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Frontlist

The frontlist of a publishing house consists of the new books that they have printed and are offering for sale within a season. The more common term, though, is probably the backlist, which refers to books that the house has published in the past; and the term frontlist likely developed simply as a complement to the term backlist. The frontlist rotates over time, whereas the backlist is cumulative.  

Definition of frontlist

Are you curious about the meaning of the literary term frontlist? Frontlist is a term associated with the publishing industry and refers to the new books a publisher is currently offering for sale. 

The opposite of frontlist would be the perhaps more common term backlist, or books that are part of the publisher's older catalog of works. 

Frontlist - Examples of usage

Here are some examples of the term frontlist being used in a sentence

"The anxious literary author was assured that although the publication process was taking longer than expected, his new work would definitely be on the frontlist of the publishing house in exactly three months." 

"The intellectual told his friends that he had an aversion for the frontlist due to the extravagant marketing that went behind those titles; he preferred the backlist, where he could more easily find works capable of standing on their own merit." 

"The publishing house analyzed the frontlist profile they were attempting to achieve for the coming season when deciding whether they would be interested in taking on works from new writers."

Just case you want further clarification of the meaning of the term frontlist, here are a couple rules you can follow.

Rules for using frontlist

1. Frontlist simply refers to all the new books that a publishing house is planning on putting out in a given season. The frontlist may be larger or smaller, depending on the size of the given publishing house in question. For example, independent houses may only have a handful of books on the frontlist, while major publishing houses may put out much greater numbers. 

2. Unlike the backlist, the frontlist is not cumulative. That is: the backlist includes all the books a publisher has ever put out, whereas the frontlist includes only the books that are currently new within the context of a given season. Click here to learn about the difference between a frontlist and backlist,

Historical roots of the term

The term frontlist is likely in some sense as old as the publishing industry itself. The nature of publishing is that any given publishing house both continually puts out books that it has acquired in the past and also puts out new works every season (which it then also continually puts out in the future). Clearly, there would be great value in making a conceptual distinction between these two categories for both financial and marketing purposes. It would seem that backlist is the more common term, though, because the new books could simply just be called "new books"; frontlist is perhaps a term that was invented later for the sake of symmetry with the term backlist. 

There are perhaps some implications in the distinction between frontlist and backlist for the quality of the works being sold by a publishing house. In particular, it is entirely possible that a publishing house may include works on its frontlist that have no serious literary merit but which can nevertheless be expected to make the company a great deal of money (such as selling banned books). The appeal of such books, however, will clearly be ephemeral. This is why it is generally acknowledged that a publishing house's long-term success depends not primarily on any given frontlist but rather on having a strong and credible backlist.

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