Resurrecting the Backlist: The Dead Book LIVES!

As a reader, the first time I came across a new edition of a backlist book was Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series. First published in 1983, it was full of wonderfully outdated references that, as an 80s child, I felt right at home with. In 2003, Duane re-released the series under a “New Millenium Edition,” complete with bonus material and updated technology like cell phones. I didn’t understand it, so I dismissed it as a marketing gimmick.

My second exposure to the subject of backlist books was as a writer this past July at Necon. I attended a panel moderated by Lynne Hansen, where she, Christopher Golden, Lori Perkins, Heather Graham, and John Douglas discussed the act of “resurrecting” the backlist and general marketing advice for one’s writing. The panel not only interested me as a writer, but also as a reader. Established authors dusting off their “old” novels creates a library of undiscovered stories released either before I was old enough to read them, like Young Wizards, or that just escaped my attention.

Lynne Hansen, owner at Lynne Hansen Designs, specializes in “book covers that tell a story” and helping authors resurrect their backlist titles. Her clients include Christopher Golden, Amber Benson, James A. Moore, Owl Goingback, Jeff Strand, and Rick Hautala. When I asked Lynne about the top benefit for an author to look at their backlist, her answer echoed my own excitement as a reader: “When a fan discovers you for the first time, you hope that they’ll love your work so much that they’ll want to read your other books. The more books you have in print, the more they’ll have to love.”

In the past few years, many veteran authors are discovering that they are sitting on a gold mine of backlist material. Of course, the reason for books to go out of print is that bookstores can’t carry new releases, classics, and backlist titles in brick-and-mortar stores. However, with the emergence of e-books and the Amazon marketplace, space is no longer an obstacle. Many midlist authors are hoping to again have the luxury of cultivating a fan base without the insane pressure to either hit decent sales numbers or see their books out of print.

Throwing books out of print after a short sales period is a publishing practice that pushed veteran authors like Holly Lisle over the edge in favor of self-publishing their work. On her site, Lisle echoes the sentiments of many authors. “Now,” she says, “frontlist is all that matters, backlist dies, and writing fiction for a living has become not building a career but playing the lottery.”

However, Amazon has kept up with it’s reputation for driving change in the industry and has become the best place to find “new” backlist titles. “I don’t think readers look for re-released titles the same way they look for discount e-books,” said Hansen. Sites like Amazon ensure that multiple editions, “paperback, hardcover, audiobook, etc., are all linked together,” which has been a benefit to authors and a convenience to consumers.

Hansen is passionate about her work, not just for her clients but for readers who “say they’ve wanted to read a book for years but could never find it, and they just downloaded the e-book. And I’ve heard folks say they’re re-reading a book, or even an entire series, now that it’s available electronically. That’s a nice bonus.” As a reader, I appreciate Hansen’s dedication. Nothing makes me happier than finding a new author that has a vast catalog that can be ordered with the click of a button.

Of course, one of the largest benefits to authors using a print-on-demand (POD) service like Amazon and Createspace is “you don’t have to print 10,000 books and store them in your garage just to get an affordable per-copy rate. Companies like Smashwords make it easy for you to upload a single Microsoft Word document and get your e-book distributed to a gazillion different retailers.” As Hansen also mentioned, it isn’t so much the format of the e-book that has made maintaining a backlist possible again, but rather the affordability of the process and the accessibility of those titles to readers.

I’ve heard varied arguments for or against self-publishing. There is an impression that “indie pub” has created a market flooded with unedited first drafts, thrown up for public consumption by amateur writers that are not doing their homework, which is making good writers look bad. Hansen has a much different view: “People like to think that self-publishing is The Great Leveler, but it’s not. Good books still rise to the top and bad books still (generally) fall into obscurity. Sure, there are more opportunities, but there are also a lot more challenges, especially when you’re faced with the prospect of having to do all the production work yourself.”

