Reviving the Backlist: 7 Ways to Breathe New Life Into Your Old Titles

Maybe you have some great titles that hit it big ten years ago and are now collecting dust in the Amazon warehouse. Or perhaps you watched your beloved book launch with momentum in 2003, only to see a flat or downward sales line now.

Or, maybe you even have a book that released just 9-12 months ago, and you’re already seeing sales plummet. Believe it or not, that’s not unusual.

For most books, shelf life (literally!) is short. There are those few classics that consumers come back to year after year, generation after generation, but the majority of books see a sales spike at launch and then slowly peeter off as newer, fresher books hit the marketplace, stealing shelf and screen space.

So, what’s an author to do? When you’ve pumped your heart and soul into a manuscript, you don’t want it to fade into oblivion just a couple years later, right?

I have many clients ask me how they can revitalize sales of those past titles, and it’s a great question. The simple answer is that you have to come up with a creative way to make the book feel “new” and relevant again. Give yourself–and your influencers–a creative reason to talk about it again!

There are a few key ways to do this, and I’m listing a handful below. Check out these seven secrets to breathe new life into your old titles.

1- Create a book club, Bible study, or small group discussion curriculum around the book.

Give your audience a fresh, new reason to pay attention to the old book by offering them a relevant and value-packed resource for group study. The group resource could be written or video-based, through a publisher or created independently. I’ve seen this done well where the author does a live 4-part video series online, but people have to buy the book to participate. The “how” is less important than ensuring that the extra group resource is laden with value for your audience, of high quality, and points back to the book. Promote it enthusiastically and strategically.


2- Put together a new purchase incentive.

Consider what your target audience is all about right now. What’s the hot new thing they’re wanting? Make that–or something related to it–a purchase incentive for your book. New incentive, old book. It works! In considering the ROI, look at the penny-for-penny return now, but also at the long-term benefit of creating buzz by bringing your backlist title back to the surface of the marketplace. As always, make the new purchase incentive deal front and center on your landing page and drive traffic there strategically.

3- Look for opportunities to tie your book into hot issues of the day.

Be ever-aware of what’s going on in the news, and find ways to link your book’s messaging and your unique expertise to it. I always tell authors not to force this, but to simply be on the lookout for those perfect opportunities to get in the media. The news cycle is short, but producers and editors are always looking for relevant voices to speak to the topics at hand. Keep “Google alerts” out for your hot topics and then jump on the chance to pitch yourself if appropriate–or work with a PR professional. Media attention is not a guarantee for sales, but it certainly never hurts, and can have a snowball effect toward bigger spotlights.

4- Hold a webinar or online summit and upsell to the book at the end.

Content marketing is, in essence, giving, giving, giving big value, and then asking for a sale in return. You can use this technique to point directly to a backlist book by holding an online event–a webinar or an online summit–that offers strong, relevant learning to your target audience. A webinar would be you teaching by yourself; a summit would be you and a group of other industry leaders teaching together. The point is that you use the online event as a way to gain email addresses and gain eyeballs. Promote it big, give big value–and then make a subtle (not awkward, but related to the big idea) pitch for the book at the end, via screen, email, or both.

5- Record an audiobook and release it as a fresh, new product.

Audiobooks are rising in popularity. As consumers are increasingly on the go, they engage with audio content more and more. If you released a book 2, 5, or 15 years ago, there’s probably a good chance that you did not create an audiobook to accompany it. If not, do it now! There are simple ways to do this with a publisher or independently, and you’ll want to be strategic about how to use the audio content as a gateway to the book itself. As always, promote across all platforms and let the value of your product, especially in audio form, be declared.

6- Do a super low-price eBook promotion.

Work with your publisher or a third party retailer to set your eBook at a very low price for a limited amount of time–for just 24 or 48 hours. Opinions behind down-pricing an eBook to as low as $0.99 vary, but what I know is that the sale has to be “big” enough that it creates buzz and motivation to buy–and $0.99 does just that! Use the sale to talk about your book, and ask influencers to do the same. Email your list, tweet your people, stress the urgency of “only for 24 hours!” In an ideal situation, the eBook would sell so many copies that it would hit a bestseller list, creating further opportunity for you to showcase the book–hard copy and eBook, for regular prices.

7- Do a re-release.

A re-release for a backlist title is a bigger endeavor than any of the items above, as it generally requires work on the editorial and art side, as well as the marketing side–but it can carry big bang. If you re-release a book, it’s best to update and add to the content, so that you can influence your readers to buy (even those old fans who bought it before) with such advantages as new sidebars, updated statistics, fresh stories, etc. A new title and a new cover are often good ideas. Certain images and words go in and out of vogue. Sometimes all a strong book needs is a facelift to have a new life again and find a new–often younger–audience.

The bottom line in promoting old books is to tap into the new: new media, new promos, new incentives. Click To Tweet

Launches–pushing out something newer and more innovative–are the name of the online marketing game, and so the bottom line in promoting old books is to tap into the new: new small group study, new purchase incentive, new media, new webinar, new low-price promo… you get it! And when you look at the challenge in this way, the possibilities for marketing become endless.