Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Life on the Backlist -- by Kell Andrews

The industry calls them backlist titles. For kids, they're just books. 

The calendar officially turns a page on January 1, but in many ways, a different date marks the passing of the year in children's books: the announcement of ALA Youth Media Awards. This year, Newbery wins and honors for Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, and Cece Bell -- among a wide broad slate of spectacular and diverse winners in all categories -- energized readers, writers, and book lovers.

But what about the 2014 books that didn't win? The Mock Newbery contenders that weren't called out on that podium? The middle-grade books that didn't make it to any bestseller or "best of" list at all?

It's the backlist, baby.

2014 books everywhere are being moved from the "new" shelf at the library to spine-out in the stacks. They're being boxed up in bookstore backrooms and returned to the distributor. Some of them will be remaindered. Some will go out of print.
Out of Print but not forgotten:
The Glass Slipper by Eleanor Farjeon (1955 novel from her
1944 play). Farjeon sued Disney for using some of her
ideas in their 1950 film Cinderella. She lost the suit
but I see the similarities, especially in the opening.

The publishing industry moves forward -- that how all businesses works. We writers count on this cycle too -- our debuts, and then our next books. Publishing reps and book bloggers are talking about the books coming in 2015, and editors are acquiring books to be published in 2016 and beyond.

But kids aren't talking about 2016 -- they can hardly imagine it. These cycles don't mean anything to our readers. Ask a 10-year-old what a backlist title is, and she'll look at you blankly. If you told her that Harry Potter and Harriet the Spy were backlist, she'd think backlist was the greatest thing ever.

And it is. The middle-grade publishing is driven by bestsellers, but middle-grade readers are driven by the backlist -- the books in the library, on reading lists, and their older brothers' shelves. This is especially true for kids with under-funded schools and libraries, but not only. More than adults and teens, middle-graders count on the books in the library, on reading lists,  on their older siblings' shelves, as well as gifts from nostalgia-minded adults.

When I was a kid and an avid reader, I went through libraries shelf by shelf. I read both popular titles and dusty old books that I was sure I was the first to read in decades. One of my favorites was The Glass Slipper by Eleanor Farjeon, an enchanting fairy tale retelling in the original 1955 edition. (I am delighted to find others who loved it on Goodreads and I now own a copy.)

I still discover books the same way. One of my favorite middle-grade reads of the past year was Goose Chase by Patrice Kindl, an enchanting fairy tale retelling from way back in 2002 that somehow caught my attention on the library shelf.

My debut came out in 2014, and in publishing terms, it's consigned to the past. But as long as it's still on library shelves, it's still has a chance to gain child readers. As long as it's at online retailers, it's still available for people who cannot resist a book about a cursed tree and some dubious science. 

The industry moves on, and that includes me as a writer. But books live on, even in the obscurity of the unsung, not-yet-a-classic backlist.

What backlist titles have you discovered in the past year? What books from 2014 and earlier deserve more attention?


  1. ...and when those backlist titles are listed in the publisher's catalog: GOLD.

  2. Excellent post topic today! I could on and on about great books that are often overshadowed by the "Darlings of the moment" but are no less as great.

    I do my best to review because especially for debut or sophomore releases their early life can be terrifyingly fragile (From the author's POV) but I always like to include older titles in my "Weekly Readings" feature.

    Books from 2014 that I feel need more love are-
    (I mention a lot of picture books, but some MG novels, too!)

    "A Perfect Place for Ted" by Leila Rudge
    With so many dog books it's hard to stand out, but I loved this charming story and timeless illustration style. I reviewed on T.A.A. recently and made a fan trailer for it.

    "Fetch" by Adam Glendon Sidwell (illus. Edwin Rhemrev)
    This is a special book to me as not only did I take part in its crowdfunding campaign, but I also made a fan trailer to help spread the word (the publisher released the OFFICIAL trailer shortly after mine) along with my review. It was around around this time my own beloved dog of 13 years, Pepper, died and this book was and continues to be a comfort to me.

    To be continued...

