Which Version Is The Original?
An interesting situation has arisen concerning the variations in authors’ works around the world after ‘an astonishing degree’ of variance has been discovered in different editions of David Mitchell’s novel ‘Cloud Atlas’.
The book’s manuscript remained unedited in the US for three months after an editor left Random House. Meanwhile in the UK, Mitchell and his editor and copy editor worked on the manuscript, but the changes were not passed on to the US. In theory we’re meant to keep track of your changes and send them along to whichever side is currently behind – but that’s not always what happens.
Mitchell says; ‘I’d ask readers to view the difference between the Cloud Atlases less like a director’s cut versus the original release and more like two very slightly different versions of the same song, recorded with the same musicians, in the same room, at the same session, with differences of only a few notes and a few words, which you can only spot if you concentrate intently.’
In my experience the versions you produce either side of the Atlantic can turn out to be very different indeed. Let’s get rid of one myth, though – neither side edits for content, beyond a few language differences. Timing is usually the problem.
My US publishers often run a year behind my UK publishers, and this can result in different versions of the same book appearing. When a book has to be edited twice you end up reworking the same material six times over, because each book requires three edits apiece – a thematic edit (basically notes from your editor), a copy edit and a proof edit. And if you’re doing them at different times, you make different changes. At this point it’s almost impossible to work with the other versions in front of you because none of the changes match up.
One of the later Bryant & Mays (I forget which now) fell into this trap, and I didn’t remember the changes I’d made in the UK edit because by the time of the US edit I was in the middle of writing an entirely different book.
Does it make a difference to the story? Not usually that much. Which is the original? I agree with Mitchell that they’re simply different takes. Now, we’ve evolved a new system whereby the two countries try to use the same first set of edit notes, to match up the editions more closely.
We also tidy up books for rerelease. The one change I wish I’d made was between the book and the screenplay of ‘Disturbia’. During the writing of the script I hit on a much more satisfying ending (to my mind at least) but no film version was ever made – the script is still in a drawer somewhere if anyone would like to film it!