Getting Your Backlist Up: A Report from the 2011 Nebulas

by Brenda W. Clough, Sue Lange, Amy Sterling, and Judith Tarr.

The Nebula Awards weekend is not a Worldcon.  It is a business-oriented function sponsored by the Science-Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.  We were very pleased to be called upon to talk about doing things with backlist. Our panel was entitled “Putting Your Backlist to Work” and included Judith Tarr, Brenda Clough, Amy Sterling Casil, and Sue Lange.

A brief definition: an author’s backlist includes all the books she’s written that are no longer in print.  They may be floating around used book stores or on Amazon, but they’re not actively published.  Some writers have many works of this type, and what to do with them has always been a problem.

Enter the world of e-books!  A beloved author like our own Sherwood Smith can convert all her backlist YA novels into ebooks, bringing them before a new generation of readers with relative ease.  This is not really news, but many members of SFWA wanted to hear details.  Where to go, what to do, with their backlist to get it onto that Nook or Kindle?

We came armed with many links to websites to help the timid author (posted below). We took the audience for a brief tour of the Book View Cafe main site.  We zoomed through the rock-bottom basics:  Get the electronic rights back.  Convert the work into electronic format.  Create a cover.

The audience had a number of questions including how to ensure they had the rights to their backlists of book-length and short fiction.  Another topic audience members were very interested in was how to create covers.  Taking your own photographs, finding public domain art, accessing fans with art talent who love your stories, and using online templates were among the options presented.

Of course we were totally unable to cover everything, for want of time.  Worse yet, the field of e-publishing is evolving really, really fast.  In another year we may have to do this again — and everything we say will be new and different.

Links to help you get your backlist up

Ebook Formatting Tools and Software
Dilworth, Diana. “Six eBook Formatting Tools.” eBook Newser. May 9, 2011.
Calibre eBook Management. Calibre Download.

Ebook Formatting Services
Publish Your Words: “Your cover-to-cover electronic and self-publishing resource”
Reanimus.com: “Breathing New Life into Your Books.” SFWA’s Andrew Burt and company.
RoadrunnerCoyote (Rhody Downey): Good example of local talent finding a niche. Does children’s books as well as books for adults.
The Smashwords Meatgrinder: Relatively quick, notoriously ugly, requires a .doc file. But–if you want to get into Apple or Sony, this is the easiest (and cheapest) way to go.

Where to Publish Your Ebook
“How to Publish and Distribute Ebooks with Smashwords.”
Kindle Direct Publishing. “Kindle Publishing Guide.”
Kobo Authors and Publishers.
Pubit! FAQ and Support.

State of the Market: Recent Articles and References

Mayer, Bob. “I Don’t Know; I’m Guessing; I Know–The Future of Publishing for Authors.” April 4, 2011.
Rusch, Kristine Katherine. “The Business Rusch: Writing Like It’s 1999.” May 11, 2011.
**Follow links to other articles in the series.
Smith, Dean Wesley. Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing. **Ongoing and Evolving Essays on the State of the Market.
Tucker, Neely. “Novel Rejected? There’s an E-Book Gold Rush!” The Washington Post, May 6/7, 2011.

Authors’ Cooperatives: See what other authors are doing

Backlist Ebooks.

Book View Café.
Closed Circle.
Topsuspense.com.

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Getting Your Backlist Up: A Report from the 2011 Nebulas — 14 Comments

  1. Excellent report! I’ve been researching for a cover for my novelette, and was wondering if anyone was guess-ti-mating whether there is any reason to pay anything for a cover for a short story?

    I am thinking about drawing my own at this rate. Even spending $30 seems silly when all the story makes may be $30.

  2. Feel free to grab the list–I can send you the Word file if you need it for a prinout.

    We rocked the room, we did. Good team, great back-and-forth. Serious and at times vehement interest from the audience. What had been a “would be nice” idea back in the fall when the organizers were thinking up panel topics has become a red-hot item. Along with “Make a Better Website,” it was one of the most talked-about panels of the conference.

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  4. Brenda & Katharine: While I can fully understand the sentiment behind getting things done as cheaply as possible, there’s a wider issue here.

    Yes, some photographers and cover artists work for free or next-to-nothing, but is that really the business model we writers want to promote? And if we think that photographs are worth a few pennies at most, how can we complain if readers think that _stories_ should be free or dirt cheap?
    (A photograph doesn’t just take the time it takes to snap. You need expertise, work out the location, get there, and sometimes wait around for several hours for the light to be right; plus any tweaking in Photoshop you might need to do to bring it out well.)

    Trying to build your an income on the basis of exploiting other content creators sounds dodgy to me.

    This does not mean that you always need to pay cash – and corporate rates at that – but it’s an attitutde that bugs me. If writers are worth supporting so that they can make a living and have more time to write, then cover artists and photographers are worth supporting, too.

  5. That is the rationale behind Book View Cafe. We are downright Marxist-Leninist: from each according to his/her ability, to each according to her/his need. Slide up a bit and look to your right, at the book covers in the side rail — I created three of those original images.
    As to images up on Wikimedia (which is where you should look first, KEK), they are posted there by their creators and the rights on offer are clearly delineated. These people are big girls (or boys) and we must trust that if they had meant to charge a fee, they would.

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  7. Brenda, a cooperative is fine – you’re not asking anyone to give up their time and skill so you can make a profit, you’re _all_ contributing to each other’s successes. Not a problem, and, in fact, quite a useful model to keep in mind for people who simply cannot afford to pay professional fees.

    And yes, people give away stuff all the time – photographs, cover art, stories; but if you want to encourage an economy in which content creators thrive, you should encourage people to pay for content – or else encounter the same arguments. Why should I pay $5 for an ebook if I can get one for 99c or free? Why should you pay $30 for a photograph if you can get one for free?

    The answer is that paying a fair fee will encourage people to hone their skills and create amazing art, rather than need a dayjob that leaves them little time _for_ that art. I’m not advocating that you should pay $300 for a photograph, although there are many photographers who would feel that is an adequate recompensation; but if you intend to make a profit from something, paying the creator seems only fair.

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