Conclude what ye may about the “e-” vs. “real” phenomenon rocking publishing, but its great for backlisted books, the bridesmaids of book publishing. Who wants to be on a backlist?
Informed writers, that’s who.
Aside from the fact that the only way to avoid the backlist is to go out of print, backlisting happens.
The frontlist is for books publishing now. Generally speaking, a book stays on the frontlist for about a year, receiving any attention the publisher has energy to lavish on it without losing money. At the larger publishing houses, this length of time could be as few as two weeks
What ho, says you; whither “a year”? OK, so your book may be on the front list for a year. Big houses can have books coming out every two weeks. Your book has two weeks to “bounce” (generate enough sales that the PR staff remember your name or at least return your call). One advantage to a smaller press is that titles stay “new” for six months, if not a full year. Regardless of publishing small or big house, after a year, a book moves to the backlist.
The great news about backlist: this is where the money is. Certainly, for the publishers. With no effort other than listing the backlist, the title keeps selling. Yay, the frontlist gleans all glory (hello, Oprah!). But most frontlist authors are working to pay back the publisher for their advance on sales (aka: the advance). It is only after the book earns over its advance does the writer receive royalties. Writer royalties often kick in after a book hits the backlist, thus completing our metaphor: she snags one for herself.
All this to say, any author with strong organizational skills and internet access can keep attention on their work far longer than the time alloted by the publisher. Strong sales over a six- to twelve-month period could lead to re-printing or soft- to hardcover release (many books, particularly those by first-time authors, are in softcover until they demonstrate sales).