Nov 6 2013
That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…
Apparently that's not the case, though, when the conversation shifts to the topic of books and their names, and I know, as an author, that I'm not alone in catching the rough edge of criticism from frustrated readers who have bought a book only to discover that they've read it already under another title. Authors . . . the people who write the books . . . are powerless to change that. We never have had veto power over such things.
International publishing houses purchase territorial and jurisdictional rights to our novels, in places like the USA, the United Kingdom, Canada and other countries, and with those rights they retain the right to change the title of any or all of the works involved.
That used to be fair ball, because the odds of the British edition of a specific book turning up for sale in, say, Canada, have always been pretty slim and unlikely. In recent years, though, that has changed radically, and the enormous and increasing strength of e-marketing by companies like Amazon means that anyone, anywhere, may now purchase any book on-line, no matter where it was published. That's fine when we talk about about languages other than English. The German edition of the Templars novel, "Knights of the Black and White," for example, is called "Die Brüder des Kreuzes". It's unlikely to be bought, anywhere, by anyone who doesn't read German…
English language books, however, are another matter altogether, and let's be clear about one thing here: Amazon doesn't care how many versions of a specific novel you buy, simply because they advertise it on their site. All they care about is selling books–any books, to anyone.
So how are you, the reader, supposed to know if a book is brand-new or just retitled by a different publisher? Well, the rule is "caveat emptor"–buyer beware. If you're a Canadian and all your Jack Whyte books are published by Viking/Penguin Canada, then you should be leery of buying a book published in the USA by Forge Tor, or in the UK by Sphere Books, without checking to make sure that it hasn't already been published under a different name somewhere else. Same thing applies if you're American and all your books are published by Forge/Tor . . . it's not unlikely that the Canadian version of any of the books might have a different title.
So again, how are you supposed to know that, or find it out? You look at (or google) the Copyright Page… There's one required by law at the front of each book, and there you will learn if the book was previously published, and by whom, and what its title was then.
It's not rocket science, but I am constantly amazed at the vast number of people who never even look at the copyright page of a book, and yet it's full of valuable information. There's a line of consecutive numbers there, for example, usually close to the bottom. It might read: 29 28 27 26 25. What that tells you is how many times the book has been reprinted. If the smallest number you see on that list is 25, as shown above, that means the book has already been reprinted 24 times by that publisher. If the list runs from 2 though 10, though, it means you are holding a First Edition.
So, there's my take on the situation in force, vis-a-vis titles. To those increasingly numerous complainants who accuse me and my fellow writer of ripping them off in order to take an estimated $0.85 in royalties out of their jeans, I can only say, we authors have nothing to do with any of that. All we do is write books. Publishers and book-sellers hustle them. And all the information a prospective purchaser needs before deciding to buy is right there on the Copyright page of every book.