Should Authors Offer “Director’s Cuts” of Their Work?

authors preferred cuts pixabayThe good news is, as a self-published author, I can say I will never release a so-called director’s cut, or “author’s preferred text” version of my novels. What’s out is my preferred version. I haven’t been hornswoggled or bullied into publishing something I’m not entirely happy with. And that’s a good thing.

However, in the world of traditional publication, that’s not the case. The publisher gets the final say and some authors aren’t happy. The phenomenon was mentioned recently in this Slate article about Neil Gaiman. In passing, I’ve heard of several authors who wished they had more clout at the time their book was published, in order to veto changes. (One very noticeable one is JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book. The US publisher thought the “Philosopher’s Stone” didn’t sound cool enough, so US kids got the “Sorcerer’s Stone.” But in this piece, Rowling notes she wishes she would’ve fought harder against it.)

While I don’t have a director’s cut available, I have always liked the notion of offering readers stuff that didn’t make the final cut of a manuscript. Sometimes, we write scenes that just don’t work in the final narrative. And while the story worked fine without it, it’s sometimes fun to share those things with readers.

I would never re-issue my book with cut scenes, but, like on those DVDs that offer extras, I am certainly willing to share the extra stuff with readers, when I have it. Those scenes are little gems I save for my website, so readers can easily find them. I think I had more extras starting out than I do nowadays. In the beginning, I was still getting a feel for the writing process and what would work and what wouldn’t. Also, I’m much busier now than I used to be, and I try to stick to a productive writing schedule, so it makes it less likely I’ll go off on tangents or write a scene I know won’t make the final cut. Occasionally, I will write a scene I have no intention of using because it doesn’t fit the story, but I know it occurs and I’m curious about what happens in the interaction. I want more than a flash in my mind of what transpired. I want to see the scene, so I write it. But, again, this is rarer for me nowadays.

While my extra scenes are more akin to add-ons than a “director’s cut,” I will say the Slate article has buoyed me. I think there are always tidbits that writers know that they don’t share with their readers. There are so many things we keep locked in the vaults of our brains (or the bottom of our Word docs) that just don’t make it to the printed work.

So, what’s an author to do? Should we release all the tidbits as extras or “director’s cut” editions of the work? Well, I’d hate to create a hard and fast rule, but if I were forced to make one, I’d say probably not. But, if there is a work that keeps haunting an author because she feels there’s more to add, then write it. Or if the author has time to write out some of the hidden tidbits in a readable fashion because he thinks it would make the reader’s experience more complete, then do it. And if readers ask a lot of questions about a particular storyline or character in your book, then that, too, is an indication that you might want to offer up some extra info for your beloved readers.

Of course if once you’re done, you’re done, and you don’t want to add more or talk more about your book or your characters, that’s certainly your prerogative as an author. But I do think if you want to offer up a little extra for readers, it will be appreciated. Which is probably why the “author’s preferred text” editions are a thing, now.

Author: RJ Crayton

RJ Crayton is a former journalist turned novelist. By day, she writes thrillers with a touch of romance. By night, she practices the art of ninja mom. To learn more about her or her books, visit her website or her Author Central page.

21 thoughts on “Should Authors Offer “Director’s Cuts” of Their Work?”

  1. Interesting concept, RJ. I like it. But like you, I would never feel the need to issue a “Director’s cut,” since I publish what is my final version that I’m happiest with. However, I can see publishing some “behind the scenes” nuggets, things about the book or the characters that are not evident in the book. I felt like I did this with a book club recently, taking them behind the scenes and telling them about my writing process. It was a lot of fun. Good idea, too, to offer it on your web page. Hm…. wheels turning. Thanks!

    1. Yes. I find offering the deleted scenes helpful. People who really enjoyed the book often are interested in extra tidbits. Plus, cutting stuff from a book doesn’t mean it’s uninteresting stuff. It just means it didn’t quite work with the narrative flow.

  2. I’m with you on this one. It’s one of the reasons I have no plans to pursue traditional publishers. Call me a control freak if you like, but I see writing as art. How many painters do you know that would allow a gallery to tell them to take out that flower, make the portrait smile more or change to title.

    I had not thought of the ‘added features’ bit, though, and think it is a neat idea.

    1. That’s a good analogy, Yvonne. Painters just paint and you either take it or leave it once they’ve gotten to the final product. I think it’s unfortunate when publishers go in and make major changes so the authors have a desire to put out their “preferred edition.”

  3. Interesting article, thanks.

    The whole “directors cut” concept comes from scenes that are excluded from the final cut of a movie. The reasons can vary. Most of the time it’s done to keep the movie run-time under control, so attention spans (and bladders) of movie-goers aren’t challenged.

    Sometimes it’s an artistic choice as the cut scenes really didn’t add anything to the story.

    With the advent of VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, etc., directors cuts and the availability of deleted scenes came into vogue. We could now opt to see them in the comfort of our own homes, and without worry of longer run-times.

