Midlist, Schmidlist

So there's this essay that was published at Salon.com back in 2004 that has reemerged on the Internets. It first came to my attention on Facebook, but then I saw others retweeting it on Twitter. It's definitely worth looking at if you're serious about becoming a writer (and by that I mean a writer who dreams of one day quitting the day job and writing for a living). It is ... eye-opening. Honestly, I've been hearing the same thing for years now that this particular writer's story seems to be almost every writer's story. It's like American Idol -- everyone dreams of making it big, but only a few actually get there (but because of those few, everyone thinks they can make it). And how does one do so? By talent? By determination? By luck? That, of course, is up for debate, and I'd like to use the comment section of this post for that very thing. So read the essay and tell me your thoughts. But don't expect the essay to cheer you up. This excerpt gives you an idea what you're getting into:

As Promised: The Unexpurgated, Possibly Unfinished History of One Midlist Author's Life

Book 1: Contract signed 1994. Book published 1996. Advance: $150,000.

Book takes one year, no research, pure joy to write.

I love my editor; my editor loves me.

Several publishers vying to buy book means book sells at auction for big advance. Big advance means big publicity budget. Big publicity budget means promotion handled by publicity director, which means reviews in top newspapers, excerpts in top magazines, TV and radio appearances, four weeks on two bestseller lists, seven-city tour. Publisher (Mr. Big) sends handwritten note, thanking me for "writing the great book we all knew you had it in you to write."

Question to agent: "Is there a downside to an unknown author getting such a big advance for a first book?"

Agent's answer: "What are you gonna do, turn it down?"

Pitch line: "Welcome a fresh new voice!"

Sales: I don't ask. No one seems to care. Final tally: Hardcover/paperback sales combined are 10,000 copies.

Current status: Out of print. Small but loyal cult following; 10 years later adoring fans still show up at readings, clutching well-worn copies, eager to tell me how book changed their lives.

Conclusion drawn then: Being an author, working with the best editor and the best publisher on earth is a dream come true.

Conclusion drawn now: There is a downside to getting a big advance for a first book.