Firstly, let me tell you what prompted me to write this article actually - it was actually Ali Karim. He told me recently at a literary party [and a little sheepishly] that as an author, I am what is termed ‘mid-list’. Before he told me that, I had no idea what the term ‘mid-list’ meant.
Yeah, I could have worked it out – I earn a living from writing but I have joined the thousands who are stuck half-way up the wall: we sometimes get a foothold and climb up a bit; we sometimes slip a few feet, we swing sideways but we don’t get any higher. “Shit…” I thought, I don’t want to be “mid-list”. I know I should be grateful, thankful for getting this far, but I don’t want to be stuck anywhere on the wall and run the risk of a hasty descent. This is now my chosen career, my “payer of rent”. Let’s talk about how to scale it. I’ve been doing some research. Let’s talk about the way from dreamer, at the foot of the wall, to the bestseller lists, and the scary view from the parapet.
So, what’s the best way up the wall? Doing it alone? Why Not? E.L. James did it to great affect with her Fifty Shades of Grey, but, she tapped into readers of the Twilight series and had a social media platform base that was solid: fan fiction.
Have you got something you can tuck in behind and use its updraft? Going solo has the potential to bring big rewards but you have to be lucky and have a ruthless drive to sell your product. Be prepared for a long, arduous journey: Fifty Shades of Grey took years to gather momentum.
Your agent, if you have one, (referred to as ‘he’ from now on) is your helping hand up the wall and he is there to give you a leg up and to smooth the way with a few well-placed footholds. He is going to be guiding you all the way to the top, after all he knows people in publishing; he knows the editors who hold enormous power over what work is commissioned and what is not. Plus, he wants to make money from you for the whole of your career, your career is his career - you get it – but you are not his only climber and you may not be his best hope of that new kitchen/car/ house he’s been after. If he has a lot of big names on his roster, you may be left to your own devices whilst he’s lending his weight to propel one of his giants those last few feet to the top.
If you end up in print, you will interact with a publisher. Your publisher is responsible for giving you everything you need to stay on the wall at all. Live in fear of the power of your editor. They can make or break you. They can force you, rounded peg, into their square hole. All editors are good at different things. I’ve said enough, the hairs on the back of my neck are standing up! Because it’s all about money and sales now and, whereas publishers used to have a ten year plan to bring authors on; but the time an author has to become established has been seriously truncated. Agents and publishers like you to write full time and get books out fast – but before you give up the day job or burn any bridges, beware: when you hit bad times, and there will be some, you need to have a plan B. That way, you’re not forced into making bad decisions just to pay the rent. Never give up the day job until you are sure you have money to survive.
Back on the wall – it’s easier to rise step by step than pick yourself up numerous times from the bottom. But you have to get smart and play the game. Be nice to others on that wall because fellow climbers will often give you a lift, let you tag along on their tail wind and in their twitter feed.
Complacency is the fastest way downwards. Watch trends, study bestseller lists, know your market. This isn’t just about writing books anymore this is about selling and marketing. Be productive and try new things. Never stop learning and pushing yourself. If you have time, why not try writing a slightly different type of story – if you normally write police procedurals, then try writing a Psychological thriller instead. Bring out an Ebook novella. You will probably keep your audience if you don’t stray too far out of the genre. If the trend is for debut authors (who aren’t really debut) then re-invent yourself and go in for a spot of re-birthing. Never expect that it is someone else’s job to feed the twitter fiend or organise talks and book launches or get you into festivals, the buck stops with you. Networking is key, as authors are generally a very friendly and supportive bunch so spending time with your colleagues is always energizing.
So, yes, I am a mid-lister and definitely proud to have reached this far but determined to reach the top by any means possible now. I know that focus is the key when you are finding your initial way but if you get stuck, somewhere in the middle, a spot of reinvention might be called for.
Look out for my next work as I shall shortly be releasing Cold Revenge, and it is for me, another debut novel…………
Everyone likes to hang out with someone older when they are a teenager; it’s a badge of honor. I remember going around visiting this couple who had an open door policy for all the young teens in the town. They also sold drugs. They were in their early twenties, I was fourteen. Their open door always led through to a large garden room, a party place, where dope was smoked and strip poker was played and the very lucky one was chosen to have a few cuddles with Maggie and Jonno! Now, if you’re being kind, it might seem that M&J were searching for their own identities, finding their pathway from child to adulthood – in reality they got off on the power, hero worship, fresh blood excited them as a couple. It ended for me when I was caught on a surveillance camera going in there, by my father (Detective Sergeant staking the place) he managed to ground me long enough to bust them, and I don’t mind the fact I was probably instrumental in their downfall.
In Cold Revenge, Jimmy Douglas and his girlfriend were like my Maggie and Jonno, except they didn’t just like to watch teenagers getting stoned and have sex with the wrong people, they groomed them to kill or be killed.
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