Re-Publishing an Out-of-Print Book After a Rights Reversion

ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
  • Who owns the copyright to the cover?
  • Do you need a new ISBN?
  • What happens to the book’s reviews?
  • Is your book file editable?
Re-Publishing an Out-of-Print Book After a Rights Reversion

Re-Publishing an Out-of-Print Book After a Rights Reversion

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.

Copyright matters

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.

26 thoughts on “Re-Publishing an Out-of-Print Book After a Rights Reversion”

  1. Yvonne Nelson Perry

    Your article on re-publishing a book that’s out-of-print contained
    everything I wanted to know about the subject, but I want to take
    it a step further. I have many questions about adding a second new
    collection of stories to the first one…a thicker book, more for your money,
    a two-for-one, etc. Everyone who read the first collection, wanted more
    and everyone who didn’t read the first collection wants to read it. I have
    enough new short stories for another book, but thinking about combining
    both. I’d like to know as much as possible, before I approach my publisher.
    I’m a workshop leader at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and
    hope I don’t miss your appearance on Marla Miller’s panel.

  2. Hi, thank you for your information. i wonder if you could let me know if i could publish a book or story by lord Dunsany on kindle or amazon books with my own illustrations. The book in question is (The sword of Welleran and other stories). Thank you ever so much Paul

  3. Hi Yvonne,
    Thanks for stopping by and glad you found the article helpful. I like your idea–there is lots of experimentation going on these days. I’ll give this some thought between now and the conference and hope we have a chance to visit there. Best regards.

  4. Hi David,

    With the advent of ISIS and the spreading of home-grown terrorism, my novel “TerrO.R.” (inspired by an old, never explained demise on the O.R. table), is becoming timelier day after day.

    This book was self-published in 2006, Kindelized in 2007 and now, I begin to think that, with some re-writing and re-editing, a 2016 edition will make its mark.

    Is CreateSpace the place?

    BEST,

    Joe

  5. Joe,
    CreateSpace is essentially a printer with easy access to put the book in the Amazon store. So the way I read your post, you are thinking it would help from a marketing perspective. If that is the assumption, I can’t see how any printer would help. But getting the book updated and available in print is the minimum of what you need to do to begin marketing the book.

  6. Hi David,
    I’m thinking of breathing fresh air into one of my books. Its in eBook and paperback format but its just not selling the way that it should. It’s in the horror/science fiction genre. Would it be illegal to change the title and some elements of the story and publish with a new publisher?

  7. The fact that you are wondering tells me that this is a question for an attorney. It is either a legal or ethical matter, and not a publishing or technology matter which is my expertise.

  8. Hi. Thank you for the information. I have a 3 book series that my 2 year contract is fulfilled on the 1st book in Oct. 2017, 2nd book in March 2018, and 3rd book in Sept.2018. My publisher is already offering it as a box set. Do you have any ideas on negotiating a deal with them where we keep the books with them at the same split until Sept. 2018 and they give up all their rights to cover, fonts, images, files etc. I am fortunate that this series is their 2nd highest selling although they have been in business for 14 years and book # 1 is their all time best seller. Could I use these facts in my negotiations? THANKS

  9. Hi Charles, congratulations on your strong position. Anything can be negotiated, or re-negotiated, if both parties are willing. I would investigate what marketing they are doing, and will do, and perhaps just as important, how they are distributing the books. Anyone can sell a book on Amazon, or list a print book in the Ingram catalog (if it is POD). Distribution of self-published books is tricky. If they are ordering print runs of the book, you’ll have to pay that expense. Take it a step at a time. In fact, if you are serious I’d talk to a publishing attorney. They see lots of these situations and can tell you if you can get a better deal. A qualified attorney is no doubt a better representative for you and helps you keep your good relationship if things don’t work out.

  10. Hello sir I read your article and it was very interesting and informative, but I think I have a situation that might be a little out in left field. My mother authored and self published our family’s genealogy long ago. Since she passsed away, our family has grown considerably. Our goal is to update and re-publish her original work.
    I have two questions, really:
    First, is that even something that can be done?
    Second, since it is copyrighted material, I assume we will have to get a lawyer involved, but what would you say are other important things to consider on a project like this?

  11. Books are updated or revised all the time. If you keep the same title, it usually says ‘revised’ or ‘second edition’ someplace. This is up to you. You need to ask the owner of the copyright. If that is your mother, then her estate probably owns the copyright. Better check with whoever that is.

  12. Joe – what does “you only own the unformatted Text'” mean in the publishing world?

  13. It means you own the words you wrote. Separately, someone had to format those words so they look good on a page. It is similar to music. You can own the song you wrote but the performance of that song is a different matter.

  14. Well in the jungle of book publishing you stick out like a beacon of light 😉
    I am in the wonderful position of having my first solo book out for 1 year and hit 8 bestseller lists including #1 on Amazon category and #4 on Denver Post. While I love the owner of the publishing company, the experience has been…and I have sold over 1400 copies (yay!) and yet have not seen one penny…check has been in the mail for a long time and monies held back to cover returns!
    The contract is up in another 11 months, I own 100% copyright. I have not had a discussion about what next, and they have first right refusal on next book. The cover has my mug on it and gets lots of compliments so I want to keep that and like your Haye author, I do have all the files.

    So far in the author world, it seems like no-one is happy with their publisher big or small. Is there a way to not hire an attorney? I think from what you are saying it really depends on the contract you signed but any advice about finding an agent maybe, larger publisher, self-publish, go back to my real job?

  15. Hello and thank you for your kind remark. Publishing is a business with a huge number of details and recordkeeping requirements. Lots of publishers don’t realize this or have gotten into trouble because it is so easy now for authors to self-publish and they don’t have new authors coming in. In your case I believe you need to seek the advice of a lawyer, assuming you have already contacted the company and they are truly in violation of the terms. Sometimes a letter from a lawyer is all it takes. Good luck.

  16. Hello, David–

    Thanks for your excellent, straightforward and informative piece.

    I plan to reissue backlisted novels in POD and electronic form via IngramSpark and KDP. All rights have reverted to me. I’ll be getting new covers and issuing new ISBNs in the name of my own publishing company. I will not be changing a single word of the contents.

    Do I also need to obtain new LCNs?

  17. That’s a great question, Stephanie. Since the old editions are out of print and you are the new publisher, I’d get new LCCNs. These are tied to the publisher and ISBN and you want that to be you. I cover the procedures in detail for the new LoC system in my updated book, “Register Your Book,” re-published in June 2019. Good luck.

  18. Once the rights are reverted back and you make major changes to the book…such as update to a more modern story (if the book is much older), use same story line but change character names and even add more to the story and change other parts and (while keeping basic story line) , and changing title and cover, what would that be called? It’s a major overhaul but would it be like a reboot since it’s more than just another edition or revised version?

  19. Hi Jessica, it sounds like a different book to me and I’d probably give it a different name too. I think of new editions and revisions as being more relevant for nonfiction.

  20. Hello, David, and thank you for your helpful attitude and generously sharing this information.
    I am assisting a friend who has inherited the copyright to a very successful novel. It has been published for many years.
    She does not have a copy of the contract with the publisher. Would they be required to supply it if she requests?

    Thank you for any advice.

    Sharon

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