Should you edit your published book?

When to edit

Greetings, Storytellers. Diana here to talk about whether we should edit our published books, and if so, when. This post also applies to those writers who never publish because they never finish editing. If that’s you, read on!

Like just about anything we do (paint, cook, dance, carpentry, write) we get better with practice. We learn better methods, the tricks of the trade, how to blend color and spices, cut a rug, or cut a bevel.

We learn how to craft a tight plot and rich characters, show versus tell, reduce dialog tags, choose verbs, kill the adverbs. If we’re lucky, we get strong feedback from editors, critiquers, and beta readers. We take courses, read books on writing, and write, write, write.

Knowing that improvement is a given, the books we wrote five years ago might not look as polished as those we write today.

About a decade ago, when I reclaimed my publishing rights from my trad publisher, I planned to reread my books to correct typos and buff them up a bit. I didn’t expect to do much rewriting – after all, the books were professionally edited, and they’ve received decent reviews.

I started reading … uh oh.

Look at all those adverbs…
Erm, telling words…
Yeesh, I could eliminate a lot of these dialog tags…
Hmm, this section doesn’t really advance the plot…
Oh dear, kind of wordy…

So the books got a much closer look than I intended, and I’m glad I made the effort. This exercise got me thinking about two editing questions related to previously published books.

When is a re-edit of a previously published book a good idea?


After a while, most authors develop an inner “knowing” as to when their story is done, and it’s usually based on the writer’s current level of skill. It’s as good as they can write it at the time.

Thus, our first books are often, not always, a little beastly. And this speaks to why editorial feedback is so vital, particularly early in one’s career. I know this from experience; my first book was a warty little troll before an editor got her eager hands on it for a makeover.

Fortunately, like most skills we tackle, we make gigantic leaps forward in the beginning and then start to level off when we near our peaks. For this reason, revisiting previously published books makes the most sense after we’re a few years into our writing careers. By then, we have pages of experience crammed into our back pockets.

Another time to revisit a previously published book is when it has few or mostly negative reviews. Early works may need anything from a major developmental edit of plot and structure to a simple scrubbing for grammar and flow. If a book didn’t run through an editor’s gauntlet the first time, it’s not too late.

As authors, we might weigh the impact of leaving older books out there if they’re not reflective of our current skills. The last thing we want is for a reader, once snagged, to walk away and miss the awesome talent infusing our later works. It’s a confidence boost to polish up the weakest links in our backlist chains.

When to stop re-editing a book (published or otherwise)?


Your novel is done. Finally! But wait; maybe you should give it a last read-through for typos. Then there was that scene in Chapter 7 that gave you so much trouble. Just one more look. Phew! Oh, darn, there’s a telling word; are there more? What if I can cut another thousand words; maybe describe their clothing less; nobody cares about clothing. Okay, done! Maybe my protagonist should have a goatee…

Some writers never publish because they never stop editing. The editing loop can roll on forever and ever … even after publishing. Knowing when to stop isn’t always easy, but it’s important.

Here are some reasons to stop editing:

1. There is no such thing as a perfectly written book. And even if there was, someone would hate it. Ninety-five percent perfect and shared with the world is better than 100% perfect and wallowing in your head.

2. Endless revisions take time away from writing something new!

3. Over-editing can dull your POV characters’ distinctive voices. This is especially dangerous when you’re editing in bits and pieces and lose the narrative flow.

4. You’ve done your major developmental edits, content edits, stylistic edits, and proofing, and now you are increasing rather than reducing the word count.

5. Instead of improving your book you are only making it different. And maybe making it worse.

6. You haven’t taken a break from your book in a year. Time to let the beast sit for a month or so. You’re way too up-close and personal with your novel, and both of you need some space to relax and think rationally.

7. You started the book when your kids were in diapers, and they just graduated from college.

8. You hate looking at your book, and the thought of rehashing it one more time makes you want to barf. Time to shut it down.

Have you written a book? Are you writing a book? How do you decide when it’s ready to fly?

Happy Writing!

111 thoughts on “Should you edit your published book?

