Your Backlist Is a Veritable Gold Mine

By Carolyn McCray, Author

So why isn’t every publisher or author mining backlist titles for gold?

With the seismic shift in the publishing industry and the explosion of the digital market, it turns out the Internet is a really big place full of people who have never heard of your book(s) and are eager to purchase it. They don’t care if the book came out two years ago or yesterday, they only care that it meets their educational or entertainment needs. This opens up an entire market for your backlist.

Yet when I get asked to consult on how social media can help boost sales whether it be for an individual author or a house, they are always eager to tell me all about the current release numbers. Usually they know the exact numbers off the top of their heads for sales, sell through, and royalties for that current title. This is great because I need to know how an author is performing on their marquee title.

Then I ask about their backlist. Frowns form. Eyebrows knit together. “The backlist?” they ask.

“Yes, how well are they performing?”

There is usually some shuffling of feet and a few phone calls made to research those numbers.

What most in the industry have not yet embraced is that with digital sales platforms and the power of social media, you can now market your backlist as nearly new material (it is, after all, new to that stranger on the Internet). Not only does marketing your backlist bring in a whole new stream of sales, but someone introduced to backlist title #2 and enjoys it is then prone to buy book #1, #3, #4, and so on. Imagine your backlist titles as gateways towards new readers for your next big release.

If positioned properly and marketed well, backlist titles can generate significant sales and help propel your next release higher up into the lists. A win-win.

Another benefit of aggressively promoting your backlist sales is that digital books can enjoy a resonance between the titles which becomes a multiplying factor. The more of one backlist title you sell, the more of your others you will sell. In the social media and digital book sales world, this effect can grow exponentially outward and become a sustainable growth sales model—all the while gathering new readers for your next release.

Many times simply changing your expectation of sales will motivate you to change your actual sales. So, what can you do to promote your backlist? The ability to use value pricing is the key strength of backlist promotions: Since most authors and publishing houses were not expecting to make any real money off the backlist, you usually have leeway to move the price point lower on these titles, run more special promotions, or to use backlist titles as giveaways.

While any comprehensive backlist sales amplification program needs to be finely tuned and employ many different marketing strategies, below is a list of five concrete steps you can take today to start mining for that backlist gold!

5 Points to Help Increase Your Backlist Sales

  1. Set goals for sales for each of your backlist title. Be realistic to start but expect GROWTH.
  2. Choose one title as your ‘gateway’ title and value price it (usually 99 cents to $2.99)
  3. Dedicate a certain percentage of your marketing budget (whether financial or social capital) to your backlist titles
  4. Treat each of your backlist titles as a mini-release and rotate them to keep your social media followers engaged
  5. Set up blog review or Internet radio tours for each of your backlist titles and keep your name/titles out there

Perhaps, though, as a small or independent publishing house you have several authors who only have one book out or authors whose books are in completely different categories. That does not mean that you cannot create a “virtual” backlist and enjoy this same resonance. Simply apply the same principles as described above, but to a group of similar debut titles that have run the course of their new release status.

The ultimate goal of any backlist sales amplification program is for every grouping of three backlist titles to sell at least one-third as many copies as your marquee/primary title did during its new release run. So, if your primary title sold 15,000 copies during its release run, you should expect backlist titles #1, #2, and #3 to sell 5,000 copies combined.

Remember, though, each backlist title may not sell equally during that period because they are being rotated through a marketing matrix. Many times one title appears to do well only at that value price and is considered the “sacrificial lamb.” You will sell many copies of it, but the royalties will be low for that title. Still, it serves its purpose of getting readers acquainted and buying the brand.

Hopefully this article has sparked ideas about how you could give your backlist sales a boost. As always I will be monitoring the comments, and if you would like to include a few links to your backlist and brief overview of how they are doing, I will do my best to review them and give you a little micro-critique of how I would start amplifying their sales.

Carolyn McCray is a social media and sales consultant to writers and publishing houses alike.  Her own controversial thriller, “30 Pieces of Silver” hit the #1 spot on the Amazon “Men’s Adventure” list, (beating out the likes of Clive Cussler). Carolyn is also the founder of the Indie Book Collective, an organization dedicated to helping writers utilize social media to sell their books.

5 thoughts on “Your Backlist Is a Veritable Gold Mine

  1. Ann Charles

    Excellent article, Carolyn. I have a question. Do you think authors should stagger the release of their backlist titles? Separate them by 4 months or so? Use them as fillers between their marquee books? Or just put them all out ASAP?

    Ann Charles

  2. Kelli

    Another great post, Carolyn. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I feel fortunate to learn all of this before my debut novel releases. It motivate me to work on my other books, too. I’m glad you mentioned the part about authors who have only have one book out, which will be my case. Very informative. Thanks again.

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