Fortunately for readers, there is a level of professionalism and dedication that an established author possesses to do it right. The writer seeking to resurrect their backlist has intense work ahead of them in order to re-launch and market their title, which is where Hansen comes in. “If your car breaks, you don’t pop the hood and start checking wires unless you have those skills.” Authors are great at writing books, but a lot more goes into releasing a backlist title for a new market. Obtaining the needed components to resurrect a backlist title take time and energy. This energy is better spent doing the most important task to a writer—actually writing.

“That being said, reissuing a book isn’t as simple as pulling up the Microsoft Word document and adding a copyright page,” said Hansen. “You need to make certain you have the final, edited version of the manuscript and have incorporated any line edits that came from the original publisher. You need the dedication, introduction, acknowledgments, afterword, bio, and links to your online presences.”

Hansen also suggests hiring a cover artist. “You want your name and title crisp and readable, and an image that is striking when it’s small. Most importantly, your book cover needs to resonate with the readers of your genre. If it’s a thriller, it needs to look like a thriller, not like a horror novel. You need a designer who understands marketing, because ultimately, your book cover and blurb are the best marketing tools in your arsenal.”

One difficulty Hansen has faced with marketing her client’s backlist books is “they’re not new books. They’ve already been reviewed and promoted and odds are that your die-hard fans have already read them.” Even authors with an established platform would still need to promote their backlist to a new audience. This might be as easy as appealing to a new generation of fans or hitting the market with the right book at the right time, such as Christopher Golden and Rick Hautala’s Body of Evidence thriller series, featuring young protagonist Jenna Blake.

“In today’s marketplace, the Jenna Blake books would be categorized as ‘new adult’ and is much more likely to be read by adults than by teens. It’s a category that didn’t even exist when the books were being written. For the re-issues, I designed covers that were more familiar to thriller readers than to young adult readers, and we tweaked marketing descriptions to reflect the new focus. It’s really helped the entire series reach many more readers.”

One way that authors can promote their backlist titles might seem obvious: “Backlist books are the gravy, not the meat,” said Hansen. “The best way to promote an old book is to write new ones.”

Personally, I’ve snapped up quite a few backlist titles that were released on Amazon in the past year, including Strangewood by Christopher Golden and The Wicked by James Newman, the latter released by Shock Totem in May of 2012. I was also excited to find Closed Circle Publications, a site created by award-winning sci-fi and fantasy authors C.J. Cherryh, Lynn Abbey, and Jane Fancher to market their backlist titles.

Keep an eye out for the above authors and their amazing, high-quality re-releases coming to an Internet near you. I personally will continue to forgo the trip to Barnes & Noble (which I’ve never been a fan of, honestly) in favor of staying at home with a beer, or a coffee if it’s early enough, and scouring Amazon and Google in search of new backlist titles from veteran authors. So far, my purchases have been more than worth it and have exposed me to stories that would have otherwise gone unexplored.

If any Shock Totem readers have questions about specific backlist projects, please e-mail Lynne Hansen or visit her website for further information.

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Was I Just Sexually Harassed…Or Not?

We are a world of offense. A litigious society. Too sensitive. Or not sensitive enough. Or maybe both, who knows.

The buzz is on sexual harassment in the literary world lately, especially at cons. And I’ll tell you that, as a woman, I’ve been there. I had a well-known literary name grab my butt at a con last year, and I was so surprised that I didn’t know what to do. There weren’t any roundhouse kicks to the face, or firm dressing downs. My friends didn’t rush to my defense. There was just his hand. My body. And shock. Some shame. A whole bunch of confusion.

Was this the first experience? Of course not. Will it be the last? Sadly, no. I don’t expect it will be.

At the same time, I feel like we’re getting a bit reactive about all of it. It’s almost a battle to see who can be more affronted. Oh yeah? Somebody actually touched your body? Well, somebody just looked at me wrong, and I filed a report on sexual harassment. Therefore I am much more educated and proactive than you. If only you respected women or yourself more, you could be angry like me.

I’m nervous to even publish this essay, because it’s such a charged subject. I know the flack I’m going to get about it.

There are people out there who scare me. They push so hard to make sure that they never become victims that they actually come across as bullies. I’m terrified that I’ll get nervous, say the wrong thing and affront them. I would never intend to, but sometimes I think intent has very little to do with it.

