Confessions of a Mid-List Author
by Susan Mary Malone
Publishing has changed drastically in the last two decades. I know—not exactly a news flash, right? But for those of us who’ve been in the trenches all this time, the speed at which that happened crossed our eyes.
My first novel, By the Book (Baskerville Press), came out in 1993, from a very nice literary publisher. And oh, the fun! Reviews and book signings and lots of press. All the trappings of what it meant, then, to be a real author.
Of course, this wasn’t my first novel written. Nor my second. But actually, my third. I cut my writer teeth on the first two 🙂
Two co-authored books of nonfiction quickly followed: BodySculpting: The Weisbeck Way (Eaken Press, 1993), and Fourth and Long: The Kent Waldrep Story (Crossroads Publishing 1996).
I was on my way as an author!
My books resided firmly in what the industry once called the Mid-List.
It was the backbone of publishing, as while big-sellers have always filled publishing’s coffers, the Mid-List was the bread and butter that backed it all up.
But a funny thing happened on the way to success.
As the ‘90s progressed, and into the new millennium, technology soared. What once was a very pricey process to self-publish, became inexpensive and easy. Books flooded the market.
Year after year, the number of books published rose through the stratosphere. To the point that according to Bowker, more than 725K self-published works were registered in 2015.
That’s a whale of a lot of books.
And it ushered in a powerful sea change in this industry. Much of what we knew of traditional publishing simply drowned.
With the new millennium, the Mid-List author vanished.
Some genres still exist with journeymen writers, such as Westerns and category Romance, etc. But I write Literary Fiction, where the Mid-List ceased to exist.
I had two more co-authored books of nonfiction published, and another novel, I Just Came Here to Dance (which is still in print), by hybrid publishers. Different from self-publishing, these houses didn’t charge the author, but didn’t do traditional press runs either.
Still, my books saw print. Still, I was in the game.
Into the second decade of the new millennium, traditional publishing took a huge hit. Houses closed down (including those that published my books), combined, and greatly scaled back the number of titles published every year.
I’m also a book editor, and have seen over 50 of the books I’ve edited traditionally published, many award-winners, and some made into film.
Funny thing though, the editor side of me and the author one don’t really cross market well.
And as most writers know, or will soon learn, it’s a jungle out there trying to sell books!
Going through the huge change, however, was heartbreaking. I saw my fledgling career die on the vine. And watched other authors I knew and respected suffer the same fate.
Writing well is oh-so difficult. Delving into the publishing side of things has taken many a great writer to his knees. I can’t tell you how many I’ve known who have simply quit it. And I never blame them.
As you know as well, this isn’t an endeavor for the faint of heart. You truly do have to forge that backbone of steel.
Publishing is a fickle business. I know—not exactly another news flash! But no one can predict trends. No one has that crystal ball, showing us what comes next.
Not even my friends who are editors and VPs at major publishing houses. Many of them were taken every bit as much by surprise by the industry’s changes, and no one knows where this will all go from here.
But one thing I know for true: the essence still comes down to why one writes.
Yes, my heart was broken. Yes, the industry humbled me to my knees as well.
All of that, however, is on the outside. And we can’t control outer events now, can we. We can only roll with the punches as they come.
What we can control, however, is our own internal foundations. Because even though I wished things had worked out differently, and would by lying (mostly to myself!) if I said otherwise, the flame that burns so brightly within has never ceased.
Probably like you, I write because I love writing. Through all the ups and downs, through all the insanity, I kept writing.
I have a short-story collection coming out very soon from Dark Horse Fiction. Many of these stories were previously published in literary journals and anthologies. Some are new to print. But how wonderful to see them out again!
I finished another novel last year, and am going out to agents with it now. I’ve recently queried a few, and while none has taken it on yet, the rejections have been glowing.
Writers can live on those for a while 🙂
I’m also knee deep into a new novel. And, well, just loving it.
Because of course, as we all know, writers write. No matter what.
And it’s funny what sustains us, no? One of my fondest quotes is by Rainer Maria Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet: “Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself this: Must I write? Dig deep into yourself for a true answer. And if it should ring its assent, if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple, “I must,” then build your life upon it.”
Wishing you all the joy and passion of creativity.
Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, I Just Came Here to Dance and By the Book, as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, and many published short stories. A freelance book editor, fifty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to Traditional publishers.