Last week I wrote a little bit about the fun of previewing new books at conferences like Children’s Institute. And that’s always a key part of these gatherings. But one of the big topics this year was the importance and resurgence of backlist, both as a sales trend and as one of the core ways stores express their points of view. We all put our own spin on our frontlist selections, but you’ll often see a good amount of commonality in the new arrivals section of any store at a given time. It’s really the backlist that indie stores choose to carry, and how we present it, that speaks volumes about our personalities.
I was on a panel about the topic, and I found it interesting to think about the ways we highlight backlist at the store. Because our store is physically large, we work staff selection rows into each section to cut through the density a bit and make sure our customers know where to look for personalized recommendations no matter where they are.
We also tend to differentiate between children’s books that were published less than 25 years ago and those that are older. I was alone on the panel in doing this, but it really works for us. Parents and grandparents love sharing books from their own childhoods with their kids, and those generational shifts play a vital role in the ever-evolving children’s book canon. People just love browsing it to see what they recognize, and it’s nice to see the sales boosts on backlist titles that age into the “classics” section. I’m a parent now, and I know I can’t wait to share my own literary touchstones, like A Wrinkle in Time orThe Phantom Tollbooth with my kids.
Like many stores, we definitely put rotating displays (and artistic staffers) to good use, mixing frontlist & backlist – which is always fun. And I’ve already written a bit about the way we use sectioning in the store to engage customers in topics or themes we think are topical and interesting. As most of these sections are anchored by backlist, it’s really a technique for calling out books we care about and don’t want to get lost in the stacks.
Similarly, I’ve been working with a handful of small publishers whose voices and rich backlists we value and want to amplify. I think it’s important, even for backlist, to let our selection evolve. And sometimes that means getting input from other voices and hearing what books still speak to others. Bringing outside voices in to talk
about beloved backlist was actually one of the most interesting parts of launching our Modern First Library promotion in 2014. The authors who blogged for us contributed lists of personal favorites, and several re-discoveries have become standbys for us. I always love hearing what backlist books continue to speak to other readers, even if they aren’t necessarily books that spoke as loudly to me. I think that’s why I so enjoy visiting other bookstores and seeing familiar faces (or book jackets) in new contexts, allowing me to see them through someone else’s point of view.
At our panel, we shared a few of our own best-loved backlist handsells. Aside from the books I mentioned above, here are a few of my personal go-to titles. What are some of the core favorites you recommend year after year?