Finding gold in the backlist

skills for publishing

Many will know I have an unashamed love for Haruki Murakami. So when I heard that his debut work, which is almost impossible to find in English, will be translated and re-released next year my heart missed a beat.

Hear the Wind Sing was first published in Japanese in 1979 and released in English eight years later, translated by Alfred Birnbaum. It is no longer in print, and copies of the novella are said to be changing hands for huge sums online.

Of course the Murakami phenomenon is in itself a pretty rare thing in the publishing world. A writer who has become an actual celebrity in their own right is neigh on a miracle these days, forgive me J.K., especially when you see bestseller lists dominated by ‘celebrities’ turned ‘writers’ week after week.

The question of why more authors aren’t household names is one everyone in the publishing industry is striving to answer, and deliver. But in the era of so much reality based TV and celebrity-obsessed culture this is something that won’t be overcome soon.

Harking back to the original story an interesting point to note is the value which can be generated from past works. Of course not all authors have Murakami’s profile or have such a huge ready-made audience for previous works. However, there are some great works out there which may not have proved popular at the time of print or may have been unavailable in certain territories or languages in which they could have sold well.

Backlist can often prove valuable for publishers of all sizes and it’s clear that it should not be ignored. Authors can suddenly rise to prominence through a breakthrough bestseller which will inevitably add additional value to their previous works. A particular genre can unexpectedly come into vogue in a certain territory meaning already published works, even from the not so well known authors, can have a newly captive audience. News or events within certain countries/regions can also help spark interest in relevant titles and fields of interest to create unexpected sales

So, in conclusion, whether frontlist or backlist, any title should never be consigned to the scrapheap even if it might have failed in the market it was originally pushed in. The potential of a book should never be fully extinguished. You never know what future chain of events may take place to turn an almost forgotten title into the new big thing.

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