How do I self-publish my old novels once my rights revert?
May 8, 2020 8:53 AM   Subscribe

I have requested reversion of rights for my novels from my publisher. I figure I'll self-publish them for people to buy if they want. What should I do?

I'm in the process of redefining my writing self instead of resigning myself to the fact that my agent is dead for years and the publishing world has changed drastically.

I have several unpublished book manuscripts and once I revise and edit I'll go about self-publishing them, and am researching how to do that (the most recent advice here is about two years old) but my current question has to do with the two novels I published in the late 90s. I have finally located the right person to ask at the publisher, and have written to get my rights back, but what do I do then? (I still get inquiries and people in my genre remember them well.) Here are some questions that are occurring to me. Would appreciate answers or links to places where I can find them:
  • Do I keep the ISBN?
  • Should I revise them at all? They were popular when first published, but the world has moved on and I am sure some of it would be problematic now.
  • I am sure I can change the covers, and I'll spend some money on that. Can I use the inside and back cover blurbs?
  • How do I format the copyright text on the back of the title page?
  • And suppose I publish on Kindle, what format is best and how should I price them?
  • And I honestly don't care if I make much money on them, but can you point me toward some way to market them?
Help? It's so much easier to write than publish.

Background: I was lucky the first time. And having learned from my first experience that making money writing is a mug's game (I earned back my advances, had a book club double, and had the books translated into other languages, and still came out of it in about the used-car price range), I have low expectations. Really low. But writing should be read by someone
posted by Peach to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I don't have all the answers, but:

Do I keep the ISBN? No, different editions get different ISBNs, especially if they're different publishers. However, if you're just doing digital releases of existing books, having an ISBN probably isn't a big deal. However, many ebook publishers offer an ISBN option (usually for a fee)

Can I use the inside and back cover blurbs? Where did they come from originally? If you sourced them originally, then *probably* yes (you may want to check with whoever the blurb is quoting to make sure it's OK to keep using it), but if the publisher got the blurbs, you probably need to ask the publisher for permission to use them. Really, anything about your books that the publisher took care of doesn't come along with the rights-reversion, all you get back is your own original content.

Should I revise them at all? Since it's your work, you do what you want -- lots of artists revise their works for later releases.

I recommend publishing with Amazon KDP, since it's relatively easy and bring a huge customer base. There's lots of places which give ideas and structure for how to format your ebook; the same goes for pricing recommendations and marketing. A lot of this is of varying importance depending on what your actual goals are; formatting of the book, if it' s just all text, is probably less important than getting it onto people's Kindles, or vice versa, if you want a nicely-formatted ebook you can be proud of to say you're still in print but don't care how many sell, it's all a matter of priority.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:06 AM on May 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So this isn't an informed recommendation but one of the people I follow on Mastodon is a reasonably successful self-published author who just recently put out a book on the business end of his work. The link is here; you may want to check it out.

(Or not; I'm not an expert on this and the author is just a guy I know on the Internet.)
posted by suetanvil at 9:56 AM on May 8, 2020

Best answer: Should I revise them at all? They were popular when first published, but the world has moved on and I am sure some of it would be problematic now.

That probably depends on you, and what your aim here is. If you just want to have them accessible so that people who loved them and want a copy can get one, then you probably don’t have to bother. In fact some people may be irritated if you do make sweeping revisions. (Speaking as a reader, l’m inclined to give stuff I liked years ago at least somewhat of a pass on the more problematical parts.) However, it’s different if you want to attract new readers. They may be less forgiving

I have seen authors do everything from making no changes through just making minor stylistic changes to rewriting half the book to take into account the differences in technology and other changes in the world. (Though that may be less of a problem in some genres than others.)

From what I’ve seen of other authors doing this, don’t underestimate the work involved in formatting ebooks to even have them looking halfway decent.

I am sure I can change the covers

I’m fairly sure you will have to change the covers, as they are normally contracted between the artist and the publisher. (You will probably want to anyway, as book covers in the 90s were designed to look attractive on a shelf, not as a barely bigger than a postage stamp spot on amazon.)
posted by scorbet at 10:42 AM on May 8, 2020

Best answer: I publish on KDP quite a bit. There's a pretty helpful group on FB that has a ton of documentation in the help files that would cover all the mechanics of actually getting that part done.

