Can ‘Old’ Books Be ‘New’ Again?
How successful are “new” releases of “old” books? Do they sell? Does “dated” technology put off readers? Might new covers tempt folks to buy books they’ve already read? Can novels that failed to command big sales on the first go-round win new fans when they’re re-released in a new format or at a lower price?
These questions puzzle authors as they re-gain control over previously-published books and, in some cases, over substantial backlists. Some books may have been published 35 years ago by large traditional publishing houses. (A 1976 Copyright Act gives authors and/or their heirs the option to terminate a book contract after 35 years. As a result, many authors are expected to seize this provision in 2013 to recapture titles published in 1978.) Or the novels may have been released more recently by smaller publishing houses with contracts that typically tie up ebook and/or trade paperback rights for a shorter timeframe—often two or three years.
Many authors now view independent/self-publishing of their backlists as a lucrative source of revenue. Other authors, disappointed by sales with former publishers, believe they can boost sales by self-publishing titles and offering them at lower prices or taking advantage of marketing programs offered by ebook distributors like Amazon.
Most re-released novels require new artwork unless the publisher allowed the author to create and own her own cover or the author purchased the cover rights from the artist/publisher. The need for new covers is probably a boon for illustrators. It also raises the possibility that readers may inadvertently buy the same book a second time. To keep from annoying readers, some authors new to the self-publishing game wonder if they should alert buyers that their book is a new edition rather than a “new” book. If so, where and how prominently should such notice be made—inside front cover, back cover, author note?
Then there’s the question of updates. If a book was written, say, ten years ago, should it be updated to reflect changes in technology such as cell phone advances? And, if the book changes are substantial, do copyright issues arise? Historical authors don’t face any “out-of-date” problems. Nor do authors like Sue Grafton who neatly sidesteps the issue of rapid technology advances by placing her characters in a set time period that doesn’t change from book to book.
My debut novel,
DEAR KILLER, originally published as a trade paperback in 2011, has just been issued by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery in mass market format. This version has a different cover and is offered at a much lower price. The only text changes (with my blessing) replaced a handful of expletives. I have my fingers crossed this new release finds additional readers, who will want to purchase all my books. Harlequin’s Worldwide Mystery program, which only accepts previously published books, is another option for making an “old” novel “new” again. Here’s a link to the site: http://tinyurl.com/HarlDK
So, authors, what are your plans for previously contracted books? Do you plan to self-publish? How will you handle cover art? Will you edit/update? Will you wait until you have multiple titles available to self-publish so you can gain more market traction? Let’s hear from you.