Case in point: An author told me he writes erotica and sent me unsolicited links to his work. On the page was a picture of him that can never be unseen. NEVER. UNSEEN.

Friend One (female): You were just sexually harassed! Get a rope!

Friend Two (male): I think maybe you were just sexually harassed. Should I…do something?

My Mom: You knew better than to click that link, sweetie.

I think Mom is right. I knew he was sending me stories he had written. Did I expect to be blinded by boy bits? No, I did not. But it’s like the old folktale about the little boy who carries the snake (no pun intended) to the top of the hill: He knew what the snake was when he picked it up.

I don’t consider it sexual harassment. I had an idea of what I was getting into. I’m certainly not going to report him for showing me his, ahem, work when he had given me an idea of the kind of work it is. Sure, a warning of the visuals would have kept me far away from the link, but ultimately I believe the fault was mine.

But this made me realize that most of us don’t have a clue as to what sexual harassment is, especially on the Internet. A man (or woman, for that matter) corners me at a con and says suggestive things or puts their hands on my body, and that’s definitely harassment. I know it with every fiber of my being. But online? The lines become blurry. I’m not exactly sure.

This last week I blocked somebody on Facebook for making inappropriate comments. The conversation went very quickly from “Tell me about your work” to “You have beautiful lips. And hair. And eyes.” Uncool. Uncomfortable. Blocked. Ugh.

A while ago, three other women and I were at a horror con. When the picture came up online, there was immediately a conversation about our bust size. Yes, we’re busty. No, that doesn’t give you a pass to discuss it. More ugh.

These things were obvious to me. They made me feel bad. Uncomfortable. But what about the flirty friend you have to keep reigning in? Being sent unsolicited stories high in sexual content? Being sought out simply because we’re women? The Shock Totem staff often says, “Why did So and So approach you about this and not me?” Probably because I’m a girl. Because we’re seen as easier to approach and sometimes dominate. I’ve had people sweet talk me about getting in the mag when I know they aren’t doing the same thing to Ken or John or Tom. What about when women are invited to an anthology because “the antho needs women”? So does Mars. Is that a form of harassment? My body parts gave me a free pass? Then again, how many times have we been upset because an antho or “Best Of” or, heaven forbid I say it, the Bram Stoker Awards had a glaring lack of female participants and nominees? Is it true that there just aren’t any winners here?

Let me give you a completely opposite example that was actually comical in its intent. I was at WHC in New Orleans. My friends were all at panels, and I hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before. I found a nice, quiet person sitting in the lobby, who turned out to be John Urbancik. (Whether or not John is nice and quiet in real life is not up for debate. It was early in the morning and he was absolutely lovely.) :P

Me: Excuse me. I’m looking for a place to eat breakfast. Do you know anywhere?

John: Yes, I went to this bar the other morning and it was wonderful. It’s located AAFD@#$@#$ Blah blah Neeeeeneeeeneeeen wigawomp.” (This is how I understand directions.)

Me: I’ll never find it. But thank you anyway!

John: W…would you like me to show you?

Me (eying him mistrustfully): Yeeeeeees…

We were so afraid of being forward. Of putting off the wrong signals at a conference and a city known for debauchery. He walked me to the bar, hesitantly, wanting to be honorable and promising that he would drop me off when we arrived there, so I wouldn’t have to eat with a total male stranger. I was grateful, but felt stupid for asking. But more than that, I was really STARVING. So we made it. Waved farewell. I bellied up to the bar and had the best breakfast I had in New Orleans, by myself. And when I was nearly done? A man sitting at the bar next to me threw down a five dollar bill, said, “It was a pleasure watching you eat,” and left.

Ugh. Again. After the “I don’t want to be offensive in any way” dance with John earlier that morning. I could have had breakfast with somebody who turned out to be a friend, instead of being tipped by El Creepo at the bar. I throw my hands in the air. I’m defeated.

Hey. I’m a woman and I’m confused about the whole thing. I thought I was supposed to know what was going on.

