If you are a writer and you work at it steadily and you live long enough, eventually you will develop a backlist -- i.e. older books that are theoretically still available. There might be a handful of copies in a warehouse somewhere, or an electronic typeset version, or nowadays, e-files. As long as somebody could call up and order copies of the title and your publisher is willing to and can supply them, the book is theoretically still in print.
If, however, it has been more than seven years and your publisher deems it that they aren't going to bring those older titles back out in newer editions, and they pulp the copies, then the publishing rights are reverted to the author.
What this means is that the writer is free to try and peddle them elsewhere. This is usually not much use to the writer -- if the backlist was commercial, then it would be on the market, so the theory goes, and why would a new publisher want to buy those rights if the old one wasn't making any money on them?
Ah, but now we have ebooks. Amazon.com, B&N, several smaller outfits, and soon-to-be Apple, with the iPad. So a writer might be able to, if he had the e-files on the reverted books, pick up enough to buy him- or herself lunch by cleaning up those files and uploading them to one of the e-pubs.
As it happens, having wet my toes in that area, and having just gotten several old titles reverted to me by Penguin/Berkley/Ace, I believe I am going to give that a shot.
It will involve a bit of work. My original files are so old that I have to open them with a basic text editing program -- the program I use now doesn't recognize the old files. There are some program artifacts that will have to be fixed, I'll have to do the italics and justify the type, basic chores that the publisher did for the treeware, upload them in a form that Amazon.com likes, but that's fairly minimal stuff. I have the hardcopy for reference, so it shouldn't be too difficult.
The four titles are from the early- to mid- to late nineties: The Forever Drug, The Digital Effect, The Trinity Vector, and Spindoc. Unfortunately, the last title seems to be missing the first seven chapters in my old novel file, no idea why , so I probably won't do that one any time soon. I'd have to type those in manually or run the book through a scanner and fix that, and that's more work than I'm willing to do. The books will all stand alone, though Forever and Spindoc are linked.
I could also offer them as PDFs on my blog, as I have some others, we'll see how that goes.
He might be reluctant, but sometimes you can teach an old dog new tricks. Now to see if it will help keep the critter in dog food ...