In the past, I have advocated for fewer imprints. Allow me to reverse course as I suggest a new imprint idea that should be added at every major publisher. Call it Resurrection or Second Chance or Renewal. The idea is simple: Publishers are sitting on piles of quality material that they paid good money for. Some of those investments didn’t pay off. But it may not have been the fault of the text. Give that piece a second chance.
Self-published authors do this all the time (though probably not as often as they should). If a digital book isn’t selling well, there’s minimal cost and zero risk in repackaging the work and giving it a second go. Every editor has a list of books a mile long that they truly believed in, loved to death, but didn’t quite make a splash. Too often, this is blamed on the book or on consumers. Nearly as often, it is the wrong cover art, the wrong metadata, the wrong blurb, the wrong title, or simply the wrong time.
For the cost of cover art and an upload, a piece of valuable property can be brought out of the vault and sent out to customers. I imagine a spirited meeting once a month over coffee and scones, where editors can make their case for a book at least two years old that didn’t sell as expected. Perhaps they would want to look primarily at books for which they paid large advances, as the earnings are already in the red (so more of what is made would be kept in-house). These are probably the books they cared dearly about when they first saw them. Another $5,000 for a digital-only release is a drop in the bucket.
I would make these releases (and this imprint) LOUD. I wouldn’t shy away from the notion of giving a work a second chance. Implicit in this act is a belief in and an appreciation of this work. Shout to the book world that people missed something great. If the title is changed, make sure people know what the old title was. This isn’t an attempt to dupe or deceive. It’s just about taking great works, already owned, and seeing if a few tweaks and a new climate will help them prosper.
For the publisher brave enough to make this a real focus, the advantages would be extraordinary. Imagine saying to agents and authors during the negotiation process that you are the only publisher (or the first publisher) who will never give up on a work they believe in. What other publisher will tell you that? Think of the PR of such an imprint at minimal cost. A huge gain would be made to hear from publishers that sometimes, when a book doesn’t do well, it isn’t the text’s fault.
I would aim for twelve books a year from an imprint like this. There’s no editing to perform. No printing costs. No distribution costs. Edit that metadata, digitally re-shelve the e-book, and slap a new cover on it. Let the author know the book is being given new life, so their marketing efforts can be kicked up. And then, if a book shows promise in e-form, get the sales force behind the work. Maybe it’s time to dust off the printers.