Let’s go back to basics. Treat me with respect and as a professional. In return, I’ll treat you the same way. I won’t go looking for ways to be slighted if you don’t go out of your way to slight me. I think we all need to act better. Just because I have Bettie Page bangs, that doesn’t mean I’m your personal pin-up girl. And just because you hold the door open for me, that doesn’t mean you have an angle. I want us to give each other the benefit of the doubt, to assume that the other person meant no offense. Wouldn’t it be nice not to be on guard all of the time? Wouldn’t that be a relief?

I yearn for a world of courteousness and professionalism. That’s all. Being a writer…heck, being a HUMAN is tough enough. We don’t need to complicate things.

And even as I write this, the events of ComicCon were brought to my attention. My mind boggles.

Respect. Let’s try it.

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Where Are Vampires Headed?

Every year at the World Horror Convention and many other horror and sci-fi/fantasy and comic conventions, there’s at least one if not more panels devoted to the topic of vampires in fiction—what’s happening to them, what fans have enjoyed as well as scorned in previous years, the history of vampires, why they’re still so popular, and usually, what the fate of vampires is; that is to say, what will become of vampires in the future?

A few years ago I had the chance to attend a library discussion on the subject that included authors Tanya Huff and Bram Stoker expert Elizabeth Miller. It proved to be a lively and engaging debate that ended with the assertion that someone somewhere would always find something new and exciting to do with vampires despite some of the more traditionally disliked works among purists and hardcore fans (*cough* Twilight *cough*). At the time of the discussion, the work that many pointed to on the panel as being the next great vampire book was Justin Cronin’s The Passage, which incidentally is great if you haven’t read it, despite the sheer volume of the work.

One of the works to stand out for me in the last few years is Enter, Night, by Canadian author Michael Rowe. The book takes place in small-town Ontario, which in some ways provides the best backdrop for the story because of the isolation mingled with the First Nations mythology incorporated into the plot.

Although the vampire panels at last year’s World Horror Convention in Salt Lake City were great, and it was a real treat to have a special presentation from Bram Stoker’s great grand-nephew, Dacre Stoker, this year’s World Horror panel left a bit to be desired, at least for me. Moderator and vampire author Nancy Kilpatrick did ask wonderful questions, though, and each of the panelists brought something interesting to the table, particularly Les Klinger, who always makes good contributions as he’s something of a treasure trove of vampire lore; but perhaps because it was held in New Orleans, which has such a history with vampires (and not just with Anne Rice), I felt a tad let down.

There was some discussion at the end of the panel about what everyone thought was the future of vampires in horror fiction and what would be the next big thing. Right now, we’re in a post-Twilight cycle and despite the raging popularity of shows like True Blood and The Vampire Diaries (including its spin-off, The Originals), zombies are the big thing now, it seems, although they’re slowly starting to taper off in preparation for the next big trend.

One of the panelists mentioned we were going to see more science-related plots in vampire books, which brought to mind thoughts of the hugely successful series starting with The Strain, by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, which has more of a scientific influence in the vampire aspects. It’s hard to predict what the next really big vampire novel will be.

Despite the continued success of our fanged friends in paranormal romance, more authors in the subgenre are moving away from vampires for their next series not only as a way to branch out and make sure they’re not typecast as being purely vampire fiction writers, but also because their vampy fare won’t sell well forever.

What do you think will be the next big trend in vampire fiction?

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The Bloop

I’m just gonna come out and say it. When I first heard of the Bloop—which is a sound so bass-y and loud that some sciencey people claim it can only come from a creature many times larger than a blue whale—I instantly knew its source: my girlfriend.


You know you would!

Fooled you! I’ve never had one of those before. What, your sister? The one working at the movie theater? Pffft! Fooled you again! I was only using her for free movie tickets. BWA HA HA HA HA HA! But seriously, she handed those out like candy. How else could I have seen Agent Cody Banks 2 so many times? I’VE ALREADY TOLD YOU, I’M NOT MADE OF MONEY!


Not like me.


More like me.

