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How to Get From Midlist to
First, wipe the idea out of your brain about these
authors you hear about who get a million dollar contract
their first book. It rarely happens with a first book.
And usually when you DO hear about it, it's is a
multibook contract for a total of a million dollars. They
like to put that hype out there because it causes buzz
about "the book".
Now for the facts.
There are several levels to publishing:
~ Lead Titles
~ 3rd lead
~ 2nd lead
~ 1st lead
99.9 percent of new authors are put into midlist.
I don't care if you write romance or mystery or whatever,
the money here IS going to be bad at first. Consider it
starting in the postal room of a business and having to
work your way up. Right. DON'T quit your day job.
However, the money will get better with each book.
What do you get from the publishers in midlist? Nothing.
Your book put out there with no promotion marketing
budget. Midlist is a shelf stuffer to keep the
publisher's name out there and to make money to pay the
lead titles the big money. Yes, sad but true.
how do you crawl your way out of midlist?
Most authors don't promote their work or themselves. The
new authors don't realize they have to or don't have the
money to do so.
How much are you willing to contribute to your
advancement in the line up? Alas, if the publishers are
going to pay you more for each book, they are going to
have to see a decent sell through. Numbers of copies sold
compared to how many they put out. For a new author
that's 50%. They will do a happy dance if they get that
kind of sell through on a "No Name." But you
aren't going to get that unless you promote.
So, consider that any money you make as a new author is
going to be invested in building your name
recognition--luring readers to pick up your book when
they might have picked up another.
The internet has made this much easier and cheaper for
IF you place this sort of investment the publisher WILL
take notice. When I was put in midlist 17 years ago I got
a true education real fast. Let's say a shocking and
sobering education real fast.
I was one of the first, if not THE first romance author
to storm into the market with self promotion. Advertising
in the genre magazine, bookmarks, etc with my second
book. Did the publisher sit up and take notice? You bet.
They thought I was a little crazy and didn't think it
would pay off. But it did. By my fifth book I was hitting
70 percent sell throughs.
It wasn't simply the above mentioned ways that I did it.
But the sweat of the brow stuff that made an impression
on the local distributors. In the Dallas area I was the
first author to actually go into the warehouses and
autograph ALL copies of my book before they were
distributed. They, too, thought I was a nut. Try sitting
in a sweaty warehouse with fork lifts rumbling by you for
5 hours. What happened?
Instead of their usual 30 percent sell through on a
midlist, they got a 80 or 90 percent sell through. The
distributors were nailing the sales reps with the
Sutcliffe name and reordering my backlist--which I also
went in to sign.
By my sixth book I was moved into a 3rd lead position.
More money. Yes. Did I bank it? No. I invested in more
promotion because there still isn't a great deal of
marketing money for a third lead.
Moving into a lead position is a very scary thing, not
just for the publisher who is investing more money into
more copies of your book, but for the author. Because if
the sales don't justify that lead position you'll find
yourself back into midlist with whiplash speed.
So instead of signing 600 books in a warehouse, I was
signing 2000. But I had to reach readers on a much
broader scale and a local warehouse or two wasn't going
to cut it. So I autographed 50,000 labels and sent them,
and gold foil Autographed Copy stickers, out through
Romantic Times to the actual booksellers. Never been
The booksellers applied the autograph and sticker to the
book. The book went back to press four times in a month.
So then the publisher moved me to second lead. More promo
budget to send me on tours. Did I simply go shake hands
with distributors and eat pizza with their route men? No.
I went into the warehouse and autographed 6,000 books.
Took me two days. We had an assembly line working,
including the sales rep.
Because of that the distributors were seeing a 90% sell
through. I was outselling their NYT bestsellers.
The publishers might have thought I was a nut but they
were happy dancing all the way to the bank. And by that
time, so was I.
Then I was moved to #1 lead title. Hitting #3 on Waldens
list and #8 on the USA Today list. In 7 books I'd gone
from 60,000 print runs to 600,000 print runs.
Would this have happened if I hadn't bulldozed my way
into this industry starting with my second book? NO WAY.
Author, YOU are self employed. YOU are
your own business. Just like anyone starting their own
business, there is going to be some belt tightening and
eating alot of peanut butter early on. Success rarely
Self promotion is a must if you aspire to reach lead
title and make decent money. No, there is not going to be
time to vaccum and do laundry and many times you're going
to be too exhausted to make love to your spouse. Writing
and promotion is the hardest work you will EVER do. So
you better hope you've got an understanding spouse who
supports your cause in those lean days. Eventually, they
will be amply rewarded.
And let me say this. Promotion isn't simply necessary to
make big money. It's survival if you wish to remain
published. In midlist, if you don't sell enough books to
pay back even a meager advance, you'll be dropped like a
Please, this is not meant to depress you or frighten you.
It's a reality check. If you're going to get into this
business for the long haul, you must understand the
business. If you fight long and hard to get published in
the first place, it's worth fighting to keep it.
The money can be quite outstanding if you're willing to
pay your dues to get it. If you're not, then satisfy
yourself with midlist. It's not a bad place to be. You've
succeeded with your dreams. You're a published author and
achieved a goal that millions of others can only hope and
dream about. You ARE a success whether you're on the NYT
or not. Simply put, if you aspire to quit your day job,
buy your kid a car or put him/her through a fine
University and put money aside for your golden years,
then you're going to have to work for it...just like any
It CAN happen. I promise. :-)
Copyright Katherine Sutcliffe. All Rights Reserved.
Katherine Sutcliffe is the author of the award-winning,
best-selling Romantic Thrillers, "Darkling, I
Listen" and "Fever", and
coming soon - "Bad Moon Rising".
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