Thursday, June 18, 2009
Classification of Titles: Frontlist
Ok, let's explore "Frontlist" titles, and what that means for your book.
The most basic definition is this: "A publisher's list of new or current titles."
This can vary from house to house, but it usually refers to a title that is less than one year old. "Backlist," therefore means a book that has been in print for at least one year.
How these terms originated varies depending upon who you speak with, but almost certainly they developed around the presentation publishers use in their catalogs. There are two publishing seasons each year: Spring (January to June) and Fall (July to December). Publishers who issue catalogs used to do so twice a year to match the publishing seasons. The new titles were listed in front of the catalog--hence the name "frontist." Older books were listed in the rear of the catalog--hence the name "backlist."
For Savas Beatie, we consider a book new (frontlist) twelve months from the date of release. Books that are new are the ones that get the most attention in the form of labor, marketing dollars, and publicity.
But not all frontlist books / authors are treated the same way. Regardless of the size of the company, only a slim handful of authors get a signing/promotional tour sponsored by the publisher. One publisher who puts out 200+ books each season only sends a dozen or so authors out on a signing tour. In a sharp counterpoint to that trend, we arrange signings and events for all our authors (the division of expenses depends upon a host of issues better explored in another post.)
So which books get prolonged support and interest from the marketing group inside each house? Some time ago a friend who worked in NYC for one of the major publishers told me that the company puts X number of titles out into the stream of commerce and . . . watches what happens. When a title sells a certain number largely on its own--for this GIANT publisher it was as low as 7,500 copies--the company moved in with marketing dollars and publicity to reinforce success. In military terms, it is the equivalent of attacking along the line, breaking through somewhere, and then pouring in reserves to exploit the breakthrough. Sales at that level means the book has the ability to spread by word of mouth (viral marketing). We employ much the same thing, though the number we use as a threshold base is different.
So what does that mean for our authors? It means when you have a new book (especially within the first three to six months of release when you have the best chance of success), the sales figures will determine the support you get from our marketing crew. If as an author you are out hustling, speaking, Twittering, have a website, a presence on Facebook, are hitting rotaries, visiting bookstores within an hour or two of your base to sign copies they have in stock (etc., the list of what you can do is nearly endless), your sales figures will increase. If it reaches a level we deem "successful"--that number varies by title and genre--we will move in with more marketing dollars and more efforts at publicity.
If that sales figure is not hit, we will not reinforce your efforts by any noticeable degree unless there is something else going on and we deem it worthwhile to do so. It is nothing personal--we like all our authors and titles or we would not work with them or publish the books; it is just business.
The moral: If authors want success (and nothing is guaranteed), they must prepare in advance of release, and work TIRELESSLY to sell books--to everyone, anywhere, at any time. This is the way to get the attention of both the market and the marketing crew inside your publisher's house.