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Backlist Title Dilemma

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I was emailing with a friend of mine over two backlist titles from authors whose recent work we both enjoyed tremendously.   The backlist titles were such poor quality compared to the recent works and I thought that had I read those backlist titles, I would never have wanted to pick up the recent works.

I know that Nora Roberts does not want Promise Me Tomorrow ever re-released and Jennifer Crusie is not a big fan of her novella, Sizzle (which I didn’t think was that bad).    I recall Iris Johansen trying to disclaim her past romance novel writing history.

From a reader point of view, do you think authors should remove backlist titles from circulation (if they could) that don’t reflect their current work, either in quality or tone?   Authors, are there books you would remove from circulation, if possible?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

54 Comments

  1. Leeann Burke
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 06:22:27

    As a writer I enjoyed (and still do) reading earlier titles of big authors because I found it comforting to know these wonderful authors grew into writing the way they do.

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  2. Marianne McA
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 06:27:17

    When I was a teenager, and had read all of Georgette Heyer’s books several times, I’d a recurring dream where I was in the library, and suddenly found one of Heyer’s suppressed backlist titles: ‘The Great Roxhythe’ on the shelves. I was always so delighted, and then depressed when I woke up…

    (How you can tell if you’re a Real Reader, No. 232.
    Do you frequently dream of finding OOP titles by a favourite author?)

    I know it is available now, but I wouldn’t buy it – as an adult I suspect she had a reason for not wanting it to remain in print. I do think it’s probably a good idea for authors to refuse to rerelease books that aren’t up to standard – because you often do judge an author on the first book you read. And to keep meeting, in bookshops, a piece of your work that you thought was shoddy – that’d be depressing.

    I’m not keen on the idea of rewriting a poorer book in the years after publication, because in the examples I’ve read, the book seems to fall between two stools. It neither has the freshness from the start of the author’s work, nor the sophistication of a later book. But I’ve only read a couple, and perhaps there are good rewrites out there.
    But in general, I’d rather the author wrote something new, and was allowed to take a book they no longer liked off their publisher’s schedule.

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  3. Tee
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 06:36:17

    Jane asked— From a reader point of view, do you think authors should remove backlist titles from circulation (if they could) that don't reflect their current work, either in quality or tone? Authors, are there books you would remove from circulation, if possible?

    Very interesting question, Jane. Not being an author by any stretch of the imagination, I would say that if I were a writer and had some previous work that I was not particularly proud of, I would want the right to remove those titles from circulation. Can’t do anything about the ones that are out there, but I think it would be good to know that at least I would have some control over future runs.

    And I agree with Marianne McA and you in that if earlier books of some authors had been read before their current issues, you would never have gone on with them. I’ve backlisted many times and wondered if I was reading the same author. It’s fun in a way, but time-wasting if the novel is truly bad.

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  4. DS
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 06:42:31

    I did read Heyer’s earlier titles that she suppressed and they are not at all like the work she became known for, in fact I’ve never reread them and I think I didn’t even make it all the way through The Great Roxhythe.

    Sandra Brown put a warning on the rerelease of some of her early books saying essentially these were early books and not like what she currently writes– I remember this offended some romance fans, but people who became her fans after she began writing suspense were probably grateful. I have a friend who was a big Evanovich- Plumley fan– gone off her after the last few books– who was really put off by the reissue of Evanovich’s Loveswepts.

    I also cannot remember which author who used to write Regencies it was, but one of them really spoiled the only rewritten book I read by adding a lot of bloat and some extra sex scenes. I avoided the rewrites after that.

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  5. dri
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 06:53:13

    I’m having a similar situation with Connie Brockway at the moment … love her to bits (omg, so much!) but have been damned near traumatised recently by some of her earlier stuff — oh dear god, who wrote The Passionate One?!

    Because it’s a journey and the more I see of a writer’s evolution, the more I respect and adore them … even if it means me whimpering and headdesking sometimes. :p

    And hey, as Pratchett would say, kinda need the darkness to see the light, yeah?

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  6. Jane
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 07:52:03

    @dri I do think a great deal of authors who have clearly grown but sometimes I wonder how much is due to the editor as well.

    Funny thing about this post, though, it wasn’t supposed to go live until the afternoon and it was supposed to have a poll. I think I must be losing my mind.

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  7. rosecolette
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 08:09:39

    There has been one book in my life that was thrown into the recycle bin halfway way into the novel. It was so poorly edited, with -ly words every single sentence and spelling errors. The story took place on a ship and the male hero was a spy of some sort. On the cover, in big letters, a proclamation that is was one of the first books “author now writing as x, x, and x” had ever written. I want to say it was Jayne Ann Krentz but honestly, it was so awful I blanked it from memory and couldn’t believe that a publisher would put out such a poorly edited book under well-known author’s name.

