OOPs – Out of Print, or Not?

- by Susan Lyons

I just found out that my very first book, Champagne Rules, which was one of the launch titles in Kensington’s Aphrodisia line in February 2006, is out of print – meaning that it’s not available in print from either my publisher’s website nor any of the major online stores. As it turns out, the same is true of two of my other titles, from 2007.

 It’s an odd thing to reflect on. At one time, my dearest wish was to sell a book and see it on store shelves. Now, no-one will ever see that first book again on store shelves. Yes, I have a bunch of other titles in print, and more coming up in 2010 and 2011, but still there’s something sad about seeing my first book go out of print. Or seeing any book go out of print. Authors poured their hearts into those books, readers invested their hearts in them, and now they’re gone from the shelves.

 It happens every day, doesn’t it? Books that aren’t “classics” but are still wonderful books by incredible authors stop being available.

 And yet – hallelujah! – there are e-books. How lucky we are to live in these times because an e-book never needs to go “out of print” unless the publisher and author both agree to let that happen.

 If Kensington decided for whatever reason to stop publishing the electronic versions of Champagne Rules, at a certain point I could ask for my rights back and I could publish the book in electronic format myself – because I own copyright in the words (though I’d have to create a new cover, because the publisher has copyright in that).

 An increasing number of authors are doing exactly that: taking books that had gone out of print and putting them into digital editions. I think it’s a very exciting development.

 I also wonder what impact it will have on the authors like me who are mid-list or lower, not bestsellers. It’s hard enough for readers to find our books now, so what will it be like when better known authors make every single one of their titles available, now and forever?

 The fiction publishing industry seems to be changing day by day, and every change has both positive and negative implications. All that we authors, and we readers, can do is ride the waves and do our best to keep on our feet and enjoy ourselves! And of course, keep on reading. And writing.

Susan Lyons/Fox

12 comments

  1. Susan, you have a brand and a platform, and I would encourage you to examine all of your rights, and for those books out of print, get them published on the web. Bob Meyer might be a good person to contact as he has established a way to publish books in his particular brand, and his experience might save you a lot of time and trouble. The options open to you are likely numerous. Future contracts might include a release of rights when your books go out of print. Wishing you satisfaction in this regard.

  2. hey susan,
    that’s so sad. i hadn’t realized the turnaround from just out to just out of print happened so fast. did you get any advanced warning from the publishers? do they offer you discounts before destroying unsold copies, or do they go to book warehouse, etc? i guess this illustrates why we need to have all our marketing tools ready from the start to sell as much as possible before they pull the plug. and thank heavens for e-pub for the second go around…
    great blog.

  3. Geee, does that make my copy of CR really rare & valuable?!

    Seriously – that is a bummer. But hurray for the e-pub option. Your fans will search out your backlist & they’ll want to read through it, no matter the format.

  4. Thanks, Nora. I haven’t had warning from the publisher for any of these books, or an opportunity to buy copies – in fact, I can’t buy copies from the publisher because they’re all gone. But to be fair to the publisher, I don’t even know if they’re aware of a book heading toward “out of print” status. They’re not tracking numbers daily – except for their bestsellers!

    I hope some do end up in Book Warehouse or some similar store that buys remaindered books. Even if I get nothing out of it financially, a few more readers would find my books.

    Returns and remainders are frustrating. Stores send unsold books back. Fair enough. They get remaindered. Fair enough. In a warehouse, somewhere, there are clean copies of my books. Can I get access to them? Nope, that’s not the way it works. I’m sure there are good business reasons for this, but it sure would be nice if we authors could get our own remaindered books to use for promo purposes. Having said that, I’m very aware that I’m on the outside looking in, and it would probably be a logistical and financial nightmare to make that happen. But it’s on my wish list!

