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!