Should You Revive an Old Book Manuscript?

Every writer we know has old manuscripts. With the advent of electronic publishing and the completely open wild, wild west of self-publication, the temptation to simply open up the old files and see what flies out is so tantalizing as to be almost too good to pass up. But before you do that, it might be a good idea to take a few steps back so that the decision to revive or just leave the manuscript in the manuscript cemetery (where it often belongs) is a calculated one.

Let’s begin by examining why you abandoned the work in the first place.

The reasons why writers abandon unfinished work are many and varied. Before you decide to review one or more of your own pieces, it’s probably a good idea to figure out why you stopped work on a particular project.

You lost interest in it and couldn’t figure out how to get the mojo back. If you lost interest then, you will likely not be all that interested now. You’re probably forcing it. Bury it. Forever. Just stop.

You had no idea where it was going so you stopped working on it. If you still have no idea where it is going, step back for a moment. If you begin to work with it and it seems to be taking shape, go for it. If you still have to force a direction, bury it. Forever. Be cautious.

You got distracted by something else – life, work, family. All of these things are reasons why some of our writing gets put on the back burner. This manuscript might have legs. Brush it off and get to work. Give yourself the green light.

Before you get too excited about the reworking an abandoned manuscript, consider the following:

  • Ask yourself why you want to publish it now. Do you just want to see it in print (electronic or otherwise)? If the answer is yes, I suggest you need a better reason. There are a lot of books out there these days that no one will ever read. If you really don’t care if anyone else reads it, perhaps you need to put it away.
  • Reread it what you have already written to see if you still feel the pull of the material. If you don’t, put it back in the electronic drawer and step away.
  • Analyze it for currency. Are the ideas still resonant? Will current readers appreciate the themes? If you aren’t sure, ask someone whose opinion you value to read it. Perhaps even consider beta readers.
  • Edit the manuscript for specifics that will bring the details up to date. For example, if the protagonist still uses a payphone, unless it’s part of a quirky character trait (or a historical piece!), you need to do a bit of updating.
  • When you have finished the rewrite, read it again to see if you still feel enthusiastic. If the answer is yes, you’re ready to press the publish button! Or start querying publishers!