June 20th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
Backlist is Frontlist?  Duh

I’ll be winding down blogging here at Genreality at the end of this month.  I’ve just got too much writing to do to be able to keep up this, my own blog and guest blogging at Digital Book World.  I’ve most certainly appreciated the opportunity.

I’m growing rather frustrated with these ‘amazing’ announcements from various publishers and gurus about their innovations they’ve implemented that they imply are on the cutting edge.  Tor announcing dropping DRM was treated liked a genius move when any indie author could have told them over a year ago to let go of it.  But the wheels of publishing move slowly.

The next was Open Road Media proudly announcing that they think backlist isn’t really backlist any more given the digital revolution.  I agree. And said so over a year ago:

While I am very big on looking to the future, there is one area where I think publishing should look to the past.  Traditional publishers are sitting on top of a gold mine that they have traditionally never exploited except when an author broke out:  backlist.

The reason for this was limited shelf space.  For many years I wondered why no traditional publisher bought my latest manuscript, not only for the manuscript, but with the thought of breaking that book out and then acquiring my extensive backlist. I always felt like I was sitting on a gold mine, but not a single publisher saw it that way—in fact they viewed it quite the opposite way. I understand the problem was shelf space, but now that’s no longer an issue. Even though shelf space was an issue, it always felt like publishers belonged in gambler’s anonymous rather than in business. They were always betting on throwing one hundred new books against the wall, hoping one won the lottery. There was little sense of nurturing an author’s career or looking to the future with a long-term commitment.  The reason for this is no one can really predict what will be the next Hunger Games.  But this is a rather haphazard way to run a business when publishers do control the rights to a considerable amount of backlist.  Remember, it isn’t backlist if someone hasn’t read it and Digital is a complete game changer in that regard.

I was very fortunate to hit the sweet spot in publishing. When my print sales had dropped so low, but my eBook sales had not taken off, I was able to exercise my rights clauses in my contracts to get my books back (I’d already gotten the rights to most of them years earlier, but there were still some key ones I needed, like my Area 51 series). I even did a blog where I offered Random House reverse royalties on Area 51 if they just let me publish them. No response. When I proposed a promotional program for Area 51 to coincide with the release of Super 8, a blockbuster about Area 51, my editor told me they could barely promote their frontlist, never mind their backlist.

Backlist is gold. 

So.  Yeah.  And since then, here’s the really cool thing.  Amazon wants to republish my Area 51 series under their 47North imprint on 11 December while releasing a new title:  Area 51 Nightstalkers.  As one editor told me:  we want to prove that we can take books NY threw away and break them out.

Actually, already kind of did that on my own, as I earn more in one week with Area 51 eBook sales than Random House could manage in 6 months.

I just wish that people would recognize that many of the “original” ideas that publishers are coming up with were already done by indie authors a while ago.  I recognize it’s hard to change a large organization or business model.  I pinned on the crossed arrows of Special Forces when it finally became a recognized branch of the Army while attending the Infantry Office Advanced Course at Ft. Benning.  Think that went over well?  Special Operations were the bastard step-children of the military for decades, and now they’re the darlings.

I submit that the author-entrepreneurs like Barbara Freethy and Bella Andre and Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath who are being ignored right now are going to be the leading voices in publishing in a few years, while the old dinosaurs slowly sink into the tar pits.

And, yeah, I, Judas: The Fifth Gospel is still in Nook First and selling quite well.  And, oh yeah, I suggested the Nook First program to Barnes and Noble last year in August and the very first book they did it with, The Jefferson Allegiance, hit #2 nationally over Labor Day weekend.  I’m now working with PubIt, Amazon, Audible, Kobo etc. (Hey, Overdrive respond!) on numerous innovative marketing programs.  What I love about these companies is their openness to authors and their enthusiasm for what they are doing.

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5 comments to “Backlist is Frontlist? Duh”

  1. trudy
     · June 20th, 2012 at 8:24 am · Link

    wasn’t it less than two years ago when publishers could quite see any value in facebook presence? Did any of us ever think Kodak would ever go out of business, almost overnight?

  2. Joyce M. Coomer
     · June 20th, 2012 at 8:48 am · Link

    Yea, Bob!

  3. Jen Talty
     · June 20th, 2012 at 12:14 pm · Link

    Reference Kodak. I live in Rochester, NY; the home of Kodak and it really wasn’t seemingly overnight. We’ve seen the writing on the wall for years as more and more people were put out of work, plants and offices closed. For those that didn’t see it coming, didn’t pay much attention.

  4. Vanessa Kelly
     · June 20th, 2012 at 3:46 pm · Link

    Awesome news, Bob! Congratulations! It’s been great to see traditionally published authors overturning the hoary old chestnuts of accepted publishing wisdom, and forging ahead into the new frontier. At the end of the day, karma is a bitch. Which the traditional publishers still don’t get!

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