Mid-list, A-list, Z-list: what type of author are you?

No one wants to think of themselves as not being a priority. No one wants to think they’re not as good as someone else, or worse, that they’re just as good as someone else but not being recognised.

There’s been some interesting chats on social over the weekend about the value of marketing in an author’s arsenal, even when you’re traditionally published.

I did an MA in Creative Entrepreneurship before my first book was published – I was prepared to put the work in. But really, I didn’t know how. My first publishers even said to me that they’d expected my big Greek family would have bought more books (everyone I knew bought one at the launch – my family isn’t that big). I chatted on Twitter, I had merch made, I ran competitions, tried to get an Instagram thing going.

But the truth was this – I was a newbie and really, no one cared. Why should they? I didn’t know how to market myself.

When I moved into romantic comedies, taken on by a big publisher, I’ll admit, I expected them to do the heavy lifting when it came to promotion. I’ve been published by companies of different sizes, with different priorities and goals.

I’ve had blog tours that I’ve organised, and one’s that have been organised for me, I’ve done launch parties, events, workshops, festivals. I’ve had promo images created. I’ve done Facebook Ads, video chats, regular blogging, blog swaps, blog jumps. Anything I knew how to do, or I saw someone else doing, I’ve tried it.

Most of the time, I expected to do things for myself (and sometimes I preferred it – more control) but whenever I received a really lovely promotion or idea (looking at you, lovely Canelo team) I was always pleasantly surprised. I never expected it.

This is because I’m probably never going to be an A-lister.

I know that. I don’t have an angle, I never have. I don’t have an interesting job or life. There is no backstory here. I’m incredibly boring. Literally the only interesting thing about me is that I write. Which isn’t particularly interesting for a writer!

Without an interesting backstory or a killer ‘blow it out of the water’ concept-driven book, you’re not going to make A-list. That’s just the way it is.

I’m bottom of the middle. I’ve been around a while, knocking out books pretty consistently for the last 8 years. That means I’m not expecting ads on the tube or book trailer videos I haven’t made myself (stay tuned though, because I’m definitely going to give it a go). I was thrilled when I got to go to the HC Summer Party this year, because I was never high up enough on an author list to go before.

We say not to fall into comparisonitus, but we do. We look at what everyone else is getting and doing and writing.

This view is also skewed, because we only see the good stuff. We see the unpacking boxes of books, and shelfies, and talking on the radio and famous people recording the audio. Of course we only see the good stuff! No one’s sharing that thirtieth rejection. No one’s talking about the years they spent failing to sell their books.

Is there anything wrong with being a mid-list author? Absolutely not. You have a fanbase, you get to keep writing, you have editors who are excited by your books. You still get deals and you get that gentle, delicate little fluttering of hope that says maybe this book will be the one. Mid-listers tend to have to focus on getting those books out consistently, coming up with new ideas and writing quickly to make sure we’re not forgotten and to capitalise on popularity of one book with another.

But here’s the thing: sometimes mid-listers become A-listers. Sometimes they switch genre. Sometimes after writing for ten years, they suddenly have that book that just takes off. Not even sometimes because it’s better than all their others, but because of the news or the politics or something someone else has written. Zeitgeist can make an A-lister.

And I’d hazard a bet that most mid-listers are living in hope that one day it’ll happen to them. But probably not enough to turn down another 2/3/4 book deal with the same publisher. They’re being practical.

The problem when it comes to marketing is that the mid-lister marketing tends to be invisible – it’s there, it’s just not explicit. It’s Facebook Ads and newsletter pitches, and Bookbub deals and a hundred other small things that push the book, but not necessarily you. A-list marketing is loud – it’s Reese Witherspoon’s book club, top of the chart positions, chatting on TV, huge poster kind of marketing. It’s about the author more than the book, most of the time. Because you take a bet on what you know.

Now, some debuts become A-listers immediately (and yet another movie/tv exec becomes justified in their ridiculous representations of how perfect getting a book deal is) and they’ll never know any different. They’ll think: ‘well surely everyone gets this? Isn’t this normal?‘ If they stay A-list, perhaps they’ll think, ‘well perhaps they’re not as good as I am.’

It’s the mid-listers who become A-list who intrigue me, because they probably know, better than most, the difference when someone truly invests in you as an author (rather than just your book, at that moment in time). The books are finite, the author is the commodity. Or at least, they should be.

Both authors and publishers have their ends of the deal to live up to when a book is brought into the world, it’s like giving birth. Everyone has a role to play in that room. The problem is that every author thinks their baby is amazing. And the publisher knows that not every baby is capable of going the distance. So they’ll do what they can to support your book, give it what it needs to reach its potential. But your potential might not be the same as someone else’s.

And it might suck, but it’s true. You may have written a kick-arse book. But it might not be a best seller. Because of the time of year, the subject matter, the other books that are out there, similar books that have more budget, better known authors who’ve written about similar things, the fact that no one’s writing about what you’ve written…

There is so much luck and chance involved in this game, and I think that’s why so many writers say they’re addicted to writing. When you’ve never been published, you think it’s going to change you’re life, but once you have been, you keep rolling the dice, thinking you’re going to win big. Sometimes you do. Sometimes you win small but it’s still brilliant. Sometimes you worked on what you were sure was the best book you’ve ever written and it sinks into oblivion.

As a writer, all you can keep doing is writing. Be tenacious, be curious, be fierce. Work hard as hell but acknowledge that luck and timing has a helluva big part to play.

So what do you think? Do you notice a difference between ‘list’ writers? Do you care? Are there books you loved which you wish were marketed more widely?

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almichaelwriter

A. L. Michael is the author of 13 novels. She's written fiction for Stairwell Books, Harper Collins and Canelo.

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