When it's time to revisit book #1 in your series

Kevin Chapman  
Book #1 in your series is the most important for hooking new readers. But when you wrote it, it was your first book, and it wasn't as good then as it would be now – and it's not as well-written as the later books in the series. Now what? How to you market book #1 as the introduction to the series when it's not your best book? The answer: it's time to think about a second edition.

When you have a series, the key to successful marketing is coax readers into reading book #1. You want readers to be enthralled, fully hooked on your characters and your writing style, and excited about buying book #2 (and book #3, etc.). When I finished book #5 in my Mike Stoneman Thriller series, I took a hard, objective look back at book #1, Righteous Assassin, and came to a somewhat disappointing conclusion. Book #1 was not as good as the rest of the books in the series.

It wasn’t that much of a surprise. Righteous Assassin was my first attempt at a thriller. Four years later, I was a better writer. My plots were tighter. My dialogue was better. My characters were richer and more interesting than they were when I started the series. As a result, marketing book #1 as a reader magnet was destined to be less successful than I wanted it to be. Why? Because the book wasn’t as good as it could be. It wasn’t as good as it would have been if I wrote it in 2022 instead of in 2018. How do you fix that? You do a full edit of that first book and then publish a second edition.

    It’s like dragging yourself down into that dark basement where you left the body of the guy who tried to murder you last night. You don’t really want to go, but you know you must. You need to take a hard look at your old writing. In my case, I had to cut. The original edition was 125,000 words. It was too long. The audiobook was 13 hours. Value for your money, but too long to effectively market. I had to cut, and hack away text I had sweated over for months. I cleaned up the dialogue, cut excessive dialogue tags, trimmed long chapters, and made the book better. I also sent the whole revised text to my editor for a full re-edit.

     In the end, the second edition of Righteous Assassin is not only better, but more consistent with the following books in the series. The original text had more graphic violence than any of the other books, which focus more on the characters and relationships – even with a little romance. The serial killer story of book #1 needed a certain amount of violence to define the killer’s character and set the mood properly. But it was too much. Several reader reviews mentioned it. Readers who continued on to the later books and who were expecting the same thriller-level descriptions of gruesome killings were bound to be a little disappointed. Meanwhile, many big fans of the later books told me they almost didn’t keep reading because the violence in the first book turned them off. Since the later books were much less violent, I needed to make book #1 more consistent with the tone of the later installments. It was a difficult undertaking. It tore at my heart to cut my prose, but it was needed. Now, readers of book #1 have a novel that is an appropriate example of the writing style and quality they will experience in the rest of the series. As a reader magnet, Righteous Assassin is now exactly what I need it to be.

     If you are in that spot – where your writing is better now (after several novels) than it was when you started book #1, consider making the effort to review and revise that first book. Things for you to consider include:

  • ·        Look at the reviews of book #1. Are there recurring criticisms that you could fix if you had another shot at the plot, characters, writing style, or pacing?
  • ·        Ask your most loyal fans (your street team or newsletter subscribers) to give you some honest feedback about what they didn’t love about book #1.
  • ·        Send your revision out to a team of beta readers who will give you brutal criticism.
  • ·        If you had a DIY cover for your first book, now is a great time to refresh the cover images to make your cover pop and make it more consistent with your subsequent books. (If the whole series has less-than-wonderful covers, perhaps refresh them all.)
  • ·        If you didn’t have a professional editor for your first book, now is a great time to send it out for a full professional once-over. (I can give you a good recommendation.)
  • ·        If you didn’t get great editorial reviews for book #1, send out your revised versions to magazines, bloggers, and fellow authors and get some good editorial review blurbs for your book’s sale page, back cover, and for your website.

Every marketing guru will tell you that the best way to sell more books is to write more books. Now that you have done that, the best way to get read-through on all the books in your series is to make sure that book #1 is the best it can be. Remember, this is the book you will be marketing hard. Your future series sales depend on a great first book. Take the time, make the effort, and you won’t be sorry.


Kevin G. Chapman is the author of The Mike Stoneman Thriller Series (currently five books, with book #6 due out in 2024), along with two stand-alone mystery/thrillers published since publishing book #1, Righteous Assassin, in 2016. Visit Kevin at www.KevinGChapman.com.



I’m looking forward to revisiting book #1 in my series. Of course, I’ll have to finish writing it first :wink:

Sep-11 at 00:07


How I relate to this blog post! I don’t have a series, but I have just finished my second novel, and I’m already looking back at my first published novel and thinking, “I wish I could take it back”.

