Chelsea wrote about James McGrath Morris’s piece in HuffPo last Tuesday and made some really enlightening observations (“Every title is ‘face-out’ online’—Chelsea, you’re blowing my mind!).
It’s true that metadata, a.k.a. the ONIX files that publishers craft so carefully and thoroughly, can actually make midlist authors more visible online. This not only impacts ebooks, but regular books too. If I can find a book’s info online, I can order it online or go down the street and buy it at my local bookstore. Not only that, but if I wander into a bookstore and think of a very specific subject I’d like to read about (for example, cheese difficulties), the bookseller can look it up and find it for me, no matter how obscure (order Cheese Problems Solved edited by P.L.H. McSweeney).
But I think there’s more to contend with in Morris’s piece. His assumption is that midlist authors will become extinct. I think that’s a little melodramatic, especially given his definition of the midlist author as someone who earns out a modest advance. Modest advances will still be given and still be earned out by some. It is probably more accurate to say that the midlist might change, that some authors will no longer qualify while others will join the club. And that’s nothing new.
Going online does not mean that the book-buying public will only have eyes for bestsellers. In fact, it is the backlist that stands to benefit the most from online discoverability. Our market will not narrow, but it may break up into specialized sections. Our tastes will not suddenly homogenize, instead we will be empowered to find and buy what we truly want.
How carefully do you tag your book’s ONIX files? Are you sure I can find it? Better be, if you want it to be part of the midlist.