If you’ve been publishing for a while, it’s possible that you’ve got some old, backlist books that could use an update. But how do you go about doing it and what should you consider when you face this task?

I’ve recently been re-reading one of the first books I published. It was originally published with a New York publisher (do remember those old Zebra Regency Romances? This was one of them). Seven years after it was published, I received the rights back to it (and the three other books in the series also published at the same time).

When I got the rights back, the first thing I did was read the book. Ugh! That was a horrible shock. After seven years my writing had gotten so much better! I could easily see mistakes I made in my character development, my story structure, even in the characters themselves, and descriptions? Nope. Hardly any there.

I set to work making a list of all the scenes and plotted the story structure. The characters, as they stood had to go. Honestly! I hated these characters. They were unlikeable and the heroine was just plain nasty. I don’t know how I ever sold any copies of this book!

The overall concept, however, I really liked. So I created entirely new characters with the same physical characteristics and the same plot. I kept their goals, but as they were entirely new people, they did go about achieving them differently than the original characters. In short, I practically rewrote the entire book. I then got a new cover for it, gave it a new title, and voilà! An entirely new book that has become the best selling book of the series.

Happily, not all of the books needed such extensive rewriting. I did, however, start out the same way with each book—making a list of the scene, plotting out the story structure, and analyzing the characters—their goals, motivations, and conflicts, as well as making sure they had a deeper wound that motivated their actions, fears, and how they viewed the world generally. I worked my way through each book, deepening the pov (adding more internal thoughts), getting rid of places where I told when I should have showed (showing more physical reactions, adding dialogue and actions), adding more descriptions of people and settings (a continued failure of mine throughout my career, although I am getting better), and making sure the emotional impact of the book was strong (I usually write a lot of angst, so there wasn’t too much of a problem with that, although I did need to add more sweetness and lovey-dovey stuff, which I have a tendency to leave out despite the fact that I write romance).

Now, another seven years on from when I did these initial rewrites, I’m going back and doing more. Thank goodness, I don’t need to do nearly as much now as I did the first time, but I still need to change a word here and there, throw in a comma or take one out, add in a sentence or change one based on my increased knowledge of Regency norms.

For some books, that’s all you’ll need to do when you need to update your older work—and hopefully that’s where you are (because doing a major overhaul like I did the first time was almost like writing a whole new book).

It’s also extremely important that you not only look at the content of your book, but at the formatting of it (styles change), the cover (again, styles change and what will attract buyers change as well), and the back cover copy (make sure that it’s enticing the reader to buy rather than just giving a summary of the book—this is the way you hook readers and get them to press that purchase button).

Even if your first book is only five years old (rather than twenty as mine were), it’s still important every now and then to go back and take a look at your books. You’ll probably find typos that weren’t caught, and with either a new cover or a new description, you’ll be giving your book a renewed life. And when you upload the new version of your book, don’t forget to take a look at those categories and keywords and make sure they’re correct and the best they can be to ensure your book can be found by eager readers.