What is a Stale Book and Why am I so Pi$$ed?

What’s a stale book you ask?  Let me tell you.

I recently bought a book for my e-reader and settled in for a good read. It is out of my usual genre (romance) and more like the books Diane Capri writes,which means it is a thriller.  (If you like thrillers, hers are great and are available here.)

The book I’m so unhappy with is set in the middle east during an American CIA mission on which the fate of the world depends.

Great setting, right?


The book opens with a CIA executive briefing the American president about the risks to American safety and the future of the free world. Apparently these risks are posed by one man who wants to:

1. Build a dirty bomb

2. Set off a chemical bomb

3. Create terrorist activities on US soil

4. And so forth

Obviously I’m in for a spine tingling, sit on the edge of my chair read. But wait…what name is this?

Saddam Hussein?  Whaaaaaat?

In all honesty I couldn’t finish the book.  The former leader was not the villain by any stretch of the imagination but the premise of the book was: We have to get the bad guy before he gets to Saddam and they destroy the world.

Uhmmm not.

One of the advantages of indie publishing is the ability to have our books on the electronic shelf forever. But forever means time changes and if I want a book to remain ‘real’ to my reader, I have to ensure that it is current and topical.

By the way, it’s not just thrillers. I bought several of my favorite romance writer’s ebooks and was most disappointed to see she hadn’t updated her backlist – so the hero popped a cassette into the car stereo, used a phone booth, and went home to check email.  OOPS. Right away I’m out of the story and into my head about what’s wrong with this book

So tell me, how do you ensure that your books stay current over the long haul?  Do you pay attention to these questions when you write? Or when your book is published? Or do you consider them at all?

About Louise Behiel

Author, coach, therapist, mother and grandmother. I'm on a spiritual journey and consciously work to grow every day.
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52 Responses to What is a Stale Book and Why am I so Pi$$ed?

  1. OooOooooh, good questions, Louise. I try to stay away from anything that can ‘date’ my book. I’ll say, mobile instead of iPhone or listened to music, instead of popped her mp3 in the car, etc. It makes it more challenging, but I do it for the exact reasons you mention. Times change quickly, and what’s hot today will be irrelevant tomorrow. Generally I can look past these things when I’m reading, but if it’s banging me in the head, I have to put the book down. What a bummer that you were pulled so far out of the story you couldn’t finish it. Great lesson for us, though.

    • Exactly Tameri. Sometimes we have to be creative but it’s worth it, I think. And for the authors publishing their backlist, what does it take to freshen up the story? Find and replace on Work is easy to use.

  2. What Tameri said! Try to keep things things out that ‘date’ the book. My issue comes mostly in wanting to have my characters quote or reference a movie or TV show. I love using stuff like that, but have to be careful. In the case like what you have above, best to make up a super-uber bad guy. We already know Saddam is dead, so no, I wouldn’t want to read that book.

  3. prudencemacleod says:

    Actually, when I’m reading I don’t mind this stuff at all. Maybe that’s my age showing, but I actually enjoy saying,”Dang, I remember what a pain it was when we had to do that.” Heck, some of my early stuff could be called historical pieces now. Tee Hee

  4. MonaKarel says:

    It depends on if this is a new release or a book that’s been out for ten years. When I brought Teach Me To Forget out of my computer for publication i went through and changed cassette tapes to DVDs and adjusted other current event refrences. But that was for a first time out book. If it’s an existing book, I’d rather spend time on a new story than go through and update.

    • One of these books was new and the others were a backlist re-issue. But either way, for me, I want them updated. I returned the Saddam Hussein book. If an author can’t be bothered to change a name and it doesn’t seem worth my time to read or money to buy. but that’s me.

  5. Sandy says:

    Louise, in one of my books I was out of date, but my mentor caught it and made me update it. This is a difficult one to watch out for. Do you think we should pull our books every few years to update them?

    • I am not sure about every couple of years, Sandy but it’s been a long time since cassettes were around And Saddam as a terror threat? He’s the driving force in the book and he’s been dead for a year or two, so yes, for me, that story should have been updated. In this electronic world, it’s not that hard.

      good for your mentor – it’s not usually hard to fix for an e-book.

  6. Funny…. I blogged about this a while back. It does take me out of the story the first time, but if I go back and look at the copyright page and see that the book’s old, I’m OK with it after that. One of my friends recently self-published a book he wrote ten years ago. Yep, it had some of this stuff in it – and he mentioned that in a foreword. So I was OK with it there.

    As for my own books, it’s hard for me to completely stay away from things that will date my books because they’re time-travel, and these things are one of the ways that highlight the differences between past and present. I did have actual dates and news events in them that I took out or swapped with fiction before I published, so hopefully that makes them a little more timeless.

  7. Gerri Bowen says:

    If I know ahead of time that the story does not take place in the present it doesn’t bother me. I’m not happy when a book is presented as a new release and it has out dated references, OR if it’s presented as new and I’ve already read it. I have seen the suggestion that if it is an older book, put the date when first published, and then the date it was updated.

