Bad Reviews and Revising Your Backlist

I have a very old backlist of out-of-print novels that I wrote over a decade ago under what I refer to as the 'penname of shame.' (I am not referring to anything that has been written under "Soule": Sherry Soule or S. A. Soule in the last 5 years.) This is a completely different pen name that I used to write Gothic/Horror novels in the early 2000's and I was published through a shady publisher over 10 years ago.

These four gothic novels did not have much success and got pretty harsh reviews. All of those books are currently out-of-print, except for the used copies still being sold on Amazon, and this one vampire romance eBook that I still find on occasion being sold online at various sites, even though the rights have reverted back to me years ago.

Though, I did hire freelance editors, I realize now that the books obviously needed more revision. I made every mistake that a first-time writer can possibly make, and then in my choice of publishers (seriously—it took me three years of studying and honing my craft to see my obvious blunders.) I stopped writing for years because of a few spectacularly critical reviews that made me want to curl up in a corner and cry. I wrote these novels at a time when prose was overly flowery, and yes, a vivid purple. And I know that all products get negative reviews, but there are a few posted that were just plain "author bashing," and not even honest reviews of the book.

It took a while, but then I finally realized that you shouldn’t give up on your dreams or relive your mistakes. The fact is, there are very few things that I’m proud of in those novels. Now I just look at them as a learning curve. 

And although those books are my part of my past and were epic failures, I didn’t want to give up, because I still loved writing and it was like a light for me during some of the darkest times in my life. 

Eventually, I started writing again and studying the craft. I hired better editors, like Rochelle French and Carmen Erickson of Book Editing Magic, who were amazing and taught me so much. After trying to get an agent and coming close a few times, I decided to go indie.

But to this day, I still feel overwhelming embarrassment about these past publications. My earlier works were prematurely published, and like I mentioned, these novels received mostly negative reviews. And the weirdest thing? I occasionally get inquiries about my writing from readers at an old email that actually liked those suck-tastically-bad-novels-dripping-with-purple-prose.  

Then I started thinking about actors and some traditionally published authors who have had less than stellar works. There's only thing an actor can do after a box office bomb and it is to keep acting and improve their craft. An author can either quit writing or start honing their skills and publishing better stories. It seems nearly every high-profile actor has suffered through a few movie flops throughout the course of their careers. But those actors and authors put those one-star books and critical movie failures in the past, and moved on...

Of course, I’m much prouder of my newer published novels. And I'm not saying they’re perfect, but I know in my heart that these current books are a heck of a lot better than the utter trash that I was writing under the ‘penname of shame.' Now that I’ve had a small amount of success, I feel blessed and grateful that I kept writing and didn't give up. (Sure, I’ve still gotten a few critical reviews on my newer publications, but thankfully the good ones far outweigh the negative ones.)

Over the years, I completely rewrote most of these previously published novels, and now the updated series is actually one of my top sellers and a big favorite among my reader fanbase. Actually, as I learn and grow as a writer, I revise all of my current novels every year or two, and then republish. 

I would advice other self-published writers or indie authors to revise their backlist every few years. And it's odd, but whenever I've offered to help a self-published writer to re-edit their work to improve sales, plus offset any negative reviews (either for free or at a very low editing fee), these writers never want to revise the novel and polish the storyline to a more professional level. I have a really hard time understanding this attitude. 

So my questions and concerns are this…

Should I just “own up” to being this writer with the horrible gothic novels, or try to keep them buried in the past? 

Will it turn these old readers into new ones?

If anyone goes online searching for the old penname, should I redirect them to my new one?  (I still have an old website up under the penname of shame.)

Anyway, I’m struggling with a decision. Please let me know your thoughts on this subject in the comments. 



  1. I personally think that these various pen names can be connected, without any shame. What you've written above is a perfect introduction to the older books, and certainly some readers will like both the older and the newer books. Also, connecting S.A. Soule and Sherry Soule is not a bad idea. I was looking for S.A. Soule books (actually an out of print book "How to Write Back Jacket Copy") that I saw in my Goodreads' feed: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25060237-how-to-write-back-jacket-copy

    I would really like an ebook copy of this book, if you can make it available for sale. Either Kindle or Epub on some other platform is fine.

    Sincerely, Jeff Mcneill jeff@mcneill.io

    1. Thanks, Jeff. Actually, I wasn't talking about either of my current pen names, but an older one from about 10 years ago. And you can check out all the newer publications on my Amazon profile: https://www.amazon.com/S.-A.-Soule/e/B017Y1KM2I/


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