Mid-list authors and the curse of invisibility

I was at a conference this week, where I happened to mention I was an author. The person I spoke to immediately asked: ‘Ah, self published?’

Dear reader, this is not the first time this has been said to me, automatically. It also takes a superhuman sort of strength not to deny this vehemently, and try to show off about your achievements as an author.

Which, of course, does nothing but make you feel worse and like you’re a fraud.

But I wanted to unpack that automatic assumption about self publishing.

There is, obviously, nothing wrong with self publishing, and the authors I know who are most financially successful, and most savvy, are self-pubbed. For those in the writing sphere, we know that self publishing is the way to excellent money for those who are smart, hard working and willing to put in all the publishing work on top of the writing work.

But that’s not what people outside the fiction circle think.

When someone’s first response is ‘Oh, you’re self published?’ what they’re really saying is, ‘Well, I haven’t heard of you.’

This is because, dear reader, mid-list authors are invisible. If you have not heard of me, I cannot exist. I cannot possibly have sold tens of thousands of books, I cannot have written multiple novels in the last ten years.

This is because the story of publishing shows us two options: the failed writer, never publishing, sitting amongst their rejection letters and unfinished manuscripts, and the successful author, being part of a six-way auction for their debut novel which goes on to sell millions.

We do not see the mid-list authors, working away year after year, releasing book after book, and doing well! Doing well! You do not need to sell millions to be an author. You do not need to be famous, or a household name. There is a whole wide world of readers out there, and you can have your corner of it.

Mid-list authors are invisible because they don’t appear in books (no, we write ourselves the fiction we want, of fame and fortune) or movies or television. Even the marginally successful authors in TV have book tours, or ridiculous advances.

This industry is a strange one, but I hope that this realisation offers hope and is comforting – there is not simply ‘bestseller’ or ‘never makes it’. There’s a whole group of authors who are selling and writing and making deals and seeing their words in other languages, and finding new readers every day. There are writers who make this their life’s work, without quitting their day job.

They are still writers. They are still doing this wonderful work. Just as there is always room for readers, there is always room for new writers. So whether you’re starting out, or have been doing this a while, whether you’re hoping for a big break or happy with your lot, whether you’re self pubbed or trad pubbed, I want to celebrate mid-list authors.

Because we may not often be seen, we’re trudging on every day, creating worlds and words, and I think there’s something incredibly beautiful about that.

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