in-open-spacesThe Rumpus, a.k.a. “The online urban hipster coffee shop” (what? you mean you’ve never heard of “the online urban hipster coffee shop”? Where have you been wasting your time, loser? Starbucks?), just ran a piece by midlist author Russell Rowland on being a midlist author, entitled “Solidly Mid-List.” It’s that simple.

And it’s also a very good guide to, and track record for, the career of a midlist author, and where you go to get onto the midlist – if you choose to go that way instead of landing up there thanks to some awful mistake. “What happened? How did I get here?” Russell asks. “I know that I am at least partially to blame for the way my career turned. There were missteps along the way.” The missteps he cites are mostly not his own – they pretty much all involve editors leaving their workplace shortly after signing him up or at least engaging with him. You’d think that the whole treadmill would be enough to turn anyone off the process for life. “Where does this leave me now, today, without an agent or a publisher, with two finished novels waiting patiently in folders on my computer, and a third well underway,” he asks, once again, rhetorically.

Because if the road to the midlist is some kind of Dantean purgatory, it’s one that no one ever need tread again, let alone abandon hope entering there. Because, as Russell admits in his concluding paragraph, “the number of good books that get published increases a little every year with the advent and growing ease of self-publishing.” However, he doesn’t say anything about doing it himself. The name Amazon doesn’t appear once in his article. Nor does digital. Or online. And yet he’s writing for The Rumpus. Surely he must have some kind of clue that they’re out there?

The problem is that Russell still defines his success, achievement, and career progression by some very old-fashioned metrics. And I don’t mean sales. You’ve seen them up above. “I am likely to have a better chance of making the Red Sox pitching rotation than of finding representation,” Russell says. Fine, represent yourself. These people have led your career into a blind alley of their creation: Well, you don’t need them. You can build your own wings and fly out of it any time you want to. Just ditch the ballast of that outworn mindset. In the interim, though, you can still get by by writing for the online urban hipster coffee shop.


  1. Change is difficult. Like every other change paradigm it hits the people who were successful in the old world hardest. Those of us who have never sought traditional publication don’t need to change – that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

    If he’s surrounded by people in the traditional world, there’s no one saying he should try it, and there is a lot of ‘it’s hard to sell your self published book’ bull to reinforce the idea that authors need traditional publishers.

    As a self publisher myself, I encourage everyone to dip their toe in the pool. Whether you make one sale or millions, it feels good to know someone has read your book – well at least someone who isn’t related to you by family or friendship.


  2. Russell seems more than a little confused about what midlist is. It isn’t a term for books that fail to sell, and the writer gets dumped.

    The term refers to books, mainly popular genre, which don’t get the bestseller treatment. They come out, they sell decently, and then they disappear from paper format. Midlist writers build careers slowly, one book at a time, until they have a solid and successful fan and financial base. If they write a book that breaks out into mainstream popularity or their series/books become widely popular, then they move up into bestseller territory.

    Most of the books in the bestseller categories are from writers who built their careers in the midlist.

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