the vast publishing conspiracy

July 26, 2009

Real quick–what’s wrong with these pictures?

won the Holt Medallion
won the Holt Medallion
was a RITA finalist
was a RITA finalist
also a RITA finalist
also a RITA finalist

Quick answer: nothing. Not a blessed thing. Well, except  maybe they didn’t sell so well back in the early 90s, which put the author’s survival (sales-wise) in jeopardy.

Still, they look like lovely, interesting books. They even have inside illustrations of freakishly good-looking embracing couples, kind of a bodice-ripper secret bonus. I’ve always been fond of that kind of little grace note in my historical romances. English majors recognize the titles as snippets from the Bard Himself, everyone’s favorite Elizabethan, Shakespeare.

Forsooth! So how come those self-same books now look like this?

new duds for an old fave
new duds for an old fave
blonde ambition
blonde ambition
sexy stuff
sexy stuff

Multiple Choice:

  • A. to introduce old books to new readers who might have missed them the first time around
  • B. to dupe readers with a Vast Publishing Conspiracy

According to a number of bloggers, it’s Answer B.

But I kind of wish they’d checked in with me before declaring me a shameless hussy (which we all knew already). To clear up the misconceptions, here are some myths and realities of modern commercial publishing:

Myth: Publishers are greedy and will do anything to make a buck.

Reality: Publishers love books. They love readers. The people I work with in publishing are book geeks who want nothing more than to evangelize books and authors they love. In the 23 years since I sold my first book, I’ve never heard someone in publishing say, “Let’s fool people into buying a sub-par product.” In commercial publishing, the goal is to appeal to the widest possible readership.

Myth: New titles? Seriously???

Reality: Are you a Georgette Heyer fan? Did you enjoy Powder and Patch? Were you aware that the book was first published in 1923 as “The Transformation of Philip Jettan“? By somebody named “Stella Martin”? Oh, and guess what else? For her reissue, my gal Georgette cut some stuff, including the final chapter, before its republication in 1930. If Georgette can do it, so can the rest of us.

Out of print books are reprinted with new titles all the time. It’s been done by the likes of Stephen King, Sandra Brown, Catherine Coulter, Dean Koontz…and some–like Koontz–change both the title and the author’s name for the reissue. A few people might have read books by Leigh Nichols. But everybody reads Dean Koontz.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Not every title can be perfect and timeless. Sure, you’ve got Gone With the Wind and The Thornbirds…but you also have “The Transformation of Philip Jettan” and things of that ilk, which are sorely in need of a makeover. I actually have a couple of titles I don’t love.

Did my original Shakespearean titles need a makeover? When I was asked, I said no. Actually, I said HELL NO. But my publisher is used to hearing this from me. And they know when all is said and done, I will park my ego at the door and listen to their rationale and 99% of the time, I’ll be persuaded. Confession time: When I saw the proposed artwork, I was similarly not thrilled. But I was made a believer by the reaction of booksellers and readers everywhere. There is a lot of excitement surrounding this re-release.

Myth: A reissued book is dumbed down.

Reality: A reissued book is often word-for-word, identical in text to the original. (Lord of the Night even used the same cold type, I believe.) But sometimes, the reissue has been edited and/or updated. I like to think I’m a better writer now than I was 15 years ago. So I jumped at the chance to revise the Tudor Rose books. They’re cleaner now, more dramatic and smoother. Trust me, you won’t miss the stuff I cut: “What ho, varlet! Draw your weapon!” We don’t really need that, do we?

Myth: Reissues are a new ploy by publishers to get us to buy books we already own.

Reality: Based on the sales numbers for the original publications, you don’t own the books. Nobody but my mother, my hairdresser, and a hapless shopper who stumbled into a booksigning in 1994 owns the books. Reissues are a service to readers who are interested in early books of an author they’ve recently discovered. Now, if you do own the books, I have just two words for you: Thank you.

Myth: You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Reality: True, but you can give the cover a makeover. Books are repackaged with new cover art all the time. In fact, I love it when a smart publisher takes a classic and sexes it up with great art to get the attention of new readers.

Seriously, which novel would you be more likely to read?

classic naughtiness
classic naughtiness
same story, different duds
same story, different duds

So here’s today’s Super Special Offer. Post a comment below and you’re automatically entered. A virtual drawing via will determine the winner of both editions of my new/old book–Circle in the Water, and At the King’s Command. Sound like a plan?

Post now! Tell me your thoughts about reissued books!

  • In this case, I think reissues are wonderful! I am an avid historical reader and I don’t think I have read any of your books before. I picked up At the King’s Command in the grocery store yesterday, and of course I have already read the whole thing. Now I want to go and get the rest of the series and the rest of your books as well!

  • I love reissues. I find them a wonderful way to read more from authors that I enjoy now but was unaware of in years past.

    When I find an author I love, I try to search out their books. Many times I find that as I have come into the game rather late, I have missed out on a lot of their earlier works. The earlier works may be out of print and/or just hard to find. Reissues are a great way for me, and others, to enjoy those earlier works.

