Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Stew

Many of you writers may be unfamiliar with the word “Repurposing.” In the publishing biz, it’s like making a stew by reworking an earlier meal––or even several people’s meals. In these days of declining book sales, publishers are attempting to get more mileage out of products they already own, and who can blame them?
One way to do this is to rework content from an existing book into another book with a different title. Sometimes the “new” book is an abridged version of an older, longer one. Sometimes the new book has been reworked slightly, using a different angle, to target a different audience. And sometimes the new book is a medley of material derived from several books. New content may or may not be added to repurposed books. (This generally applies only to nonfiction titles, although of course abridged novels are nothing new––Reader’s Digest started marketing condensed books in 1950.) For publishers, this can be a quicker and less expensive way to produce a book than starting from scratch. Those of us involved in the publishing field who are worried about the health of the industry can see the merits in this.
For writers, it may or may not be a good thing. If your publisher decides to bring out another version of your previous book with a different title, you essentially have a new book in print. This increases your visibility and alerts readers to your previous book(s). More people will read what you’ve written and benefit from it. Your book sales ostensibly increase and so does your fan base. This might even help you land new book contracts, speaking engagements, or clients.
Depending on your contract, however, you may not receive any additional money for the repurposed book. If content from your book is chosen for inclusion in another book that also contains content from other authors’ books, you might not receive credit for it. Furthermore, you may not have anything to say about how your material is reconstituted. It may even be published under another author’s name. The copyright page will usually list previously published books from which material was derived, however.
Of course, repurposing can only be done if the publisher owns your book’s copyright. This practice is becoming more common in the publishing industry. In this case, your book is considered a “work for hire” and you sign away your copyright along with all other rights to the book’s future. Usually, you are paid a flat fee for the book and will receive no additional payments or royalties. In some instances, the fee you receive could actually be more than you would have gotten if you’d gone the royalty route, and you’ll be paid before the book is published instead of over a period of time. However, if your book is a big success, you won’t profit from foreign editions, book club sales, e-book or audio book versions, etc.
“Work for hire” books are generally conceptualized by the publisher, who then finds a writer to pull it all together. That’s the publisher’s reason for copyrighting the book in its name. In some instances, though, you may be able to keep the copyright––do so if at all possible. But if the only way you’re going to get your book into the marketplace (other than publishing it yourself) is to accept a work for hire contract, you might decide it’s worth doing––especially if you are a beginning writer and/or the price is right. Read your contract carefully. Understand the terms. Know which rights you retain and which you are giving away.

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