Recently, I read a back issue of the Authors Guild newsletter and marveled at the near-poetic article by Jason Epstein about a publisher's backlist. The article was culled from a speech he gave in July 2008 at the Hong Kong Book Fair.
Mr. Epstein was Editorial Director of Random House from 1065 to 1995. He was also co-founde of The New York Review of Books.,
Backlist, as defined in the article, is a publisher's most valuable asset. Backlist are books that have recouped their initial costs, earned out the authors' advances, and require no other investment expense except for print and shipping the books. Backlist sells year after year at a steady and consistent rate.
I remember back in the late 80's when, for the first time, publishers started reprinting category romance novels, mostly by Nora Roberts in the beginning. Then a full-blown publishing program of backlist titles in category romance commenced and continues to this day. One can only wonder now why it took the category publishers so long to figure out that previously published romance novels would sell, and sell very well indeed.
In this era of self-publishing and print on demand, there are a lot of authors who are accruing their own backlist. Some of these books are literary properties whose rights reverted back to the author after the original publishing contract term expired. Of course, some publishers make it practically impossible for the author to gain those rights even though most contracts give terms upon which the rights will revert to the author.
Rights are valuable assets. If you own the publishing rights to your novels, by all means use them in some way. I've always marketed my own rights since I'm a small fish in a big pond. My body of work doesn't interest most literary agents, but the earning potential of my rights is significant enough for me to take the time to market them.
Two years ago, I sold the large print rights to all but one of my novels. The books were subsequently published by Ulverscroft in North America and the UK. Don't sit on your rights. Find a way to earn from your own Backlist.
As a professional author, you need to have a working knowledge of literary rights so you'll know what you can do with them to keep earning.