Republishing Your Old Books

loves savage destiny by melissa bowersock book coverThere comes a time in almost every writer’s life when you need or decide to republish an earlier book. It may be because the first edition was packaged according to a traditional publisher’s ideas (which may or may not have aligned with yours), or it may be because you want to update the book, correct some early-writer faux pas, or just do a general spring cleaning. Whatever the motivation, it’s your book and you can do with it what you like (with caveats). Here’s a quick overview of some things you might consider as you proceed.

Getting Your Rights Back

If your book was originally published by a traditional publisher, you must get your rights back from them before you publish independently. Remember that contract you signed many years ago? Somewhere within that legalese, there’s something about giving that company the right to publish your book. There may be a time limit there, or there may not be. My first two books were published by a New York house in the 1980s. The books went through several iterations under a couple different imprints but after several years, the publisher allowed the books to go out of print. I wanted the books to stay alive, so I wrote the publisher a letter asking for my rights back. They complied without a whimper; they were done with them, so why not? (This was long before the digital age, so the print rights were all we were dealing with.) If your contract has a time limit on it and you’re asking for your rights before that time has run out, you may be in for a fight. I did that one time with a book I foolishly published through Publish America (now America Star). I had to fight it out with them, but I persisted and I won. It was all in convincing them that they were not going to make one red cent on the book as long as it was within their grasp. But it still cost me a hundred dollar “administrative fee.”

Lynne Cantwell wrote a great post on the ins and outs of getting your rights back here.

Back when I got the rights for my first two books, the company sent me letters to that effect. Letters — you know, stamps, envelopes? That was how we did things then. Nowadays, I’m guessing an email would work just as well, but I’m not a lawyer, so if you’re in doubt, check with a legal firm. I have heard some authors say they insisted on getting hard copy letters, and the companies complied.

Cover Change

The Rare Breed by Melissa BowersockIn most cases (I would say all, but there’s an outside chance), your publisher will retain the right to the cover image. If you’re not sure, check your contract. As tempting as it might be, do not use that image on your own unless you’re absolutely sure you can. Your best bet is to come up with a new cover design, either on your own if you’re creative and versed in image manipulation software, or via a cover designer. There’s a resource page for cover designers here, or you can check out our book cover resource page here.

Title Change

You may or may not want to change the title. My very first published book was titled Love’s Savage Destiny by my publisher. I’ve written about this before. As enchanting as that title was, it was not my choice for the book. My title (The Rare Breed) was entirely too tame for the historical romance market, and according to my contract, the publisher had the right to play fast and loose with the title, and they did. When I decided to republish, I changed the title back to my own. Now here’s the part where I say do what I say, not what I do. Looking back, I should have noted on the cover that the book was originally published under a different title. Our readers are precious to us, and we don’t want them to feel confused, angry or duped. I should have let readers know from the start that the book they were looking at was once available by a different name, just in case the back cover blurb sounded strangely familiar. I didn’t do that. I did give them notice inside, which I’ll talk about next, but for some, that might have been too late. Luckily, I never heard of any reader buying the book and being unhappy about already having read it.

Text Revisions

I hate to rewrite. Really, really hate it. I do it as infrequently as possible. I’ve been lucky in that most of my books, once I’ve finished the first draft, are about 95% done, only needing a few tweaks. Needless to say, I do not agree with Hemingway’s most famous quote, “The first draft of anything is sh*t.”

Unfortunately for me, when I reread my first book in preparation for republishing, I found a few typos and many places where the book could benefit from a little cleanup. Remember, too, that this was fifteen or twenty years after I originally wrote it, so my perspective had changed and my writing had evolved. Biting the bullet, I did a rewrite of sorts — not completely, but enhancing some parts, paring down others, giving the book a cleaner, tighter feel. Intrinsically the book had not changed, but I felt it had changed enough to warrant a disclaimer; again, I didn’t want my readers to feel they had been duped into buying the same book twice. That’s why it would probably be good to also make mention of the change in your Amazon (or other site) book description. I even put a note at the front of the book that said this:

The original story of The Rare Breed was published in 1981 under the title Love’s Savage Destiny. Like many authors, every time I read the book over (and I read it many times), I recognized places where rewriting would make it better. After many years and several successful editions, the publisher finally allowed the rights to revert back to me, and at that point I decided to rewrite the book to its full potential. What you hold in your hand is the satisfying result.

