When is it Time to Update Your Book?
There’s a certain sense of finality that comes over you when you hold a physical, printed book in your hands. After all, so many great works can sit in the halls of a famed library for centuries, carefully preserved so that future generations may read the text as it was transcribed so many years beforehand. And yet — today, we as authors have the opportunity to update our works regularly and as we see fit.
So, the question then becomes: when is it time to update your book? For this piece, we’ll be focusing mainly on non-fiction books, so, sadly, I won’t have much to offer as to when you should alter a character name or when your novel’s ending should get an overhaul. With that noted, let’s take a look at three times it may be worth updating your already-published book — starting with a clarification on how updates differ from new editions.
A Book Update vs. New Edition
Before we get into some of the reasons you might want to make revisions to your book, it’s important to note the differences between a mere update and a new edition (no, not the R&B group).
Whether you’re using a print on demand service for your book or selling it strictly as an ebook, you’ll likely be able to make small changes to your manuscript that will be reflected in future purchases of your title. This is especially easy in ebook format as Kindle Direct Publishing will allow you to re-upload your book and begin listing the updated version in a matter of hours. Meanwhile, updating printed copies may take a bit longer — and may even lead to a temporary halt in sales — but can also typically be handled fairly quickly.
As for new editions, these aren’t just simple updates to a current book but are actually treated as entirely new titles. This not only means that it will be listed separately on sites like Amazon but will also require you to obtain a new ISBN (or ASIN for Kindle books). Of course, this also means that customers that bought previous editions of your book will need to purchase your new edition separately. For all of these reasons, creating a new edition should be reserved for major, transformative changes that you feel would justify readers buying the title again.
Something else to note about updates vs. new editions is that, with updates, Amazon allows you to keep all of your customer reviews intact. Unfortunately, since a new edition means a new ISBN and listing, you’ll likely need to start from scratch as far as reviews go. Obviously, with reviews playing such a large role in the success of your book, this is certainly a factor you’ll want to strongly consider.
Sending out updates
Another thing to know is how updates are (or aren’t) sent to readers who have already purchased your book. According to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing site, you can request they alert those who purchased an older version of your book that a corrected version is available. However, since updates will erase readers’ notes and highlights, Amazon says will only take these steps if there are “serious quality issues.”
Despite this, there are other ways you can alert readers when you make updates. For one, you can utilize your existing outlets like e-mail lists and/or social media to advertise changes and advise readers on how to update their copies (Amazon’s Kindle customer service can help). Meanwhile, if you’ve been selling copies directly, hopefully you’ll have a list of purchaser e-mail addresses so you can either send them the new copy or inform them of how to download it themselves.
3 Times When You Might Want to Update Your Book
When information changes
One of the challenges that can come with writing non-fiction is that ongoing events can lead elements of your book to become outdated. While some authors have been able to leverage this fact to their advantage by continually releasing new editions (see above for more on what that entails), you may wish to make smaller scale changes as quickly as possible. This is especially true for how-to books, guidebooks, or other titles where readers may be trying to put the advice you offer into practice and will need the most updated information in order to do so.
A great example of this actually popped up just the other day. Being a huge Disney fan and an absolute geek for the Tokyo Disney Resort, I purchased an ebook all about the resort authored by Christopher Nilghe of TDR Explorer. In his book, he shared a tip about buying tickets online from a site called Klook, which has apparently changed its redemption set-up in recent weeks. Rather than let this small update wait until a 2019 edition of the book Nilghe is planning, he made the correction immediately. What’s more, he also e-mailed readers who purchased the book directly through him to let them know about the change and send them the revised version. To me, this shows how dedicated Nilghe is to his title and how much he cares about his readers. As a result, I suspect that, when he does release subsequent editions or unveils future projects, he’ll have plenty of raving fans ready to not only buy it but to also help spread the word.
Of course, at a certain point, it is ok to stop updating your book and let it remain as a product of its time. Truth be told, readers can see the book’s release date and understand that not everything is going apply 100%. That said, if you are still actively trying to sell your book, you should put in the effort to keep it as relevant and accurate as possible.
When you want to add to/freshen up your content
Just as continually ensuring that your book’s info is accurate can be key to keeping sales success rolling, you may decide that there’s more you could add to your ebook to breathe new life (and value) into your work. For example, I’ve now gone back to update my book — Write, Print, Publish, Promote — as I’ve learned about different tools for marketing your book and more. Incidentally, because of this, some of the latter chapters of my book can get quite meta, but I wanted to share all of the knowledge I’ve gained with my readers.
Similar to my example of how Christopher Nilghe likely won fans by being so proactive about updating his guidebook, giving additional content to your readers for free can be a great way to build relationships. As for those that have yet to purchase your book, announcing the new content may convince those who were on the fence to finally make the purchase or remind those followers who wanted to get your book but forgot that now’s a great time to buy. All in all, this strategy can be a real win-win.
When you’re about to place a new print order
There may be no worse feeling on Earth than opening your newly-published book and having a big, fat glaring typo stare right back at you. No matter how hard you try, this infuriating and soul-crushing experience is still unfortunately common. And while it’s one thing to spot an error in an ebook or even a single copy of your print edition, it’s even worse when you’ve just ordered a new case of books to sell.
To help prevent such pain, it’s always a good idea to give your book another once-over before placing a large order — be it for selling signed copies on your website or peddling your paperback at a convention/expo/trade show. That said, even if you don’t have any events on the horizon, it never hurts to take another look at your book if a while has passed since your last update and see if there are any embarrassing typos you can squash once and for all. This doesn’t mean you need to hop to your computer and make a change every time one of these unfortunate errors catches your eye but it’s definitely nice to take care of them when you can.
Thanks to print on demand services and ebook technologies, authors now have a lot of freedom when it comes to altering their published texts. While you can’t magically erase old pages or even files, you can use updates to keep you readers up to date, offer them additional content for free, or, yes, fix pesky typographical nuisances. Hopefully you can take advantage of this new reality and make your book even better as time goes on.
Also published on Medium.