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!
Time management can be a real issue for authors, especially for those with kids to care for when times like half terms hit. You feel guilty that you’re writing while your little ones are at home. Then you feel guilty when you're with your family that you're neglecting your writing.
So how to deal with it? There are so many time management hints and tips out there, especially now more people are working freelance. But how can we cut through to the tips that really make a difference?
Here are some top tips based on my experience as a published author along with some great tips shared by other authors in my Facebook Group, The Savvy Writers' Snug.
Tip One: Find your best time
This seems a really simple one but so many people overlook this when trying to efficiently manage their time. Think about when you are most productive. Are you a lark and like the early mornings? Or more of a night owl, most creative in the evenings after a day of adventure?
Schedule your writing time to fit in with this. I’ve met a number of authors who get up super early so they can have 2-3 hours of uninterrupted writing time. Likewise there are many others who will start to write only when the kids are tucked up in bed for the night.
Not knowing your best time can cause creative blocks. Take the ‘eating the frog’ advice as an example. Mark Twain once said that if you start your day by eating a live frog, this means the worst thing you’ll have to do that day is over with. For some people this can work well: by getting the most dreaded task off your job list first thing, the rest of the day looks peachy. For others, spending the first block of time doing something they dislike or struggle with can leave them feeling exhausted and demotivated – not great for us creative types.
Tip Two: Calendar block
Set aside time in your calendar to actually write. Add it in like you would a meeting or appointment and make it visible. There are a number of great apps that can help you keep track of what needs doing and managing your workflow. Todoist, Trello and Monday allow you to add tasks along with notes and attachments to keep everything in one place. These apps also allow you to add members to a project, great if you are collaborating with other authors on a piece of work or running social media group and need to assign tasks.
Tip Three: Stop Multi-Tasking
It used to be that people would boast that they are great at multi-tasking. But do you know that for most people, multi-tasking is one of the biggest distractions and significantly decreases productivity?
When you’ve blocked out time for writing, do just that: write. If you’re looking over your accounts, just do that.
OK, so there will naturally be things that enter your head as you are working on something else. But unless it’s an emergency, try to stay focused on the task at hand. Post It notes are your best friend here. Grab a post it note and jot a note down, sticking it in a place that’s slightly out of your eyeline but where you will see it when you finish what you are doing. Once you are finished add it to your Todoist/Trello/Monday list and assign some time to it.
This also carries over into your relaxation time. Down time is invaluable and helps us recharge and get motivated. It is tempting to cook dinner, clean the kitchen and play a game with the kids in that 30-minute window, but have you actually enjoyed any of that? Juggling is a fact of life and we all need to multi task to some degree but try to focus on one thing where you can have uninterrupted family time – you will enjoy it more and feel reinvigorated.
Tip Four: Minimise distractions
Distractions are everywhere, especially if you write from home. The friends that call in for a coffee and a chat as you are “at home”, the growing pile of ironing, the dog needing a walk.
These are all within your control, and yes it comes back to planning. Make sure you communicate with friends that during certain hours you are actually at work – they wouldn’t dream of calling in for a coffee and a chat while you are in an office so why should your home office be different? It sounds a bit harsh but honestly, if you create a time when people can drop in you will actually enjoy that time with them rather than feeling agitated that you have been interrupted.
Technology is also one of the biggest distractions. Everything is set up so we can communicate instantly and the notifications from social media, email and newsfeeds can sometimes feel like they are part of your playlist. How often have you been writing when you get that little pop up window as your friend has put out something on Facebook, or Pinterest notifies you of a new pin on dialogue errors to avoid? A quick click to have a look and next thing you know you have checked out 10 other posts and 20 minutes has passed and you have lost your flow.
There are some great apps such as Freedom and StayFocusd that turn off notifications on both desktop and mobile device to minimise the interruptions. You can set time frames for turning off notifications, block certain content and even schedule the times that notifications are turned off, helping you create the writing habit.
Tip Five: Outsource
This is an area that is tough for many but one that can deliver serious results. Writing is not just our business, it is our passion. Sadly, there are other things that eat into our time.
Just spend 20 minutes writing down all the things that you need to do, from a work and also domestic perspective. Things like social media, updating bios, research, ironing, cleaning, shopping etc. these all take time and effort. If you are spending hours trying to get to grips with understanding social media and what to post, consider outsourcing this to someone who can manage your social media.
Effective time management takes time but it also delivers results! Good luck!