Pub Rants

An Argument For The MidList

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STATUS: Can you say snow in Denver? Oh my. Good thing the weather forecast is sunny and back in the 50s come this weekend.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I’LL BE AROUND by Joan Osborne

As a follow up to yesterday’s entry, I want to remind editors that sometimes break-out books come unexpectedly from a midlist author.

Simone Elkeles is a terrific case in point.

Before PERFECT CHEMISTRY hit (close to 100,000 copies in print and over 1500 to 2500 books sold every week for months and months), Simone was certainly what somebody would have called a solidly midlist author.

She had published three previous novels before PERFECT CHEMISTRY. All of which had done respectably but certainly nothing like her current novel.

It’s the right book at the right time but when I was selling her two years ago, I had many an editor pass on her with the words “we don’t see this as a big enough book” or “I don’t think we can break this out in a big way.”

Hum…reminiscent of what I’m hearing now.

And yet, some midlist authors grow into big sellers. So just a gentle reminder even though I know all you editors already know this. I get that this isn’t always the strongest argument to sway the powers that be in the ed. board meetings.

But I feel like saying it all the same.

15 Responses

  1. Tzalaran said:

    i’ve been following your blog for a while now, and just have to say that i admire your attitude and dedication to your clients.

    as a new author on the way to completing my first novel, it is relieving to read your posts and gives me comfort that at least a few are willing to stand up and speak their mind in the wilderness that is the publishing industry. researching this industry as i became more serious about writing has been a constant eye opener, and is somewhat discouraging if you don’t possess an abundance of self-confidence. Examples of success help give hope in a sea of doubt and despair.

    Thank you for all the insight and direction you have given through your blog!

  2. MeganRebekah said:

    That goes to show that editors are crazy!

    I bought Perfect Chemistry a few weeks ago, and stayed up until about 2am to read it not just once, but twice, I loved it so much. I’ve now read it so many times I’ve memorized most of it (which comes in handy since I lent it out, and feel some withdrawls coming on).

    And Alex is one of my all time favorite YA boys.

  3. Kelly Bryson said:

    Three cheers for optimists!
    This was so nice to hear. Midlist might not be a publisher’s dream, but to me it would feel like throwing a party…and some people show up! As long as I could still get my next book pub’d. Now to finish editing the thing…

  4. Anonymous said:

    Thanks for this post and sticking up for the midlisters

    Dan Brown is a classic example of an author who broke out of the midlist. His editor stayed loyal to him and his loyalty certainly paid off.

    There are very few authors who hit the bestsellers list on the first few times out (and when they do they don’t always maintain their status.) Authors usually get better with every book, and if they are encouraged and nutured by editors and agents, it’s almost inevitable that they’ll one day hit a home run. But that’s not what happens. Too often if they don’t get a bestseller in their first few books, they’re ditched. Not the best business practice I’d say.

    This is how hard it is out there right now: I have a friend who is nationally bestselling author who still earns loads of royalties from his previous books and has a slew of GLOWING reviews. His agent had a baby and is pretty much out of the business so he’s looking for a new one but cannot find one for his new project. This is a proven author with a fabulous voice and agents act like he’s dog meat. It’s mind boggling. You always hear that agents and editors are in it for the love of books, but it sounds like these days most are in it for the sure thing. How sad for this talented writer.

  5. Deb said:

    In retrospect, Simone broke out of midlist very, very quickly. It hasn’t been more than a half-dozen years since she was still looking for that first deal.

    However–more fool the publishers that declined her stuff! She is amazingly talented and I’m proud to say I knew her (and listened to her read for crit) when.

  6. june said:

    Simone Elkeles is one of my favorite authors. I loved Perfect Chemistry and Leaving Paradise. I was so happy to hear she’s doing sequels to both books. I was at the Writer’s Digest conference back in September and gave Simone a shout out when the speaker needed an author for an example. Perfect Chemistry was tracked down on the web and appeared on the screen. Several people came up to me afterwards and remarked how interesting the cover was. I told them the story was even better. Simone is a nice person as well. She sent me a fairly long email when I contacted her to compliment her work. She deserves all her success and I wish her much more.

  7. Paul Neuhardt said:

    Since I aspire to be a midlist author (this being a big step up from being an unpublished author) I am glad to see agents out there showing the support you are talking about here.

    I’m sure there are many, many agents out there being just as supportive. I hope that someday (soon) I get one to be willing to represent me.

    Certainly, I will be sending a query letter your way when my manuscript is ready.

  8. Gordon Jerome said:

    I don’t mean to be the 800-pound gorilla in the room with a propensity for Hindenburg-style gas, but this book depression is here to stay.

    Barnes and Noble is starting to pin their hopes on their “Nook” e-reader. And…ahem…consolidate their brick and mortar stores. In other words, they can’t keep their stores open. And if they can’t keep their stores open, it doesn’t matter what publishers will or won’t publish or what agents will or won’t read. You won’t have a shelf for your midlist title to go spine-out on.

    It just isn’t the same is it? I mean, publication without your name on a paper book just isn’t the dream. Well, you better get your head around two concepts:

    1. Royalties only.

    2. E-book only.

    That’s where fiction is going in the next few years.

  9. Anna Claire said:

    I haven’t read Perfect Chemistry, but I knew immediately who you were talking about when I read her name because I saw Simone Elekeles’s book trailer – the one with the rap? It was hysterically funny, and something about the way they said her name every time during the chorus stuck in my head, and made her name instantly memorable. Just thought I’d share.

  10. AmyB said:

    I agree: we need the midlist.

    As a reader of over a hundred books a year, I find it more than a little frustrating that publishers think I’m chopped liver and are obsessed with courting the one-book-a-year buyer. I guess it’s because there are so few people like me.

    Without the midlist, readers like me, already uncommon, will disappear entirely. I tend not to like the huge bestselling books. Nothing wrong with them, but they tend to be a bit formulaic, and when you read 100 books a year, you’ve seen all the formulas many times already. I need and look for books and authors who are a little edgier and original, a little off the beaten path.

    If we lose the midlist, the $800/year I currently spend on books will evaporate and go to some other industry.

  11. Anonymous said:

    I reviewed PERFECT CHEMISTRY for a trade journal. The publisher didn’t send a review copy but I picked up a galley at a conference. I don’t think they were expecting this book would take off the way it has. As a YA author I learned a lot from this book about pacing and developing the type of characters that work for a broad audience. My first YA novel came out this year from a small press to critical acclaim, but for its sequel I’m incorporating lessons learned from Ms. Elkeles.