On Having a Backlist as an e-book Author

This post is mainly for writers. You’ve probably noticed that I write about whatever I want, and I think this topic is relevant since I’m sure I have writer friends who read this blog once in a while.

When I first began writing a year ago, I kept hearing that you need a backlist. I thought, okay, whatever. Let me just write my novel.

Then I realized I’m a pretty fast writer, and for an author of e-books and the occasional print work, that’s a good thing. A backlist just means a list of books readers can buy, not one book, but more than one book. The key to sales and to finding a readership is to keep writing and getting stuff published. Unless you’re a literary genius who writes one book every ten years, and yes, there are some– I’m thinking of Donna Tartt, for example– you will garner the most success and make some royalties off your work if you focus not so much on writing one book and marketing it to heck and back but on writing many books and marketing them all as best as you can. It’s all about your goals. E-book authors have different ones than the literary genius who is still primarily working in the print world and hoping to sell one or two big books a year.

The reality is that as an e-book author, you will need to sell many books  a year to see any money from your hobby. If you don’t care about royalties, great. If you do, build the backlist.

And even if you are an e-book author with aspirations of publication with a New York publisher, having a backlist will only help you in that goal. You’ll prove you can write and sell, and that’s what people who are investing in your name and brand want to see. Having people know your books is important. So, how can you build a backlist?

These are some ideas that have worked for me. You might be different, but give them a try.

1. Consider the genre you’re writing in. Do you need a name and a pen name? If so, go ahead and decide what genres each name will be recognized for and get to work.

2. Embrace the short story or novella format. You can work and slave over a novel for months and years and not see the fruits of those labors for more years. Why not try writing shorter works for publication? Get your name out there, and work on that novel, too. Some publishers take 3000 word stories. That’s a golden opportunity to get published quickly. You’ll have more readers when your great work finally does come out because readers X, Y, and Z read those three short stories you had published the same year your novel was released.

3. Try new publishers who have good business plans and get something written for them. Do you have a short story or novella lying around? Submit it! As I mentioned above, many new publishers really want writers on board and are willing to take lower word count works. They’re also more open to helping new writers out where more established publishers often want to go with established authors who already have backlists and lots of sales. I have not regretted any new publisher I’ve written for. Research carefully and go with it! The worst that happens is the publisher fails. If so, you get your rights reverted back anyway and can self publish the work or find another publisher. The potential rewards outweigh the risks.

4. Just get published. The idea is to get your foot in the door, to make a name for yourself. For some of us, it’s not feasible to get published by “the biggest and best e-book publisher” right off the bat. The surprising thing is that if you keep writing and publishing, you might get there anyway over time, and you can be building your name recognition and making money instead of waiting for the gods of the industry to usher you into the inner sanctum. Sometimes you need to make your own way and save the time querying agents or going for the biggest and best e-publisher. Just write and submit the work to a few places you think you have a good chance at getting an offer of publication. You can always get an agent later if that’s what you really want to do.

5. Write every day. Choose either a word count goal or a time limit and stick to it as best as you can. I do three hours a day. Do I make that goal every day? No, I don’t, but I come close, and that’s the real reason I have a backlist. I write even when I don’t feel like it, and soon, I do feel like it. It’s a discipline, and it works. You can spend a lot of time marketing, blogging, etc, and those things are important. To me, though, the most important thing is to keep writing and getting stuff published.

6. Don’t fear failure. For authors, this is an exciting time. Take the plunge and make your dreams a reality!

Posted on September 3, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. *standing ovation* Excellent post! You are absolutely right. I am striving for the goal of writing every day, but working 11 hours a day, outside the home, five days a week, is my stumbling block. Perhaps if I set a smaller goal of 30 minutes a day on the days I work? Anyways, you've got my wheels turning. ;)XoxoKristine CheneySpartan Heart

  2. Kristine, I think 30 minutes a day would be awesome! I include blogging and some of the other writing stuff in my three hours. I have one part time job and an almost full time job (and writing), but I work from home and can work seven days a week really flexibly, so it's easier for me to write for three hours a day. That helped me get my pen name works going and these.

  3. I'm going to try that at least 30 minutes a day thing. Minimum.

  4. 🙂 There are a lot of things I don't like about my personality type (i'm an ISTJ) but this is one that I do. For me, boring sameness and routine are very appealing, so the writing habit was easy to get in place. LOL. The tradeoff is that it's my friends who are the fun, spontaneous people.

  5. An inspirational blog. I like that you incllude your blogging inthat time allowance.

  6. Thank You! Your plan echoes everything I've done in the past six months, except for researching publishers. I got really lucky that the first publisher to accept my work is a good one. Thanks for reaffirming my publishing path!

  7. Great post! I was just discussing the benefits of a backlist with a friend today. My sales are actually trending upward, even as I've largely stopped promotion and instead worked on getting MORE out there. (It happened out of necessity – deadlines – but now that I've seen the results, I'm SOLD!) After going five, then eight months between releases, now I've got them back to back in September and October. I'm excited about this, LOL. Excellent post, Lisa!

  8. Thanks for reading the post, Sherry and Patricia. 🙂 I would recommend this site, too, for research, even if you write regular romance. http://www.eroticromancepublishers.com It's great.Sarah, the same thing is happening with me. I don't promote as much as I used to in terms of guest blogging everywhere and such. I do promote, but I spend more time writing. I've had back to back releases in my pen name and regular name for the last five months, and my royalties have really gone up. That was the deciding factor. And congratulations on all your success, Sarah! 🙂

  9. Oooh, that's encouraging! I should have one more out this year in November or December, so that's great news you've just shared! Thanks. ;c)

  10. I've seen the light. I have been spending so much time on promoting my one book, Sunshine Boulevard, and not writing to get a back list established. I appreciate this info including the minimum time for writing, not necessarily word count.

  11. thanks for the tips, much appreciated, Julie

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