You would need either new isbns, or not to bother if you're doing ebook only - Amazon will assign its own AISN if you don't want to spend the money.

You'll likely want to revise, just a bit, if you're worried things aren't aging well.

Copyright text, if you mean the PCIP block, can be set up for you by a librarian. You'll want that help, because librarians are the ones who use that the most, and there's a certain format. I've used this woman's service, and had no problems.

Formatting - the easiest answer is Vellum. Its Mac only software, but I know plenty of people who have bought an old macbook just to run it. Or you can have the book formatted from word to vellum by a freelancer for a minimal cost. If you're just uploading to amazon, .mobi is probably the file you want, but Vellum will spit out epub and even a reasonable print pdf (with a little fiddling)

Pricing, specifics on covers, lots and lots of answers are going to be super specific by genre. Memail me if you want to let me know your genre, or just join the 20Books group, and start reading :)
posted by korej at 2:51 PM on May 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I publish my books on Amazon (Kindle and paperback). I also use Lulu to offer hardcover editions as a convenience— sales are low. I've tried Nook (Barnes & Noble) but sales are basically nil there.

My sales are higher for paperbacks than Kindle, so consider offering a paperback too. It's not quite the same format; the easiest way is to produce a PDF.

For pricing: look at comparable titles and charge the same.

As these books were previously published, they probably don't need additional proofing, unless you revise them extensively. If you do, or for the new books, expect to do a lot of proofing. Get others to help if you can. People are used to professionally edited books and they will complain when they find typos.

I'm a terrible self-marketer, but I do have a website, forum, and blog. It sounds like you have people who remember you, so giving them somewhere to find will be helpful.

I have both fiction and non-fiction books, and I'll warn you: the fiction sales are tiny. But, hey, it beats not selling the book. :)
posted by zompist at 5:05 PM on May 8, 2020

Best answer: To add to the excellent answers you've already received.

Groups like 20booksto50k are indeed excellent sources of information, but be aware that there are many different approaches to self publishing and you need to know where you fit, in order to evaluate if advice fits your goals. For example, some people are Publishers who also happens to write. Others are writers who also happen to publish. A lot of the advice you'll find online will assume you're in the first group. They will tell you how to create and publish books in a way that takes advantage of how the Amazon algorithms work, so that your books will be most visible to the most people. That might mean researching what kind of book is selling right now, writing a series of books really quickly, and publishing those books rapidly, one after the other. That advice might, or might not, work for you as a writer/publisher, so it's important to constantly keep in mind that a large number of people who give self publishing advice might have goals that don't align with yours, and many of them are a bit blind to the fact that there might be more than one way to approach self publishing.
Another tip. Take all advice (including mine!) with a pinch of salt. There is a lot of misinformation being repeated as fact, and things do change quickly as well so even if something used to be true, it might be simply out of date. Look for people who can substantiate their advice. I've found David Gaughran's books and newsletter on how to sell your books to be pretty reliable.
Lastly, there are a LOT of sharks and scams out there. There are definitely things that are worth paying for - proof reading, editing, and cover design being the most important. Formatting is another, but depending on your skill set, it's totally possible to learn to format your books professionally too, for both print and ebook. Be wary of paying anyone to be a "Marketing assistant" etc. Do your research before participating in review swaps, book bundles, etc. as some of those contravene Amazon's terms of service. I've drawn up a document for the most common ways you can get into trouble with Amazon here.
posted by Zumbador at 12:31 AM on May 9, 2020

Response by poster: Hi quality answers, all! Thank you.
posted by Peach at 1:27 PM on May 9, 2020

Response by poster: Update: I checked out all your suggestions, got a graphic designer to make me some covers, watched a lot of video about self-publishing KDP, reformatted and slightly revised the original novels (they didn't need proofreading, as I are an English teacher), created an author page on Amazon, and published the books just as the insane university term of Fall 2020 began so that I have head space for teaching a course online that cannot possibly be taught online.

As a result, I have already made my goal income, which was approximately $4.50, and am now raising my goal to at least $9.00.

I tried to join the Facebook group 20 books to 50K but never heard back.

I also figured out how to post the RSS feed of my blog to my Amazon author page and as a result got a nice comment from someone who read my books a long time ago.

Thank you all for your advice, again!
posted by Peach at 2:59 PM on August 30, 2020

« Older Kraut gone wrong?   |   How can I subscribe to shared Google calendars... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.