The Evolution of the Backlist and Author Responsibility

As we dive ever deeper into the current state of publishing, with its digital focus and real-time social marketing opportunities, I was struck at how these differences change a publisher and author’s temporal focus.

Time simultaneously stops and speeds up.

Time stops for the backlist. It used to be that when a frontlist title pops out, the press would put a lot of focus into its visibility, its marketing, and its social media campaign (don’t get me wrong; I hate the term “social media campaign.” It’s more of a social media life, really). Without having to spend money on warehousing, digital titles can live cheaply in the ever-after. What happens then is that backlist titles don’t fade into oblivion when a new title hits the “shelves.” Instead, they stay put, and the publisher’s responsibility is one of constant care and upkeep. The publisher maintains its vigilance, making sure that any new marketing opportunities are taken care of, any new audiences are reached and communicated with. It’s liberating to not be as tied to the sell-then-pulp mentality so linked with traditional publishing.

Simultaneously with that, time speeds up, offering the Twitter response. Twitter maintains presence in a temporal vacuum, making things seen a lot for a short amount of time. If you create something worthy of virality, you can rest assured that it will be re-tweeted, but not for long. Marketing becomes a timely endeavor, but it’s all about the spike instead of the elevated terrain.

That’s where the new authorial response comes in. It seems that a lot of people think that successful authors write something, get it picked up by a publisher, and then retreat back to the sanctity and protection of his or her desk. That’s not the case, and the new realm of publishing seems to suggest that authors need to be interacting in a continuous basis with the very audience that they are writing for (instead of writing to, but that’s a different story for another day). Upkeep on the author’s brand becomes the responsibility of the author, and I would argue that it should be that way. There’s no guarantee that the next book the author writes will be picked up by the publisher, so the author should do whatever he or she can to up the stakes. And right now, that means social marketing.

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