Mid-Listers Are “Toast”?

(This is a blast from the past. Even though I first wrote the post six years ago, much of it still resonates today. I’ll be back later today with a new post.)

Mad Genius Club

by Amanda S. Green

I’ll start with the admission that I’m late getting my post up this morning. Put it down to a serious case of dead brain syndrome. You know, that fuzzy, muddled state of mind that sometimes comes after you finish one project and know you have to move on to another but find it hard to focus. For me, that project was a short story that refused to be short. In fact, it fought me all the way and finally came in at something around 28,000 words. Add to that the fact I overslept this morning and am still trying to get enough coffee in me to concentrate and, well, you get the idea.

So, knowing I really didn’t have much to say this morning, I was going to put up an open floor notice. Then I started going through my email. You guessed it. I found…

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  1. I never tire of the statement that there are “too many books”. It’s like “too much TV”: Too much for whom?

    1. From their actions, most publishers seem to want only one book per year. That would be a mega-hit, of course. And they could save all that annoying dealing-with-authors stuff, and collapse the rest of their overhead down to just a few people.

      After the Midlist Purge of the mid-’90s some publishers had some financial setbacks when the planned bestsellers failed to sell despite “push.”

      Damned customers, they buy what they want instead of what they’re told… how can you build a business plan around that? It’s like herding cats…

      1. The trouble with building a large institution is its vulnerability to the risk of large cost outlays. That doesn’t mean the strategy you mock isn’t mockable, but on some level I suppose I get it.

  2. Is Leaver still employed in this industry? How is he doing? Is Sterling still around in any meaningful way?

    How has the mid-list model changed over the past six years?

    How has the best seller model?


    Anyone have any pointers to some industries where most companies went bankrupt due to systemic mismanagement? It’d be interesting to have some data to work out mean time to bankruptcy and such from.

    1. Yes, he left Sterling in 2012, and is still the CEO at Quarto Group. Interestingly, Sterling is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Barnes & Nobles. Leaver left right about the time B&N put it on the market, but it has failed to attract a buyer.

      Quarto group has, since his tenure began, focused on growth via acquisition & profitibility via “operational efficiencies.” Ahem.

      The midlist model has seen drastic cuts to advances, royalties, rights not captured, and even with that, contracts offered.

      Bestsellers – I know at least one was noting that he had to go indie because the publisher wouldn’t take his next hit without taking the pre-negotiated audio rights. On the other hand Joe Konrath signed a print-only deal with Kensington, so there’s flux.

      BEA – no clue. Doesn’t affect me, so I don’t put a lot of effort into tracking it.

  3. Just saw the thing at passive voice about changes in reported industry profitability and changes in payments to authors.

    Could this reflect indy pulling sophisticated businessmen from the pool of traditional publishing authors, leaving behind a residue that has less grasp of business practices?

    1. And more and more desperate new-comers who bite the lure of prestige and respectability (at least in their own minds) and miss the hook of a horrible contract.

  4. “I don’t think too many books are being published. What I think is that there are too many books pushing the “correct” way to think and too many poor clones of the latest trend book. We went through that with Harry Potter and Twilight and we’ll soon be going through it with The Hunger Games. And can any of us forget all the Dan Brown-lite books that came out after The Da Vinci Code?”

    My idea is for a novel about a girl with a dragon tattoo living in a dystopian future who gets accepted into a school for witchcraft and wizardry. There she has to choose between sexy vampires and sexy werewolves and must deal with being stranded alone on the planet Mars, where she must decipher a secret code hidden in the works of Renaissance painters.

    I shall call it: Bestseller.

    1. Choose the right pen name, and put in your bio that you’re a transexual disabled black lesbian, and the publishing houses should start a bidding war over you.

      1. Don’t forget to mention that the characters in the bedroom scenes are in some cases but not others are the ages of the Shakespearian Romeo and Juliet. At some point, check all the boxes twice. And after you collect your eight digit advance, move to someplace that does not have an extradition treaty with the US.

        However, do not expect us to read it.

      1. If I could possibly create a cohesive plot out of that, I might . . .

    2. Going in reverse: Stranded on Mars? Rip off the Negima model of Mars wrt magic society. Mars has atmosphere and inhabitants if you are on the right alternate plain.

      So, she somehow ends up on a wrong plain of Mars while travelling there on a school trip. That plain has been abandoned for reason. The prior magical inhabitants were Renaissance period had bought a bunch of art, and taken it with them to Mars.

      Magic School is, because it only has to be nicer than the dystopia, full of monsters. Consider something like that Svetlana C???’s Night School. You’ll want to tune both the school and to a greater extent the dystopia to tie in or contrast with the plot. Forex, if you are opting not to do an Atwoodian dystopia, you might consider whether you wanted to do some Sparta/HP Fanfic style marriage contract bullshit in the school. Lastly and firstly, the dragon tattoo is probably experimental and tied into the image based magic that is important for the Renaissance painting end.

      Possible example: Orphan is being raised in a government school. Government funds education, and basic living, but forces people to go through ‘super education’ to learn their assigned academic specially, and she has been assigned art critic. She has a bunch more schooling in front of her, and a relatively short ‘productive’ ‘career’, because she’s on the wrong list. So she takes the chance to hop ship to magic school, which comes with very strong expectations of marriage. Possibly hardworking, ambitious werewolf and vampire guys, with clear goals for the future. (Marriage itself requires consent on part of both parties, but the thing that arranges possible marriage is insane and operates without human intervention.) She thinks long term plans for the future are nonsense, and avoids magic that is image based in reaction to mundane government schooling. Duh, duh, duh, finds herself lost, etc… Discovers that she likes to create art magic, maybe hooks up with somebody, then I dunno.

      Course, the actual design choices should depend on what you feel like writing, and what kind of bullshit you can sell well.

      Recent ideas on my part include “That Summer at Death Camp”, which isn’t about mass murder, and a “Young Psychopomps” series which is about all of them.

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