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About Writing Right: The Blog


When a reader recently asked how to bring an out-of-print book back from the dead, even though there are still copies of it circulating around the Internet, I figured the answer would be reasonably straightforward. And then some other folks chimed in and gummed up the works. Here's how I cleared the air.

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For starters, I suggest you ignore two extremely poor answers you've received to this question so far. Following the advice of either could be damaging to your financial health. Besides, neither one really answers your question.


Part of the misinformation is due to the respondents' lack of knowledge and understanding of the situation, and part rests with you. Your failure to identify the author of this mystery book negates the opportunity for a down-and-dirty answer, necessitating a more complex look at the issue. Much more. Here's the real deal.


First, the fact that copies of the book are still floating around doesn't influence the book's in-print status. That can be determined only by the legal definition contained within the original publishing agreement between the author and the publisher. And, not surprisingly, that can be a very crooked line to walk.


Even though you may not have seen any new copies being sold by Amazon, B&N, or anyone else for years, or the book is listed as "out of print" somewhere, the publisher may still claim to have it available as a POD (Print on Demand) book in its catalog or backlist. That fact may support its contention that the book is still in print and, thus, under iuts control. It's a sticky wicket where the definition is concerned, and an attorney skilled in publishing matters may need to step in to reach a determination.


Second, since you never mention or even imply who the book's author is—you or someone else—we'll need to look at both cases to be sure you get the correct answer.


If the author is someone other than you, you'll need to contact the publisher to see if the book is really out of print. If so, you'll have to learn whether or not they plan to bring it back into print, which is doubtful. If they do, you'll need to determine whether or not the publisher has the legal right to reprint the book once it has gone out of print. You or an attorney would need to see the original contract between the author and the publisher to determine that. If the publisher did allow the book to go out of print, most likely all rights reverted to the author as of that date. That means you'd have to contact that person or, if he or she is deceased, the author's estate, seeking permission for you to reprint the book. If granted, you would most likely need to negotiate a percentage of sales to go to the estate in return for publication rights.


If the author is you, and your contract with your publisher states that all rights revert to you once the book is out of print (and you'll need to read all the details, definitions, and fine print relating to what constitutes that condition), you can republish the book, either by selling the rights to another publishing company or by publishing it yourself via Kindle KDP or some other publishing or printing entity. In either case, the book will need a new ISBN and possibly a copyright renewal.


By no means do you want to assume that, since the book is out of print, you have the right to republish it yourself. "Out of print" isn't the same as being in the public domain, so republishing it might be a serious violation of copyright, as well as of the original publisher's contractual agreement with the book's author. And those are two legal headaches with which you don't want to deal.


Hope this clears some very stagnant air on the subject.

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