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Bringing Books Back, Part 3: A Guide to the Learning Curve

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Bringing Books Back, Part 3: A Guide to the Learning Curve

March 2014

by Linda Carlson

Whether you wrote the book or someone else did, reissuing a title that another publisher has let go out of print may sound like a way to short-circuit much of the work of acquisition, editing, and design—and possibly even prepress. As you may have read in the January and February installments of this series, however, republishing is not always trouble-free. In fact, say several IBPA members experienced with the task, there are always surprises.

Producing Your “New” Title

First, some good news. When Deb Vanasse reacquired the rights to two of her YA books for Running Fox Books in Eagle River, AK, she enjoyed certain aspects of republishing her own titles. “When you’re published traditionally, covers are presented as a fait accompli. It’s wonderful to have the freedom to choose my own covers,” she says. Another advantage: The text of one of the books had to be scanned, and while doing the careful proofing required by that process, Vanasse found a mistake that had slipped through each time the title was reprinted by the original publisher, a reference to “insulted coveralls.”

“Of course, I’ve had to educate myself on the process of publishing and budget for it, too,” she points out, adding that with both of the titles she reacquired, she could not afford the illustrator’s fee for reproduction rights to the cover art, and so had to commission a new cover for one title, and design another herself.

Sylvia Cary, who established Timberlake Press in Sherman Oaks, CA, in 2010, is similarly enthusiastic about being able to select her own covers. “Back in the old days, I didn’t have any say-so about the cover art, and I hated what the publishers picked. As a self-publisher, I can tell the designer, No! You can do better!’”

Doing better can mean far more work than you expected, especially with full-color books, says Aaron Shepard of Skyhook Press in Friday Harbor, WA. If they’re what you’re publishing, find a book designer very experienced with the process, he advises. This is important—vital—if you’re scanning existing pages or camera-ready art, or sending your book for print on demand. When Shepard discovered The Sky King’s Daughter, his much-honored children’s book, as reissued POD by a major publisher, he was aghast at the color reproduction: “A sickly, horrid embarrassment.” He bought the reprint rights, despite the fact that the original illustrations and digital files were no longer available.

“If you think I’m encouraging you to reprint your old picture books, guess again. I had no idea what I was getting into, and the farther I went, the worse it got. If you’ve ever thought of taking on such a project, seek a professional to help,” he cautions.

And, he adds, there are issues besides color quality to consider with most POD services. One is the limited choice in papers, which means you’re unlikely to be able to order the same-quality stock that enhanced images in the original edition.

Republishing books that are primarily text via POD can have some real benefits, though, even for people offered traditional contracts. Brenda Peterson had 17 titles published by major houses when one of them offered her a contract for her mermaid sci-fi/fantasy novel, The Drowning World, in mid-2012. “I was thrilled,” she told Publishers Weekly last year, “but it would have come out in spring 2014, and I wanted to be part of the conversations on mermaids [immediately].”

By working with online retailers, Peterson got The Drowning World out through Delphinius Publishing, which she established in Seattle, and made digital and print editions available within four months, in time for 2012 holiday sales.

Another plus of going it alone: Peterson got to choose her genre. Although a traditional publisher would have categorized the new book as YA, she prefers to promote it as written for adults but with teen appeal.

At The Habitation of Chimham Publishing in Titusville FL, publisher Wayne Stahre had to come up with a backup plan when legal issues rather than costs precluded the reuse of a cover image. “For my upcoming annotated version of G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, I hoped to use artwork by an artist who called himself Lawrence and who had done a 1946 pulp magazine cover for an issue that included the full text of this novel,” he reports.

Stahre was able to locate the woman who had inherited the rights to the artwork, but she said issues with the estate prevented use of the image. “This leaves me in the position of trying to find something in the public domain, not really too difficult, but it’s sad because the Lawrence art represents each of the main characters in a unique way.”

Marketing Your “New” Title

Especially if you’re reissuing a book with the original title or one similar to it, think about how to distinguish your edition from the original to get the advantages of presenting something “new.”

