After twelve years in the business, I've had the rights to two books reverted back to me. In 2008, once I realized The Chocolate Ship was out of print (originally printed in 2003), I contacted the legal department at HarperCollins and requested reversion of my rights - also, Something He Can Feel was reverted back to me late last year. In 2009, I self-published a revised trade and e-book version of The Chocolate Ship, and released an e-book version of Something He Can Feel just this month. I plan to do the same for each of my other backlist titles.
I've been told some publishers regularly order very small print runs, keeping the license term from expiring by keeping author's titles in print.
Would you prefer that a publisher continues to print your book, even in small amounts and keep it available, or would you prefer to have a time period on the rights, limiting it to a certain period of time as opposed to an open-ended term?
Do you think you might have a title that's out of print, yet you haven't inquired as to the status? I know Hot Boyz was out of print for a short period of time, yet when I inquired, HarperCollins decided to reprint it in another format.
If retaining our rights could improve our financial situation, I say we need to be aware and look out for each opportunity to gain more control, especially with the growing popularity of electronic publishing opportunities. However, it is also important to keep our books available to readers for as long as possible, traditional or self-published, as opposed to simply retaining our rights only to retire our works that will never again see the light of day.