Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Treading the Murky Waters of Reprint Rights

I feel compelled to write about this after reading my colleague's blog. Skyla Dawn Cameron manages Awe-Struck eBooks, a division of Mundania Press, which owns Phaze Books. Skyla has a very nice article on the risks of shopping reprint rights, a topic which appears to have strong relevance in the eBook world. When you consider in the past few years how many small publishers have closed shop (and I've blogged about it many times), the idea of receiving nothing but previous published works in the submission queue can inspire dread. Where Skyla notes that many of the reprint queries she receives are former self-pubs, I tend to receive more by way of ePub closures.

These days, however, we limit reprint queries to in-house authors. A number of other houses hold the same policy, while others will consider works on some kind of contingency. I am grateful to Loose Id, for example, for taking a chance on Exciteable Gals. It is my intent to give them more work in the future, and I hope to have something for them in a few months. With other books that have come back to me, though, I put them up for free. I find they are too short to bother shopping, and I would rather put my energy into promoting a new work that can better boost my backlist.

Publishers: should you dismiss reprints altogether? I would be hesitant to offer an absolute yes. If you check Phaze's April bestsellers, you'll see Emma Wildes' The Arrangement is back in the Top 20 bestsellers list. This title came to us a few years ago, when Emma removed it from Venus Press. It had placed third in the Lories, I liked the story, so we rolled with it. The Arrangement went on to become one of our top sellers, and we bound it with Emma's other Phaze works into a print title, Secret Sins. Recently, Emma published a novel with a big NY press and is receiving raves, so it appears The Arrangement is benefitting from that.

The first Coming Together volume we put out was a reprint, and our association with this terrific organization has spawned a franchise of books - and accolades. What began as a community effort to help others has attracted the support of readers and authors who give their time to worthy causes.

As Skyla notes, Mundania does a large reprint business for big names like Piers Anthony. Indeed, Piers' first Phaze title is a reprint, Relationships. Yet, this "relationship" with Piers continued with two more volumes of short stories, with plans for Relationships IV, plus a marvelous appearance at Romantic Times in Orlando. So there are success stories involved with reprinting works.

Of course, for every success we have a few duds. I would like to say everything I contract sells in the thousands, but it just doesn't happen. Taking on too many reprints from new authors, too, runs the risk of the "dumping ground" or "safety publisher" label, which nobody wants on their houses. This is why, therefore, we imposed the in-house rule as far as reprints are concerned.

Does this mean authors should not bother shopping reprint rights? Not exactly. Nobody wants to see a book orphaned. Indeed, I have three mystery novels currently out of print, and while I would love to see them available again I understand the risk involved in taking on a pony that has run the track once too often. My first book, Little Flowers, went through two houses, and some parts of the story give the book an outdated feel now. I know I wouldn't be able to place it without major revisions. So it sits.

So let's say you have an orphaned work. Maybe your publisher folded, or your contract expired and you decide to remove the work. You have your eye on a specific house where you believe your genre thrives. Maybe sales were low at the first house, and a new cover and tighter edits could renew interest. It's natural to want to find a new home. As Skyla noted in her blog, it's important to know whether or not the work is available elsewhere, and if all the rights are completely yours. If your work had been in print, you may wish to consider why somebody would spend $10 for a new book when they can search Alibris and get a used copy for $3.

If the book had been all digital, rights reversion may come easier to you. There are risks to consider like dreaded eBook piracy, but a publisher may be more receptive to your submission if the genre is right and the story is strong. One thing to know: be honest about the book's history! After I posted our new reprint policy, I continued to receive submissions of previously pubbed works. It only takes a Google search for a publisher to discover deception. If you have a reprint to shop, the publisher needs to know. There could be legal entanglements that follow, you never know.

One suggestion for sucessfully shopping a reprint: write a follow-up story and note that one is available. A publisher may be more receptive to the first work if a second one of equal or greater quality is available. It is also strongly advised to show your commitment to promoting a reprinted work. While new titles are great for assisting backlist sales, a publisher may be skeptical to consider a reprint if he/she feels your avenues for promotion have been exhausted, or if it appears you're headed in a different direction. In the case of ePublishing, the cost to produce a work is not high, but there is still work involved. We employ editors to look at the books, artists to create covers, and PR people to spread the word. There is time and money invested, and the book - original or otherwise - should hopefully yield a profit.

Anyway, read Skyla's blog. Good points made there.

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