E-Booking the Backlist: Who and How

Cat 243 Dover by Mary Jo

In recent months, several of us have discussed our e-book backlist ventures, but it wasn’t until we received this question from Maureen that I recognized that none of the Wenches had explained the underlying issues:


"You are all so busy and it looks like the Wenches are going to have a lot of great books coming out soon. I saw that there are several wenches working on e-publishing their older titles. I'm wondering if all the Wench's titles will eventually be available as e-books or if this is something where you pick and choose. "

Carolina Girl, Pat Maureen—the controlling factor here is publication rights.  In the traditional publishing model, a writer sells publication rights to a publisher in return for an advance against royalties.  Note that the book isn’t sold outright—the author retains the copyright and actual ownership. 

When the book was no longer selling well enough to be profitable, the publisher would let it go out of print.  The author could ask for all rights to be reverted to her under terms and times specified in the original contract.

Often authors didn’t bother to ask for their rights back since it can be a tedious process, and there wasn’t much that could be done with them.  Bestsellers might be able to sell the rights to another house, but bestsellers were less likely to go out of print in the first place.  Some authors (like me) always asked for rights back on general principle, but again, what could be done with the books?

That was in the Old Days—you know, up until a year or so ago. <G>  Now comes the digital revolution and the whole publishing landscape has changed.  E-books reached the tipping point and now there are e-readers everywhere. 

Forbiddent Magic Jo All Wenches have e-editions of their more recent books since the big publishers routinely publish e-editions around the same time as the print book is released.   But only Wenches who have reverted rights to some of their books can self-publish e-books. 

There’s gold in them thar’ files:

In recent years, most novels are published in both print and e-editions at the same time—and an e-book may never go out of print, so authors might never get their rights back.  Publishers like the idea of having long revenue streams where they get the lion’s share of the income with virtually no effort, and who can blame them? 

MJP Twist of Fate However, authors who are publishing their backlists earn a lot more for each book sold than they get through standard royalties on publisher produced e-books.  Self-pubbing the backlist can produce anywhere from a nice bit of extra cash every month to the kind of money that pays the mortgage or maybe even allows an author to start shopping for a second home.  The potential is great, and self-publishing puts the books under OUR control.  And who doesn’t like having control? 

And it is now very, very easy for authors to self-publish backlist books.  A plethora of services have sprung up to scan, convert, create covers, and upload.  Authors can gleefully restore original titles, cut scenes, or improve the writing since the author has learned a lot in the intervening years.

It’s been said that e-booking is the Wild West now, and that’s about right. Now that publishers see value in backlist, they are much less likely to revert rights.  And now that authors know they can self-publish, they are much less willing to resell their backlist for reissue by a new publisher, because once those books are sold, they’re probably gone forever.

The New Norm: 

There are constant discussions as new standards evolve.  Who knows what publishing will look like in a year?  In five years?

But a new norm is emerging.  It’s a brave new world for readers with e-reading Nicola e-book devices because they can now download long unavailable stories by favorite authors.  (Like Joanna Bourne’s long craved first traditional Regency.) 

It’s terrific for really good writers who have been squeezed out of the ever-tightening print markets, and now they can sell those backlists.  And it's a chance for writers who have never been able to sell to print publishers to put their work out there for the marketplace to judge. 

Which is why some Wenches are reissuing backlist books, and others aren’t: some of us have reverted books, and some of us don't.

I did a quick survey of where various Wenches currently stand in the digital revolution.  All book covers shown on this blog are for e-editions:

Our pioneer of self-pubbing, PAT RICE:

I've been paddling in the e-book pond for a while now, letting RegencyReads.com  prepare my early Regencies for me, then generally progressing until I'm selling them through private, author-operated websites like AWritersWork.com  and Bookviewcafe.com as well as the usual distributors like Amazon and B&N. (This should be a complete list here: )

Pat, Texas Lily But at last count, I have the rights back on approximately 40 books (the publishers still claim rights to all my more recent books, and I re-sold the Magic series after epublishing them), and it's a lot of work bringing them up to today's standards and formatting them for digitalization. But as best as I can, I'm producing them in series order so readers can find all the related characters. Except I do seem to have missed one of the contemporary romances. Oops. I'm getting there, as fast as I can!