    I don’t think the “director’s cut” concept translates very well into books, mainly because book run-time really isn’t the main issue. Often times there’s a good reason material is cut from the final draft: It didn’t work to begin with.

    I suppose there are always exceptions, but I know that in my work deleted scenes need to stay deleted.

    1. Thanks for sharing the history on the director’s cut. I think, in general, most books don’t suffer from length problems. However, some do. Some are just too long, even with editing, especially if you’re talking traditional publishers (think of a long YA book; Yes, Rowling made more length in YA acceptable, but that’s still reserved for big name authors. There are costs to adding extra pages and keeping the price reasonable for a print edition).

      I think authors of books that needed cutting for length might want to share their work on their own site. Mostly, deleted scenes should stay deleted. There’s a reason they don’t work. But again, those who love the book are often interested in the stuff that didn’t work, as much as they are the stuff that did.

      1. Agreed that most deleted scenes should stay deleted. One example is Stephen R. Donaldson’s “Gilden-Fire,” a short story/novella that started life as a couple of chapters in the middle volume of a trilogy. Donaldson cut the chapters because the book’s main character, Thomas Covenant, isn’t in them, and one of the series’ big questions is whether the Land (where the story takes place) is real, or whether it’s all in Covenant’s head.

        Some time later, a specialty publisher approached Donaldson about creating a small printing (about 1,000 copies) of anything Covenant-related that he might have lying around. Donaldson offered them the excised chapters, and “Gilden-Fire” was the result. Then things got out of hand, and somehow another publisher put out an edition. Eventually “Gilden-Fire” was included in one of Donaldson’s short-story collections, but he’s made it clear that he doesn’t consider it “canon” and he’s sorry he ever released it at all.

  4. As a hybrid author, I recognise this. I’m currently reading “Magician” by Raymond E Feist in the “author’s preferred text” version where about 50,000 words was restored. Must say that I’m loving it.

    And I’ve just published my own “author’s preferred text” of “His Silken Seduction”, a novella originally published by Harlequin. The original novella had to be kept to 17,000 words; the new version is about 45,000. So quite a rewrite. And I’m SO glad I did it.

    1. Wow! Adding 30,000 words is a lot. Sounds like you had a very different vision from your publisher. It’s great that self-publishing allowed you to get your vision out into the world.

  5. I agree with most of you; as indies, we publish the director’s cut the first time out. If there’s anything really good left “on the cutting room floor” it’s a sign that there’s another book in there somewhere.
    And we’re always looking for good stuff to publish on our blogs, aren’t we? 🙂

    1. Yes, extra stuff for the blogs and websites is always fun. And who knew all you had to do to grab extras was to look on the cutting room floor!

      Actually, I’m kidding. Even when you use deleted scenes as extras, you have to clean it up a bit, and usually provide a little commentary. But, I find people generally enjoy them.

  6. I have a massive folder of ‘outtakes’ but I’m not sure I’d ever publish any of them as standalone stories or even as added extras; I cut them for a reason. -shrug-

    Thank goodness this is not a burning issue for Indies. lol Just one more reason to be glad we’re in the drivers seat.

  7. Movie studios often cut out scenes they feel either impede the film’s story structure or simply cause it to run longer than what they think is necessary. In “The Exorcist,” for example, director William Friedkin wanted to include Linda Blair’s so-called “spider walk.” It comes just after Ellen Burstyn’s character discovers her friend was discovered dead outside the townhouse. It was just a purely dramatic end to the scene, but didn’t really advance the story. However, it’s in the “director’s cut” version. In “Blade Runner,” director Ridley Scott fought with executives over a scene towards the film’s conclusion where the character of Deckard (Harrison Ford) finds a unicorn figurine. Scott insisted the scene remain in place because it was central to the overall story, which it is, if you’ve ever watched the movie. But, of course, power won out over creative instinct, and the scene was omitted. Fortunately, it’s in the “director’s cut” version, as it should be, because it really is a critical component of the story.

    Movie producers and book publishers are of the same mindset: they see things through the business part of “show business.” Because they’re the ones holding the checkbook we artists often are forced to submit to their whims. With the advent of self-publishing, though, writers are regaining the power of creativity one book at a time. Coincidentally, independent films are becoming more mainstream. Such movements are causing traditional publishers and movie executives to squirm like someone with hemorrhoids on a trans-oceanic flight.

    Power to the Creatives!

    1. Thanks for that plane imagery, there. I’ll have to use that expression in the future. 🙂

      Business and creativity have always bumped heads a little bit. It’s good that self-publishing allows a bit more creativity, as the business mind is also the creative mind.

  8. There’s one case where I’m considering something like this. I recently found my first manuscripts and they are Bad. One of them has a lot of potential, though, so I am planning a rewrite and with that one it may be a fun idea to do an edition that includes the original to show how different two results of the same idea can become – and how far a writer can evolve over a course oft 20 years

    1. That’s an interesting idea. Rewrites offer a lot of experience and change. It would be interesting to know how much extra content readers would want.

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