This Is What Happens When You Let Your Book Go Out of Print

Image: sweetlouise

More than 20 years ago I finished up the writing of an ambitious piece of fiction. But I made one terrible mistake that only became apparent once I began shopping my book around to literary agents.

The story was too long.

Established authors can get away with writing phone book-thickness tales of suspense and high action, but not first time writers.

So after making this entirely avoidablemisstep I reeled in horror when I heard agents query in all seriousness whether I could not “just split the book in two” and publish the parts separately — as if this was an actual strategy that might work.

Oh, how I ground my teeth for months trying to come up with a work-around to this vexing problem.

But there was none, and in the end I was left with the one option the first-time writer can always resort to, no matter how good or bad their work.

I could publish the damn thing myself.

Are you sure you want to do that?

Now, this is not a fun thing to be forced upon you, reader.

After years of laboring over your masterpiece, to be told you were running the race in the wrong lane the entire time. Then to follow with the realization that you must now figure out how to turn your irredeemable pile of pages into a polished printable product which, let’s be honest, your intended audience might never lay eyes on — well, that’s a very bitter pill to have to swallow.

To increase the difficulty factor for myself I had written a book which relied on a series of computer-generated images to move the story forward.

Some of these images were created using a one-of-a-kind process which bypassed the use of any kind of graphics software to produce them. To create these images I first had to teach myself Postscript, which is the language used to drive laser printers.

I remember consulting with a copy of The Adobe Postscript Language Reference Manual. Image: Ebay seller discover-books

I literally wrote code at the level of pen strokes to cobble together certain images that I could think of no other way to produce. Now I was going to have to figure out how to get these images into whatever typesetting solution I came up with to create the final printable book.

Luckily I am a fairly smart guy.

I was able to figure out how to turn my postscript images into equivalent PDF files. I was also able to take my story, written up as Word files, and likewise convert those to PDF format. Then I was able to digitally glue the entire shebang together to come up with a single PDF file which could be uploaded to the print on demand service I had selected to generate copies of my book.

It was a Frankenstein approach to publishing a debut novel, and no one in a million years would recommend anyone else follow in the same footsteps. I was only able to make it work because I had to make it work.

Much easier was getting together the artwork for the cover. This I outsourced to a clever graphic artist who insulated me from the design considerations that go into this process.

I used the print on demand division of the Ingram Content Group which, at the time, was called Lightning Print. Today it is known as Lightning Source.

Upload two files and you’re a publisher

As I recall, uploading the cover art file and the book interior file all those years ago was a relatively simple affair and the book rolled off the print-on-demand press without a hitch. I have copies from the original print run which still look amazing today. The pages are crisp and the cover is shiny, the ink is deep black and easy to read, and the spine is perfectly intact.

The only fly in the ointment was that I had no marketing experience whatsoever and the book never generated more than a smattering of sales. The eventual result of this was that I got distracted and disconnected from my (by then) Lightning Source account and eventually the day came when the book went out of print. I did not notice when it happened, and nor I think did anyone else.

But eventually someone did notice. The second hand book sellers.

As the years went by those “previously read” copies of my book escalated in perceived value.

One day I noticed a used book seller offering my book for around USD $1100 and it occurred to me that no one, with the exception of the rare millionaire sci-fi fan, was ever going to read my book again.

This was about the same time I was looking at Medium and wondering what the possibilities were regarding publishing my book there. Nobody seemed to be doing this with their own books, but this clear warning sign ultimately proved to be an insufficient deterrent for me.

“If it is possible to publish full-length works of fiction to Medium,” I wondered to myself, “why wouldn’t a writer take advantage of this?”

Tugging on that loose thread eventually resulted in the publication of an article on how to do just that. In How To Publish Your Full-Length Novel Or Any Other Book To Medium I tell you everything I learned about how to put an entire book onto Medium’s pages, no matter the length of it.

But in this article you are going to learn what steps I had to take to resurrect the print version of my book — to get it back into the world after it popped off a remote printer for the first time 20 years ago at Lightning Print’s La Vergne headquarters in Tennessee.

On the face of it, reprinting a title seems like a relatively straight forward affair. However…

When your reprint begins to morph into a complete do-over

When Lightning Source pulled my book from distribution in 2015 they also deleted my account, and along with it the files used to print the book. The cover file went poof, and so did the interior file.

Luckily, or so I thought, I had kept the files. While I have had to replace two personal computers over the past 20 years I did take care to copy from one machine to the next all files related to construction of the book.

Except it turned out I had not.

Because it seems I never took possession of the cover file. At least I was unable to find any trace of it when I went looking for it in 2021. I do vaguely remember that back in 2000 when I was putting the book together for the first time I owned no graphics software capable of rendering the cover file. So in all likelihood I had the design artist upload the file directly from his machine to the Lightning Print server.

So problem number one was that I had lost the cover file.

This is what the original cover art for Ninth Day of Creation looked like. Image: Leonard Crane

Now, if the cover art had not been that great to begin with then this development might have been a blessing in disguise. Trouble was, I had used a creative genius to render my cover and I liked it a lot. Coming up with a new cover, one that I deemed a worthy replacement, that seemed like it could be a headache.

The next problem arose when I attempted to recreate my publisher account and “add a new title” to the system.

Not so fast, Mr. Crane

I created a new account with IngramSpark, the division of the Ingram Content Group which today caters to the indie publisher looking to print copies of a book in low volume.

I got stuck when it came time to specify the ISBN (the International Standard Book Number) for my book. IngramSpark would not accept it. Apparently that ISBN was already being used by an unspecified publisher.

Well, yes, I thought to myself. That ISBN is being used by the publisher Connection Books.

I know this because I am Connection Books and I had used that ISBN when I published with Ingram all those years ago. Although my original account with them had been deleted, somewhere in the system my ISBN had retained an independent existence and was now blocking my attempt to use it again for reprinting purposes.

What followed after this was several weeks of email exchanges between myself and various people on the IngramSpark support desk, each of whom had a different idea about what might be the issue and how to proceed…

“Try entering the equivalent 13-digit version of the ISBN rather than the 10-digit version.”

I tried that. Not surprisingly the system was able to infer that this was the equivalent identifier and reiterated its complaint.

“Consider using a new ISBN.”

This is like asking someone to change their phone number because some online form is erroneously rejecting that phone number.

“You cannot use that ISBN. It is owned by the publisher Connection Books.”

Hmmm. Yes, both of those statements are true.

“You need to request a Title Transfer to bring the existing title into your new account. Once you do that we’ll contact Connection Books to see if they will release it to you.”

OK. I have a strong feeling that Connection Books will be more than happy to do that…

“Success! Connection Books has agreed to the transfer. Please log in again and upload your title.”

At this point I discover the file upload process at Ingram has changed since the last time I attempted to upload a book all those years ag

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