The Middle of the List

There’s this article on Salon at the moment about the trials and tribulations of being a mid-list author. Since you have to register or watch an interminable ad to read it, let me summarize: Jane Austen Doe got a $150,000 advance on her first novel, but now she’s suffering the slings and arrows of mid-listing. I’m playing a tiny violin…

The mid-list is either everything not on the best-seller lists, or anything the publisher chooses not to promote. Katherine Sutcliffe has some advice for getting from mid-list to best-seller list - to summarize, author, promote thyself. Jane Austen Doe has tried that, too, but rightly believes that promotion is the publisher’s job.

The trouble in the mid-list seems to be that the publishing industry is undergoing a shift from producing to gambling. Publishers want new authors who just might be the next J. K. Rowling, not a mid-list full of break-even propositions. It’s a shame, but it’s no surprise - plenty of other industries have gone down this road. For example, the WB cancels a mid-list show like Angel, and Fox doesn’t even have the decency to cancel Boston Public before breaking the set, even though there are no solid prospects on the horizon to replace them. The networks are after a sudden windfall, not a good lineup, and why should the publishers be any different? It’s about the stock value rather than pulping it out to all comers like in the good old days before television.

To be fair to my genre, I don’t get the impression that this gambling impulse is the norm for sci-fi, perhaps because the chance of any sf novel becoming a blockbuster is negligible. Maybe a fantasy writer will strike it rich once every couple of decades or so, but not sf.

Sometimes bloggers are after the big windfall, too, and when they find they’re not going to be the next Instapundit, they stop blogging. I found that link on dive into mark, who also has some interesting things to say about writers not improving and a nice passage from Tom Stoppard about putting the right words in the right order.

As a mid-list blogger, I try to avoid politics and personal stuff unless I can make it especially amusing. For me, the primary purpose of communication is amusement - political indignation is as boring as the state of your digestive tract. Like Brent Simmons and Daniel Green, I wish literary bloggers would talk about literature more and politics less, but this problem is by no means limited to lit blogs. I wish geek bloggers would stick to the geeking and fan bloggers would get back to the meta.

Just today I had to unsubscribe from Aaron Swartz because I couldn’t take the politics anymore. I vaguely recall his having something to say of geeky interest, but that was so long ago now that I’ve given up on him. Maybe he’ll recover after the election. And I have to say, Electrolite’s days in the “Writing” folder of my RSS reader are numbered. If it were funny [warning: offensive humor] that would be one thing, but it’s just politics.

I don’t necessarily mean that a blog should have only one topic - mine has 20 or so - but whenever you’re trying to communicate, you should have your audience in mind. If they came to your blog because you’re the big web standards guru, you can assume that they feel the same way you do about CSS, but not about Bush. People are interested in you for what sets you apart from the other 100,000 bloggers, and that’s probably not your political opinions.

Here are some links related to the Salon article, mostly thanks to Teresa Nielsen Hayden:

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