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Opinion: Why I’m Dreaming Of Becoming A Mid-List Author

Opinion: Why I’m Dreaming of Becoming a Mid-List Author

headshot of Kassandra Lamb

Kassandra Lamb explains why she's happy to aim at mid-list success

Do you feel under pressure to strive for bestseller status? Is the endless competition draining your creative reserves and sapping the joy out of your writing?

Don't worry, it doesn't have to be this way. Nor do you consign yourself to hobbyist status if you don't reach for the top.

Retired psychotherapist/college professor Kassandra Lamb, now an indie author of mystery novels, explains why she's happy to set her sights on a lesser but more realistic goal: to be a successful mid-list author, in a discussion of the nature of success and the pressures of a competitive culture.


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.

Striving for Success in a Competitive World

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, where I live, is 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. Why?

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.

My Writing Dreams

But 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.

Writing as My Fourth Career

cover of The Legend of Sleepy Mayfair

Kassandra Lamb's latest self-published mystery novel

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?

#Indieauthors - does the pressure to strive for bestseller status grind you down? Let @KassandraLamb reassure & inspire you with permission to be content with less extreme goals. Click To Tweet

From the ALLi Author Advice Center Archive

Author: Kassandra Lamb

Kassandra Lamb has never been able to decide which she loves more,
psychology or writing. In her youth, she had to decide between writing
and paying the bills. Partial to electricity and food, she studied
psychology. Now retired from a career as a psychotherapist and college
professor, she spends most of her time in an alternate universe with
her characters. The magic portal to this universe (i.e., her computer)
is located in Florida, where her husband and dog catch occasional
glimpses of her.

She is the author of the Kate Huntington mystery series, The Kate on
Vacation novellas, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries,
about a service dog trainer and her mentor dog, plus a guidebook for
novice writers, Someday Is Here! A Beginner’s Guide to Writing and
Publishing Your First Book. She also writes romantic suspense under
the pen name of Jessica Dale.

You can find out more about her and her books at www.kassandralamb.com.


This Post Has 9 Comments
  1. Really interesting post…I’m right there with you: mid-list author sounds so much more possible practical than best-selling author. While the best-seller title is glamorous, I’ve read/head/talked to some who still aren’t able to support themselves/their family’s on their income…even after appearing on Oprah! Hard to believe but I think shooting for the mid-liine is a much better idea for most of us. I’m a psychology nerd so it was doubly interesting to learn about the tie between your writing career and previous work as a therapist. 🙂

  2. Congrats! You succeeded at something I find quite enviable…had not one, but two productive, satisfying careers in which you made the world a happier place for other people while meeting your goals. That’s remarkable. If I can do half as much, I’ll feel I’ve lived a good life!

  3. Hi Kassandra, Cool post! (And nice to learn you were a psychotherapist – *high fives*!)
    Yes, I think it doesn’t have to be all of nothing – there’s a good career to had in the mid-list. It also means you can write what you like rather than having to chase trends and write to market.

  4. Cool post! (And nice to learn you were a psychotherapist – *high fives*!)
    Yes, I think it doesn’t have to be all of nothing – there’s a good career to had in the mid-list. It also means you can write what you like rather than having to chase trends and write to market.

  5. Spot on, Kassandra. Best seller status is like, for artists, being exhibited in the Royal Academy. But very rare in both cases. And much luck abd marketing is involved. But I wake up each morning I think, ‘I want to write’. i don’t think ‘I want to market.’ So – that’s where my focus lies. It has to.

  6. I agree, Kassandra! Sure, we should strive to be the best, but that can change dramatically daily. Rather than beat up our selves, being compassionate to ourselves is probably far more beneficial.

    I also agree with your need to be recognised for the work you do. I think this is a basic human want. After all, if we don’t get a thank you, why are we bothering? And no, it isn’t about stroking egos; I think it is about being valued and worth something.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your blog.

    Sarah Banham

    1. Thank you, Sarah, for your reply. Most people definitely need to be more compassionate toward themselves. Great way of putting it.

      I saw it again and again in my practice. When people beat up on themselves for not having yet accomplished their goals, one of two things often happened. They either became obsessed and the goal took over their lives, or they became so frustrated that they gave up, assuming their efforts were worthless because they hadn’t achieved a certain level of success yet. And all too often, they had set the bar so high that they were doomed to experience that frustration.

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