So the Bloop. It all began back in 1997 when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (who I can only assume are the scientists that astronomers stuff into lockers at some zany Science High School) stuck some microphones into the Pacific Ocean. Why would they do this? Hoping to listen in on some sweet, sweet whale lovin’, you say? Probably! That was my first guess, too. Unfortunately for the oceanic peeping toms, they only managed to capture a powerful sound blasting from the depths. What made the sound so special was the fact it was picked up by two different microphones—3,000 miles apart.

Think about that for a second. A sound so loud it traveled 3,000 miles. That’s like having to wear earplugs in Los Angeles because those Coldplay assholes won’t turn down the volume at their concert in New York.

Some of the more boring, cynical scientists who’ve lost their sense of wonder say that it might have been ice cracking and falling into the sea, but since the Bloop sounds nothing like overzealous cries of “Icebergs: 1, Titanic: 0!” I don’t think that’s the case.

So what is it?

Apparently, it’s Cthulhu. IRL. I don’t know about you, but filling my hear-sound organs with the cries of an ancient alien/god from the blackest depths of the Pacific Ocean is not my idea of LOLZ. You go ahead and try. Tell me how it works out.

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Warm Bodies In the Flesh

Isaac Marion’s debut novel, Warm Bodies, was a breakthrough in 2011, a beautifully written genre-bending horror romance about an undead named “R” who falls in love with a living girl, Julie, after he eats her boyfriend’s brain. He even saves her from being devoured by his friends. So sweet and considerate, right? I was intrigued by the premise and bought a copy on Kindle, expecting a fluffy, easy read. Instead, I found a complex love story from a very unconventional point of view. What impressed me immediately was Marion’s prose and the fluid skill he used to give R a voice that many, dead or undead, could sympathize with.

The move adaptation last year opened to an 80% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. After loving the book so completely I went into the theater with a bowl of popcorn and a cup of skepticism, expecting watered down emotions and overblown special effects. The trailer looked good, but don’t the trailers always look good? I was pleasantly surprised that Jonathan Levine stayed true to the novel, with help from Marion, and preserved the innocent, Edward Scissorhands-like persona of R and his journey to connect with Julie and become human again.

This past month, advertisements began running every fifteen minutes for a new BBC America miniseries, In the Flesh, from debut creator and writer Dominic Mitchell. The first episode premieres tonight, June 6th, which happens to be two days after the DVD release of Warm Bodies. Some have said that BBC is attempting to imitate Marion’s romantic tale of undead meets girl, but from the clips I’ve been able to watch, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Although, without it’s predecessor, I doubt a zombie drama could have been greenlit. What the BBC has done, like Marion, is use an overdone horror trope with a fresh twist to tell a meaningful story with new perspective.

The trailers and sneak-peaks from BBC reveal a much starker zombie apocalypse than Warm Bodies, although both divert attention from the traditional monsters and create villains from apathy, prejudice and ignorance. The stories don’t focus on humanity surviving among monsters, but instead take the more complex approach of humanizing the traditional villain and exploring the darker side of the human condition. In these stories, the “rotter” can be the good guy. Although zombies in both periodically eat their neighbors, they feel conflicted about it, and doesn’t that count for something?

The undead of In the Flesh, called PDS (Partially Deceased Syndrome) sufferers, could be a metaphor for the mentally ill or any other group with societal stigma that are feared and alienated. Two characters, Kieren Walker (Luke Newberry) and Rick Macy (David Walmsley), are not only dealing with PDS prejudice from their community, but are exploring their connection to one another and struggling with the possibility of additional rejection from their parents and friends. They’re “partially deceased” and coming to terms with their own sexuality, a dual conflict which will make for multi-layered storytelling. Without going into each one, most of the characters of In the Flesh, both human and PDS sufferer, are equally as complex and compelling.

Although Isaac Marion has said he is not a horror writer and will not return to the genre, if the BBC series becomes even a moderate success, the market for similar zombie fiction can only grow exponentially, especially coupled with ratings boon The Walking Dead. However, I’m burnt out on the traditional zombie tale offered by Frank Darabont and company, and will be supporting In the Flesh by watching it tonight, June 6th, on BBC America at 10PM EST/9PM CST.

If you don’t have cable and can’t join, go pick up a copy of Warm Bodies, out on DVD as of June 4th.

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