Over at “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing,” J.A. Konrath and Barry Eisler are dissecting a recent publication by literary agent Donald Maass. Konrath and Eisler do an excellent job disassembling Maass’ arguments point-by-point, and if you have the time you should stop by and read it.
For my part, there were two things that stuck out and that I couldn’t let go by uncommented.
Here’s the first point:
First, e-books have not hurt the print publishers but rather have helped them. Especially in the recent recession, low-cost/high-margin e-books have been a bright spot. They’ve kept publishers profitable even as brick-and-mortar book retailing has shrunk and consumers have grown cautious. With the mass-market paperback pricing itself nearly out of existence, low-priced e-books have arrived (with help from the Department of Justice) to keep value-conscious readers reading. Of course, the difficult and expensive business of selling print books must still be faced but at least there’s some gravy to make the task tasty.
This is the beginning of a trend that continues through all Maass’ argument, and it’s troubling. Maass is a literary agent. His client is supposed to be the author, the one actually creating the words. Instead, he seems to spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on how well the publishing companies are doing and never really addresses how any of this innovation is helping the authors. By the end of his argument, it seems pretty clear that Maass sees his authors not as his customers, but rather as his product that is to be fed to his real customers, the publishers.
Which leads directly into the second thing that got me kind of riled up.
Second, the self-publishing movement has been a boon to the print industry. Far from being threatened, print publishers instead are now gratefully relieved of the money-losing burden of the mid-list. Like giant banks that have discovered that banking is boring and the real money is in gambling, big publishers are now free to focus on the high-risk/high-reward game of finding the next Twilight, Hunger Games, Game of Thrones or Fifty Shades of Grey.
This is amazing. This is truly gob-smacking.
It’s difficult to know where to begin.
The mid-list consists of the authors who routinely turn out work that the publishers like and will put out, but who never rise to the sales levels of a James Patterson or a Stephen King. If you’ve ever read a book from an author you didn’t recognize, only to realize they have five or ten other books out and you still haven’t seen them on the bestseller lists or seen any of their work turned into movies or television shows, chances are you’ve encountered a mid-lister.
The vast majority of Maass’ clients? Most likely mid-listers.
Most of the authors who make their livings off of their writings?
It’s safe to say that if you have a full-time author who isn’t able to afford a solid gold swimming pool, they’re probably a mid-lister.
And they are not, by definition, a “money-losing burden.” The accepted definition of a mid-list book is one that is not a bestseller, but sells enough to economically justify its publication. The fiction that the mid-list loses money on a regular basis is a necessary fiction, given that most mid-list authors will never see enough royalties to pay back their advance.
And not only does Maass not give them any of the respect they deserve as the workhorses upon which these major publishers are built, but he actually has the nerve to suggest that the publishing industry is better off without a mid-list.
The mind boggles.