Tips for self-publishers: How to publish your back catalog

I’ve worked with a number of authors who have a back catalog of traditionally printed books for which the rights have now reverted to them. This throws up a number of problems when they wish to republish their books, whether as eBooks, paperbacks or both.

If you have your original Word or other word processing document, then your task is much easier, but take care with copy editing. Most commonly the document file you have is what was sent to the publisher before final copy editing. In other words, you need to go through copy editing again. Even if the bulk of copy editing was contained within your Word document, it’s common for a few last-minute changes to have been made at the publisher’s end.

If your publisher gave you a PDF of the finished book, then this carries its own problems. You can convert a PDF to Word format, but the result is not pretty. Unless you are publishing a paperback of the same trim size (page dimensions) as the publisher’s PDF then this will require a lot of work to knock it into an acceptable state before publishing but still a better result than the last resort: scanning.

Scanning is the most common way to re-publish an old book in my professional experience. Take a paperback, scan the pages using an OCR scanner (Optical Character Recognition), assemble the scans into a single Word document, tidy, format, republish.

This sounds simple, after all most inkjet printers can do OCR scanning these days, but scanning isn’t as easy as it looks, and even the best scanning will leave many difficult-to-spot errors.

The first scanning task is to turn the printed version of your book into a single Word document (or other word processor). The best way is to pay a professional to do this. Google for ‘book scanning’ services in your country and get some quotes. You’re looking here for a service provided by a printing company. If you have the time and patience you can do this yourself with a cheap multi-function printer, but expect the professionals to do a faster and better job of it.

Even a professional job will still be loaded with errors. For example, suppose you have a character called ‘Saul’. The OCR software will have a very hard time telling the difference between ‘Saul’ and ‘Soul’. Most likely you will get a random mixture of both. Your spell checker will not complain about either so that won’t help. Most problems can be identified by reading out aloud or converting to an eBook format and getting your iPad or Kindle or whatever to read to you. But in the case of ‘Saul’ / ‘Soul’ even that won’t help.


Jeff Noon is one of the authors I worked with on their back catalog. Jeff proof read very thoroughly before I saw the manuscripts, which helped enormously. Click on the image to see Jeff’s new eBook editions.

And a more amateurish job will be laden with spelling errors for you to address. The OCR software will struggle to differentiate between the number ‘1’ and the lower-case character ‘l’. ‘6’ and ‘b’ may look the same depending on the font. It may decide an opening double quote is actually a superscript ‘m’ and a closing double quote is a superscript ‘3’.

The best approach to publishing a scanned in book is to accept right from the beginning that tidying a scanned book is a lengthy task. Use a variety of proofing techniques at the start, and then expect to use beta or proof readers to pick up the few examples you missed.

Here are some techniques to use:

  • Distrust every use of a numeral. Check for every use of the number ‘1’. Then search for every use of ‘2’ etc.
  • Investigate every single spelling error reported by your word processor (usually shown with a red underline in Word). If you are certain the word is correct but isn’t in Word’s dictionary, click the option to ‘add to dictionary’.
  • Investigate every grammar error (usually shown with a green underline in Word). Yes, I know this is tedious. Word will report scores of grammar errors where you know better. Sometimes when there is an error in your manuscript, Word can’t identify the error directly, but knows something isn’t right and so flags a grammar error. In other words, when the grammar checker finds a genuine error the grammar rule it tells you has been broken is usually nonsense, but if you look deeper into the sentence, there is a real error lurking underneath. Remember the example above of ‘Soul’/ ‘Saul’? There is a good chance that the grammar checker will spot this.
  • Investigate every suggested word. Word 2007 started putting blue squiggly lines under words it thinks you might have mistaken and suggests what you should have used instead. For example it’s and its. With each new edition of Word this seems to get more accurate. You should be looking at these in any case, but if you’re scanning in a book, go through all the blue squiggles now.
  • Get a computer to read the results back. There are various ways to do this. The easiest is on an eReader such as Kindle or iPad/iPhone. Check your manual to see whether your device manages text-to-speech. To transfer your book to your eReader, do this:
    • On your computer, download a free eBook management tool called Calibre.
    • Save your manuscript from Word as html format.
    • From Calibre, Add Book. Browse to the html file you saved and add that.
    • Convert the book to the required format. MOBI for Kindles and ePUB for everything else.
    • Connect your device to your computer using your USB cable.
    • Once Calibre has detected your device, right click the book on your Calibre library screen and ‘send to main memory’ on your device.
    • From Calibre, eject your device.
    • Disconnect your eReader and set your device’s text-to-speech option running.
    • Doing this with Apple tablets and phones doesn’t always work. Apple wants you to do everything through iTunes. I use Dropbox to send myself files to my iPad, but you could email yourself.

The Takeaway from this Post

  • If you have the rights, then taking back control of your back catalog and self-publishing can be tremendously fulfilling.
  • However, don’t underestimate the work required to get your old books up to scratch, especially if you have to scan them in.

Follow this link to my other writing and publishing tips

This article was adapted from ‘Format Your Print Book for Createspace: 2nd Edition‘ available now as a Kindle eBook, and as a 296 page paperback:

eBook: |

Paperback |

About Tim C. Taylor

Tim C. Taylor writes science fiction and is the author of 21 published novels as of August 2021. His latest book is 'Hold the Line', published by Theogony Books. Find out more at
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