Backlisted, Not Blacklisted: Turn a Profit from Books Already on Your Author Shelf

Increasing your publishing profits through your backlist

If you have published multiple books, then you may be working with two “lists.” Your frontlist is made up of newly published, fresh, exciting titles. Your backlist is books that have been out for a while that might be neglected by you and by readers. But gold is buried in the backlist, and you owe it to yourself and your readers to mine that gold for all it’s worth.

Many of the best methods for increasing backlist sales are similar to, if not the same as, what you would do for a new release, but these titles offer some interesting possibilities you’ll want to explore. We list them in order of least to most difficult to do; though none are hard, some may just take longer than others. 

Other Books By …

As you’re releasing a new book, consider adding an “other books by…” page in the back of the book after your “about the author” page. A linked list in your e-book makes it very easy for readers to click over and keep on reading. New readers who loved the book they just finished reading will be excited to read even more from you, and longtime readers who might’ve missed a couple of your earlier releases will be thrilled to discover these lost-to-them titles.

The downside to having a comprehensive list in the back of the book is that you need to update this list every time you publish another book. In the beginning, when you have only a few titles out, this is fun and exciting. But it can get tedious quickly. And if you publish frequently and use IngramSpark, it can get expensive as well, even with free codes for some updates. 

Pro Tip: Link to a page on your website that you can easily keep updated with links to all your books instead of updating each book individually. Or link to the series page on Amazon if you’re exclusive with them. These evergreen links will not need updating.

Consider using the cover image and blurb as an advertisement in the back of your book. Many traditional publishers do this not just for the author of the book but for their other authors as well. You could promote the first in a series of a related series or a title in the same or a similar genre that might catch the eye of the reader and draw them to more of your books.

Pro Tip: Images can increase deliverability costs for e-books, so use a small file size to keep these costs low. Six hundred to eight hundred pixels wide is usually sufficient, though you may want it smaller for a longer blurb.

Promos and Stacks

As with a new release, you can periodically promote your backlist titles in the same way that you would a new release. Frequently, this is done with the first in a series. Newsletter swaps, ad blasts, and other promotional sites can inject some life into your sales. 

Price promotions are also effective, according to BookBub (https://insights.bookbub.com). Many of the most successful indie authors offer the first book in a series as permafree. If you’re not a fan of making a book free for all time, discount it for a limited time to create a bit of a buying frenzy. 

Backlist titles are great for group promotions and book bundles as well, writes author Daniel Parsons in a blog post for Self Publishing Formula (https://selfpublishingformula.com). Gather a group of authors in your genre, and create a book bundle of the first book in each of their series. Cross promotion will help all of you attract new readers and give you a great excuse to make a lot of noise on social media. Then, watch the gold roll in.

Relaunching

If your book has been out for a few years, you might want to critically look at its cover. Cover design trends change. This is more of an issue for fiction than nonfiction titles, as nonfiction cover trends have a longer lifespan than do many fiction genres. Still, you may not have nailed the cover the first time around, or perhaps it could use a refresh. If so, a new look is a solid excuse for relaunching your book with all the fanfare of a new title. You might be surprised at how much an on-trend cover will increase your profit margins, even with the extra expense of the cover.

New Editions

Are your books in all the available formats? If you originally published an e-book only, a print version will add to your repertoire and you can tell your fans about it. If you have print, think about creating some additional content and doing a special-edition hardcover version. Professionals at Reedsy suggest including additional features, such as a map, character artwork, additional illustrations, or a Q&A with you or your characters. Audio is a growing format that is worth considering as well. 

Pro Tip: Commissioning maps and illustrations can be expensive, so consider other ways to use those assets as well, such as in merchandise, social media posts, or special rewards for contest winners.

If your original version didn’t include them, discussion or reflection questions can provide additional engagement for readers. These questions can work just as well for fiction as they do for nonfiction, and they’ll make your book a strong contender for a book club.

Book Sets

If your series has reached a decent length, combining the first three or more books into a book set can be another format that you can promote and use to gather fresh eyes. Often these are also called box sets, but unless you actually put them in a box, it’s best to avoid using that specific term.

If you have several related series, you can also put the first one or two books from each into a book set to introduce readers to all of your series. 

Book sets can be short or long, so combining smaller sets into a series omnibus can also effectively attract more readers. 

Going Wide

If your books have always been in Kindle Unlimited, you might find a larger readership on other platforms than just Amazon. This will be genre dependent. Some authors have found greater success outside of KU than in. Your mileage may vary, so do some research first on what successful authors in your genre are doing, and recognize that it takes a while to build readership, so you may not find instant success. Wide readers are not the same as KU, so be willing to experiment with promotions and ads to find the right mix.

Time- or Topic-Sensitive Titles

If your book is set during a holiday season, B&H Publishing Group (https://bhpublishinggroup.com) recommends promoting it during that season every year to gain new readers. You might think about creating a holiday-themed book set if you have several that you could include. What about a “Through the Year” set if you have several books set in different seasons or holidays?

Keep an eye on the news and trending topics on social media. If you have a book that would address or relate to that topic, then seize the opportunity and promote it quickly and widely. If you can enter the conversation people are already having in their heads or with others, then you’ll be hitting a very effective target.

But Wait, There’s More …

We don’t have time or space for additional ideas here, but this list should help spark your creativity and give you new tools to mine your backlist’s gold.

  • Remind readers of backlist titles with social media posts, as Craig Martelle of 20BooksTo50K® suggests in his Successful Indie Author Five-Minute Focus series
  • Use an older title as a reader magnet
  • Create a spoiler alert Q&A for your blog, YouTube, or newsletter
  • Design merch
  • Remind your readers to review your books
  • Post a book quote on a great graphic on social media, as MK Williams, of Author Your Ambition (https://1mkwilliams.com), explains
  • Offer review copies
  • Participate in library or bookstore readings and signings, recommends author and editor Chrys Fey in an article for Fiction University (http://blog.janicehardy.com)
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