There’s nothing quite like falling in love with an author and then realizing they have an extensive backlist just waiting for you to read. It’s also satisfying to finish a beloved author’s backlist. It’s one of the best ways to really get to know an author and delve deeply into their work. Many readers I know either take on a specific author’s backlist each year or set a goal to read someone’s entire catalog over the course of their lifetime.
But what happens when you complete your favorite author’s backlist? Recently I’ve started working my way through other types of backlists – from indie presses to cover designers. I love how reading these backlists shakes up my reading life. It gives me a fun project, but it’s completely different than reading an author’s backlist. I often end up reading books that I might otherwise never have picked up, and end up loving them. I’ve discovered several new translators whose work I adore. I also look at books differently – instead of just looking at the publisher or the cover designer or the translator, I look closely so I can find more of their work.
And there are so many creative ones to dive into! Audiobook narrators are an obvious choice. Reading the prices – working your way through the short or long lists of the various prices – is another. You could try to double down by reading both backlists of an author couple or a parent-child duo. Once you expand your idea of what a backlist is beyond the work of a single author, the possibilities are endless. Here are a few of my favorites:
One of the easiest and most obvious types of non-author backlists to read is the indie press backlist. Reading the entire back catalog of my favorite indie publisher Metonymy Press inspired me to read more and more publisher backlists. Metonymy is a great press to start with because their catalog is small – less than 12 books. Working through the backlist of any major indie publisher (Milkweed, Coffee House, and Graywolf are some of my favorites) is probably a lifetime endeavor.
One of the reasons reading indie press backlists is so much fun is that you get the best parts of reading an author’s backlist, but usually with more variety. Once you’ve found a press that publishes the type of books you love—whether romance, litfic, mysteries, memoir, or sci-fi—you can search that press’s catalog for books in that genre (or style, format etc.) .) written by a variety of authors.
The same principle applies to imprints from larger publishers. Tor.com currently releases a ton of fantastic SFF novellas each year. Carina Adores is a great imprint if you are looking for contemporary queer romance.
Every once in a while when I’m writing about a book, I have trouble figuring out who the translator is. Translators are usually named on the cover, but certainly not always. The fact that I sometimes have to do research to track down this absolutely necessary information is proof that translators are not given the credit they deserve.
This is one of the many reasons why I love reading translators’ backlists the same way I love reading writers’ backlists! Last fall, I fell in love with Anton Hur’s beautiful translation of Sang Young Park’s Love in the Big City. This year I read the equally beautiful (and devastating) novel Violets by Kyung-Sook Shin, partly because Hur translated it too. The rest of his translations are on my TBR and I can’t wait to delve into them.
These days when I read a translation I love, I make a note of the translator so I can find the rest of their books. There is an amazing amount of skill and artistry that goes into translation, and I enjoy learning about translators’ unique styles. Among the translators whose backlists I’m currently working through are Kristen Gehrman (who translated The Tree and the Vine by Dola de Jong) and Ilona Yazhbin Chavasse (When the Whales Leave by Yuri Rytkheu).
Are you one of those people who fall in love with a book because of its cover? Brilliant! Maybe you should take picking a pick based on its cover to the next level and try reading your favorite cover designer’s backlists! It can sometimes take a bit of detective work, but you can usually find the artist information on the copyright page.
Romance is a particularly fun genre to read cover designer backlists for, as there are some prolific cover designers: Leni Kaufman has an extensive backlist of illustrated covers, including Ashley Herring Blake’s Delilah Green Doesn’t Care and Adriana’s Finding Joy Herrera. If you want to delve into old-school romance, check out Elaine Duillo, who has done the art for hundreds of romance novels throughout her long career.
If you like the idea of learning more about cover artists but aren’t sure where to start, Nicole Caputo, the creative director of Catapult, Counterpoint Press and Soft Skull Press, and also co-founder of She Designs Books, is dedicated to a project dedicated to the celebration of women in book design. It’s a great place to a) drool over beautiful covers and b) learn more about artists you may not have heard of.
Indie Press series
Last year I read Ruth Ozeki’s The Face: A Time Code, a short and beautiful book about Ozeki’s face, among many other things. It’s one of those perfect books that you can read in an afternoon but ponder over for days. I didn’t know it at the time, but a friend pointed out that it’s part of Restless Books’ The Face series. In addition to Ozeki’s book, the series includes two other book-length essays in which authors use their own faces as a starting point to explore family history, geography, relationships, and more.
Many small publishers have series like this, and reading through them can be a lot of fun. If you like reading price lists, you probably also like reading series. For example, Milkweed Editions dedicated the Seedbank Series to world literature.
Editors & Agents
So many people are involved in the creation of books besides the authors themselves. While most types of backlists I’ve listed here are relatively easy to explore, reading an agent’s or editor’s backlist is a little trickier. Unless you’re an author or a publisher, you usually have to read the credits to find out who else worked on the book—editors, editors, agents, etc. But once you know the name of an editor or agent, you can find them online and determine what other books they have been involved in.
This is kind of a backlist I have yet to tackle, but I’m looking forward to it. Authors obviously deserve a lot of credit for their books. But as someone who has edited my work, I know firsthand how much of a difference it makes. Reading an editor’s backlist is also a way to appreciate that work — and a reminder that almost no one makes a book alone.
If you’re looking for a place to start with alternative backlists, check out these essential indie presses for queer book lovers, these YA book cover artists and designers to follow, and these books you should follow 2022 must read to get started.