A few months ago, I decided to pull my self-published book from the market. I didn’t like the idea of strangers reading something that had so much of my heart in it. As a creator, it’s often hard to separate myself from my work. In the last few months, I’ve gained more confidence in myself and my work, and I’m proud to say I’ve re-published The Famulus, with a few changes.
The biggest change I made was to some of the names of the characters. Even before I introduced an element of magic to the story, it was always about a character named Aberdeen Scotland. She had two brothers, named Edinburgh Scotland and Yard Scotland (for Scotland Yard, which I felt the need to explain in each of the six books in the series). When I gave it more thought, I realized I was subtly telling readers not to take my book so seriously. “The characters have unusual names; they must be quirky and weird and not at all real, so I shouldn’t judge them too harshly.”
I’m not saying book characters can’t have unusual names, but if a name is going to draw attention to itself, it should serve a purpose. There was no reason for me to give my characters such “Scottish” names. They’re as American as I am.
Aberdeen is still Aberdeen. None of the new names I tried to give her felt right. But the family’s last name is now Oberon. I have no idea where that came from. Ed is still Ed, but it stands for Edwin now, rather than Edinburgh. Yard became Brett, after several failed attempts to rename him, only to discover the new name was too close to someone or something else.
This made a bigger difference in the paperback version than the e-book. I had divided the book into seven sections, a new one each time the POV character changed. The story is told in third person past tense, alternating between Aberdeen and John. Each gets four or five chapters (out of 30) before I switch back to the other. After each section, I would insert a page in the paperback that said “I. John” or “II. Aberdeen” before starting the next chapter on the next odd numbered page.
These section breaks did little but add an extra ten pages to the paperback version. The new paperback book is only 4 pages shorter than the old version because I increased the spacing from 1.15 to 1.25.
Trying to format the e-book with a separate page for each section proved to be a nightmare for me, so the old version would have chapter titles like “Chapter 1 ~ John” and “Chapter 5 ~ Aberdeen.” I decided that if readers couldn’t tell whose point of view the chapter was in, I hadn’t done my job as a writer. I simplified this as well by simply naming each chapter as “Chapter 1” etc.
Kill Your Darlings
As I edited this new version of the book, I titled the file on my computer “Volume 1 KYD,” with KYD standing for Kill Your Darlings. Whenever I’d first heard this famous writing advice, I’d thought it was advising writers to kill off their favorite characters. I’ve since learned it means not to leave something in your story simply because you like it. For me, this was the names.
As I reread the book for the first time since last October, I realized how much I had grown as an author. The book underwent more editing this time than I had expected to do. I cut out a few other passages or lines of description that didn’t serve a purpose. I killed more darlings.
I’m the type of writer whose first drafts are always shorter than the final project. When I first wrote this, I was so excited to pass 70,000 words that I didn’t question whether everything I’d added needed to be there.
My work will never be perfect. However, it won’t do any good to keep it to myself. I believe there’s an audience for my books out there somewhere, and until I find it, at least I love my story and my characters.
For those wondering how making such a huge change after the book had already been published will affect the people who read the first edition: I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who have copies of the first edition, all people I know personally. If any of them are interested in continuing with the series, I will either give them this new version of Volume 1, or I will print personal copies of the rest of the series with the original names in them. I’m seriously considering doing this for myself at least, because that’s the kind of sentimental person I am. I might have killed my darlings, but I can bring them back as ghosts.
This is why I self-publish. 😉