Wednesday, November 17, 2010


It was interesting to me to read comments on my republished post Ranting on Amy (read the comments from the original posting 4 years ago HERE). As I said in comments, I did write that rant 4 years ago so a lot of things have changed (especially my thoughts on greatness), but it was the inquiries on my label "midlist" that captured my attention this time.

According to Wikipedia: authors who consistently publish acceptable but not bestselling books are referred to as Midlist authors.

Personally, I'm not sure where I am on the hierarchy. Thanks to the Newbery Honor (which I will always be eternally grateful for!), I have one book that broke out of the midlist. I have many that fell way below, but most are solidly in the middle. The hope is that the success of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon has opened a door (or cracked a window) for my future books to sneak through. Of course, that is the Hope with a capital H. As with everything in publishing, you just don't know. That door (or window) can slam shut at anytime.

But, let's just say that is the case (double crossing my fingers I am not jinxing myself), I'll know that what has allowed me to climb up has been my stack of midlist titles. Each one of my non-bestselling books are responsible for my growth as an author and illustrator so that I could write a Newbery Honor book. And each midlist book gained my work more readers. They weren't big numbers, but those small groups started adding up--contributing to the large readership of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. That is to say, if I succeed in breaking out of the midlist, I truly believe it will have been my midlist titles that have gotten me there.

Which is why articles like this worry and sadden me. The first line of the article proclaims, "The midlist is dead!"

I know the PW article is mainly talking about adult books, not children's books, but it's still a disturbing trend. Most authors just don't have a blockbuster bestseller right out of the gates. Some authors need a couple of books to grow and blossom. Someone (I don't remember who) called these writers "slow-burning authors"-- they write books whose fan base is growing but have not hit that peak capacity yet. I have a feeling I am one of them.

Without a midlist, where will they go? Where will we go? The article seems to indicate smaller presses will be the life vest for midlist authors in the future. What do you think?


Carol Baicker-McKee said...

Waah! As a midlist author and illustrator myself, I've been watching this trend unfold and worrying about how it will affect me. But like you, I'm even more fearful for literature generally. If publishers won't take chances on unusual books because they can't predict whether they'll sell well, and innovative writers can't afford to stay in a business that rejects their work, won't literature just slowly die?

We all hear the stories of now well-loved authors whose first books simply did not sell at first - but either gradually gained an audience or were discovered after the author eventually produced a hit. Even mega-classics like Margaret Wise Brown's "Goodnight Moon" took years and years to find an audience (its first year it sold a whopping 1,500 copies - see the Wiki article on it:

This trend worries me more than other changes affecting publishing, like the effects of ebooks or social marketing. Perhaps self-publishing will become the only route for the midlist author to break in - and maybe by the time those midlist authors become successful, they'll realize they're doing fine on their own and don't need the services of a big publisher.

Good luck, Grace! I love all your books and am rooting for you to achieve the success you deserve.

Nina Laden said...

Mid-list, schmid-list. I know I'm not being pc, but a long time ago I learned a lesson about not caring about the "wake" and concentrating on the journey ahead.

I dreamt of being a children's book author and illustrator from early childhood on. I fantasized about being on stage and reading my Caldecott speech. Over sixteen years ago my first book, "The Night I Followed The Dog" did bust loose and did well... but then I got addicted to the numbers and the hype. (It's been years since I've read my Amazon rankings or reviews.)

Over the years, my dreams became tarnished by so many outside influences and bad experiences... but I have endeavored to persevere. I keep moving forward in the hopes that somehow I can keep refining who I am and what my vision is, and somehow hope that others will like it too...

But publishing is a business after all. A book is a unit to sell. I understand that, but I try to forget it when I am creating. It is the only path to peace that I know. Just keep being who you are, Grace, you are successful and you should be proud.

Jennie said...

UGH. It seems like almost everyone's trying to be the next Harry Potter... but the first few HP books were solidly midlist titles. It wasn't until book 3 that it became very popular and it wasn't until the release of book 4 that we started seeing midnight parties and the craziness.

What would publishing today look like if it got dropped after book 2?

Meghan McCarthy said...

That article is about adult books. I would like to know how the majority of picture books sell.

I'm a midlist author according to wikapedia. I guess I always will be. I mean, how am I going to have a bestseller? Anyone know of a nonfiction author achieving that? Who really cares? I guess that's how I see it.

Grace Lin said...

Thanks, everyone for your comments.

I completely agree 100% that WHEN authors/illustrators are making their books they shouldn't be thinking about midlists or anything like that.

But the reason I care and am concerned about the midlist is because it seems like (according to the article) publishers don't want one anymore. So authors who are not bestsellers may be slowly phased out and may not be given the chance to publish their 3rd or 4th or even 8th book that is great, amazing literature. And that would be a loss for everyone.