  1. I agree with your list of reasons to stop editing. I’ve read books from authors I’ve previously read and admired, only to find the narrative is stilted, the lines stunted. Where did the flow go? I think you can edit your voice right out of the book if you take editing to the extreme.
    I’ve thought about going back to my first few books and giving them a run-through, but then I decided no. Part of the process- and pride- comes from seeing how I’ve grown as a writer from those early works. I kind of like my developing voice 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great comment, Jacquie, and a lot of authors will agree with you to let our older books be what they are, especially if they’re error free, which your books are. And a great warning not to edit our voices right out of story, before or after publishing! Thanks for stopping by, my friend. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Way important to edit one’s work before ever publishing, even if that means going through it over and over and over… With my novel Containment Zone, I did a few dozen passes before publishing it. Still not enough. I couldn’t afford an editor or copy editor. Needless to say I had to continue to update new editions until it was satisfactory. Any suggestions for editors or copy editors that don’t charge thousands of dollars?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for stopping by to add your comment. I know the feeling of doing dozens of edits and still missing things. We just know our work too well. I love using an editor, but that’s often hard to afford in the beginning. My best suggestions are to have your computer read your work aloud to you, and to get as many different sets of eyes on it as possible. BTW, your link to your site has an error in it, so I can’t visit your site. Take a look at your reader profile and check the web address. 🙂 It’s currently coming up as Happy Writing!


  3. Pingback: Should you edit your published book? – Brandon’s Portfolio

  4. Diane I agree that a writer must move on. I contemplated on rewriting my book and decided to move on and started on prequels instead. I’ve been writing a few chapters and then step away. I now have 27 chapters written and am lost. Writers block. Oh no!!! Lol I enjoyed everyone’s comments. I’m glad I found someone new to follow and am looking forward to reading your future posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the comment! I was just reading a book review that mentioned lots of typos and grammar mistakes. There’s a great example where going back and re-editing would be a good idea. But many authors agree that going back isn’t good use of their time. Good luck with your writing project. I hope you pick up the thread of your story again and make lots of progress. Thanks for stopping by and adding to the conversation!


  5. Hi Diana, this is a most relevant topic. I have had my three books (While the Bombs Fell, Through the Nethergate, and A Ghost and His Gold) professionally developmentally edited (a hugely worthwhile undertaking for me, especially the first book because I really had no clue about how to string the whole story together in the best way). They are also edited (for spelling and grammar) by a professional and my publisher. There are still always errors, but not to many. I also go with the 95% perfect concept. I have given that advice to others too (although your 95% perfect might be different to mine – smile. As you mentioned, we work to our personal best at the time). As for re-editing a published book, I haven’t and doubt I ever will. I lose interest in a book after it is published and just cannot bring myself to go back to it again. Maybe that will change in the future but I doubt it as I am the same about reading books, I very really re-read. When its done, its done for me. I’ve always been like that. Onwards and upwards is my motto.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re not alone in your opinion about revising/re-editing your books, Robbie. There are a number of authors who feel that their time is better spent writing new books, and many experts agree. With the amount of professional editing you had done up front, that’s probably a good decision for you. There’s no right or wrong answer to this question. I’m glad I did it, but it isn’t for everyone, nor should it be! Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I edited my fantasy series years after I published it. I had learned so much through the years and knew they needed to be cleaned up, especially in the head-hopping area. I didn’t expect readers who had already read the series to go back and read it, but I wanted to make sure new readers would continue to read the series without any reservations. For me, it was time well spent. Great post, Diana! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had a very similar experience, Yvette, and also consider the effort to revisit my books time well spent. It feels good to know that readers who start our books (especially series) are reading our best. We want them to read on! Thanks for stopping by and adding to the conversation. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Should you edit your published book? – Nelsapy

