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Sunday, June 14, 2009

How Publishers Classify Their Titles--and What That Means for Authors

I was having a discussion with a fairly well-known author of history titles the other day and was using various publisher-speak that threw him for a loop. I was a bit surprised, so I backed up, broke it down, and explained what I meant. He thanked me, and went on to say that much of what I had laid out for him was new. It was, he was quick to add, "very helpful."

Our discussion had centered around the definition of frontlist, midlist, and backlist titles. Many authors know the difference (and many do not), but surprisingly few can explain how publishers view these titles, what it means for publicity and marketing, and which get the support--and when--and which do not and why that is so. That convinced me it was time to discuss this topic on the blog.

FRONTLIST: This is easy to explain: "A publisher's list of new or current titles." That seems simple enough, but those eight words mean a lot more than is immediately obvious.

The publishing schedule in the book world is broken down into two broad sessions: Spring (January to June) and Fall (July to December). Therefore (and broadly speaking to keep it simple), our current titles--our frontlist--consist of our Spring 2009 releases (two of which are pictured in this post).

Frontlist titles eat up the most immediate attention, publicity, marketing dollars, and T-I-M-E--much more so than do midlist or backlist titles, for all the obvious reasons. However, the declining economy, switch to online shopping, and the efforts of authors all play a role in frontlist success, promotion, and ultimately, the size of the royalty checks.

My next post will discuss these variables as they relate to frontlist books, what they mean to publishers and authors, and how publishers decide which frontlist titles to back to the hilt--and which to pull money away from.

Posts thereafter will deal with midlist and backlist titles, with a follow-up post for each category to explain how Savas Beatie handles these titles, why, and how that can affect authors and success.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions. Feel free to email me if you do not wish to post; or, of course, you many post anonymously.



J David Petruzzi said...

Interesting. I look forward to hearing more. And the spring season is definitely timed well for historical titles - here on the Right Coast it's when folks are getting out and visiting battlefields and historical places.

"The Complete Gettysburg Guide"

Anonymous said...

Sir I have heard of backlist titles, but to be honest midlist and even frontlist is pretty new to me. So as a reader (not an author for sure) I look forward to this discussion. I think this is what is neat about this site: it informs and educates without trying to write above the heads of its readers. Some sites entertain, and a few are so narcissistic they make me sick: "look at what I am doing today!" drivel.

Keep up the good work.

Joseph D

adkins said...

I'm also curious about the different lists. I've got a question...

You mentioned there are 2 publishing seasons: Spring & Fall, which is understandable. If a book does well in the initial frontlisting, do you keep it on the frontlist and what would be the parameters for moving it to the midlist?

I hope you can cover this in future posts.


C. Patrick Schulze said...

Thanks for the information. As I am about to begin the query process for my third manuscript, I am most interested in learning all I can about the industry.

TPS said...

C. Patrick Schulze

Thanks for visiting, and good luck with your query. I have posted many ideas and suggestions on this blog about submitting manuscripts. Scroll back through and take a look. I think you will find them helpful.