There is nothing quite as satisfying as falling in love with an author and then realizing that they have an extensive list of backgrounds, just waiting for you to read them. Finishing off a beloved author’s background checklist is also satisfying. It is one of the best ways to truly get to know an author and deeply engage with their work. Many readers I know tackle a specific author’s background checklist each year, or set goals to read someone’s entire catalog in their lifetime.
But what happens when you’ve finished your favorite author’s background checklist? I’ve recently started working my way through other types of backlists, from independent press 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 background checklist. I often end up reading books that I would never have read otherwise and end up loving them. I have discovered several new translators whose work I love. I also look at books differently: instead of just looking at the editor, cover designer, or translator, I pay close attention so I can look for more of their work.
And there are so many creatives to dive into! Audiobook narrators are an obvious choice. Award reading, working through the short or long lists of various awards, is another. You can try to duplicate by reading both background lists from a writer couple or a father-son duo. Once you expand your idea of a background checklist beyond the work of a single author, the possibilities are endless. Here are some of my favorites:
One of the easiest and most obvious types of non-author backlists to read is the independent press backlist. Reading the entire previous catalog from my favorite independent publisher, Metonymy Press, inspired me to read more and more publisher catalogues. Metonymy is a great publisher to start with because its catalog is small: less than 12 books. Working through the background checklist of a larger freelance publisher (Milkweed, Cafeteria, Y grey Wolf are some of my favorites) is probably a company for life.
One of the reasons reading independent press background checklists is so much fun is that you get the best parts of reading an author’s background checklist, but usually with more variety. Once you find a publisher that publishes the type of books you love, whether it’s romance, literary, mystery, memoir, or science fiction, you can dive into that publisher’s catalog for books in that genre (or in that style, format, etc.) written by a wide range of authors.
The same principle applies to impressions from larger publishers. Tor.com is currently putting out a ton of fantastic SFF novels every year. Carina adores is a great print to watch if you’re looking for contemporary queer romance.
Every once in a while when I’m writing about a book, I have trouble knowing who the translator is. Translators are usually named on the cover, but certainly not always. The fact that you sometimes have to search to find this absolutely essential information is proof that translators don’t get the credit they deserve.
This is one of the many reasons why I love reading translator background checklists the same way I read author background checklists. Last fall I fell in love with Anton Hur’s beautiful translation of love in the big city by Sang Young Park. This year I read the equally beautiful (and devastating) novel violets by Kyung-Sook Shin, in part because it was also translated by Hur. The rest of his translations are in my TBR, and I can’t wait to get 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 his books. There is an amazing amount of skill and artistry in translation, and I like to learn about the particular styles of translators. A few translators whose backup lists I am currently checking include Kristen Gehrman (who translated The tree and the vine of Dola de Jong) and Ilona Yazhbin Chavasse (When the whales go by Yuri Rytkheu).
Are you the type of person who falls in love with a book because of its cover? Awesome! Maybe you should take a pick for your cover to the next level and try reading the background lists of your favorite cover designer! Sometimes it can take a bit of research, but you can usually find the artist’s information on the copyright page.
Romance is an especially fun genre to read cover designer background lists for, as there are quite a few prolific cover designers out there: Leni Kaufman has an extensive list of illustrated covers, including Delilah Green doesn’t care by Ashley Herring Blake and find joy by Adriana Herrera. If you want to delve into old-school romance, check out Elaine Duillo, who did the art for hundreds of romance novels during her long career.
If you like the idea of learning more about cover artists but aren’t sure where to start, Nicole Caputo, creative director of Catapult, Counterpoint Press, and Soft Skull Press, is also a co-founder of she designs books, a project dedicated to celebrating 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 before.
Independent press series
last year i read The face: a time code by Ruth Ozeki, 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 think about for days and days afterward. I didn’t know it at the time, but a friend pointed out that it’s part of The Face series from restless books. In addition to Ozeki’s book, the series includes two other book-length essays in which the writers use their own faces as starting points to explore family history, geography, relationships, and more.
Many small publishers have series like this, and reading them can be a lot of fun. If you like reading award lists, you’ll probably also enjoy reading series. Milkweed Editions has the Seed bank seriesfor example, dedicated to world literature.
Publishers and Agents
There are so many people involved in making books beyond the authors themselves. While most of the types of backlists I’ve listed here are relatively easy to navigate, reading an agent’s or publisher’s backlist is a bit tricky. Unless you’re a writer or work on a publication yourself, you usually have to read the acknowledgments to find out who else worked on the book: editors, copyeditors, agents, and so on. But once you know the name of a publisher or agent, you can find them online and determine what other books they’ve been involved with.
This is one type of backlist that I have yet to tackle, but I am excited about it. The authors obviously deserve a lot of credit for their books. But as someone who has edited my work, I know firsthand what a difference he makes. Reading a publisher’s background checklist is also a way to honor that work, and a reminder that hardly anyone makes books alone.
If you’re looking for a place to start with alternative backlists, check out these essential independent presses for queer book loversthese YA Book Cover Artists and Designers to Followand these essential books of 2022 translated To get started.