Monday, August 13, 2007

What to Do When Your Book Goes Out of Print

Practical tips for keeping your book available, even after the publisher takes it out of print, even if the publisher goes bankrupt.


When Dodd, Mead published my Secrets of a Freelance Writer in July 1988, I didn't expect the company to go out of business four months later. (After all, it had been in business for 150 years.) People began complaining to me that they couldn't get the book in bookstores, and bookstores couldn't get it from the publisher. Finally, I received a letter from Dodd, Mead telling me it was having "losses and cash-flow deficits'' and looking to sell its assets. In other words, it was going bust.

But even more shocking was the request that I buy back rights to my own book-for $2,500!

Naturally, I had assumed the rights reverted to me. After all, it was in my contract. But Dodd, Mead felt differently. How we eventually settled the deal-and how you can protect yourself when your book goes out of print (meaning, it is no longer available to the public) or your publisher goes out of business-is the subject of this article.

A book represents a great investment of time, effort and energy-an investment rarely covered by your advance alone. Unfortunately, most books go out of print too quickly to pay substantial royalties.

But having the book go out of print does not put an end to its value. The physical inventory-the remaining unsold books themselves-have value to the author, both as a product that can be marketed and sold on its own, and as a promotional tool (for consultants, doctors, psychologists, speakers, experts in various subjects, and others with professional practices in the fields their books cover).

Even more important are the rights to reprint and republish the work. Even if you never sell the book to a new publisher, you still want to be able to use the material-as chapters in other books, as articles, lectures, speeches, cassette programs, perhaps even in self-published material. If you don't have full and clear ownership of these rights, your material may remain unread and unused forever.


To make sure you retain the rights to your book after it goes out of print:

· · Make sure the publisher copyrights the book in your name, and not in its own. Although copyrighting the book in the author's name is standard practice, numerous smaller publishers (and a few larger ones) will make themselves the copyright holder-unless you insist otherwise.

· · Include a contract clause that states that rights revert to you when the book goes out of print. In 1982, for example, I published a dictionary of computer words with a small press. When the press went out of business, I checked my contract and found that I had neglected to insist on a clause dealing with rights reversion (often called the "termination" clause in a standard publisher's contract). Now the books are out of print, the former owner of the publishing house won't return my phone calls, and my rights to reuse the material are probably lost forever.

· · Make sure the contract defines "out of print" so both you and the publisher know when you can request reassignment of rights. One publisher's contract says the book is out of print when "subsequent to one year from publication date, no earnings have been payable to the author during two consecutive accounting periods (12 months)." After that, the publisher must republish, resell or actively market the book within six months, or rights revert to the author.

Be careful of tricky clauses. Another publisher's contract says that rights don't revert to the author until the work is out of print "in all forms of media." This means that if the book goes out of print, yet the publisher continues to sell a cassette version, a video-tape, or even a small pamphlet based on the book, I can't offer the book itself to another publisher.

· · Make sure the contract specifies what happens to the remaining inventory of books and the original camera-ready copy when the book goes out of print. In my contracts with Dodd, Mead, this clause reads: "The Author shall have the right to purchase from the Publisher all copies remaining at cost of manufacture, and the plates and engravings (if in existence) at one-half their cost to the Publisher, including composition.

Getting the copies is important if you intend to sell them, use them as promotional giveaways, or simply want them as mementos. Getting the plates is even more important, because a new publisher can reprint your book directly from the existing plates or films, saving enormous amounts of time and money. And this, frankly, is a selling point when marketing the book to a new publisher.

· · Choose a reputable publisher with a good track record. This, I admit, can be difficult. For instance, in the early 1980s, I published six books with Banbury Books, a small, entrepreneurial publishing firm that was a successful pioneer in computer books. When the computer book market went soft, Banbury went out of business, and my six books went out of print.

I vowed to stick with major publishers. Then, after publishing two books with Dodd, Mead-a firm that had been in business since 1839-it folded in 1989, and two more books were out of print.

Meanwhile, my friend Roger Parker has completed some successful and lucrative books for a small publisher I had never heard of -Ventana. Roger's books continue to sell like gangbusters, and both he and Ventana are making a lot more money in publishing than I am right now.

Still, a large, established publisher like Random House or Simon & Schuster is probably less likely to disappear than a small press with only a couple of titles in its catalog.


