Some Thoughts on Publishing and Backlist

Anyone following my blog knows that I had rights to some of my backlist revert to me and that I’m getting them onto Amazon Kindle, Nook and other digital vendors.

Lord Ruin went up on Amazon 2/19 and as of today, I have MORE than made back my expenses. Royalties due me are already in 4 digits. As of today Lord Ruin on Amazon is:

# Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,607 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
* #9 in Books > Romance > Regency
* #9 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Romance > Historical Romance > Regency
* #80 in Books > Romance > Historical

The MMP is 300,000 something because, of course, the book hasn’t been available new in print for years. I don’t have my act together yet on doing the CreateSpace POD version, but obviously I have to get to that.

What does this mean?

The first thing to keep in mind is that Lord Ruin has been impossible to get except as used for years. Because my publisher did not keep the book in print.

These next things are a puzzle for me.
A. Lord Ruin in print wasn’t worth it to my publisher to continue printing
B. My publisher did not consider the digital rights to Lord Ruin to be worth exploiting even though they had them.

A is somewhat contradicted by the fact that I’ve been getting emails on that book every month for 9 years, and hearing complaints about how hard it is to find.
B: My current Amazon numbers suggest they were wrong about that. However, I have priced Lord Ruin at $3.99, no geo-restrictions and no DRM, and my publisher would surely have priced it at nearly twice that and slapped on territorial restrictions and DRM. I’m guessing sales in that scenario would have been lower than they are under the current scenario.

Compare, for example, Lord Ruin to Scandal:

The eBook for Scandal is priced at 7.99 — the same price as the print version. Scandal, a RITA finalist and a book my agent called a tour de force, is #16,064 Paid in Kindle Store. I’m quite sure the book is also DRM’d and comes with geo-restrictions.

Edited to Add: Lord Ruin, I should mention, is highly pirated. I think all but my first two books have been pirated.

I have a marketing budget that consists of my blog, twitter, facebook and facebook ads and I’m about to hit my advertising limit of $200 total spent. Scandal, by the way, got co-op.

In looking at my Kindle sales reports for Lord Ruin, (I’m learning to interpret the reports!) Non-US/Non-UK sales are in triple digits. — That means that people who would, under a print-publisher sales-scenario be unable to buy Lord Ruin CAN and ARE buying it under my scenario. UK sales are also in triple digits.

My costs for getting Lord Ruin into digital format include:
1. A new cover
2. File conversion
4. Time and Frustration

  • My publisher pays many many times more for a cover than I can afford, but that cost is at least subsidized for them by the fact that they use the print cover for the digital cover.
  • File conversion is a PITA but by now I would hope publishers have 1) better software than I do and 2) staff who’ve already been through the learning curve.
  • I probably paid more per unit for my eBook ISBN than my publisher did but that’s also something I could have skipped.
  • My backlist titles have already been edited, copyedited and proofed at no (billable) cost to me. Obviously, I pay an indirect cost in that my advance and royalty rates are lower because my publishers ( I have two, Grand Central and Berkley Books) need to recoup those costs. For my publishers, however, they’ve paid for that in the print book process. And I bet it ain’t cheap. Strictly speaking, however, for the eBook, the publisher is not paying for that a second time.
  • I had to carefully review the eBook source for errors. So does any publisher. And it’s not one source code set. It’s multiple formats. Blech.

For an eBook, the publisher is NOT paying nothing to produce it, but they’re also not paying what they pay to develop the print version.

Lord Ruin, a book that is 9 years old and for which I have spent so far about about $200 total in advertising is kicking Scandal’s ass. My January 2010 paranormal (My Immortal Assassin) is a pretty fresh release. And it’s 18,344 in paid Kindle.

My preliminary take on this is that publishers would be selling WAY more ebooks if they weren’t over-pricing them and they would be selling a lot more books outside the US and the UK if there weren’t geo-restrictions. The lack of DRM on Lord Ruin is also probably a factor. One possibility is that Lord Ruin is a spectacularly good book and my current books aren’t . . . except I don’t think that’s it. Lord Ruin wasn’t a RITA finalist, for example.


I’m pretty sure that for publishers, the print book process is subsidizing, to an extent, the eBook process — that is, certain costs aren’t incurred on the eBook side because they’re incurred on the print side (cover, editing, etc)  The question, then, is what happens if print books go away? Poof! (pretend) Publishers can no longer put out a print version. The eBook business would have to support costs that MUST occur (cover art, editing, copy editing etc).

You’d hope that this doesn’t happen until eBooks are selling in substantially higher numbers than they are now. And let’s pretend that has happened. The ratio is flipped. eBooks account for 80% of total book sales and print accounts for 20%. What’s the total number of sales, though? Are they selling more books or fewer books or the same?

