Backlist to the future

Traditional publishers are starting to wake up to the ebook potential of their backlists and this week sees Simon & Schuster republishing Martin Cruz Smith’s 1980s’ best seller Gorky Park plus other books in the Arkady Renko series.

Gorky Park made a big impact in 1981 with its Moscow setting and idiosyncratic investigator and it will be interesting to see just how well it does now as the ebook is priced fairly highly at $9.11 while so-called “new” paperback copies of the 2007 Ballantine reprint are available at considerably less and there are used copies at lower prices.

In a somewhat different genre, Queen of Romance Barbara Cartland was the most prolific author of the 20th century, with the incredible total of 723 books published and sales of over 700 million. Even more incredibly, she left behind 160 books which had been written but not published. This isn’t really a backlist, more a back to front list. The ebooks are being published by, which I believe is run by Cartland’s son, and priced at around $4.50 (£3.99 in the UK). The total list runs to nearly 900 books.

One of the most welcome returns is pioneering children’s fantasy writer Alan Garner’s classic The Owl Service being published as an ebook by Harper Collins. The novel, which was originally published in 1967, won The Guardian Award and the Carnegie Medal.

Nine of Garner’s books, including Red Shift and The Moon of Gomrath, are being republished as ebooks, priced very reasonably at £3.99. The ebooks are being published this week and are already starting to make headway in the Kindle sales list.

If you’re an author with books that are out of print, you should certainly look to self-publishing them as ebooks.

The first thing to do is to check that the rights have reverted to you. You will need to produce a new cover as the original cover will be covered by copyright through the publisher and/or designer/artist.

Non-fiction books may well need updating and rewriting but fiction is meant to stand the test of time so you should be able to republish in ebook format without too much added work.