That revered and wise tome of the 21st century, Wikipedia, defines midlist as:
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)
Oh don't you love how they add 'further purchases of future books' like it's an afterthought and not the sole indicator of whether we can enjoy a long term career or not!
If we look at backlist sales in mean average terms, the majority of authors will fall into the midlist author category. You might think you're lowlist, but if you're still selling books and have a chance of continuing that in the future, I'd put you in the midlist.
Authors can jump from one list to the other. While I have been at the top of the digital bestseller lists, even then I was no JoJo Moyes or Clare Mackintosh (still hope to be!). So for the sake of argument, let's just agree I'm currently a midlist author and while the seas for me are calm at the moment, things feel like they could change any moment.
Setting goals is an interesting one for us passengers on the midlist boat. There are things to celebrate from the previous year. For me, I got three offers on the table from publishers and decided to move over to the Lake Union imprint of Amazon. Not all midlisters are lucky enough to stay in contract during this super competitive time so it was a highlight, for sure, and means I'm currently in a reasonably stable position.
It wasn't an easy decision to make. I was worried by making such a move, I'd be rocking the boat and end up falling into alligator-filled waters.
And yet I couldn't resist taking a peek at Highlist Island. You know the one I mean. Nope, not that one with the botoxed lips and guitar string bikinis. The one with the authors who have parties thrown for them by their publishers and hotel room walls papered with gushing national newspaper reviews as they chill on the beach with their laptops, secure in the knowledge they'll be writing full-time for quite a few years.
As a midlist author, you often find yourself treading that fine line between taking risks to try to get onto that island or just sitting quietly where you are, grateful you're not yet one of the ones struggling to keep afloat.
That makes it difficult sometimes to make goals. But I believe there are three goals you can make:
- one that keeps you secure in your boat
- another that works towards getting you over to Highlist Island
- Then a final one which could allow you to hitch a lift on a completely different boat all together
Here's what I mean...
1. Stay secure in your boat by making the most of that side hustle
Most midlist authors don't make enough money to write full-time, or if we are able to write f/t thanks to reaping the benefits of a bestseller or two in the form of ongoing royalties and foreign deals (like me), you still have to take it year-by-year. Unless you get another bestseller, that money could well run out.
So side hustles are important to keep you afloat. And by side hustles, I mean using those skills you have - usually writing, or PR, or designing websites or teaching others - to top up your coffers. As long as it's creative and enjoyable and NOT your office job, then it's a step towards gaining control of your working life and tilting the balance in favour of being a full-time creative.
Me for example. I've been helping my brother's awesome business out with social media. Just a few hours a week but I've been loving it.
Then there's my Savvy Writers enterprise, this blog and related activities. It was never set up as a side hustle, more pure desire to support my fellow authors. But inevitably, with the Savvy Writers' Fest I'm running in May for published authors (UPDATE: now cancelled due to covid) there is the potential to make a little money (though in truth, that money will all go back into Savvy Writers).
2. Aim high by doing all you can to get a bestseller
It's important to never lose sight of the end goal that benefits all writers: sell a shit load of books, whatever format those books are in.
My latest book Wall of Silence is a milestone for me as it'll be my first book published by the Lake Union imprint of Amazon Publishing after my previous six books were published by HarperCollins.
Why the move to A-Pub?
It was simple: I want another bestseller. Specifically, I want to get the same kind of royalties I enjoyed with my biggest selling novel, My Sister's Secret. In fact, I want to surpass that (dream big, remember).
I came to the logical conclusion The Zon would offer me the best chance of that thanks to their insider knowledge, mammoth marketing machine and the fact I get a better share of royalties (not to mention fluffy reasons like really connecting with my editor and loving their vision for my novel).
Sure, it was a risk. I've stood up on that midlist boat and it's rocking slightly. But it's a risk I need to take if I want to get over to Highlist Island. Or more accurately, it's a risk I had to take to ensure I didn't find myself in shark infested waters.
3. Enjoy a detour on Hybrid Haven
Hybrid Haven is a small cruise ship (have you tired of my shipping metaphors yet? Good, because I haven't!). It's sailing alongside the bloody mammoth Self-Publishing Cruise Ship which is reallllly busy and very confusing. There are lots and lots of authors shouting very loudly around this ship as they flail those shark infested waters. But those on the ship are working diligently and doing good stuff, just like on Hybrid Haven and many of them are over on Highlist Island already, doing their best to help other authors, especially those on the Lowlist paddle boat and Midlist boat too.
I have toyed with the idea of checking Hybrid Haven out. There's a few ideas in totally different genres swirling around my mind which I could self publish. The reason it appeals is it would mean I don't have all my eggs in the traditional publishing basket (or should I say all my ducks in the traditional publishing tanker). Maybe it's something you could look at too?
Okay, enough with the oceanic metaphors! Time to sign out. I have a deadline after all!