Recently I was speaking with a Central Avenue author who has written a bestselling book. I thanked them for what they’ve done. What did they do, you ask? Well, they enabled new authors to get published.
It was a bit of a surreal experience for both the author and me. After all, we both know that if a book is making money, that’s good for both the author and Central Avenue. But I realized something that day: that this person is almost directly responsible for the opportunity that other authors were given to have their books traditionally published.
I have heard that a healthy press has 50% of revenue from the backlist (books that are older than 1 year), 25% from licenses, and 25% from front-list books. Currently, publishers are finding that more of their sales are in backlist—last year, we saw the backlist taking 67% on Amazon. That increasing role of the backlist is also happening at Central Avenue. This is happening for many reasons, but mostly because books are more visible in online venues like Amazon, and with technology like print on demand and ebooks, we don’t have to put books out of print.
I guess there’s two things that could happen with a strong and successful backlist. The first is that the publisher won’t publish any more books, and instead go sit on a tropical island sipping rum drinks. This doesn’t happen. At least not to publishers who love what they do and are here to promote books and reading. What does happen is that we use the money we make from the backlist to publish new titles. Because publishing a book is dang expensive. Editing a novel costs a few thousand. Cover design/illustration is several hundred. Marketing & advertising is a few to several thousand. Distribution, royalties, freight, and store co-op is also several thousand (although that’s dependent on how much a book sells).
Suffice it to say that it costs a lot of money to take on a new book and author, and we do this all on speculation. Granted, it’s an educated guess and we hope we are mitigating risk, but it’s more than likely that the book won’t make its investment back. Only a small portion of books actually pay back all those costs. And only a very small portion of those end up being bestsellers.
Backlist mid-list and bestselling authors don’t just keep the lights on, they support the work we do to actively search out and publish new voices. So for every Stephen King, there are ten up-and-comers (or in his case, most likely a lot more)! In the case of Central Avenue, I use that money to hire designers and editors and to acquire new writers. If I didn’t have our successful group of backlist authors, I wouldn’t be able to give opportunities to the poets and storytellers who submit their books to me.
So, thank you to all the well-selling authors out there—for you are directly responsible for the careers and opportunities of those who come after you. I hope you are proud that your work not only touches the hearts of so many readers, but that it changes the lives of so many writers. And to all the yet-to-be bestselling author, keep writing, because success comes in different shapes and sizes and we often never know when it’s just around the corner. As that famous quote by Wayne Gretzy goes: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”