Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Seven

Number Seven

Never Underestimate The Power Of The Backlist

As frightening as it might be, some writers don’t even know what the backlist is. So, let me quote from Wikipedia…

A backlist is a list of older books available from a publisher, as opposed to titles newly published (sometimes called the front list).

Building a strong backlist has traditionally been seen as the way to produce a profitable publishing house, as the most expensive aspects of the publishing process have already been paid for and the only remaining expenses are reproduction costs. A strong backlist is also a form of The Long Tail in modern business plans.

“The backlist is the financial backbone of the book industry, accounting for 25 to 30 percent of the average publisher’s sales,” wrote The New York Times. “Current titles, known as the front list, are often a gamble: they can become best sellers, but they are much more likely to disappear in a flood of returns from bookstores. By contrast, backlist books usually have predicable sales and revenues.”

While this definition is aimed at publishers, the same thing apply to writers…the backlist is a great source of steady revenue. Also, a new release will usually lead to spike in sales of backlist titles.

The lesson to be learned here is that you should always talk up and promote your backlist. Just because a book was released five years ago, that does not mean that there is no more money to be made from that title. Talk about it, spread the word, get readers interested, and convince them to buy that old book.

Every dime you make from the sale of a backlist title is a dime you didn’t have yesterday.

Keep Loving!

1 comment

  1. I did a brief, informal survey of a few writers about their backlist.

    All of the authors I spoke with have annual incomes in the middle-six-figure range. Other income levels could very well be different, but I wouldn’t think by much.

    When all was said and done, it looks like in the group of writers I talked to, about 35% of their income comes from the backlist sales. Within an acceptable margin of error, that’s well in line with the numbers the NY Times came up with for publishers and with a similar study done last year by the WSJ.

    Can you afford to cut your writing income by a third? I sure can’t!

    And would increasing your income by a third be something you’d like? I sure would!

    Keep Loving!

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