The best way to protect yourself from your book going out of print is to help the publisher sell it-so that there is a constant demand for it. Some suggestions:

· · When filling out the author's questionnaire, give the publisher complete information: on the book, its selling points, and any resources or media outlets for promotion. The staff at the publishing house gets its information from your completed author's questionnaire, not the book itself (which they don't have time to read). So don't take. this document lightly.

If you're detailed in your answers, the author's questionnaire form won't give you sufficient room for your replies. I type the questions and answers on my word processor, which gives me more room and allows me to insert entire sections of my book proposal into the appropriate sections of the questionnaire. This gives the publisher's staff the same powerful material that sold my editor on the book in the first place.

· · Volunteer to write promotional copy for the publisher. Write your own catalog blurb and press release, and give it to your editor and publicist. Usually they will be only too happy to use what you supply and have you do the work.

· · Cooperate with the publicity and marketing departments. These days, the most common complaint among authors is that publishers don't do enough to promote books. So when the publisher does get you a speaking engagement or book you on a talk radio show, don't be difficult. And let everyone know you are eager and available to do more of the same. Getting publicity for an author makes the publicist look good, so she will work with you if you encourage it and if your book is promotable.

· · Conduct your own marketing campaign. Politely find out what the publisher intends to do-and what it won't do. Then, consider taking up some of the slack yourself. If you have written a book on management, for example, and have some contacts at major corporations, see if you can sell the book in volume as a training tool or premium. Give seminars or lectures at which the book can be sold to attendees. This won't move large quantities, but it will help spread the word about your book.

· · Keep at least a dozen copies on hand. If the book suddenly goes out of print, and you can't buy the remainders, you'll need these copies to send to prospective new publishers. And, once you find a new publisher, his production department will probably need two or three clean copies of the book to print from, assuming you can't get the plates or films.

· · Keep up with the publishing industry. Subscribe to Publishers Weekly and Writer's Digest. If you read or hear rumors that your publisher is in financial trouble or is a target for acquisition, call your editor and buy at least a hundred copies of your book (at your author's discount, of course). Once a publishing house's money problems are bad enough to become public rumor, financial collapse-which can result in inaccessibility of their inventory-can happen faster than you think.

Another warning sign that your publisher is having financial difficulties is late royalty payments and statements.


Sooner or later, despite your best efforts, your book will go out of print. Either the publisher will notify you, or royalty statements will indicate that the book isn't being sold any more. If you've protected yourself by including the contract clauses I suggested, you're in good shape.

Not sure what your contracts say? Go to your files and check all contracts for your existing books. There's a good chance your con­tracts contain these clauses. If you don't have a clause reverting the rights of your out-of-print book to you, the going will be tougher, but not impossible. Some publishers-especially financially sound ones - will be reasonable and give you the rights. Others-usually small ones going out of business-may not respond to your request at all.

Here's what to do:

· · Send a letter to the publisher requesting that all rights revert to you. If your contract contains a reversion clause, say so.

· · Consider buying the remaining inventory of books and the printing plates or films, but at a reasonable price. Include a sentence in your letter that indicates your interest without making you seem too eager. For example: "If you are interested in selling the remaining inventory and the plates, I may be a customer."

If all is well, the publisher should respond by offering you the remaining inventory at a reasonable price (we'll discuss pricing later). You should get the books, the films or plates (if available), and a letter stating that all rights have officially reverted to you.


A far more serious problem arises when the book goes out of print because the publisher is going out of business. You might think that, because the book is out of print, tire rights automatically revert to you. But beware. "There appears to be a general misconception in the publishing industry that if a publisher fails to remit royalties or becomes the subject of either voluntary or involuntary court supervised liquidation proceedings, authors' contractual rights revert to the authors," stated Dodd, Mead in a letter to me concerning my books. "We believe that the rights under the authors' contracts do not [italics mine] revert to him. In fact, in such recent proceedings as the Stein and Day bankruptcy case, authors' contracts were sold to the highest bidder. Therefore, you should not rely on any automatic right of reversion."

Dodd, Mead sent me a notice offering to sell me the rights to my two books, Secrets of a Freelance Writer and The Copywriter's Handbook, for $2,500 apiece-$5,000 total.

My immediate reaction was to get my attorney to threaten a lawsuit, which was a mistake. A company hounded by creditors isn't afraid of one more complaint. My lawyer got out of it, and my agent took over. The final deal was that Dodd, Mead granted me all rights to both books in exchange for a payment of $2,000 ($1,000 per book) plus forgiveness of back royalties (which I never would have seen anyway). I could have gotten it cheaper- I believe that those Dodd, Mead authors who negotiated early, instead of fighting as I did, paid somewhere around $250 per book for rights.

