I always swore to The Hubby that if we ever move to a new house, I’m leaving a lot of stuff behind. Simply put, there’s a lot of stuff I don’t want to keep. Oh sure, I’ll pack up the antiques and the beagle’s precious supply of designer tequila, but, for me, a new house means a new start – and that means new furniture.
I hate moving. It’s right up there with paying taxes. Having just moved The Daughter back up to school in San Francisco, I shudder at the sore muscles and an IV line filled with liquid Aleve.
Still, moving to a new abode is far easier than putting your previously pubbed book with a new publisher because there a so many parameters to consider. If you’re aware of those considerations, it may help you if you’re house hunting.
So let’s say that, for whatever reason, your rights have reverted. Now that you’re a free agent, the first hurdle is the query process. I can’t urge you enough to be honest about the fact that this is a previously pubbed book. If you try to be cute or coy, you may discover the beagle has taken a hit out on you. If so, beware of all German shepherds wearing leather and barking in German.
Editors. Check. These. Things. Out.
If a query looks promising, I check out the author as thoroughly as I can. If I see you have a published book, I’ll go so far as to read the synop just to be sure I’m not seeing a re-titled, previously pubbed book. If I see this, it won’t go well for you. No one likes a liar, and not divulging that your query is for a published book is lying by omission. If you’ll lie your way into my door, what else are you capable of once you gain entrance?
Fuhgeddaboudit. You’re history tout de suite. Now your mileage may vary regarding the tenacity of editors checking you out, but are you willing to take that chance?
After we’ve had a chance to Google you, we go to Bookscan – a company that provides sales data from a collection of book sellers – so we can see how well your book sold. Now, we realize that Bookscan isn’t always a reliable source because not all bookstores report their sales to Bookscan. But we do use it as a guideline.
If Bookscan reveals low sales numbers, editors may feel you’re a bad risk. It’s the old Catch-22 – if it didn’t sell well with the old publisher, then why will it sell well with us?
Sure, we realize there are reasons for lousy sales and take them into consideration. Maybe your previous publisher had lousy distribution. Or maybe the marketing and promotion wasn’t very proactive. Perhaps your sales were back-of-the-room sales that resulted from your seminars. Obviously, Bookscan won’t have any record of those sales.
It comes down to whether the publisher believes they can sell the book. A book in the hands of a different publisher can go from obscure to very doggone respectable. It depends on where you came from and where you end up.
“Hey, my book is still for sale!”
The next thing an editor will look for is whether the book is still being actively sold. You may have your rights, but your previous publisher still retains the right to sell off their unsold stock. If they did a print run of 2,000 units, and only 500 sold, they aren’t likely to eat those unsold books – not after they paid for the print run. So the new publisher realizes they have competition – which, in most case, is a deal killer for the prospective new editor.
Options – buying out the old stock: They have the option of buying out the unsold stock, but they have to believe that book is going to sell a ton.
The other option is that the author buys out the unsold stock. It’s not uncommon for the previous publisher to drastically discount the price just to be rid of the stock.
Another major consideration is publicizing the book. Many books have their day in the sun and either catch fire and become entrenched in the literary community, or they fade from view. A new publisher has to consider whether a previously published book still has legs.
For example, if your novel has strong Jewish ties, the logical choice is to promote to Jewish readers. The new publisher knows the previous publisher more than likely already did this, as did the author during their initial promotion. And if the previous publisher did reach out to the Jewish community, how far did their reach go?
It’s nearly impossible to go to that same watering hole again with the same book. Unless you have a new book, those Jewish readers have no reason to buy.
The new publisher has to feel there is a yet-untapped audience they can reach – an audience who didn’t see your book the first time around. So in the case of the Jewish novel, the new publisher would have to feel confident they could reach a much wider Jewish community than the previous publisher. This means that the new publisher has a much stronger distribution pipeline.
But don’t forget that just because a pubby has a blue ribbon distributor, what goes out can easily come back in returns, so the author can help out a great deal by addressing this issue briefly in the query letter.
Think about: How can I charter new territory that I didn’t before? As an editor, I’d appreciate a query letter that briefly tells me about the ongoing interest in your particular type of book, and how you would tap into that readership that is independent of what you did before.
Your new ideas can sway a tentative editor. Maybe your book was turned into a movie during the time after you got your rights back. I’d say that could be a pretty sweet footprint, provided it’s going to be distributed to major theaters. The publisher would probably be willing to buy up the unsold stock from your previously publisher. But don’t be alarmed if they aren’t wowed about your film option. Film options are done all the time and usually result in nothing happening.
Perhaps your subject matter is still very relevant to what’s going on in the world and is still getting new press. The new publisher can easily step in where the old one left off.
I want to say something specific about fiction because moving houses is a lot harder with fiction because promotion is so much tougher. Your book has to be delishiously compelling for a new publisher to assume all your baggage. Obviously they have to feel they can attract a huge audience and, given the current state of bookselling, this burden falls on your shoulders.
You’re competing against unpublished books that don’t have any history, so you need to be better than the rest. You can do this by – of course, writing an amazing book – with creating an amazing promotion plan. Is there some socially relevant element in your book that you can pull out and attract a new audience? There’s a prime example of an author who did some very cool things to turn an obscure, tough sell into something quite cool.
Always remember – it’s hard to – so be sure that old furniture is worthy of the new house.