Challenge,  publishing

Books Don’t Spoil…

I Have Been Saying That For Years…

In traditional publishing, books are like bananas that go bad after a short time on the shelves and must be replaced with a fresh banana. But in indie publishing, years can go by before a book finds its true market. The book didn’t spoil in that time frame.

Brandon Sanderson got well past a million bucks just doing a Kickstarter campaign for a hardback of a ten year old novel. Thankfully for him, he understood that books don’t spoil.

So I fight this stupidity all the time in a lot of ways. And one way I try is by adding reprint stories in collections, in Pulphouse Fiction Magazine, and in other products such as the twelve volumes of The Year of the Cat. Some of those stories are over a hundred years old and they are still wonderful.

If I publish a story by any author, reprint or not, it is because I love it and think it fits in the book or magazine. Period.

Reprint stories are not second class stories that should be shunned into an electronic file and then tossed just because it doesn’t have that silly “first publication” on it. But so many people seem to think so. Thank heavens for my own work as well as other authors that I buy stories from that I don’t follow that stupidity.

I have one story that got me about $350 bucks for its first publication back in the early 1990s. (Oh, no, the story has rotted and is now worthless is what most think. I am certain that the pages of the magazine the story was in are yellowed. Story is just fine.) But I am fairly certain that just recently my lifetime income from that one short story just went past $20,000 and is still growing. People in the movies and television didn’t think it was rotted. They never think that way about any story.

I have two short stories in that income range and about a dozen others that are climbing toward it. All of my published stories are still earning at one level or another. One of those stories made me $100 as a reprint in a complete non-fiction magazine as the only short story they ever published.

Stories don’t spoil, books don’t spoil. So if you look down your nose at a story that you have discovered is a reprint, just stop and read it like it is fresh that day, because to you it is new.

And writers, use those older stories to make more money, promote your other work.

And a couple of suggestions to writers.

Put this year’s copyright date on it on the copyright page, and leave off the “originally published in…” clause. None of that has any legal meaning since the new copyright act forty plus years ago. So why turn off those that might have this silly problem.

Books and stories don’t spoil. Don’t you work to spoil your own fiction for some closed-minded or uninformed readers or reviewers.



  • Connor whiteley

    Hi Dean, I completely agree and I think so many authors miss this.
    This is why I create IP and don’t worry about it selling now because it could sell in 40 years. And it could never sell a book copy but it could earn in other ways. TV, games and similar?
    In addition to all the other nonfiction and fiction books I write a year. I’m doing my own write a short story a week challenge. All to build up that IP.

  • Philip

    I have subscriptions to a lot of the big time short story magazines because I love short stories as both a reader (first) and a writer (second). But I’m 42 years-old, so Ellery Queen or Hitchock or Asimov’s could literally spend the next two years reprinting whole issues from the 70s or even 80s and I wouldn’t give a damn because the stories would all be new to me. In fact, I seek out anthologies from the pulp days–most recently Manhunt. These are all “old” stories yet 100% fresh to me. So yes, you’re absolutely right, there are always new audiences.

    • dwsmith

      Exactly, Philip. That’s why of almost everything we had in Lincoln City, one of the only collections we kept was the digest collection of just about every copy of every digest in mystery, sf, fantasy, and horror from 1944 to 2000. Amazing fiction in those magazines.

    • Mark Kuhn

      Thanks for the heads up, Philip, on the Manhunt magazine. I found the Kindle edition of the “Best Of” on Amazon. Looks awesome. I love the old pulp crime stuff. Right now I’m in the middle of a Perry Mason book.

  • JM6

    So, then, a note about filing systems, especially if you’re just starting out and don’t have hundreds of stories like Dean:
    Since stories don’t spoil, make sure you can find your story about X topic in the future quickly and easily if there’s a magazine or anthology looking for a story with that topic. Or if you want to do your own collection on a theme.

    • dwsmith

      So, so right. Not only the story title, but the length, the topic, the genre, and the name of the character. I always did all right at times on the length, title, and character. Topic and genre are critical to putting collections together later.

    • Filip Wiltgren

      And if you’re going to do this electronically, make sure to:

      A) back it up, preferably automatically to a dedicated backup service (not Dropbox or similar that “backup” for 30 days then wipe everything) and

      B) occasionally back it up into a “clean” format, like .cvs or a plain, old text file that doesn’t contain multiple layers of formatting and encoding that could render your data corrupt.

      Speaking from presonal experience here…

      • dwsmith

        Dropbox does not wipe files if you set it up correctly. But Filip’s point is correct, back up everything. And you should ALWAYS print out a paper copy.

  • Vincent Zandri

    My first published novel, As Catch Can, sold modestly when Delacorte first published it. It was remaindered and tossed into the spoiled fruit basket along with my second novel Godchild. “You had your chance kid. Hit the bricks!” Fast forward a few years. Dell gives me my rights back ( I was able to do this in the knick of time since only months later they stopped reverting rights back to authors). I change the title of As Catch Can ( which the editor came up with….I hated that title) back to the original, The Innocent and doesn’t something miraculous happen. It sells 100k units in five weeks. The new edition of Godchild sells 25k units or so. So like Dean says, never give up on a story. Just keep creating more of them.

  • Zoe Cannon

    Do readers really look down on reprints? I know when I see that a story in a magazine is a reprint, my first thought is, “It must be doubly good if two editors wanted to buy it!” But I’ve also never understood the general obsession with newness in publishing. Publishers make a big deal out of the fact that a book is someone’s “debut novel,” but while some of these are enjoyable, on the whole the books I like best tend to come from writers with more writing experience under their belt.