Conclusion? If the publisher offers to sell you the rights, respond immediately with a much lower figure and begin negotiation. The authors who act first can get back the rights at the lowest price. Later, when the publisher realizes how badly it needs cash, it becomes more demanding and less open to negotiation.

Determine whether to accept the publisher's final offer based on what the book means to you-personally, emotionally and financially-as well as its sales potential. With my children's book, Ronald's Dumb Computer, the book is financially unimportant to me and I never bothered to pursue the rights. But The Copywriter's Handbook is an ongoing promotional tool for me and a major source of new consulting business, so getting back the rights was crucial-and well worth the $1,000 I paid.

My story has a happy ending. My editor at Dodd, Mead moved to another publishing house. She got in touch and expressed interest in republishing Secrets of a Freelance Writer and The Copywriter's Handbook if I could get the rights back. My advance from the new publisher more than covered what I paid out to Dodd, Mead to recover the rights, and new editions of both books are now in bookstores.


When Dodd, Mead offered to sell me the rights to my books, it also asked if I wanted to purchase the remaining inventory. While most book contracts offer the remainders to the author at manufacturing cost, Dodd, Mead wanted cost plus $1 per book. This was $3.16 per book for 629 hardcover copies of The Copywriter's Handbook with a cover price of $17.95, and $3.91 per book for 406 paperback copies of Secrets of a Freelance Writer with a cover price of $9.95. This meant I'd write Dodd, Mead an additional check for $3,575.10 in exchange for 1,035 books with a retail value of $15,330.25-assuming I could sell them.

In my case, I wasn't especially worried about being able to sell the books. I use The Copywriter's Handbook as a premium, giving it to clients and prospects for my consulting and copywriting services. In addition, I receive several calls each week from people wanting to know where they can get a copy. As for Secrets of a Freelance Writer, I knew from running a test ad in Writer's Digest that I could sell the book profitably as a mail-order item.

However, by the time I decided to buy the books, Dodd, Mead's inventory was frozen for legal reasons. Eventually I bought the books at an even lower price from a remainder house (a distributor that buys and sells inventories of out-of-print books).

Make an offer and get the books shipped to you right away. Otherwise, you may never get them.

This assumes, of course, that you want the inventory. You may not. Storing hundreds or thousands of books presents problems in itself. The best place is the garage, attic, basement or spare bedroom, but you may not want to live with the clutter. The alternatives -warehouse or other storage facilities-are not inexpensive. I got a quotation from a "fulfillment house," which would not only store the books but also handle incoming mail orders and ship books to customers for me. Storage alone for the 2,000 books was in the range of 550-$100 per month-which would quickly eat into my I profits. I keep my books in my basement.

Selling the inventory is a challenge. But, being a writer, you may be able to find creative and profitable ways to do it. Many authors sell their books by mail.

The selling method you use determines the maximum you can afford to pay for your out-of-print books. If you sell them at seminars, for example, where selling costs are low, you can pay up to 50% of the retail price and still make a handsome profit-because your only advertising cost is holding up a copy of the book from the podium.

But, if you want to sell the book through mail-order advertising, you need a higher profit margin to cover the cost of advertising (classified is best), mailing sales literature, and shipping books to customers. The most you can afford to pay is 25% of the retail price, and you really should be looking to pay 10-20% of retail or less.

For most trade paperbacks, this comes to $1-$3 per copy. When selling the books mail order, add $2 to the retail price for ship­ping and handling. This helps relieve some of the burden of your high selling costs.


Assuming you are successful at selling your books, the inventory will soon be gone. Then what?

If the rights belong to you, you have two choices. You can sell the book to another publisher. Or, you can publish it yourself.

The author who wants to self-publish his out-of-print book has a big advantage over other self-publishers: Namely, the book has already been designed and set into type-eliminating thousands of dollars in typesetting and composition costs.

Ideally, your printer should print from the publisher's original plates or films. But in most instances the printer can produce an acceptable finished product using existing copies of the published book as his camera-ready artwork. For this, he will need two clean copies in good condition.

How many copies should you print? Most self-publishing experts I talked to recommended a first print run of 3,000 copies. Printing fewer copies drives up the cost per copy, while printing more could leave you with a warehouse full of books if it doesn't sell.

