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SPQ 059: Updating a Book: Can You “Fix” a Traditionally Published Book Full of Mistakes?

Written by Steve Scott on March 20, 2015. Listen to SPQ: iTunes | Stitcher | RSS Feed
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old typewriter, a pile of books and a lot of creativity!

The Question

Marcella of The Writer’s Monthly Review magazine asks: My book hit the stands in March 2014; it was full of typos and mistakes, labeling me as unprofessional and sloppy. I wish I could pull it from the market, but I signed a five-year contract with the publisher. With the last proofing, they apparently didn’t fix the typos and other mistakes. What can I do about it? I have all but quit marketing it because of all the typos—not one, but many. If I saw the mistakes immediately, so will my readers.

Biggest Takeaway

Steve’s Answer

Marcella is in a tough situation because she worked hard on her book, but she doesn’t have the creative control necessary to update it. This is why Steve doesn’t really like dealing with traditional publishing companies. You lose the ability to control how you present and market your book.

His only experience with traditional publishers is with foreign-rights translations, so take these recommendations with a grain of salt. He is used to running his business on his terms, so he does have some advice.

  1. Talk to the publisher. Explain, in detail, how all the errors negatively impact your brand. The company might be willing to pay for another edit.

Offer to pay for your own edits. Yes, this is a financial investment, but it might be necessary if the book is damaging your reputation.

Buy out or opt out of your contract. Most contracts are very strict, and traditional publishing companies would rather lose an author instead of giving up the rights to a book. If this is a small publishing company, you might be able to explain that you’d rather market the book on your own. You might have to pay to get your rights back, but it might be worth it.

It doesn’t sound like this company is holding up their end of the bargain, so hopefully Marcella doesn’t have any other contracts with them.

  1. Distance yourself from the book.

If talking to your editor doesn’t work, stop promoting the book or mentioning it on your blog. You shouldn’t be obligated to promote the book if your publisher isn’t holding up their end of the bargain.

  1. Let it go and move on.

It sounds like Marcella is wasting a lot of emotional energy on this book. It’s hard to see that a book isn’t doing as well as it could, especially if it contains small mistakes that could have been fixed early on. Steve has gotten bad reviews, but he’s still been able to run a book-based business. Try to see it as a lesson learned and then move forward.

Don’t deal with this company again. It sounds like they aren’t helping at all. Steve says it’s probably not worth it to be traditionally published unless the publisher can help you build your brand or sell a lot of books. You can do a lot of marketing on your own, so start thinking like a publisher.

You can hire a team of people to help you with your books. Find people to design your covers, edit and proofread content, and format your book for all the major digital platforms. You can even hire one team to do all of these things. Steve works with Archangel Ink on several publishing tasks.

This might be a blessing in disguise for Marcella. No publisher cares about your books like you do, so this is a good time to take control over your business instead of putting your success in the hands of other people. You might even make more money!

Resources and Links

The Writer’s Monthly Review: Find news and inspiration for writers in all genres

Archangel Ink: Formatting and cover design for digital books

  • What a valuable lesson Marcella’s story provides. Good luck Marcella!

  • It’s rough getting these type of questions because you DON’T have control with a traditionally published book. If they don’t want to change something, you have to practically beg to make this happen. It’s a shame that they don’t grasp the short sightedness of this strategy.