Thursday, June 13, 2013

Fiction: Then & Now. A NYT bestselling author looks back—and forward.

Kindle   |   Nook
With the advent of ereaders and ebooks, publishing has changed and so has  fiction. My TradPubbed books are longer (much) with more description, more character analysis, more scene setting and context. The story is narrated, that is, "told" by the author, rather than shown. My front list books are shorter, sleeker, snappier.

DECADES was my first "big" book, published in 1974 by Simon And Schuster in hard cover and in a million-copy mass market paperback edition by NAL in 1975. The book was a big seller in hard cover, coming in just below the NYTimes bestseller list which had only ten titles at that time. There were no paperback bestseller lists in those days but DECADES was one of the most successful mass market titles of the year.

The reviews were stellar—back then, book clubs, magazines and newspapers had book sections or members' newsletters and employed professional reviewers.
  • “Powerful...A gripping novel.” — Women Today Book Club
  • “The songs we sang, the clothes we wore, the way we made love. DECADES will have three generations of American women reliving their love lives and recognizing ruefully and with wry affection just what changes have overtaken them. The characterizations are good and the period atmosphere "absolutely perfect.” —Publisher’s Weekly
  • “Three generations of women are succinctly capsuled in this novel by a writer who has all the intellect of Mary McCarthy, all the insight of Joan Didion. Rarely have attitudes been so probingly examined. Tough, trenchant, chic and ultra-sophisticated, Ms. Harris recreates the decades in which her heroines lived, from zoot suits and Sammy Kaye, through Eisenhower, Elvis and poodle-cut hairdos to moon walks, Mick Jagger and micro-minis. A brilliant book!” --Fort Worth Star-Telegram
  • “Evokes the feelings of what it was like to grow up female in the innocence of the 40’s, the movie-formed dreams of the 50’s, the disillusion of the 60’s. It’s all here—the songs, the headlines, the national preoccupations, even the underwear.” —New York magazine
After thinking about the changes in fiction styles over the years, I decided to do a complete rewrite/revision of DECADES for today's readers. So far, I've cut 25K words from the original 111K and here's what I took out:
  • 1970's slang today's readers might not recognize
  • non-essential supporting characters (they provided depth and added perspective)
  • edited down descriptions to make them shorter and less detailed
  • deleted many (but not all) topical references
  • emphasized "showing" instead of "telling"
The story is set in the post-WWII 1940's, the man-in-the-gray-flannel-suit 1950's, and the don't-trust-anyone-over-thirty, make-love-not-war 1960's. I retained the basic themes—love, marriage, family, ambition and generational divides—since the fallout from these tumultuous decades continues to impact us today.

What did stay the same? The characters' emotions as they struggled, changed, acted and reacted to the
immense cultural and social upheavals taking place around them, affecting every aspect of their personal and professional lives.

When I finish, I will publish this newly revised edition of the book as DECADES 2013 and will make both editions available in ebook editions. I think of them as Classic Coke and Diet Coke. I suspect some readers will prefer the older, more immersive style, while others will be drawn to the newer pared-down approach.

I'd love to know what you think. Am I spinning my wheels? Or is creating two editions of the same book a service to my readers? 


  1. Brilliant idea, Ruth.

    I first read Decades back in the 80s. Used copy I'm afraid. Sorry! Then I picked up the ebook last year and remember thinking it was very much of its time. As different from modern-day writing as Shakespeare or Bronte.

    I read Hooked just afterwards, and it was like reading two totally different authors. Not just the obvious difference of genre and style, but authors from two different eras...

    Will you use a more classic 70s style cover design for the original? The new covers are great, but very much the modern world.

    One thing to bear in mind is the Zon and other retailers' piracy software might cause you problems if they pick up mostly identical content and think you are trying to game the system.

  2. Hi Mark, Thanks! :-) I hope so!

    Thanks for the point about piracy gremlins but Decades 2013 is quite different from the orig including a brand-new Chapter 1. It's much shorter, I've cut and recast narrative passages to make them into scenes, deleted characters, topical references, descriptions etc. so the on-the-page content is and looks quite different. Except for changing the last name of a major character, tho, I've kept the names as they were. Do you think I'm safe with that?

    As to the covers, I plan to keep the same look for the 2013 edition but with a different couple + 2013 added to the title. The orig S&S cover was a disaster. My editor Michael Korda apologized at the time—he knew they screwed it up. (Only time a publisher ever apologized for a screw up btw) The current covers echo the original Macmillan cover for Husbands And Lovers—book sold a million copies so I figured they were on to something!

  3. We rewrote Sugar & Spice for the US market after countless complaints about misspellings (ie British English), not understanding slang British prison terms, and not getting the significance of key locations which were integral to the plot.

    So we spent six months researching and transferring the entire story to the US, in American English, with American locations, American police procedures, American serial killer history, etc.

    It took off well then Amazon decided it was the same book and we spent months trying to get a sensible response from them. Meantime they lowered its visibility and by the time we got the okay it had lost all its momentum.

    KDP US seems to be a little more responsive to communications than KDP UK. It might be worth letting them know in advance so there will be something on record if there is an issue (or if some troll complains).

    BTW you've only got Modern Women, Chanel Caper, Brainwashed and Hooked showing on W H Smith Kobo in UK (a full display on Nook UK) and no show on the prestigious British ebooks stores like Waterstone's and Foyles. Is that by choice? We do very well on Waterstone's.

  4. Thank you mega much for the heads up with your problems on S&S. What a nightmare. I will certainly give KDP an advance warning.

    I've only put those four on Kobo for now. Will add more as we go along &, thanks, again, for the info re Waterstone's and Foyles.

  5. You've got some great advice there from Mark Williams. It would be heartbreaking to have the book turned down by the Zon because they thought you were cheating.

    But I hear you about streamlining 20th century books for the present era. We all had so much more time to read then. No time-sucking social media. When I bought my summer reading, I chose the longest books I could get for my money. Can you imagine that?

  6. Anne—Excellent advice from MarkW indeed! And based on a rotten, richly undeserved, experience. Michael and I were just talking about how much can go wrong in epub and how frustrating it is.

    You're soooo right about having more time to read--and to do just about everything. Besides, IIRC, there weren't nearly so many and such constant interruptions. Distraction is one of the worse enemies right now & not just of writers. Everyone is being bombarded from all directions. No wonder yoga classes are crammed full of people trying to focus and relax.