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.