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Update, or uproot?

Almyrigan Hero

With the triumphant rush of finishing and publishing my first novel now well past, I've had plenty of time to look back on what kind of foot I got off on. It was a stumble. I've made no more than 12 sales, that much I'm certain of, and I only have two ratings. Both five stars, both presumably from generous relatives, but I don't even know that for sure because only one left a review. I've got basically no money for advertising (not nearly enough for effective advertising, at least,) and I've been putting off actual review sites by updating, then finagling, then nitpicking my manuscript, and replacing the cover with something a bit more professional. That served as a good distraction, but now with things about as good as my first full book is likely to get, I've found myself just sitting there and staring at the screen, paralyzed from moving ahead by a seemingly infinite progression of 'should I?'s" and "how should I?'s" and "when should I?'s" The good news is, the people I've been able to hand copies off to not only like it well enough, but have reliably listed certain tangible positives (pacing, mystery, well-spaced 'hooks') instead of just saying "uhhh, nice book, cool." I'm confident that it is ready, but this time I want to be a bit more ready.

The first question is, should I just update the manuscript and cover, or should I quietly unpublish, set up a new page for the revision, hold onto it while I get a better game plan set up, and pretend the first publication never happened? On one hand, I'm - as the first paragraph explains - really losing nothing, and it's easily obscure enough that nobody'd notice if they weren't looking. I doubt I'm the only first-time author to get swept up and make these kinds of stumbles. On the other hand though, I'm not sure about the etiquette of doing that, and how obvious the hows, whens, and whys would be. For further context, I'm published through KDP, and it's been up for a bit less than a year. The revisions really don't change the plot, but instead serve mostly to polish up structure and dialogue and dangle just a few more hooks in front of the reader a bit more frequently.

The second question (or set of questions): if I do commit to the 'second edition' route, how should I tackle it?

- Is it better to make it more, or less, obvious that it's a revision of prior work?

- SHOULD I unpublish the first version, or would it be just as well that I sell both?

- Do I bother with pre-orders, and all of that guff, when I'm already starting from more or less the bottom?

- How do you actually handle distributing advanced review copies, and - once again - is it important when people
aren't going to be watching for and anticipating the launch anyway?

Ned Marcus

If you have the money, then a good developmental edit (if you haven't already done this) could help, providing you choose a good editor (usually expensive). Or you could just upload the new ms without any announcement. If the changes are relatively minor (or even if a few of the changes are bigger) then I don't see this as a problem. I don't think there's much point in doing pre-orders unless you already have readers waiting for your book.

Your situation is quite common. Many authors have later re-edited and re-published their first novel.

And first novels seldom sell well, at least at the beginning. It often takes 4, 6, 8 or more books for writers to make money (as in making a living). This is just an observation I've made from speaking to and reading the stories of other writers.

Almyrigan Hero

If you have the money, then a good developmental edit (if you haven't already done this) could help, providing you choose a good editor (usually expensive). Or you could just upload the new ms without any announcement. If the changes are relatively minor (or even if a few of the changes are bigger) then I don't see this as a problem. I don't think there's much point in doing pre-orders unless you already have readers waiting for your book.

Your situation is quite common. Many authors have later re-edited and re-published their first novel.

And first novels seldom sell well, at least at the beginning. It often takes 4, 6, 8 or more books for writers to make money (as in making a living). This is just an observation I've made from speaking to and reading the stories of other writers.

I'm already aware of writing's slow-going nature (and that 10-12 copies isn't even that huge of a letdown, for a first-timer with no connections) but I still feel like I could've handled things way better if I'd 1) Just let the 'final' draft sit on my hard drive a bit longer before publishing, and 2) Not hesitated so long to seek reviews

As for why I'm considering completely starting over with a republish:

- It's a minor change, but funnily enough this is what sparked the whole notion. I wanted to change the title from 'Saebold's Saga: In the Shadow of Two Thrones' to 'Shadow of Two Thrones (Saebold's Saga volume 1)". Thought that had a slightly more modern and professional ring to it, but for whatever reason, despite being able to alter the contents of your publication ad infinitum, Amazon KDP won't let you change the name of your store page.

- Algorithm boost. To my understanding, at least, the algorithm offers new releases a bit of extra exposure. Combine that with perhaps a few favorable to decent advanced reviews, and there's at least a snowball's chance in hell of it attracting a few buys before its rating sinks to the seven-digit depths.

- "Bad positive reviews." That is, as much as I appreciate whichever two people decided they'd like to brighten my day with a minimal-context 5-star rating, in retrospect it does look... y'know... 'kinda sus,' as my fellow humorous zoomers would say, especially considering I have NO other feedback on the page whatsoever. That's not the sort of first impression I want to give, even - heck, especially - to the reviewers and bloggers whose respect I'll rely pretty much entirely on at this early stage.

Ned Marcus

If you want to change the title, then you have to republish as far as I know.

