Magazine Extras: Backlists, Big Bucks and Big Questions

In the June issue of RT BOOK REVIEWS, romance author Hope Tarr talks about the reader and writer advantages to dressing up a backlist — and self-publishing it. In this guest post, the author explores how pricing comes into play, and gives you five questions you should ask yourself before buying an author’s refurbished e-book.

When I reissued Tempting as an e-book for 99 cents, at first I chafed at the cheap price point. In an era of $5 lattes, charging under a buck for the book of your heart can be a tough pill to take. Then again, if doing so continues to put the book into the hands of more readers, and motivates them to search out my other historical romances, it will be a pill worth swallowing—and my pride with it.

“Cheap is in,” concurs Marilyn Campbell, who reissued Daydreams in 2011 after being encouraged by the self-publishing successes of other seasoned authors. “Basically, selling 10,000 books at 99 cents beats out selling 1,000 for $5.”

Terri Brisbin (A Matter of Time, Once Forbidden) maintains that e-books should be priced lower than print books, because digital is such a vastly different content delivery medium. “Consumers are not actually buying the digital copy. They're really just paying a license fee to view the file,” she points out. “With e-books, there is no cost of paper, printing, etc.”

Book blogger and Lady Jane’s Salon co-founder Ron Hogan feels differently. “As a consumer, I like it when e-books are about the same price as mass market paperbacks, but I'm not opposed to a price point closer to that for trade paperbacks, either,” he says. “There's room for flexibility between being responsive to consumers and making enough money to sustain authors as well as publishers.”

Some authors are offering selected backlist titles for free in the hope of hooking, and then herding, readers to their other front list releases or to other backlist books offered as paid downloads. Still others are determined to profit even if that profit is a royalty paid in pennies.

“If free was easy, I’d probably try it just for the fun of it, but there are only so many hours in the day,” says Patricia Rice, who has reissued fifteen titles on her own as well as two original works including the soon-to-be published English Heiress.

In an online publishing market glutted with giveaways, being offered for free can make it harder for a book to break out. Says Smart Bitches, Trashy Books’ blogger and author Sarah Wendell, “Promotional prices of 25 or 75 cents are more likely to catch my attention right now than a free book, mostly because the market is flooded with free romances of various types and lengths and I am hesitant to wade in and try to find anything of quality anymore.”

To Buy Or Not To Buy?

Pondering purchasing a writer’s reissued backlist book? Take two ticks and ask yourself the following Big Five questions.

  1. Have you read this author before and is s/he an auto-buy for you?
  2. Have you read this book before, when it was first released? If so, was it a “keeper”?
  3. When was the book first released, presumably in print?
  4. Was the original (print) publisher a recognized New York or respected indie house?
  5. Has the book been revised and, if so, are those revisions substantive to the content? (As in, a new epilogue added or an ending altered, or typos and inconsistencies finally fixed.)

- Hope Tarr

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