In recent years, the publishing industry has undergone major upheavals. Authors may discover the traditional presses that published their books have been sold to a larger publisher or succumbed to financial difficulties. Can those formerly published books—as well as the older works of indie-published writers whose sales might have flatlined—be revived? The experts at Self-Publishing Relief know the answer: Yes! Savvy traditional and indie-published authors can take advantage of new digital technologies to reintroduce, relaunch, and reinvigorate their books. Here are tips for self-publishing a book you’ve already published.
Rules For Self-Publishing A Book That’s Already Published
Get your rights back. Indie authors who choose to relaunch their self-published books for which they already have the rights can do so at their whim and on their own schedule.
However, if your book was traditionally published, but the publisher has gone out of business or has been bought up by another company, be sure that the rights to publish the book(s) have reverted back to you, the author, before you relaunch. This would seem to be the logical result, but it is by no means guaranteed. A deep-dive into each book’s contract, with special attention paid to the “force majeure” and return-of-rights clauses, is necessary. Consulting a literary lawyer may be advisable before proceeding. If you’re a member of The Authors Guild, contact them to see if you’re eligible for complimentary access to their literary lawyers.
If you’re relaunching a formerly traditionally published book, you are essentially putting out a new edition of that book. When you put out a new edition that is no longer tied to the former publishing house, there are certain things you can and cannot do:
You cannot use the same cover…unless given express permission.
The rights to the cover are owned by the old publishing house (or maybe the new one, depending on the circumstances). So if you want to retain the rights to the old cover, you and/or your agent will have to negotiate with the relevant parties, if you can determine who they are. This may take some time, and it may cost money. A better, cheaper, and faster option would be to hire a cover designer to create a new and better cover for your second edition, which will also refresh the look of an old book for a new market.
You cannot use the same ISBN.
ISBNs are used by media companies to keep track of all sales of a particular format of a book across all vendors. ISBNs are attached to the publishing company that owns and assigns them. Once the rights to your book return to you, the ISBN attached to the first edition cannot be used for the second. If you want to republish your work, you can buy your own ISBN at sites like Bowker’s.
Note that not all indie-published writers use ISBNs. Amazon accepts ISBNs but also assigns its own number, called an ASIN, for free. Indie-published writers who are exclusive to Amazon often eschew the expense of a new ISBN. The choice is yours.
You can use the same title.
Titles are not copyrightable, so you can use the same title for your relaunched book. However, if you never liked the title, or believe a better title could help sales for the second edition, this is an ideal time to make a change.
The reason has to do with the rules of ISBNs. Titles are such an important identifier for a book that if the author changes the title, the ISBN assigned must also be changed. Thus, the time to change a title is right before publishing a new edition, which will require a new ISBN anyway.
Pro tip: If you’re a self-published writer refreshing an older book, note that if you change the title, you’ll also have to change the ISBN even though the book is still with the same “publisher,” you.
You will probably need to reformat the book.
If you’re republishing an old book, the best option is to reformat. Some traditional publishing houses can be talked into offering up the original e-book and/or paperback-formatted files. However, those formatted files will often contain old publishing house logos, incorrect copyright pages that account for the first edition, and other out-of-date information. They are also unlikely to contain the kind of back matter marketing materials or hotlinks that self-published writers rely on to encourage readers to read their other books.
How To Relaunch Your Previously Published Book
If you’re going to republish a book, you’ll want this edition to get noticed and attract a new audience and more readers. A whole-book makeover can go a long way to invigorating sales and discovery.
Whether you’re relaunching a book that was formerly traditionally published or relaunching a self-published book for which sales have gone stale, here are the most effective ways to refresh your work in order to make people sit up and notice:
Design a new cover.
Did your original cover miss the mark in terms of making the book genre, tone, and subject easily recognizable? Now’s the time to do some research into what kind of covers are working for other books in your genre.
But even if your old cover was spot-on, styles change over time. Does the cover of your book reflect the style of a former decade? Maybe it’s time to update! Be sure to hire a professional cover designer. A great cover artist keeps track of trends and knows how to include genre clues while refreshing a book’s overall look.
Craft a new back cover blurb.
Does your book’s back cover blurb grab the reader’s attention? Does it leave them wondering what will happen? Does it clearly convey the genre, tone, characters, and stakes of the novel? Does it address the problem your nonfiction hopes to solve? A back blurb is not a synopsis, and it shouldn’t give away all the secrets of your story or the wisdom of your nonfiction work. Keep in mind this super-important piece of marketing material will not only appear on the back of your print book, but also on the landing page of every vendor where your book is sold.
Choose your categories wisely.
If your book had been traditionally published, you likely had no say in the categories the publisher chose for you. This is your chance to focus on where your book fits best in a crowded market and choose the perfect set of niche categories to put your book among others that draw the same readers. If you’re a self-published writer relaunching an older book, this is a great opportunity for you to reexamine your previous category assumptions and optimize your choices.
Choose precise keywords.
Every vendor will require multiple keywords that best represent your work. These keywords help the vendor decide where to place your book in search results, so be sure to maximize your keywords to increase discoverability.
Without a publisher, agent, or bookstore to claim a portion of the retail price, self-published writers take the king’s share of a book’s retail price. This frees up a self-published author to charge a fair and strategic amount to attract the reader’s eye.
Plan smart launch strategies.
There are many ways to relaunch a book, and they all require planning. Do your research, give yourself plenty of time, take advantage of social media, and schedule, schedule, schedule.
Although it’s rarely good news for an author when a publishing house goes out of business or gets bought by another publisher, self-publishing offers a silver lining to traditionally published authors who suddenly find themselves with old works on their hands. Take control of your publishing destiny and put those former books to good use by updating and rebranding them for a whole new reading audience!
And if you need help navigating the self-publishing process, the pros at Self-Publishing Relief are ready to lend a hand! We’ll guide you through every step of relaunching your book. Schedule a free consultation today to learn more!
Question: If you’ve relaunched a book, tell us what you changed for the subsequent edition and how the changes worked—or didn’t.