    1. Forgot to link to the review/fan trailer for "A Perfect Place For Ted."

      "Hector Fox and the Giant Quest" by Astrid Sheckels
      First in a series I'll soon review on T.A.A. Those who loved the old school fantastic fauna tales of old will be instantly ensnared by the charm and subtle wit this book offers. But while it harks back to the olden days in its looks, it's tight prose and faster modern pacing makes it accessible to the time-starved culture of today.

      "Maddy Kettle Book 1: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch" by Eric Orchard

      I discovered the author-illustrator on Twitter (he's @inkybat) long before I knew about this charming book, and having read it last year, I know it's the start of a HOT series that no tween should be without! I'll soon review on T.A.A., but for now, check out the fan trailer I made!

      "Mr. Brown's Fantastic Hat" by Ayano Imai (今井 綾野)
      Fans of Jon Klassen and Maurice Sendak's subdued color palate and lovers of the curmudgeon meets cheerful soul antics of Bonny Becker's "Bear and Mouse" series (illus. by Kady Macdonald Denton) will enjoy this tale of how an old bear's unusual headgear scores him friends he didn't know he wanted...

      "The Wainscott Weasel" by Tor Seidler (illus. Fred Marcelino)
      One of my favorite books was reborn in 2014! It's been out of print for years, but in 2014 it returned to print, and is also available as an ebook for those who prefer that. In any case, I was so happy

      I not only reviewed it on T.A.A., but made a fan book trailer celebrating not only it's re-release but the 20th anniversary of its original publication.

      "Big Mean Mike" by Michelle Knudsen (illus. Scott Magoon)
      While Michelle's best known for "Library Lion" this was my first introduction to her picture books. It's a great non-preachy book for not giving into peer pressure and being okay with who you real friends are. Even if they're not adorable bunnies who follow you everywhere...
      (Yep, I made a fan trailer for this book, too!)

      Speaking of Michelle Knudsen, I first discovered her middle grade novel "The Dragon of Trelian" YEARS ago. Also worth a look.

      To be continued...

    2. I also review the occasional O.P. (out of print) or older release title because they still live on in libraries, and perhaps the parents or teachers of the kids who I hope one day come to my site might have a copy.

      The ones I REALLY love I make fan trailers for (book trailers weren't a thing when some of these books were published so they don't have one! LOL)

      My hope is that when/if they get reissued I'll be set to welcome them back to reach readers who aren't like me and go to various lengths to get hard to find titles.

      Lay readers (who aren't in publishing) may not take stock of back-list or out-of-print titles, but authors do, and should, not only for our benefit (for those of us with more than a book or two out) but to help spread the good word about our colleagues books as now more than ever writers need to support each other when possible.

      Besides, speaking for myself, I'm a firm believer that we shouldn't overlook books just because they're not "Brand Spanking New" anymore, and I say this more as a reader than the writer I am.

      Here some of the O.P. titles I STRONGLY recommend you seek out-

      "Fox and Fluff" by Shutta Crum (illus. by John Bendall-Brunello)
      A Fatherly Companion to "Are You My Mother?" with an ending you'll NEVER see coming!
      (Check out T.A.A.'s review/Fan book trailer!)

      On the novel side-

      "The Curse of Addy McMahon" by Katie Davis
      Best known for her picture books "Who Hops" and "Little Chicken's Big Day" among others, Katie puts out the occasional novel, hopefully this will get reissued at some point. But see if your library has a copy.

      "The Curse of The Swamp Rat" by Carter Crocker
      I think it's still available in paperback. But I'm not sure.

  3. " The middle-grade publishing is driven by bestsellers, but middle-grade readers are driven by the backlist." Yes! I think it's wonderful that children, especially, are avid browsers.

  4. Such a great-- and true-- thought. Like you, I was a huge backlist reader in my library. They got new stuff in, but being a small library, not like many others. I would have missed out on some great reads if I'd only read the newest and latest.

  5. I just finished a "backlist" book today: Susan Cooper's Over Sea, Under Stone. A classic!

  6. I also once again must give a nod to Michael Hoeye's "Hermux Tantamoq Adventure" series. I can't wait to review it on "Talking Animal Addicts"

    Until then, the fan trailers I made for all four books visualize why I LOVE them so much!


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!