Unfortunately it’s published by a traditional indie publisher, so I don’t have the ability to produce a second edition. All I can do is remind myself to reclaim the rights when the contract expires.

Sep-11 at 00:16


For series writers, I think there will always be a toss up as to whether to write the series then publish, or publish as you go.

Option 1 gives you the ability to make the whole series more coherent and of the same quality.
Option 2 gives you the ability to (potentially) earn money from early books and to fine tune for target audiences etc. Plus, the sense of achievement of making progress.

I think that the option the author chooses depends on the type of writer they are and their circumstances i.e. there is no single option that is universally better.

My personal experience – I wrote a series of 8 then four other stand-alones within eighteen months (reasonable draft level, all 80k+). Only then did I do anything about improving my writing and turning those first drafts into ‘proper’ books. Just by writing the sheer volume of words (each is novel-length), my writing improved (Neil Gaiman strongly recommends writing a lot to improve, and it does help). Tolerant alpha readers (who read as I wrote) gave me more info. Finding CC made me very glad I hadn’t self-published any of the books.

When I found CC, I chose to put book 1 of the series through the queues, because I knew it was one of the worst of the books I’d written (writing wise) – plus, as the OP says, it’s crucial for the rest of the series. Very tolerant critters helped me improve my writing dramatically. The story and setting and characters are the same, but it is now as differently written from the first draft as the difference between a mangy half-starved stray dog and a pampered shiny pet on the sofa. There’s still something lacking in it to take it Crufts level – voice.

The one book I’ve written since I started on CC (which hasn’t gone through CC and won’t be), has a lot more ‘voice’ – it was written by a ‘me’ that is far more braver and skilled than book 1 of my series, not just in technical skills. I recognise the difference now but how to imbue book 1 with the same voice is going to be tricky.I’m currently up to fixing the basic errors in the rest of the series and making them as good as book 1 (show/tell, filtering, etc etc).

So, personally I’m very glad I have time to fix my book 1 (and 2, 3, etc) before launching it onto the world. Would I recommend to others that they write a whole series first before fixing them all? No, definitely not – only if you are a fast writer and like learning as you go. Revising over a million words from draft 1 into something respectable is A) daunting, and B) not at all efficient time-wise.

On the plus side, the organic method of learning suits me and it’s allowed me to keep the originality of my stories without them becoming formulaic (yes, CC does have the ability to destroy creativity if you let it). If I had a choice now of going back and doing it differently then I wouldn’t. But that’s me. I strongly believe, and have said so numerous times on CC, that people have to work out what suits them.

Some famous authors don’t like the way their first books were written. I can’t remember who, but one author said that after their death their children weren’t to republish their very first books, because they didn’t think them good enough. The greedy children went ahead and re-published them anyway (may they be haunted by their parent). So, first books (whether in a series or not) can be a learning curve – if nothing else, they are a milestone of how much one has improved.

Rambling on in the middle of the night – hopefully someone finds the ramblings useful.

Sep-11 at 04:42


I agree that for self-publishing, writing them all and then publishing is a potentially good idea. I was advised by an agent not to do this if you plan to traditionally publish as the agent/ publishers may want to make changes to book 1 which would mean unpicking the whole series.

Sep-11 at 06:59


Damn varmints wanna unpick my carefully crafted series?

Sep-11 at 07:07


I think it would depend on whether the series ‘worked’ as a whole, as well as the individual agent/publisher. E.g. Larrson’s Girl with a Dragon Tattoo trilogy was taken as it was, because it was complete and very good. Of course, he was dead so he couldn’t really change anything anyway.

For me personally, I’d query one of my others first anyway. Then, if they liked that they might be interested in the series (some agents have ‘series’ in their wishlists). Plus, as @Jacksavage says, them ‘damn varmints’ aint gonna change much in my series. It’s not changeable anyway, beyond minor stuff, because the foreshadowing and Chekhov’s guns are littered throughout the whole thing. If it was really good enough that they’d offer me a tonne of money for, then I’d happily rewrite it anyway – but it’s not that good so it can stay as it is.

Sep-11 at 07:21


Yes, the advice was given as someone who has written book 1, trying to find an agent and asked, what do you recommend I do next? The recommendation was write something different. If you’ve already written it, well… you’ve already written it! I can imagine there is a benefit of having it all ready to go as long as it’s in good nick.

Sep-11 at 07:27


Not yet. Just started. But the opening of book 2 is highly dependent on the ending of book 1.