    That right there is why I distrust back catalogs and why I understand an author wanting to keep those books from every seeing print again, especially if the editing was complete crap.

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  8. Jade
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 08:30:41

    It’s really up to the author, however I think if there’s enough of a demand, the author could go back and re-edit (or re-write) the book until satisfied.

    This allows for collectors to have the original version and fans the ability to read another story by the same author.

    If I were a writer, I wouldn’t re-release, but I’m a bit neurotic that way.

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  9. mina kelly
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 08:40:01

    I repesct the right of the author not to re-release older works. I don’t really care one way or another about rewriting; overall I’d rather have the brand new novel than the rewritten older one, and some stories just can’t be saved. I guess this is where pennames come in handy – an author can distance themself from their early work, or work in a different genre, without having to worry about casual fans stumbling across it.

    As a reader, though, I will do everything I can to find the out of print works. Partly because I’m nosy (why don’t they want me to read it?) and partly because I’m a completist. There’s some great secondhand shops where I live, and I stumble across books I never knew existed quite frequently.

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  10. Elise Logan
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 08:44:15

    Hm. This is a tough question. As a reader, I want to be able to read anything I can put my hands on (which includes Iris Johansen’s Loveswept titles, NR’s early titles, and whatever else I can think of). Even if it isn’t a similar genre or style to what they are writing now, it can still be an enjoyable read (example: LKH’s Nightseer is actually a really good little read, very nice, and very far removed from how she’s writing now. I’m glad it’s available. Also, Elizabeth Lowell, writing as Ann Maxwell, has several good SF titles).

    On the other hand, sometimes the reason it’s OOP is because its just…bad. The story stunk or the writing was not up to snuff or… well, whatever. And just because the author is really great now doesn’t mean those early books don’t still stink.

    I think it’s hard to know whether backlist is crummy or just different before you actually read the book- and sometimes readers get burned by publishers (and sometimes authors) looking to cash in on current popularity by releasing subpar older works. I hate that.

    So, um, I don’t know. Yes and no and maybe. How’s that for definitive?

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  11. joanne
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 09:06:34

    I’m not big fan of re-writing history.
    Authors wrote what they wrote and hopefully got better with each book.

    Part of the fun (and frustration) when we find new-to-us authors is the hunt for their earlier books. I would be (and have been) much more disappointed to find that an author’s first book was their best to date.

    Re-publishing though is a whole different ballgame. That, I think, takes some honest thought and care for their reader.

    @Jane: It’s the season for mothers everywhere to go a little bit koo-koo.

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  12. Monica Burns
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 09:17:33

    Craft makes backlist a double-edged sword for writers. I’m so grateful my first novella is no longer available. I cringe when I compare it to my current work from Samhain and my upcoming releases from Berkley.

    As a writer’s voice and skill matures, it’s easy to understand why we despise back works. I know that two or three of my backlist are great stories but the craft just wasn’t strong enough character development wise which made these novellas less than what they could have been. I don’t know that I’ll even offer them up for free reads because I don’t want readers to enjoy current works then read some of my very first novellas and cringe like I do. It could be a turn off. OTOH, the more a writer raises the bar in the quality of their work, there’s an increased chance of failing to meet a reader’s expectation with follow up work.

    I will say that my works Mirage and Dangerous were greatly enhanced by the wonderful Immi Howsen, my editor at the time. So yes an editor makes a difference, but, I think it depends on the work in question as to how much improvement could be made via an editor. Some pieces don’t need much editing, some just need to be rewritten period, and some just shouldn’t come out of the box at all. *smile*

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  13. Robin Bayne
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 09:36:09

    For me, it’s not so much a matter of quality (although I agree with everyone writers improve over the years), but it’s a matter of not wanting more explicit stories to still be available. Once you turn to inspirational romance writing you don’t want anything you published earlier with steamy love scenes to remain in circulation.

    On a related note, I was stunned to learn (by Google Alerts) recently that someone had uploaded a copy of my very first published time travel to the Scribd site. Not only was this pirating my story, but it was a book I no longer want in circulation. (They took it down after I filed a complaint)

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  14. Estara
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 09:41:34

    @Elise Logan: I feel basically the same: I don’t like Iris Johansen suspense and have her earlier historical romances as keepers, I love Nora Roberts category romances (so grateful for those Harlequin rerelease collections) and contemporary romances much more than her romantic suspense, but also adore J.D. Robb.

