Friday, October 23, 2009

Midlist Dreams

Wikipedia defines Midlist this way:

Midlist is a term in the publishing industry which refers to books which are not bestsellers but are strong enough to economically justify their publication (and likely, further purchases of future books from the same author). The vast majority of total titles published are midlist titles, though they represent a much smaller fraction of total book sales, which are dominated by bestsellers and other very popular titles.

Authors who consistently publish acceptable but not bestselling books are referred to as Midlist authors.

How big is your dream? How big is mine?

If my dream isn't big enough to scare me, and bring tears to my eyes, it isn't a big enough dream. But the truth is, I'm not sure I've ever allowed myself to totally feel it. Know what I mean? It's more terrifying than anything I could put on a page.

Learning this process of writing well has taught me something practical—sometimes I take Quantum Leaps, but usually I take Baby Steps. Each of them work.

The quantum leaps are easily recognizable. The baby steps are skills that creep up on me and I don't realize I have them until I look back at my previous work.

The thing is, I'm not automatically transported. Getting from A to Z requires 25 distinct steps. If I skip one of them, it means there are words I can't form. If I skip "e", at some point, I'm going to have to go back to the first part of the alphabet and take those steps all over again.

Do I want to be a Midlist author? Um, that's never been my dream.

But it could be my "e."

CR: Green by Ted Dekker.

It's all better with friends.


  1. I almost think being a midlist author - at the onset of one's writing career - would be great... much better than being found on the clearance tables or having the retailers return the books to the publisher.

    It is such a tough gig (on so many levels) that whatever degree of success one attains is to be applauded, midlist or not...

    Cheers, Jill

  2. I think two things, I guess, but they may be opposing. One, dream big, and don't fight the images in your head. If you see your title on a movie marquis, your publisher paying to send you to twenty-five cities, your name on that Old Gray Lady list, let those dreams spin. And two, don't go into this projecting where your career will go. As you say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and it's impossible to imagine where the first, or the twentieth, may lead. Midlist or bestseller is a summing up term--it says what you are, but not a lot about the process, which is inherently unpredictable. Your first five novels may sell tolerably and your sixth may explode. As long as you are in the game--writing, because the writing is what we came here for--then you may go to places completely uncharted. How lucky we are to imagine that!

  3. I agree with Jill. I'd be thrilled with midlist, but I'm not trying to make a living as a writer--not right now anyway. Just getting published is beyond a quantum leap these days.

  4. I'll join you, Jill, in applauding the successes of all other writers. Who else can understand the hard work, thick skin, and sweet tears it takes to do what we do?

    Jenny, I really like the idea of being "in the game." Perserverance is critical, quitting is the only way we lose, but also . . . the process of writing is where the magic waits for us every day. Who knows what wonderful thing might happen when we aren't paying attention?

  5. Kelly, I figure you're at about "R" as far as being published is concerned. I'm still at "A." It is a quantum leap to sail over the hurdles, jump through the hoops and land somewhere with a contract and a book to hold in your hands.

    Midlist is maybe "W" through "Y." Good selling, solid writers. Rather than WHO MOVED THE CHEESE?, it's WHO MOVED THE "Z"?. LOL.