Revising a book that you’ve already published isn’t just fixing typos; that’s a proofread. Revising a book is a complete re-evaluation of the material, which may result in some sections changing, some remaining the same or perhaps a line edit if the prose in general needs improving. Revising a book you’ve already published can be a huge job and it’s probably not a particularly inspiring task. I’m inspired by new ideas, not old ones, so I wouldn’t revise a book unless I considered it truly necessary.
When to consider revising:
- The book is non-fiction, you’re an expert in the field, and some of the material in the book is now out of date or incomplete;
- When new developments in a field change the context;
- When it’s come to your notice that the editing in the book isn’t up to standard;
- When you see the flaws in a book and realise that you could write it so much better now.
Factors that affect your decision
- Is the book fiction or non-fiction? Keeping information up to date is very important for non-fiction, especially if you want to be seen as an expert in your field;
- Is the book selling well? The more a book sells, the more important it is to update it, particularly if it’s non-fiction;
- Would the revision allow you to promote the book again in a way that will lead to more sales?
- Is there anything in the book that might be harmful or misleading to the reader?
- Is there anything in the book that might reflect poorly on you or misrepresent you as you are now?
- Would it be considered a new edition? If so, it will need a new ISBN and a new product page, so you’ll lose all your reviews. This is a good thing if the reviews are poor, of course, but you have to be prepared to promote the book from scratch again. For a non-fiction book, this isn’t a reason not to revise, but for a fiction book with many excellent reviews, it would be advisable not to do such a major revision that you’d have to call it a new edition.
How much change makes it a new edition?
- Substantial changes in content that might make a customer complain that it wasn’t the product they expected;
- Changes to add a new feature, such as a preface or appendix or additional content;
- Revised content;
- Redesign of the book;
- Updates or changes to the text;
- Release in a new format, such as paperback vs hardcover.
The key thing here is the word ‘substantial’. A comprehensive line edit wouldn’t be a new edition, for instance, even with a couple of chapter deletions, because the material itself isn’t being changed, just the prose improved.
A new cover isn’t a new edition, neither are changes at the level of sentences or paragraphs.
The description of a change as substantial is a subjective determination, so there is some leeway here. You could even add a chapter without significantly changing the overall content of the book.
Why I revised How to Meditate Easily, Effectively & Deeply
If you’re rather listen to this story than read it, I tell the story in this video.
How to Meditate Easily Effectively & Deeply is a slim book on – you guessed it – meditation. I published it in 2016 before (in 2017) I realised that my main meditation teacher, Sogyal Rinpoche, was abusing his close students. When I found out I immediately withdrew the book from sale and had no plans to revisit it again. The meditation instructions hadn’t changed, but the context in which I wrote the book had changed dramatically, and that subtly affected the way I wrote. Removing it from sale was the easiest option, especially given that I didn’t want to revisit it while I was recovering from my shock and supporting others through their cult recovery process – as documented in my book Fallout: Recovering from Abuse in Tibetan Buddhism. And it wasn’t a big seller either.
In late 2023, I realised that the book’s essential guidance on meditation to the deepest level was still highly valuable and important for the modern world, and I felt called to revise it. All it needed really, I figured, was re-contextualising and the removal of anything that cast my flawed (and now -deceased) teacher in an unrealistic light. I did, however, add a couple of paragraphs of background to the revision, an additional guided-practice chapter, and part of a chapter that was in the original book, but that I’d taken out after a senior teacher in the group I was in said that I ‘should not’ share those teachings. (Yeah, I know, stupid, right? I should never have listened to her in the first place.)
Anyway, those changes were on the edge of it being a new edition. Was it or not? Since I’m also the book’s publisher, I got to make the call, and I didn’t want to have to make it a new edition – the thought of trying to get reviews from scratch again was too much for me. So I haven’t called it a new edition. On the product page on Amazon, I say that the book was revised in 2023, but it’s the same ISBN, so same product page. Different cover, of course.
An alternative to revision
An alternative to revising a book is to unpublish it – as I did with How to Meditate Easily Effectively & Deeply initially. You can always republish it later, as I have. This is a viable option if the book isn’t selling, if bad reviews on it reflect poorly on your most recent work, if the book needs more work than potential increased sales warrant, or if you know it’s not a good book as it is or it’s no longer relevant, but you just can’t face revising it.
There’s a lot of factors to take into account when considering revising an already published book, and your decision will be highly dependent on how much revision is needed, how much time you have for the task, what is the most important factor to you, and, of course, the costs involved. The question of whether it was financially advantageous for me to revise my book on meditation didn’t come into it. For me the important consideration was that the book needed to be available in order for me to feel that I was (potentially at least) bringing benefit to people. That was, after all, the whole purpose behind writing the book in the first place.
I hope you’ll take a look at the book. My husband (who would normally never consider reading a book on meditation and who rarely says anything positive about anything) is actually reading it, and he said it was a ‘really good book. Easy to read, enjoyable, and with excellent guided meditations.’
Fine praise coming from him.
Do you have a published book you’ve considered revising? Did you do it? Why or why not?
Enjoy this video of the author at work!