Thoughts On: Backlist vs. Frontlist

“Thoughts On” is a feature where I give my (often rambling) thoughts on a topic relevant to reading, literature, or the book business. To see previous topics, click here.

back·list /ˈbakˌlist/ noun
a publisher’s list of older books still in print, as opposed to titles newly available (known as the frontlist)

When I first started blogging, I almost exclusively read and reviewed backlist books (even if I didn’t know that’s what I was doing). I’m a very conservative book buyer, so everything I read had to be inexpensive or else accessible through my library. It’s not that I didn’t want to read what has new and much-hyped, it’s that an older book selling for 80% off was much more attractive than a new one selling for 20%, and a book I could borrow right now was better than one for which I had to wait weeks or even months.

Even though reviewing backlist books can make a review memorable––when everyone is off chatting about one thing, it’s really difficult to stand out!––it can also mean that I’m often shouting into the void. People may or may not have read the book in question (or even recognize it), or they’re just not in the mood to read a review for a book that’s five years old.

So that’s where frontlist books come in!

Haven’t read a particular book yet? It doesn’t matter! You’ve probably seen it talked about so much online that you understand the story enough to appreciate the review. Or multiple people in your corner of the internet have all read a new title and so it’s easy to get multiple takes on the same story. Being a part of NetGalley and Edelweiss makes it much easier to get copies of books before they’re published––upping the chance that I’ll actually get to read a title while the hype is strong––but reading ARCs often stresses me out. Having to read a particular book by a particular date just makes me want to do anything but.

I’m not really sure that ever I’ll come up with or come across a strong argument for either side. I quite enjoy discovering older titles, reading them at my leisure and then scouring the internet for reviews. It means that I’m less likely to have expectations––either positive or negative. But there’s also nothing quite like reading a story along with basically your entire Twitter feed and collectively freaking out at the same time. (This is one of the reasons why I live-tweet Game of Thrones!) I think I’m happiest when I can balance frontlist titles with a couple of backlist ones, mood-reading to my heart’s content; the variety keeps me sane! After the next four weeks of ARC reviews, it will be nice to get back into some sort of happy rhythm.

Tell me friends!

  • Do you have a first-class ticket on the Hype Train or do you let a book stew for months (or even years!) before you read it?
  • As a blogger, how do you balance backlist titles with frontlist titles?
  • As a reader, do you prefer reading multiple takes on the same book or do you like finding an outlier?