  8. Oh ya, gotta love that editing loop, lol. Great info Diana. You are spot on. As we grow with our writing, I’m sure we can find so much we’d like to rewrite in our books. But time. Time, time, time. You my friend, are a warrior woman! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Amazing topic here D. Wallace and Thank you for the insights about editing a published book, this post is directed to those authors who have published books, as for me, I haven’t published any book but I am hoping to publish it in the future. What I can say is that editing is a crucial part in any writers career, this saves the writer from publishing a book with grammatical errors, typos and wrongly inserted phrases/metaphors.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had that same issue, Staci. One of my books had a typo in the Amazon blurb, which I was unable to do anything about since I wasn’t the publisher. It killed me!! They took two years to correct their error. That’s why I pulled all my books and went indie. I couldn’t take it. (Can you tell it still gets my dander up? Lol). Thanks for stopping by and Happy Writing. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I recently re-read my firstborn (novel) and thought it could do with a bit of work, but that’s as far as I went down that particular slippery rabbit-hole. 🙂 … I decided early on that once a thing is published, I’m on to the next thing. Life’s too short to keep on retracing our steps. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s what quite a few authors decide, perhaps the majority of them. There’s definitly something to be said for moving forward without looking back. I just couldn’t resist once I realized that my old work seemed amateur to me. It took me a year to revamp them all, about 1-2 months per book. 🙂


  11. An excellent piece, Diana. I’ve never taken a book down for re-editing–though I did replace a book cover once. When I release a project, it’s done. I move to the next. Are there things I’d like to change about some of my stories? Sure. I think it’s probably a common feeling among authors.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think you’re right that the urge to look back is probably a common feeling. But there are plenty of authors who finish a book and move on and don’t worry about it. It’s certainly an option, especially if the book is professionally edited and is getting decent reviews. Thanks for stopping by and for the reblog. Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. It’s tempting to go back and clean up some of the impairments. But it is what it is, and I was obsessive enough at the time. I really have no interest in changing past works. I remember the energy and enthusiasm I put into them, living inside them for months and years. I’m much more interested in improving what I’m doing now. Wait! Is a time machine included in this scenario?

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I’m on the fence about this one. If an author re-edits and re-pubs a book, I won’t re-purchase, it, but I can see how it would be a benefit for new readers not have to wade through whatever issues caused the repub in the first place.

    That said, I have two early releases that are no longe representative of what I write. I wrote “steamy” romance to get my foot in the door with a publisher. When those rights revert to me, I have thought about rewriting the books minus the steam, as I like the mystery, characters, and the plots. In that case, I would definitely consider it!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I wouldn’t reread a re-edited book either, Mae. I think the point is to bring the quality up to snuff with later works versus revising the story. Definitely something to do for new readers.

      That’s interesting about your two earlier works. I’m glad I didn’t read one of those first, as I’m not a “steam” reader (skim skim skip), and maybe I would have passed up your mysteries thinking they were all steamy! (Not likely, but let’s just say I didn’t know you or anything about your books). Rewrites and re-releasing those two early works isn’t a bad idea at all. Thanks for the interesting comment! Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Great advice as usual, Diana. Although I don’t have a novel, I have considered putting a collection of my short stories together, mostly for myself and a few interested friends. I know that I’ll need to edit them before this happens and, probably, have this done by a professional. I’m not sure how to go about finding a good one, though. I am amazed at how many errors I find in (mostly) self-published books that were supposedly fine-toothed by editors and beta readers.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. My Instinctive answer to this problem would be No, it is not a clever idea. Often for the reasons you have given. Also, as you hone your writing skills, spontaneity takes a back seat. There is often a reason those early books are different and exiting. I know that I am a better writer now than I was when I first started all those years ago. Yet, like most people I was tempted to do a rewrite on my first novel.
    Though it sold well and recieved some great reviews it was not all that I wished it to be. So, I rewrote it and gave it to my wife to read. She thought it did not have the visceral quality of the original though it was better written. I asked the editor of the original book to look at this version (we have become friends over the years, and I appreciate her opinion) She thought the same as my wife; the updated version was better written, clearer and easier to follow but lacked the “Immediacy” (her word) of the original. It read like literary fiction.
    Lol- but here is a laugh for you. Only a year after I considered (and decided not) doing this. I got a call from my agent. My publisher wished a twenty-fifth anniversary edition of the novel, as it still sells a little here and there.
    Lol- already written- the easiest money I have ever made.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m so glad you’ve had such great results with your book, Ray. And how wonderful to get a request from your publisher for a 25-year edition. Yes, there are risks that rewrites might flatten our narrative voices. Since you had a professional editor to begin with, I’ll assume that your book was error-free as well as edited for other general pitfalls. In that case, a rewrite was probably not necessary or, as you indicated, wise. But many authors self-edit their books, or like me, had publishers who edited with too light a touch. I think rewrites are something to consider, but as your comment clarifies, it depends on a number of factors that only the author can weigh. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and adding to the conversation. I appreciate it. Have a wonderful weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, Wallace, the book was not error free, But the errors were mine only, language and syntax. I love the idea of an anniversary edition. It took my fancy and I have added an alternative ending (that was once turned down by my editor). Lol it may still be turned down again.
        I am really looking forward to knowing what people will think of it. I suspect that it will not engender the emotions of the original, it is cleaner, sere, literary but I suspect that it will not have the impact of the original. I suppose that I will find out soon.
        I have also self-published and self-edited in other books. It is certainly not easy. I feel sure that I have failed on many occasions. A return to those works seems….. See my first comment.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Great post, Diana! I am in the middle of reediting one of my earlier children books. This needed a lot of tidying up, and this follows two “professional” editors. I have learned a lot and cringed at what I was seeing. So I say yes re-edit, especially those books not selling. It’s a good learning experience and hopefully I don’t miss anything…