After rushing with some of my earlier stories, I agree about letting them sit for a bit before publishing. I do that now and think it's a good idea.
Congrats on you 12 copies sold. Sounds similar to my two published novels. It's 12 more people who've read your work than before you published.

I would keep it published, update it and just move to the next book.

Firstly, since you published on Amazon, there's no way to completely remove it (at least in the short term). As a service to customers, Amazon keeps out of print novels listed to enable them to be sold second hand. So even if you unpublish I think it would still be listed.

Secondly, you've got reviews. There's only 2 of them, but it's a start. It's 2 more than a republished one would have. Everyone starts somewhere and I feel (some) readers accept this. They'll know the first handful of reviews will likely be positive. Nothing wrong with that. What's even more, if reviews are too obviously from relatives then Amazon removes them.

Also, updating the cover and changing some minor things doesn't mean it is a new edition. Only significant changes in the published work need a new edition.

A for the algorithm boost, yes, recent publications get a bit more love from Amazon then older ones. But there's 2 issues here. The first is that there's still an aweful lot of books published each day. Which means that without doing something different with the release than last time, you will get the same result. Or more likely, an even worse result, since everyone you know who wants a copy has already bought one. And secondly, I have a suspicion that Amazon has taken steps to prevent authors from doing this kind of thing to get an advantage. If we can think of doing so, then it's very likely other people, with less noble ideas have thought of this as well, which means that Amazon has taken steps to prevent this from actually being done or from benefiting the author. They tend to come down pretty hard on people they think are trying to game the system.

So, update this one and just write your next book and see if it does better.

It's also worth looking for cheap ways of promoting your books. The 20booksto50k facebook group has a fair few resources on how to do so. Usually it's a matter of investing time instead of money.


Troglodytic Trouvère
Article Team
Well you've got me beat by 8 sales and 1 review, so I'd say you've done alright :p
I’d just put in your overhauls and keep those 5 stars, they’re on the precious side. The only advantage I can see from unpublishing and starting over is if you plan on hammering book reviewers and bloggers with a “New Release!” or with Advance Review Copies (ARCs) and pleas for them to read it. The newer the book, the more apt they are to take on the read… however you’re an unknown quantity, so the odds are slim anyhow.

Your best bet is beg and plead to get upto 10 or so reviews, and then head for the reasonably priced book promotions like bargainbooksy. Utilize the KDP once every 3 months promo pricing, and hit those little promotions. Also, search Facebook for any groups who allow free promotions posted for indie writers.

EDIT: Title change, you never know, could help. Amazon’s algorithm… don’t get hungup on the mythology surrounding that, aside from the fact it changes. New releases might enjoy extra attention from Amazon’s automated system of what books to include in promotional emails, etc., but rankings themselves are all about moving copies… and in the end, so is the system of what books go into those aforementioned emails. If you want Amazon to pay attention, you need to move books. A friend of mine got a promo that included Eve of Snows over 2 years after its release, when the book was enjoying a push from winning contests. Amazon wants to promote things that make it money, so, you need to convince Amazon you can make them money, LOL.
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Glanced over on Amazon, it shows as paperback only and OOP?

And as a side note, the cover and maybe more so, the Blurb needs work. The Blurb isn’t terrible, but… You need a sales pitch, it reads more like a review. The writing should be tighter and more concise, it’s one of the first impressions your book is going to make. Plus, X parts, this, Y parts that, Z parts another… There is a classic formula pitching a movie… “It’s The Godfather” meets “Alien”! You want specific comparisons, not a vague mish-mash of ideas.

Cover and Blurb, two of the three most important factors in keeping a readers attention long enough that they give the sample pages a chance.

Almyrigan Hero

The cover is actually more or less... covered. Some possible tweaks to coloring and shading aside, I've got some much better art for it now. The blurb - ironically, a short bit of text - is what's currently giving me trouble.

The 'blurbable' premise would be something along the lines of "Christian fantasy goes to war with cosmic horror!" but that's not quite what it is. It isn't technically a 'religious' story, but its moral and philosophical underpinnings are way closer to Tolkien and C.S. Lewis than your typical DND-style fantasy. It also isn't exactly what you'd call Lovecraftian, but what it does is borrow from the aesthetic and focus on a more obscure but pervasive type of evil. More cults, conspiracies and chaos than dark lords with dark towers and dark armies.

Is there some elegant and concise way to condense all of that, or do I just go with the short initial take?
I’d deal more with mid-level details of plot, story, and character than sweeping generalities, leave the shortest take for ads and tag-lines. One of the better bets is to look at blurbs from successful, trad published books. For Eve of Snows I started out with a blurb that read a bit like my query letter, and went through many iterations after looking at many successful indie books, but it was always focused on one character as suggested by the query letter process, until I finally looked at trad published stuff. It being a multi-character Epic, one of the many I looked at was of course, GoT, the Amazon blurb is below. This multi-pronged approach inspired the final Eve of Snows, below GoT. This blurb earned high marks (A or A+) from the Booklife/Publishers Weekly review, and has done well. I ddi many things different, obviously, such as leave out the name dropping. That might be a minor point where I disagree with what they wrote here.

