When a mistake is (maybe) not a mistake (Brenda Hiatt)

 One of the beauties of e-publishing is the opportunity to fix mistakes after a book is already published. That wasn’t a luxury afforded to authors back in the day of print-only, traditional-only publishing. Once a book was in print, it was done. Period. Written in stone.

For that reason, once a book of mine was published, I made it a policy never to read it again. Because I knew I’d find things I should have done better, maybe even typos and other mistakes that had made it past all the edits and proofreads. If I saw them now, they’d drive me nuts because I couldn’t fix them. I’d feel like I had to apologize for them to readers. So…I just didn’t look. Though cowardly, it was a solid, sanity-saving strategy. 


Then the ebook revolution occurred. First with small, e-only publishers putting out new (mostly erotic) books for obscure e-reading devices. But when Amazon’s Kindle arrived on the scene, the whole publishing landscape changed. For the first time, authors had a viable avenue to publish their own books and make a profit almost from day one. At that point, lots of traditionally-published authors (myself included) started working to get rights back to their earlier books. Over time, I managed to claw back virtually all of mine.


Some were fairly easy to e-publish once I had the rights, though I had to learn the ropes—get new covers made, figure out how to format and upload, etc. But those first books I received back were actually my more recent releases, due to slightly more generous reversion clauses (that I negotiated) in the original contracts. Even better, I still had digital files for those books, making the formatting and uploading a (relative) piece of cake. 


Then I started getting rights back to my very earliest books. Those were so old that my only digital files were on ancient floppy disks that turned out to be unreadable even when I took them to experts. I ended up having those books scanned, after which I had to painstakingly go through them to correct the inevitable scanning errors.


Unfortunately, I discovered scanning errors weren’t the worst of it. Not even close! No, the horror was discovering, after all these years, how many stupid beginner mistakes I’d made in the actual writing of those books. The head-hopping! The cliches! I writhed with embarrassment thinking about all the readers who’d suffered through my fumbling early attempts. I did my best to fix the most egregious errors, with the benefit of many more years’ writing experience. But some, like the rapid-fire viewpoint shifts, proved impossible to change without massive rewrites. Finally, figuring hardly anyone would read those old things anyway, I simply republished with a lot of those original flaws still intact.


And guess what? Those earliest books became some of my best ebook sellers. Why? Who knows? But it demonstrated that craft issues which might seem hugely important to writers may not matter at all to readers. I wrote those books when I was still learning, when my enthusiasm for storytelling was still at its exuberant peak. Maybe that’s what spoke—still speaks—to readers? Whatever, it was a good lesson in not overthinking when looking back at early “mistakes.” 


It’s just possible some of them weren’t mistakes after all. 


Brenda Hiatt is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of twenty-four novels (so far), including sweet and spicy historical romance, time travel romance and, with her Starstruck series, young adult science fiction romance. 


  1. That's fascinating! I love indie publishing--it teaches a writer so much about how readers READ.

  2. Very true, Holly! It's been eye-opening.


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