Out of Print / Out of Luck?
It happens rather frequently as an editor. Someone will send me their out of print book as a possibility for me to acquire. Many writers don’t understand the uphill battle they will be fighting in this area—and how they need to put their out-of-print title in the best possible light—and not some half-hearted marketing effort.
Books fade out of print--some times quickly and some times after several years with a publishing house. As someone who has written more than 60 books with traditional publishers, I know this fact firsthand. I have a number of titles which have gone out of print. I have my share of the author horror stories about this out of print process--and the lack of availability for these titles for purchase prior from the original publisher. Despite what you have in your contract, it's a pretty consistent problem with publishing houses--as I know firsthand from major publishers.
Once a book goes out of print, it can be brought back into print with a different publishing house. As an acquisitions editor, I've acquired and contracted several of these types of books. It doesn't happen very often--and often the author receives a minimal amount of advance for such a project. It has to have a compelling reason why it didn't sell the first time successfully and a specific plan how to bring the book out with a new twist. In fiction, maybe the entire story will be reworked, updated and expanded to a longer length with some new books in the works. In nonfiction, maybe the book is given a new title, a new format (hardcover instead of paperback), a new marketing push from the publisher (and author) or the reissued book is repackaged with some other books within the publishing house. It has to be compelling.
Why? Ultimately the publishing decision will be driven by the sales and marketing potential. There will be plenty of skeptics within those areas of the publishing house. These individuals will wonder (and project often without data) about why it didn't sell the first time. They will briefly discuss this aspect, then make their decision about investing in the project or not. Most often the answer is no.
My personal tendency with the bulk of my out of print materials is to simply press on to a new project. I see authors who remarket (almost to death) these out of print projects. From my view, I'm thrilled that the book was in the market and had an opportunity to reach the public. For many different reasons, that project didn’t reach the audience and is no longer in print. Now I'm looking for my next book to write. It’s something to carefully consider if you are devoting a lot of energy to market something that has fallen out of print.