Why I asked my brilliant publisher to stop selling my book! (And then they bought it back again)
By Helen Corner-Bryant, founding director of Cornerstones Literary Consultancy.
Back in the mid 2000’s, I co-wrote a book on editing and how to submit to agents based on our workshop teaching practices, which are at the core of Cornerstones. This book was published by John Murray, Hachette, and for many years it was a steady seller. As it was part of the Teach Yourself series, we were asked every few years to add material and at times to alter its structure so that it could be refreshed and re-launched. While this made sense, we were increasingly finding that it was moving further away from our original vision. My award-winning co-writer was also caught up in her own deadlines – by then her career was going through the roof – and we were finding it hard to deliver the required revisions within the time frame. I also felt that, ten years down the line, Cornerstones’s combined knowledge and techniques had grown and that we had so much more to say on every aspect of the self-editing process. We wanted to dig deep and re-examine everything, but there was little point in doing that if our original book was still continuously published.
So, I did possibly one of the most counter-intuitive things: with my co-writer’s permission, I asked my publisher if they would stop selling our book and to revert the rights. At the time, it was still in print, so in theory they could have said no. But my lovely publisher understood my reasons and six months later, I had the rights reverted. I then bought the rights from my co-writer to use any past material, and asked my editor-in-chief, Kathryn Price, to write the editing section of the book – she is one of the best developmental editors I’ve come across! I then revamped the section on submitting to agents. At that point, a year and a half had gone by and I didn’t know what I was going to do with the new book. I was toying with the idea of self-publishing – this can be quite a good earner for some books, especially if you have an established audience – or maybe a trade publisher might have been interested. I knew I was taking a risk, but the main motivator was to deliver the best book we possibly could regardless of the publishing outcome.
I happened to be in a meeting (unrelated to the book) with the new publisher at John Murray, Jonathan Shipley. I seem to remember discussing setting up a teaching event for writers, and it transpired that he wanted to buy back the book. Not only that, but he wanted to buy it as a lead title for the creative writing section of Teach Yourself… To be bought back by a leading educational publisher is incredibly flattering and, most importantly, the fit felt right. It’s been a long haul, but, in the end, the right thing happened for the right reasons. It’s much like coming home.
On Editing: How to edit your novel the professional way by Helen Corner-Bryant and Kathryn Price, John Murray, 17th May 2018. The online editing course, Edit Your Novel The Professional Way, complements the book and is designed to arm a writer with the confidence to self-edit and submit their novel to the trade.