I was commiserating with an author today about how his publisher has published numerous books that overlap his core series title, and which ultimately cannabalize his sales in the process. This is a real problem with successful series. His publisher wants to increase the number of books sold overall and typically has very little concern with overlapping some established books as long as overall revenues increase.

Often this process leads to what we used to call the “frankenbook,” an edited conglomeration built from other books, with maybe some new original content thrown in, and with the authors paid a derivative royalty which is almost always much smaller, proportionally, to what the author earns from his own, standalone, title. The old Macmillan Computer Publishing was famous for this and even used the name on a few books. But other computer publishers have also tried this on occasion. For the most part, there is little protection for the author in this situation: with rare exceptions the publisher holds the right to use material in derivative works, and the publisher almost never agrees not to compete with an author, although every author is compelled to sign a non-compete agreement.

Some of this competition is inevitable with companies that grow fast and develop multiple lines, or buy competitors and merge lists, but when I see publishers start to push frankenbooks I feel as though they’ve hit their creative peak and don’t know what to do next.

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