    Liked by 3 people

    • Great comment, Denise. Finding a good editor is so important, isn’t it? And being clear about what you’re looking for too. As much as we cringe at our old work, it’s also wonderful to see how much we’ve grown. And when we’re done, it’s an opportunity to confidently re-release or do some promotion. Thanks for stopping by and adding to the conversation. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Some good points here, Diana. Is it a good idea to leave a book that may not be particularly good because of it being a book written before the writer has honed their skills, somewhat?
    As someone commented, if someone reads it and decides it’s poorly written, they probably put you on their not to be read list.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Great question! I’ve never abandoned a book, Viv, but any book can be a gateway into our list, and therefore there’s a risk that a reader might never pick up another. I think I’d probably unpublish a book that I was really uncomfortable with, do a complete revamp, and then re-release it as a new edition with a bit of hoopla. In that way, we can turn the nagging worry into an exciting opportunity. Have a great weekend and Happy Writing.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Excellent points, Diana. Your pros and cons are illuminating. I haven’t re-edited my books, but for each volume, I had an editor I trusted. Recently, I was mid-book of an Amazon bestseller and discovered a typo. It made me smile. Even the rich and famous make mistakes. Thank you for this post!

    Liked by 3 people

    • A good editor can make all the difference, Gwen, doesn’t it? I discovered that with my latest and have no qualms about leaving it just as it is. My trad editor, I think, was trying not to stomp on my voice and style, though I certainly would have benefitted from some stomping! And so many indie’s aren’t in a position to hire an editor, at least when they start out. Thanks so much for the comment and have a beautiful weekend. ❤


  19. It’s hard finding the happy middle of doing enough editing but not too much, and I think you really explained it well. I’ve only re-edited one book after it was published–my first Muddy River novella. A reviewer commented that they’d have given it five stars except that it had so many editing mistakes, and that really bothered me, so I went back and redid the book. I hope that I made the entire manuscript better. I didn’t find as many typos and grammatical errors as I expected, but I found plenty of everything else. But then, I don’t like to reread any of my work because I can always find things I could have done better…for forever.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Great comment, Judi. I love how you used the feedback to go back and made fixes. It’s a pain, but I’ve done that too, and it’s such a relief. I had a reviewer say that I needed to learn the definition of the word “prone” (when I meant “supine”). He must have been an English major. Lol. But he was right! I immediately went back and fixed my work. I don’t like to reread my work either (it’s more fun to write the new stuff), but I’m glad I did when it came to my earlier work. Thanks for dropping by and adding to the discussion. Hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. LIke others here, this post is as much use for the guidance as to when to stop editing as it is in pointing out the pitfalls in out earlier work. I loved the “both of you need some space to relax and think rationally.” too. That’s a really useful checklist of things to look out for and I will be referencing it! ♥♥

