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Q&A: What to consider when recycling content from writing project to writing project

Q: “A general question: You are writing a book — in one chapter, you wish to include information that you have used in another book with another publisher. What is the rule of thumb — if there is one — about how much information can be used and/or the level of changes necessary?”

A: Jay Devore, Professor Emeritus, Department of Statistics, Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo:

“I’ve been thinking about this issue because a colleague and I are thinking about collaborating on a business statistics book (introductory statistics for a business audience). I have written statistics books for engineers and also for a general audience — 4 in total, all published by Thomson. But Thomson (actually their subsidiary Southwestern) already has a full stable of business stat books, so may not be interested in publishing another one. Yet if they refused to do so, I would still like to use many of the explanations I have used in my other books and maybe even some of the examples. The new book would not compete with the others, so I don’t think Richard’s considerations are relevant. I know of one other author who has published introductory probability and statistics books with at least three different publishers, so something of this sort must be possible. If Thomson does not want to publish the new book, I suppose I have to ask them for permission to use material in a new book published by another company. Wonder what they’ll say.”

A: Paul Chance, author of Learning and Behavior

“I think some editors are like realtors: They will try to make you feel you have betrayed them if you contact another company. If you have a really good relationship with an editor, then it might make sense to give her first crack at a Ms, but she shouldn’t feel betrayed if you send a copy to her and to other houses. When you’re shopping for a new coat, you go to more than one store, don’t you? Does a clerk get angry because you went to other stores?”

A: Steven Krantz, author of 165 scholarly articles and 60 books:

“My experience is that editors are rather territorial. At the end of the day, an editor gets credit for the books he/she signs and the books he/she develops. You are liable to aggravate everyone if you try to deal with more than one editor.”

A: Christa Harris, Senior Sponsoring Editor, McGraw-Hill Higher Education:

“A good editor should not only have his/her own interests in mind, but also those of his/her authors. So a good editor should not mind at all when a prospective author takes a proposal to multiple publishers.

A relationship with a publisher is going to last 20 years, at least, if all goes well. Meaning, if a textbook goes into multiple editions, which is something we all want (authors and publishers alike), then the authors will have a relationship with the publisher for longer than most marriages last. Authors (and publishers, for that matter) need to select their publishing ‘mates’ with great care, and both sides need to feel that the relationship is open, honest and based on mutual respect and trust. If that’s not the case, it is going to be an unpleasant and bumpy 20 years. And that process begins at the time of proposal consideration and contract negotiation.

If authors have the opportunity to receive offers from multiple publishers, that allows the author to carefully consider a variety of important things: the terms of the contract, the nature of the publishing company (and their priorities), the editor(s), the production staff, the sales and marketing strategies and priorities, the commitment to media development, and so forth. These are all important and will vary from publisher to publisher. And of course, the contract terms can be negotiated, and an author has more negotiation power if he or she has another offer from a different publisher.

Editors change over time, so authors need to consider not only their relationship with a particular editor, but their relationship with the company as a whole. I hope that I’ll have a long and fruitful relationship with ‘my’ authors, but who knows? I could be laid off, I could get a better offer somewhere else that I can’t refuse, and so forth. Authors don’t have the option to move to another publisher once they’ve signed a contract, so must be especially careful.

Publishing a successful, best-selling textbook is a team effort, one in which all the players play important roles. When an author picks a team, he or she should have checked out all the other teams already and decided which one is the best fit.”

A: Michael Lennie, Lennie Literary & Authors Attorneys:

“From the perspective of negotiating a good contract, the single most powerful consideration is to have secured the interest of more than one publisher.”

A: J. David Hunger, author of Strategic Management and Business Policy:

“Christa is right when she says that a relationship with a publisher is very important. It is also important to point out that editors change and so do publishers. When Tom Wheelen and I began the first edition of our textbook, we talked with three publishers: McGraw-Hill, Prentice Hall, and Addison-Wesley. Although all three publishers showed interest in our book, we chose Addison-Wesley. Over time, publishers do develop personalities. We didn’t want to sign with Prentice Hall, for example, because it had a reputation of signing lots of authors and only supporting the first year of publication – ‘Tossing them against the wall and seeing which one stick.’ We went with Addison-Wesley because they tended to support their books for multiple years until the next edition. This was because it was a smaller publisher and only had one book in a topic area. Prentice Hall, in contrast, published multiple books within each topic area. After many successful editions with Addison-Wesley, imagine our surprise when it was bought by Pearson (which had also bought Prentice Hall). Our book was then transferred to Prentice Hall. Like a lot of other Addison-Wesley authors, we had a tough time getting used to the Prentice Hall bureaucracy. We finally figured things out after some conflict and are happy to report that we are currently working on our 11th edition. Even if Tom and I have some issues with Prentice Hall’s approach to publishing, we do appreciate the fact that they are able to market to the entire market with a lot more clout than smaller Addison-Wesley.

One point: Don’t get too caught up in signing with a publisher because you like the editor who signs your book. We are in our 11th edition and we have never had the same editor on more than one edition!!!! (And we are currently in a two-year revision cycle!!)”

A: Richard Hull, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy:

“There are several considerations against recycling material from one book in another.

  1. It robs you are your first publisher of a potential sale. If you lead the reader to whatever you think important in the second book that is found in the first, but don’t ‘give it away,’ you might find the reader buys the first book to get all of what he or she finds sketched in the second. Consider including in your second book only a minimal indication of what you showed so brilliantly in the first, in hopes that the engaged reader will want to know the full story. You might even interest your first book’s publisher in publishing the second one as a second, companion volume to the first.
  2. It may make your second book look like you didn’t have quite a full book’s worth of material for it and so you found it necessary to borrow from the first one. In this, put yourself in the shoes of a reader of book one who buys book two, only to find that most of the first chapter or section he already has, and has paid twice for. Not a happy reader.I certainly understand that, if your work is conceptually connected, you might want to make the transition from the first to the second book like you make the transition from one class lecture to the next: ‘As we were saying last week…,’ but it is possible for the reader of book two to obtain book one, whereas it is hard for your student who missed last Friday’s class to pick up the relevance of Monday’s lecture. Of course, if book 1 sold out completely and is not available even on the used book market, you might, if you and publisher aren’t into a reissue, find it to be a kindness to reprint that relevant section of book one in book two.
  3. As your book one publisher has a vested interest in its sales, and may well hold copyright, if you decide to go ahead and reprint or reprise a significant portion (say, 5-10 percent of book one) in book two, you might first want to discuss that with your book one publisher. That publisher probably will give permission; you may even want to have a clause in your book one contract that allows you to republish portions of it, but giving notice is the cleanest and fairest way to avoid incurring your former publisher’s wrath.
  4. If your work is reviewed by tenure and promotion committees, it is possible that someone will take exception to your proposed practice, accusing you of padding your later work or of self-citation (suggesting that you are trying to build some kind of record of your own citations).”