According to PW Daily, “Smaller Presses, Bigger Authors,” the midlist is dying. A midlist author is someone who sells well, but has never been a best-seller.
PW reports that with “the big six demanding bigger sales numbers from all their authors, indie presses, which have long been the province of riskier, harder-to-market literary fiction, are finding that more commercial writers are showing up at their doors, as well as writers with serious accolades and lengthier track records.”
For an author to be kept by a publisher, according to this article, he or she has to sell around 30,000 books, 20,000 for hardcover. That’s not easy for an established author in a market like Canada. Or Scotland. Or Ireland. Or just about anywhere, these days. Imagine trying to achieve it as a debut author.
But the conversion of scale works in favour of the mid-list author who gets picked up by an indie press. A book that sells 10,000-15,000 copies in a big publishing house may be a failure, by the bar they set, but those sales are huge for an independent.
So I don’t think the midlist is dying; I think it’s morphing. The same way that the legal profession split early in my career into small boutique firms and mega-corporations.
In the boutique world (indies), advances are a lot smaller, topping out at around $ 5,000, the average being a lot lower. But authors get more on the royalty side, and I’m sure they get lots of personalized attention. Great for the mid-list author who lands a spot on the list. But it means it’s going to get a lot harder for the debut author to get published by an independent. And darn near impossible to get published by one of the big six.
According to PW: “[The big houses] seem more tentative about the debuts they’re signing up, and they seem to be passing on quite a bit of beautifully written, smart, literary fiction.”
I’m glad I came across this article. It helps me to understand why I received so many rejections before I landed an agent and why placing The Beggar’s Opera with an English-language publisher could take a little time.