    I have been able to enjoy earlier works of some of my favorite authors through reissues (Janet Evanovich, Debbie Macomber, and you…to name but a few).

    Also, as with your example of Anna Karenina, the classics reissued with updated covers may pull in readers that might not have bothered testing the waters given the stodgy old covers. 😉 (Yes, we most certainly DO judge books by their covers.)

    All in all, I think reissues are a great way to reach a new audience with old work. 🙂

  • I’m coming late to this party, as I often do. I’ve been reading books for 35 years now, and I still hate Anna Karenina with every fibre of my being. But that’s beside the point. ;-p

    I love reissues and I always will. In my lifetime I’ve been a graphic designer and a licensing agent in addition to being a reader and the behind-the-scenes sausage making of reissues is one of my favourite parts of publishing. I love to study the thematic changes in cover art and when possible the subtle difference in language. My workspace at home is decorated with dustjacket posters, which in some cases are examples of fine art. Not to mention the fact that when those books of yours first came out I was not buying romance titles. Now that I am, I love that the publisher is making them readily available and saving me hours of time on out-of-print book sites. I’m betting I’m not the only buyer who has changed in the last decade or so. The fact that the books can evolve is neat.

    That being said I have to make one thing perfectly clear. I become livid when the publisher omits a Caveat Emptor line. All I require is an itty bitty italicised “Originally published as Blankety-Blank, (c) 1986” on the boilerplate page. Doesn’t have to be on the cover, even. I realise I may be one of six people in the universe who reads those dishwater-dull pages but I do. And I think I have a right to know that this book was once that book.

    So I guess what I’m trying to say is that as long as you whisper to me that this was out before and as long as Greedo doesn’t shoot first, I’m fine with it. ;-p

  • I’m thrilled with the re-issue. I thought I had read almost all of your books.

    Since I’m a sucker for historical fiction, I’m excited these will be coming out soon.

    My own point of view is that it makes a whole lot of sense to reissue books that are out of print and not available at Half Price Books or most libraries. I get quite annoyed, however, with publishers/authors who re-issue books with new titles in an attempt to dupe me into buying something I already own.

    LOL ~ it’s embarrassing enough to buy a title that is already on Mt. TBR.

  • I do still own those books and love them. Watching you grow as an author is still a great pleasure. I don’t keep every book I’ve ever read, however, I have kept all of yours and re-read them all as well. Do I feel duped? Not exactly. I do feel joy for those readers who will get another chance to read one of your earlier novels. As the author, you deserve to let your work have another shot at earning you more. Think about it, if I had a business and one of my creations became popular, wouldn’t I put it back out there? Of course!

  • First I have to say how gorgeous these reissues are. And cohesive. This time around I really think the publisher captured the series feel. Nicely done!!

    Like the rest of the people who posted, I don’t mind reissues–as long as I know they are reissues in case I already own and have read them. (Especially when the title have been changed.) And I agree with the person who said that it’s hard to tell when you are purchasing on Amazon, B&N, etc.

    But I understand where the publisher is coming from–they are taking a book from the early 90s and giving it a new look/title to appeal to brand new readers. I think these reissues will bring you a whole new group of readers!!!

    Good luck with the reissues!!

  • I don’t mind…as long as I know what I’m getting. I love that Nora Roberts’ new books have the NR symbol on them, so I know they are new books. Without the symbol, I know I may have read the book before. As long as it’s clear, I’m okay with it.

    On the plus side, I LOVE your new covers, and the idea of being able to read your older books that would otherwise be really difficult finds.

    Reissue on!

  • I am a long time reader-sounds better than old. I started collecting back with the Loveswept series. I love reading series and authors. If I find one I like, I go back and read the older ones.

    I do appreciate it when a publisher lets me know that it is a re-issue, then I can make choice, (like NR has a sticker when it is new) It is the knowing & then allowing me to make that choice. I try to check the publishing date, but it is hard to do that on Amazon.

    I love reading series & so appreciate getting older books in the series. I have seen quite a difference in some of the author’s earlier books. And I love some author’s earlier books better-Garwood. Some books that I thought were great are not as good as I remembered when re-reading.

    By the way I loved Georgette Heyer no matter the name.

    Stay cool in this really warm NW weather.

  • I would much rather have a newer version of an older book from an author I have found and loved. I agree that older books can be harder to come by, so reprints (can’t beat the feel and smell of a new book!) are great!

  • Mixed feelings on this topic. As a reader who reads “authors” rather than “books” when I find a series I like, and as a very anal reader, I want to be able to start with book one. Sometimes these are “old” books, and hard to find. In that case, I’m all for reissues, and don’t really care about covers. I do like that authors might be allowed to update.

    As an author with publishers with very limited distribution, I look at all the shelf space taken up by reissues and wish that more of that room was available for the less well-known.

    But it’s a business, and I understand. But it doesn’t help MY sales when someone wants my book and has to take the extra step to go to Customer Service and ask them to order it.

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