At Word Forge Books in Ferndale, PA., publisher Mary Shafer is relaunching a four-title 1993 children’s series that she created with a colleague, Who Lives Here? A Coloring Guide to Animals and Their Homes. The new versions will be bigger—48 pages instead of 40 pages—and perfect bound instead of saddlestitched. Besides marketing the new editions to homeschoolers, libraries, and school districts, she expects to use Word Forge’s relationship with Eastern National, which handles distribution to national parks in the eastern United States.

At Timberlake, Cary has made a different kind of change with the Kindle edition of her Alcoholic Man. She substituted hyperlinked chapter titles for the index so that she could reduce the length of the digital edition.

If you’re reissuing a title that was published more than a decade ago, be prepared for the importance of online reviews, says Vanasse at Running Fox Books. “No one seems to care that the book when first published had strong reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist. Now it’s reviews on Amazon and Goodreads that matter,” she says.

But do get those favorable reviews from trade journals and consumer publications on each book’s Amazon page, Sylvia Cary advises. “I was horrified to see that although I have reviews and blurbs and fan mail, they’re still in my computer and not online. What was I thinking?

“What was I thinking?” might also be the question asked by publishers who have acquired good books that got terrible reviews.

“If the book appears amateurish and was poorly edited and these facts are noted in any reviews, exercise care in determining whether to take the book on,” says Lareesa Polyakova, publisher at Leo Publishing in St. Augustine, FL. “Negative comments on design and editing of the book are difficult to overcome,” regardless of the quality of the story, and “even when your new edition is a professional product with a new ISBN.”

If the story is good, consider changing the title to avoid any confusion with the poor original edition, Polyakova suggests, speaking from experience. Leo Publishing acquired Chris Berman’s 2009 title The Hive, a science fiction novel that she reports was unattractive and full of editing errors when issued by a small company. The strong plot made the book popular, resulting in dozens of online reviews, most of which cited the problems.

Although the text was revised when rights reverted to the author, and Leo reworked the design and reedited the book before rerelease in 2012, “we’re paying for the mistakes of the original publisher,” Polyakova says. “Even though the old edition is out of print, there are copies still available as used books or new stock acquired when Borders went out of business. Unfortunately, even with the name of a different publisher and a new ISBN, existing reviews for the old edition end up referring to the new edition on its Amazon page, and there is no way to control independent reviewers who mistakenly post new reviews of the old edition on the new edition’s page.”

The Transition from Author to Publisher

“It’s real culture shock,” exclaims Cary, whose books on alcoholism therapy were first published by others starting in 1986. “When I was a mere author, I was clueless about the whole publishing process.”

Although Peterson wrote in the Huffington Post, “This is the most exhilarating and empowering time to be an author,” she also said, “Indie publishing has a high learning curve.”

Among the recommendations from Cary and other IBPA members:

● Learn how, and how much, to budget for publishing.

“As an author, all I did was pocket the advance,” says Vanasse.

Linda Pinson advises making sure that reacquired rights “will be financially beneficial” before you pay for them. The publisher at Out of Your Mind . . . and Into the Marketplace in Tustin, CA, Pinson self-published three business titles in the 1980s and sold them to a large publisher in 1993. When that company’s interest in business titles flagged before the books were out of print, she discovered that the rights were pricey. “It makes no sense to go through the process only to find that it has cost you more to recapture the rights than you can make on future sales,” she points out.

Pinson “made an educated decision that paid off financially” to reacquire her flagship book, Anatomy of a Business Plan, originally self-published in 1987. “Fortunately, after publishing a new edition myself and using IPG as my distributor, the book did well and still is flourishing,” she reports, adding that she published a new edition of the title this past November, but will wait for rights to two other titles to revert to her before reissuing them.

