Marketing and Re-Marketing: Trying to Sell an Old Book
Guest Post Irene Watson
Some “clever” authors don’t give up on selling a book even when it’s no longer new. Unfortunately, they resort to some unorthodox ways to sell the book, perhaps thinking they have discovered an ingenious new marketing technique when, in truth, they are simply being dishonest. Nothing is wrong with promoting an older book; just be honest about it.
Books have a short shelf-life. Most bookstores will only keep a book on the shelf for a few months; if it doesn’t sell well by then, they send it back to the publisher. With a million-plus new titles being printed every year, it’s hard to make a book competitive.
That said, giving up after three or six months on trying to promote a book can be a big mistake. Your book’s life has only just begun at that point. It takes time for people to read a book and begin to spread the word about it. Many a book has not sold well its first year, but then suddenly, it becomes extremely popular, so don’t give up on a book’s promotion just because it’s a few years old. Promoting an older book may turn out to be rewarding, provided you do it honestly. Here are some mistakes to avoid in trying to get new readers for your older title.
Copyright Date: One mistake authors make in trying to promote an old book is to give it a new copyright date. For example, if a book were first printed in 2004, an author might reprint it with a 2012 copyright date to pretend it is a new book. It is dishonest to pretend a book is new when it is not. Instead, the copyright should remain the same and it should be listed as a second (or later) printing in the current year. Honesty is always the best policy, and if a reviewer or book contest catches you passing off an old book as new, it could ruin your reputation and chances of them giving attention to your future books.
Second Edition vs. Second Printing: While changing the copyright date is a mistake authors should know better than to make, a lot of people are confused by the terms “second edition” and “second printing.” A second printing is when your first printing runs out and you reprint the book without making any significant changes to it. (Insignificant changes such as fixing a few typos are acceptable.) By contrast, a second edition implies that the book has new material. Most novels will only be second printings unless the author makes severe changes to the plot, which usually isn’t a good idea anyway. Better to write a new novel than to try improving one that wasn’t very good and didn’t sell in the first place. Non-fiction books, by comparison, frequently do and should come out with second and third editions because they are updated as new information becomes current. “Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide” comes out with a new edition every year, and people frequently will update by buying the new edition because their 2009 edition doesn’t list the hundreds of movies that were added for the 2012 edition. Similarly, “Writer’s Market” has a new issue every year to update lists of publishers for authors seeking publication. In the case of new editions, the cover should clearly state something such as “2012 edition” or “Revised and Expanded Second Edition” and additional taglines might include, “over three hundred new movie entries added” or “New Material: John Smith’s 30 Days to a Slimmer You Program.”
Finally, for book collectors (if you should be so lucky as to write a book that becomes collectible) a lot of confusion results when second editions and second printings are not noted on copyright pages yet printed books have small differences, leaving people asking which is the first and which the second printing.
New Titles: Nothing will make your loyal readers angrier than for you to reprint your book under a new title without any indication it’s a reprint. In my opinion, you should never change your book’s title. Spend considerable time deciding on a title and making sure you truly have the right one, and then stick with it forever.
Authors may think they will attract new readers by changing the title. For example, an author might decide his book “My Journey to Jupiter” didn’t sell because people thought the title was boring, but he thinks they’ll buy it if it’s republished under a more enticing title like “How I Met My Hot Alien Wife.” Yes, the second title might grab more people’s attention, and as a result, the author might sell more books, but what about the loyal fans who see that book title listed and think it’s a new book? They buy the book only to begin reading and realize they were tricked—they’ve read the book already. And even the people who bought “How I Met My Hot Alien Wife,” if they like the book, are likely to go looking for the author’s other books and could end up buying “My Journey to Jupiter” and equally become disgruntled.
If you are going to change a book’s title, make sure you destroy all unsold copies of the first version; recall them from the stores and remove all listings for sale online so no one can buy the old version. And be honest with your readers by printing on the new cover “Originally published as _____________.” Agatha Christie’s publishers often reprinted her books under new titles. Her British publishers had chosen a title, but her American publishers, thinking the British title might not appeal to the American reading public, would reissue the book under a new title. Most of the time, Christie’s publishers were good about statements such as: “The Boomerang Clue” (originally titled “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?”) In this case, the author/publisher is being honest, but even so, Christie’s readers have frequently been confused in trying to keep track of which of her books they did or didn’t read—that she wrote about 100 books makes the task more difficult.
New Cover Image: Changing the cover image is perfectly acceptable for a second edition. There’s nothing wrong with giving a book a new look as long as the title remains the same so there’s no confusion about it.
I’ve seen some debates by authors and publishers about releasing a new book with two different book cover images to see whether one image will sell better than another. I don’t think there’s anything morally wrong about such a strategy, but it seems like a waste of time and energy to me since you have to pay for two pieces of art work and two separate printings. This strategy might work if you’re doing print-on-demand, but if you’re doing offset print runs, you could end up with a stack of books that don’t sell, and you’ll have to keep track of which bookstores and distributors get which copies. Too much confusion in my opinion, and yes, occasionally you’ll have a reader not discerning enough that he’ll buy both copies, not realizing it’s the same book. Better to pick one cover and stick with it, and then when you come out with a second edition in a few years, you can change the cover, or save it for a big event like the book’s 25th anniversary edition.
In conclusion, there’s nothing wrong with trying to promote an old book. Just be honest with readers, book reviewers, and others that it’s not a new book. If a book is truly good, readers won’t care when it was first published, but they will care if they pay for something they think is new, only to discover they’ve already paid for it in the past.
Irene Watson is the Managing Editor of Reader Views, where avid readers can find reviews of recently published books as well as read interviews with authors. Her team also provides author publicity and a variety of other services specific to writing and publishing books.