February 20, 2010

Can you teach an old book new tricks?

Can you judge a book by its cover? I’ll confess that I have bought many a book because I fell for the shiny surface. Luckily, my batting average is high. I adored Ginger, You’re Barmy, The Rap Factor, and Blue Heaven — all three I bought more than two decades ago because I liked the looks of them.

But here’s a new question: How do readers (and writers) feel about new titles on old books? Say a book was in print for a few years, and sales have slowed. The publisher is looking to perk up the numbers and decides to give the book a whole new package: new title, new cover, new ISBN.

So far, a few of my books have received new covers:

Learning to Love It
Sweet Thing
Got a Minute?

But aside from foreign translations, the titles have remained the same. I’m curious as to how you all feel about the situation. What are your thoughts about publishers repackaging older books with pretty new titles and covers? How would you feel if you unwittingly bought a book you already owned? Are there pros and cons to the practice?

Chime in, please. All opinions welcome.



Lindsay said...

Particularly when I was reading romance, just the cover change was such an annoyance that I've taken to looking at the copyright date. If it's an older book, chances are I've read it. I can understand needing to update it, but there is nothing more disappointing than finding a "new find" from a favorite author to realize it's just a re-release. Now changing a title just seems sneaky...for some readers who read a lot and can't keep track of everything they've read this seems like a way to slip one by.

Jo said...

If I bought a book I already owned, I'd bring it back...

Alison Tyler said...

Hey Lindsay, I don't read a lot of romance, but I have heard that retitling books is a common practice in the genre. I'd think it would create a constant sense of deja vu for the readers.

And Jo, would you be upset with the author? The publisher? Or would you shrug it off without a problem?


Lindsay said...

Hence why I read mostly erotica or erotic romance now...all of you ruined me for romance ;)

And I still buy books I already own even without a new cover or title! That I chalk up to my impulsive book buying.

Erobintica said...

Hmmm, I have no problem with a change in cover art (though sometimes I think - that's prettier than the cover I have - no fair!) - but the title????

Yeah, I'd think that was sneaky. And I'd be pissed if I bought something thinking it was "new" and it turned out not to be. Especially since my book-buying budget is practically non-existent right now. And yeah, I'd take it back, but still. And then I'd probably lose trust - I'd always wonder if something by that author was new or old (even if the author had nothing to do with the decision - it's the author's name on the book). And since sometimes my memory isn't quite up to what it used to be, I'd more likely pass than take a chance on buying something I already have.

Now, if somewhere it said "previously released as...." then it wouldn't bother me so much.

Alison Tyler said...

Your POV makes a lot of sense, E. I appreciate how well you worded your sentiment. I hadn't really thought about the reduced book-buying budget aspect before. Even though I know mine has been virtually slashed in favor of paying medical bills!


Jo said...

Um, I think I'd assume it was the publisher rather than the writer, and I'd feel it was sneaky.

I don't think it would put me off buying more new ones though. The truth is I don't buy a lot of books, despite my book-love. It feels like a luxury, somehow. So getting a new book by a favourite author is a rare treat...

Emerald said...

I agree with Robin about the "previously released as" angle. It seems to me it would be appropriate to note that somewhere—maybe not screaming across the cover, but somewhere where it realistically may be noted.

Dayle A. Dermatis said...

I am, as usual, of two minds. :-)

As a reader, it can be annoying--and title changes even more so! I appreciate Nora Roberts' publisher for putting a symbol on all her new releases to distinguish them from reprints.

I know authors have no control over covers, so I can't blame them. Depending on the contract they've signed, they might not even have control over the title change.

All that said, I don't do a lot of impulse book buying--I have extensive lists of what I'm already looking for!--so I don't usually get caught out by a new cover/title.

Now, from an author's perspective... Cover changes can be a good thing, especially when the original cover wasn't very good. Readers do judge books by covers, and unless you're a big enough name to be an autobuy, a bad cover can kill your book.

I love the idea that one of my books could get a new lease on life and find more readers. :-)

Alison Tyler said...

Hey Dayle,

I don't know that many readers would realize an author might not have control of the title.

My gut feeling is that readers would be upset if they unintentionally re-purchased a title they already owned. And that they'd be mistrustful of both the author and the publisher in regards to future purchases.

The retitled books I've seen out so far are very coy about the fact that they're repackaged. Like, on the copyright page inside it will say "copyright 2000, 2009" — but there won't be a line that says, "Previously published as..."

I do appreciate hearing everyone's POV.


Danielle said...

i mokay with new covers..but new title dont work for me...its mean and misleading and i m sure it makes many people buy books they already have...so..new cober yay..new title...nooo

and i always would blame the publisher...i wrote my first book when i was 16...so i know actually you always blame the right one when you blame the publisher...because they are out there..meaaaaaannn publishers...but thank god i always worked with wonderfull ones...thumbsup*

but who would you blame alison since you are both writer and a publisher too.....do you sometimes miss the freedom you have when you publish a book yourself?

kiki said...

i HAVE been completely pissed when this has happened to me before in a completely different genre. it is ridiculous to retitle a book and try to trick people into thinking it is something completely different when it's just exactly the same thing. i haven't had my coffee yet today, so this is probably not coherent, but motherfuck! it's the person with her name on the book that would get the hate mail and anger and the "i'm not going to ever buy another one of THIS fuckwad's book!" if that happened. i know that *i* wouldn't think of saying instead "what a ass of a publisher!!" when in reality, it IS the publisher, but lowly book readers don't always know that.