“Traditionally … the midlist was a quiet money maker, many books doing just better than breaking even thanks to loyal followings … this system worked well as long as the book-buying public shopped in little neighborhood bookstores. Enough clerks championed midlist titles to keep them alive … The whole system changed when national chain superstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders began to take over.
– Jeff Kirvin, “What’s Wrong With Publishing,” Jan. 2002
If you’re outraged because you wish you had my problems, take a writing class from a midlist author at your local independent bookstore, start writing whatever’s in your heart and head to write, and maybe soon you will.
If you’re outraged because you’d rather live in a world of farmer’s markets and local bookstores than a world of Wal-Marts and Bland & Ignoble superstores, here are a few things you can do:
1. Patronize independent bookstores. They sell online too. To find and/or order from the nearest one, go to Booksense. What you “save” at chain and online bookstores isn’t worth what you lose.
2. Read, buy, and tell your friends about non-blockbuster books. Attend readings by non-blockbuster authors.
3. Encourage the institutions you deal with — schools, churches, book groups, professional organizations — to buy books from independent bookstores. Most offer substantial institutional discounts, and all of them — unlike Amazon and other online product pushers — pay taxes in your community.
4. Read. Think. Enjoy and create culture. Encourage your friends, children, and politicians to do the same.
5. Support funding for the arts; fight like hell when moves are made to axe what little of it is left.
If you’re outraged because you work in the publishing industry and this story has made you want to change the circumstances under which it operates, take a stand — whatever stand you can. Remind the numbers guys that the blockbusters will go on paying their salaries even if they pay midlist authors a living wage — even if midlist books don’t earn back their advances. Remind yourself that if you don’t make a place in the bookstore for the Stephen Kings and the midlist authors, readers’ choices — and the culture — will shrink just when it most needs to expand. Then find a midlist author with something to offer, and offer her something that’ll make you both proud. Unless Book 5 has sold by now, feel free to start with me.