Wednesday, July 30, 2008

And What About Backlist?"

In her June 16, 2008 column, Publishers Weekly editor-in-chief Sara Nelson asked,"And what about backlist? Is somebody ever going to figure out how to mine this most potentially profitable publishing vein?”

I can’t say we’ve figured it out, but we’re working on it. Our fall 2008 list is 65% backlist repackaging and our reps and customers are telling us this is our best list in years.

Ron Pitkin, the owner, president, and publisher at Cumberland House, and one of the original founders of Rutledge Hill Press, has an amazing gift for finding and developing great books. Life’s Little Instruction Book, Aunt Bea’s Mayberry Cookbook, and Why a Daughter Needs a Dad have all sold over a million copies. Ron has developed a wonderful, rich, and deep backlist at Cumberland House. Here are just some “before and after” backlist re-releases on our fall list.

The Military Wives Cookbook by Carolyn Quick Tillery
($22.95 HC, October, 978-1-58182-672-2)
Originally published as At Freedom’s Table, the book sells consistently year in and year out but has yet to be recognized for the treasure it contains—200 years of recipes and traditions for military families. The new packaging aims directly at a younger military wife—a demographic with a strong sense of identity and sorority. The new packaging is a printed case with embossing and blue foil that will make an excellent gift. The new edition also includes more profiles of contemporary military wives, not just historical subjects. Author Carolyn Quick Tillery’s father and husband were officers in the US Air Force. She is a graduate of Tuskegee University and an attorney, and currently manages the Family Readiness Program at the US CENT COM in Tampa, Florida where she helps military families deal with the various aspects of deployment. She is also the author of the best selling African-American Heritage Cookbook.

Webb Garrison’s Civil War Dictionary ($16.95 PB, September, 978-1-58182-675-3)
Originally published as The Encyclopedia of Civil War Usage the book has sold well to CW buffs, writers, and historians. It is a wonderful collection of period words, phrases, names, and events compiled by a best-selling Civil War author shortly before his death in 2000. While it is a great reference book, it is also a great bathroom reader for interested Rebs or Yanks. The new edition uses a title that more plainly tells what the book is, in a more consumer-friendly format and price.

The Conservative’s Handbook by Phil Valentine ($19.95 HC, September, 978-1-58182-662-3)
Originally published as Right from the Heart by radio talk-show host Phil Valentine, the book has sold over 20,000 copies in hardcover. We created a small format handbook, trading on the original structure of the book—a guide to the conservative position on issues from A to Z. The packaging is a foil stamped leather-like hardcover (that would make my hymnal printing brethren proud) with a belly band jacket. We spent $400 to get dummies made at the printer because we knew the packaging would sell the book, and it worked! B&N and BAM are putting it on political tables for the election season. And we have a lot of interest in custom editions from various groups outside the trade. It is a gift packaging play, but it is one that will back list and sell for years to come.

Why I Love You by Greg Lang (14.95 HC, September, 978-1-58182-699-9)
Why a Daughter Needs a Dad is one of Ron Pitkin’s true “diamond in the rough” stories. It’s sold over a million copies and spawned a series that has sold over 3 million copies, net. Why I Love You sold over 150,000 copies in its original packaging and is being redesigned and re-released this fall. Historically it sells as well or better at Christmas as it does for Valentine’s Day. The new design uses a deep red metallic ink that is stunning.

Repackaging and re-releasing backlist books is just smart publishing. As a rule, if a book didn't work the first time, it is very difficult to make it work a second time. Books that did gain some traction in the market can be recast with a different title or different format and sell all over again. It is especially effective when the release can be tied to an upcoming event, holiday, or promotional opportunity. Also, as I mentioned in the post about marketing in the digital age, timing is everything. Even repackages need to be planned and sold months and months in advance of the new release date.

So, what is happening with your book? Are there any events or anniversaries coming up in 2010 or later that would fuel a re-release? It's never too early to be thinking about it.

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