    With all due affection to Patricia Brigg’s current urban fantasy, I would much more miss her excellent previous pure fantasy books (especially the Dragon duology and the Raven one, and the Hob’s Bargain – I hate that I can’t read Masques at the moment).

    Oh, and I’m seconding the Ann Maxwell SF recommendation, especially the Dancer trilogy, which is excellent space opera romance still – and almost got a fourth book *sigh*.

    Still there are also simply worse older books, I’m sure.

    It would be nice to have the out-of-print ones as ebooks with excerpts on the author’s site, then the reader can decide whether they like them as well, or only prefer the newer product.

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  15. Laura Vivanco
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 09:53:40

    Marianne, as far as I can remember, Georgette Heyer suppressed Simon the Coldheart as well, but it’s been republished frequently since her death. I suppose her family authorised that. At the Heyer conference recently held in Cambridge, Jennifer Kloester suggested that The Great Roxhythe might have been suppressed because it could have been thought to have a homosexual slant. Heyer probably suppressed her contemporary romances because they had things in them which felt too personal, but her family have since collaborated with biographers.

    So the reasons for suppression of a work can vary, and not all of those reasons may remain valid after an author’s death.

    As for Crusie’s Sizzle, she doesn’t mention it on the current version of her website at all, but I have a feeling that when she did describe it, on the old version, she said that it was lacking in certain areas of craft (perhaps head-hopping?). Those didn’t affect me as a reader, but I can see how it might irritate a writer to see that kind of a problem in an early work. From an academic point of view, though, it’s fascinating to see how an author’s developed. I’ve written an essay in which I spend a lot of time analysing just a few aspects of Sizzle, and I found it was really rich in terms of the imagery.

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  16. Linda Banche
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 10:07:54

    When I find an author I like, I want all her backlist. I’ll scrounge used book sites to find them. I would prefer that the authors put these books up as e-books. At least that way they make a few pennies from them

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  17. Chicklet
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 10:10:01

    As a reader, I really want access to an author’s entire backlist, because I like to see how they grew over the course of their career, or (as others have mentioned) read their works from subgenres in which they no longer write.

    I can imagine for authors it would be very tough to have works you consider to be sub-par readily available, but I don’t really agree with re-writing old books for a re-release — just like I don’t agree with re-editing movies before a theatrical re-release or a DVD release. Steven Spielberg added CGI shots of the alien and clumsily CGI’d out the guns on the federal agents’ belts in E.T. before its DVD release, and as a result I never purchased it. I never bought the re-edited Star Wars trilogy, either — those re-edited versions were not the ones I had fallen in love with as a kid. I think a work needs to stand on its own, in its original released state, because it’s a historical document. Maybe it’s the librarian in me. *g*

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  18. Lori
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 10:12:48

    I remember reading some of JAK’s early Harlequins after I discovered her and being shocked that she wrote asshole heroes and spineless heroines. But those were her early days and I’d understand if she didn’t wish them read now.

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  19. Scorpio M.
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 10:27:20

    I’m not an author but I feel that an author should have the right to control their creation as much as possible. If an author feels they no longer want that work republished that should be honored. I know the publishing world is often didactic and bottom line driven but if the choice is there, it should be the author’s.

    Lisa Kleypas wrote 3 or 4 OOP historicals in her early-twenties that she often gets asked to be republished but she has always held firm that her style of writing has moved so far from that and she doesn’t feel it is a true reflection of her writing any longer. I as a reader have to respect that.

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  20. kirsten saell
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 11:11:16

    I voted yes and yes, but in reality, I don’t think there’s anything I’ve put out as yet that would embarrass me in 10 years. But yeah, looking through some of my older work from my first stab at publication, if any of those books were floating around in the world I’d certainly want to distance myself from them. Not to spare readers the agony of reading them, but because they’re just not good and I don’t want my name on them.

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  21. GrowlyCub
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 11:15:26

    I have an issue with redacting history, so I dislike re-writes, especially when they are issued with new titles but no clear warning that they are re-writes of earlier books.

    I think it kind of funny that these authors don’t seem to realize that repressing older works actually makes them highly collectible with folks paying outrageous amounts of money for them and being obsessed with obtaining a copy – thereby giving a lot more attention to these works than they would get if they were easily available.

    And Crusie and others not listing their complete backlist is just making me mad as a reader. We should not have to consult online databases to find information on the complete backlist of an author.

