“The rights to my first book (with a small publisher) revert back to me in January. I’ve thought about self-publishing, but I don’t have a clue how to go about it.” Densie asked for help evaluating the decision, a simple step-by-step process for self-publishing a book, and inexpensive resources to help her navigate the process.
As a creative entrepreneur, I think Densie has an exciting opportunity on her hands, and I’m thrilled to help her consider her options. But before we dive in, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that rights reversion is a nuanced topic largely dictated by the author’s publishing contract. We’re not going down that rabbit hole today, but to learn more about rights reversion, check out Authors Alliance’s free guide, “Understanding Rights Reversion: When, Why & How to Regain Copyright and Make Your Book More Available.”
For the sake of exploring Densie’s situation, I’ll assume all rights will revert to her and she will have complete creative control over her work.
Is There Value in Self-Publishing an Out-of-Print Book?
At some point in your writing career, you might find yourself in a position like Densie’s, weighing whether it’s worth your time, energy, and money to self-publish a title that has reverted to you. I liken the situation to owning a rental property and letting it sit vacant. Your book is an asset, and sidelining it feels like a missed opportunity. Assuming the subject matter is not obsolete, you can leverage your book to expand readership, promote other titles, and generate income for the rest of your life and 70 years after your death (if it was created on or after January 1, 1978; learn more about copyright duration).
Rights reversion can open a world of new possibilities for you and your book, not the least of which is a do over. If you didn’t like your publisher’s cover or title, this is your chance to change it. If the publisher only exploited some of the rights it purchased, you now have the freedom to release the book in new formats, translate it into different languages, and expand distribution to new platforms and geographies. This can also be an opportune time to take a bold new marketing approach—or at least update your book’s front matter to showcase your full list of titles and its back matter with a call to action for readers, such as leaving a review, signing up for your email list, and/or following you on social media.
Can Self-Publishing Rejuvenate Low Sales?
There’s nothing like low sales to shake an author’s confidence. But rather than letting it send you into a negative shame spiral, see it for what it is: a symptom. Your job is to uncover a symptom of what?
Conduct a post-mortem investigation of your book’s previous publication lifecycle to identify what went wrong and build a new plan to increase its chances of success.
Consider questions like:
- How was your book positioned in the market? Did the previous publisher target the right audience? Was it listed in the right categories on booksellers’ websites? Are there opportunities for you to position it differently?
- How does the cover compare to competitive titles in your category? Does it stand out and grab readers’ attention, or is it a wallflower among the pack?
- Is the book’s description as compelling as it could be? Does it sound current or outdated? Does it hook readers and leave them wanting more?
- What did readers think of the story? Read the book’s reviews to learn what resonated with readers and where they felt the story fell short. Is there an opportunity to strengthen the story?
- What kind of marketing and public relations activities did the publisher use to promote your book before, during, and after its launch? Did you participate in a book tour or blog tour? Did you guest post on relevant blogs and websites or participate in podcast interviews? Did you hold giveaways or price promotions? What promotional activities earned the best results? What types of activities were missing from your mix?
An honest evaluation of your book and its publication lifecycle can help you replicate effective tactics and eliminate or change those that underperformed. It can also expose areas that may require professional support. Just because it’s called self-publishing or independent publishing doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. [Read more…]