On the Matter of Backlists

I love my backlist. It’s not a huge backlist, but after seven novels, it feels respectable. It didn’t really become a backlist to me until after books three or four. Before that, the books were just books I’d written.

Backlist means different things to different groups of people:

Publishers–An opportunity to make long-term money, especially when the author has a new book available.

Also Publishers–Let’s pretend those books never happened, okay?!

Readers–A treasure trove of a favorite author’s work to be discovered.

Other Readers–Old stuff the writer wrote before she got good at writing.

Still Other Readers–You wrote other books? Have I heard of them?

Booksellers (used books)–Stock

Booksellers (new books)–Old stock, or the discounted books on wheeled carts in the aisle or at the sidewalk sale. Or books that show up on the computer as “Unavailable,” aka “Out of Print.” (This does not apply to classic books.)

Booksellers (Online, new and/or used)–Stock

Authors– Well, this author, anyway. Pick one or more: 1) That stuff I wrote years ago. 2) Precious words I’ll love forever. 3) Those books I wrote that almost no one mentions. 4) Those books for which I got the rights back. 4.5) Those books the publisher won’t return the rights to because the contract was written poorly or signed long before anyone dreamed of print-on-demand or ebooks. 5) The books I republished after getting the rights back. 6) Proof of my existence. 7) Stock, whether it be ebook, print-on-demand, or all those copies I bought at the author discount before the rest were shredded. 8) That book that has an Amazon Rank of 2,154,982. (Who knew Amazon even had a 2.2 million rank?!)

Libraries–Stock, mostly. Often fodder for book sales.

Of course, all of these descriptions are my personal opinions/observations.

While I very occasionally find myself in the “Old stuff the writer wrote before she got good at writing” trap when it comes to looking at other authors’ backlists, I’m usually pleasantly surprised. I worry most often about quality of writing when I’m looking at the early installments of a series. I can think of a couple of really big series that got off to rocky starts, but then sorted themselves. Often I’ll start a series with the third and fourth book, then go back to the beginning

I feel a sense of true joy when I discover the author of a book I love has several other books already on the shelf. It’s like anticipating a feast.

Writers, how do you feel about your backlist? Do you actively market it, or just let people discover it on their own? Do you ever wish it had more of a life?

Readers, are you wary of backlist books? Or do you plunge right in?