How to Get From Midlist to Best-Seller List!
by Katherine Sutcliffe
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
Now for the facts.
There are several levels
~ 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
pay the lead titles the big money. Yes, sad but true.
So 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
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
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
your book when they might have picked up another.
The internet has made this
much easier and cheaper for authors.
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
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
a sweaty warehouse with fork lifts rumbling by you for 5 hours. What
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 done.
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
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 a lot 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 vacuum 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
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,
you don't sell enough books to pay back even a meager advance, you'll
be dropped like a hot potato.
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
haul, you must understand the business. If you fight long and hard
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
published author and achieved a goal that millions of others can
hope and dream about. You ARE a success whether you're on the NYT
not. Simply put, if you aspire to quit your day job, buy your kid
car or put him/her through a fine University and put money aside
your golden years, then you're going to have to work for it...just
like any other business.
It CAN happen. I promise.
Katherine Sutcliffe is
the author of the award-winning, best-selling
Romantic Thrillers, "Darkling, I Listen" and
"Fever", and coming soon
- "Bad Moon Rising". <www.KatherineSutcliffe.net>
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