    Once it’s been published, it’s out there, released into the wild. Not claiming it as your own is hypocritical. That’s one genie that doesn’t go back into the bottle, same as everything you ever said online will be out there forever… :)

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  22. Anion
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 11:18:40

    @Chicklet:

    Chicklet, the two-disc ET reissue does have a disc with the film’s original version, if I’m not mistaken. Pretty sure it does, though. I also didn’t like the no-guns-and-new-CGI junk, any more than I like the revamped Star Wars (Greedo did NOT shoot first!!) But I was never a big fan of ET anyway, so I could be wrong.

    Speaking as a writer, heck yeah, there’s at least one novel out there with my name on it that I want to disappear. I keep meaning to write and ask for the rights back, since the original contract expired (it renews automatically unless I or the publisher choose otherwise). I cringe thinking of people buying it, frankly. Simply not up to standard at all, and while it had some good moments… I just don’t like it. I’m okay with the flaws in my other early books, but this one was beyond “flaws.”

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  23. Moth
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 11:37:26

    @GrowlyCub:

    And Crusie and others not listing their complete backlist is just making me mad as a reader. We should not have to consult online databases to find information on the complete backlist of an author.

    As a(n as-yet unpublished) writer I can totally understand not wanting the less than great stuff to be out there, but as a reader it still irritates me rather a lot when authors do this. Their websites should be as honest and thorough as possible and omitting “Sizzle” feels…wrong. I liked it better when she listed it and said “Hey, this book is not good, and I don’t ever want it to see the light of day again.”

    I’ve read and loved enough of Crusie’s backlist that one bad book isn’t going to kill my love. (Hey, if Don’t Look Down didn’t kill my love for her nothing can!). And I understand the worry that a reader will pick up Sizzle, read it, hate it and never pick up a Crusie again but… it sucks to be a big fan and not have access to the whole backlist. It really sucks.

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  24. Las
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 11:53:41

    I respect an author’s wishes to distance themselves from past work…I mean, I still refuse to read Linda Howard several years after reading three of her books. But as a reader I really like the option of reading a well-liked author’s backlist. It’s interesting to see how an author has changed/grown over the years, and since I can’t think of a single author who doesn’t have at least one book I think sucks it really wouldn’t change my opinion of them either way.

    One thing I find hilarious is when a lousy book gets re-released and the author claims to still be really proud of said work. I remember reading one such book (I think it was Stephanie Lauren’s) where the hero had been in love with the heroine’s mother, waited for the heroine to grow up and then kidnapped and raped her (after explaining that he had to rape her for her to fall in love with him), and later in the book the heroine was gang raped, thereby proving that there’s a “good” kind of rape and a “bad” kind of rape. And instead of a disclaimer on the cover stating that the author was on a major acid trip when she wrote the book there was a nice little note telling us that she still really enjoyed this early work of hers. Yeah…

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  25. Beau
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 12:01:41

    I love to have the back list because I like going back to see how much my reading preferences have changed as well.

    For people like Roberts and Lowell — I grew up on them. There is a nostalgia about them if nothing else. I don’t find every work by an author to be equivalent, why would this be different?

    It will be interesting to see if Lowell’s Fiddler and Fedora (?) hold up. I believe they are being re-released.

    Beau

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  26. dick
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 12:12:58

    I want everything available, so I clicked on the one most clicked on. Still, some books on backlists do adversely effect my estimation of the author’s ability; I would rather not have read the ones that did so. It’s a dilemma for me.

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  27. Jennifer Leeland
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 12:43:21

    I’ll admit that I have a few older books that I’ve grown out of. Two of them I’ve thought about pulling. NOT to rewrite. Just pull them. But getting them out of circulation is a hassle.
    I just had a conversation with an author friend and she said she gives an author TWO BOOKS and if they miss she’s done. I asked her “But what if they’re earlier works.”
    For me, if an author doesn’t capture me with his/her contemporary romance, that doesn’t mean their Sci Fi won’t do it for me. So, the genre, not the work could make a difference.
    Personally, I hate Christine Feehan’s vamp series, but I love her Ghostwalker series. *shrugs*
    I just hope anyone who reads something I wrote early in my career doesn’t hold it against me.

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  28. GrowlyCub
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 12:58:24

    @Jennifer Leeland:

    I can see your point, but in my reading experience it’s rather the other way around.

    I hold their new stuff against my old favorites, not vice versa. Maybe the new stuff is technically better (serious doubts on that), but often it feels mechanical, old and tired, or they are writing things I don’t want to read (rom sus, para, chick/women’s lit).

