Your Beautiful Backlist

authors backlist by anatomography from wikimedia commonsauthors backlist by anatomography from wikimedia commons
Image courtesy of Anatomography from Wikimedia Commons

There was a thread on Kboards this week that focused on what authors thought their best writing was. Almost without exception, writers thought their most recent books were their best. That feels like human nature to me, for several reasons. One, we tend to love new things. Our old projects had been sweated over, rewritten, edited, re-edited, and proofread ad nauseum, while our current project is still full of infinite possibilities. Second, we improve as we go. When I go back and read my first book, I admit I cringe a bit. It was the best I could do at the time, and it was professionally edited and proofread, but, if I’m honest, I have to admit that I’d like to get in there and give it a good scrubbing.

For these and other reasons, we tend to spend the majority of our time on our newest releases – seeking reviews, booking promo sites, organizing blog tours, etc. I just want to remind you of the power of your backlist, and ask you to not neglect it too much.

My first book was published in September, 2012. It’s done pretty well. It’s on a couple of hundred thousand Kindles (the majority of those through free runs,) received 770 reviews with a 4.4 star average on Amazon, and it’s been an excellent tool to build my platform.

My most recent book hasn’t performed as well as that, but I’m happy with it. The temptation is to think, “My first book is on so many Kindles, it must have run its course by now, so I am going to focus the majority of my efforts on the new books.” In fact, the first six months of the year, that’s what I did, and over that period of time, my newest book (released in February) was my top earner. Then, having run back to back promos on that new book, I knew I needed to spotlight something else, so I turned my attention to my two oldest titles.

You know what happened? Sales, and KU page reads happened. Now, with the end of the year rapidly closing in on us, those two old standbys have overtaken the new book in terms of units sold and pages read in 2015.

I take this as a lesson: don’t neglect my backlist.

If I’m committed to reinvigorating my older titles, though, how do I do that? Here’s how I have done it:

Booking promos. Yes, this is an obvious one, but we need to talk about it. One of the advantages your older titles should have is that they will probably have social proof, in the form of a goodly number of reviews. Those higher review numbers will help you land coveted spots on the better promo sites.

Freshening the blurb. I get it. We all hate to write blurbs. My moment of joy when I finally type “The End,” is inevitably tempered by the realization that now I have to blurb the darn thing. However, time brings perspective. After living with that story for weeks or months, then immediately trying to write a blurb for it, it’s tough to have any distance on a story. If years have passed, though, I often find that I have a new grasp on the core elements, and I find it easier to write a new, and possibly more effective blurb.

A new cover. If a book has been out for a few years, and it has been promoted regularly, people have probably seen, and either bought, or rejected your book. Even though you may have loved your cover initially, styles change and a freshening up may make the book feel more current. Also, if people have seen your book advertised a number of times, a new cover may draw their eyes in a way that the old one would not. My first book, out three-and-a-half years, has had three separate covers. I actually loved my first cover, but I don’t think the book would have done nearly as well if I hadn’t freshened it a time or two.

Feels like the first time book cover evolution
Feels Like the First Time book cover evolution

A Rewrite. As we write, we improve. It’s logical, then, that it might behoove us to spend a few weeks going over our book from several years back and applying some of our new skills. My friend Terry Schott, who has had a run most all of us would envy with his The Game is Life series just spent almost five months reworking the earlier books in that series. There are two schools of thought – A) It’s published, leave it alone, or B) Try and put out the best product you are capable of at any particular time. I can go either way on this one, but wanted to mention it as an option.

I am never envious of other author’s accomplishments. I think that’s a fool’s errand. However, with my smallish backlist of four books and a raft of short stories, I do admit to small pangs of jealousy when I see an author who has a huge backlist that they can work with. If you are one of those lucky ones, my very best advice is, use it!

Author: Shawn Inmon

Shawn Inmon is a full-time author who lives in the bucolic town of Seaview, Washington. He is married to his high school sweetheart, and they are privileged to share their home with two Chocolate Labs and a schizophrenic cat named Georgie. Shawn is the author of the twelve book Middle Falls Time Travel series, which has been produced in audio by Podium Publishing. He has eight other books, including travel books, romances, memoirs, and a collection of short stories. He promises to settle down and write in one genre. Someday. Learn more about Shawn on Facebook or his Author Central page

14 thoughts on “Your Beautiful Backlist”

  1. Great information, Shawn.

    As someone who has just rewritten his first book (dated 2013), I also updated all my old covers to create a ‘theme’ for my detective series.

    I agree with your assessment–a refresh can help.


    1. I sure think four books is a back list. My goal is to get up to six fully promote-able books in the next six months. That would allow me to run a pretty decent promo every other month, but only hit the same title twice per year.

  2. I’m sure some of the writing isn’t up to your current abilities in those first two books, but it was more than adequate. Plus, they’re great stories. That they’re true only makes it better.

    1. I look at it more as a series of missed opportunities. I was blessed with this wonderful, true story to tell and I did it the best I could at the time, but now when I read it, I can see so many things I could have done to add to story. Thank you for saying so, Al. 🙂

  3. I just did a revision (with new cover, blurb) on my fist book. It never sold many copies, so it was a no-brainer to give it a good polish as my newer titles will (hopefully) bring more attention to it.

    However, if my first book was more successful, I probably wouldn’t have touched it. I’d be concerned that making too many changes to a book that had already found an audience would be crossing a line with readers. It would be sort of like what George Lucas did with the Star Wars reissues (NOT that I’d compare my work with his). He may have “improved” the special effects, but he also angered a large fan-base who didn’t see why the enhancements were necessary. A risky move on his part, and one could argue either way on how successful it really was.

    1. I see that angle on it as well, Bruce. For me, it’s mostly about not devoting too much of my most limited resource, (time) to a project that is already completed.

  4. Good points, Shawn. I hadn’t really ever considered a true rewrite of an older book. But, it’s an interesting prospect.

    I think I’m sort of in the same place as Yvonne. I don’t feel like, when you have a series (a serial, really, as one that should be read in order) that you have a backlist until you’ve started a new series (as it’s tough to sell book 2 to people who haven’t read book 1). But, as I release new things next year, I’ll make sure not to forgot about the oldies. I think advertising can go in cycles, so the more backlist titles you have, the more fresh ad cycles you can have. As new readers find a book (whether it be frontlist or backlist), they’ll be more inclined to look at your other titles if they like the one they found.

    1. I agree, RJ, but I hadn’t looked at it from that perspective because most of my projects have been standalones. Good point.

  5. Good advice, Shawn. I run promos on my backlist periodically, because there are always new readers up and coming who may not have seen them before. I also re-read and update them every few years, just to make sure there aren’t any lingering typos. I think you’re right that our newer books are most probably better because we’ve gotten better, but the backlist still has a strong place in our platforms.

  6. Shawn, we are definitely “on the same page.” I’m in the process of rewriting my first published novel. Even though the book earned all four-and- five-star reviews, I’ve improved enough to know the story needs a lot of work. When I’m finished, I plan on a new cover and new promos.

    It helps to take a break from my WIP and revise my earlier books. Then I feel as if I’m accomplishing twice as much! When I’m satisfied with my novels, I’ll start making print books. I haven’t reached that point yet…

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