noticed the fun and lovely baby-writer things that I tell other writers not to do today, when I edit for them.

In the vampire romance, everything is…amped up. There’s not a precise word for what I mean. If you press your palms to your chest and grunt as if you’ve been gut-punched by a wrecking ball of emotion—that sound is the best description I can come up with to convey the level of angst in these books.

Instead of using one descriptive word, I tended to use them in threes. His eyes were sparkling, glittering, beaming into hers. (Not a direct quote, but you get the idea.)

There are lots of filter words, too, because it was before I had heard that term or understood what it meant—words that get in between the reader and the story. Everything was almost, practically, virtually, just as if, just about, nearly, all but, anything but, nothing if not, and so on.

Stuff like that, I admit, I cleaned up. I can’t send an ed