For authors who are just getting into publishing and for publishers like Pinson who are getting back into it, the costs of printing and distribution can be a surprise. Because smaller quantities are printed with POD or digital runs, unit costs are much higher than with offset printing. And although using a distributor may make sense, its discounts and fees can mean you get as little as 35 percent of cover price, even for a successful title.

● Develop a group of colleagues through such professional associations as IBPA, and, as much as budgets permit, include such professionals as book designers, editors, proofreaders, and marketers.

Peterson, who was accustomed to in-house support for her traditionally published titles, hired many of her contacts at major publishers to work on her editions, and she credits them for enabling her to publish a quality product. Other members commented on the need to outsource such specialized tasks as design and the exacting, often tedious jobs such as copyediting and proofreading.

● Determine how you’ll reach readers in a changing marketplace.

Vanasse and Cary are among the publishers who cited the importance of online retailers. With the demise of Borders and other chains, and the closure of many Barnes & Noble stores, many authors and publishers have renewed their marketing to independent stores, too.

● Recognize the importance of marketing.

As a result of being both publisher and author, Cary says she’s learned that “you have to ‘milk Amazon’ like mad, utilizing all the many opportunities it and other online booksellers offer.” When published by others, she admits, “I saw that as the publishers’ job, freeing me to write. No more! Now I know for a fact—see my checkbook—that nobody is going to buy a book if I don’t make them aware it exists.”

Her major advantage: Alcoholism is an “evergreen” topic. “Men still drink, still go to treatment (usually AA), and still experience basically the same things in their first year of sobriety, so it’s not that much of a new marketing challenge.” One key to her success: Targeting the wives of alcoholic men, since wives are often the book buyers.

● Keep production, marketing tasks, and legal issues from swallowing up your creative time.

Most of us would rather write or edit than worry about image files that aren’t properly linked in a digital file, ARCs that should have gone out last week, or legal issues. But legal challenges may arise for any press, and especially one publishing previously issued material.

Mark Binder at Light Publications in Providence, RI, reports that his bedtime-story book “was originally written as a work for hire. When the book went out of print, I made a polite request for the rights.” No problem. “The original publisher’s only condition was that I not call the book The Everything Bedtime Story Book.” It is now The Bed Time Story Book.”

Later, when he discovered his content on About.com, he “found out About.com was owned by the New York Times Company, sent a polite letter, and the company apologized and removed the pages from the Web.”

Legal issues that confronted Image Cascade Publishing of New York and one of its copyright holders have been more frustrating. Image Cascade acquired the rights to republish YA novels for girls from Jeanne Ann Vanderhoef, the daughter of Janet Lambert, whose books were popular starting in the 1940s. An online search for Janet Lambert shows that several of them have been reprinted without authorization. So far, neither Image Cascade nor Vanderhoef has been able to stop the sale of these pirated editions, and Vanderhoef, now in her 90s, has given up.

● Consider crowdsourcing for financing and to develop awareness.

When Peterson wanted to reissue her 17-title backlist with the help of the same designer, editor, and marketing experts who had worked on those titles, she used Kickstarter to raise $5,000 for the launch. “Think of it as a pre-book tour to build your audience,” she wrote in The Huffington Post.

Crowdsourcing, as companies like Kickstarter, Pubslush, and Indiegogo define it, is the practice of soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community. Contributors, sometimes called subscribers, are often rewarded—at least when the fundraisers are publishers–with copies of books. Although Kickstarter does not permit fundraising for self-help titles, Indiegogo’s Web site says it can be used to “raise money for anything, including for-profit ventures, creative ideas or personal needs,” and Pubslush specializes in fundraising for books.

To learn more about crowdfunding, see “For Successful Crowdfunding Campaigns,” “Adventures in Crowdfunding,” and “Crowdfunding Books with Kickstarter” from earlier issues of the Independent, all accessible via Independent Articles at ibpa-online.org.

Linda Carlson writes for the Independent from Seattle, where she reacquired the rights to her Publicity and Promotion Handbook: A Complete Guide for Small Business, and is now publishing a companion book, Advertising with Small Budgets for Big Results.


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