Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Rise to Greatness: the Power of a Single Reader

On the thread “In Praise of Midlist” Jane of Dear Author said:

Jayne and I were actually talking about this after we ran the ebook contest. Who is considered midlist and how do we find out about them?

Good question. The truth is that the vast majority of authors out there are midlisters according to this definition from Wikipedia:

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.

This fits with what I said about the author not having “NYT Bestselling” or “USA Today Bestselling” above their title or name. These authors don’t get the same marketing treatment as James Patterson or Nora Roberts, and they don’t yet have the rabid following of Robert Jordan or Elizabeth Peters. It doesn’t mean that they don’t write damn good books, it’s just that they have yet to have one break out and make them a star. Maybe it will eventually happen on the fifth or sixth book, sending the sales of their backlist sky-rocketing (like it did with Dan Brown). Maybe it will never happen but it doesn’t matter because this writer is making a living from their words. No one wants to be midlist, but chances are that’s where you’ll be for a chunk of your writing career (unless your first book is a breakout sensation).

So, okay, the large majority of the writers out there are midlist. So what? How do we hear about them?

Well, I usually find my shelving, skimming the backs of the books before I put them away, but that wasn’t always the case. You can find multitudes of Midlist writers out there on the web, trucking along on their blog, or being reviewed on other sites. Maybe they’ve won awards. Maybe they run writing seminars or critique groups. Maybe they just sit up in their ivory tower and write all day, eschewing any sort of publicity dog and pony show that may or may not get their name out there. Who knows?

What you can do, as a reader, is get their name out there. Pass one of their books on to a friend. Do the grassroots word of mouth thing. If you love this author, or even just think that they put out a damn good product, then go to this thread and leave their name (and a title or why you like them). If you are not sure if they are midlist, don’t worry. I’ll check. For your troubles one of you (names drawn from the baby shower tin, of course) will get a copy of a book of your choice (from the list), and to further up the ante, I will host something about that author/book/series on this blog. I’ll track down the author and do an interview if I have to; I’ll coble together something to help sell your midlister to the rest of the people who come here.

Maybe they’ll catch on.

Maybe their next book will pop onto the NYT extended list or make onto USA Today.

All because of you.

So here’s your chance to pick a handsell book that I’ll turn around and try to sell to the rest of this readership, and maybe they’ll like it enough to pass it along. If you can't think of any, get a friend's recommendation. This isn't genre specific.

Is this madness? Perhaps. But let’s give it a try.

Show an author you love them.

ETA:

And to remind us that just because you're midlist it doesn't mean that your company doesn't love you, Book Rep added this in the comments section that I'm afraid people might miss:

I'm a publisher's sales rep, so let me give you another, more literal, definition of mid-list. When we sit down with the bookstore's buyer, we are presenting our list for the season. At the top of the list are our huge authors, yes, but also any other book the publisher has decided to put its muscle behind. Maybe you never heard of the author, but the book gets a two page spread in the first few pages of the catalog, gets a ton of marketing money, gets an author tour. We are saying: "these are our big books this season." At the bottom of the list are the reissues, the featured backlist, the westerns and mysteries produced by syndicates and packagers. Everything else is mid-list, the books between the top and bottom. The term has evolved from meaning "where the book is in the catalog and on the order form" to this faintly pejorative sense, but there are huge numbers of wonderful authors who can't quite command top billing but nonetheless do very well.

3 comments:

Lisa Hunter said...

Lisa Reardon.

Allison Brennan said...

Great post. I enjoyed a lot of authors who subsequently made it big. Linda Fairstein is one. I don't think she hit a list until her third book (I could be wrong) but I bought her first FINAL JEOPARDY and have bought all hers since. I read Tami Hoag long before she hit a list. I read Mariah Stewart and Kay Hooper and Carla Neggers before they hit lists.

I think the two authors that will breakout soon are Julie Kenner on the lighter side and Colleen Thompson on the suspense side. Julie might have hit USAT with her last book, I'm not sure (I'm not THAT obsessed with the list :) and she's in trade, so I think that has some differences). Keith Ablow is one of my favorites . . . his NF hit the NYT list, but his fiction haven't yet.

Book Rep said...

I'm a publisher's sales rep, so let me give you another, more literal, definition of mid-list. When we sit down with the bookstore's buyer, we are presenting our list for the season. At the top of the list are our huge authors, yes, but also any other book the publisher has decided to put its muscle behind. Maybe you never heard of the author, but the book gets a two page spread in the first few pages of the catalog, gets a ton of marketing money, gets an author tour. We are saying: "these are our big books this season." At the bottom of the list are the reissues, the featured backlist, the westerns and mysteries produced by syndicates and packagers. Everything else is mid-list, the books between the top and bottom. The term has evolved from meaning "where the book is in the catalog and on the order form" to this faintly pejorative sense, but there are huge numbers of wonderful authors who can't quite command top billing but nonetheless do very well.