[From last week’s NINC conference, written in real time and then stored to be sent out a week later.]
There is no backlist
The term backlist came up yesterday in conversation. A woman previous tradpubbed talking about how to rejuvenate her backlist. At the time, I wasn’t sure why the term offended me, but last night over dinner, I finally figured it out.
I don’t have a backlist. I have a catalog.
For her, the backlist is every book except the one she is in the process of working on: about to publish, building a launch, or marketing it as new to all her fans.
That was how New York used to work. They had the book currently going through the pipeline, and ignored everything else as irrelevant. If they were selling well, you might get a new edition a few years later, with an updated cover, but in the old days, a book usually just went out of print, never to be seen again.
Those were the old days.
Ebooks never go out of print. If your tradpub contract contains language about rights reversions when something is out of print, you will never get them back. The ebook is “in print” in a catalog somewhere, forever. Or POD.
Forever. Set your clocks for the 35-year mark.
I have a catalog. We run ads on all our books in some sort of rotation. My old book ones continue to sell happily as I find new fans and they walk my entire catalog.
And there’s that term again. Catalog. I’m about halfway through novel #40 right now. The Science Officer isn’t even a novel, but we treat it as one. It and Auberon continue to make me money. At some point, we’ll refresh the covers, because every cover gets stale and dated, with a different timeline largely based on your genre. (Romance needs new covers ever few years, as tastes change. Science Fiction is a longer cycle, because you can just slap a spaceship on the cover and call it good.)
I have ads on a variety of books, without any particular emphasis on the latest.
Hell, I don’t really consider “the latest” to be all that interesting, especially as its #2 of 6, dropping over the winter. It’s not like I’ll only drop one book this year and need to put a big marketing push behind it.
I’m going to publish 14 novels this year. Met a woman yesterday who wrote and published 39 novels last year. (She’s kinda awesome, too.) That’s part of what makes NINC so fun, to see the wide range and diversity of styles, especially among the Indies.
Backlist is old thinking. You don’t consider those books any good, except as teasers to get people to buy the current book, because you need to have a huge spike of sales in the course of one month, in order to get your “USA Today Bestselling Author” tag.
BTW: USA Today is supposedly about to drop a massive banhammer on some of the recent behavior people have been using to get that tag, based on rumors and side conversations floating around.
But I also don’t need that on my covers, because I’m not trying to be famous. I want to be rich. And Bernie Taupin.
Indie means that you think in new ways. All of your books are equally important. Or unimportant, as you need to market them all.
I don’t have to hit a one-week sales figure in order to get my next publishing contract from some ditz in Manhattan. I’ll just keep publishing. I don’t need to prove that I’m a big-time player with the ego trip of USA Today bestseller.
I understand that people feel that they can’t consider themselves a big-time author without it, but I met a women recently who listed it on her bio. When I went to look at her catalog on Amazon, she had a couple of short pieces, one or two novellas, and a novel that had been bundled up with 20 or 30 others and then pushed hard enough to score her a USA Today best seller status.
She was barely a writer in the first place. I’m pretty sure I made more money last month that she probably had this year, if not career to date. She had almost no catalog to speak of, but sure looks like she’d gamed the system effectively. Good for her, but she’s lost all my respect forever.
Hopefully, some reader newly discovering her isn’t as put off by her lack of output as I was.
But that’s one of the fault lines in the industry. Indie wants the money. There are folks I’ve sat in a room with who are quietly making seven figures every year, and nobody realizes it, because they quietly publish and work their catalog, without ever falling into the trap of thinking they have a backlist that they should ignore until they need to jump-start their career.
You’ll see more and more indies move away from some of the organizations that are entirely geared towards the tradpub lifestyle, because they simply don’t offer my anything.
SFWA is a prime example. Lovely organization. Useful. But they teach you how to get an agent and a book deal with a publisher. I know, because I regularly follow all their educational offerings, and realize that there is nothing they’ve got that would benefit me in any way.
Sad, but an accurate reflection of the thinking that divides the new world of Indie publishing from the dying world of Trad.
But, as always, do you want to be famous, or rich?