Sep-11 at 07:33


I read something very interesting on ‘Ask A Book Editor’ facebook group the other day. Somebody had asked for sample edits from a bunch of professional editors, but all the editors had recommended different changes. The poor person was lost as to who to pick or what to do next about the whole book. The onsite editors said that is quite typical, because so much of editing is a style choice (they suggested that the person pick someone whose changes resonated with their intent for the book).

Having read a lot of agent’s wishlists and interviews etc. over the last couple of months, I think agents are also extremely subjective. E.g. one interview had the agent’s viewpoint as well as the authors and it bucked the trend of what people are told to put in query letters etc. The agent loved it because it stood out. The author said that the day the acceptance email came, they also had several rejection emails at the same time. So, it’s a bit of a lottery as to whether someone targets the right agent at the right moment with the right project presented in the right way.

Sep-11 at 07:35


I also think it depends why someone writes the series in the first place. E.g. I wrote mine for myself, so it only matters that I like it. My alpha readers also liked it, so that was a bonus. Maybe, when it’s done being unfiltered etc, others will too but that doesn’t matter to me.

On the other hand, my latest effort is an origin story, and I’d be disappointed if others didn’t like it too. But at the moment it is standalone so there is scope to write the rest to fit a target market. (Except I’m a pantser, but that’s another story :rofl:)

If I’d planned a series over years and years in the expectation of it being a great series, then I’d be gutted if nobody liked it. People keep asking me to write something particular, which I’ve resisted so far, but who knows – that might be the series I plan and it turns into years of frustrating disappointment.

I can see that someone who puts all their effort into a series only to have an agent say ‘Love book 1, but we’ll only take it if you scrap the rest of the series and write it completely differently’ would be gutting. I think the OP has a big advantage in that they effectively have the opposite issue. The bulk of the readers prefer the rest of the series, so they only need to do some repairs on the first book.

Sep-11 at 07:55


I always love your ramblings, whenever they occur to you.

Sep-11 at 11:07


That’s how I landed up here. I just had a cool story but didn’t really see myself as a writer. Scribbled it out and posted on Amazon, errors and all. All the feedback was consistently “great story, godawful writing” and then a couple of readers really got involved in the world and demanded I write a proper novel (I thought I had - my scribble was it)

It took a lot of arguing, but they helped me see that even with the terrible writing, I was hooking readers. They still loved the characters and story. I was basically being stupid not doing it properly. Advice led to advice led to here.

Came here armed with two manuscripts and ready for name, fame and acclaim.

First crit on first post in newbie queue and I unpublished my book and got serious about writing it properly.

So technically, my book 1 is a rewrite of a rough draft I was stupid enough to publish. lol.

Then I went down the rabbit-hole of refining to a pathological degree and brought myself to a hard stop by hitting publish with what I had once it became clear I was in the land of diminishing returns.

But I don’t think I’ll revisit it again unless I need to change any world elements for future books and would like to write them into the continuity of early books as well.

Needless to say, Book 2 is going much better.

Sep-11 at 18:13


Coincidentally enough, I was halfway through the first draft of book number 5 about 6 months ago and realized it was time to revisit book #1, which has turned into a total overhaul (of the writing, not the story). I agree with with everything in your blog, that writing multiple books is the only way to get better, but that, of a necessity, means by the time you are done, you can improve your magnum opus (and if that isn’t the first book, it should be). Great insight.

Sep-11 at 23:17


similar to how i ended up here.

still dont view myself as a writer. Not really.

Sep-11 at 23:32


Thanks – it’s nice to feel like I’m adding value/content to the community. I don’t think I could have held myself back from publishing until I finished 5 books, so the growing pains are inevitable for an indie author. I might suggest making the first book a stand-alone before launching into a series.

Sep-14 at 02:53


Good post! Also consider a “touch up.” Fix a scene or two, plug a plot hole someone noticed, but otherwise focus on eliminating the smaller irritants that exist in almost any book (and that litter your reader reviews). That’s the cool thing about self-publishing, you can update whenever you want!

Sep-14 at 20:42


Right, Dougp. Being independent, it’s easy to fix typos or make small corrections when somebody points out a problem. No matter whether it’s the first edition or a second edition, always try to keep it clean and fix those blemishes as soon as you find out about them. It’s too easy to blow it off and leave something in that one out of twenty readers will notice (and hold against you).

Sep-21 at 20:58


Thanks for a very timely post. I’m still editing my third novel which should have been #2, but is needed as a bridge between 1 & 3. Not sure if I should halt #2 edits and go back to #1 or finish #2. All I know is the process is taking much longer than I want. Talking years here. My attention deficit disorder is having a field day. Ooh. Squirrel!

Oct-22 at 04:32
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