Look at how the marketing pros do it, find inspiration, and rewrite it about a thousand times, heh heh. There are so many things we can’t do/afford that the big names do, including having a marketer write the blurb, but it’s one we can emulate on the cheap.

Winter is coming. Such is the stern motto of House Stark, the northernmost of the fiefdoms that owe allegiance to King Robert Baratheon in far-off King’s Landing. There Eddard Stark of Winterfell rules in Robert’s name. There his family dwells in peace and comfort: his proud wife, Catelyn; his sons Robb, Brandon, and Rickon; his daughters Sansa and Arya; and his bastard son, Jon Snow. Far to the north, behind the towering Wall, lie savage Wildings and worse—unnatural things relegated to myth during the centuries-long summer, but proving all too real and all too deadly in the turning of the season.

Yet a more immediate threat lurks to the south, where Jon Arryn, the Hand of the King, has died under mysterious circumstances. Now Robert is riding north to Winterfell, bringing his queen, the lovely but cold Cersei, his son, the cruel, vainglorious Prince Joffrey, and the queen’s brothers Jaime and Tyrion of the powerful and wealthy House Lannister—the first a swordsman without equal, the second a dwarf whose stunted stature belies a brilliant mind. All are heading for Winterfell and a fateful encounter that will change the course of kingdoms.

Meanwhile, across the Narrow Sea, Prince Viserys, heir of the fallen House Targaryen, which once ruled all of Westeros, schemes to reclaim the throne with an army of barbarian Dothraki—whose loyalty he will purchase in the only coin left to him: his beautiful yet innocent sister, Daenerys.

Five hundred years ago the world shattered, banishing the gods from the Sister Continents and stealing the memories of the mortal peoples in an event known as the Great Forgetting. In seventeen days the stars will align, and a religious cabal will summon the gods back to the realms of men. In the northern tundra priests search the Steaming Lakes, a place tormented by the Wakened Dead. Deep in the mountains, demonic shadows assail priests at a holy shrine. In the south, the clans know something foul is afoot, and dispatch warriors to seek answers, but instead they find horrors.

A young priestess named Eliles stands in the heart of this conspiracy, on her shoulders rest decisions which could prevent a holy war or demonic genocide. Through lies, manipulation, and murder, everyone is on a seventeen day march to fulfill or defy prophecy; the world will end or begin anew, come the Eve of Snows.
The 'blurbable' premise would be something along the lines of "Christian fantasy goes to war with cosmic horror!"
That's not really the blurb, but rather just the tag-line. The blurb is the text you'd find on the back of a paperback telling the reader what the book is about. It's usually somewhere around 150-ish words or so, or 3 paragraphs of text. It's the sales text for the book.

I found Robert J. Ryan's book "Book blurbs unleashed" a nice introduction to writing blurbs.

Almyrigan Hero

Okay, here's the working blurb so far. It could probably be cut down and tactically reworded, but it contains about as many 'essential hooks' as I feel can be included without spoiling much.

A vague plea for help, buried who knew how long ago, in a place only one person could've found. That wasn't among the fantasies Saebold hoped would finally push him off his cold, barren home of Greytide, but by that point knowing someone else awaited his departure was good enough. Preparing swiftly, he departs for a land of color... and arrives in an era of clamour.

From border disputes to monster attacks to a black market for powerful relics, a wearying curtain of doubt suppresses the world. Many a scandal hid beneath it, many a sinner has smoothed and patched it; but now, as the din reaches its peak, the time approaches for all to pay the price. Beneath the commotion, a patient but vengeful idol makes its move. Its silent call reaches the ear of a roguish but influential scientist, and presents an irresistibly simple offer: a way to not only repair the world, but to broaden it beyond all comprehensible scope.

The clock begins to tick, as Saebold grows wise not only to these plans, but to how much he's already interfered in them. He must remain sharp as a knife, but innocent as a child, if he wishes to thwart - to survive - the evil that grows in the shadow of two thrones.



Unless it's the initial book in a series, consider moving on to your next book.

As a writer, by writing and studying and learning, you're going to improve. The book you wrote, by the new skills obtained, could (in theory) be made better. But the time and effort in working on an already published book takes away from the time and effort of the next project.

If the first book is not a complete embarrassment, as some of the comments and reviews you've received seem to indicate, the next book released will be the one of the better avenues of advertisement for the first book. Keep it available. Also, some readers are wary of authors with only one release. Not sure why, maybe they don't want to get hooked and get hopes up of finding a new author, only to be disappointed.

Looking at my first statement in the post, even if the novel in question is the first book in a series, if it's decent, moving on to the next book's completion and publication should be prominent on your radar.