Only you can decide if your changes and/or corrections warrant this kind of disclaimer or not. If you’re just fixing typos, I would say it’s not necessary. I think the main thing to remember is to be totally transparent with your readers; make sure the transformation of your book is obvious so they aren’t unduly confused. Beyond that, enjoy the new edition!

Author: Melissa Bowersock

Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres. She has been both traditionally and independently published and lives in a small community in northern Arizona. Learn more about Melissa from her Amazon author page and her blog.

27 thoughts on “Republishing Your Old Books”

  1. If it’s been a long time since the book was originally written and published, assuming it is contemporary, one thing to consider might be if anything in it makes it feel dated. For example one friend of mine had a book published several decades ago that had one of the characters (I think a teen girl) making a reference to Michael Jackson. A minor tweak to make that Justin Beiber and it felt contemporary again. 🙂

    1. Good point, Al. I went through one of my old books between publishings and had to add in cell phones, change a percolating coffee pot to a Mr. Coffee, etc. Updating to keep it current is never a bad thing.

  2. Thanks Melissa! This is great to know.

    I only have one additional thought. If one is fussy about copyright info, I’ve been told that if more than 200 words are changed the book must be re-registered. Sorry, I can’t recall where, but quite probably in one of the workshops I took in preparing for my erstwhile work as a publisher.

  3. The cover image probably won’t be mentioned in your contract, as it’s generally taken for granted that it belongs to the publisher. Moreover, the rights to it may be owned by the artist rather than the publisher, depending on the original contract between the two.

    Also, the publisher retains the rights to its physical layout of your book even after rights to the text have reverted to you. You cannot scan images of the pages and reprint them (or issue a PDF edition) without converting them to word processing format and producing a new layout.

    1. Contracts may vary on the cover image rights (I think mine does mention it), but folks should always read their contracts closely to make sure. As for scanning and reprinting pages of the original book, that sounds like a hot mess, but I wouldn’t doubt that some people might try it. Always better to reformat so it’s nice and new and clean, I think.

  4. Hi Melissa, I did all that and even used the old title as subtitle and still, Amazon removed all my 65+ reviews and used them on the resale of the original book (used paperbacks). And that hurts…lesson learned, the hard way.

    1. Maria, I believe someone among the IU staff is working on a post about changing titles but still keeping reviews. Let me check on that for you. But, yes, lesson learned–the hard way.

    2. Did you replace a Kindle edition of your own by uploading the new version as a new book? If so you can upload your new edition to the original ASIN and get the original reviews back, and ask them to deactivate the new ASIN. However, you will lose any current reviews of the new edition, so it’s a question of which existing reviews are more important.

  5. Thanks so much Melissa for this timely and informative post. I’ve been thinking of re-self-publishing my book with fixes and shortened title, and have stalled. Worried about making mistakes—lots of photographs that could be misplaced, etc. I’ve recently as today again heard from someone re-reading it because there’s a lot of researched information that’s hard to digest in a single reading. I think I have to bite the bullet and try it out. A friend has republished with a different cover and both books are available on Amazon. I would hate to lose all my wonderful reviews!

    1. Ester, looks like you’re getting the answers to all your questions, so I hope you will go forward with the updated book. It’s always nice to see the new, clean version. Good luck with it!

  6. You won’t lose your reviews unless you change the title significantly. Changing the subtitle or what looks like a subtitle is okay. Amazon combines reviews for all editions of a book. If they don’t do it automatically, or are too slow about it, just write to them and ask.

    If it’s a KDP book, however, do NOT upload it as a new book — upload it as a change to the existing edition. You’ll indeed lose the reviews if it’s given a new ASIN.

  7. I do a lot of rewriting, and I hate the ordeal, too. Despite courses and books on editing and revising, I’ve yet to master the myriad techniques. I’m afraid I fall into Hemingway’s camp…

    Great post, Melissa. Shared.

  8. In order to finally publish print versions of some of my ebooks, I’ve had to condense 5 booklength episodes into 3 as well as re-doing the covers. Given how major some of the changes have been, I decided to bite the bullet and change the titles as well – for both the print and ebooks editions as I’m updating the ebooks as well. I’ll lose the reviews but many of my reviewers have promised to write them again.
    It’s a huge risk for all the reasons Melissa and other commenters have mentioned, but the finished products will be worth it…I hope. Lesson learned = stay away from serials.

    1. Meeks, I’ve noticed that a lot of people leave the serial installments live and just publish a full volume separately. I don’t think you need to take down the installments. Save your reviews! 🙂

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