The Old is New Again by Jordan Castillo Price
What’s the deal with re-releases? An ebook is electronic, so it’s not like it’s limited to a printing run of a certain number of copies. Why, then, would it be necessary to come out with multiple editions? Since I figure most readers have no need to be as familiar with the business end of writing as authors do, I’ll talk about the hows and whys in this post, in case readers were wondering! (Disclaimer: I’m not an attorney and this should not be taken as specific business advice, but rather an overview of the process.)
When a publisher takes on an author’s work, they issue a contract spelling out which digital or print rights they’d like to receive. Scrupulous publishers will specify a certain number of years in which they retain these rights. Usually with ebooks, the term is three years or seven years, though I have seen a sample contract from a prominent e-publisher that states the publisher gets exclusive rights for the life of the copyright. (Red flag! Red flag! Authors, don’t sign that. It means they own your book basically forever.)
Time is Up
Let’s say the author signed a three-year exclusive electronic rights contract with the publisher, and the ebook hit the electronic shelves three years ago yesterday. What next?
- The author could do nothing. If she does nothing, some publishers will also do nothing, and they’ll just leave the book up for sale and keep sending her royalty checks. (Sometimes the author will need to initiate the “my contract is up” conversation with an email.)
- Some publishers will offer to renew the contract. This would be the time to re-negotiate if the author wants different terms. This industry is changing fast, and something that might have been standard three years ago might be done differently (and of greater advantage to the author) today. Or maybe it’s just the author who has changed, and she never realized you could negotiate terms in a contract, but she’s three years older and wiser now.
- Some publishers will simply return an author’s rights, mark the ebook out-of-print in the ISBN database, and remove it from sale.
When rights are returned to the author, the publisher provides the author with a Letter of Reversion. This means the contract was fulfilled and the author can now do whatever she wants with her story.
Let’s presume that seeing old work with new eyes doesn’t fill the author with such shame and aversion that she wants to delete it from her hard drive and pretend it never happened. Because like I said, A LOT can change in a few years. Let’s say the author would like the story to remain available.
A New Home
She could shop that story to another publisher so they can re-vamp it and add it to their catalog. As long as she’s very clear that this is not a new work she’s submitting, but a re-print, this could be a very big win-win for both author and publisher, and the start of a new relationship.
Maybe this author has been itching to self-publish since everyone else who’s doing it is apparently a bazillionaire now. (Ha ha.) A second electronic edition of a backlist title is the perfect place to get one’s feet wet in the business of self-publishing.
Now is the time the author can make changes to the story. Maybe the old cover always sucked—but the author doesn’t own the cover art anyway, just the story. The author now has a chance to commission a new cover (if she’s self-publishing) or place the book with a different publisher where the new cover art might be an improvement. Maybe she never agreed with some old editorial choices. She can put that wording back the way she originally intended. Or maybe she always sort-of-liked the story, but it needs a big rewrite. If the story still compels the author, I say, go for it.
As a reader, I occasionally pick up a physical book, reach the end of chapter one, and think, “Wait a minute, I’ve read this before!” (And I can do this with the same edition of the same damn book I previously read.) Imagine, then, how confusing it is when the book in question is an ebook with a new cover and a new publisher! It’s important to state very clearly in the book’s description that it is a new edition of a previously published work—and some readers will just see the new cover and click on it without really reading too deeply into the blurb. So be prepared for some returns.
Though the possibility of confusion and accidentally double-buying the same ebook exists (which the author should try to mitigate by being crystal clear that it is a re-release), I think the pros of re-releases and second editions definitely outweigh the cons.
-cover art gets a face-lift
-typos and errors corrected
-new formats created
-best of all, the story remains available for all the new readers who may have just discovered this author, and want to read everything she’s written!
Recent Re-releases by Jordan
Among the Living
PsyCop #1 was first published in 2006, and reverted to me in 2008, when I gave it its first major overhaul with cover art and error correction in the second electronic edition. In preparation for the imminent second-edition print release of PsyCop: Partners, which contains Among the Living and Criss Cross, I did yet another editorial scour. I included those smaller changes in a 2.1 edition of Among the Living. While I could have just left it alone, I felt that technology had changed enough between 2008 and 2011 that I wanted to rebuild the ebooks anyway, and I wanted new readers who were just discovering PsyCop to be getting the best ebook I could give them. I did the same with PsyCop #2, Criss Cross.
Channeling Morpheus Series
The rights to my Channeling Morpheus stories are reverting to me one at a time, and as they do I’m re-releasing second editions to keep them in print. I’m totally stoked about my new cover art, and happy to tweak some editorial niggles I had with the first editions. This year, as the followup series Sweet Oblivion reverts to me, I’ll be re-releasing them as Channeling Morpheus #6-10.
I wouldn’t normally do a really big rewrite on a re-release, but this short story is an exception. It originally appeared in a charity anthology, and when my rights reverted, I wanted it to be available to my readers who prefer to buy it separately. Not only that, but it felt like the story couldn’t live up to my vision for it in the 2500-word limit the first version was constrained by. So I expanded it by a thousand words, changed the plot significantly, and gave it a juicy new cover. I love it now.
You can find Jordan Castillo Price’s stories (re-releases and new releases) at JCP Books.
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