Friday, 29 March 2013

Five Cynical Tips for Mid-List Authors

TIP ONE: Make Sales Or Die

We're all grown-ups here, so let's be straight with each other. The publishing industry as our role models knew it - those star-dusted writers whose novels we read and loved as kids - is dead.

Long live the new publishing industry!

In this brave new world, the mid-list author who can't make a bestseller list becomes very rapidly a pest and a bore. They can be as talented, professional and competent as you like, but if they can't consistently hit the new sales quotas, they're toast. Soon they will see the editor's eyes glazing over at lunch meetings - if they've not already been downgraded to coffee shop status, or 'just a quick phone chat'. Not long after that, their contracts will fail to be renewed or may actually be cancelled.

So don't get too comfy once you have a safe little contract and a slowly growing backlist. The fairy-story ending for successful writers has been edited to read 'Keep making sales or die!' It has become clear that writers can no longer rely on one publisher, or genre, or source of income.

Cynicism is the new trust in publishing. Publishers - and even readers, sadly - can turn fickle on the publication of each new sales report. So don't worry too much about building a following in one place only, but keep a suitcase packed by the door. Just in case.

Sometimes the only way forward is to reinvent yourself.

TIP TWO: All Of Us Write Debuts, But Some Write More Debuts Than Others

Following on from the above, be prepared to reinvent yourself from scratch periodically. This can mean a new pen-name, a new genre, and definitely new readers. Invent a new persona for each name, with a separate email address, Twitter and Facebook accounts, blog and website.

Try not to tangle the reins, despite the temptation to retweet promo via a different account just because the previous account has more followers. And watch tone in social media. It should match your new persona, not sound just like the original you with a funny hat on.

Duplicitous? You betcha. This is the age of the debut novel. Try to write one at least every three years.

TIP THREE: Dust Off Your Childhood Dreams

Becoming jaded is a perennial danger for the mid-list author. After a few novels, you may start to feel you've seen it all before, and probably written it all before too. Hold on, didn't you use that same plot twist three books ago? Oh well, no one will notice ...

Stay fresh by constantly revisiting your vision of yourself as an author. Once upon a time, you knew where you were going. Right to the top! Then you became a published writer and suddenly things were a bit more complicated.

Well, now is a good time to return to that vision and see how it panned out. Why did you start writing in the first place? Are you achieving what you hoped you would achieve as a published author? If not, what's standing in your way? It may be that you always intended to write for the stage, but that nice agent persuaded you to try a crime thriller. Now nobody cares about the socially significant play you were always tinkering with in college, and just want another gritty Bob Hardarse thriller from you.

Adjusting your career can mean a major shortfall in income. Are you prepared for that? (Though given that publisher advances are disappearing into the toilet right now, it won't be quite such a shock to find a new playwright may only get paid for bums on seats.)

You may even find that reviving your early vision of yourself as a writer juices up your usual writing. One can but hope.

TIP FOUR: The Social Media Drain

Twitter is just marvellous. What did we do before Twitter? Sat around making paper aeroplanes, no doubt, or having affairs with the milkman instead of writing our novels ...

But there's a catch. While social media brings the lonely writer much-needed industry contacts, endless promotional opportunities and the undying approval of your lovely editor, it can also make you deeply insecure and an unpleasant companion for the cat.

"How does X get so many followers? He's a complete toad!" -- "Why did Z land that lucrative contract? I can write rings round that guy!" -- "Oh please! Not that old promo link AGAIN!"

Worse still, social media can eat into your writing time like acid. Suddenly you can't even manage the bog-standard 1000 words a day, because you're writing half that cumulatively via Twitter, Facebook and blog sites.

To avoid potentially disastrous over-tweet, set strict limits to how often you connect with people online. Try not to compare yourself to others in your field. That way madness lies. And be particularly careful who is silently following you (and listening to your tweets). Remember, they've all got it in for you.

TIP FIVE: Sod The Lot Of Them

Ah, so you're between contracts. Or perhaps between agents (which is probably worse). It happens to the best of us. In fact, it happens to most of us. Luckily, the brave new publishing industry is good for something at least in this respect. It's called, self-publishing.

You've sent out a submission or a pitch to agents/publishers. Maybe half a dozen. But don't sit there waiting to hear back from them. Instead, strike out on your own and start earning a small but probably useful amount of money without even parting with a percentage as commission to your agent.

No one needs know what you're up to. (Unless you tell them.) You can become Felicity Doppleganger while still writing respectable chicklit or Roman mysteries for your traditional publisher.

It's never been easier to self-publish. And if you need an editor to tidy things up, you can always hire one discreetly. Though most experienced mid-list authors will be able to do a reasonable job on their own, and save the expense. These days the odd typo or continuity error may even galvanise an offended reader to review your book on Amazon, and you know what they say: all publicity is good publicity.

Waste my precious time on self-publishing? Never!

Ah, but the short story is king on Amazon at 77p. So time wasted is at a minimum. Pick a popular genre, such as sci fi/fantasy, paranormal or romance, and you need only knock out short fiction under 10,000 words. And that's a generous amount. If you lean towards erotica - and it does pay to be saucy - you could go as low as 6000 words at a push.

Though I always feel readers appreciate a little more effort than that, and we all want to be loved by our readers. Don't we?

If you have enjoyed this blog post, please support the writer Elizabeth Moss by browsing her books on Amazon. Well, some of her books ...


  1. Great post, Elizabeth, worth sharing!

  2. Great post, Elizabeth. Don't know how I missed it the first time round. Lots of truths here (unfortunately!) x

  3. A brave and brilliant post! I wonder how many debut novels an author can manage in a lifetime? :)

  4. Thanks Louise and Guernsey Girl!

    I'm currently writing my SECOND debut novel of this year, having debuted once last year and twice the year before.

    That's show business!