If the publishing rights to your book recently reverted back to you, you might be considering the indie publishing route for your title rather than trying to find a new publisher, or simply allowing your book to be out-of-print. Without trying to interpret contract clauses or how to negotiate the “reversion rights” of your publishing agreement, I thought it would be helpful to talk about the key considerations should you choose to self-publish.
Generally we can divide the issues into two steps. Step one involves working with your publisher to determine what elements of the book you have the right to use. Step two includes addressing the questions and considerations associated with actually publishing the book. Keep in mind that I am generalizing here and that your rights and opportunities depend greatly on your contract’s reversion clause—if it even has one. This is not meant to be legal advice so contact your attorney, or agent if you have one, should you have questions.
Who owns the rights to the book cover?
If you don’t like the current cover this is a moot point and (finally!) your opportunity to produce the cover you always thought the book should have. Or come up with a more contemporary design. But it is common for a cover design to have its own copyright. It might also incorporate images or fonts that have their own copyright and were simply licensed. For your own peace of mind, and protection, do not assume anything and seek competent legal help if this is the case.
If you are granted permission to use it, you will need the original art, aka the graphic file(s). If you are doing an eBook you only need the front cover and can get by with a lower resolution image. (Try not to use a scanned image because it will look like it was scanned, yuck!) You definitely need high resolution files if you plan to produce a print book. These might be in the form of a PDF, or the original files such as Photoshop or Illustrator. The publisher may or may not charge you for this file.
Several years ago author Linda Savage contacted me about keeping her classic Reclaiming Goddess Sexuality in print. Fortunately Hay House granted her permission to use the cover and provided the original files. With some minor adjusting to the cover PDF we were able to use one of the standard CreateSpace print book templates. This saved her a lot of money and ensured branding continuity.
Does the interior design carry a copyright?
While this is rarer, it is possible that you’ll discover a statement on the copyright page that says something like “Interior book design [and typesetting] are by [designer’s name].” Again, this depends on the publisher and varies from book-to-book, but like the cover, it is something you will need to either get the rights to, or you will need to redesign the book. Ask to be certain.
Chances are that your name is listed on the copyright page as the “owner.” But as we discovered with the cover and interior, there may be other rights holders. If your book used photos or other illustrations, those too often have copyrights.
And who if anyone registered the copyright? Depending on your contract and circumstances you may need to file an assignment of rights.
It is impossible for me to cover all the potential issues, and I’m not a lawyer, so my advice is to ask the publisher about the copyrights and then seek an attorney with copyright experience.
Do you need a new ISBN?
Yes, ISBNs cannot be “assigned” like a contract. ISBNs are assigned to publishers and since your publisher is releasing the book back to you, you need a new ISBN. If you re-publish the book with another publisher, they will assign their own ISBN. If you self-publish, you are responsible for getting a new ISBN. (For more on ISBNs read this FAQ on eBook ISBNs and this article on choosing one of four CreateSpace ISBNs).
Btw, you do not need a new ISBN if you change the cover but keep the book’s content the same. Only if you change the book’s interior content do you need an ISBN. But for purposes of this post you do need a new ISBN because you are changing publishers and you don’t want your “new” book associated with the old publisher.
What happens to all the online reviews associated with your original book?
This can be a little tricky because ultimately it is up to the store that has the reviews. (Yet another copyright matter.)
You should not have a problem if you can convince them that it is the same exact book. If you have lots of reviews it might be wise to not make substantive changes to your book’s content, such as adding or subtracting sections. Different table of contents pages, for example, would be a red flag.
In the case of Amazon I recommend contacting them via your AuthorCentral account. This is up to them and they will probably investigate, ask you to provide proof, etc. It might take a few weeks but you should be fine.
Is your book in editable form?
In Linda Savage’s case we were able to adjust the PDF layout to fit an existing template, and she did not need to make many changes (all we did was swap out the copyright and title pages). She also had retained her original manuscript so producing the eBook was easily accomplished.
If you do not have your original files, or cannot secure them from the publisher, you will need to get the interior into some kind of editable file format such as Word.
Author Mark Feldmeir faced this situation with two of his books that were reverted back to him for publishing. The publisher had the InDesign files but wanted Mark to pay several hundred dollars to get them (they were obviously recouping their investment). Instead, Mark was able to locate his original MS Word files which he edited to match the final book. We used those for the eBook.
AuthorImprints had another client that only had the print book to work with. In this case we scanned the book using OCR, cleaned it up and made corrections, and used that file to re-publish the book. As you might imagine, the costs can vary widely. The lesson here: keep your original manuscript safe!
Where to go from here
If you are still reading I can only assume that you feel your book is worth a second (or third?) act. Perhaps under your care and control it will sell better, or continue selling. If you are a fiction writer you know that the more product you have, the more each book helps the others sell. Non-fiction authors might want to keep their book “in print” as a marketing tool, or update it and republish now that self-publishing is a viable alternative to traditional publishing.
Whatever your reason, I wish you luck and encourage you to get everything in writing. The last thing you want to do is invest in your reverted book, make it a success, and then “discover” that there was some sort of rights issue. But once resolved, feel free to call me about your options.