Backlist Blogging—Why Blogging Is Like Book Publishing

by Joel Friedlander on February 3, 2014 · 17 comments

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A long time ago Jill and I started our own publishing company. It was something I had wanted to do for quite a while.

Because I had spent quite a bit of time developing direct mail and other direct-sales campaigns, I thought I could sell books, too.

The publishing compnay—Globe Press Books—started out with my own self-published book, Body Types, and we went on to sign lots of authors and publish about a dozen more books in our niche.

We had some successes, and some failures. Distribution was difficult since at the time there was no Amazon, no print on demand, no internet. It was a time when every dollar we spent on promotion had to show a direct result in sales and profits, and we had a warehouse full of books already bought and paid for.

Despite the ups and downs and nonstop promotion, the company eventually went out of business. Many of our books sold, but it seemed like we just couldn’t publish them fast enough to accumulate enough profits to keep the company going.

This whole experience taught me the value of a publisher’s backlist.

Book Publishing is a Backlist Business

Publishers who have been in business for a while have an incredible asset, one that keeps their businesses running profitably—even if it’s hardly noticed by many people—year after year. It’s the backlist.

The backlist is made up of all the books published over the years that found a permanent audience, even if it’s a small one. There’s a bit of magic to this, because the best backlist books have a permanent spot on bookstores shelves. Whenever the store runs out of them, the same book gets re-ordered.

That’s publishing gold, as far as bookstores sales are concerned.

Some of these may be older books, some may be classics, but they all sell year after year. Many of them have repaid the investment the publisher made in them years ago, and now return steady profits.

Of course, in my case, I didn’t have a backlist. And without one of our new books taking off and pulling the entire company along, we would have had to stay in business a lot longer to develop a backlist that would have supported our book publishing program.

It’s Not So Different in Blogging

So what’s the equivalent of a “social media backlist”? One thing it might be is a blog’s article archives.

Although blog articles don’t have to prove themselves in the market the same way a book does, they have some of the same characteristics of great backlist books. Some kinds of articles that fall into this category include:

  • Foundation content—articles that explain basic concepts will be in demand as long as those concepts are relevant to your readers
  • Evergreen articles—software changes constantly, but general principles rarely change, and people always want to understand them
  • Process overviews—quick-reference summaries of basic processes in your field are great to orient new readers to your topic
  • Resource directories—readers will always need tips on where to find tools, vendors, and other necessities
  • Best practices—whittling down the number of choices beginners face to just a few appropriate options will be helpful to many people

I’m sure you can think of other examples in your own field.

What’s important is that as you accumulate these kinds of blog articles, your blog will become more and more attractive to search engines looking to answer questions.

That’s why I see your blog’s article archive as a kind of backlist.

  • It establishes you in the marketplace of ideas in your specific topic.
  • It brings you traffic in the form of new readers for years.
  • And it does it all pretty much “under the radar”.

Building a Blog for the Long Term

I wish I had understood this better all those years ago. Of the dozen or so books we published back then, only 3 became real backlist books. It just wasn’t enough to survive.

But you have the advantage of hindsight: if you’re building a blog to support your publishing goals, or as the center of what you hope to make into a sustainable business, think about your backlist.

Action Task: Sit down and create a list of articles that meet some of the criteria in the list above. Answer basic questions, give definitions for common terms in your field, explain processes. Remember that most of your readers are likely to be new to your field and need help.

That’s why they’re doing internet searches, right?

Even though you may be writing about the newest developments, make room in your publishing calendar for these backlist posts. If you follow through on this, you’ll end up with a more robust readership, more authority in your field, and the basis for an ongoing enterprise.

Have you ever thought about writing “backlist”-type articles? Does this make sense to you? Let me know in the comments.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com

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    { 15 comments… read them below or add one }

    Zakiyyah "The Herbalist" February 4, 2014 at 8:10 am

    That’s great advice – about archived articles as a ‘backlist’ for a BLOG. I’ve been wanting (not) to do a BLOG for the longest . . . knowing it takes regular attention for upkeep. But I’ve been writing an herb column for a local paper for over 4 years . . . WHICH MEANS I’VE GOT A BUILT IN ‘BACKLIST’ . . . and for me this is encouraging. I think I will now embark on BLOGGING!!! Thanks Joel. All your other stuff has been amazing guidance as a new author. THANKS.

