What is a Backlist Anyway?

No, it’s not a typo. I didn’t mean the popular series The Blacklist. An author’s backlist is all the works published before the current one. A lot of times and if you’re like James Patterson or J.D. Robb who have extensive backlists, you tend to forget about them. With Patterson and Robb the current book generally “sells” all the ones who came before.

For example, I started reading J. D. Robb’s “In Death” series at around book four or five, and once I finished it, I went right back to the bookstore (a brick and mortar one back then) and bought the books in the beginning of the series. Robb’s secret, I think, is that each book is more or less a standalone but builds on the previous books. So, that out-of-sequence book I read was enough for me to get the gist of the characters and the world-building, but for the details, I needed the earlier books.

And if you’re Patterson or Robb, you have a publisher’s publicity department behind you, making sure readers don’t forget your backlist.

I don’t have a publicity department, other than me, my computer, and Canva.

Believe it or Not. . .

. . . I have 19 titles on my backlist–collections of short stories, novelettes, novellas, and full-length novels. A couple of years ago, I set a goal to catch up to my literary mentor (though he had no idea he was) John le Carre. At the time of his death in December 2020, le Carre had 25 books published, 26 if you count a quasi-autobiography, a collection of essays entitled The Pigeon Tunnel, 27 if you count the novel being published posthumously this year, Silverview.

Depending on which way you count them, I have either seven or eight to go. And I do have them planned out: two trilogies and two standalones, which would bring me up to a tie with le Carre. And there’s still NaNoWriMo every year.

I will never be as popular as le Carre. I mean, let’s be realistic. He was the master of realistic spy fiction. I’m an apprentice at best. But we all need something to strive for in life. For me, it’s book number 27.

In the Meantime

There’s my backlist that needs tending and attention, which is why for the last several months I’ve been featuring those titles in monthly sales specials.

This month, August 2021, it’s two more of my novellas, A Change for the Better and Dateline: Belgrade.

A Change for the Better started out as two novelettes, Who Watches the Watchmen? and Hidden Agendas. I wrote those novelettes in the aftermath of the 2016 election, which was a big downer for me. They came out in 2017, but when I looked at them again last year, I decided they were related more than I realized earlier.

Some transition material, a new cover, and unpublishing the novelettes, and I had a novella that I thought was a much better project.

Dateline: Belgrade had its genesis in material I’d cut from my trilogy, Self-Inflicted Wounds. When I first started that trilogy, which began as a single novel, I interspersed news-like articles throughout the manuscript. Those news stories were my recasts of actual news articles published about the situation in the Balkans. So, yes, I made them up, but they were based in reality, unlike today’s fake news, which is. . . Well, no need to go there.

Self-Inflicted Wounds‘ beta readers and my critique group said the sprinkling of news articles was “distracting” and “incomprehensible,” words no writer wants to hear, so I excised them–but, and this is excellent writing advice, I didn’t delete them. I gathered them in a file with a taste of bitterness because I had worked as hard in making those news stories accurate and relevant as I had on the trilogy itself.

After whining about this to my marketing consultant, she suggested early last year I make them a reader magnet for the trilogy, which was coming out in the fall. That’s what I did, and that’s how I got Dateline: Belgrade.

Readers Want to Read

Like the example I gave about me and J. D. Robb’s books, when readers find an author they like, they want more. It seems like most of my life I spent waiting for the next Star Trek novel, the next Stephen King, the next Margaret Atwood, the next J. D. Robb–some among the many.

So, it’s important for readers to know you have a backlist. With me, you’re not going to get a half-dozen books a year. Twenty-twenty was an anomaly for me–five books in a year. I won’t do that again. The most you’re going to get from me is one a year from now on. Anything more, and the quality will diminish. That’s what I don’t want. I want to put a quality book in your hands or on your Kindle, and for me that takes time. Thank goodness I have a bunch o’ books in rough draft so I can live up to that commitment.

Oh, and did I mention my backlist?

The featured books for August 2021 are on sale for 99 cents for the ebook versions. You can find A Change for the Better and Dateline: Belgrade–and the rest of my backlist–HERE.