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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Essay 'On the Electronic Backlist' by author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro.

Today on VampirePhile, we have the pleasure of featuring an essay by vampire Count St. Germain creator, author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, about the increasing importance of the electronic backlist for writers.

On the Electronic Backlist


Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

For the last decade I’ve been saying that the midlist —  where most novels are published —  is in trouble.  Print runs have been reduced, shelf-life has been shortened, in-print status has been cut in half, and back-lists have been decimated.  To make matters worse, many publishers blame the writers for reduced sales, as if their policies have nothing to do with the sales figures.  Those of us who have seen our incomes drop and have found that with fewer sales on record the chances for standard reprints evaporated, have been looking for some means of bringing our out-of-print titles back to the reading public.  I have long hoped that the electronic back-list would become a reality, giving those of us at the midlist a new access to readerships, and at long last, that seems now to be a real possibility.

We’re seeing the first promising steps that may lead to a companion publishing industry to print-on-paper in such devices as the Kindle, and such new markets as Google and Amazon, and the likelihood of expanding possibilities to come.  There are a number of kinks to be worked out of the system, as is always the case with new technologies, but for the first time in many years, things are not looking quite so bleak for out-of-print midlist books and their writers.

Back in the 1990s I published three e-books with Hidden Knowledge, an electronic small press run by Michael Ward of San Jose.  For years they brought in small amounts, usually totaling around $100.00 in total royalties for the year.  But in the last two quarters, the amount has more than doubled, and this, while hardly a statistically significant sample, or a windfall of dramatic proportions, does suggest a trend, one that could indicate that the business is reaching a kind of tipping-point where electronic sales become as much a part of publishing as paper-and-print sales.

Certainly most of the big publishing houses are beginning to see electronic publishing in that light: witness the mad scramble that some of them have undertaken to secure the rights to their long-dormant back-lists for electronic formats.  Contractual language is changing rapidly, too, as the large publishing houses seek to establish themselves in the electronic end of the business as well as the traditional paper-and-print.  That does not mean the end of paper-and-print books, of course, but it does mean that there will be an alternative to books with covers, one that will be welcome to the text book market as well as to the recreational readers.

I can tell you when I realized that the change I had been seeking was underway: early last year a good friend of mine, a professional woman in her forties, went on vacation in Peru, and rather than take half a dozen books in her carry-on luggage, as had been her habit, she had ten books loaded into her new cell-phone.  She’s not fascinated with gadgets and gizmos, she isn’t determined to have the latest of everything, but the electronic books were easier to take with her.  That was the key —   ease and convenience.  It made more sense to have the books on her phone than in her bags.  And that is what tells me that we are nearing the tipping-point. 

In the last year several of my friends have bought various forms of book-storing devices, most of them choosing the Kindle.  The last short-story I sold, three weeks ago, had a clause in the contract for electronic rights, and E-Reads is bringing the first three Saint-Germain novels as well as my long out-of-print fantasy
To the High Redoubt into both paper-and-print as well as electronic publication.  The writing is on the wall, and the screen, and for the first time in a long time, the news looks good.

© Copyright 2010 by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Reprinted with permission by the author. All rights reserved.

About Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is the first woman to be named a Living Legend by the International Horror Guild and is one of only two women ever to be named as Grand Master of the World Horror Convention (2003). In 1995, Yarbro was the only novelist guest of the Romanian government for the First World Dracula Congress, sponsored by the Transylvanian Society of Dracula, the Romanian Bureau of Tourism and the Romanian Ministry of Culture.

Yarbro is best known as the creator of the heroic vampire, the Count Saint-Germain. With her creation of Saint-Germain, she delved into history and vampiric literature and subverted the standard myth to invent the first vampire who was more honorable, humane, and heroic than most of the humans around him. She fully meshed the vampire with romance and accurately detailed historical fiction and filtered it through a feminist perspective that both the giving of sustenance and its taking were of equal erotic potency.

A professional writer since 1968, Yarbro has worked in a wide variety of genres, from science fiction to westerns, from young adult adventure to historical horror.

A skeptical occultist for forty years, Yarbro has studied everything from alchemy to zoomancy, and in the late 1970s worked occasionally as a professional tarot card reader and palmist at the Magic Cellar in San Francisco.

For more information on Yarbro’s many books and interests, check out her website at


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