Mark Terry

Friday, July 13, 2007

Squeezing The Midlist Authors


July 13, 2007


There's been a little more talk than usual recently about how publishers are squeezing out the midlist author, focusing on bestsellers, blah, blah, blah.

It ain't new. From what I've been able to tell, there's been talk about midlist authors being cut, squeezed or marginalized pretty much since the word "midlist" was coined.

I just read a blog the other day where the writer seemed to be referring to midlist authors as anyone who is not a bestseller. That's a whole lot of books, folks.

One of the definitions I came across was "all books that aren't frontlist." Of course, bestsellers are frontlist, but there are sometimes "frontlist" books that aren't bestsellers.

Another definition is "books that are not bestsellers, but which make enough profit to justify publication."

I was checking out another blog and it had many postings on this subject, but here's part of one:

MARJORIE BRAMAN VP & Executive Editor, HarperCollins

There are, as I see it, two different definitions of midlist. There are books that, by their very nature, represent the dreaded kind of midlist--and quite honestly, as an editor, it's this variety that I try to avoid. These are the books--and we all know them--that are often very readable, but in the end, just don't seem necessary. And I don't know any editor who wants to spend the kind of energy and time a novel demands on a book that's not necessary. Doesn't mean we don't like it--just that we can live without it.

So I guess a midlist book is one I can live without. Which is sort of interesting and just about as ephemeral as a rainbow. I mean, I read maybe 50 books a year, yet there are apparently 200,000 published in the U.S. alone, give or take, so it's clear that if I were the arbiter of all things "midlist" then approximately 199,950 writers are going to be looking for work elsewhere. (Look out McDonalds, here they come. Hope you have lots of applications handy.) And with all due respect to Ms. Braman, by that definition her company would pretty much cease to exist given that more readers DON'T read her books than do, ergo, they can live without them.

I like the definition only if I were God and not a terribly benevolent one at that. Can I apply this definition to all arts and entertainment? And while we're at it, I can think of some politicians and, well, countries, that I could live without.

Madonna? Bye-bye. Anne Coulter. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. Rush Limbaugh, sayonara, buddy. The entire Bush Administration (and take your ugly little dog, Dick Cheney, with you, too), so long. 99.9% of the films that come out of the Sundance Film Festival--ciao. 87.2% of the films that come out of Hollywood--hasta la vista, baby! Books? I'm making a list, checking it twice, but the publishing industry as we know it soon going to cease to exist.

Well, you get the idea. That's probably not a good definition either.

And I find it hard to figure how people can claim to even begin to predict the demise of something they can't even clearly define.

One of the more useful (sort of) definitions of midlist that has come over the years was:

Genre novels sold between, say, 5000 and 15,000 copies.

Anything below 5000 could safely be dubbed "literary" or "mainstream." I find this wildly amusing because, by this definition, all literary novels sell below 5000 copies. I'm sorry, but Phillip Roth, John Updike and Maya Angelou don't qualify as literary. Sorry, folks, but I think you're just bestsellers. Screw your pretensions to "literary" greatness. Sell fewer books or give up the title.

Bestsellers, as anyone who's studied the actual sales numbers knows, vary wildly, but a book that sells about 150,000 in hardcover or 1,000,000 in mass market paperback can be safely called a bestseller.

So midlist, by this definition, is a hardcover novel that sells between 15,000 and 150,000 copies, or if it's mass market paperback, perhaps midlist is between 15,000 and oh, a million is too high, let's make it 300,000 just to be totally arbitrary. Since no one else has come up with a useful definition, I'll make that mine and you're free to either argue with me or make your own definition. Hell, we're right back to that God thing again, aren't we?

What's your definition?

Cheers,

Mark Terry

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7 Comments:

Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

To me "midlist" means quite a few more books than Mary and I sell but not enough for a bestseller. Which is pretty much like defining "old" as quite a few years older than me but not yet dead.

4:55 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Yeah, like middle aged--older than me, I hope.

5:51 PM  
Anonymous jw-johnson said...

"Madonna? Bye-bye. Anne Coulter. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. Rush Limbaugh, sayonara, buddy. The entire Bush Administration (and take your ugly little dog, Dick Cheney, with you, too), so long. 99.9% of the films that come out of the Sundance Film Festival--ciao. 87.2% of the films that come out of Hollywood--hasta la vista, baby!"

ROTFLMFAO

and Amen!

9:37 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Hey JW,
I had to go look up ROTFLMFAO, which I happily find means:

Rolling On The Floor Laughing My F****** Ass Off.

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