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  29. Randi
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 13:43:39

    Some of an author’s early works aren’t great (NR, Suzanne Brockman) but some are really fantastic (Loretta Chase-her early work is genius) and some are really bizarre (Sherri Tepper and her “Marianne, The [blank], and The [blank]” series-these OOPs can go for $60/book and there are three of them!). But I still want access to all of them. When I was younger, I was ok with spending hours searching through used books stores for OOP books. Now that I’m older…eh. I don’t have the time or inclination anymore. Amazon was great for buying OOPs, before I boycotted them. So now…I just have to hope I stumble across an OOP by accident.

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  30. Las
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 14:56:00

    That awful rape book I mentioned is actually by Catherine Coulter. My sincere apologies to Ms. Laurens.

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  31. CD
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 15:12:37

    I hold their new stuff against my old favorites, not vice versa. Maybe the new stuff is technically better (serious doubts on that), but often it feels mechanical, old and tired, or they are writing things I don't want to read (rom sus, para, chick/women's lit).

    Me too. It’s more often that way round than the other. Generally, it’s pretty obvious (or should be) if it’s an older book that was rereleased. And the author can always write a note explaining that. And if an author really doesn’t want one of her older books rereleased, then I suppose you have to accept that.

    However, I too find that I often prefer the older stuff to the newer ones. I much preferred Iris Johansen’s romance books – OK, they were flawed but they were fun and fresh and made the most of unusual settings. Same with Mary Balogh, Loretta Chase, Suzanne Brockmann and Anne Stuart. As for Connie Brockway, THE PASSIONATE ONE was not the best thing she wrote, but I still enjoyed it and liked the heroine. And don’t forget that she wrote ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT, AS YOU DESIRE and MY DEAREST ENEMY before that series so if we got rid of her backlist, we’d get rid of some of the true classics of the genre. As for Patricia Gaffney, she seriously needs to come back to romance….

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  32. Janet W
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 15:22:20

    I have SUCH strong feelings about this! First of all, hey, I’m not the author. They want to suppress a book, I’m not going to go apeshit trying to find it. Too many books, too little time! That being said, here are my thumbs up:

    Thumbs up to authors like Sandra Brown who say it’s old, I’ve changed, enjoy it with that proviso.

    Thumbs up to authors like Mary Balogh: she is slowly re-releasing her old Regencies with NO corrections or alterations: she says she’d rather write new than alter old.

    Thumbs down to author moves like the following:

    HQN re-released Susan Wiggs Tudor trilogy with NEW names and exsqueeze me but the dates on them are 2009: don’t tell me that saying in the fine print that they’re re-prints from whenever is enough. Gross!

    How about Whitney My Love: Judith McNaught re-released it and changed the whipping scenes … yeah, OK … just seems absurd to me: it was what it was when she wrote it.

    Or authors like Mary Jo Putney who re-write and often give a new name to old Signet Regencies … give me a NEW Book or re-release an OLD Book … don’t care for the hybrids.

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  33. DS
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 15:28:36

    @Laura Vivanco:

    At the Heyer conference recently held in Cambridge, Jennifer Kloester suggested that The Great Roxhythe might have been suppressed because it could have been thought to have a homosexual slant.

    I never thought of that. She had possibly homosexual characters in some of her mysteries although not explicitly and never in a very good light.

    The writing seems very stilted. For anyone who cares, here is an excerpt that is available on the internet: http://www.georgette-heyer.com/books/rox.html

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  34. Laura Vivanco
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 16:45:01

    Moth: Sorry, when I said that Crusie doesn’t mention Sizzle, I should have been a bit more careful. It is listed in her bibliography but she also used to have a webpage about each of her books, and Sizzle used to have one. Now it doesn’t, at least, not that I can see. As far as I can tell, all her other works of fiction are here. Anyway, I went back and looked at the details I’d kept of her old website (I’m doing research on Crusie’s novels, so I’m allowed to be this obsessive ;-) ) and what she said about it was:

    This is the first book I wrote even though it was published as my third. It was my attempt to write to formula, an attempt that failed because there is no formula. I’m trying to forget it, but occasionally people come up to me and say, “Sizzle. The desk scene. Ohmigod.” It’s amazing what you can write when you think it will never be published. Oh, and the reason it’s all in the heroine’s point of view is that I didn’t know romances usually included the hero’s point of view. I’d read them, but I’d missed that particular detail.

    It’s not actually suppressed, because it belongs to Harlequin, and they did republish it relatively recently with an Australian edition of one of her Harlequin novels. I can’t remember which one, though.

