Here’s a blog post that I hope everyone will read, but I’m particularly interested in how other published writers would reply to my question. So if you are one, please do!
Do you re-read your own books after they’re in print?
I’ve heard many writers say that they never read their books again after publication, except maybe to select a short passage for public readings or the like.
When any book of mine gets published, I immediately sit down and reread it through from beginning to end, as soon as I get the printed copy. I think I’ve always done this. It’s a weird experience, but it’s something I feel compelled to do.
Why? In a weird sort of way, I miss the book after it’s left my computer and gone off to live in a publisher’s office. I write a book in the first place because it’s a story that interests me, and as I write I get involved in the characters and they become real people to me. I feel a sense of loss when a book is finally finished, and re-reading the book in print is like revisiting old friends.
There’s another, more practical reason: when a book is released, I need to spend the next several months telling people about it, promoting it, reading from it and signing copies if I’m given the opportunity. But there’s often a long gap between finishing a book and seeing it in print, and the story is no longer fresh in my mind. I have to reacquaint myself with those same old friends, my characters, if I’m to care enough to convince people they should pick up the book and spend time with my characters.
Revisiting the world I’ve written about is never a wholly satisfying visit, though. It’s so easy to be critical of your own work when it’s finally printed and bound. I see ways I could make it better. I invariably discover a couple of hideous typos that can now never be fixed (sometimes more serious than typos — I will never forget the horror of reading Esther: A Story of Courage in print for the first time and realizing that I had killed the same minor character twice. Fortunately, the book went into a second printing so I was eventually able to correct that glaring error.
I do find, almost invariably, that despite seeing the errors, I enjoy spending time with the characters again. I still like them, and it makes me glad I wrote the book. But once the book is in print, the characters don’t seem quite alive. They’re like butterflies that used to fly around the pretty garden in my head, but have now been killed, pinned to a board, and placed under glass. Still pretty, but not really alive anymore.
The only thing that brings characters back to life — is you. The reader. If someone else reads my book and talks to me about how they felt about the characters, then it feels as if they’re still having a life in someone else’s head. When I visit a book group whose read By the Rivers of Brooklyn and someone says (as someone has said), “Oh, Ethel frustrated me so much, I just wanted to slap her!” then I rejoice. Not because Ethel’s getting slapped in someone’s imagination, but because she’s that real in someone’s imagination. She’s still alive in a reader’s head, and that’s wonderful.
So I spent two days this week rereading my latest novel, Sunrise Hope, which just came back to me all printed and bound. (Yes, there will be giveaways and promotions as soon as it’s in stores). I found the requisite cringe-inducing errors (the worse was “emphasize” in place of “empathize,” an error I must have typed which wasn’t caught either by the editor, or the proofreader, or by me when I reread the galleys). And I did enjoy spending a few minutes with my old characters. But what I really can’t wait for, is for someone else to read about them, and care for them, and maybe even slap them around a little.
That’s when the book really comes to life.