How to Market A Book - Frontlist vs. Backlist Strategy

A Q&A with award-winning book marketing strategist Adrienne Sparks

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Marketing strategy is different for frontlist and backlist books. John Wildgoose / Getty Images

If you are marketing a book, you need to understand how book marketing strategy is different for new titles ("frontlist") versus those that have been on the market for awhile ("backlist"). In this Q&A, book marketing expert Adrienne Sparks discusses frontlist vs. backlist promotional strategies.

First, an aside: publishing industry definitions for frontlist vs. backlist books:  Though timelines differ for different publishers, a book is considered "frontlist" from when it is newly­ released into the marketplace until it on the bricks and mortar or virtual bookstore shelves six months or so.

A backlist title is a book that has typically been on sale for 6 months to a year.

How to Market a Book That's Just Been Released

Valerie: How do you market a new book? What's the promotional strategy?

Adrienne: Frontlist titles need to be “introduced” to consumers, which is why they are "launched" into the marketplace. That's because publishers need to make book buyers aware of what a new book is about—and give them reasons why they should buy it.

Because so many are published each year, frontlist books compete with each other for the bookstore shelf space, promotional and media opportunities, and marketing dollars that contribute to their sales. They have an advantage when it comes to getting book publicity buzz because traditional media — like television producers and magazine editors — want to feature something new and newsworthy.

From a marketing standpoint, publishers try to raise awareness of new books and generate sales using a wide variety of methods, such as ensuring that bricks-and-mortar bookstores display the book in high-traffic areas and that online retailers feature the book in e-mail promotional campaigns.

How to Market a Backlist Book

Valerie: And how do you market a backlist book? How is the strategy different?

Adrienne: Bookstore shelf space is limited, and only the backlist titles that sell at a significant rate or are part of a seasonal promotion will find a spot on the physical shelf. But many traditional publishers generate the bulk of their revenues from their backlists and some employ marketers who focus entirely on promoting backlist books.

Also, the rise of online bookstores, the growth of e-books, and the proliferation of on-demand printing technologies have eroded some of the distinctions between frontlist and backlist books. The digital marketplace puts all books — new releases and backlist books alike — on the same limitless space provided by the virtual bookshelf. The fact that backlist books are now perennially available, as well as changes in consumer's browsing habits, have created significant shifts in the publishing landscape and marketing campaigns. This is good news for potential sales results for backlist books.

Backlist Book Marketing Campaign Example

Valerie: What's an example of a backlist marketing campaign?

Adrienne: One that comes to mind is the campaign for bestselling thriller author Keith Thomson's book, Pirates of Pensacola. It was technically a backlist book, but with the first-time digital release, we combined frontlist and backlist book marketing strategies in order to make new audiences aware of the book.

Now, more than ever, many of the creative and innovative online marketing strategies employed for a frontlist new release can be used with great success for titles traditionally defined as backlist.

Adrienne Sparks of Sparksarketing.net is a marketing consultant who has crafted marketing campaigns for first-time authors as well as dozens of New York Times best sellers, such as the books of Pat Conroy and Jonathan Lethem. She received an Ad Age Entertainment Marketer of the Year award for her work on The Da Vinci Code campaign.