To Do The Do Over
It happened again last night. Another author whose book had gone out of print approached me to see if Howard Books would be interested. With the large volume of books published each year (somewhere around 190,000 new titles), it’s to be expected a number of books go out of print each year. It is a lot of work to get a book into print with a traditional publisher. Yet with a single letter to the author from the publisher, the book can be taken out of print.
Whenever the publisher stock on a book gets low, then the publisher prepares to reprint the book and replenish the supply of books. At this point in time, the publisher also carefully checks the sales history of the book. Internally the sales history of a book is constantly monitored but it gets special focus at this time. The sales history is one factor to help project the future sales and determine how many books to reprint. It’s a basic principle of printing where the larger the print run for a book translates into the cheaper the per unit cost for each book. Against this printing principle is the concern about storage for the publisher’s warehouse. It’s not effective or efficient for a publisher to have thousands of books in their warehouse. It’s a delicate balance with these variables and decisions. During this time, a publisher will also consider whether they want to keep your book in print or not. If the sales history for the book doesn’t meet their expectations (and it’s different for each publishing house), then someone in the publishing house will write the author a letter and alert them the book is going out of print.
Contractually the publisher offers the remaining copies of the book to the author at a great discount. In actual practice, some publishers are better at handling this situation for their books than others. For example, I recall a four book series where the publisher reached this decision point about taking the book out of print. They had completely run out of two of the titles and had plenty of stock of the remaining two titles. I was not offered the chance to buy the two books which had no stock but only the two titles where they had copies. From talking with many authors, I know that my experience in this area isn’t isolated but it happens a great deal. When you sign your book contract, no one is thinking about the time when your book will go out of print yet it happens.
Your book has gone out of print. Do you do it over as a self-published book? Some people take this step and sell the book at conferences and other events. Do you find another publisher? It’s not impossible for your out of print book to be taken with another publisher. As an acquisitions editor, I have contracted these books and brought them back into print. But know these situations are rare. Much more often, I have turned down these types of possibilities.
Like many things in publishing, it will boil down to your pitch to the publishing house. What type of first impression are you going to make to get the acquisitions editor and the publication group at the publishing house excited about your out of print book? Unlike a brand new book idea, the out of print book will involve another set of questions. Why didn’t your book work the first time? What happened within the publishing house or with the marketing or with the launch or with _____? What length of time was your book in print? What length of time has it been out of print? Are those old copies still around and sold on the used market? To what extent? What were the sales numbers for your book when it was originally published? What is the market for this book and will this publisher be able to reach that market? What about the new edition will be different? Will you rewrite it? Will it have updated statistics, stories and information? Will it have a new foreword and new high profile endorsements? You have to present some key bit of information about how your new book will be distinct and different and have a better possibility of reaching the audience than it did during the first attempt. Otherwise you let your out of print book slide into oblivion and that’s OK—but it is your choice.
I recommend you use books like Katharine Sands’ Making the Perfect Pitch to refine your pitch to a new publisher. While this book is focused on how to pitch books to literary agents, it could give you the tools you need to do the do over for your out of print book.