Bloggers & Book Groups – Keeping the Mid & Backlist Alive?

I originally wrote this post in November 2010, and was going to reinsert it back into my blog’s timeline (it was one of my missing posts). However, it occurred to me that the subject I was discussing then, is even more pertinent today, so I’ve brushed it down a little and updated it to get your opinions now.

Please forgive any generalisations made to get the point over…

We all love ‘new’ books – titles hot off the press, piled high in bookshops on the promotions tables, featured in the ever-decreasing review sections of papers etc, Richard & Judy picks, nominated for major prizes, etc.

But what happens to a title when it moves out of company with the new?

If it’s lucky, it’ll have had a hardback first edition and go into paperback up to a year later, giving a second bite at being flavour of the month. As likely these days, the book may have been published straight into paperback. The initial publicity campaign for whichever format won’t last for more than a couple of weeks, unless the author is willing to tour the festivals.

After that though, it’s onto the dreaded midlist or backlist, and you’ll hear authors groan that once their books lose their shiny new book du jour status that it’s a slippery slope towards ever-diminishing royalties and eventually being deleted off the backlist due to straggling sales. They’re only as good as their latest book in the cutthroat world of publishing.

What can we do to help?

Bookshops have limited shelf-space for mid and backlist titles whether they are worth reading or not. They have to choose their stock carefully to keep sales going. This is where I believe that bloggers and book groups can play their part.

Often  book groups choose titles that have been around for a while, and many groups actively prefer to opt for paperbacks to keep costs down.  However, too often, we choose classics by dead authors, prize-winning bestsellers or the newest paperback releases. I’d like to encourage book groups to opt for more adventurous choices  To not always read the latest new best thing, to read more books that were published some years ago.

In buying new copies of  backlisted titles for book group reading (if we can afford it and don’t already own a copy), or borrowing books from the library, we are doing our bit to help.

Word of mouth is a powerful thing.

This is where bloggers can play a bigger part. There are many bloggers who specialise in reading older titles, who manage to successfully combine reading occasional new books with more of the old – I salute them!

But, if you’re like me, you’ll have an out of control TBR pile, due to concentrating too much on the new, yet unable to stop adding evermore titles! I’d like to encourage those of us addicted to the new, to take a pause occasionally and read a backlisted book or two from those languishing in your overflowing TBR piles. Believe me, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Then spread the word about those mid and backlisted books, the authors will thank you.

I do need to force myself to turn away from the new though. I don’t take part in many challenges, but I do the TBR Dare each January, and am taking part in Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer challenge this year. (I’ve just read the 6th out of my 20 and am very pleased with my choices so far. )

There are so many good books out there from recent decades, written by living authors who would welcome attention and the royalties. Let’s read a few more of them…

Over to you – what do you think?

16 thoughts on “Bloggers & Book Groups – Keeping the Mid & Backlist Alive?

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    Yes bloggers are indeed doing our bit… I had a delighted response from an author just last week when I reviewed a book of his from the 1990s.
    But I have a couple of caveats: firstly, dealing with the TBR is a bit of a thing at the moment and while I applaud it I am also keen to promote the purchase or loan from the library of recent releases. That’s money in the bank for the author now, and the royalties from their backlist pale into insignificance by comparison. If we want our favourite authors to keep writing, we need to buy their books! Sales of the new book also encourage the publisher to consider publishing the author’s next one, it keeps them in business too. If you buy from bricks-and-mortar shops, it helps keep those booksellers open for business as well.
    BTW if you really love your authors then don’t borrow from friends, that does the author no good at all, but of course it depends on whether you have an accessible library or not. I’m always nagging mine to buy something I want, and they mostly do).
    Secondly, reviewing the old titles may not help sales at all if the books are simply not available at all any more. I don’t think this should influence our decision to read & review a title, because at the end of the day we litbloggers are not an unpaid arm of the publishing industry, we are reading for pleasure. But if a quick check of availability shows that the title has gone to the graveyard, then I try to advise my readers of second-hand sources, knowing that the author, sadly, gets no comfort from that at all. Where it seems possible, I contact publishers of reissues (e.g. Text Classics) to suggest they consider getting the rights to the book for a new edition.
    But overall, I agree with what you say: we have a little bit of power in this game, and we can use it judiciously to spread the word and help everybody in the very challenging business of creating books for us to read:)

