date: 12 August 2016 at 10:16:07

This blog was prompted by a question from someone I hadn’t seen in many years: are you still writing? 

The answer, of course, is yes.

I mean to say, once you become a full-time writer there’s no going back.

But there is a deeper question lurking there. What my old pal really meant was this: are you still being published?

It set me thinking about where I am, and where I want to be, and, as a result, I decided to extol the joys of being a mid-list author. Extol means to praise, as everyone knows, but I also like the idea that it might mean to be free of tolls.

A mid-list writer is a bit like one of those nags that make up a horse race. It always manages to cross the finishing-line, but it never quite makes it into the first three. The mid-list writer’s name always appears on a publisher’s list, but never at the top...

So, here are the joys:

  1. Happy memories: you have once been at the top, you’ve had your five minutes of fame, which means that you have a name which still means something to your publisher, and to enough readers with long enough memories, or a passion for the sort of book that you once happened to have written.
  2. Time to relax: having been ‘at the top’ you know what pressure means. Writing a first-rate, top-class, well-researched historical crime novel every twelve months is not for the weak hearted. We did four in a successful series in five years, and that, honestly, was more than enough. We loved them, we enjoyed the thrill of banging them out, but by the time you get to number five, you start to ask yourself (ourselves, in our case, as my wife, Daniela, and I write together as Michael Gregorio): Is this what I/you/we want to do for the rest of my/your/our lives? Can you imagine being Dan Brown, Ms Rowling (what’s her first name?), James Patterson (is that the correct spelling?), or Stephen King, unable to sit down comfortably on the loo without a pen and a notebook in hand in case they missing a fleeting idea for a blockbuster novel?
  3. Time to have fun: you’ve written the ‘heavy’ stuff, so now you can write whatever the hell you feel like writing, and somebody somewhere will buy it, thus enabling you to sit down and write some more of the same. It’s a wonderful feeling! You can experiment, move into areas of language, plot and characterisation that are not restricted by the awful necessity to be Dan Brown, Ms Rowling, Jimmy Patterson, Stephen King, or Michael Gregorio. We are busy writing the third of a series of novels featuring the ’ndrangheta, the ferocious mafia from Calabria in southern Italy which supplies the coke that’s killing kids in Kidlington (and every other town in Europe, for that matter).   
  4. You get invited/commissioned to write things. This may sound like a drag, but I love it. An editor gets in touch, and says, “I want to do a collection of stories about....,” and asks if you would like to participate. It’s a bit like being invited to tea by HRH, the Queen. You say yes immediately, and then you set about inventing the story. We have been lucky enough to write about Jack the Ripper, Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, an Italian female serial killer named Leonarda Cianculli, the Amazon rain forest, an Italian Renaissance painter, and much, much more. They are subjects that I would never have dared to touch. They aren’t long enough for a novel, but as one-off, short term, fun projects, such invitations have provided me/us with immense satisfaction. Dan Brown, Ms Rowling, James Patterson, and Stephen King don’t get invited to take part in such editorial enterprises – they are too busy making money for the mega-publishers.
  5. You find yourself in unknown territory... Now, doesn’t that sound intriguing? Talk about an adventure! It happened to us quite recently. I can’t go into all the details, but this is the gist of it. You meet a talented artist and illustrator. Surprise, surprise, he has read one of your books! All of them, in fact, and he loves them. He now has a burning desire to turn them into graphic novels. Would you be interested? Of course you would! Would you be happy to collaborate on the storyline, and write new stories? Happier than happy! And, yippee, he has a publisher who is interested...

Do you want to be a bestselling author? (Answer yes/no within 10 seconds)

Would you prefer to be a mid-list author? (Take your time, you can answer the question tomorrow, or maybe not at all).


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