Nearly all my published work is with publishers at the moment, so when the stories Jo, Lady Notorious are available as e-books is up to them, but they're  bringing them out quickly. I love this because I've written very long series of linked books, and soon people will be able to find all of them and read them in order.  (My e-book page.)

I have a couple of stories I can put up myself, and I will as soon as I have time.


The_majors_mistake From CARA/ANDREA:

The majority of my books are available as e-books options through my regular publisher. However I have recently been working on making my out-of-print traditional Regencies (whose rights have reverted back to me) available in digital form. Three of the earliest ones are now available from Regency Reads , I also have some exciting new e-book projects I'm working on, which I hope to announce soon. So please stay tuned!

Joanna Kindle JOANNA BOURNE:

My three books published in this century (and the one that's  coming out in November, Black Hawk,) are all available in about every e-format  you can imagine.  You can read them on your computer or your Kindle or  Nook or i-Pad or telephone and very possibly on the programming panel of your microwave.

I also have an old Regency that came out in the last century — Her Ladyship's Companion.  It has long been Out of Print.  That's going to be released in the fall by Regency Reads as an e-book.


Ebooks are here to stay (though turning paper pages and handling beautiful tactile books will always be my personal preference!)  — and I'm happy to report that several of my books are available in a wide range of ebook formats. Lady Macbeth and Queen Hereafter can be purchased as ebooks, and my Sarah Gabriel romances for Avon are in digital format as well. Those are all produced by the publishers.

I'm currently working with Nina Paules and ePublishingWorks! to publish my earlier RavensWish_-_Cover_-_R16 historical romances into ebook form. My earliest historical romance, The Black Thorne's Rose, and my first-ever Scottish romance, The Raven's Wish, are now accessible as ebooks for Kindle, Nook, you-name-it, with beautiful new covers.

These ebook versions are also "author's cut" exclusive editions–tightened and updated from the original forms, though the newbie voice is preserved! I'm very pleased with these ebooks, and I plan to epub the rest of my early historical romances very soon!





I have the rights back to close to 20 books and a dozen or more novellas and shorter works, but was a little slow to start self-publishing because of the time involved.  I started in the easiest possible way by having the aforementioned RegencyReads.com scan, convert, and load one of my traditional Regencies, plus a collection of three Christmas novellas.  It was really easy, and whetted my appetite for more.

 In a moment of inspiration/desperation, I asked long time Wench reader Nina Paules is she had the time to proof rather bad scans of my three contemporary romances. 

It turned out that Nina had great computer and organizational skills, and in a matter of months she has created a leading preparation service for backlist e-books.  (Her site is at http://ebookprep.com/

After publishing my contemporary Circle of Friends trilogy and an related novella, I've now uploadedMaryJoPutney_SilkandShadows_200px two out of three of my Silk Trilogy. I’m working on a last tweak of the third book in odd bits of time.  (The biggest danger is the temptation to rewrite the whole book instead of just proofing and tweak. Down, girl!  Bad author!)

Next up: the first six of my Fallen Angels books.  (The seventh, One Perfect Rose, has been reissued in both print and e-format by my current most excellent publisher, Kensington.) Eventually I release all the novelss, and shorter works in collections. 

It will take time to make all those books available, but I’m delighted to have the opportunity to do this.  Here's my page of all my e-books, both self-published and publisher editions.

So that’s the state of e-publishing backlist.  It’s a complex topic, so feel free to ask me for clarification or more information.  We love getting our books into more hands!

And Maureen, you’ll be getting a free book from me for asking the question!  

Mary Jo