A.G. Moye over at Lightning Books discussed whether to push through on the four (!) different manuscripts he has in progress, or to go back to the shiny allure of polishing already published manuscripts.
The problem with the revisions is that it does not significantly improve your bottom line of book sales. It is compelling but unnecessary. Do painters touch up old paintings constantly? Some do, I imagine, but once it’s out there, that’s it. They don’t drive to the home of the owner and ask to fix the nose of the subject in the painting. [n.b. the number of paintings where they discover another painting beneath the first, a recycling of the painting canvas. So scrapping an old work for a new one is not unheard of. This is where our simile departs from sense.]
If you’ve got four stories burning, or even one, you’re better off finishing your works in progress and obtaining the marketing push from having multiple products selling for you, than from polishing earlier works.
Your marketing leverage comes from readers who have already read your previous works and will purchase your new works. Some readers will read your previous works and choose not to read subsequent works. You cannot improve their experience or get them back by fixing your previously published manuscripts, you can only try to attract them to newly published manuscripts.
As a reader, I forgive an author a lot of mistakes if tell a great story. However, I cannot buy books they haven’t published. It’s nice that previous books I have already purchased will now be improved, but I’m not rereading them for a few years, if that. Give me another book to buy, if I like your voice, or better yet hook me with a series.
I appreciate editions where authors fix their comma splices and run ons and passive voice and tyops, and feel free to tell me about it at the beginning of your book so I know that you did this nice thing for me to make your work better. That’s worth an extra star if your work is seamless. But save those revisions for downtime, and understand that it may affect future sales, but it will not affect past sales and what they think of your writing.
If readers do the work for you, great, utilize them. There are people who find it compulsory to fix problems, and I’m one of them. I highlight books as I go through them on my Kindle if I see obvious errors, and I’ll send them to the author as a courtesy. It’s the author’s prerogative to act on that or say, “sodoff Baldrick” and that’s that. If a book was published more than six months before and typos still abound, that gets a downgrade in my opinion because surely someone has read it and commented on the typos, and if so, the author doesn’t care enough to update their manuscript to make simple corrections. This is purely based on perception! It’s tough for you as a writer to fix every little thing, but fixing outright errors must be done. Ultimately, your book is your business suit. How it looks tells me volumes about you.)
So, yes, polish a little to fix the glaring stuff; that’s professionalism. Reworking plot points and rewriting? It won’t gain you sales from your existing readership, but may gain you sales for future readers who tackle the book.