For a 128-page trade paperback, trim size 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches, a book production house quoted me a price of $6,488.09 for 3,000 copies, or $2.16 per book. I could probably have gotten a lower price going directly to a printer and handling the production details myself. Be sure to go to a printer specializing in books.

Self-publishing offers you the advantage of control-control over jacket design, pricing, marketing and distribution. You might want to get into the book-selling business this way. I didn't. And where would I store 3,000 books? So instead, I chose to resell the rights to the publisher where my Dodd, Mead editor now worked.

Will you be able to resell your book to another publisher? It may be difficult. Publishers are more interested in something new than something old. Unless your book was a big seller, most editors won't get excited about it. But if you query publishers, you may find one looking to fill a slot in its catalog with a book just like yours. Or maybe an editor who praised the book in the past would be happy to acquire it now. If your original editor has moved to another publishing house, he or she would be your best bet for a resale.

What kind of advance can you expect? Probably 50% or less of the advance you would get for the book if it were new. On the other hand, it's easy money; unless your book must be revised and updated, there's almost no work involved for you.

If there's one piece of advice to follow above all else, it's act quickly. Those authors who take immediate action and persist until the deal is made suffer least and profit most when their books go out of print.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


by Sidney Allinson.

“Hundreds of self-published books keep flooding into my office, in hopes of getting a review” says Liz Pogue, Books Editor of the Times Colonist (newspaper). “But they seldom do. We simply haven’t the time to read them, nor enough free page-space available.” Despite that, Pogue does manage to occasionally include brief summaries of a few self-published titles, but she is forced to re-cycle most to the blue-box. “We can’t even give them away!”

These facts of editorial life seem to baffle many self-published (SP) authors who frenetically pursue reviews in newspapers as publicity for their books. Many cannot for the life of them understand why most of the time that does not happen. After all, it costs periodical cash money to have a review written, either from a staffer’s salary or to pay a freelance reviewer. A conscientious review can take an entire day to write, not including the time also needed to thoroughly read the book first.

The recent explosive urge for author blurbs stems from computer-generated print-on-demand (POD) technology that has the power to transform manuscripts into book form, and enable anyone to become an instant Gutenberg. The greatest advantage of POD is that an author-publisher no longer has to gamble her savings in advance on hope that the book will become a bestseller. Its other big plus is the push-button ability to print one or a thousand copies whenever required, which avoids being stuck with the dreaded garage-full of unsold books. No more need to be continually packaging books and humping them to the post office or courier service, either, as POD suppliers also fulfill orders and deliveries. Maybe best of all, self-publishers are freed from the hassle of collecting money owed by slow-paying buyers.

Dazzled by this easy speedy print production, many author-publishers pay scant attention to learning the various other vital steps involved in the publishing process, such as writing ability, editing, marketing, financing, and distribution. So thrilled are they by holding their own finished book and dreams of instant bestsellerdom, their next reaction is the urge to immediately share the news of its literary perfection and availability via glowing reviews.

Judging from the experiences of a few typical SP authors’ quest for reviews, there are equally slim chances of editorial mention whether for novels or non-fiction. One American author, Bill Branley, told me, “I started my own publishing company to produce my midlife romance novel, “Seachange” in July, 2006. Following the trade rules of the game, I printed galley proofs six months in advance of release and mailed them to the major reviewers: Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, Booklist, and other book review publications. But despite all this, I did not hear back from a single one of them, not even an e-mail, and none reviewed my book.”

Motivational counsellor Timothy Warneka has a similar story. “To help promote my “Leading People The Black Belt Way” and two other books on leadership techniques, I mainly approached print media -- newspapers, magazines, and their on-line versions, contacting editors and reporters who write on my topic. I contacted these folks by e-mail, snail mail, and phone calls, offering complementary review copies. About one quarter of the media pros that I contacted refused to even look at a self-published book, though many others did ask for a free review copy. But I got zero media coverage from all these attempts.”

Some SP authors are prepared to put up serious cash to support their promotional efforts, as Brandon Christopher explains. “After ten years of submitting manuscripts to traditional publishers -- and collecting hundreds of rejection slips -– I decided to try self-publishing my first novel. The actual publication process was simple, but I found that the marketing and promotion of a self-published novel is literally a full-time job. I sent out 80 signed copies to every newspaper, magazine, and website reviewer I could find. Between the cost of the books, shipping fees, and return postage, I spent about $1,800. Additionally, I bought advertisements in local newspapers, announcing the release of my novel, which cost me another $2,000. Since its publication, I have spent over $4,000 promoting it, and all I have to show for my hard-earned money and time is one bad review and 79 missing sample books.”