    DS: Some other homosexual characters were mentioned at the conference. I think people said there’s a lesbian couple in Penhallow. I haven’t read Heyer’s mysteries, though, or the suppressed contemporaries, or The Great Roxhythe. I’ll have to get a move on if I ever want to be as obsessive about her early works as I am about Crusie’s ;-)

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  35. library addict
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 16:51:03

    I voted no, because while an author may dislike some of their earlier works, as a reader I want to make up my own mind.

    I don't like when authors go back and revise earlier works. I can see correcting editing mistakes, but to actually change the story seems unfair to those readers who paid for the original book. I don't even like it when they change record to CD and the like in an effort to make the book more current. It doesn't work because often other things in the book are dated and I would rather read an older book knowing it was published and set in say the 80s than being jarred out of the story because there are no cell phones, but somehow the heroine is listening to an iPod rather than a walkman.

    There are authors I have discovered later in their career, collected the backlist, and thought thank goodness I didn't start with her earlier works -LOL. But I have also discovered some real gems. And often when an author has a large backlist, both scenarios are true.

    Thumbs up to authors like Sandra Brown who say it's old, I've changed, enjoy it with that proviso.

    Ditto
    There are some early Nora's I didn't care for, but I know other people who list those particular titles as their absolute favorites by her. Taste is subjective. I respect that Nora doesn't want to republish PMT. And she advises readers not to pay the exuberant amounts the book often goes for on ebay, etc. because in her opinion it’s not worth it.

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  36. Nicole
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 16:54:07

    I like the hunt for old OOP titles by favorite authors (or even non-favorite authors), but I feel that if the author doesn’t want to re-issue it, that’s just fine.

    I think I squealed when I saw Briggs’ Masques and was able to get it for ultra-cheap.

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  37. Jenny Schwartz
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 18:12:34

    @Nicole I’m waiting, drumming fingers on desk, for the re-release of Briggs’ Masques. If you saw a flash of green light a few minutes ago, it was me envying a stumble across an affordable original copy.

    I can’t remember which early Georgette Heyer I read (I think it was dedicated to her mum), but I was intrigued at picking bits of her emerging style.

    I love backlists and really hope authors open them up electronically. I was thrilled when I saw Joan Smith’s regencies in eformat.

    Waiting for a book a year from a favourite author is torture. Meeting the addiction with a backlist can help.

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  38. Charlene Teglia
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 18:22:58

    From a reader standpoint, I love backlist. Nothing makes me happier than finding a new author and glomming backlist. It’s like finding a treasure trove. From an author standpoint, I have to think about things like reader expectations and branding; my early books were romantic comedies, for instance, and now I’m writing paranormal suspense.

    I think the workaround for this is to make the type of book clear by cover, blurb, etc., so the reader has cues about what type of story to expect. I think most authors shift genres/subgenres over time as markets shift, so these changes between early and current books are bound to happen.

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  39. Ros
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 18:50:13

    @Laura Vivanco: My memory is that it was Jennifer Kloester who said that there was a lesbian couple in Penhallow. What I couldn’t quite work out is why she thought that Heyer might have suppressed the Great Roxhythe on the basis of supposed homosexual content, while at the same time writing openly gay characters in her contemporary novels.

    And on another subject, if Mary Balogh would like to republish Dancing with Clara, I would be extremely happy indeed. I read it as a library book about fifteen years ago, loved it, and have never found a copy since. I would love to know what I think of it now, since in my memory it was much better than her more recent novels.

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  40. DS
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 18:53:11

    @Laura Vivanco: I’ve read Penhallow but I cannot remember much about it except the murder victim was a very unpleasant person. I think Jane Hodge in her book said it was written as a contract breaker because Heyer was unhappy with her publisher at the time.

    I became obsessed enough to pull out my rather dog chewed copy of The Private World and Jane Austen. Heyer wrote it to break her contract with Hodder in the early 40′s. I think I am going to have to reread Penhallow now to refresh my memory.

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  41. GrowlyCub
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 18:54:47

    @Ros:

    I have an extra copy that I picked up along the way at moderately collectible price. Email me if you are interested. GrowlyCub @ yahoo.com

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  42. Ros
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 18:56:16

    @DS: From what Jennifer Kloester said, Penhallow wasn’t just a contract-breaker, it was a book that Heyer was utterly obsessed with. She regarded it as her best work and while writing it was literally unable to write anything else. So yes, it did enable her to break her contract with Hodder(? – I forget which was the stuffy publisher and which wasn’t!) but I think it’s probably wrong to say that’s why she wrote it.