    • simple solution, isn’t it Gerri? I have all my old Amanda Quick and Julie Garwood books and I love them. Re-read them still. the writing style is a little old, but I don’t care because they’re historicals, so there is none of these issues. But I would appreciate a warning with newer books that are e-published.

  8. Some of my favorite books are “outdated” and I still enjoy them. Helen McInnes, for instance, wrote in the 70’s and 80’s. While her books are not current, they are rousing good tales, IMHO. She was writing about terrorist plots way before terroism hit the news. OTOH, I laugh when I see Goldeneye and the geek brags about his 14.4 modem. For me, it very much depends on how much I’m being drawn into the story, I guess. Maybe you just weren’t in the right mood?

    I got dinged in a review once because my heroine preferred a typewriter. The book was set during the first Gulf War and couldn’t be “updated” with current technology, but didn’t publish until 2002, well, that’s when it was officially copyrighted. The reviewer, I suspect, was too young to know there was a first Gulf War. So stuff happens and you can’t control it, no matter how hard you try. If the book were to revert to me and I indie published it, I would probably put some kind of notice at the front, or maybe a year?

    • See, that’s what I mean – if you tell me, then I have a choice. If you don’t tell me, then I buy something I don’t want. and i know my feelings aren’t for everyone, but my truth is that I won’t buy those authors again. ever. so they’ve lost me for new books, too. very sad.

  9. Changing a backlist title isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially if the author no longer has the digital file of the original book (IF there’s a digital file! Older books may not even have digital files). Scanning books in and making them viable in Word isn’t an easy prospect, either, though with the right tools it can be done.

    One person’s work that seems to age beautifully is Nora Roberts. Her older books still resonate – and I think it might be because she does tend to stay away from technology. I know I try to stay away from technology, and not only because it confuses the heck out of me, lol!

    • Totally agree with you – I was speaking about e-books and probably should have been clearer. If you can get a backlist book up on amazon, you can get it accurate for today. I agree scanning and OCR isn’t easy. Nora’s books are timeless aren’t they? many authors’ books are. But for e books it is such a simple fix.

  10. anny cook says:

    Actually, I don’t like it when a book is “updated”. Where does it end? Are we going to update everything? Look at the copyright date. If it’s old, then read it, or not, but constantly updating changes the flavor of the story. Even thrillers. I believe it’s interesting to look back and see what things we feared, what events changed our world.

    • Anny thanks for sharing your opinion. Of course you’re right for you. It just bugs me. I do look in the store and it’s also why I don’t buy many books second hand. But since I read almost exclusively on my kindle these days, I’m not sure that I can see the copyright until I’ve downloaded it. I’ll have to check. thanks for stopping by.

  11. If it’s an older book, I don’t mind at all. I guess mine is going to be dated in a few years but I’m not going to take the time in 10 or 20 years to update to holograms or anything. I remember reading some of Nora Roberts’ backlist and the characters were smoking. How often does that happen in a book today? If I were writing a thriller, though, (1) I wouldn’t start off with exposition and (2) I would make up a bad guy and a city / state / country, etc, even if the events surrounding the story were true.

    • I think we all use current technologies, especially in romance. but simple things like cassette players, phone booths etc are simple fixes, usually. and since the virtual bookshelf will be around for a long time, I think we owe it to future readers to update our books periodically. at least that’s how I feel.

  12. susielindau says:

    I think you have to choose a time period, do the research and stick with it! Mine takes place in present time so of course technology plays a part and no, there aren’t any phone booths! Those details throw me too!

  13. Left-Brained Business for Write-Brained People says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is one of my biggest gripes. And it’s not just ebooks either. I’ve picked up what I thought were new releases by big name authors, only to realize after I got home and started reading that they were first copyrighted 20 and 30 years ago. The only “new” thing was maybe an intro by the author that always says something like “Oh, this was just the best book I ever wrote, and I’m so glad I’m not able to share it with you.” If they love the books so much, why didn’t they update them. Dated material is not something I want to spend my free-time reading, and you can bet I will hesitate ever picking up any form of book by that author again. Thank you for being in my corner!


    • Yes, that bugs me too. just tell me, so I can decide if I want to buy it or not. I love Nora Roberts new books – she has that seal on them if they’re new. I don’t have to look around or search, I can tell on the cover.

  14. Left-Brained Business for Write-Brained People says:

    Oops, need to update my own comment. I meant to write that the author said “I’m so glad I’m NOW able to share it with you.” Not that “I’m not able to share”. I wish they hadn’t. Sorry.


  15. lynettemburrows says:

    I partially agree with you, Louise. But, I think part of the problem is that the writer tried to keep the bad guy’s name a secret when he shouldn’t have. He should have said on his cover blurb that the good guys are fighting Hussein. Hussein was too big a deal to make him the secret.