Professional reviewers are bombarded with thousands of requests from authors, making them understandably selective about what they decide to review. So do not be disappointed if you get a rejection, or even more commonly, no reply at all. During my time in the public relations business, I learned it is much more effective to get a newspaper reporter to do a story about the author herself, and plug the book incidentally during the interview. However, the most effective marketing of your book still demands some face-to-face selling.

It may seem obvious to make your first approaches to local bookstores, but do not hold your breath expecting much of a welcome there. Author-publishers are anathema to most bookshops, whose staffers usually look down their noses at SP books as being without literary merit, because of the genre’s reputation for unprofessional writing. Another reason for refusal is that retailers are used to being able to return any unsold stock to mainstream publishers. Even if a store does take a small batch of your books, it will require a discount of 40 to 50 percent discount, and only on a consignment basis. Meaning, you will not get paid until after they have been bought by customers, and it will be left up to you to keep calling back to check. Public libraries are more congenial prospects to approach, but even they are leery of author-published works, with the notable exception of local histories.

These hard realities make it more rewarding to instead concentrate your time and sales efforts on some more lucrative non-traditional outlets related to your topic. These non-book trade markets include specialty retailers, museum bookshops, chain-stores, local schools, fund-raisers, professional associations, university departments, export markets, military base libraries, and government agencies. Compared to traditional bookstores, selling to these specialty outlets can be a pleasant experience. They often buy in larger quantities, pay promptly in 30 days, seldom haggle for unfair discounts, and rarely demand refund agreements.

Still, despite all odds, some Canadian self-publishers have made astounding profits with their books. Ontario writers Janet and Greta Podleski's “Looneyspoons: Low-Fat Food Made Fun!” quickly sold over 800,000 copies, becoming one of the fastest-selling books in Canadian publishing history. Kitchener-born David Chilton’s “The Wealthy Barber” has sold over two million copies, and is claimed to be the most profitable book in Canadian publishing history.

Another spectacularly effective promoter of a self-published book is Michael Losier, author of the best-selling self-help book, “Law of Attraction.” Since he first produced it as a 142-page paperback in 2003, it has been regularly selling 600 copies a day on Amazon, and there are now close to 250,000 copies in print. Much of this also comes from back-of-the-room sales during the inspirational seminars that Losier presents to audiences world-wide. His positive message led to Oprah Whimphrey inviting him to be a repeat guest on her radio show four times.

Losier’s advice to ambitious self-publishers is: “Remember, recognized experts are the ones who make money. To establish yourself as one, write ‘how-to’ non-fiction. Create books that provide practical advice applicable to personal growth, life skills, or business success. Present your material in a form that appeals to all learning styles. Use short chapters that include personal anecdotes and real-life examples, with helpful charts, graphs, and illustrations to clarify your information.” The wide popularity of Michael Losier’s book recently gained the attention of New York media conglomerate Grand Central Publishing, which paid him a high six-figure deal for rights to “Law Of Attraction” in a new hardback edition translated into 28 languages.

Dazzling financial successes such as these are rare, but Brandon Christopher probably sums up the real motivation of many self-publishers by saying, “Although I haven't gotten any real reviews or sales yet, publishing my novel myself was still the best thing I've ever done. Seeing your book on the shelves of a bookstore is more than enough payment for a decade of trying.”

Resource Books:
Self Publishing in Canada, Suzanne Anderson
How To Publish Yourself, Peter Finch
The Self-publishing Manual, Dan Poynter
Self-Publishing For Dummies, Jason R. Rich
The Complete Guide To Self-Publishing, Tom & Marilyn Ross
1001 Ways To Market Your Books, John Kremer
A Writer’s Guide To Book Publishing, Richard Balkin

Famous Authors Whose First Book was Self-Published:
Margaret Atwood
John Grisham
Virginia Wolff
Jack Canfield
Ernest Hemingway
Beatrix Potter
Deepak Chopra
Rudyard Kipling

Some Originally Self-Published Bestsellers:
The Bridges Of Madison County, by Robert J. Waller, 50 million copies
What Color is Your Parachute?, by Richard Nelson Bolles, 5 million copies
The Beanie Baby Handbook by Lee and Sue Fox, 3 million copies
The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield, 6 million copies
In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters, 10 million copies
The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton, 3 million copies
The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans, 5 million copies