Importance Of Backlist

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.

Takeaway Truth

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.


  1. I wish that more authors were as enlightened as you are. There is very little backlist in large print because most large print publishers (Ulverscroft included) are really only interested in selling to libraries and that means, mostly, new titles. Another problem is that publishers often only lease the large print rights for a maximum of five years. But people like to re-read books that they have loved (we sell a lot of the classics which have been reissued in large print, because they are now out of copyright). With print on demand, there is really no need for these books not to be available for ever. Guy Garfit

  2. Hello, Guy, thank you for commenting. You're correct about publishers selling LP to library markets mostly because they want to tap the biggest market possible. Selling LP to the public isn't generally going to result in the kinds of big sales that a publisher needs to stay profitable.

    For this same reason, the contract term on LP editions is usually 5 years or less because LP books just don't sell the thousands that standard print books do. What they pay is adequate for 5 years, but authors probably wouldn't tie up their LP rights longer than that in the hope that another LP publisher might want to purchase them.

    A LP sale is money in an author's pocket because that's a subsidiary rights sale for the author. Last year
    Ulverscroft reprinted 6 of my books in LP so I have some experience in this area. (Perhaps your customers can find some of my books.)

    As far as I know, all LP editions were previously published in mass market editions or standard print hardcover. I can't think of a single publisher who produces original never before published material for the first time in LP.

    This is an area where eBook readers like Kindle have an edge because with an eBook reader, you can make the print as large as you need it with the click of a button or two. This effectively does away with LP rights of course, and we may see their elimination in the coming years as electronic readers become more popular.

    Both my blogs are Kindle editions now, and I'll be publishing some of my books on Kindle and the other eReader formats later this year. I've got a Kindle, and I really like it. I'm reading more now because of it. Of course, I still read pBooks (paper books) too.

    I'm interested to get feedback from anyone who buys the electronic version so they can make the font large print if they wish.

    Joan Reeves