    Reply

    Zakiyyah "The Herbalist" February 4, 2014 at 8:21 am

    Hi Halona . . . my name is Zakiyyah, and my book is “HERBS ARE NATURE’S MEDICINE: Your Handbook for Healing with the Elements” and will include a section on ‘women’s herbs’ as I do have an herbal regimen for fibroids, tumors and cysts. I’ve been teaching and treating for over 30 years, and would love to communicate with you further, as I am a new aspiring author. My email is theherbalist1750@gmail.com

    Reply

    Halona Black February 3, 2014 at 9:02 am

    Blogging can be such a great tool for promoting and selling your books — both before and after being published. One of my websites is focused on women and uterine fibroids — a very specific topic with not a lot of resources from women with first hand experience on the topic. Women go online and search for information and find posts I wrote 2 and 3 years ago. As a result, they sign up for my email list and buy my book. And I only had to write the post once! But the trick is to write posts that answer readers’ questions. If your aim is to be helpful, people will buy.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 3, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    That’s great, Halona, and exactly what I was talking about in the article. And there’s no reason you can’t continue to create more articles like that for your specialized audience, now that you see how well the “backlist” idea works.

    Reply

    Zakiyyah "The Herbalist" February 4, 2014 at 8:36 am

    Hi Halona . . . my name is Zakiyyah, and my book is “HERBS ARE NATURE’S MEDICINE: Your Handbook for Healing with the Elements” and will include a section on ‘women’s herbs’ as I do have an herbal regimen for fibroids, tumors and cysts. I’ve been teaching and treating for over 30 years, and would love to communicate with you further, as I am a new aspiring author. My email is theherbalist1750@gmail.com

    Reply

    Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt February 3, 2014 at 6:35 am

    I know there will one day be a book or two, also, in those old blog posts – I have a quirky process I haven’t seen in other books on writing (which I blog about), and a book with the proper disclaimers (‘This advice will only work for you if…’) might find a small audience.

    It’s on the list! The list is long! The novel must be finished first, but I’ve really enjoyed the blogging because it has helped me settle into my own distinct rhythm in writing.

    Great advice – I’ll bump the item higher on that To Do list. Soon.
    Alicia

    Reply

    Donna K. Wallace February 3, 2014 at 6:20 am

    Joel, thanks! This was helpful! I subscribe to your email and find many gold nuggets there. Your depth of experience and savvy are appreciated. I’m usually in a hurry and I recommend a more visible one click to comment for email subscribers to get us back over here. :)

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 3, 2014 at 1:34 pm

    Thanks for the suggestion, Donna, I’ll see how I can implement that.

    Reply

    J J Madden February 3, 2014 at 4:34 am

    Do you recommend going back and ret-titling your older blogs for better SEO- or just changing the URL wording? What are the pros and cons?

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 3, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    JJ, I would not change the URL or title tag of an old post, that would create confusion between the old version and the new one. I would, however, take a look at any “foundation” posts to see if you can improve the SEO of those specific articles.

    Reply

    Greg Strandberg February 3, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    I went back and did this one when I misspelled “stolen” as “stoen” in one of my blog post titles.

    I changed it (who wouldn’t?) but it’s still coming up as a broken link and as an error with Google.

    I changed one blog from “Montana Article” to “Montana Blog” and that also caused some problems, mainly with the old links I’d sent out and people were still clicking on from time to time.

    It’s a hassle and maybe someone else has better advice for fixing that.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus February 4, 2014 at 2:36 am

    Greg — I’m not sure what blogging platform you use. With Blogger, I have frequently changed the title of a post, but not the URL, and existing links continue to work fine.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus February 3, 2014 at 3:50 am

    Don’t be reluctant to publish reruns, particularly of popular posts and evergreens, updated if possible and maybe with a new title.

    You should be constantly attracting new readers, so don’t assume that someone who sees a post on 2/4/14 also saw it on 11/7/10. Some items may be tied to the calendar and deserve annual or more-frequent publication.

    Also, a rerun should attract the search engine ‘bots and get new links for you.

    Also also: A collection of backlist items can be the foundation for another blog, a website or book.

    Also also also: a backlist item may be a suitable guest post, or become an article for a magazine or newspaper.

    Michael N. Marcus

    Reply

    Greg Strandberg February 3, 2014 at 12:21 am

    Lots of good stuff here.

    I’ve been trying to develop a large archives backlist with my ESL website. Most of the articles pulling in hits are older, and these in turn get eyes on my ESL eBooks and other products on the site.

    Sometimes I think it’s good to go back and reassign article tags or labels to your old posts, especially after you get 50 or 100 more.

    Color coding different categories in a spreadsheet is also useful, as when one color becomes too dominant it probably means you need a new category or sub-category for your archival filing method.

    Mainly you want that one search from Google to get someone to your site (most likely through an article) where they’ll then see that cool article archives or popular posts list on the sidebar.

    If you have something interesting there chances are good that they’ll click and read for awhile. And the longer they’re there, the better your site is in the eyes of Google. It then becomes a self-repeating process.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander February 3, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    I agree that it’s worthwhile to go back and look at the tags you’ve used because, if you’ve been blogging for a while, you probably have a better idea now of how to organize your articles.

    Reply

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