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Great points Lisa. Thank you. I was hoping to get some real discussion with my provocations above. I basically agree with everything you’ve said! I know that reading the latest book by an author should get them more royalties, and that secondhand copies generate nothing financially (except the will to reader something still in print by an author sometimes?). I guess what I’m really getting at is to encourage people to read beyond books longlisted for prizes. I’m loving all the attention given to reprints these days – but even they are mostly books by dead authors.

  2. Liz Dexter says:

    “Often book groups choose titles that have been around for a while, and many groups actively prefer to opt for paperbacks to keep costs down. However, too often, we choose classics by dead authors, prize-winning bestsellers or the newest paperback releases. I’d like to encourage book groups to opt for more adventurous choices To not always read the latest new best thing, to read more books that were published some years ago.” – this amused me, because I just yesterday finished writing up my research project where I got 25 book groups to read a novel by Iris Murdoch and talk about whether it made a good book group read! So I agree wholeheartedly with both the assertion of what book groups read and the opportunity they have to enjoy other books!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I look forward to hearing more about your research project Liz. I don’t think my book group has read an Iris Murdoch – something to suggest, although in the context of this piece she is a dead author. However, in my book group now, we’re shying away from prize-listed novels, and having more fun through freeing ourselves from the shiny new books (*secret sob* natch!)

      • Liz Dexter says:

        I’ll probably mention it on my blog in a short while as it’s just with the reviewers at the moment then I’m going to put it out there in some kind of ebook and paperback form myself. “The Bell” did come out to be a good book group read so maybe try that!

  3. A Life in Books says:

    I started a Blast from the Past series last year for this very reason, spurred on by Janet at From First Page to Last and her Under the Reader’s Radar posts. I find it impossible not to succumb to the lure of the new but It’s a shame to let books we were once passionate about fall by the wayside, not to mention their authors. Great post, Annabel.

  4. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Very interesting post Annabel, and as someone who often prefers older books, it’s hard sometimes to know how to balance things. I do regularly end up reading shiny new books (!) although they often are reissues. But I’m all for keeping slightly older and just as brilliant books in the limelight – I think bloggers in particular have an important role in shining a light into bookish corners that are often ignored by the more mainstream coverage.

  5. AnnaBookBel says:

    “bloggers in particular have an important role in shining a light into bookish corners that are often ignored by the more mainstream coverage” – Exactly! Thanks.

  6. The Book Whisperer says:

    Brilliant post Annabel, I have been thinking about doing a similar one myself. Despite great intentions I also get seduced by the new and shiny but I have read a few back lists recently and really need to do more. I might make a backlist challenge…

  7. cleopatralovesbooks says:

    I agree – there are some fantastic books that have already passed into the no-mans land of books that are well worth a read – I’ve been choosing some of my older titles to read as part of my Mount TBR challenge on Goodreads as well as featuring a favourite read from the previous year on my weekly round-up and the Backlist Challenge sounds great.

  8. Rebecca Stonehill says:

    This is a fantastic post, thanks so much for highlighting this issue Annabel.Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever read anybody discussing this on other blogs, so hats off to out! As an author (and avid reader), it really is quite disconcerting to see my books being given a huge push for a couple of weeks with great reviews coming in and then….not much more. Of course it is wonderful to discover exciting new literature but I think it’s important we all balance this with digging out some gems amongst the older books. I know of some bloggers / readers who will ONLY read new releases, which to me makes no sense at all. Thank you for highlighting this!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Thanks Rebecca. Given that I co-run another website called ‘Shiny New Books’ which deals only with the new, I feel compelled to read more widely and not so new here on my own blog when I can. The new is very addictive though, that’s the sad thing.

  9. hopewellslibraryoflife says:

    When I find an author I like, I read their whole list if possible. Right now Jojo Moyles is getting my attention on a regular schedule. Book clubs…hmmmm….. I don’t know. I suppose it depends on their selection criteria (if anything formal).

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