    Liked by 3 people

  21. This post really hit home with me, Diana. (Yes, I used an adverb. :)) My first book was poorly written, and I had a horrible self-proclaimed editor. So, it was a huge task, but I took that book down and reworked it. Is it perfect? No. But it’s much better than it was. As you say, we could continue to edit until we edit the heart and soul out of a story. When to hit the publish button? That’s a tough one, especially if you are publishing a print book. You can always fix errors in an eBook and upload a new file, but once it’s printed, it’s harder. Great post! Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I think any of us who revisited our early books can relate, Jan. One of the things I love about indie publishing is that it’s so easy to do updates. The hard part is taking the time away from new projects to spend a couple of months on an old book. But it’s rewarding too to know that what we have out there represents our best quality. Good for you for going through the trouble. And you’re right that a good editor is worth their weight in gold. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the comment, Dan. 🙂 We can’t take shortcuts or stop editing just because we don’t like the process, but there is a time to stop. For me, having an editing methodology is useful. And a professional editor’s final touch is invaluable. Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  22. I love this post, Diana. I think many writers can identify with the editing loop you describe. I only edited one book post-publish, and that was when (like you) I wrestled it away from a traditional publisher. I was glad I did it but didn’t feel the need to do it anymore. I would say this to any writer who is afraid to publish and continues the editing cycle. It is time to put your big pants on and take the dive. Yes, it takes courage, but you will be better for it in the end.

    Liked by 5 people

  23. I finally re-edited my first book, The Battle for Brisingamen, and revamped its cover. I’m much happier with it. My next task is my second book, The Glade, but I haven’t built up enough stamina just yet, lols.

    Excellent post and points, Diana. For me, I seem to have just known when a book is done. I can’t put a logical process to it as it appears to be innate.

    The line “… both of you need some space to relax and think rationally.” had me chuckling. Love it! 😁

    Thanks for sharing! 💕🙂

    Liked by 6 people

    • Thanks for reading, Harmony. I felt a sense of relief after updating my early books too (and getting new covers). I can relate to the need to build up “enough stamina” though. And that “knowing” when your book is done is pretty common when we’ve taken every step we can think to take. Glad you got a chuckle too. Lol. Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  24. I cringe when thinking of my earlier works. I have considered editing and rewriting a novella but every time I think of it, I hesitate. You’ve made some very good points, Diana. Writers should improve with each new publication, so it is important to think about those old works.

    Liked by 5 people

    • My early works were professionally edited, but I still cringed when I read them, Joan. All those filler words and wild dialog tags! And too many stage directions. Lol. They weren’t “wrong.” They were just amateur compared to what I’d learned over the years. Some day… when you retire from retirement and have more free time. Lol. Thanks for dropping by!

      Liked by 1 person

    • There’s a balance somewhere in there, Grant, which includes the author’s goals and personality. So many things to think about as we grow in this craft. I’ve never regretted going back to my earlier works, but it’s not for everyone. Thanks for the visit and comment and Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Pingback: Should you edit your published book? | Legends of Windemere

  26. After following a writer/blogger for a time, I usually sense where they might fall on a writing issue. I read this with great interest because I wasn’t sure what your opinion would be on this topic. As usual, your views make sense.

    Liked by 7 people

    • I have a bit of an OCD tendency, Pete (as you might have noticed, LOL). But honestly, I fall in the middle. I’ve revisited earlier works, but I don’t revisit them ad nauseam. I recognize the importance of moving on and putting my energy into new books. There’s a balance in here somewhere that’s impacted by a lot of factors. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Happy Writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  27. I haven’t been tempted to re-edit my books after they’re published, in effect creating a new edition. I have corrected minor but annoying errors, which is relatively easy for ebooks, but possibly problematic for printed books, as I discovered. I have at times considered writing an entirely new version of my first book, but have managed to convince myself that would not be the best use of my time.

    Liked by 9 people

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