Saturday, March 17, 2018

Risk assessment on repubbing previous novels

In another lifetime (14 years ago, to be exact), an indie press published a suspense novel of mine as a hardback. My mom bought a copy, bless her heart, and I suppose a few other people did, too. In 2012, an agent convinced me to self-publish an e-version of the book along with an e-version of another novel. My mom might’ve bought a copy of those, also.

After those experiences, I decided to devote myself to finding an agent and pursuing the route of traditional publishing. I’m dead set against e-publishing, and I have great reservations against pursuing the indie route.

But now an indie publisher is showing interest in re-publishing the book that came out in hardback. I don’t have a strong desire to do this, or a strong motivation not to, though the novel is a fun read, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it in print again.

Here’s my question: would republishing the hardback with the indie be a strike against me in the eyes of super agents such as yourself (though I fully recognize that you’re in a category all by yourself)? That is, I’ve heard in different places that if you’ve got books out with lackluster sales, that might hurt you when trying to publish with a traditional house.

There are no hard and fast rules about this kind of thing because a lot depends on the book, or in this case books.

When I get a query for a book from an author with backlist, the first thing I assess is whether that backlist will help us find an audience for the new book. Are the books in the same general category (both crime, or romance, or sf/f)  Are there some good Amazon reviews; ones that say "can't wait for this author's next book"?

Most important though is whether the new book is really terrific. Of course I only sign really terrific books but if you've got a publishing history, the new book needs to be bigger, bolder, better on all fronts. A real break-out novel.

What you always need to remember is that agents and publishers will overlook just about anything if they think they can sell a lot of copies and make money.

When you hear "lackluster sales of a previous book kill your chances" what that means is we doubt the new book is bigger/bolder/better enough to assuage our fears that this book won't do better than the last one.

Here's the real dilemma you're facing: Most likely, there are no reliable Bookscan numbers on the first edition of your book. Bookscan was founded in 2001 and it took a while to get enough coverage to make the numbers semi-reliable. (Don't worry about the e-edition in 2012, Bookscan doesn't track electronic books)

If you republish that book now, you'll get current Bookscan numbers and without any kind of marketing push, those numbers are going to be abysmal. Bookscan misses ALL direct website sales (if the publisher sells books direct to consumers via their website) and all library sales. It does pick up Amazon, so that helps.

You need to balance the risk and reward. A book published 14 years ago isn't going to get much notice. How much money do you think you'll make from the new edition? Is this new book big enough to overcome fears of lackluster sales (if that's what you're expecting from this repubbed edition?)

Without a clear and compelling reward for repubbing, I'd hold off. There's no time constraint on repubbing that first book. In fact, if you sell the new book, you can repub the first one digitally and use it as promo for the new one. I'm in the process of doing just that for two of my clients.

You're the only one who can assess all the factors here. There's nothing to lose by waiting and a lot to be gained by holding your fire.


Amy Johnson said...

"Really terrrific." Those are the words that leaped off my screen as I was reading today's post. Along with the realization that the book I've been working on for months is not really terrific. Not even close.

Back to work. :)

Kathy Joyce said...

OP, if you do pub this book, you'll need superchef marketing to get sales cooking. Are you willing to do that, and accept the related opportunity costs, for this book?

Colin Smith said...

What you always need to remember is that agents and publishers will overlook just about anything if they think they can sell a lot of copies and make money.

We often forget that publishing is a business. Writers can get caught up in the art, and forget that the mechanics of getting our books from our computers to people's eyes requires the labors of people who like to eat, and have to pay bills, and like to buy things (like books). It would be wonderful if we could all have wealthy patrons who would pay us to write so we could just give our stuff away, but that's not how the publishing industry is designed.

But it should comfort us to know that, for the right book, agents and editors will forgive just about anything to see it in print.

Steve Stubbs said...

Many thanks indeed for this post. I am amazed how much I keep learning from this blog. I thought a backlist was a blacklist that got the "l" kicked out of it in the marketplace.

Something I am still not clear about, although I think you mentioned it briefly months ago: If two books in the tank sinks the brand, which numerous people say it does, and the brand is the name on the cover, does it make sense to mitigate risk by using a pseudonym. If OP published this book as Charles Manson and that brand went in the toilet for inscrutable reasons, would it make sense for him or her to publish the next one as Charles Monsoon. Or would that violate the rule against practices that are illegal, immoral, or fattening?

Kathy Joyce said...

Steve, I think the previous post did say to change your name. Makes sense. But, no one will get different results unless the book is different too. If people don't like your story, it doesn't matter how you name yourself.

John Davis Frain said...

I also got "really terrific" from this post, but you know the biggest thing I heard from OP's tale: It may not be Mother's Day, but aren't moms fantastic! Even when you're waaaaayyyyyy past six years old, they still see the good side of everything you do.

I remember an abysmal flash fiction piece I put on my blog and my mom told me how she laughed and laughed. It made me smile, even though a missing oxford comma was probably the funniest thing about the post.

So, OP, great post. Remember to thank your mom next time you see her for her dedication and support and encouragement.

The Sleepy One said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Conard said...


I’m OP. Thanks very much, Janet, for posting my question and for your typical sage advice. This is very helpful.

Kathy: You’re exactly right that indie and self-publishing requires a great deal more on the part of the author—much more than I’m prepared to do at this point. Thanks for bringing up that very important point.

Colin: Agreed about the willingness of agents and editors to forgive past sins. Now, if I can just write something that’s worthy of that sort of absolution!

Steve: I feel exactly the same way. I keep learning from this blog. (I’ll also mention that often the posts correspond in an almost creepy way with what’s going on in my writing life.)

John: Exactly right about moms. I can never thank mine enough for putting up with me when I was a child and (especially) a teenager. As she likes to say about me: “he was an unusual child.”


John Davis Frain said...

Haha! Unusual is a wonderful kid to be, and it's nice skin as an adult too. I'll settle in next to Unusual for a good story any time of the day, any day of the week.

Keep writing. It's amazing how much better you get without realizing. Suddenly you have a ms worthy of a whole lot of absolution. But it doesn't come in a bottle. It only comes through work.

Peter Taylor said...

I've had four books published in Australia, where I currently live. When I query a US agent and they look at sales numbers, I hope they appreciate that an average print run here for a picture book or non-fiction work is only 5,000 copies, or even less. With our small population, selling out this comparatively tiny print run is an achievement to celebrate. A second edition may only be another 1,000 copies. There are so many reasons why a book may not sell as well as hoped. My picture book is published by 'the fastest-growing major book publisher in the world' (parent company based in Europe), but they don't sell copies on Amazon US or Amazon in most other countries - though it is available on The Book Depository. The UK publisher of one of my how-to craft books organised for it to be distributed in Australia by a company (now out of business) that no retailer would deal with due to their invoicing and returns policies. I don't think they have organised a replacement. Sigh!!! There is a lot of research that needs to be done on a publisher's ability to market their books to maximum advantage prior to offering them a manuscript.