Mid-July. Middle of the summer. It’s hot and humid and I can think of twenty places I’d rather be than home working. I’m in the middle of a book, which will, at some point, wind up on the middle of a bookstore shelf and have middling sales numbers which will keep me right where I am career-wise: in the Midlist.
Declaration of the obvious: I would love to write bestsellers. I’d love for my books to garner lots of awards and sell hundreds of thousands of copies and make me rich. I wish that I were a big enough name in the field that my publisher would give me gorgeous raised-print covers and send me on national book tours and arrange for me to put in appearances on Oprah and Good Morning America and the Colbert Report and whatever other TV talkshows authors frequent.
Another declaration of the obvious: All that stuff in the preceding paragraph ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.
I’m a midlist author, which means that while I’m established, with a small but devoted fan base, and I manage to sell new books to publishers with some regularity, I’m not a bestseller and I don’t get great big advances. My books get nice jacket art (very nice, really — I love my cover artist), but no raised type or foil on my name or the book title. When one of my novels is released, I get an ad in Locus and a few other places, but not much beyond that. My print runs are big enough to give me a chance to earn out my advance, but they’re not so big that I’m going to get rich off of any book. I’ll be reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist and maybe Kirkus, but not in the New York Times or the New York Review of Books. If I set up a signing at a local bookstore, my wonderful publicist at Tor will send out materials to the bookstore and do whatever she can to help me promote the event. But no one is setting up signings for me.
Obligatory but sincere disclaimer: There are probably hundreds if not thousands of unpublished writers, or authors writing for small publishers who would like to be midlist writers at a big publisher. I don’t question that for a moment. I may sound like I’m whining about all the things I don’t get (Phil Gramm take note….), but I know how fortunate I am to have this career. I get to write stories, and then people pay me for them. That’s pretty cool.
That said, I also know that I can’t allow myself to be satisfied. This isn’t some sweeping declaration on the importance of being driven and wanting to excel. I simply know that I want more, and that if I allow myself to think that this is as much of a career as I’m going to have, I’ll lose whatever drive I have.
I’m not really going anywhere with this post. I have a book to finish and page proofs to read through. I woke up this morning knowing that it was my day to post on the blog, and this is what I was thinking about. I’m in the middle. Of everything, it seems like. And right now it’s all feeling like bit of a slog. I’d love to finish with something uplifting and hopeful, filled with determination and a promise that I will eventually have that huge success. But this is a tough business, and I understand that we can’t all be bestsellers and household names. Someone has to fill the midlist, and I’m not willing to give up my position here if it means moving anywhere but up. It’s not a bad place to be; not by any means. Let’s be honest, though: No writer begins his or her career striving for the middle.