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  43. mingqi
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 20:46:46

    Though I would like to see all of an author’s works, I do feel that authors should have control over their backlists. I don’t suggest that authors erase all books prior to such and such a year, but I do understand that some authors have those few books they have written early in their career that they’re really embarrassed about (and no one really remembers it anyways).

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  44. A
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 20:52:53

    From a reader point of view, do you think authors should remove backlist titles from circulation (if they could) that don't reflect their current work, either in quality or tone?

    It’s impossible to give a “yes or no answer” to this question. To remove backlist titles is a personal decision and I think the author should consider multiple factors.

    If a backlisted book enjoyed popularity and sales, chances are readers may be interested in it. If they’re deprived of opportunity to read it, that could be an issue. I’m irked when I read a good book and can’t get other books from the author.

    If the backlisted book didn’t sell well and ended up touted at romfail, it might be in the best interests of the author and readers alike to remove the book either permenantly or for a rewrite.

    I wouldn’t remove a good book just because the book doesn’t reflect my current direction and quality. I would remove a bad book because it’s a bad book.

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  45. Masha
    Dec 08, 2009 @ 21:47:43

    I voted that I’d like all the backlist available, but if an author wants a work suppressed, I’d appreciate it if she had a note on her website instead of hoping that I’ll never come across it. My library has a lot of older stuff, occasionally even really old mmpbs. I attempted to read two Heyer contemporaries years ago and now am much better about checking author websites before reading backlist books.

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  46. Angi
    Dec 09, 2009 @ 07:25:36

    I’m a reader and I voted No, I want all the titles available. Maybe not on the bookshelves in the stores … but at least orderable.

    I can understand if an author thinks their old stuff is crap … but denying ME the chance to form my own opinion is a little insulting to my intelligence, in my opinion. It says to me “you’re not smart enough to understand this is old, didn’t get the proper care it should have, I have grown and changed as an author and you should read this with all that in mind and take it all with a grain of salt”.

    I have spent a lot of time reading in my life (approx 7000 books in my lifetime so far) and I’ve gone out of my way to find backlists of favorite author’s books. I’m a little OCD when it comes to some author’s I like. I tend to be obsessed with getting and reading EVERYTHING they’ve EVER written. And yes I’m smart enough to realize that their older works may not be the same standard, style, genre, etc. that they obviously have grown and become better authors (hopefully anyway).

    And lets face it even authors who have honed their craft can STILL put out a piece of crap NOW or include things like rape that gets justified (Christine Feehan has been particularly guilty of this in her vamp books recently). Doesn’t mean I don’t still enjoy her as an author … it just means that those particular books won’t EVER get re-read.

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  47. DS
    Dec 09, 2009 @ 07:37:31

    @DS: I need to proof or not post when I am tired. It’s The Private World of Georgette Heyer by Jane Aiken Hodge and has nothing to do with Jane Austen.

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  48. DS
    Dec 09, 2009 @ 09:52:51

    @Ros: I was just going by Hodge. I don’t think I said she only wrote it to break her contact but according to Hodge that the genesis of it. I have nothing to check Hodge against, but she wrote:

    In the end, [Heyer] returned in a rage rom un unlucky lunch at the Ritz, having detected a fatal note of patronage in her host’s tone, and vowed to leave Hodder. Her contract gave them an option on her next detective story, so she sta down and began Penhallow</em…. Intended as a contract braking book, it was duly turned down by Hodder and published by Heinemann. Unfortunately it also ended her association with Doubleday in the United States. (page 62-63)

    Hodge unfortunately didn’t footnote.

    Of course Penhallow wasn’t suppressed and there was no reason she should want to with regard to the writing. It’s well written and (like Civil Contract) maybe one of those books I would appreciate more now than when I read it in my teens.

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  49. Melissa Blue
    Dec 09, 2009 @ 16:42:15

    I’m one of those readers who is not forgiving. I don’t really read the blurb. So it’s a rare moment if I check the publication date. I start on page one and go from there. But then I’m with Growly Cub. It’s the newer work that will make me quit the author. Yes, I love backlist from a favorite author, but I don’t want a craplist either.

    So it shouldn’t be surprising that as an author if just the idea of the book being out there in the world gives me fits I’d do my best to rid the world of it. Subpar is subpar. Though I do think we are talking about books an author could write better now vs. a crappy book that should have never been published.

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  50. RandomRanter
    Dec 09, 2009 @ 17:41:08

    I think it’s a bit like actors. Some actors you can see something terrible they were in and just move on, and other times, you seriously reconsider what you liked about this person’s work.
    I realize, the situation is not entirely analogous, since actors don’t really have control over a TV show or movie, but I don’t think I’ve ever stopped reading an author’s new releases because I read an oldie that wasn’t my thing. (And I – like Melissa – rarely read BCC or check dates until something jars me.)