    My situation isn’t bad at all, having a 4-year-old book go out of print. Many, many books never go to 2nd printings. Some sell out within the first few months after publication, then are no longer available. With the uncertain state of the publishing industry and the economy these days, publishers often reduce initial print runs. Book stores don’t want to take a risk ordering books from relative unknowns; instead they get hundreds of books from bestselling authors. All of which means, for authors who are midlist and below, fewer of our books get into stores – and so there are fewer sales. A second printing won’t happen unless a trigger number of orders are reached – but how do readers even become aware of the book to ask their store to order it?

    And then there’s the fact that if an author’s sale numbers are low for her most recent book, the print run for the next book is likely to be lower – or the publisher will decide the author isn’t selling well enough and just not buy any more books from her.

    Well, that’s way off topic about out of print books, yet it’s all kind of related too. This is complicated and confusing, and on a bad day it can really get you down. But you can’t let yourself stay in that bad place for long, or it affects your writing.

  5. And suddenly, by magic, a couple more comments appear!

    Marion, thanks for visiting and for the advice. I’ll keep a close eye on whether my older books go “out of print” as per the definition in my contracts, so I can ask for reversion of rights. In the meantime, I’m very happy that they’re still available electronically.

  6. LOL, hornblower. I’m so glad you have a copy. Thanks! As for rare and valuable, I’ve been checking used book sales online because I need to get a few more copies of my books in case of future “emergencies”. Would you believe, I’ve seen people asking $50 or more? Now, that’s asking. I don’t believe for a moment they’ll ever get it. (Hey, send me $50 and I’ll give you a book! LOL. Just joking. I’m not in the book sale business.)

  7. Hi Susan,

    Good topic! And very timely, given the huge changes in the book industry right now… I love the added choice that ebooks give the author. More choices mean more power for the author over what happens to her backlist.

    Before, we had two choices when our books went out of print and we got our reversion of rights : find another print publisher or let the book languish in the drawer. :)

    Now, our choices have almost tripled: we can leave the ebook with the print publisher, like you are doing with CR, or we can place the book with an epublisher, or we can self-publish it as an ebook ourselves…

    I’ve tried the last two options (not counting leaving the book in the drawer!), and I’ve found placing my backlist with epublishers works the best for me so far. I’ve placed some of my backlist with two respected ebook publishers. Working with them has allowed me to focus more time on my current writing, plus I get the benefits of a team effort.

    I have a feeling you will be writing on the topic of ebooks again, Susan… its a subject that seems to be of interest to more and more authors.

  8. Hi Theresa. Thanks for the input. That’s interesting, about getting the best result by placing your backlist with epublishers. That seems easier to me, too, because then the author doesn’t have to worry about the technical things: producing a new cover, figuring where they want to place the book for sale, getting it into the correct e-book format, and so on. But of course, the publisher takes a chunk of the income, as with print publishing…

  9. Thank goodness for e-pubs! When a book is, sadly, out of print, avid readers can at least find a copy.

    Me, I’m glad my print copy of CR is safely on my bookshelf.

  10. Thanks, Rachel. I’m delighted you have a copy. Save that book – one day it may be worth a fortune! LOL.

  11. Susan,

    Four years is a good in-print run, so congrats for that. I think books go out-of-print faster these days–particularly if the publisher bought electronic rights (sounds like your publisher did buy them if that is how they are available).

    I know a number of authors who have had their rights reverted and then put up the e-books themselves with Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, etc. Also, be sure to have a POD option for those who still want it in paper. If you have a following this can work better than you think. I have friends who are midlist and are putting up books they pubbed 10+ years ago and getting decent royalties (decent meaning in the $100-$300 per month range) now with them up on major sites like Amazon, B&N, Sony.

    As for the cover, I’d find someone who knows Photoshop inside and out and negotiate a payment to create the cover image. I’ve seen prices ranging from $50 to $200 for cover creation depending on the complexity of the image. Who knows, you may finally get the cover you always wanted. :)

    Good luck with these transitions. I think the whole e-pub route will only bring you MORE readers.

  12. Thanks, Maggie. Yes, royalties of $100+ per month for an OOP book would be quite lovely! I appreciate the suggestions.