Sunday, March 14, 2010

Being Midlist


"A midlist author is one whose books are well received but have failed to make a commercial breakthrough; whose work sells solidly but unspectacularly, who's well known within the writing community but the majority of book buyers have never heard his name."

-- David Armstrong, "How Not to Write a Novel: Confessions of a Midlist Author," 2003

Some people say that midlist doesn’t apply to genre fiction writers—that we’re our own species altogether. It’s true that publishers have their own set of expectations with a genre book. There’s an established audience for the book. Plus, it’s easy to project sales by comparing the novel with similar books in the genre.

But midlist and genre writers do still face some of the same questions from aspiring writers and readers:

Could I make a living from my books? Wellllll….I wouldn’t quit the day job. I think you can get to a point, though, where you have a good backlist of books with your name on it (you’re collecting royalty checks on those) and you’re continuing to produce books (at least one a year, if not more) that you can get a nice income. I’m not there yet, myself. :)

“Should I know who you are?”

No. Unless you’re an avid cozy mystery reader, then there’s no way you’d know me out of all the other writers in the store who aren’t bestsellers. But it’s a question that always really rattles me. I think it’s because of the person asking the question—they think they should know you. So they feel uncomfortable and it’s a feeling that’s contagious.

The times that someone does know who I am, there has usually been 1) a local write-up with pictures that coincides with 2) me looking as horrible as possible after finishing yardwork.

What’s nice about the midlist? You’re not making so much money from your advances that you have to sell an extraordinarily high number of books for the publisher to reach a sell-through.

What should a midlister keep an eye on? : Sales. It’s not a favorite thing for many authors to watch—we’re not usually business people. But, as literary agent Kristin Nelson put it, success as a midlister

… also depends on where they are in the midlist. There are different levels—the consistently-selling midlister versus the midlister who is now having declining sales for each subsequent project.

Consistent sales are a good thing. :)

For me, writing is something I’d be doing even if I weren’t making money at it. And, really, I think that the fun of it, the challenge,and even the frustration involved in writing should be what spurs us on. Unless we really hit the big time, our biggest reward will probably be the feeling of satisfaction we get from the writing itself.