    The details like phone booths, etc. that date the story don’t usually bother me – if it’s a good story that is appropriate to the time frame or the story set up (steam punk for example).

    If the writer is trying to make it a generically contemporary story and still references anachronistic items, or it’s supposed to be a historical (or otherwise rooted in a specific time frame) but has modern items mixed in, I have a hard time with it. Remember the TV show Hercules? Every time they used a modern reference it threw me out of the story. As a result I never enjoyed that show the way I would have liked to.

    • Lynette, I totally agree. Books need to reflect the time of the story – so steampunk and historicals will have a totally different feel. But as you say so well, a generically contemporary story that references anachronistic items pulls me out of the story. Ditto for historical stories that have modern technology or language. I haven’t seen Hercules, but I know many books that make this mistake.
      thanks for topping by.

  16. As long as the dated details are consistent with the rest of the book, I’m good. Cassettes on one page, and internet a few pages later would throw me, unless the character had a thing for old tech. I generally prefer the original versions of older works – those outdated references remind me of other times.

    • We seem to be evenly divided in this discussion, which I find fascinating. Consistency of technology is important in a book to me as well. A number of people mention the reminder of other times. And for me, they just say ‘dated’, unless there’s a good reason for the story to occur in that time frame. thanks for stopping by.

  17. XerXes Xu says:

    Staleness will pass. In 20 years it’ll be historical fiction. Your grandkids won’t remember Saddam Hussein as you do. If it’s a gripping story, well written, it’ll survive.

  18. Taylor says:

    If it’s an older book then I don’t expect it to be updated to fit the “times.” I know going in that things that were happening in the world at the time are different than they are now. Since the dating thing doesn’t bother me I have no problem reading it. However, if it really bothers somebody else then I would think they should stay away from the older books by checking the copyright date before buying the book.

  19. Yvonne B. says:

    For me it depends on a variety of things.

    If it’s supposed to be set in the present time, then, yes, keep it up to date. If the time frame is supposed to reference certain people, then do so.

    If I’m reading a backlist book (whether I know it or not), then I don’t mind references to older tech (if something throws me, I will check the dates of publication – I have been known to pick-up re-issues if I’m missing a title).

    I am also a bit of a throwback as I still have cassettes, VHS tapes, and am resisting a smartphone as long as possible (will break down eventually, but to me, it’s no great loss not being able to check e-mail on the phone or go browsing – I do enough of that already at home (freelancer)). (Not a Luddite exactly, but there are limits – and, yes, I do miss phone booths.) 🙂

    • Good for you Yvonne – you know who you are and what you want. If I know i’m buying a backlist book, that’s great, but when you don’t know…I have to check amazon and see if I can tell – if so i’m going to have to start looking.

  20. Nope. It doesn’t bother me at all (most of the time). Of course my house is a combination of old and new. I still play cassette and VCR tapes…because I have collected way too many over the years to replace with CD’s and DVD’s. And I will continue to use them until they wear out. If I like them well enough, I’ll replace them with the the modern versions. And I still use a land line and answering machine as my primary source of communication and checking missed calls.

    Will I make changes in my books? No I won’t. I try to make them as accurate as I can at the time I write them, but when I write ‘The End,’, I’m finished. It would be too hard to change everything. I just don’t see how it’s possible to write a book and not date it, to some degree….unless everything-from food, to music, to movies, to gadgets, to singers and celebrities-is going to be fictional.

    As for using a deceased dictator/monster in a current book…it depends on why. Some authors like to take a situation and write about other ways it could have been handled, or how handling it ‘this’ way, as opposed to ‘that’ way might have resulted in a different outcome.

  21. Maggie says:

    I don’t mind at all if a book uses a pay phone, cassette tape, the #1 song is Stayin’ Alive, or the top deejay is Wolfman Jack. It’s what I enjoy about the old James Bond movies–the fact the books are dated. Then again I’m pretty easy to please.

  22. It takes a lot to annoy me. So no, I don’t mind at all if a book is dated. As a matter of fact, I welcome it.

  23. Debra Kristi says:

    Really interesting topic, Louise! I love seeing what everyone has to say about it. As a reader I am fairly forgiving, but as writer I try to avoid references that will date my book.

  24. Good questions. Although . . . I still listen to my cassette tapes and my LP vinyl records so I’d allow a little leeway on those issues.

    Honestly, I never even considered that an author would want to update their back lists. Something to ponder for the future.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  25. 4amWriter says:

    Great points. I think unless the book is supposed to take place during a certain time of history then it’s legitimate to have “dated” details. But no, if the book is marketed as a current thriller, then we need to be right in step with what the world is up to.

    I started my novel about 9 years ago and had all sorts of details in it that, over time, I had to delete because they were no longer en vogue or accurate anymore. That’s when I learned I can’t be too specific about info that is at risk of changing.

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