I think it might be fewer. Yikes. But I know for a fact it’s less than they should be selling. Publishers are, in fact, right now this minute, selling fewer books than the market will support. Right now there are readers who want to pay for books and they can’t. That’s insanity.

Publishers will be (and are now) in a world where their own policies have suppressed demand for their product through over-pricing the product and because of their inability to sell to groups of consumers who are willing to buy.

I think unless publishers fix the geo-restrictions mess, they’re in a REALLY hard place because there are substantial sales they aren’t making because of that. The hurt is only going to increase.


I am fiercely glad I have these reverted titles back because Holy Cow, that’s a lot of money going straight to my pocket. It’s really, really clear to me that in Romance at least, publishers have badly missed the boat on the value of backlist titles. Romance readers know their OOP titles. They talk about books that are long out of print. Every Romance author knows this because we’re a part of that community. There are OOP titles that are on our keeper shelves, too, and there are new readers who want these books — and can’t get them for love nor money.

What I know is that Lord Ruin went from earning me $0.0 to earning me 4 figures in 3 weeks.

For the next book I put up, there are some mistakes I won’t make and I will have the timing down better, too.

Some More Observations

This post is half-baked. I’m pretty sure I’m missing some logic bits. What do you think I’ve missed?



11 Responses to “Some Thoughts on Publishing and Backlist”

  1. Some Thoughts on Publishing and Backlist « Writer's Diary…

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

  2. Congratulations on the great success for Lord Ruin. Four figures in three weeks–I must admit to being quite envious of that. Your publisher was very foolish to give up those rights, and you were very wise to plunge into the world of E-publishing yourself instead of letting those books lie dormant. I have often wondered why all the publishers are not rushing to put out their backlists electronically. You would think that it would simply be common sense for them to use their existing assets to bring in additional revenues.

  3. […] Carolyn Jewel talks about her experience putting one of her backlist titles out as an ebook. […]

  4. This is my conclusion as well, just looking at the historical romance genre listings. There is a lot of unmet demand for high quality, lower (but still reasonably priced) books that are not geographically restricted and that have no DRM.

  5. Teresa and Courtney: Thanks for the comments. Yes, publishers have been missing the boat for years on the value of backlist they have.

    Until recently, there was no reason for most authors to bother getting rights reverted. Amazon and B&N have changed the game.

    (score: 2+ for cliches!)

  6. May says:

    It is the fact in the bookstore I worked for that readers try to find backlist once they impress with the frontlist especially romance reader. And it came to the point of frustration when they found out that the publisher did not have it.

    When your books with Berkley and GC are released, I got a request from readers to get Lord Ruin (and other books), which I cannot fulfill. So I would say there are the market for backlist especially if the authors still active today.

    As for me, I try to find Passion’s Song and Stolen Love for years since I read Lord Ruin the first time almost ten year ago.

  7. May: Thanks for the info. Repeat that story thousands of times for other authors times hundreds of times at bookstores and the amount of money publishers lose to high-demand backlist titles is scary.

    Setting up the POD version of my titles needs to happen.

  8. Mascha says:

    I am in the midst of reading Scandal and loving it. Thus, I am very happy to hear that you will release your backlist without geographic restrictions: this means I will be able to buy your next book, instead of borrowing it from the library.
    I live in Switzerland and am highly frustrated when I cannot buy books I’d like to read (even though they exist as ebooks) due to geo-restrictions. It makes getting books hard, as I am not willing to get all the books I read (150 last year, mostly romance) in paperback – not enough storage space for that!
    So I’ll add you to the list of authors whose books I can buy and hope more authors I like will follow your example!
    Thanks for writing romance and feeding my addiction,

    • Mascha: I’m so glad you’re enjoying Scandal! So far, I only have control over the titles where I have a reversion of rights. Those will all be re-released without geo-restrictions. I don’t have much (as in no) say on my other titles. My two forthcoming historicals for Berkley, for example, are out of my control. As are, so far, Scandal and Indiscreet and the My Immortals series since all those titles are still in print.

      I have my rights back on: Lord Ruin, The Spare, A Darker Crimson, and DX, from the anthology Shards of Crimson. By April 5th I should know if I will get my rights back to Stolen Love. It might be six months before I know about the rights to Passion’s Song.

      Hopefully, publishers will take swift action to resolve the geo-restrictions mess. It makes even less sense now!

  9. This post is just fascinating.

  10. […] the revenue of backlists from the used bookstore owners to the authors, which has been the case for Ms. Jewel.  In a case similar to hers, where the rights for her backlist had reverted to her, it seems […]