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  51. XandraG
    Dec 10, 2009 @ 22:03:25

    As a reader, I like to make my own judgments about author backlists–oftentimes, I will seek out backlists, but the individual books still have to hook me with a blurb, and as an author, I think it’s kinda fun to map out the progression of an author’s career. I think about things like, “wow, I wonder if she made that choice on her own, or from editor or agent direction?” or “I wonder what the market was like when she was pitching this?” I can’t think of an author whose backlist has made me give up on them, though. Usually, it’s the frontlist–as others have said, if two of an author’s new books aren’t hooking me, then my likelihood of buying that author again sinks.

    As an author at the beginning of her career, and who fully expects to get better with time, something just doesn’t feel right about taking down older works, even if they’re not up to par. At the time of writing something, I have always done my best, and put my works out there in good faith. My ass, she hangs in the wind in fair weather and foul. ;)

    I do understand an author may need to distance herself from one subgenre to another (and I really feel sad that mainstream romance authors who go to inspirational end up having to disavow their previous books just because they had sex in them, when they’re more than likely very good books that don’t deserve to be judged by inspirational standards because they’re not inspirationals). Authors can, however, manage much of that through the use of pen names. I’d respect another author’s desire to remove some backlist if she felt the need, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t do it myself.

    Revised-and-expanded editions…I’m not sure how I feel about them. The geek in me says they should be released in conjunction with the original version (or have the original included for free. As an ebook. ;) ).

    Just plain revised and re-released books feel like retconning (Han shot first, Lucas! You know it, we know it, the plaid shirt knows it!). If an author wants to expand a novella to a full-length novel, it has a good chance of being a good thing. If she wants to change her former writing decisions…I’ll hunt down the original version instead. Remakes are still remakes.

    Now as an author, would I be willing to make a very public play to have a backlist title “erased from history” only to sit back and watch their value go up tenfold, whilst sitting on a stack of suddenly-very-rare copies? <..> Maaaaayyyybe… ;) It might be the only way I’ll be able to afford all the Legos my kids want this year…

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  52. Angi
    Dec 11, 2009 @ 06:03:41

    Here’s my thoughts on the changing genre’s thing especially in regards to those who went “inspriational”.

    Why take the books with sex in them off the shelves? When you found Jesus (or whatever) did YOU stop having sex? Most christians (and those of other faiths) I know are having sex.

    I understand that your beliefs may have changed, but that’s another of those “that was in the past, this is what I write now. But I’m not ashamed of what I wrote before.”

    I don’t think any author should be ashamed of what they’ve written, EVER. Especially if it got published. There are SOOOOOOOOOOO many of us who either have never written anything (I fall into this category) OR have tried for YEARS AND YEARS AND YEARS to get something published with zero success.

    Be PROUD of what you’ve accomplished by getting a book published, no matter HOW crappy or “subpar” you think it might be. You never know, you may find that your subpar work gives someone the inspiration to try to get their subpar work published, thereby setting them on the path of becoming a FANTASTIC author with some work and developement :)

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  53. Writing Roundup, December 11 « Uncategorized « Jen's Writing Journey
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 12:24:01

    [...] Backlist Title Dilemma How should authors deal with their less than stellar backlist releases? Shrug and hope their loyal readers see the progress they have made? Remove all poorly written pieces from circulation? [...]

  54. joanna bourne
    Sep 15, 2011 @ 15:21:29

    As a reader, I’m happy to go along with the author’s wishes — to suppress, to reprint, or to revise.

    Speaking of revision, may I respectfully disagree with the commenter above who disliked Mary Jo Putney’s revised works. IMO, The Rake, a revision of her old Regency, The Rake and the Reformer, is one of Putney’s strongest works. The Rake is an important book and Romance would be poorer without it.

    Putting on my author hat, (it has big floppy flowers and it’s lovely) . . .

    The author who doesn’t necessarily want the older work available finds herself in a bit of a dilemma. An OOP deadtree book may be selling for several times its cover price. Folks are paying dearly for what the author considers second-rate work. At least the e-book reissue is an inexpensive read.

    And the OOP work may be widely pirated in a sloppy, buggy, ugly file. However much we want to, it’s not really possible to put the old work to bed with a shovel. If the author doesn’t reissue in a clean edition, there’s still this zombie of the old title, crashing around on the net.

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