Dreaming of Being a Mid-List Author

by Kassandra Lamb

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of posting on the blog of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). I posted on the topic of goals, and how it’s okay to not aim for the top of one’s chosen field or endeavor. Not everyone can be “the best.” There’s really only one spot there at the very top.

I liked the post so much I decided to share it with you all. It fits well with the theme of last month’s post about New Year’s resolutions and goals. So here it is:

Dreaming of Being a Mid-List Author

woman at laptop, not aiming for the top
This isn’t me but it could be, especially with the cup of tea. (photo by Dai Ke on Unsplash)

I’m working on my fourth career in my lifespan—that of a fiction author. I love being a writer, but I also loved many aspects of my other careers. I have few regrets, and none regarding what I consider to be my “main” career, that of psychotherapist.

I spent twenty years listening to a lot of people talk about how their middle-of-the-road dreams had gone awry, often due to circumstances that were not completely within their control. Their stories gave me a real appreciation for how it is okay to aspire for moderate success, for a goal that meets one’s needs, whatever they may be, without necessarily bringing one fame and fortune.

The United States is such a competitive society. We are taught that we should aspire to being the best we can be, to win prizes for being the best at what we do.


Defining Success

I consider my career as a therapist a huge success, even though the profession doesn’t pay all that well and I was never a “big” name in the field. But I helped most of the people who walked through my office door. In a fair number of cases, I helped turn their lives around. And in a few, I saved their lives. I tried to be the best therapist I could be, but I didn’t particularly feel the need to be the best among all therapists.

I’d always dreamed of writing fiction. I loved to write. As a college professor (my third career), I even enjoyed writing tests! I had plucked away at a novel—about a psychotherapist, of course—during most of those years while I was pursuing other careers.

And then I retired and finally had the time to pursue my writing in earnest. When I finished the novel that I’d been writing for years, I suffered from a common ailment of new writers—the write-it-and-they-will-buy-it syndrome.

I imagined that readers would scarf up my new gem by the droves. But I wasn’t dreaming of huge profits or the New York Times bestseller list.

I was imagining hundreds of people READING my book.

Perhaps my retired status gives me the luxury of not caring so much about how big my profits are. But I just can’t get all that excited about things like rankings or bestseller lists or writing awards.

I Can See Clearly Now

In retrospect, I can see my goals more clearly than I did at the time when I published that first book. Here they are, in order of importance:

  • I wanted to experience the joy of having people read my work and tell me they were moved by it.
  • I wanted my characters to come to life for readers who cared about them.
  • I wanted the recognition that I was a good writer (not necessarily great, but good enough to entertain people with my stories).
  • It would be nice to have some extra money from my writing.

Does this make me a hobbyist writer? No.

I take my writing business seriously. It is truly my fourth career. I work almost every day on business-related tasks and/or writing.

What I’m getting at here is that it is okay to have modest goals. We don’t all have to aim for the top of the heap. There isn’t room for all of us up there anyway!

Back when I was a psychotherapist wishing I had more time for writing, I never truly believed I would be where I am today—a successful mid-list author whose writing provides a satisfying supplement to my retirement income.

But here I am, fat and happy in the middle of the pile of fellow writers.

So what do you think? Do we all have to strive to be the best?

NOTE: If you’re an indie author, I can highly recommend the Alliance of Independent Authors; it’s an international professional organization with lots of benefits for joining.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

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  • Reply
    Vinnie Hansen
    February 5, 2019 at 3:02 pm

    I don’t think it hurts to strive to be “the best” as long as we’re realistic about the chances of reaching that goal. As Robert Browning noted, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      February 5, 2019 at 3:52 pm

      Excellent point, Vinnie! I used to tell my students, always strive for an A, because then you will probably get at least a B, but if you only try for a B, it may only be a C, or worse.

      I believe in trying to be the best we can be, it’s the competitive stuff I have little use for.

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